An unmistakable enthusiasm heightens Matt Ryan's voice. The Falcons quarterback has just been asked about Bill Musgrave, once his tutor in Atlanta and now the guy calling the shots for the Vikings offense.

At once Ryan grows giddy, unable to talk about his smooth transition into the NFL -- remember, he was the 2008 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year -- without lauding the guidance Musgrave lent.

They won 11 games and went to the playoffs their first season together. Ryan completed 61.1 percent of his passes and threw for 3,440 yards.

He limited his mistakes and immediately provided dividends on the investment Atlanta made when it took him with the third pick of the draft.

And if Ryan hasn't yet established himself as a top-tier NFL signal caller, he at least has solidified himself as a guy who should be a consistent playmaker in Atlanta for years to come.

Still, Ryan's gratitude continues funneling toward Musgrave, whom he worked under for three seasons and considers one of the most influential people in shaping his career.

"For me personally, Bill taught me so much about protections," Ryan says. "He taught me so much about understanding the passing game, understanding the running game, understanding how to play the position. He taught me about managing games, being smart and making good decisions."

How appropriate it is then that Ryan and Musgrave will experience a Georgia Dome reunion Sunday just a few days after Thanksgiving.

If a productive relationship between a young quarterback and a quarterbacks coach requires equal parts trust, camaraderie and communication, Ryan and Musgrave had all three.

To this day, they still root for each other, still exchange text messages.

All of which has to be great news for Vikings rookie Christian Ponder, right? After all, if Ponder can tap into Musgrave's intelligence, he should find greater opportunity to flourish.

Granted, Ponder's current quarterbacks coach is Craig Johnson. He's the guy fine-tuning Ponder's techniques, addressing faulty footwork and leading individual drill work day after day. But still, Musgrave has a chance to leave his fingerprints on Ponder's early development in ways similar to how he mentored Ryan.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier believes the Musgrave-Ponder bond already has been fruitful, the two frequently watching tape together and discussing the nuances of the offense.

"The communication part of it, getting Christian to think almost like a coach on the field, is kind of the role Bill has taken," Frazier says. "It's allowing Christian to be able to see, 'This is how the coaches see things. So I have to be able to see things that way.'"

Like Ryan, Ponder warmed to Musgrave almost instantly. In fact, the young quarterback was first impressed by Musgrave's intelligence way back at the combine last February.

Also like Ryan, Ponder has identified one of Musgrave's greatest strengths: the coach's intense preparation and eagerness to lighten the load on his quarterbacks. That, Musgrave believes, is vital to nurturing a young signal caller.

"You have to be that extra set of eyes," Musgrave says. "And you put in the [extra] hours so they don't have to. You don't want them to be worn down to a nub by the time they get to game day. That's a tough temptation to resist when you're a rookie quarterback. Because you want to know it all. You want to look at every single shred of film. But you can't do that and not reach a point of diminishing returns by the time Friday and Saturday arrive."

That's why Musgrave is so meticulous with the game week schedules he sets for his quarterbacks, conscious of when to push the gas and when to pump the brakes. On top of that, he has identified another important parallel between Ryan and Ponder.

"Both of them, I think, are good lifelong learners," Musgrave says. "Meaning every day they're going to learn something."

The hope in the Twin Cities is that Ponder's NFL education under Musgrave progresses as rapidly as Ryan's did.

Dan Wiederer •