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Falcons Offseason News

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Expect Falcons' defense to reflect Marquand Manuel's no-nonsense approach

 

David Newton

ESPN.com | 7:00 AM ET


 

Don't mess with Marquand Manuel during pregame warm-ups. You're liable to catch some heat.

On any given game day, you'll see the 37-year-old with his headphones on, drowning out the noise as he bobs his head to the beat. He'll run a few laps around the stadium with a menacing stare on his face, like an assassin fixated on his next victim.

Folks unfamiliar with the Atlanta Falcons likely would mistake Manuel for a player. His players view him as a guy who will cuss anybody out, make no mistake about it. That's part of the reason why Manuel commands respect as he makes the leap from secondary coach to defensive coordinator, a move made official Friday.

"M, he's a perfectionist," free safety Ricardo Allen said of Manuel. "He knows the ins and outs of every player. He does the studying. He has the passion to lead. He's a natural leader. And people are willing to follow him."

Manuel is a coach willing to put on cleats, line up opposite his defensive backs and get physical with them off the line. His hands-on approach and aggressive style just might be the added push the Falcons need to elevate an improving defense to yet another level.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn relieved former defensive coordinator Richard Smith of his duties earlier in the week, with Smith now reportedly interviewing to be linebackers coach for the Los Angeles Chargers. Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, Quinn took over playcalling duties from Smith late in the regular season, during a Dec. 4 game against Kansas City. It was about that time Atlanta's defense started to show remarkable improvement, surrendering 21.4 points per game over the final seven, including the playoffs, after allowing 27.6 over the first 12.

Manuel had a hand in the improvement, too. According to multiple sources, Manuel was involved in playcalling involving nickel situations. Maybe it was an audition. Maybe it was just a matter of getting a different coaching perspective. Whatever the case, there's confidence in Manuel's ability to make the defensive calls, even if Quinn, the former defensive coordinator in Seattle, has a heavy hand in it moving forward.

Quinn no doubt will refer to it as a collaborative effort, but Manuel will get ample opportunity to run the defensive show despite no prior coordinating experience. He knows the defense thoroughly, having previously served as the assistant defensive-backs coach under Quinn in Seattle.

Allen wisely declined to discuss anything related to playcalling, but he certainly backed Manuel as his defensive coordinator.

"The players are going to be pushed by him daily, and he's going to push us to another level to be great," Allen said. "I think he's a good person for the job because he'll put the work in."

Manuel will have to deal with scrutiny, of course, but expect him to be unfazed. Folks will bring up the story of him asking then-draft prospect Eli Apple, now with New York Giants, if he liked men during an interview at the NFL combine. Manuel was publicly reprimanded by the organization and required to go through sensitivity training; he apologized for the embarrassment he caused.

If Manuel's defense falters in matchups against Drew Brees, Jameis Winston and Cam Newton next season, he'll certainly hear criticism. But again, it's not his personality to be rattled, no matter the situation.

As with the rest of the Falcons, Manuel will enter the 2017 season with a bad taste in his mouth from the Super Bowl LI implosion in which Atlanta blew a 28-3 lead in a crushing, 34-28 overtime loss to the New England Patriots. But at least Manuel knows he'll have a talented group around him that in 2016 featured NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr., emerging nose tackle Grady Jarrett, rookie standouts Deion Jones and Keanu Neal and Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant, who will return after missing the season's second half following pectoral surgery. The improved speed on defense, coupled with the presence of Trufant as a shutdown corner, will allow the Falcons to continue the trend of playing more man-to-man defense, as they did successfully later in the season.

Manuel’s ability to get the best out of his players was evident in the way cornerback Jalen Collins made a dramatic leap in his second season as a replacement for Trufant; in the way cornerback Robert Alford shook off problems with penalties to become a playmaker; in the way Brian Poole went from being undrafted to evolving into a reliable nickelback; and in the way Neal and Allen were able to work in unison at the safety spots.

Again, Manuel is all about an aggressive, attacking style. It's in his nature as a former NFL strong safety. That's the mentality and approach you see from him every day in practice. And that's the look you'll see in his eyes every game day.

BIRDLAND 2.0 likes this

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How the Atlanta Falcons will battle history in their attempt to return to the Super Bowl

 

by Dave Choate Feb 10, 2017, 3:00pm EST

The Falcoholic  


 

I believe, wholeheartedly, in this Falcons football team. I think Dan Quinn is the right man to helm it, that the coaching staff and front office are well-stocked with bright minds, and the roster has enough talent to contend. Few teams are as well-positioned as Atlanta, though I don’t need to tell you that there are no guarantees.

We must reckon with the past, though. Atlanta’s about to try to return to the Super Bowl and win it this time, which is a major undertaking no matter what year it is.

The last team that lost a Super Bowl one year and made it back the next year was the Buffalo Bills, who did that three times during the most woeful dynasty in NFL history. No team has done so since 1993, then. That is an eternity in the world of this football league.

The good news, as it is, is that aside from the 2016 Panthers and 2008 Patriots, every team in the last decade has made it to the playoffs the following year. The other good news is that what has happened in the past does not necessarily dictate the future, and the Falcons could make some more history if they can get to Minnesota.

 

© 2017 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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2017 Atlanta Falcons Full Mock Draft - 1.0

 

by ericrobinson Feb 14, 2017, 12:00pm EST

The Falcoholic  


 

Editor’s Note: We’re thrilled to welcome Eric Robinson to The Falcoholic! You’ve likely seen his Falcons and NFL work all over the interwebs, and now he’s here to deliver our first mock draft of the season.

If you’re still weeping over a Super Bowl that I will not mention in full, it’s okay. I think most of us are.

However, the Atlanta Falcons must turn their full attention to the interesting offseason that lies ahead. Progressing through the offseason means that the team will utilize the draft and free agency to fill holes and help take that next step to a possible Super Bowl Championship.

With head coach Dan Quinn’s philosophy and new faces in place in offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, it will also be interesting to see how the team approaches the draft. Thanks to improved play at key positions, Atlanta’s draft strategy has changed.

Besides, mock drafts are fun. I like them. Hopefully, you will enjoy this one also. Let’s get started.

The performance by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett in the Super Bowl was a slight surprise, and the three sacks by the interior lineman showed how important he can be moving forward on the defensive line. At times this season, lineman Ra’Shede Hageman also took a positive step in his development and will be a piece to the puzzle as well.

What the team needs is a third Musketeer. Someone who can come in and be a constant disruptor at the 3-tech defensive tackle position. With veteran Jonathan Babineaux eyeing retirement and the possibility of Tyson Jackson not returning, grabbing a prospect such as Brantley provides a stout tackle with the ability to be a terror next to Jarrett and/or Hageman. Brantley is powerful and has scary athleticism for a guy weighing roughly 315 lbs. The combination of Brantley, Jarrett, Hageman, and a possible free agent pickup can give Atlanta interior talent that will enhance the defense.

Edge rusher Vic Beasley led the league this past season with 15.5 sacks. The Falcons defense as a whole totaled 34 sacks. That’s a nice step up from the 19 sacks the defense equaled during the 2015 season.

Despite all that, the team saw key injuries to defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Derrick Shelby, which forced 36-year-old Dwight Freeney to see more snaps than the originally wanted from him. Beasley’s production soaked up almost half of the team sacks. An occurrence that Quinn and the defensive staff can not see in 2017.

So grabbing a 6’5 260 lbs defensive end in Willis gives the Falcons another key piece along their defensive line. Willis has a Michael Bennett-esque skill set with quality size, arm length, and very good stack-and-shed ability. Willis was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 with 52 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks. He gives the team an actual buffer in case Shelby’s Achilles injury takes away from his overall skill (which is a possibility). The pass rusher will need a little time to develop but he has enough ability to give the Falcons another disruptor and take a little pressure off Beasley.

The Falcons currently have a very good offensive line led by All-Pro center Alex Mack and left tackle Jake Matthews. During this offseason, the coaching staff and front office have a decision to make regarding their offensive line, even so.

Right guard Chris Chester is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and it’s quite possible he is not retained. The veteran is 34 years of age and retirement rumors have also popped up. While the line is overall solid, an upgrade at the guard position is very much conceivable.

Johnson is 6’5 315 lbs and brings solid athleticism at the position. One of his best qualities is his ability to get to the second level to take on defenders. Something that is a constant in the zone-blocking scheme that Sarkisian will continue to operate out of. He also is solid in pass protection and can be nice building block on a veteran offensive line.

Tight end Austin Hooper was a nice addition via last year’s draft for the Falcons. Hooper started off deep in the depth chart but ended the season as the team’s top weapon at the position.

The Falcons only have two tight ends under contract next season in Hooper and raw second-year Joshua Perkins. Veteran tight ends Jacob Tamme and Levine Toilolo are unrestricted free agents this offseason. Neither is guaranteed to be on this roster for the regular season opener.

Smith is an athletic specimen with quality NFL size at 6’3 245 lbs. He was second on the Panthers in catches last season with 42 and has 178 career catches at FIU. Smith also provides solid blocking ability with room to grow in that department as well. Having Smith along with Hooper gives Atlanta two tight ends that can line out wide and create mismatches for an already explosive offense.

Also facing free agency is backup linebacker Phillip Wheeler. Wheeler manned the backup strong-side for the Falcons this past season. On occasion, Wheeler gave the team useable depth. While on other occasions...let’s just say the team can use an upgrade.

Taylor played considerable time with the Cougars at inside linebacker but his skill set would be a better fit filling the SAM position on the depth chart. He will need to bulk a little but his youthful injection and pass rushing ability adds a taste of versatility. This past season, Taylor totaled 12 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, and 74 total tackles. Taylor has a physical nature to his game that can be used as quality depth in Atlanta over time. Not to mention, he can be a nice piece on special teams.

Round 6, 215th Overall - Avery Gennesy, OL , Texas A&M  (NOTE: This pick may be lost due to the Andy Levitre trade) 

There is nothing wrong with added depth. Especially in the trenches. So the Falcons add more depth on an already good offensive line.

Gennesy has experience playing at both guard and offensive tackle but he may be best on the outside. He’s at a point in his development where he needs to work on his overall functional strength. Outside of that, Gennesy has enough qualities to shore up the backup left tackle position behind former A&M tackle Jake Matthews.

For the last pick in the draft, the Falcons add even more speed to the team by selecting the hometown dynamite in McKenzie.

McKenzie does not have a ton of size, but what he does have is rare speed and the ability to score at any given moment. McKenzie has experience in the return game, both kick and punt. The team employed veteran Eric Weems at the return positions but Weems is not necessarily the most reliable in that department. The team drafted receiver Devin Fuller last year in the same round for the same purpose. A preseason shoulder injury cancelled Fuller’s rookie season. So why not spice things up a little in the return department and create a training camp battle between two speedsters? McKenzie’s ability is worth taking a chance on at this point in the draft.

 

© 2017 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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Roddy White: I probably 'would've fought' Kyle Shanahan after Falcons' Super Bowl loss

 


Fox News  


 

Roddy White is still very passionate about the Atlanta Falcons after spending all 11 years of his NFL career with the franchise before retiring in 2015. So it's only obvious that the former Pro Bowl wideout took the Falcons' overtime loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI pretty hard, even though he didn't play a down last season.

White wasn't upset so much about the team's performance but rather the play-calling -- more specifically on the offensive side. He took aim at former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan during the "We Never Played the Game" podcast Tuesday.

"I'm glad I wasn't a part of that team because I probably literally would've fought him," White said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

White believes Shanahan, who left the Falcons to become the 49ers head coach earlier this month, did not play it safe when the Falcons blew a 25-point lead in the second half as Atlanta allowed 31 unanswered points to New England in the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.

"You destroyed a dream for a city," said White, who finished with 808 catches for 10,863 yards and 63 TDs during his career. "It's bigger than me. The city of Atlanta needed that championship and you had it. Arthur Blank needed that championship and he deserved to win that game, with everything he's been through. It was finally our time to win and it just hurt me that we didn't get it done."

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Taylor Gabriel: I want to stay with Falcons 'forever'

 

Chris Wesseling Around the NFL Writer

NFL.com | Sun 6:30PM EST FOX


 

Might Falcons wideout Taylor Gabriel follow in Patriots postseason hero Chris Hogan's 2016 footsteps as a restricted free agent who sought greener pastures?

As far as Gabriel is concerned, he is content to stay in Atlanta.

"Of course, I want to be a Falcon forever," Gabriel recently told ESPN.com. "Just the camaraderie and the group, from Dan Quinn to the owner. And everyone has bought into what we have here. Yes, I want to be a Falcon forever."

Although an extension for cornerback Desmond Trufant is the team's top priority, general manager Thomas Dimitroff said last week that Gabriel is another player deserving of a new contract.

"It's going to be positive for him," Dimitroff said of Gabriel. "Yes, we want him back as well."

Atlanta has until March 9 to extend a contract tender designed to discourage the other 31 teams from signing Gabriel to an offer sheet.

The most likely tender is the second-round level worth just under $3 million. Under that scenario, any team planning to sign Gabriel would have to surrender a second-round pick to the Falcons.

Gabriel was the waiver pickup of the year, recording a league-best 139.9 passer rating when targeted last season. The speedster broke free for a game-breaking play of 40 or more yards in eight of 13 regular-season games.

"I feel like I have something that a lot of people don't have," Gabriel explained during Super Bowl week, "and that's the ability to change directions while running full speed."

Gabriel is certainly talented enough to lure potential poachers next month. Between the likely second-round price tag and the organization's commitment to maintaining the offensive nucleus, though, he's unlikely to leave Atlanta.

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Former Rutgers Head Coach Kyle Flood Hired by Atlanta Falcons

 

by JimHoffman@RURahFan Feb 18, 2017, 10:00am EST

On the Banks  


 

The reigning NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons have announced the hiring of former Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood as assistant offensive line coach. The story broke in an article by NJ.com’s Keith Sergeant yesterday. The Falcons’ announcement on Twitter that linked the press release did not focus on the hiring of Flood, but of new QB coach Bush Hamden.

The press release provides a detailed biography of Flood, including his stops at Hofstra University and the University of Delaware. It is the Hofstra connection that led to this hire, as Flood was coaching for the FCS Hofstra Pride at the same time Falcons’ Head Coach Dan Quinn was Hofstra’s running backs and later wide receiver coach.

Flood will be working with an offensive line that was credited with being a major cog in the Falcons’ impressive season in 2016-2017, culminating in a NFC Championship and a Super Bowl appearance. That appearance was marred by a shocking loss that had the New England Patriots staging the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, beating the Falcons 34-28, after trailing them 28-3.

With his hire by the Falcons, Coach Flood will be reunited with former Rutgers wide receiver Mohamad Sanu, who just finished his first season with the Falcons. Sanu was a free agent following four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, and signed a five-year, $32.5M contract a year ago when he joined the Falcons.

While he has made no formal announcement on Twitter, Flood is acknowledging Tweets to the news, as seen in this exchange:

Additionally, his background graphic on Twitter is a Falcons’ graphic:

 

The Scarlet Knights head coach from the 2012 through 2015 seasons, Flood holds the distinction of being the only head coach in Rutgers football history to take the team to bowl games in his first three seasons as head coach. He also led the team in their initial season in the Big Ten, compiling a 7-5 regular season record which was capped by a convincing 40-21 win over North Carolina in the inaugural Quick Lane Bowl in December 2014.

Kyle Flood was originally hired by former head coach Greg Shiano in 2005 as the offensive line coach. Promoted to assistant head coach in 2008, Kyle was named head coach by former athletic director Tim Pernetti. This hire was immediately following Schiano’s departure to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, just prior to National Signing Day in 2012. Flood was credited with keeping a talent-laden class intact in the time between Schiano’s departure and signing day that year.

In September 2015, a cascading number of issues, including arrests of several players (and their subsequent dismissal from the team) and Flood being accused of impermissible contact with instructors created a maelstrom that eventually engulfed Flood, leading to suspensions and fines during the season and his firing the day after the conclusion of the 2015 season.

Since his firing, Flood has kept a relatively low public profile, the exception being his appearances on Sirius XM’s College Sports Channel 84. He filled in periodically as co-host for the College Sports Today program as well as being a regular on The Tailgating Show where he previewed college games every Saturday morning this past season. There had been no widespread discussion of this hire prior to the Falcons’ announcement on February 17, 2017.

Hired with Flood was former Rutgers assistant Dave Brock, who most recently was head coach of the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens. Brock joined the Blue Hens following one season as Rutgers’ offensive coordinator during Kyle Flood’s first season as head coach in 2012.

In his time as head coach of the Scarlet Knights, Kyle Flood compiled a 27-24 record overall, and a bowl record of 1-2, the sole win in the Quick Lane Bowl mentioned above, and losses to Virginia Tech in 2012 in the Russell Athletic Bowl, and to Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl in 2013.

Despite the difficult way his tenure as head coach ended in 2015, it has been generally agreed that Coach Flood was a coach that was close to his players, and was a true gentleman in all situations. We at On the Banks wish him well in his new position.

 

© 2017 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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2017 NFL free agency: 3 potential Atlanta Falcons cap casualties

 

by Dave Choate Feb 17, 2017, 8:00am EST

The Falcoholic  


 

As we’ve noted, the Atlanta Falcons don’t feel like they have major roster holes, and they have enough money to extend a couple of key players, re-ink most of their key free agents, and maybe make one splash.

If they want to do more than that, they have the option of cutting players to carve out more room. If they’re going to cut anybody, the three names on this list seem like likely choices.

If the Falcons are looking to save some $$$, here’s three candidates for that big, red and black axe.

Cap Savings: $2.65 million

Dead Money: $3.2 million

Free Agent Year: 2019

In 2018, when the Falcons can save almost $5 million by cutting Tyson Jackson, he may be in genuine danger. I’m not convinced he will be in 2017, not when less than $3 million is on the table, and the Falcons could be pretty thin at defensive tackle.

For all the deserved flak T-Jax gets for his production versus his contract, he’s played in 16 games for three straight seasons and remains a solid run defender. With Jonathan Babineaux likely headed out, the Falcons are still going to need a steady reserve. It’s going to come down to whether they think Tyson Jackson is that guy, or if they think they can do more with $2.65 million.

Cap Savings: $3.9 million

Dead Money: $2.75 million

Free Agent Year: 2019

After a shaky 2015 season, Andy Levitre was much improved in 2016. That may have been due partly to having Alex Mack next to him, but still, Levitre was a genuine asset. The question is, will that be enough to keep him from being cut?

That likely depends on what the Falcons intend to do at guard. If they want to re-sign Chris Chester or expend a high round pick on a guard and they like Wes Schweitzer to fill one of the starting spots, Levitre could be on the chopping block. That’s a lot of ifs, which is why I believe Levitre will be back, but $3.9 million in savings this year and $7 million in savings next year is not chump change. You’ll want to watch his status.

Cap Savings: $2.2 million

Dead Money: $2.82 million

Free Agent Year: 2019

Like Jackson, Reed has not lived up to his contract to this point. Also like Jackson, the savings the Falcons will realize by releasing Reed this year are only significant if the Falcons have a target in mind with the money and feel they won’t miss the player very much.

Given that Reed had two sacks, came to life in a big way early in the playoffs, and plays a relative position of need for these Falcons, I don’t imagine he’ll be cut. With Vic Beasley, Derrick Shelby, Adrian Clayborn, and possibly Courtney Upshaw returning and plenty of talent in the draft, it’s not a done deal for Reed that he’ll be here, even so.

If the Falcons were to cut all three of these players, for some reason, they would save about $8 million. That would buy you another nice free agent or two, but unless they’re going to replace all of these guys with solid mid-tier players or rookies, you’re talking about removing a starter and two quality part-timers from the rotation. Given that this team has not seemed overly interested in paying out the nose for multiple big-time free agents, I doubt you’ll see more than one man here cut.

 

© 2017 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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