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  1. Falcons riding with Southward, Godfrey at free safety -- for now By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn realizes he has to get the free safety position solidified, and for now, he'll do that by sticking with a couple of players currently on the roster. Quinn said the team has to ride with veteran Charles Godfrey and second-year player Dezmen Southward at the position. "No. 1, we have Charles and Dez we're going to talk about at free safety," Quinn said. "Both of those guys have history at the position. And we're going to continue to look, as we go through this draft, at all spots, safety being that way as well." The Falcons appeared to be high on Ron Parker from Kansas City before Parker re-signed with the Chiefs. Former Baltimore Ravens safety Darian Stewart was in Atlanta on a visit when he decided to sign with the Denver Broncos. And Dwight Lowery, the Falcons' starting free safety last season, conceded that the Falcons are looking for taller safeties with more speed than he has to offer, so he remains on the open market. There aren't really many veteran options left for the Falcons, anyhow. "I'm not really looking to build the team through free agency," Quinn said. "There's going to be guys that we added who are going to be part of it this year. But in terms of 'Oh man, we didn't get a guy in free agency,' that will never be the case. Put it this way: I don't worry about the guys who are not here." Godfrey, who signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal to return, has 75 career starts through seven NFL seasons. The 6-foot-1-inch, 210-pound Southward has the speed to cover the type of range Quinn wants in a safety. However, he is inexperienced and not known for making plays on the ball. Southward, who is recovering from offseason wrist surgery, might be moved to corner if Godfrey pans out or if the Falcons find a capable starting free safety in the draft. Southward has spent time this offseason working on his press coverage technique. "We're going to see how it plays out," Quinn said of Southward's status. "He's a valuable guy for us. He has versatility. I love it. Just like a defensive end who can play tackle, he's a safety who can play corner. So, can't wait to see what he can do. It may well could be him at corner, but I don't know that yet." The Falcons have visited with at least one safety prospect in the past few weeks when they checked out Virginia's Anthony Harris, who led the nation with eight interceptions in 2013. At strong safety, the Falcons are set to proceed with William Moore, although Moore might not do much this offseason coming off major shoulder surgery. Kemal Ishmael proved himself more than capable of being a playmaker at safety and is one of the team's best tacklers.
  2. Could Rob Housler be Falcons' answer at tight end? By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com A couple of tight end targets got away from the Atlanta Falcons to start free agency. Will another one end up elsewhere? A source told ESPN.com that former Arizona Cardinals tight end Rob Housler "visited" the Falcons on Friday. It's unclear whether Housler remains in town or intends to sign. Discussions are ongoing, according to the source. The Falcons already watched Niles Paul re-sign with the Washington Redskins and Lance Kendricks re-sign with the St. Louis Rams. In fact, Kendricks said Friday he turned down more money from the Falcons to sign a four-year, $18.5-million contract with the Rams. Kendricks explained why he spurned the Falcons to ESPN's St. Louis Rams reporter, Nick Wagoner. "It’s not always about the money," Kendricks said. "I think being able to come to work and be happy and work with some of the people that [you] love being around, that’s a little more important, just the common bond we all have as players and players from St. Louis. We all kind of walk with a chip on our shoulders. For me, I just love it here, so I [had] to make sure I was able to stay." Kendricks said the Falcons didn't hide how they felt about him. "Atlanta really pushed hard to get me and they made their interest known very soon, which told me that I’m a valuable player, which shows a lot and goes to the hard work that we all put in," he said, according to Wagoner. "I’m just glad to know that I’m valued and wanted." Kendricks would have been a great red-zone target in Kyle Shanahan's system. Of course, the Falcons have been without a pass-catching tight end since Tony Gonzalez retired last offseason. Levine Toilolo, a big target at 6-foot-8 and 265 pounds, had his share of drops last season. He had the league's fourth-highest drop percentage among tight ends with at least 50 targets at 7.8 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Toilolo and Seattle's Jimmy Graham, formerly of the New Orleans Saints, were the only tight ends with three drops in a game last season. Housler caught just nine passes for 129 yards and no touchdowns last season and had a career-high 45 catches for 417 yards and no touchdowns in 2012. As ESPN's Arizona Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss pointed out, Housler simply was not a fit for the system last year and is not exactly known for his blocking. We'll see how things end up for the Falcons. If Housler doesn't work out and if the Falcons decide not to look into free agent Jermaine Gresham, the draft likely will be the next-best option, although it's a down year for tight ends.
  3. Adrian Clayborn eager to earn it with Atlanta By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com Adrian Clayborn knows he has something to prove. The former first-round pick of Tampa Bay flashed his potential in the past, yet didn't reach his own standards in four seasons with the Buccaneers. The defensive end began his career with 7.5 sacks in 2011, when he started all 16 games. Then, Clayborn tore his ACL in his right knee during Week 3 of the 2012 season. And last season, Clayborn played in just one game after tearing his biceps. Now, Clayborn is fresh off agreeing to a one-year, free-agent deal with Atlanta Falcons, a contract potentially worth $4.5 million. Still, one-year deals for players with injury histories indicate how a team wants a player to show his worth first. "I've been injured quite a bit in my career and I know that I have to prove myself," Clayborn said. "So I'm fine with the one-year deal. That played a part in me coming to this system. I think it's going to give me the best chance to prove myself and prove the skills that I have. And I'm excited about it." The Falcons need Clayborn to be a solid contributor to what is expected to be an improved pass rush. He'll join ex-Seattle Seahawks outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield, who also reached a contract with the team on Thursday. The Falcons offered a contract to Derrick Morgan, who opted to re-sign with the Tennessee Titans on a four-year, $30 million deal. Regardless of not securing Morgan, new Falcons coach Dan Quinn obviously has a plan to stockpile pass-rushers and he got two bargain ones in Clayborn and Schofield. The Falcons also are expected to bring in one of the top pass rushers in this year's draft class with the eighth-overall pick. Clayborn talked about what he brings as a pass-rusher. "I think the word to describe my pass rush is just physicality," the 6-foot-3-inch, 280-pound Clayborn said. "I'm not going to be the fastest guy around the edge and I'm not going to bull rush you over, but I've got a good combination of all of that speed and power. I'm just going to try and get to the quarterback." Clayborn should feel comfortable in his new surroundings. He will reunite with Falcons assistant head coach Raheem Morris, who drafted him while the head coach of the Buccaneers. Clayborn also played under Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox when Cox was an assistant in Tampa. "His coaching style, he's real," Clayborn said of Morris. "He'll keep it 100 percent with you. He doesn't tell you anything that's flaky stuff. And he rolls with you. He believes in you and he's going to have your back. I learned a lot about Dan Quinn over the last day and I get the same vibe from him. "Coach Cox, we had a good relationship when he was in Tampa. His coaching is very different than from anybody I've ever had. I'm just excited to be reunited with him and Raheem. Raheem believed in me from the start, so that just gives me a lot more confidence in my situation there." Clayborn also has some familiarity with his new teammate, Schofield. They share the same agent, Blake Baratz, and have hung out together on occasion. They also squared off against each other in college when Clayborn was at Iowa and Schofield at Wisconsin. "He's good, man," Clayborn said of Schofield. "He's blazing fast. He's definitely going to help out coming off the edge and really going to help this defense a lot." As for Clayborn, he said he is fully cleared for offseason work coming off the biceps injury. He has no concern about the injury resurfacing. Plus he's overcome a lot worse in the past. It's been well-documented how Clayborn has battled Erb's palsy, a condition that caused never damage to his right shoulder and arm when the doctors pulled him too hard through the birth canal. "I've had it all my life, so it's not something new that I have to deal with," he said. "Overcoming stuff is nothing new. I just deal with it."
  4. Falcons hosting Morgan, Clayborn for pass-rush help By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com The Atlanta Falcons are putting together a plan to address their pass-rush woes. One league source confirmed that former Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Derrick Morgan remains on his visit with the Falcons this morning, while another source said former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Adrian Clayborn is on his way to Atlanta to visit the team. Although it remains unclear if either player will agree to a contract, the Falcons need to at least corral one of the two. Getting both would be a significant upgrade for a team that finished second to last in the league in sacks per pass play the last two seasons and had the league's worst third-down defense a year ago. The 6-foot-3, 261-pound Morgan, who played his college ball at Georgia Tech, has 23 sacks in five NFL seasons, including at least six sacks in each of the last three seasons. Clayborn, a former first-round pick of the Buccaneers, has 13 career sacks, including 7.5 sacks during his rookie season. He played in just one game last season after tearing his biceps. Clayborn, who turns 27 in July, also has battled a condition called Erb’s Palsy, a disability that caused nerve damage to his right shoulder and arm when the doctors pulled him too hard through the birth canal. It hasn’t prevented him from excelling on the football field although he rushes better from the left side to get his arm up. The Falcons signed one player capable of contributing to the pass rush in outside linebacker Brooks Reed, who is viewed more as a strong run defender with solid coverage skills. Of course, the Falcons are expected to use the eighth-overall pick in his year's draft to secure a top pass-rusher such as Nebraska's Randy Gregory, Clemson's Vic Beasley or Missouri's Shane Ray. In other news, the Falcons still have receiver Leonard Hankerson in for a visit this morning, according to a source. The anticipation is he will be signed. Hankerson played for Washington the last four seasons and is familiar with Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme from when Shanahan was with the Redskins.
  5. Quiet Falcons will make their moves, eventually By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com While all the big splashes were going on around the NFL involving the likes of Ndamukong Suh and LeSean McCoy, the Atlanta Falcons remained relatively quiet during the start of the free-agent negotiating period. Word from various agents is the Falcons aren't going to pay top dollar for a pass-rusher, which has been the indication from the start, despite the pressing need. But the team will address the issue, maybe with a second-tier guy or two. Names such as Philadelphia's Brandon Graham, Tennessee's Derrick Morgan, and the Pittsburgh duo of Arthur Moats and Jason Worilds could be pursued. Plus it remains unclear just how much money Washington's Brian Orakpo will command based on his injury history. If he's in the $5 t0 $7-million range, maybe he's worth serious consideration. Some wanted the Falcons to pursue Buffalo's Jerry Hughes, but there is no way they would have come close to the five-year, $45 million Hughes secured to remain with the Bills. Outside of pass-rusher, the Falcons now have a bigger void to fill at inside linebacker with Sean Weatherspoon expected to sign with Arizona. Seattle's Malcolm Smith, a disciple of coach Dan Quinn when Quinn was the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks, was the Super Bowl MVP a couple years back and would add versatility to the position. Tampa Bay's Mason Foster is another inside linebacker the Falcons should at least consider. And Chicago's Lance Briggs is a veteran with at least a good year left in him who would be open to a move to Atlanta. At least one name did surface over the weekend in relation to the Falcons: outside linebacker Brooks Reed from the Houston Texans. The Falcons are one of three teams in the mix for Reed, who is known as a strong run defender with good instincts and a high motor, but limited pass-rush skills. The secondary also has to be addressed with needs at safety and nickel back. The Falcons weren't in on veteran safety Devin McCourty, who re-signed with New England for a five-year, $47.5-million contract with $28.5 million guaranteed. The Falcons probably now have to turn their attention to Kansas City's Ron Parker, a safety with cornerback skills and tremendous range. However, Parker is attracting plenty of interest, and is likely to benefit from the deal McCourty landed. The Falcons always could turn back to Dwight Lowery, who was the starting free safety last season on a one-year deal. So far, there has been no action between the team and Lowery's camp. In terms of cornerback, some envisioned the Falcons plucking Byron Maxwell from Seattle to team with Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. That was never a reality based on the high demand for Maxwell, who will receive a six-year, $63 million contract with $25 million guaranteed from Philadelphia. The Falcons should turn their attention to another former Seahawk to bolster the nickel back spot: Walter Thurmond, currently under contract with the New York Giants. Thurmond suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in 2014, so his asking price should be much more reasonable. Tight end and running back are the other areas for the Falcons to address. They lost one target in Niles Paul when Paul re-signed with Washington for three years, $10 million. Now, the Falcons might want to turn to Owen Daniels from Baltimore or Lance Kendricks from St. Louis to fill the void. Jordan Cameron from Cleveland doesn't appear to be an option based on his concussion issues. At Running back, the Falcons strongly believe in Devonta Freeman after cutting Steven Jackson. They still could use another back, particularly if Antone Smith gets lured away by the New York Giants, who reportedly have expressed interest in him. Baltimore's Justin Forsett, another former Seahawk, would fit perfectly in Kyle Shanahan's outside-zone blocking scheme. Forsett will have plenty of suitors, though, coming off a 1,000-yard season.
  6. Thursday, March 5, 2015 Clemson's Vic Beasley has NFL's attention By Vaughn McClure CLEMSON, S.C. -- Former Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is obviously a little biased when talking about his former teammates, but he sounded convincing when he made a bold claim about draft-bound pass-rusher Vic Beasley. "There's nobody that matches him in the country," Boyd said Thursday during Clemson's pro day. "I think that he's an instant-impact player in the NFL. People talk about [Florida's] Dante Fowler and how he could be the No. 1 defensive player taken. But I think it would be a mistake not to take Vic first. "Somebody asked me who you could compare him to. You can't do it with J.J. Watt because J.J. Watt is not as explosive as Vic, and J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the league." Vic Beasley is Clemson's career leader in sacks (33). When told about Boyd's high praise and favorable comparison to Watt, Beasley snickered for a moment. "I don't know," he eventually said. "I guess we'll see at the next level." The 6-foot-3-inch Beasley, who weighed in at 246 pounds on Thursday, earned the league's attention with his jaw-dropping performance at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds, completed 35 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press and posted a 41-inch vertical leap. Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan likened Beasley's combine effort to Mike Mamula's breathtaking showing at the 1995 combine. Mamula, a pass-rusher from Boston College, was selected seventh overall by the Philadelphia Eagles and played for five seasons, but never became a star. "The Mamula one jumps out at you but the difference is, Vic Beasley's a baller," said Ryan, whose son Seth is a Clemson wide receiver. "I knew Beasley would blow it away, but he also led the nation in sacks and everything else. The guy is a great football player. It's not like it's a fluke, any of Beasley's numbers. The kid is a phenomenal athlete." Beasley showed off a bit more of his athleticism while going through individual position drills Thursday in front of the likes of Rex Ryan, New England coach Bill Belichick, Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly and Arizona general manager Steve Keim. Beasley floated through the exercises with ease, although he had to laugh at himself when he tripped at the finish line during one agility drill. So what else did Beasley have to prove? "That linebacker [drill] and what I did today just showcased that I'm a versatile player and able to rush, like I did at Clemson, and I'm able to drop in space," he said. Beasley said he is getting more attention from teams that run 3-4 defenses than he is from 4-3 teams, but that he's ready to adjust to any scheme. Leonard Williams of USC is considered the best defensive prospect in the draft, but Beasley's name continues to be associated with the top edge rushers: Nebraska'sRandy Gregory, Missouri's Shane Ray and Fowler. Being the first of those four to be drafted would mean something to Beasley, even if he tried to downplay the significance. "You want to go out there on the field and think you're the best," Beasley said. "You want to play like the best. You want to play with an edge. You can't think that you're the second guy. Everybody's aiming for No. 1, and that's what I need to be out there on the field." The Cardinals, with the 24th overall pick, are looking for pass-rushers. Beasley more than likely won't be available then. That didn't stop Keim from gushing over Beasley's ability while dissecting the top-tier pass-rushers in this year's draft. "It's a great group of pass-rushers, but you go back to what really matters, and that's the tape," Keim said. "I say it all the time: We go out in the fall and we fall in love with players and in the springtime, we confuse ourselves. But then you have a player like Vic Beasley who not only looks great in workouts, but also backs it up on tape with his get-off, his ability to bend the corner, his ability to rush the passer. When you have the complete package like that, it's a little different. "In general, you have to be careful about how much stock you put into these workouts because the tape really tells the truth of what the player really is." The tape says Beasley could be on the verge of stardom.
  7. How the McCoy-Alonso trade might affect the Falcons By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com The big news this week, of course, was ESPN Insider Adam Schefter's scoop on the Philadelphia Eagles trading running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso. The move could have a ripple effect for the Atlanta Falcons, with the free-agent negotiating period set to begin Saturday. Linebacker is a priority position for the Falcons going into free agency, along with edge rusher and safety. The Falcons were expected to at least look into New York Jets linebacker David Harris. However, the void left by Alonso means the Bills and Rex Ryan, the Jets' previous coach, will no doubt make a serious run at Harris. Not to mention the Jets and new coach Todd Bowles want to re-sign Harris, meaning there could be a bidding war. Don't expect the Falcons to get involved, if such occurs. Yes, Harris is an impact player who would fit nicely in coach Dan Quinn's scheme. Plus Quinn, a former assistant with the Jets, is familiar with Harris' talent. However, the Falcons surely won't overpay for any player -- not a standout linebacker or even an impact pass-rusher. There will be other linebacker options for the Falcons to pursue. First and foremost, they have to worry about re-signing their own in Sean Weatherspoon. Talks with Weatherspoon are ongoing, and both Quinn and general Thomas Dimitroff expressed a desire to bring him back coming off an Achilles tear. Tampa Bay's Mason Foster will generate interest on the open market. He has a direct tie to the Falcons' staff, having been drafted by assistant head coach Raheem Morris when Morris was the Buccaneers' head coach. Foster, 26, started as a rookie but has had to adjust to three different defensive coordinators in four NFL seasons. Continuity moving forward would no doubt help his cause. Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith from Seattle played under Quinn the past two seasons when Quinn was the Seahawks defensive coordinator. Smith is an outside linebacker with the versatility to play middle linebacker, and his familiarity with Quinn's scheme makes him a viable option despite Smith not being a regular starter throughout his career. Word is veteran linebacker Lance Briggs, 34, from the Chicago Bears would be open to moving to Atlanta as he winds down his NFL career. That's not to say the Falcons would be interested in Briggs, but the seven-time Pro Bowler might have a good year left in him, if healthy. And if free agency doesn't fill the Falcons' linebacker need, there's always the draft.
  8. Where Falcons stand with cap following release of Steven Jackson By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com The Atlanta Falcons cleared some cap space Thursday with the release of veteran running back Steven Jackson. Jackson had one year left on his contract. By cutting him, the Falcons saved $3.75 million in cap room. As of Thursday afternoon, before the announcement of Jackson's release, the Falcons stood $23,163,843 under what is projected to be a $143 million cap, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That number included the combined $1,442,500 cap figures for two players who signed extensions this week: defensive lineman Cliff Matthews ($745,000 cap number) and fullback Patrick DiMarco ($697,500). Factoring in Jackson's release, that would take the number to $26,913,843, which is a good amount of room for a team in dire need of pass-rushers, not to mention help at linebacker, tight end, wide receiver, defensive back, and perhaps even running back. The $26,913,843 figure does not take into account the new three-year, $8.5 million extension signed by kicker Matt Bryant. His cap number for $2015 is $2,483,333, which would bring the cap space down to $24,430,510. Jackson had the team's seventh-highest cap figure leading into the 2015 season. Now, the Top 10 are the following: 1. Matt Ryan -- $19,500,000 2. Julio Jones -- $10,176,000 3. Justin Blalock -- $7,910,000 4. Sam Baker -- $7,300,000 5. Roddy White -- $5,540,625 6. William Moore -- $5,525,000 7. Paul Soliai -- $4,400,000 8. Harry Douglas -- $4,395,834 9. Jon Asamoah -- $4,300,000 10. Joe Hawley -- $4,000,000 Obviously, Blalock looks to be a candidate to be released, particularly with a new zone-blocking scheme that favors smaller, quicker linemen. Releasing him would save $3,790,000 in cap space and $4,750,000 for 2015 if he's designated a post-June 1 cut. I don't see the Falcons giving up on Baker just yet, even despite his high cap number and injury history. He is athletic enough to fit the new scheme, if his surgically repaired knee is back to strength. Designating him a June 1 cut would provide a cap savings of $4,500,000 for 2015. A team is allowed to make two such June 1 designations per season. Such designations defer part of the payment until the next year.
  9. Antone Smith: Who wouldn't want to be a Falcon? By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com He was no doubt the Atlanta Falcons' MVP through the first half of last season. Now, Antone Smith is just waiting to see what his NFL future holds. The diminutive running back, who has averaged 49 yards per scoring play on seven career touchdowns, continues to patiently wait for news on a new a contract. While nothing has been relayed to Smith personally just yet, word at the NFL combine last week was Smith indeed is one of the players with an expiring contract the Falcons have prioritized to bring back. But there also were whispers in Indianapolis about the New York Giants being interested in Smith. Not to mention former Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is now in Tampa and knows how special a talent Smith is. Smith, who turns 30 in September, has low mileage with just 44 touches in five NFL seasons. New Falcons coach Dan Quinn has emphasized the need for speed, which is Smith's biggest asset when he's healthy. Plus, owner Arthur Blank previously expressed a desire to keep Smith around for years to come. "Who wouldn't want to be a Falcon?" Smith said. "Heck yeah, I want to be here." There is one obstacle Smith has to overcome, however. He is still in the process of rehabbing the broken right leg that prematurely ended his 2014 season. "I can't do too much right now," Smith said. "It's about getting strength back in the leg. It was a broken tibia. I have no idea when I'm going to start running again. But my thought is, I'm always going to be confident in myself. I'll be back to full strength." With four touchdowns of 40 or more yards last season, Smith ranked third in the league behind Green Bay's Jordy Nelson (seven) and Washington's DeSean Jackson (five), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Smith had five touchdowns overall on 36 touches while playing in 10 games. "He made us more explosive," former Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice said of Smith. "His percentage of explosive plays were lights out." Smith's speed and explosion would be ideal in new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's outside-zone blocking scheme, which depends on a one-cut-and-go mentality for the running backs. Shanahan, Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have raved about how second-year back Devonta Freeman could thrive in the new system. And the Falcons could add another veteran back such as Justin Forsett, with Steven Jackson expected to be released. No matter what, there should be a place in Shanahan's offense for a dynamic playmaker such as Smith. "That system can fit any back," Smith said. "The sky's the limit in that system. If I am a Falcon, that would be my pedigree right there." Not to be forgotten is Smith's contribution on special teams as a gunner. He led the Falcons with 10 special-teams tackles during the 2013 season. The humble Smith, as usual, downplayed his significance to the team. "I feel like I'm just like anybody else," Smith said. "I just like to play football. I never really look at how valuable I am. I just want to play."
  10. Dante Fowler looking forward to reuniting with Falcons coach Dan QuinnBy Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com INDIANAPOLIS -- University of Florida pass-rusher Dante Fowler Jr., who was recruited to the Gators by new Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn, said he is looking forward to reuniting with Quinn at this year's NFL combine. Fowler met with members of the Falcons' personnel department during his first two days in town, but he hadn't seen Quinn as of Friday morning. "I love him,'' Fowler said of Quinn, who was Florida's defensive coordinator in 2011 and 2012. "Coach Quinn, he's a great guy. He took me in as like his little son my freshman year. Going into the SEC and playing in the SEC as a defensive lineman your first year is very hard. He just showed me the ropes and he got my feet wet. He was always there through the process -- school, football and things like that. He's a great coach.'' Quinn expressed mutual admiration for Fowler, who could be considered by the Falcons with the eighth-overall pick. The team sorely needs pass-rushers. "It's very rewarding for me to see that Dante's turned out to be the player that we thought maybe he would have been three or four years ago,'' Quinn said. "And now it's up to him to continue and take the next step and develop.'' Some view Fowler, who measured in at 6-feet-2.5 and 261 pounds, as a perfect candidate to play the "LEO'" standup pass-rusher in Quinn's defensive scheme. Fowler agreed. "The LEO position, that's me,'' Fowler said. "I'm a hybrid. I can drop into coverage. I can play the flats. I like how Coach Quinn runs his defense, with a lot of out-fits and things like that. Just being able to give the opposing offensive coordinators headaches, I'm everywhere. "I can go play in the A-gap. I can play middle linebacker. Rushing the B-gaps and stunts, I can do all that.'' Fowler impressed the media with his polite laid-back approach. We'll see if he impresses the rest of the Falcons' organization in the same manner he already won over Quinn. "I can't wait to see Coach Quinn,'' Fowler said. "Really, I just can't wait.'"
  11. Retired Ryan Clark to train Falcons Robert Alford By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com INDIANAPOLIS -- Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford should get plenty of helpful advice from a knowledgeable source as he prepares for the 2015 season. Long-time NFL defensive back Ryan Clark, who officially retired from the NFL on Wednesday to become a full-time analyst for ESPN, will train Alford in Louisiana starting in three weeks. "All the advice and things I do have to offer him he's going to get, from helping him watch film to helping him understand where he was beat on certain plays, to how he can improve himself, physically,'' Clark said. ``But also the mental approach to the game. So I'm excited about getting an opportunity to work with him. Anytime you get a chance to work with a true friend, somebody you've known a long time, it's exciting.'' Alford and Clark both are from Louisiana. Alford's brother, former New Orleans Saints cornerback Fred Booker, was Clark's college roommate at LSU. ``That's how I met Rob and that's how our relationship has continued to grow,'' Clark said. ``And it really started to become a relationship when he was coming into the draft: just advising him on certain ways to work, certain things to watch out for, certain pitfalls. And that just continued to blossom into what has become a friendship now. Hopefully, it turns into a mentorship.'' Clark said Alford is rehabbing in Atlanta right now. Alford suffered a season-ending broken wrist that required surgery. It will be interesting to see how new Falcons coach Dan Quinn and his staff assess Alford, who has plenty of speed and athleticism but needs to work on his hands to avoid penalties. He was flagged seven times for pass interference or defensive holding last season. ``I think the way you work on that is you getting him confident enough in his skills of playing the ball and his skills of being down the field with receivers where he doesn't panic and have to grab,'' Clark said. ``A lot of times, it's about not having confidence in finishing that play that makes defenders grab the offensive player. ``We're going to work on those things. We're going to work on those drills. But also, it comes through the confidence in training camp and [organized team activities] of being on Roddy White or being on Julio Jones and stopping those guys from catching balls and then knowing that 90 percent of the guys he'll play against won't be better than practicing against those two every day.'' The Falcons are expected to bring in a cornerback or two to possibly compete for starting roles. Desmond Trufant no doubt is set at one spot. Alford could be pushed if the team signs a player such as free-agent-to-be Byron Maxwell, who started 17 games for Quinn in Seattle the past two seasons. It wouldn't be a stretch to wonder if the Falcons would consider moving Alford into a nickel back role, considering they want to upgrade that spot anyhow. ``I think his skill-set is actually good for that,'' Clark said of Alford at nickel. ``He's a quick guy. He's fast. You can get him stronger. But also mentally, I think he can handle the load of doing that. So it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. But it would be a bad thing to Robert because he would feel like it was a demotion. ``Whatever happens, happens. But I think the cool thing about me being able to work with Robert is my last position coach was [Falcons assistant head coach] Raheem Morris. There will be some things from [Morris] that I can pass on to Rob that he can have a leg up going up against some of these guys in training camp and OTAs. And hopefully he will do well.''
  12. Countdown to Combine: Atlanta Falcons RBs By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com A closer look at the areas the Atlanta Falcons could address in the draft. We got started Monday with a look at the pass-rushers, who are scheduled to work out Sunday in Indianapolis. Then we examined the receivers, scheduled to work out Saturday. Lastly, we'll dissect some of the running backs. Position of need: Running back. The Falcons need to upgrade in the backfield and that's likely to start with the release of veteran Steven Jackson. New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan brings with him an emphasis on the outside zone-blocking scheme and one-cut-and-go mentality for the running backs. The Falcons will benefit from having younger legs in such a scheme. Don't discount second-year player Devonta Freeman, who is eager to take the next step and could thrive in the system. But the Falcons need more bodies, and Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith are headed to free agency. Keep an eye on Justin Forsett, who also is bound for free agency. Forsett thrived in the zone-blocking scheme the past season en route to a career-high 1,266 rushing yards. And Forsett is represented by the same agent who represents Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Three players the Falcons could target in the draft: Tevin Coleman (RB), Indiana: The Falcons won't get a closer look at Coleman's skills at the combine because he is sidelined by a foot injury. But as long as Coleman's injury doesn't linger long, he'll be a hot prospect come draft time. His is projected to be a second-round pick, so the Falcons might want to consider him there if they don't go with a receiver. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Coleman has the speed to make that one cut and take it to the house, as evident from his 90-yard touchdown against the speedy Ohio State defense this past season. Coleman finished the year with 2,062 rushing yards on 270 carries with 15 touchdowns. Impressive. Matt Jones (RB), Florida: The fact that James is known as a one-cut, downhill runner isn't the only reason he's on this list. Jones, who declared early, was recruited to Florida by Falcons head coach Dan Quinn when Quinn was the Gators' defensive coordinator. Certainly the familiarity should help. James is projected as a fifth-rounder and could help himself at the combine, of course. This past season, the 6-2, 226-pound Jones rushed for 817 yards on 166 carries with six touchdowns and one touchdown reception. He has had a couple of knee surgeries, which could raise some red flags. Josh Robinson (RB), Mississippi State: Robinson, projected as a sixth-round pick, played in a zone-blocking scheme with the Bulldogs, so the transition would be easy for him. The 5-9, 215-pound Robinson has to answer some questions about his speed, although he's shown the ability to bounce off tackles. This past season, he rushed for 1,238 yards on 190 carries with 11 touchdowns and a long run of 73 yards. Robinson also caught 28 passes for 370 yards and a touchdown.
  13. Three things we learned at Combine: Falcons By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com INDIANAPOLIS -- The Atlanta Falcons tandem of head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff are scheduled to address the media at the NFL combine on Thursday. However, there was some scattered talk about the Falcons during the first day of access. Here are three things we learned about the Falcons from Day 1: Quinn is well-respected by other NFL coaches: Quinn has developed a strong reputation around the league, particularly for his work as the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator the last two seasons. And his work has gone noticed by his fellow head coaches. Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he "loved" Quinn and the staff Quinn built is going to be "awesome." Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith views Quinn joining the NFC South as a positive. "Good football coach," Smith said of Quinn. "He's done it the right way. He's done a great job wherever he's been, whether it was with the Jets, Miami, of course what he did at Seattle and the University of Florida. And being on the defensive side of the football, I've watched him closely. So, he will make it tougher to win in the division." Devonta Freeman should be well-prepared for Kyle Shanahan's outside zone blocking scheme: Freeman, the second year running back, it itching to get back to work under his new offensive coordinator Shanahan. And Freeman should have little trouble adjusting to a new zone blocking scheme. Just ask his former teammate at Florida State, offensive lineman Bobby Hart. "Well at Florida State, a lot of our schemes were zone," said Hart, who is transitioning from tackle to guard at this year's combine. "We were both inside and outside zone. In my opinion, we did a pretty good job at it. ... I still keep in contact with Devonta and he is one of my best friends. Whenever we ran zone or stretches or stuff like that, he always found a way to hit the hole. We didn't have to give him too big of a hole. He just hit it." Plenty of eyes will be on the pass-rushers: The Falcons sorely need to add an edge rusher or two and most likely will target that position with the eighth-overall pick. ESPN draft expert Todd McShay talked about Nebraska's Randy Gregory, Missouri's Shane Ray and Florida's Dante Fowler Jr. as the top guys off the edge. It's just a matter of which order those three will fall in the draft, but the Falcons would benefit from getting either of the three. St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead, who has a pretty formidable pass rush led by Robert Quinn, talked in general terms about the pass-rushers at the top of this year's draft. "I think at the top, there's definitely some guys in college football that rush the passer well," Snead said. "The hardest part about that position is will what they bring to the table translate to the NFL game and who is protecting the passer."
  14. How much will Falcons be willing to invest in pass-rushers? By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com Everyone knows the Atlanta Falcons desperately need to improve their pass rush. Having the league's worst third-down defense and ranking tied for 30th in the league with 22 sacks in 2014 simply emphasized the point. The question is, how much will the Falcons invest to make the necessary upgrades to improve the pass rush? I asked owner Arthur Blank if the Falcons would be willing to pay a high price for a elite pass-rusher. "I think we've always been willing to invest whatever to get the best players we can and obviously the best coaching staff to coach those players," Blank said. "So my answer would be 'Yes.' "The NFL has its salary cap and its limits. It's designed for, theoretically, a level playing field. Through talent evaluation and through the coaching staff's selections and the resources that coaches (have), there are a lot of ways you can unlevel the playing field in your favor. And the great organizations in the NFL figure ways to do that over a long period of time, not just one year." Maybe the Falcons won't be able to solve all their woes in just one year. But 2015 could be a significant step in the right direction for a team that sorely needs pass-rushers. New coach Dan Quinn, a pass-rush guru, got spoiled with the group he had in Seattle as the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks. Now, he inherits a team with essentially no legitimate threat off the edge. Remember, the Falcons opted to target run-stuffers Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson in free agency last season rather than securing a pass-rusher or two. And everybody obviously signed off on adding the big space-eaters, no matter who wants to point fingers for the oversight. Signing a player such as Justin Houston from Kansas City, Jason Pierre-Paul from the New York Giants or Greg Hardy from Carolina this offseason sounds so appealing. But it seems unlikely -- though not impossible -- that the Falcons would shovel out $12-15 million per year for such a player. Not to mention the franchise tag could keep top-flight pass-rushers from going anywhere. Washington's Brian Orakpo would have been a top target for the Falcons last offseason had he not been hit with the franchise tag. Orakpo is set to hit the open market in March but is coming off a season-ending right pectoral tear. It will be interesting to see if the Falcons maintain an interest in the three-time Pro Bowler, who has 40 career sacks. The Falcons might be better off targeting a pass-rusher such as Pernell McPhee from the Baltimore Ravens. He didn't start a game last season yet was productive with 7.5 sacks and 26 quarterback hits to go with 11 tackles for losses while playing 489 of 1,034 defensive snaps. The former fifth-round pick from Mississippi State made a modest $645,000 last season. McPhee, 26, will get a significant raise but won't force teams to break the bank. Chicago found a bargain pass-rusher last season with the addition of Willie Young at $3 million per year. Young delivered a team-leading 10 sacks and 10 quarterback hits in his first season with the Bears. Adding just one capable pass-rusher won't be enough for the Falcons. They need to stockpile as many as possible. Two names worth monitoring on the free-agent market are Adrian Clayborn from Tampa Bay and O'Brien Schofield from Seattle. Clayborn, 26, was drafted in the first round by new Falcons assistant head coach Raheem Morris when Morris was the head coach of the Buccaneers. Clayborn also had Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox as his position coach in Tampa. Scofield, who turns 28 in April, played for Quinn the last two seasons in Seattle and is familiar with Quinn's scheme, so he's a natural fit and would add more depth to the position. There will be other reasonably priced options as well. And Quinn could get more out of players such as Ra'Shede Hageman, Malliciah Goodman and Corey Peters, if the Falcons opt to re-sign Peters. Plus the Falcons are expected to target a pass-rusher with the eighth-overall pick in this year's NFL draft. The Falcons have an estimated $21 million in cap space right now, based on ESPN Stats & Information figures and a projected $140 million team limit. They could increase that amount before free agency March 10 with the release of veterans such as running back Steven Jackson ($3.75 million cap savings) and possibly guard Justin Blalock ($3.79 million cap savings), who currently has a '15 cap figure of $7.91 million. We'll see how this all plays out. But one thing is for certain: The Falcons are in a rush to improve.
  15. Now it's time for the Falcons to build Dan Quinn's roster By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- New Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn knows how to control a room. He's also savvy enough not to come across as a control freak. When asked Tuesday about being a first-time head coach, yet having the power to control the makeup of the 53-man roster, Quinn made a point of emphasizing that general manager Thomas Dimitroff would be his right-hand guy throughout the process. "Thomas and I are going to collaborate," Quinn said. "For he and I to be this close and connected, that was an important part for me. You know when you meet somebody right off the bat, you know you can connect? It's like ... 'OK, this is my kind of guy.' So for he and I to connect in that way to talk about players -- I can't wait to get started with him and go through the whole process together." [+] EnlargeDale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsOn the immediate to-do list for new Falcons coach Dan Quinn: strengthen the team's inept pass rush. Pressed on the topic of controlling the 53-man roster, Quinn wouldn't budge. "We're so fortunate to be in that spot," Quinn said, "but like I said, [Dimitroff] and I are connected on this." Quinn obviously sold the Falcons on his vision to come in and be a take-charge type of head coach. It's exactly what an organization seeking to get back to its winning ways sorely needs: a fresh, new approach. What will that mean in relation to building the roster? Well, Quinn's recurring theme of playing fast and physical would suggest he knows exactly the type of players -- at least defensively -- he plans to target in free agency and the draft or mold from the current roster. As the Seattle Seahawks' coordinator he was in charge of the best all-around defense in the league the past two seasons. He knows the kind of athletes who best fit what he wants to accomplish in a 4-3 defense. And Quinn plans to wear his coordinator hat, on occasion. "It starts with effort first," Quinn said of his defensive philosophy. "That's always the thing that we talk about right at the forefront of it. ... We want to be really aggressive in terms of the way we attack the football. "Past that, we want to play as fast and as physical as we can. For us to play that style, we won't have 1,000 different defenses. What we will do, it's not necessarily what we play, it's how we play it." Turning around what was the league's worst defense last season starts up front. The Falcons, who own the eighth overall pick in this year's draft, have to find multiple pass-rushers to help alleviate some of the pressure on the rest of the defense. The pass rush has been neglected in recent years and has to be addressed, now. Remember, Dimitroff and the Falcons opted to pursue big run-stuffers Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson last season. Quinn fully understands the significance of quality pass-rushers and pinpointed the traits he seeks from such players. "Speed and length," he said. "And ultimately as a pass-rusher, it's his ability to finish. Very rarely as a pass-rusher do you beat a guy just cleanly and, 'OK, there's the sack' or 'there's the hit on the quarterback.' [but] the speed and the get-off, those are the things that we look for in the rushers first. But we don't necessarily just talk about rushers just as D-ends. It's defensive tackles, too. And it's all four of those guys working in concert together." Quinn preached balance on offense, which might take some adjustment for a team used to airing it out. He realizes he is inheriting a jewel at quarterback, Matt Ryan, and a game-changing receiver, Julio Jones, whom Quinn would like to remain with the Falcons long-term. It will be interesting to see, though, if Quinn seeks out a running back in the same mold as Marshawn Lynch to handle the load in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme. With the new power structure, Quinn has to work in concert with both Dimitroff and assistant general manager Scott Pioli, who will oversee the free agency and draft efforts and report back to Dimitroff. It would be hard to imagine Dimitroff and Pioli just bringing in players whom Quinn would turn away. So, from that aspect, it indeed has to be a collaborative effort among the three. If anything, both Dimitroff and Pioli have to put their egos aside and realize they have to do what fits Quinn's strategy. Dimitroff said Tuesday that he and former coach Mike Smith rarely, if ever, disagreed over players. Still, as somebody who grew accustomed to calling all the shots, the new setup could be a gut-wrenching challenge to Dimitroff. But he has no choice but to comply. "Given the fact that this is Dan Quinn and the fact that he has all of his understanding of the defense and all of his understanding of how he believes he wants to build a football team, I have no problem with how this setup is at all," Dimitroff said. "I encouraged it." If Dimitroff is indeed all-in, that's an encouraging sign as the Falcons try to rebuild a winner.
  16. Dan Quinn has final say on roster Updated: February 3, 2015, 1:31 PM ETBy Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- New head coach Dan Quinn will have the final say over the Atlanta Falcons' 53-man roster, owner Arthur Blank said Tuesday. Quinn, the former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator, agreed to a five-year deal to coach the Falcons on Monday. Blank said building the roster will be a collaboration between Quinn, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and assistant general manager Scott Pioli. The Falcons announced a change in the front-office structure in January that designated that Quinn and Dimitroff would report to Blank separately. Pioli assumed responsibility for free agency and the draft while reporting to Dimitroff in the process. The restructuring marked a shift of power away from Dimitroff, although the Falcons refuse to refer to it as such. When the organization parted ways with former coach Mike Smith, some wondered whether Dimitroff would be next. But Dimitroff will remain in the fold. "To be specific, Thomas, as a general manager, will have final authority over free agents and draft picks, Scott [Pioli] now has responsibility for running free agency and the draft,'' Blank said. "Dan will have final authority over the 53- and 46-man rosters and practice squad.'' Blank went on to say the structure isn't unusual in the NFL. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll have final say of their rosters, as does Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay, just to name a few. "Ten of the clubs work this way, including eight that have hired new head coaches since 2010,'' Blank said. "So it is a current trend. More importantly, this about maximizing the capabilities of Thomas and Scott while adding Dan's unique [perspective].'' Dimitroff shrugged off any loss of power. "One of the most important things to me is to come together in a partnership and come together as a team,'' he said. "This is not about individuals. This about working together, side by side. I said it back in 2008, the day I came into this organization, and I believe it today: This is not about who has authority over anything in particular. This is about working together. "And I'm strongly encouraged by our approach in this and I'm so excited about kicked things off with Dan. He's a heck of a partner. He's a loyal guy. He's a guy that understands football and playing fiery, passionate and free. And that's the important thing. It's not about who has the final 53 or who has authority over one thing or another. It's about working together. It's about a nice, equal footing and a partnership together. And I believe we will have that for many years to come.'' Quinn downplayed the significance of having control over the rosters. "I think, really, Thomas and I are going to collaborate,'' Quinn said. "For he and I to be this close and connected, that was an important part for me. You know when you meet somebody right off the bat, you know you can connect? It's like, I don't know if you met your roommate in college or whatever where it was like, 'OK, this is my kind of guy.' So for he and I to connect in that way to talk about players, I can't wait to get started with him and go through the whole process together.'' Quinn confirmed Tuesday that Kyle Shanahan will be his offensive coordinator and Richard Smith will be his defensive coordinator. Keith Armstrong, who was the special-teams coordinator under former coach Mike Smith, will remain in the position under Quinn. Raheem Morris, meanwhile, joins Quinn's staff as assistant head coach/defensive passing game coordinator. Other coaches named Tuesday include Bobby Turner (running backs) and Mike LaFleur (offensive assistant). In addition to Armstrong, coaches Bryan Cox (defensive line), Wade Harman (tight ends), Terry Robiskie (wide receivers) and Eric Sutulovich (assistant special teams) will remain on the Falcons' staff under Quinn.
  17. Cant post text but here is the iink http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/11683/players-excited-to-work-alongside-new-falcons-coach-dan-quinn
  18. Players excited to work alongside new Falcons coach Dan Quinn By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com Atlanta Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow knows plenty about his new head coach, Dan Quinn. Worrilow's friend and former college teammate at Delaware, Marcus Burley, played nickelback in Quinn's Seattle Seahawks' defense this past season. Worrilow already picked Burley's brain about Quinn. "Marcus had nothing but good things to say about (Quinn)," Worrilow said. "Energy-wise and passion and everything ... it's all positive. I'm excited just to get things started. I know everybody here is anxious to improve. "Him coming in with that defensive background and all the past success that he's had, he's obviously proven. And again, I've heard nothing but great things about him, and that he's a first-class kind of guy." Quinn was hired on Monday and will be introduced as the new head coach during a news conference this afternoon. He orchestrated one of the best defenses in the league the past two seasons as the Seahawks made it to back-to-back Super Bowls, winning the first. Richard Smith will be hired to be the Falcons' defensive coordinator, but Quinn's influence is certain to be felt on the defense. Quinn has operated with a 4-3 under defense that's included some 3-4 personnel tendencies. A key figure in the defense is the "LEO" stand-up pass-rusher, the role Bruce Irvin played for the Seahawks. Quinn also likes long cornerbacks and fast safeties. In general, his defenses play with speed and are physical downhill. "They just got after it so much," Worrilow said of the Seahawks. "I'm excited to learn from (Quinn) and what type of things he's going to bring to us. You want to mimic that type of production that he's had with them." Worrilow, the Falcons' leading tackler in each of the past two seasons, has been at the facility daily this offseason getting his body in shape for the 2015 campaign. He knows nothing is guaranteed in regard to a starting role, with Quinn and the Falcons expected to bring in more linebackers. But he hopes the work he puts in now helps him improve his speed and adjust to the new scheme. "I know my rookie season we were more of a 4-3 at times, and last year was a lot different, scheme-wise," Worrilow said. "We put in a lot of new stuff last year. I guess schematically, I felt better in a 4-3 look. The best thing you can do is be versatile and prepare yourself to play any position, really." Ra'Shede Hageman is a versatile defensive lineman who started to show some progress at the end of last season. It will be interesting to see how Quinn views Hageman's role. "From what I heard, I heard he's a great coach," Hageman said of Quinn. "The fact that Coach (Bryan) Cox is still on staff kind of puts me in a position where I can play comfortable. When I play relaxed, good things do happen." Hageman became more familiar with Quinn's defense by watching the Super Bowl. "The Seahawks are some dogs on defense," Hageman said. "They run. They play a 4-3, which I love. It's a lot more just firing off the ball, which is what I grew up doing. And I feel ultimately, if we do play that, I'll be a lot more comfortable and a lot more familiar with the terminology overall and how things work. So I'm definitely excited about that."
  19. Quick glance at five early Atlanta Falcons' coaching candidates By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com The Atlanta Falcons began their head-coaching search Monday by requesting permission to talk to five coordinators: Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, and Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. McDaniels, Quinn, and Gase can be interviewed immediately due to playoff byes. Here is a quick snapshot on each: TERYL AUSTIN Age: 49 Pro background: Lions defensive coordinator (2014), Ravens secondary coach (2011-13), Cardinals defensive backs coach (2007-09), Seahawks defensive backs coach (2003-06). Head-coaching experience: none Playing experience: safety, University of Pittsburgh (1984-87); Montreal Machine, World Football League (1991). 2014 performance: League's top rushing defense (69.3 ypg.), second-ranked total defense (300.9 ypg.), third-ranked scoring defense (17.6 ppg.) TODD BOWLES Age: 51 Pro background: Cardinals defensive coordinator (2013-present), Eagles defensive coordinator (2012), Eagles defensive backs coach (2012), Dolphins assistant coach/secondary (2008-11), Cowboys secondary coach (2005-07), Browns secondary coach/nickel backs coach (2001-04), Jets defensive backs coach (2000), Packers player personnel staff (1995-96). Head-coaching experience: Dolphins interim head coach, 2011 (2-1 record in three games) Playing experience: Safety, Washington Redskins (1986-93, 15 career INTs); defensive back, Temple University (1982-85). 2014 performance: League's fifth-ranked scoring defense, allowing just 18.7 points per game JOSH McDANIELS Age: 38 Pro background: Patriots offensive coordinator, offensive assistant (2012-present), Rams offensive coordinator (2011), Patriots offensive coordinator (2006-08), Patriots quarterbacks coach (2004-08), Patriots defensive assistant (2002-03), Patriots personnel assistant (2001). Head-coaching experience: Denver Broncos, 2009-10 (11-17 record, fired in December 2010) Playing experience: quarterback/wide receiver, John Carroll University, Ohio (1995-96) 2014 performance: League's fourth-ranked scoring offense (29.3 ppg) and ninth-ranked passing offense (257.6 ypg.) DAN QUINN Age: 44 Pro background: Seahawks defensive coordinator (2013-present), Seahawks assistant head coach/defensive line (2009-10), Jets defensive line coach (2007-08), Dolphins defensive line coach (2005-06), 49ers defensive line coach (2003-04), 49ers defensive quality control coach (2001-02). Head-coaching experience: none Playing experience: defensive lineman, Salisbury (Md.) State, 1990-93. 2014 performance: League's top-rated defense in total yards (267.1 ypg.), yards per play (4.63 ypp.), passing yards per game (185.6 ypg), and scoring (15.9 ppg.) ADAM GASE Age: 36 Pro background: Broncos offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach (2014), Broncos quarterbacks coach (2011-12), Broncos wide receivers coach (2009-10), 49ers offensive assistant (2008), Lions quarterbacks coach (2007), Lions offensive quality control (2006), Lions offensive assistant (2005), Lions scouting assistant (2003-05). Head-coaching experience: none Playing experience: none 2014 performance: League's second-ranked scoring offense (30.1 ppg.) and fourth-ranked total offense (402.9 ypg.)
  20. On Rex as our next head coach: I can't see how Blank doesn't hire Rex Ryan right away! I may be bias on my thoughts but in my eyes as a falcon fan when you add every problem we have Rex is the perfect candidate to turn this franchise back into a superbowl contender. However I am reasonable and I do understand why some fans hate the idea of Rex being our next coach: -He's not a good offensive coach -He's not a good offensive developer for young players or even veterans -His offenses have always seemed to struggle since he's been a head coach -Last he talks a bit too da** much But my counter to all of that is that he's never had an already established borderline elite QB like Matt Ryan! Rex has never had an top 5 WR like Julio! He's never had a great receiving core like Julio, Roddy, HD, and yes speedster Devin Hester....those jet teams really lacked good offensive players, so why ignore that fact? And why not give Rex an offense that already has a ton of playmakers?!...HELLO that's all the man needs is a little help from the offense for ONCE in his head coaching career as well as a good offense coordinator which ain't hard to get with all those playmaking names mentioned above! As far as defense goes I'm sorry no other head coaching candidate can compare! I understand Rex runs his mouth but dude knows his stuff on defense and has just shown too much consistentcy to overlook him regardless of his mouth! Here's some facts about Rex: -did you know for 12 straight years as a defense coordinator/head coach that Rex has had no LOWER than a 6th ranked defense? -did you know he is a top notch defense developer for all players? -did you know his players regardless of offense or defense leave their hearts on the field for him every game? -how about this one...did you know that Rex was a **** of a leader though he runs his mouth? We have a Falcons teams that has lacked toughness and has had a bad defense for almost if not 10 straight seasons! I'm so sick of that! This is not the NBA, defense actually wins championships in the NFL....Rex brings an aggressive defensive scheme, a defensive developing mindset for the defense players to actually grow and get better, LEADERSHIP, and a very confident yet cocky attitude to pump his team up every Sunday! Are you seriously going to let this top of the line head coach get away Blank? On Dimi Boy and what type of GM we now know he truly is: And for everyone worrying about Dimi boy you can kill that! One huge thing falcon fans overlooked was when blank spilled the beans that smith and Nolan didn't want to go after pass rushers and dimitrioff did....NOW UNDERSTAND I'm not saying blank shouldn't Fire him I'm saying that blank has shown what kind of GM he is...he's the type that's going to do whatever the head coach says that goes for free agency and drafting (atleast it got that way when Nolan arrived). You see dimitrioff is going to hang his head coaches feet to the fire when things go bad cause he has an excuse he's going to say to mr. Blank "but I got every player the head coach and his staff asked for but I told them I thought we should take these set of guys instead" when truly he probably just made up the "I thought we should have went after pass rushers" once the season was lost but had the season worked out he would have accepted all the credit for getting the players he was told to get. Sorry for the long post just wanted to give my 2cents on why Rex is the perfect candidate and why dimitrioff no longer concerns me cause he obviously just does what the coaching staff tell him to do, in other words we have a good coaching staff I could care less if dimitrioff stays.
  21. Background on Falcons' coaching candidate Rex Ryan By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com The Atlanta Falcons might have their most anticipated interview of any head-coaching candidate on Tuesday when former New York Jets coach Rex Ryan comes to town. Ryan Ryan is believed to be the favorite of Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who will make the final decision. Ryan's showmanship is sure to win over Blank, if it hasn't already. His brother, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, says he has more football knowledge than any coach in the league. The Falcons previously interviewed former Bills coach Doug Marrone, along with Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and current Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong. The Falcons have interviews lined up with Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Here are some quick hits on Ryan: Ryan is the son of former defensive guru Buddy Ryan, who earned fame for being the defensive coordinator and mastermind behind the "46" defense that helped the Chicago Bears win the 1985 Super Bowl.Ryan, 52, is the twin brother of Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. They were born Dec. 13, 1962 in Admore, Oklahoma. Both were ball boys for the Bears when their father was coaching there. Ryan attended Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, the same school that produced WNBA star Tamika Catchings. Ryan played defensive end at Southwestern Oklahoma State. He wore No. 75. Ryan's first coaching gig was at Eastern Kentucky as a graduate assistant coach (1987-88). His first NFL coaching position was with the Arizona Cardinals as defensive line/linebackers coach (1994-95) under his dad. The Cardinals had the league's third-ranked defense in yards allowed per game. When the Ravens won the Super Bowl during the 2000 season, Ryan was the defensive line coach and former Falcons coach Mike Smith was the assistant defensive line coach under Brian Billick. When Ryan became the Jets head coach in 2009, he said he wanted to start his head-coaching career where his dad started his coaching career. Buddy Ryan entered the NFL as the Jets defensive line coach in 1968. Ryan went 46-50 during his stint with the Jets before being fired after the 2014 season. He went 4-2 in the playoffs and made it to two AFC Championship Games. Ryan's defense ranked 1st, 3rd, 5th, 8th, 11th and 6th in total yards allowed from 2009-14. Ryan previously went public with his battle against dyslexia. Ryan underwent lap-band surgery to drop more than 100 pounds off his weight.
  22. Thomas Dimitroff still the Falcons' GM, but for how long? By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com ATLANTA -- The ax fell on general managers and coaches alike, in Chicago with the Bears and in New York with the Jets on Monday. But not every housecleaning happened in pairs. In Atlanta, Falcons owner Arthur Blank offered his deepest appreciation for the most successful coach in team history before showing Mike Smith the door. And while Smith hit the unemployment line with 66 wins under his belt and one year left on his contact, Thomas Dimitroff sat in the same room with the title "general manager" still behind his name. Yes, Dimitroff remains in control. But he doesn't necessarily control his own destiny. Numerous times during his news conference, Blank said, "Thomas is our general manager." In the same breath, Blank said the evaluation process is far from complete. "Everything relative to football operations, outside of coaching, is up for scrutiny and for discussion," Blank said. "Everything." What type of message is Blank sending keeping Dimitroff in the fold? Plenty of irate fans expressed their displeasure via radio or social media. One reporter even took Blank to task in asking how he would explain keeping Dimitroff, given how the Jets and Bears handled their situations. "That's other organizations, and we're Atlanta," Blank said. "I can't speak for what they did in New York. I can't speak for what they did in Chicago. You'll have to call their owners and discuss it with him." Blank's objective isn't about pairing a coach to go with Dimitroff. It's about finding the coach with the right qualities to lead the Falcons into the future, whether that coach has head-coaching experience or not, whether he is offensive-minded or defense-oriented. Blank seeks a great leader with a clear vision for success, a motivator who is decisive yet flexible, who represents the cultural values of the organization and has the ability to develop talent. We'll just have to see how this all plays out, with the coaching search now in full swing. The Falcons already requested permission to interview Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. Plus, there is talk among NFL executives that Blank admires what fired Jets coach Rex Ryan brings to the table. Dimitroff's status will become much clearer once the new coach is announced. It would be difficult to imagine Dimitroff co-existing with a strong personality such as Ryan. A candidate without head-coaching experience could work in Dimitroff's favor -- though an ideal match might be Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who worked with Dimitroff in New England and was the Denver Broncos' head coach for two seasons. Blank said Dimitroff would be involved in the coaching search, though it's doubtful Dimitroff will have a strong voice in the matter. It is Blank's final decision, and he vowed to be involved in the process every step of the way. "Hiring the head coach is the first move, but it might not be the only move we need to make," Blank said. "Time will tell. The process will dictate that as we dive more into some of these issues." Dimitroff was unavailable to talk during the dismal 6-10 season. Monday offered his first opportunity to analyze his own performance in 2014. "I think what I add is there's no question [Mike Smith] and I worked closely together in building this football team. We're very proud of what we've done over the five years," Dimitroff said. "The [last] two years obviously have not been what we've wanted. I take a great deal of responsibility for what happens with his organization and the team-building that has taken place. We think we have some good football players on this team. "We also know I have made mistakes, and I know I'm going to be scrutinized for it. And I know I have over the last months have looked at every different aspect of our football operations, as far as what needs to be adjusted as far as myself and my approach to things, as well. I am responsible as much as [smith] is for the success of this organization and the downfall of this organization." Time will tell how long Dimitroff still has responsibilities with this organization.
  23. Wide receiver screen still in Falcons' game plan By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The last time the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers met back in November, there was plenty of talk about how ineffective the Falcons were with their wide receiver screens. The Panthers appeared to know exactly when those screens were coming and shut them down immediately. There was one screen when Julio Jones essentially got tackled by Panthers cornerback Josh Norman even before he caught the ball. Penalty or not, Norman had a read on the play. The Falcons still won the game 19-17. But a few days after that game, Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter declined to comment on why those screens hadn't been effective. And the screens suddenly vanished from the playbook. But receiver Roddy White would be the first to say they weren't eliminated. "We're still going to throw our screens; we just have to find ways to get to them," White said. "We've got to find different ways to get to them. We get so many explosive plays off of the screen game. "We realize what (Carolina) was trying to do. They were trying to hug on and hold onto the receivers at the line of scrimmage. We've done some things to kind of fix that so we can push these guys a little bit more and get our guys on their guys a little bit quicker. I felt like the last game, we didn't get to the guys that we had to block on the screens quick enough, so we've been working on that this whole week. We're going to fix our situations." Jones, of course, is the primary threat in the screen game and has 553 yards after the catch this season, which is eighth best in the NFL. Although he's battling an oblique injury, he said he feels better than he did last week, when when he played 48 snaps against the Saints. So it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Falcons turn to Jones for a screen play or two. "You have to have them to slow the pass rush down," Jones said of the screen. "Early on, we were battling injuries on our offensive line. We had to get those guys' chemistry together. Those guys, their chemistry is together now, man. They're doing a great job for us. The last couple of games, they've been doing a **** of a job protecting Matt (Ryan). "But, like I said, it just slows down the pass rush. When those guys keep flying off the ball and flying off the ball, we hit them with a screen and it will slow them down." Harry Douglas talked about learning from what happened with the screens against the Panthers the first time around. "We just have to get on the defenders faster and have our spacing a little better so we can at least get them started," Douglas said. "They a great job last time of not allowing us to get to them and block them the way we wanted to do. "Of course screens are a big part of what we do. And we have to hit them, especially to slow pass rushers down."
  24. Matt Ryan: Devonta Freeman vying for more touches By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- One of the many positives to come out of last Sunday's win for the Atlanta Falcons over the New Orleans Saints was the play of rookie running back Devonta Freeman. The fourth-round draft pick from Florida State not only looked exceptional running the ball on a 31-yard touchdown blast, he also looked pretty comfortable splitting out wide as a receiver on a 36-yard reception. [+] EnlargeChuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsRookie running back Devonta Freeman is the Falcons' second-leading rusher with 235 yards. Freeman's flashes definitely caught the eye of quarterback Matt Ryan. And Ryan was asked during his weekly radio show on Atlanta's 680 The Fan why Freeman doesn't get the ball more. "You know, feel like that's a very deep position for us," Ryan said. "We still feel like 'Quizz [Rodgers] and Steven [Jackson] do a great job for us as well. But, again, Devonta keeps showing that he's capable of making big plays when they present themselves. "He was huge for us on Sunday. He obviously had the big catch, but he had an explosive touchdown run. He's certainly making his case for getting more touches." Ryan also was asked about his relationship with Freeman. "Oh, Devonta's a good kid," Ryan said. "He's a quite a guy, but he's got a great attitude. He loves to play. And he loves to compete. And he wants to get better. Every day he's in here, he's working hard to get better and constantly asking me questions; what he can do. I've tried to be as helpful as I can be to bring him along in our offense as quickly as possible." Freeman might get plenty of touches in Sunday's showdown versus the Carolina Panthers for the NFC South title. Jackson suffered a quad injury against the Saints and had an MRI on Monday. The injury, at first, wasn't thought to be serious. But Jackson's status remains in limbo, meaning the Falcons might have to consider whether they'll need him more for veteran experience in a playoff situation. That's not to say Freeman will shoulder the entire burden against the Panthers. He's still young and inexperienced, so the last thing the Falcons want to do is overwhelm him in such a crucial must-win situation. That's why it wouldn't be a surprise if Rodgers starts if Jackson can't go, although Freeman surely will get his share of opportunities if he's healthy. Falcons coach Mike Smith has been impressed with Freeman's development. "Devonta has improved every week," Smith said. "I think the biggest thing, as we said if you go back and look at transcripts from training camp, it was going to be about his ability to pick up the pass protection. And he did outstanding job [against the Saints]. He was called on because of the injury to Steven Jackson to play more snaps. He did a good job in his pass protection. He's a very good slash runner. He's does a good job hitting the hole. And he made a very good run on the long touchdown run. He's got some sneaky speed. He's not super fast, but he's fast enough to run away from guys in the secondary." Freeman currently has the highest per-carry average among the three Falcons running backs at 4.0 yards per carry. He also has 28 receptions, two more than Rodgers and eight more than Jackson.
  25. Julio Jones 'stud' in return from injury By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com NEW ORLEANS -- If Julio Jones was in pain, he surely didn't show it. The Atlanta Falcons receiver appeared to be his same old self in Sunday's 30-14 win over the rival New Orleans Saints. Jones played through a strained oblique muscle and finished with a team-leading 107 receiving yards on seven catches. He was targeted eight times. "I felt OK," Jones said. "I know I needed to be out there with my teammates. I missed last week. Before the game, I went out and ran around. I felt pretty good: Not 100 percent, but it was good enough to go out there and get the `W.'" Jones actually leaped high in the air to catch his first pass for a 23-yard pickup. "When the ball is in the air, I've got to get it," Jones said. "I don't hear nothing. I don't feel nothing. I just catch the ball." Jones also had a key, 24-yard reception right before halftime that set up Matt Ryan's 3-yard shovel pass to Eric Weems for a touchdown. "They played us a lot of man to man, and we kind of exposed them," Jones said of the Saints. "We've got a lot of great playmakers over here, and we made plays." Ryan was 3 for 3 for 63 yards on balls thrown at least 15 yards downfield to Jones, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Ryan surely appreciated having Jones back after missing him against the Pittsburgh Steeelers. "You can't say enough about what Julio did today," Ryan said. "Obviously, he's been hurting the last couple of weeks and for him to gut it out and play the way he did today, I think that speaks volumes about his great toughness but also showcases what a stud he is. When he's out there, he's making plays that a lot of other people aren't capable of making, So, obviously when he's on the field, that's a big deal for us." The Falcons just need Jones to be his same dynamic self next week against the Carolina Panthers, even if he's not 100 percent. "Yeah, I'll be OK," Jones said. "Just keep getting treatment. They've been doing a great job here with me. And I've got to keep going." Jones talked about the challenge ahead for the Falcons, who can cap a roller-coaster like season by defeating the Panthers next Sunday for the NFC South title. "It's a big game because it's the next game," Jones said. "We can add any more pressure to ourselves. We've just got to continue to do what we do. "It's so many people out there that doubt you; say you can do this, you can't do that: You guys are 5-8 or whatever that was. We control what we do in this locker room. We just got to keep fighting. People are going to jump on the bandwagon, they're going to jump off the bandwagon. But when you get to that postseason, the season is 0-0."
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