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Falcons' Ryan tries to put dismal year behind him

Photo: David Goldman

Atlanta Falcons wide receivers Roddy White, left, and Julio Jones watch from the sidelines during NFL football minicamp Thursday, June 19, 2014, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan likes to hang out with family and friends, play golf and take a vacation or two in the offseason.

He hasn't afforded himself too much time to relax, however, since the Falcons limped to a 4-12 finish last year.

For Ryan, a two-time Pro Bowl pick and the NFL's offensive rookie of the year in 2008, this offseason has been markedly different.

''It's something that you don't want to get used to,'' Ryan told The Associated Press. ''That's for sure. It's been longer than previous offseasons, so that's not a good thing.''

After leading Atlanta to a 54-22 record and two division titles in his first six seasons, almost nothing went right last year.

The Falcons were considered championship contenders after finishing the 2012 season just 10 yards shy of the Super Bowl, but they instead tied for the NFC's worst record.

Injuries sidelined receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, running back Steven Jackson, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, offensive tackle Sam Baker, defensive end Kroy Biermann and others for much of the season.

Poor play on the offensive and defensive lines led to coaching staff changes, but Ryan, who endured a career-high 44 sacks and was pressured 203 times, most in the NFL, refused to publicly blame his teammates.

''As teammates we're all in this thing together, and I just don't think it's productive to point finger and place blame in other areas,'' Ryan said. ''I think we're all trying as hard as we can to be successful.''

That doesn't mean, however, that Ryan hasn't had some heated conversations at team headquarters.

''Do we correct each other sometimes? Absolutely,'' he said. ''But for the most part I think those things are best done on the practice field and in meeting rooms and not through various forms of media outlets.''

The right side of Atlanta's offensive line struggled throughout last season. Neither Garrett Reynolds, who was later released, nor Peter Konz, a second-round draft pick in 2012, could hold the right guard job. Veteran Jeremy Trueblood and undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder struggled at right tackle.

Atlanta hopes it has fixed the problems by drafting right tackle Jake Matthews sixth overall and signing Jon Asamoah early in free agency to play right guard.

Mike Tice, the former Minnesota Vikings head coach, was hired as offensive line coach.

''Those guys are working through some of those changes, but I think one thing (Tice) preaches is communication at the line of scrimmage,'' Ryan said. ''You can hear those guys talking a bunch and making sure they're on the same page. So I've seen really good things out of them.''

Ryan says he doesn't feel added pressure after signing a six-year contract last July that guarantees $59 million and boosts his pay from $10 million last season to $20.75 million this year.

What matters most to the former Boston College standout is fine-tuning his skills and helping his new teammates - particularly the rookies - adjust to life as a professional.

''For me it's one those things where I've probably been doing more coaching with other guys than I ever have,'' he said. ''That's probably the biggest difference in this offseason. As a veteran player on this football team and with young guys coming in, I'm trying as hard as I can to get them up to speed in certain areas. It's been a little taxing.''

The quarterbacks' meeting room is changing, too. Atlanta waived Dominique Davis, Ryan's primary backup last year, on Thursday following a trade for Houston's T.J. Yates the night before.

Yates, a former fifth-round pick from North Carolina, started five of 13 career games after joining the Texans in 2011. He's expected to battle Sean Renfree, a seventh-round pick from Duke last year, for the No. 2 job.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow George Henry at www.twitter.com/georgehenryAP

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