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  1. Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot, coach Arthur Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone are at Brigham Young’s Pro Day in Provo, Utah, on Friday, according to Albert Breer of the TheMMQB. Quarterback Zach Wilson is the top prospect from BYU. Ragone has not been at the other visits or was not listed. He’s important because he was with the Bears when they traded up to No. 2 to draft Mitchell Trubisky over Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes in 2017. If the Falcons draft a quarterback, they can’t make the Trubisky mistake and Wilson, whose team lost to Coastal Carolina this season, has been compared with Trubisky. Fontenot and Smith also attended the Pro Day for former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and for North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. Smith was seen on camera at Alabama quarterback Mac Jones’ Pro Day on Tuesday. The Falcons hold the fourth pick in the draft and are in the quarterback market, with only Matt Ryan on the roster. Ryan is set to turn 36 in May and backup Matt Schaub retired. Kurt Benkert, who was being developed by the former regime, was released. The Falcons restructured Ryan’s contract to get under the salary cap and would have to take massive salary-cap hits to release him. While signaling that Ryan is their quarterback, the Falcons have continued to scout the top quarterback prospects in the draft. Lawrence, who’s from Cartersville, is widely considered the top quarterback prospect in the draft. Jacksonville has the first pick in the draft. The New York Jets have the second pick and could select a quarterback. Miami holds the third pick and then the Falcons. The draft is set be held April 29-May 1 in Cleveland. Ohio State’s Justin Fields is set to have his Pro Day on Tuesday. Fields, who played at Harrison High, started his career at Georgia. There is a debate over who’s the second-best quarterback in the draft. Is it Wilson or is it Justin Fields? Some think it’s Lance. “I think both those guys (Wilson and Fields) are going to be really good players at the next level,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “I would say I don’t think there’s a debate in terms of who played better last year when you just watch all the tape. To me Zach Wilson played the best.” Jeremiah apparently is willing to overlook the loss to Coastal Carolina, while Fields turned in the most dynamic performance of the season going head-to-head against Lawrence in the College Football Playoff semifinals. “That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a slam dunk he’s going to be the (better) player,” said Jeremiah, a former NFL scout. “So, that’s the challenge and the evaluation is you’ve got Zach who threw the ball better, somebody who made better decisions. But you look at what Justin brings to the table with his -- first of all, let’s start with his toughness.” By D. Orlando Ledbetter , The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  2. https://www.myajc.com/sports/football/schraeder-battling-through-his-demotion-right-tackle/GVGhBgihr4RF1j0WeCJoXI/ DLed actually wrote a comprehensible article.....I've highlighted some of Schraeder's quotes about possibly moving to Guard. FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons right tackle Ryan Schraeder took his demotion hard. 5-6 minutes But after two games as the backup, he’s starting to deal with his new reality. “I’m good,” Schraeder said on Wednesday. “I just have to stay positive and know that better days are ahead. I just have to do what they asked me to do to the best of my ability to finish out this year.” The Falcons (5-9) are set to play the Panthers (6-8) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Schraeder was signed as an undrafted college free agent in 2013 after a stellar career at Valdosta State. He was the classic late-bloomer and developed in to an NFL starter. He signed a five-year, $34 million contract extension in 2016, but two games ago he was benched against Green Bay. He played four special teams plays in the loss to the Packers. He played three offensive snaps and six on special teams in the win over the Cardinals after making 72 starts. The Falcons have started Ty Sambrailo at right tackle the past two games. “They just kind of told me that they were going to make a change and that they cared about me,” Schraeder said. “They felt they needed to do that. So, I just accepted it and went right along with it.” After starting and helping the Falcons get to Super Bowl LI, Schraeder said that dealing with the benching has been difficult. “It’s not easy,” Schraeder said. “I’m on the rise now. I’m doing better. I just try to stay focused and just try to work on things I need to get better at.” Schraeder was not having one of his best seasons. He had trouble in the Pittsburgh game against T.J. Watt and in the Saints game against Cam Jordan. “From what I was told, we’ll find out more after the season and just take it from there,” Schraeder said. Schraeder is scheduled to make base salaries of $6.25 million in 2019, $5.75 in 2020 and $6 million in 2021. But after the demotion the Falcons have signaled they may consider him a cap casualty or at the least a candidate to have his contract restructured. Schraeder wants to keep playing in the NFL. “I still feel like I can play,” Schraeder said. “I feel like I’ve got some gas in the tank. I feel like a good offseason, getting some rest and getting my confidence back up, I’ll be good.” Schraeder, who’ll turn 31 in May, said he’s generally healthy. “I don’t’ have any specific injuries,” Schraeder said. “I have played in the NFL for six years now and I’ve played physical. Things bother you, but nothing that needs surgery or anything at this point.” Schraeder, who’s 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds, believes he could play guard if the Falcons wanted to move him inside. “I think I could,” Schraeder said when asked if he could play guard. “It’s a little bit different. Things happen quicker. I think it would be easier in pass protection, but as far as everything else, the run game, I don’t know.” He noted that former Falcons right tackles Tyson Clabo and Garrett Reynolds also played some guard. “It’s possible,” Schraeder said. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said guard wasn’t an option for Schraeder for this season. “We consider everything,” Quinn said. “But not right now in that case.” Schraeder’s play will be re-evaluation after the season. “Definitely still an evaluation,” Quinn said. The Falcons traded a fifth-round pick for Sambrailo to serve as the swing tackle in 2017. He’d been practicing well. “We felt like he had warranted some playing time,” Quinn said. “When we got into the game we liked the results of that. So Ryan is still up, still active and in this game, we’ll go to the same scenario where he’s getting reps at right as well.” In addition to replacing Schraeder, the Falcons benched right guard Ben Garland in favor of veteran Zane Beadles. However, against the Cardinals, Garland and Beadles split the snaps. Quinn was impressed with how both players handled the demotions. “Both of them are true pros and they want to do – always being in the front and leaders, those two guys really tough, hard nose competitors,” Quinn said. “So we say man, hey we’re going to take a look at some other guys and obviously we’re keeping you in the mix and we’re trying to find other ways we can utilize Ben…by no means are we saying you’re out and not going back in. “Not the message that a player wants to hear, but that’s our obligation, to be honest, and fair with him to say we’re going to give a couple other guys some looks.”
  3. Jeff Schultz blog This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not. Draft day blog: Falcons, Quinn still need to be thinking about defense By Jeff Schultz April 27, 2017 | Filed in: Atlanta Falcons / NFL, Ajc-sports.ajc, Alert Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn speaks during a press conference at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Wednesday, March 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) A few thoughts on the first round of the NFL draft tonight, and I believe I can get through this blog without allowing ESPN to pound me over the head with their 387 hours of buildup, which already has me sick of the entire exercise, even before the first pick. • For starters: Most draft “experts” — a graduate certificate can be obtained from the University of Phoenix, along with a video-game repair certification program — believe the Cleveland Browns will take Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett. Cleveland also likes North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky but could take him later in the round. I have no idea who they’re going to take. You have no idea who they’re going to take. I’m only confident in this: Years from now we’re going to look back on the Browns’ draft and think, “Aaaaaaaaaagggghh!” Because, Browns. • On guard? Pffft: The Falcons need a guard. So what? I’m not telling you that it doesn’t matter who starts at right guard because, yes, guards are important. But when a team knows that four-fifths of a solid starting offensive line is returning — left tackle Jake Matthews, left guard Andy Levitre, center Alex Mack, right tackle Ryan Schraeder — that puts it ahead of most teams. I would be stunned if the Falcons go guard with their first pick, unless every possible attractive defensive player on their board is gone. They can obtain a right guard later in the draft or pick through the remains of free agents and plug in a veteran for a year. • Defense, defense, defense: Often lost in the analysis of former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s late-game play-calling in the Super Bowl loss — and coach Dan Quinn’s decision to not overrule him on said decisions — is the collapse of the defense. The Falcons made significant progress defensively last season but not nearly enough to Quinn’s liking. I’m thinking this draft will be the focus with the early picks again. Quinn and his assistants have shown an ability to not merely identify talented defensive players but also ones who specifically fit into what the Falcons like to do. Consider who the Falcons have acquired defensively in the last two drafts: Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, Jalen Collins, Keanu Neal, Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell. But the depth chart on that side of the ball still has a few holes. • Safety or edge rusher? The Falcons need both. They need a defensive end/edge rusher who can compliment Vic Beasley, who turned into one of the NFL’s best pass rushers last season. Bringing back Dwight Freeney seems like a Plan B (or maybe even C) at this point. But the fact NFL offenses throw the ball so much now means defenses are in nickel at least 70 percent of the snaps. In Quinn’s scheme, the safety is important. He would love to find another one in this draft to go with Neal. The best safeties, LSU’s Jamal Adams and Ohio State’s Malik Hooker, will be gone before the Falcons pick at 31. So the question is how highly Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff value Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers (who could be downgraded after a recent diluted drug test) or Washington’s Budda Baker (who’s more of a consensus second-round pick). • On the line: If the Falcons go with an edge rusher, Missouri’s Charles Harris, Kansas State’s Jordan Willis, Michigan’s Taco Charlton and Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt are possible options, depending on who will be left late in the round. However . . . • Trade time? Could the Falcons trade up? Yes. I doubt they would attempt to move up more than six to 10 spots if there’s a player they really like, probably from the above group. In 2013, they moved up eight spots, from 30 to 22, to take cornerback Desmond Trufant out of Washington. They basically gave St. Louis a third-rounder to do so. (The teams also swapped low-round picks.) I could see that happening again but obviously the Falcons won’t be able to make a deal with a team looking for the same thing they are.
  4. Meet the guy who didn’t hate the Falcons’ draft By Mark Bradley May 2, 2016 | Filed in: ajc-sports.ajc, Atlanta Falcons / NFL Dan got his man. (AP Photo/David Goldman) Hello there. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m the guy who didn’t hate the Atlanta Falcons’ draft. Esteemed colleague Darryl Orlando Ledbetter marked it as a C-minus. Pro Football Focus gave it a D-plus. SI.com awarded a D. Mel Kiper of ESPN handed down a B-minus. That’s seriously tepid stuff. Far be it from me to disagree with folks who cover the NFL/draft on a daily if not hourly basis, but I return to my original thought. Dan Quinn’s defense is a stylized thing. (Not in the Wide Tackle Six sense, but it’s not the Tampa Two, either.) He needs specific commodities in certain places. Keanu Neal could be the strong safety the Falcons lacked. Deion Jones should be an immediate upgrade over the Falcons’ incumbent linebackers. If nothing else, the Falcons’ defense got faster and stronger. I have a difficult time seeing that as a bad thing. As for not picking a pass rusher: The Falcons picked one of those last season. The fervent hope is that Vic Beasley Jr. – who was hurt for much of the season, though the Falcons didn’t exactly tell us that – will be a double-digit sack man in Year 2. (If you’d doubled his yield of Year 1, he still wouldn’t have broken two figures.) They needed a tight end. They got Austin Hooper in Round 3. As for wide receiver and offensive line, two positions the Falcons didn’t get around to addressing until late in this draft: We note that their two big free-agent purchases were for a wideout and a center. You can’t get everything in three days. With only five picks going into the draft – a sixth was added in a trade down – this was never apt to be a comprehensive haul. This was targeted as a surgical strike on positions of major need. We cannot know if these efforts were successful. Not all draft picks pan out. (Two words: Aundray Bruce.) But I give the Falcons credit for knowing their deficiencies and trying to remedy them. For what they wanted and needed, I thought they did fine. And it’s been a while since I’ve said that about anything involving the Falcons.
  5. The Falcons: Outplayed, outclassed and out of ideas By Mark Bradley Caught in a Bear hug: That’s Matt Ryan. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo) These short takes off Falcons-Bears are presented as a companion to the game column, which can be found here. The Falcons came within 15 points of winning, if you hadn’t heard. 1. It’s hard to believe now, but the Falcons were favored. By a field goal, which is the standard home-field allowance. They lost 27-13. They scored one touchdown. They yielded 478 yards. There were long moments when it seemed the Bears could name the score, and they essentially did. There have been more lopsided losses under Mike Smith, but there has never been one in which the Falcons appeared more overmatched, personnel-wise. (Not even last season’s Seattle game, which ended 33-10.) And here we note that the Bears, like the Falcons, entered at 2-3 coming off a two-game losing streak. This shouldn’t have been a blowout, especially not on the road, but that’s pretty much what it became. 2. The Falcons might not be favored again for a while. They don’t play in the Georgia Dome again until Nov. 23 against Cleveland. They travel to Baltimore next week, and then they head to London for a date at Wembley against Detroit. Then they have a bye. Then they play at Tampa Bay, which they beat 56-14 last month. (OK, they’ll probably be favored then.) Then they head to Carolina. How many wins do you see in those four games? One? And if one’s all they get, won’t that make them 3-7 with six to go and essentially out of playoff consideration? 3. Wait a second. Playoffs? We’re talking playoffs? Not really. These past three weeks have been sobering in their revelation. The Falcons were beaten 41-28 by Minnesota without Adrian Peterson and with rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater making his first pro start; beaten 30-20 by the Giants after leading 20-10 with 20 minutes remaining, and now beaten by 14 after trailing by 10 at the half. True, the Falcons did forge a third-quarter tie — which their inept defense held for a total of 73 seconds and three plays. A good NFL team is rarely outclassed at home the way the Falcons were Sunday, but it’s no longer possible to regard these Falcons, who’ve lost three consecutive games by double figures, as a good team.
  6. By D. Orlando Ledbetter FLOWERY BRANCH – Former Falcons wide receiver Brian Finneran, who’s now a local radio personality on 680 The Fan’s The Front Row show, painted a bleak picture of the upcoming season during a segment on the SiriusXM NFL Radio show. On the eve of mandatory minicamp, Finneran tossed out this bomb when asked about pressure to win this season on a recent segment on NFL Radio. “But owners want you to win regardless of who’s on the field,” Finnernan said. “Who’s hurt and who’s not. They’ve got to do that this year or unfortunately, heads are going to roll because that’s the nature of this beast.” Here’s some background on Finneran, who was not re-signed after the 2010 season. A transcript is below, but some of the highlights included: –He’s not very high on the defense. –He believes Coach Mike Smith might and the team is too tight and stressed out. “To say guys are a little tight and maybe a little stressed is maybe an understatement, especially on that coaching staff.” –He doesn’t know how they are going to replace Tony Gonzalez. –Rates 50-50 as the odds that Steven Jackson can get the rushing attack moving. –Joe Hawley will win the starting center competition. –If they stay healthy, the Falcons may make a wildcard playoff bid. Q: NFL RADIO: (Not on the clip sound clip, but had to be something about the defense.) A: FINNERAN: When you look at that linebacker corps for the Falcons, it’s nothing to write home about. Sean Weatherspoon was one of the bright spots and he’s now gone for the season. Q: Is his career in jeopardy, do you think? A: I don’t know. He’s one of those guys, like you said, who’s an absolute specimen (with) physical workout speed, agility and power. The stuff that he brings to the football field is just awesome to watch. Q: Hey, let’s talk a little bit broader about your team as you see these guys. It seems from the outside looking in, a lot of pressure is on the coach. This is the year they’ve got to perform. Do you think the owner is a little antsy with these guys? A: To say guys are a little tight and maybe a little stressed is maybe an understatement, especially on that coaching staff. Coach Smith may be feeling it the most just because you want to go into a new stadium with a winning record and a winning attitude. That’s what they had up until last year. Injuries played a huge role. But owners want you to win regardless of who’s on the field. Who’s hurt and who’s not. They’ve got to do that this year or unfortunately, heads are going to roll because that’s the nature of this beast. That’s the nature of the NFL. If you don’t win for me and we have a new stadium coming, we have to figure something else out.” Q: In any other year, no pressure on the coach, coming off a great season, we would have been focused on one subject, replacing Tony Gonzalez. But we almost never get any calls about it on this show. We seem to never discuss it, but ultimately that is a huge hole that has to be filled. How’s that looking? A: That’s not looking so good at all. You’ve got Bear Pascoe, who can block people I think and maybe catch a ball in the flat every once in awhile off some play-action stuff, but he’s not going to get down the football field at all. You have Levine Toilolo who they had last year as a rookie. (He) surprised me a little bit. Jumped around and made some plays in the redzone. By no means or by (any) stretch of the imagination is he Tony Gonzalez, but he gives you another weapon in the redzone. He’s not a pure type of receiver like Tony was. But he has some ability. A very raw talent. But as far as what they were this year compared to last year, it’s a huge drop off and they will feel it in a huge way. Hopefully, guys like Roddy White can kind of pick up the slack there in third down situations. Harry Douglas, who had a big year last year, can kind of do the same. Those are some big shoes to fill and I don’t know if the Falcons can do it. Q: When healthy Steven Jackson is an absolute monster. We know that your team wanted to get a little bit bigger in the trenches, not only defensively, but offensively. Obviously, getting (Jake) Matthews as your top draft pick from Texas A&M was huge, but what are the odds that Steven Jackson can get that running game cranked up here? A: I’d probably put it at 50-50. It’s just a toss-up right now. If Sam Baker can stay healthy, that could give you a good chance. Justin Blalock has been a staple at left guard. Joe Hawley will get the center duties. He finished the season last year at that spot and Matt Ryan likes Joe a lot. With the guys they have on that roster, he’s probably the best fit for that team. Then you picked up Jon Asamoah from Kansas City. It’s a re-defined, whole new facelift line for that (offensive) line. Matt is happy with how they are looking. They are physical. Mike Tice brings an attitude to that offensive line as the new (offensive) line coach. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how the running game changes, but again Steven Jackson has to stay healthy. If he doesn’t, then Devonta Freeman, the kid out of Florida State, enough of a every-down back to help out? I don’t know. Q: Wow. There is a lot of work to do in Atlanta. After talking to you, I feel differently about this team. They need to get through preseason without a single injury. A: That definitely has to happen. They have to stay healthy. Julio has to stay healthy. If that happens, Matt will be very pleased and this team will go . . . will (make) a run at the playoffs. Maybe, a wildcard. If somebody else gets banged up on the offensive side of the ball, they are going to have a tough, tough year. PHASE THREE OF OFFSEASON PROGRAM –Monday, June 16 – Physicals. –Tuesday, June 17 — Day One: Mandatory minicamp (Open to Public, 3:30 p.m. to 5:20 p.m.). –Wednesday, June 18 – Day Two: Mandatory minicamp (Open to Public, 3:30 p.m. to 5:20 p.m.). –Thursday, June 19 – Day Three: Mandatory minicamp. (Offseason program ends for veterans). –June 22-28 – Rookie Symposium TBA – (Late July) – Report to Training camp. PRACTICES WITH TEXANS — Wednesday, August 13 and Thursday, August 14.
  7. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s sports intern Tanya Sichynsky, who’s set to graduate from the University of Georgia in December, has been out at minicamp assisting in the coverage this week. She was slated to do story on linebacker Akeem Dent. Little did Ms. Sichynsky know that she’d be doing the last local interview with Dent as an Atlanta Falcon. The former Douglass High and Georgia standout was traded just hours after the interview. Here’s her story.) By Tanya Sichynsky FLOWERY BRANCH — After Wednesday’s minicamp practice, I had a few minutes with now former Falcons linebacker Akeem Dent. We spoke just after 5:30 p.m., and unbeknownst to him, he would be traded later that evening. The news that the Falcons traded Dent for Houston Texans backup quarterback T.J. Yates broke just as I was getting to bed, and as it did I couldn’t help but think about the earlier conversation. Last week at the Falcons OTA linebacker Sean Weatherspoon ruptured his Achilles tendon, leaving a hole in the Falcons’ linebacking corps in leadership as well as skill. For Dent, who saw his productivity decline from 2012 (42 tackles) to 2013 (26 tackles), an unfortunate circumstance for the team could become an opportunity to salvage his career. “With Spoon going down, him being one of our more vocal leaders and things like that, we just have to come in — myself, Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu and a couple other guys are going to have to come in — and step up and fill that void, along with [veteran safety] Will Moore,” Dent said after practice Wednesday. “But within the linebacker group we just have to come out every day focused, just take on more responsibility as leaders and just take the control of the defense.” At the time of Weatherspoon’s injury and during minicamp, Dent played with the defense’s second unit primarily alongside rookie Prince Shembo, a fourth-round outside linebacker from Notre Dame. Once the leading tackler in the NFC Championship Game of the 2012 season, Dent found himself not only competing for reps with rookies during practice, but also vying for a spot on the Falcons’ 53-man roster. Even on Wednesday, Dent smiled and chuckled at the thought of worrying about his reps. “It’s competition every year. That’s nothing new,” Dent said. “I mean every year it’s 90 guys out here competing for jobs so that’s something I’m always used to. It’s always going to be competition.” Once the Falcons’ had ruled Weatherspoon out for the entire 2014 season, no active linebacker on the Falcons’ roster had more than two years in the NFL other than Dent. Despite Dent’s slight advantage in terms of experience, Worrilow and Bartu took the majority of snaps with the first-team. In Dent’s absence on Thursday, rookie Marquis Spruill played alongside Shembo with rookies Brenden Daley and Yawin Smallwood subbing on the third-team. “We’re always calibrating our roster. We’re always trying to put the most competitive roster in place to give our self the best opportunity to win,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said Thursday. “We appreciate everything that Akeem Dent has done for us over the last three years.” Dent’s chances to compete have not diminished. Instead, he will do so as a Houston Texan. In a move likely to alleviate any growing pains courtesy of the youth at linebacker, the Falcons also acquired linebacker Tim Dobbins. Dent left Wednesday’s practice unaware of the changes ahead; joining the Texans will be the first football move out of the state in his career, having played high school (Douglass), college (UGA) and professional football in Georgia until yesterday. Although the move is likely an unfamiliar experience for Dent, the trade itself provided little shock value. As Smith said: “This is part of the business.” SCHEDULE June 22 through 28 – Rookie Symposium, Aurora, Ohio. July 22 – Rookies report to training camp. July 23 — First practice of training camp. PRACTICES WITH TEXANS — Wednesday, August 13 and Thursday, August 14. THE LATEST FROM OTAS http://atlantafalcons.blog.ajc.com/2014/06/19/akeem-dents-last-conversation-as-an-atlanta-falcon/ Thanks, Dent. And best of luck!
  8. Ex-Falcon Chris Draft is mourning the loss of his wife 4:51 pm December 29, 2011, by D. Orlando Ledbetter Former Falcons linebacker Chris Draft is mourning the loss of his wife LaKeasha Monique Rutledge Draft, who passed away on Tuesday after a battle with cancer. Draft made this post on his website, “My wife, (La)Keasha Monique Rutledge Draft passed away today at 12:04 pm. RIP Sweetie.” Draft’s media manager, Sidmel Estes, confirmed the passing and stated that the services will be held in South Carolina on Saturday at 1 p.m. with Pastor Olu Brown, of Impact United Methodist Church in Atlanta, officiating. Also, Edwin Turnipseed, a support pastor at Impact, will participate in the ceremony. Draft , a sixth-round pick out of Stanford by the Chicago Bears in 1998, went on to play 12 years in the NFL. He played for the Falcons from 2000 to 2004. He also played for San Francisco, Carolina, St. Louis and Buffalo. The civic minded Draft, a California native who elected to make Atlanta his home, has been a tireless worker with kids in the community through his foundation. He also has been a popular speaker at the NFL Rookie Symposium, where veteran players talk to the new players coming into the league about the pitfalls of pro football. Back in 2002, Draft helped pull a man from a burning car on Interstate-85 in Duluth, Ga. http://blogs.ajc.com/atlanta-falcons-blog/2011/12/29/former-falcon-chris-drafts-mourning-loss-of-his-wife/
  9. Falcons' ground-and-pound attack missing By D. Orlando Ledbetter The Atlanta Journal-Constitution FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons’ version of the ground-and-pound rushing attack has been on hibernation the past five games. The downward trend troubles the Falcons (9-6) as they get ready to face Tampa Bay (4-11) at 4:15 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome. The Buccaneers, before they started to crumble, held running back Michael Turner to a season-low 20 yards on 11 carries in their 16-13 victory Sept. 25. Also, the Falcons know they’ll need to run effectively in the playoffs. Five games have passed since Turner rushed for 100 yards in a game. He had 100 yards on 21 carries against Tennessee and was vintage Turner, bowling over Titans safety Michael Griffin twice on powerful runs into the secondary. But over the past five games, he has peaked at 76 yards against Carolina and has averaged 3.1 yards per carry. There are several factors to explain the slide of the rushing attack. In addition to missing injured Pro Bowl fullback Ovie Mughelli, Turner started to show up on the injury report during Week 12 with a groin injury and has been getting rest during the week. In losses to New Orleans and Houston, the offense fell behind and turned to their passing game to stay in the games. Taking note of the low rushing outputs, the coaching staff underwent a running-game system-check this week. They also want to run should they have to play outdoors in cold weather. “We’re going to be getting on a plane and going somewhere, so we want to definitely make sure that we have a real good feel for our running game,” Smith said. Turner, who had off-season groin surgery, is not one to make excuses. “My health has nothing to do with it,” Turner said. “It’s just the way the games have been going the past couple of weeks. In a game like New Orleans, you want to keep them off the field as much as possible, but we weren’t able to do that with the way the situations turned out in the game. But we do need more production out of the running game.” Turner would not point to the offensive line when asked if there are holes to run through. “That’s kind of like a trick question,” Turner said. “We just need more consistency with what we are doing and get to our good plays, our good looks that we want to run and just keep running them. Just get better at what we are doing and get our chemistry back.” Turner acknowledged missing Mughelli and his crushing lead blocks. “That plays a little bit into it, and sometimes we have to throw Jason Snelling in there at fullback,” Turner said. “We’ve been doing a lot of no-huddle stuff, too. There are a lot of factors that play into it.” But Turner expects to get his number called more often against Tampa Bay and in the playoffs. “You’ve got to run in the playoffs,” Turner said. “To win playoff football you have to be able to run it and throw it. You never know what situation you’re going to be in in the playoffs. Every team is good. Every team is going to have a good quarterback, and we’ll have to keep them off the field.” The offensive line is ready to get back to mauling defenders in the run game, too. “I think that will be huge,” center Todd McClure said. “You can’t be one-dimensional going against the defenses that we’re going to have to face in the playoffs. That’s something that we really want to do, is get the running game going.” Tight end Tony Gonzalez believes the running game will be fine. “We know we can go to that,” Gonzalez said. “If Mike needs to get the ball 35 times a game, I don’t care. It’s about going to the playoffs and winning these games, and we can do it.” http://www.ajc.com/sports/atlanta-falcons/falcons-ground-and-pound-1280579.html
  10. Falcons will celebrate Christmas then fly out http://www.ajc.com/sports/atlanta-falcons/falcons-will-celebrate-christmas-1271635.html By D. Orlando Ledbetter The Atlanta Journal-Constitution FLOWERY BRANCH – A few hours after Santa Claus and his reindeer make their rounds, theFalcons’ charter airplane will lift-off for New Orleans. For the players, coaches and their families, the holiday season is a scheduling nightmare. For a regular game, the Falcons would have practiced the day before and then left for the game. But head coach Mike Smith is giving everyone the morning off so they can spend time with their families before the team leaves for New Orleans. The team will then hold their walk-through practice in a hotel ballroom on Sunday night before their important NFC South showdown with the Saints on Monday night. Special teams coach Keith Armstrong has an alternateChristmas plan. “I generally do Christmas after Christmas,” Armstrong said. “You’re not in that mood because we’re going into this big game, here.” The VanGorder household will be bustling. “We’ll have the morning to enjoy Christmas and Santa Claus with [four of the family's five] kids,” Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said. “Then oddly enough, my son [Mack] who’s at West Virginia, they are playing in the Orange Bowl. So Christmas day when I leave for New Orleans, [wife] Polly and a couple of the kids are going to head to Florida, where her parents live. A couple of days later, the rest of them will caravan down there. So they’ll be down in the Miami area during that time. “We’ll have fun like we always do with our family traditions,” he said speaking of the adjustments required of a football family. If you follow Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton’s timeline on Twitter.com, you know he’s a fierce shopper, but a poor wrapper. He didn’t wait until the last minute to get his gifts. But he had to have the gifts wrapped by store clerks. Tight end Tony Gonzalez has a flexible Christmas and TV viewing plan. “They give you a schedule and you have to go with it, whether if you like it or not,” Gonzalez said. “We get the regular morning. My kids will open up presents. Santa Claus will come and give the kids presents and all of that good stuff. We just have to leave later on that day.” Gonzalez, a former collegiate basketball star, won’t get to watch the Christmas Day NBA games. “We get to enjoy the [NFL] games on Saturday, though,” Gonzalez said. Adjusting the family’s plan around football is almost second nature to some because they have been doing it for years. “We always have a meal on Christmas Eve,” center Todd McClure said. “But, me and my wife were talking the other day and we haven’t been able to enjoy Christmas or Thanksgiving, really enjoy it, since I was in high school.”
  11. Mark Bradley Four games into a pro career, Julio Jones is already big-time 3:39 pm October 5, 2011, by Mark Bradley Rampaging rookie Julio Jones in his breakout fourth quarter against Tampa Bay. (AP photo) Flowery Branch – Dumb ol’ Thomas Dimitroff messed up. He thought he’d traded up 21 spots to pluck a No. 2 receiver. Turns out he hooked a No. 1. Actually, the Falcons’ general manager knew full well what he was doing, but it was convenient to label the deal that left this team with Julio Jones as “21-spots-and-five-draft-picks-for-a-No.-2-wideout.” Had Jones’ ceiling been that of a No. 2 but never a No. 1, Dimitroff wouldn’t have made the trade. And now, four games later, we see the prescience therein. Through two games and three quarters, the Falcons’ offense had been nothing special. Then the thought seemed to occur: “Hey, we moved up 21 spots to draft this guy! Why don’t we throw him the ball?” And nothing special became something very special. Over the past five quarters, Jones has caught 16 passes for 222 yards. That’s No. 1 receiver stuff. Which isn’t to say he’s the Falcons’ No. 1 receiver. He’s not — yet. He will be soon enough. And that, if you happened to read the fine print on the 21-spots-up-and-five-picks-gone move, was always Dimitroff’s plan. The Falcons didn’t want just any wide receiver: They wanted Julio Jones or A.J. Green, who was gone one pick ahead of Jones. They wanted a receiver who could offer immediate assistance and a down-the-road succession plan. Roddy White, the incumbent No. 1, turns 30 next month. (We sometimes forget that White, by his admission, spent his first two NFL seasons not working hard.) White has had four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and is, by tight end Tony Gonzalez’s estimation, one of the three best wideouts — Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Houston’s Andre Johnson being the others — in the business. That said … Good as he is, White isn’t the talent Jones is. He’s bigger — 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds to White’s 6-foot and 211 — and stronger. White is more possession receiver than downfield playmaker: His longest catch over his past 29 regular-season games is for 46 yards. Jones had a 49-yarder in his third professional game. Said Gonzalez: “Right now I wouldn’t say [that Jones is the Falcons' No. 1 receiver] … Both of them are No. 1 receivers. They work well off each other. There’s no doubt this can be the best receiving tandem in the NFL.” And let’s not forget the Canton-bound tight end. “I’m the one who’s going to get lost in the shuffle,” Gonzalez said, smiling. Then: “But that’s the best thing that could happen. Defenses can’t bracket me.” White sometimes feels feel duty-bound to live up to the standard of No.-1-receiver-as-raging-diva. Last December he got into a Twitter fight with Reggie Bush of the New Orleans Saints; more recently he has averred that the Falcons “were a better team” that the 2010 Packers, who beat the Falcons by 27 points en route to winning the Super Bowl. (Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, overreacting, has called this “borderline disrepectful.” Guess who the Falcons play Sunday night.) By way of contrast, Jones works hard at saying nothing. (The Falcons love him for other reasons, but also for this. Mike Smith and Matt Ryan are the world champs at saying nothing.) “I never say anything to defenders,” Jones said Wednesday, and then he admitted he hadn’t been awestruck to see Philadelphia cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, one of the absolute best, matched against him in his second pro start. Jones: “I really don’t know who I’m locked up with in a game.” The young man from Alabama plays with a focused fury, and — since you asked — he was that way before the furious Nick Saban got hold of him in Tuscaloosa. “That’s just how I am,” Jones said. He doesn’t care who’s shadowing him. He doesn’t care how many catches he has. (Jones had two that night against Philly, but one of them — a third-down conversion when the Falcons trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter — was the game’s biggest play.) He just plays. Other big-time rookies might have made a stir about needing to be The Man overnight. Jones seems thrilled to be sharing the same locker room as the big-timer Roddy White and hasn’t grasped that he’s a big-timer, too. He hasn’t noticed that he’s in the process of transforming a team that went 13-3 last season. He thinks he’s no better than sub wideouts Harry Douglas or Eric Weems. He’s wrong. By Mark Bradley
  12. On the hot seat: Punter Matt Bosher Former Falcons punter and kickoff specialist Michael Koenen hit the jackpot in free agency and signed a six-year, $19.5 million contract with the Buccaneers. Bosher, who was selected in the sixth round of the draft out of Miami to replace Koenen, has been inconsistent. Last week against the Eagles, he averaged 34.7 yards on seven punts. He had an 18-yard punt while trying to boom one out of the end zone. He also had a nice 49-yard punt and a solid 39-yarder against the Eagles. The coaching staff is looking for Bosher to smooth things out as he adjusts to the NFL. “He just needs to realize when you’re in a backed-up situation, don’t try to save the day,” Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong said. “You don’t need to come out of that situation with a 60-yard punt. You don’t need to try to be perfect. What you need to do is get your foot on the ball, get some hang time, get it down the field and guys will go cover it.”
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