- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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But take a closer look at the bodies of the four NFC South quarterbacks and you’ll see plenty of changes from last season.
Tampa Bay’s Freeman has dropped about 20 pounds. Atlanta’s Ryan has put on about 10. New Orleans’ Brees says he’s stayed the same, but he sure looked different on the first day of training camp. And, this just in: Carolina’s Newton has grown five inches, added 50 pounds to his bench press, can throw the ball 10 yards further, has trimmed a full second off his time in the 40-yard dash and does it all while wearing a Superman shirt.
I’m just kidding on the Newton stuff -- I think. Newton hasn’t really talked about his weight this offseason, but team officials said the quarterback has made a conscious effort to drop somewhere between 5 and 8 pounds from what he carried last season when he was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Let’s start with Ryan, since he’s bucking the trend of the other three quarterbacks, putting on weight, instead of shedding it or at least tightening it up.
If you were an employee of the Falcons and you saw the look on owner Arthur Blank’s face the January day they lost, 24-2, to the New York Giants in the playoffs, you instantly might have started to think of ways to make yourself better. Blank looked exactly like what you would expect from a man who has seen his team have four straight winning seasons without a postseason victory. He clearly was angry after his offense was held scoreless.
It wasn’t necessarily the look from Blank. But sometime in the days after the Falcons left the Meadowlands, Ryan figured out one thing that was lacking.
“More muscle,’’ Ryan said. “It’s not like I was looking to put on 25 pounds or something like that. I just wanted to get a little stronger, a little more flexible and position my weight a little bit better on my body. I think I’ve done that. I worked really hard with (Falcons’ director of athletic performance) Jeff Fish developing a program and I stuck to it. I feel really good at this point. I feel strong and in really good shape and I’m excited about it.’’
Let’s be clear and squash one popular theory that’s out there on why Ryan hit the weights so hard in the months right after the season. Although there’s been a lot of talk about the Falcons waiting to have more of a downfield passing game, Ryan isn’t one of those guys that subscribes to the theory that more muscle in your arm will allow you to throw the ball further. In fact, the former high school baseball player believes you can get too muscle-bound and have it limit the way you throw the ball.
Ryan wasn’t aiming for increased distance as he put on muscle throughout his body. He was aiming more for endurance.
“Just improving on the field,’’ Ryan said. “One of the things I’ve learned in four years is that durability is key. Being out on the field every week is huge. But being out on the field and feeling good is even more paramount. I wanted to feel better, not Week 1 or 2, but Week 14 or 15. I think I needed to spend more time in there and be more dedicated there in order to feel that way.’’
Durability, in the traditional sense, hasn’t been much of an issue for Ryan. In four seasons, he’s missed two starts, but he admitted he hasn't felt at his best late in previous seasons.
“I think everybody does to a certain extent,’’ Ryan said. “That’s kind of the nature of the grind of an NFL season. I wouldn’t say worn down. But I felt like I could do things differently to feel even better than I was feeling. Mentally, I’ve always felt sharp. But, physically, I wanted to get my body to where my mind was.’’
Maybe the extra conditioning will leave Ryan fresher in January and maybe it will lead to his first postseason victory.
Although Freeman took a different approach, it’s fair to say, like Ryan, he was out to make himself a better player.
After the Bucs lost the final 10 games of last season, Freeman made a big decision even before coach Greg Schiano was hired.
“I stopped going to Taco Bell late at night,’’ Freeman said.
He also worked with a personal trainer and now looks like he could be an NBA small forward.
“He’s a really competitive kid,’’ Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik said. “I just want him to harness and really channel that into being the best he can be and he said that when he decided to show up at the weight that he’s at and start to really get his body in the right shape as a professional athlete and make good choices off the field. That told me he was going to take this the right way and that was before we even hired coach.
“He feels like it’s increased his mobility, as well as his flexibility and being able to rotate in his hips and his torso area. That was the main element. Josh can carry the weight he was at and play effectively. But this was something he wanted to do for himself to be looser as an athlete.’’
Like Ryan and Freeman, Brees and Newton weren’t ordered to change their bodies. Whatever decisions they made were made on their own.
When he showed up for the start of training camp, just after getting a new five-year, $100 million contract, the New Orleans media hadn’t seen Brees in some time. Several media members asked Brees if he had lost weight because his face looked thinner.
“I’m 208,’’ said Brees, who is listed at 209. He then smiled a bit and said, “I might have moved some weight around a little."
That wouldn’t be a surprise. Brees has been a workout warrior throughout his career. Whatever Brees was doing while he was away from the team, it’s obvious he was staying very active.
Newton didn’t look like he needed to drop an ounce after running for 706 yards as a rookie. But the team official said Newton took it upon himself to drop a little weight and, like Ryan, the goal was more about adding durability not necessarily speed.
“In this league, everybody’s infatuated with getting better,’’ Ryan said. “I think we all talk to other quarterbacks and we talk to former quarterbacks and it’s all about finding different ways to improve. Every offseason, I try to find ways to get better and this was my way to get better this offseason.’’
Now we know all about the weight gains, weight losses and readjustments of the four NFC South quarterbacks. We’ll find out who was the biggest winner and loser by the end of the season.
Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Josh Freeman remain the unquestioned faces of their teams.But take a closer look at the bodies of the four NFC South quarterbacks and you’ll see plenty of changes from last season.