Ryan has made Falcons forget about Vick

May, 19, 2009
5/19/09
12:00
PM ET
 
  Kevin Terrell/Getty Images
  With the calm presence of Matt Ryan behind center, it's easy for Falcons fans and ownership to forget about Mike Vick.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

The question was about Michael Vick's potential return to the National Football League and it took Matt Ryan about 15 seconds to provide all the answer that was necessary.

I don't have one of those fancy digital tape recorders that times things, but I just listened to Ryan's answer again and the clock in my head says it's right around 15 seconds, definitely less than 20.

Ryan uttered something about Vick being a good football player and wished him well in his quest to the NFL.

That was all. End of topic. This all came on the first day of the Atlanta Falcons' minicamp less than two weeks ago. Funny, but it might have taken Ryan even less time to answer the question last season.

In the time it took for Ryan's first NFL pass to go for a touchdown, the Falcons started putting Vick behind them forever. It's an amazing recovery, really, when you consider how quickly it's unfolded.

When Vick was first implicated for his involvement in dog fighting in 2007, it brought a franchise down. When Vick went to jail a few months later and coach Bobby Petrino quit late in his first season, it seemed like it would take the Falcons a decade or so to recover from the fiascos.

 
  AP Photo/Steve Helber
  With a new quarterback in place, the Falcons won't have to worry about bringing back Michael Vick if he is reinstated by the comissioner.
As Vick is expected to be released from prison this week to begin serving the final two months of his sentence on home confinement, the Falcons are doing just fine. Heck, they're coming off an 11-5 season, their fans are excited and -- even in a down economy -- the team is talking about a new stadium.

That's largely because the Falcons, and their fans, aren't talking about Vick. That's because they've moved so far, so fast beyond the guy that used to be the face of their franchise.

Give credit to general manager Thomas Dimitroff for quickly building a capable roster. Give credit to coach Mike Smith for instantly changing the culture of the team. Give credit to owner Arthur Blank for learning from mistakes.

But you want to know the real story behind Atlanta's turnaround? The Falcons got lucky. They hit the jackpot when they used the third overall pick to draft Ryan last year.

Yeah, there were people throughout the league who thought the Boston College quarterback had the potential to be good. But this kid's not just good. He's special, in many ways, and he was right from the start.

People talk a lot about the "it'' factor with quarterbacks, but nobody's ever real clear on what "it'' means -- until you see Ryan.

The guy's as smooth as a 50-year-old corporate lawyer and he's walking around in the body of a quarterback who turned 24 on Sunday. Take this scene from the scouting combine a couple months before Ryan was drafted.

I was standing around him in a group interview and he was getting hit with questions about possibly stepping into Vick's old job in Atlanta. At the end of the interview, a reporter I know, who has a great sense of humor but not always the tact to go with it, asked Ryan if he "had any pit bulls."

Ryan didn't laugh out loud, but he got the joke. With just a slight glimmer in his eye, he said "no."

Or take the night before the 2008 draft when all the top prospects were gathered in New York. At the time, the Falcons were leaning toward selecting Ryan, but LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey still was a possibility.

Dimitroff, doing his homework right up until the end, called a Falcons employee in New York who was attending a function with the draft picks. Dimitroff said something like, "Who's the calmest guy in the room?'' The team employee quickly said it was Ryan and nobody else was even close.

That wasn't the deciding factor, but it was further proof that Ryan was what the Falcons were looking for. They already knew he had the tools to be a good quarterback, but they were looking for more than that.

They'd been through hell with Vick, although his talents were enormous. But Atlanta needed a quarterback who would do and say all the right things all the time.

They got all that and they got a quarterback who, by the middle of his rookie season, was looking an awful lot like Peyton Manning running the no-huddle offense.

The Falcons have distanced themselves from Vick as completely as they can. Blank has said he'll try to help get Vick back into the league, but made it clear it won't be with the Falcons. Dimitroff has come out and let it be known that the Falcons gladly would trade Vick's rights before he's even been reinstated by commissioner Roger Goodell.

Teams aren't lining up to trade for Vick and there's a very good chance the Falcons simply will release him if he is reinstated.

Would the Falcons have welcomed Vick back if they hadn't landed Ryan or he hadn't been so good? Who knows? It's moot.

Maybe the Falcons would have taken Vick back and told the world they would give the quarterback a chance to learn from his mistakes and earn redemption.

But there's no need to bother with all that when, in the meantime, you find another quarterback who doesn't have to learn from his mistakes -- because he doesn't make any.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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