Patriots’ secondary is in good hands with emergence of Logan Ryan

It started with a small Denver Broncos leather football. Lester Ryan made the purchase while waiting for a flight home from the Denver International Airport. When he got back to Berlin, N.J., his 2-year-old son, Logan, was ecstatic

“He loved that ball,” Lester Ryan said. “I started tossing it to him and he would always catch it. I was like, ‘Wow this kid can catch pretty good.’ So I kept on throwing it.”
From then on, the boy always had some kind of ball in his hands. Instead of toy trucks or action figures, Logan Ryan wanted to play with footballs, basketballs or baseballs. He would even sneak a football into his backpack to bring to school.
As he grew older, the routine game of catch became more complex. In the backyard of their New Jersey home, Lester Ryan taught his two sons, Jordan and Logan, the importance of hand-eye coordination, concentration and hard work. It wasn’t enough to just throw the ball around. Instead, the three competed to see who had the better hands.
“We’d catch 10 balls with your right hand and 10 balls with your left hand. Whoever drops a ball has to start all over,” Lester Ryan said. “I made it to a point where, ‘OK now, you have to run, I’m going to throw it over your head and you have to catch it. Now, I’m going to throw it at your knees and you have to catch it.’ They were little. Logan was 6. His brother was 9. It was real competitive, and they enjoyed it.”
As Logan Ryan grew up, the games never stopped. He routinely worked out with his father in their backyard. The budding football player wasn’t allowed inside until he made 10 catches in a row.
“That’s what encouraged me to work hard and encouraged me to keep going,” Logan Ryan said. “I think that’s a good way to end workouts. Figure out how to concentrate. So if I had to catch 10 one-handed catches in a row and you get to nine and you drop it, you have to start all over. Imagine how many catches actually come again.”
Those games of catch have come in handy in the NFL.
This year, Logan Ryan leads the Patriots and is tied for second in the NFL with four interceptions. The 24-year-old has turned a corner in this third NFL season.
WHEN WILL SULLIVAN shows up at a football clinic, the expectation is that he’ll show footage of Darrelle Revis, his star pupil. Instead, the focus is on the development and growth of Ryan, and a video of the last three springs they’ve worked together is shown.

“I get excited about growth and development, and I always show them Logan. What I do is show them spring after spring,” Sullivan said. “What you see is that constant growth. And the kid comes back every year and we have something new to work on. You see the development and see how hard a kid works and then he finally gets it.”
Ryan heads to Phoenix every offseason to work with Sullivan, a defensive backs coach who runs “Shutdown U.”
When they first met, before the 2013 NFL Combine, the focus was on Ryan’s 40-yard dash time. After that, Sullivan focused on making Ryan more of a complete player.
The first offseason was about learning to play press-man coverage, and they worked on footwork at the line of scrimmage. By year two, Sullivan worked on putting Ryan’s hands together with his feet. He wanted to see the cornerback be disruptive at the line.
This offseason in Arizona was different. Typically, Ryan would spend two weeks there before the Patriots' spring workouts started. This year, he moved out to Arizona two weeks after the Super Bowl ended and stayed for three months.
“Just like a boxer in the gym; instead of going for a two-week camp, I was there for a three-month camp,” Ryan said. “We just were able to build on things every single day. A lot of times it was just me and him in there for an hour straight.”
The focal point this year was “position and transition.” Ryan focused on things like making sure he played through the ball when the receiver was getting ready to catch it, whether he was on top or underneath his man.
They also devoured game film.
Each game that Ryan played in got broken down. Mistakes were shown over and over again, and then they went out on a field to try to correct the breakdowns. Sullivan also wanted Ryan to focus on the psychological aspect of the game.
Last spring, he replayed one tape from last season showing an opposing quarterback constantly going after Ryan.
“He’s a smart guy,” Sullivan said. “I was like, ‘Bro, they’re going after you. Until you understand that, you have a bull’s-eye on you and you have to do something about it to get that bull’s-eye off. Man, you’ve got to make some changes with how it is you’re approaching the game from a mental standpoint.’ ”
“That’s what you pay him for. Not to tell you how good you are,” Ryan added. “You work with a guy like that, outside of your team, to work on your craft and see what you need to improve on and work on your weaknesses. At this level, a lot of people don’t want to hear them. I’m a guy who is willing to work on them if it helps my game, if it helps the team.”

OF COURSE, Ryan didn’t forget about his hands this offseason. That will forever be a part of his game.
Before his group workouts with Sullivan — which included teammates Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson — Ryan competed with all the other defensive backs with the wide range of catches he could make. He’d compete with other players catching balls using only his left hand and then right, and so on.
It wasn’t enough to work out with the defensive backs. After he lifted in the weight room and before his workout with Sullivan, Ryan caught balls from the jugs machine with a group of NFL receivers who were also there.
Then he’d run out on the field and catch passes from NFL quarterbacks such as Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley.
“Ever since I was younger, I always played receiver, quarterback, positions where I had the ball a lot,” Ryan said. “Always got to get that ball back in my hands.”
It’s paid off.
Over the last three years, Ryan has 11 interceptions. Only one cornerback has more in that time frame: Richard Sherman (12), who’s played 914 more defensive snaps. He has four this year, one more than Harmon.
Ryan’s not modest when it comes to comparing his hands to those of his teammates in the Patriots' secondary.
“No question. That is a unanimous. I unanimously have the best hands,” Ryan said. “I tell them that. They know that. They can come up with any hands competition. I’m willing to take it. It’s something I don’t even think twice when it comes to that.”
This season, he’s showing off more than just ball skills. According to Pro Football Focus, opposing quarterbacks have a quarterback rating of 55.4 when targeting Ryan this season. That puts him eighth among NFL cornerbacks.
“I told him this year, it’s got to click,” Sullivan said. “Now he’s putting it together. I pray he keeps playing like, ‘Hey, my back’s against the wall and this is who Logan Ryan is,’ and make it happen.”
Part of the success comes from opportunity. Ryan’s started a career-high seven games this season and has established himself as one of the Patriots' starting cornerbacks. Through nine games, he’s played 505 defensive snaps. Last year, in 16 games, he played 509.
The other part comes from his preparation, something he learned long ago from his father in New Jersey.
“Just more opportunity and more reps. That’s what I put it down to,” Ryan said. “I feel like when I’m able to play and I’m able to play confident, I’m able to play well. I think it comes to preparation. I’ve done more preparation than I ever have done before. My dad always tells me when preparation meets opportunity, that’s when good plays happen.”

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