If familiarity breeds success, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan might have an advantage when the Falcons play host to Tampa Bay in the season opener.
But then he might not.
Dirk Koetter, the Buccaneers’ new head coach, was the offensive coordinator for Atlanta for three years when Ryan had some of his best seasons.
Ryan said he has no doubt that Koetter will do for second-year Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston that he did for him in Atlanta.
“I think Dirk will do a great job. I learned a ton from him. He helped me a ton in my career,” Ryan said. “I think he – you kind of always know how somebody would transition. He just had the qualities that you would think a good head coach would have. I think he’ll do a great job in Tampa and I’m happy for him.”
Ryan will have to deal with Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who became head coach for Atlanta and made the quarterback his first pick.
“Mike got hired here in 2008, and I got drafted a couple months later. We were kind of connected at the hip for a long time together. Had a lot of great wins, a lot of fun, a lot of success. Learned a ton about leadership, about what it means to be a professional,” Ryan said. “(He) has really shaped the way that I view football. He’s a really, really smart coach and really, really keen on X’s and O’s. I learned a ton from him.”
Ryan also played with new Bucs cornerback Brent Grimes when he was in Atlanta and played under Mike Smith, and he believes he will be successful now that player and coach are united again.
“When he was here — he’s probably one of the most athletic people I’ve ever been around,” Ryan said. “His ability to cut, change directions, jump — he’s got unbelievable ball skills. We know exactly how good he is because we to see him every day in practice. He can make some unbelievable plays. We’ve got to be aware of where he’s at, there is no question about it.”
Koetter didn’t want to claim an advantage because Smith coached some of Atlanta’s players, noting the Falcons have a different head coach, Dan Quinn, and offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan.
Quinn brought the Seattle defensive scheme with him from Seattle in 2015, and the offense has changed since Koetter left even though it didn’t seem to fit Ryan well last season, at least not the way he produced previously.
“They’ve changed a lot of the personnel since Mike and I were there. So we know a few guys on both sides of the ball. I think that’s overplayed a little bit,” Koetter said.
Smith was head coach in Atlanta for seven years, leading the team to four playoff appearances and 66-46 record and sat out last season.
If familiarity gives one team and advantage, Quinn seems to be calling how it pertains to this game as a draw.
“We have a lot of respect for both Dirk and for Mike, and I know that the players that played for those two do as well. But, honestly, that’s right in between the white lines,” Quinn said. “It comes down to the guys and who can execute the plan the best. Those two guys will know a number of players here, a number of the players here will know them and then past that it kind of gets right back to ball. We did not make a big deal about it, only in the fact that honestly, in between the white lines, it still comes down to the guys.”
Quinn will see some new faces for the Bucs in defensive ends Noah Spence and Robert Ayers and can’t hide the fact that he is impressed.
“I think it’s significant because it’s the get-off that you see. And I certainly know — studying Robert and I’ve studied Noah through the draft — I know how explosive those two are and you add them to a good group of rushers already. I know they’re being trained well by [defensive line coach] Jay [Hayes]. I think it’s a good group. They put it on tape that way and it certainly showed up in preseason as well. It’s a deep group.”
Of course, he is hoping to slow down Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston who engineered two close victories over Atlanta last season.
“The guy is a terrific competitor. And it just jumps out, his will to extend the play, keep battling, keep fighting. That part I just thought really captured the essence of how hard to play, all that goes into it,” Quinn said. “So those are kind of the three things: the competitiveness, his ability to create when a play does break down and then his decision making, about where to go with the ball and the mental quickness that goes along with that.”
Who: Tampa Bay (0-0) at Atlanta (0-0)
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
When: 1 p.m.
Radio: 103.5 FM