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Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan reflects on his career, potential future without WR Julio Jones



Matt Ryan isn’t going to play forever. The Atlanta Falcons quarterback, entering his 14th season with the franchise, understands he’s closer to the end of his career than the start of it. He has been around the NFL long enough, seen enough players come and go, to get that.

And Ryan didn’t know last month, when the Falcons were sitting at No. 4 in the 2021 NFL draft, whether they would select his future replacement. Atlanta didn’t, instead selecting tight end Kyle Pitts. But, he said that didn’t change how he thought about his spot on the team or his future with Atlanta.

“In one respect you understand that if you play well for long enough, these are the conversations that are going to come up,” Ryan said Tuesday. “I understand that I’m not going to play forever but I also have the mindset that I’m still playing really well and have a lot of good football in front of me.”

“The most important thing for me is that it comes from the belief in the building, the people who are actually making decisions. The people who are with you day-to-day. That’s where I try to keep it.”

Ryan, who turned 36 on Monday and celebrated by taking his family out for an early dinner of chicken fingers, said it has been harder to block out conversations about his future as he’s gotten older. Some of that has to do with those conversations potentially being more frequent and also more accessible on social media.

But he believes he still is playing well coming off a season where he completed 65% of his passes for 4,581 yards, 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. That stat line is in line with how Ryan has been the majority of his time in Atlanta. He’s thrown for over 4,000 yards and 20 or more touchdowns in each of the past 10 seasons. He has completed 65% or more of his throws every year since 2012.

And, as his career has progressed, he has gained a new perspective on his successes and accomplishments.

“You realize how hard it is at this age,” Ryan said. “You appreciate the success probably more now. I’ve never really been motivated; you want to win, but I really hated losing more than I loved winning. It would eat at you more, and I think that only intensifies the older you get because you realize your opportunities are limited.”

Ryan doesn’t believe his window is limited, though, pointing to Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady and his continued strong play. But he understands where he is in the timeline of his career and that, once again, he has to prove himself with a new coaching staff — this time led by former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.

Ryan, who is on his third head coach, said every time a new regime comes in, he knows there’s a level of question. Will they like him still? What will they think of what he’s done in the past, and what he can do in the future? Atlanta did restructure his contract in March, which could have offered a clue as to the team’s plans for Ryan, but it didn’t change his mindset.

“You’re constantly trying to prove that you’re the right person for this spot,” Ryan said. “I was told at a young age, from some veteran players in that locker room, you don’t own that locker. You rent it. So I try to pay my rent on time all the time and do the best that I can do to stay in that spot.”

Through the past decade, one of the players who helped Ryan the most is receiver Julio Jones. Jones has been targeted more, caught more passes for more yards and more touchdowns from Ryan, than any other Falcons player.

And Jones’ future with Atlanta is in question. General manager Terry Fontenot said last month the team has taken calls on possibly trading the star receiver because of the Falcons’ salary-cap situation. While Ryan said he understands the business part of it, and he has no involvement in those decisions, he made clear Jones’ influence on Ryan’s own career. And he doesn’t know what a post-Jones offense would look like.

“He’s probably impacted my career more significantly than any other player,” Ryan said. “And I’ve been really fortunate to be around him for as long as I have.”

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Tom Brady, champion Bucs get glitzy Super Bowl LV rings honoring historic hometown win



TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are sporting brand new Super Bowl LV rings to pay tribute to the NFL’s first league championship won in a team’s own stadium in front of hometown fans.

The rings, unveiled Thursday night in a private ceremony for players, coaches, front office members, team employees and their families, feature a removable top of the ring which allow you to see an entire replica of Raymond James Stadium, with everything from the 50-yard line to seats.

The 319 diamonds, which include 15 karats of white diamonds and 14 karats of yellow diamonds, reflect the 31-9 final score. The twist-off removable top is a first of any Super Bowl ring. On the bottom of the removable top, laser-etched in gold, is the word “HISTORIC,” to commemorate the accomplishment. The top also features two Lombardi trophies as a nod to the Bucs’ 2002 Super Bowl win — the first in franchise history.

Around the top of the stadium on each of the four sides are four game scores from the Bucs’ four postseason wins over the Washington Football Team, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. Inside the band are the words “Trust, Loyalty, Respect,” their team motto.

“We wanted it to represent the camaraderie and sacrifice that our players and coaches experienced along the way,” co-owner Darcie Glazer-Kassewitz said. “This ring tells the story of that journey, it reflects the heart and soul of a team like none other before it. We know it will be an emotional touchstone for everyone involved for many, many years to come.”

The Bucs’ official Twitter feed showed quarterback Tom Brady and running back Leonard Fournette, among several other players, proudly showing off their Super Bowl rings.

The Bucs’ previous Super Bowl rings were manufactured by Tiffany’s. But most NFL teams have used Jostens, which designed all six of Tom Brady’s Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots and the rings worn by the Kansas City Chiefs after winning Super Bowl LIV following the 2019 season. But the Glazer family, who own the Buccaneers, wanted something different.

“They said, ‘Listen, we are not doing what is expected of us. We are going rogue with you guys. We want to do something different. We don’t want to follow the herd,'” said Jason Arashben, founder of Jason of Beverly Hills, who has produced championship rings for the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors, but had never produced Super Bowl rings.

“This is the most hands-on ownership group we’ve had,” said Arasheben, who has also created custom pieces for celebrities like Drake, Jennifer Lopez, Dwyane Wade, Rihanna and Matthew McConaughey. “They really, really wanted to design a ring that the team and the city would love. They put their blood, sweat and tears – and most importantly, their time into it, to make sure it was exactly the way they envisioned in the end.”

Players like Lavonte David had input in designing it and even got a sneak peek, while coach Bruce Arians, who has won two Super Bowl rings as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers and chose not to see the final design, had just a simple request: “I wanted to be able to wear it,” Arians said.

“We have multiple messages in there. Everything from the final score of the Super Bowl to the fact that it was the first Super Bowl championship in a home stadium, the fact that they had eight consecutive wins leading up to the Super Bowl, the fact that they held their opponent to only 9 points – which is one of the fewest ever,” Arasheben said.

“We paid homage to each individual playoff win, each individual opponent. I think that’s what makes this special,” Arasheben said. “I don’t recall a ring in Super Bowl history that has this many storylines to it. That is why this ring took so long to conceive, because they weren’t happy just making a diamond ring. They wanted a diamond ring that was going to tell a whole story and in multiple ways – to the design to the stone count – they wanted to do a ring that was something special.”

The design alone took 2 ½ months to finalize and included sometimes three phone calls a day with Bucs’ ownership. The rings are yellow and white gold and are made up of over 140 grams of gold and 15 karats of ethically-sourced diamonds, something that was very important to the Glazer family. Each individual ring is comprised of 11 different pieces that needed to be manufactured and then assembled, which took 40-50 hours of labor from seven different specialists. Each ring is personalized with the players’ name, along with their number, set in diamonds.

Was there additional pressure coming up with a design for Brady, knowing he’s already got six other rings? Arasheben said he had a similar experience creating the Lakers’ ring for LeBron James.

“This one, I felt the same pressure, if not more. Tom Brady has six previous Super Bowl rings. I was like, ‘You know what? This one has to supersede the expectations, to exceed every other one he’s had in the past. And I feel more than confident that we succeeded in doing that.”

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Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott hopes to rebound with focus on nutrition, quickness



OXNARD, Calif. — Ezekiel Elliott does not need to look far for motivation. He is coming off the worst statistical year of his career with the Dallas Cowboys, rushing for just 979 yards in 15 games.

“Just having the year I had last year, you don’t need more motivation than that,” Elliott said after the Cowboys’ first training camp practice. “I just know the type of player I am. I don’t think I showed that last year. I got a lot to prove. I just made sure I didn’t leave any doubt out there that I didn’t do as much as I needed to do.”

In addition to the work in the Cowboys’ offseason program, Elliott trained with a personal running backs coach, Josh Hicks, for the first time in his career. The goal was to improve his short-area quickness that will help him get more than just the two carries of 20 yards or more he had in 2020. He had just two games with more than 100 yards rushing, topping out at 105. He had 26 100-yard games in his first four seasons.

“I think it’s definitely something I needed to work on,” Elliott said. “It’s definitely something I needed to improve, so I went and got in the lab and got better.”

He improved his nutrition with his personal chef that helped get him down to 218 pounds, 10 pounds lighter than he was listed at last year. The last time he was 218 pounds, he was a freshman at Ohio State.

“I’ve heard as you get older in this league you want to start losing weight and nutrition has played a big part of that,” Elliott said. “Shoutout to my chef, Chef Hoppie, for getting me right and getting me lean and ready for the season. I feel good where I am.”

Elliott signed a six-year, $90 million extension in 2019 that guaranteed him $50 million. He is set to make $9.6 million this year and his $12.4 million base salary in 2022 is already fully guaranteed.

His goal is not to prove doubters wrong.

“Prove it to myself. I do it for my teammates. I think the hardest part about last year is you feel like you let your teammates down. That hurts,” said Elliott, who also fumbled six times in 2020. “I want to make sure I put my best step forward and do everything I need to do to help this team win.”

Elliott celebrated his 26th birthday Thursday. Dak Prescott gave him a diamond bracelet as a present. The fans in attendance for practice sang, “Happy Birthday.”

“It goes by fast. You hear it all the time (but) until you get to year six you don’t realize it,” Elliott said. “It goes in a flash of an eye. I have had a great time. Doing it with great people. I look forward to being here a lotta more years.”

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‘Fresher’ Ben Roethlisberger says arm feels ‘really good’ at Pittsburgh Steelers’ first day of training camp



PITTSBURGH — Entering his 18th season, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger feels “fresher” than he did this time a year ago. Roethlisberger had a normal offseason for the first time since his season-ending elbow surgery in 2019, and he felt the effects of it Thursday at the Steelers’ first training camp practice.

“This time last year, I had thrown thousands of footballs trying to get ready for this,” Roethlisberger said. “This year, this was the first time I’ve thrown a ball since minicamp, other than throwing to my son in the backyard. It just feels more normal of an offseason, if you will.

“My arm feels really, really good.”

Roethlisberger, 39, admitted during OTAs earlier this offseason that his arm bothered him at times last year. This year, though, he enters training camp another season removed from the surgery having taken fewer reps — something that’s important as the team embarks on a preseason with an additional week of training camp followed by a 17-game regular season.

Roethlisberger, though, is focused on more than just his elbow. He also used the offseason to hone in on his body’s specific needs as an aging quarterback.

“I think as you get older, we all have to find ways to exercise more, eat better, do all the things. I’ve been doing that for a few years now,” he said, also refuting the report that he was on a diet stricter than Tom Brady‘s infamous regimen.

“You work on your diet. You work on your exercise. You work on yourself to get ready to play this game at this age and for this many years. You find ways to do it.”

For Roethlisberger, the offseason training extended beyond the physical components. In the offseason, the Steelers promoted quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to offensive coordinator, and in doing that, ushered in an overhauled offensive scheme filled with misdirection, jet sweeps and new verbiage. To help navigate all the newness, Roethlisberger enlisted the help of his daughter, who made flashcards and quizzed him on Canada’s terms.

“We’ve done that together,” Roethlisberger said. “There have been some quizzes at home. It’s become as much of a mental offseason as it has physical in terms of learning new things. If you talk about the percentage of new, the run game formations, everything, it’s a high percentage of new. It’s a challenge.”

But even if the terms were different, many of the plays still looked the same — including a bubble screen pass to Diontae Johnson that the wide receiver turned into a long touchdown.

“The play looked familiar, but not one thing was called the same,” Roethlisberger said. “The blocking was different. Plays may look the same but they’re going to be called differently. But hopefully, we’ll see those results a lot.”

To execute plays like that in Canada’s scheme, Roethlisberger admitted to referencing the cheat sheet on his arm, a crutch that will likely disappear as he gets more and more comfortable in the offense.

“If you notice, I’m looking at the wristband quite a bit,” Roethlisberger said. “We all are. All of the quarterbacks are trying to look at it and figure it out. “New isn’t always bad, new is new.”

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