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Found 39 results

  1. CB Kendall Sheffield reminds me of Panthers CB Donte Jackson in that both of them are track stars who happens to play football. Both uses their speed to stay in the hip pocket of the receiver they are covering. Jackson went in the 2nd round of last year draft and I believe Sheffield would have gone anywhere from the 2nd to the 3rd if he didn't injury himself at the combine. This is what was said about Jackson pre-draft.
  2. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – In the middle of an early morning workout on Thursday morning, it all clicked for Thomas Dimitroff in terms of what the Falcons will do with the No. 14 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. “I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, this is [the] person we’re going to take,’” Dimitroff said. “It’s kind of interesting when it hits you.” Going into his 12th draft as Atlanta’s general manger, Dimitroff has this down to a science. A week out from the draft, the Falcons’ draft board is pretty much set. The week leading up to the draft is more about the final touches and conversations with other general managers about potential trades. “We like to have our front board quite clean and really dialed in,” Dimitroff said. “That’s where we are right now. We’re putting the final touches on everything.” Sure, there’s the possibility the Falcons could be given new information on a prospect that could change things in the final week, but for the most part, Dimitroff knows exactly who he wants to draft come April 25th. The question on draft night won’t be regarding which prospect the Falcons hope to draft, it’s more about if he’ll be available. If not, where do the Falcons go next? That’s the main question Dimitroff has to prepare for. And that’s why Dimitroff is a firm believer in not entering the weekend stuck on just one prospect. “At times, you might not get exactly who you want,” Dimitroff said. “You hope to have two, three or four guys that you really do want. That’s a big thing for me to be positive about. If you’re only focused on one person and that doesn’t work, that’s a tough thing to be in the room, everyone can feel the energy.” Dimitroff said during his tenure as Falcons’ general manager, there has not been a time where he’s had a “womp womp” moment after not landing his desired prospect. When it comes to the draft, the Falcons don’t operate solely as a “needs-based” team. That’s not to say Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn won’t address specific positions of need, but if the highest-graded player on their board is available at a position that might not be viewed as a top need, they’ll take that player over a lower-graded player at the position of need. “Of course, we’re needs based [but with] that said, we’re not just going to go after someone because we need that position,” Dimitroff said. “We need to make sure that talent is matching what is on the board. We’ll never just randomly pick someone because we need a defensive end or whatever position. That’s not going to be the way it is.” Atlanta selecting Calvin Ridley in the first round is an example of Dimitroff’s strategy. Wide receiver wasn’t necessarily the top need for the Falcons heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, but Ridley was too good of a player to pass up. The Falcons’ positional needs are pretty clear to this point: Tackle, defensive tackle, defensive end and cornerback. Three of those positions are viewed as the strengths of the draft. “This is a unique year,” Dimitroff said. “Defensive line is heavy [in talent] as well as [the] offensive line.” The Falcons have nine picks to use in this year’s draft which takes place on April 25th at 8 p.m. ET in Nashville, Tenn.
  3. Early Bird Report: Todd McShay's perfect three-round mock draft for the Falcons Will McFadden Tuesday, Apr 09, 2019 09:59 AM FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes Todd McShay’s perfect three-round mock draft for the Falcons as well as the biggest draft question for Atlanta. The NFL Draft is still a few weeks away, but teams already have a very clear notion of how they want to approach draft weekend. What will it take for the Falcons to nail the draft? That’s a question ESPN’s Todd McShay sought to answer in his best-case scenario mock draft, in which he played general manager for all 32 NFL teams for three rounds and selected the player he viewed as the best available selection for each team. For Atlanta, McShay has the Falcons drafting former Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins in the first round, former Kansas State offensive tackle Dalton Risner in the second round and former TCU defensive end Ben Banogu in the third round. “Wilkins is the best player on the board and makes sense for the Falcons with Grady Jarrett on the franchise tag in 2019,” McShay writes. “He has good range for a 315-pounder and displays a high motor as a pass-rusher. Atlanta will also want to get some offensive line depth and find a pass-rusher; it does both in its next two picks. Risner flashes some upside on the line, and Banogu possesses the speed and body control to turn the corner and attack in the pass rush.” To see the rest of McShay’s perfect three-round mock draft, click here. This was likely formulated prior to the signing of Clayborn and possibly Hags. 10AM today. However, it does sound sound, if you get my drift.
  4. Kelsey Conway reporter FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – If you were to ask longtime NFL writer Peter King which team he’d be most inclined to buy stock in at this point in the offseason, his answer might surprise you. Let’s just say the Atlanta Falcons would definitely be in the conversation. “I’d be buying Falcons stock right now because I think they’ve got a chance to rebound and play very well this year in what again is going to be a very tough NFC South,” King said. King detailed several reasons why he’s “bullish” on the Falcons in a 17-minute Q&A from the annual league meetings last week in Phoenix. Here are some of King’s takes: Quinn taking over defense will give Falcons ‘more aggressive’ play, including the secondary With Dan Quinn taking back the reigns of the Falcons’ defense, there’s a newfound excitement surrounding Atlanta’s defense. Based off Quinn’s time as a defensive coordinator in Seattle and when he took over the play-calling in the final quarter of the 2016 season, King laid out his expectations of what he thinks the Falcons’ defense will look like with Quinn calling the shots. “I think by the more active role he has in a week-to-week basis with the defense, you’re probably going to get to see more of an aggressive defense,” King said. “I think he will find more opportunities for Grady Jarrett, I think he’s going to find more opportunities for edge players. I think you’re going to see more diverse secondary play. More guys rushing from the secondary.” Takk McKinley is the player the Falcons need to step up most in 2019 All eyes will be on Takk McKinley this year and there’s no doubt about it. Since being drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, the expectations for McKinley have certainly heightened. Not only has Quinn said he’s expecting a strong offseason from McKinley to prepare for the upcoming season, King explained why it’s vital for the defensive end to have a big year. “He was drafted to be [the] really strong edge presence,” King said. If I’m them, I need 50-to-60 legitimate quarterback disruptions from McKinley this year. I think that is vital because I think they’re secondary [could] get exposed. This is a crucial year for this secondary and for the pass rush.” Falcons draft priorities should be improving the secondary, landing another franchise tackle The Falcons have the No. 14 overall pick in the NFL Draft and King believes they should use it on a player who can improve their secondary. Atlanta’s secondary will look a bit different this season with Isaiah Oliver and Damontae Kazee taking on starting roles full-time. “If I were the Falcons, [my priority] would be the secondary,” King said. “I would want to improve my cornerback depth and I would also draft if I can what I consider to be a long-term offensive tackle. King also believes the Falcons could also benefit from using that pick on one of the top tackles in this year’s draft class, similar to what they did with Jake Matthews in the 2014 NFL Draft when Atlanta selected him with the No. 6 overall pick. Matthews signed a five-year extension with the Falcons prior to the 2018 season. Alex Mack is the ultimate X-factor for Falcons King knows exactly which center he would pick if he had the luxury of choosing one in a must-win game. “I’d take Alex Mack every time,” King said. “I love Mack.” Based on Ryan’s consistent production over the years, King’s not worried about what the Falcons will get from QB1 in 2019. “I always look at Ryan as a guy in my opinion, I just think every year he’s going to be a top-5 quarterback,” King said. “He’s going to be productive enough.” What will help Ryan have another quality year is the play of the guy directly in front of him snapping him the ball and blocking for him. “Any quarterback is going to play better when he’s protected better,” King said. “They just have to do a better job of doing that this year whether that’s scheme or talent. I think it’s vitally important that Alex Mack be healthy and give them one more strong year. You can just see the symbiotic relationship between Mack and Ryan.” Falcons can’t let Deion Jones out of Atlanta The Falcons have reportedly begun contract negotiations with Deion Jones who has quickly become one of the best players in Atlanta’s defense. King believes Jones is a player who could be the heart of Atlanta’s defense for years to come. “I love Deion Jones as a football player and I would want him to be the centerpiece of my defense,” King said. “They can’t let him go. “ The ultimate compliment to Grady Jarrett After defeating the Falcons 34-28 in Super Bowl LI, King sat with Patriots’ star quarterback Tom Brady and to discuss the game in which Brady couldn’t have been more complementary of Grady Jarrett. “Tom Brady had more respect for Grady Jarrett than anybody on the Falcons that day,” King said. “I think the world of Grady Jarrett.” Emphasis added. I like how he thinks, and has at least studied a little..
  5. Terry from Conyers, GA Why do you think so many Falcons fan hate Matt Ryan? Matt is one of the better QB's in the league and the fans don't seem to understand that. If you look at his stats they compare favorably with the top players in the league. In many instances his stats are better than his peers. He has often had the Falcons in the mix for the playoffs while playing with a subpar defense. One last thing, please ask Mr. Blank about going back to those 1980 uniforms. Matt: Wait, are there a lot of Matt Ryan haters out there? I don’t get it. I’m trying to figure out what parts of his game or accomplishments they dislike. The following rankings are among active players:* Most passing yards:* Drew Brees - 74,437 Tom Brady - 70,514 Ben Roethlisberger - 56,194 Eli Manning - 55,981 Philip Rivers - 54,656 Matt Ryan - 46,720 Aaron Rodgers - 42,944 Most completions: Drew Brees - 6,586 Tom Brady - 6,004 Eli Manning - 4,804 Ben Roethlisberger - 4,616 Philip Rivers - 4,518 Matt Ryan - 4,052 Aaron Rodgers - 3,560 Most passing touchdowns: Drew Brees - 520 Tom Brady - 517 Philip Rivers - 374 Ben Roethlisberger - 363 Eli Manning - 360 Aaron Rodgers - 338 Matt Ryan - 295 In 10 playoff games, Ryan has completed 237 of 351 passes for 2,6772 yards and 20 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. For his career, Ryan 65.3 percent of his passes for 46,720 yards and 295 touchdowns. Last year he was just shy passing for 5,000 yards (4,924) despite being sacked 42 times. Whenever Falcons fans call for drafting a quarterback or claim it’s “time to move on” from No. 2, my first response (besides why) is, who are you going to replace him with that’s even remotely close to being as good as he is? When Ryan steps down and decides to call it a career, I’m certain he’ll end up in Canton five years later. So, for the life of me, I do not understand why ANY Falcons fan wouldn’t love seeing Ryan behind center on Sundays. As far as the uniforms go, you guys should know by now which ones are my favorites (see below). AP/Al Messerschmidt
  6. Wednesday, Mar 13, 2019 12:02 PM NFL Draft: 5 defensive end prospects who could help the Falcons Will McFadden Pending anymore signings in the coming days, the Falcons will have just three defensive ends under contract once free agency begins: Vic Beasley, Takk McKinley and Steven Means. It’s clear that they will need to add to that group over the offseason, and the NFL Draft would be a nice way to do that. RELATED CONTENT 3 CB prospects who could help Falcons 5 OL prospects who could help Falcons 5 DT prospects who could help Falcons There is not a ton of depth in this year’s class of defensive ends, though, so it might be difficult to find an early contributor past the first couple of rounds. Continuing with our recent series, I’ve compiled a list – in order from the best fit and value to the least – of five defensive end who could be on the Falcons’ radar come draft night. 1. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson Clelin Ferrell looks the part of an NFL defensive end. The 6-foot-4, 264-pound Clemson star was highly productive during his four years in college. Ferrell left the Tigers after amassing 27 sacks, 166 tackles, 50.5 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles. In 2018, Ferrell has 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss – that’s some serious production for the national champs. Other prospects have shown better quickness at the snap than Ferrell, but like most of his fellow Clemson defensive linemen, he is very polished coming out of college. Ferrell is equally proficient against the run and the pass, and he could be a strong three-down defender early on in his career. AP/Rogelio V. Solis 2. Montez Sweat, DE, Miss. St. If developed properly in the NFL, Montez Sweat has the natural traits to become a very dangerous pass rusher. At 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, Sweat ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, the fastest time of all the edge defenders who tested. A tight end coming out of high school, it took some time for Sweat to make an impact on defense, but he ended up doing so in a big way during his final two seasons at Mississippi State. During his junior and senior seasons, Sweat recorded 23.5 sacks, 105 tackles and 30.5 tackles for a loss. Sweat clearly has a ton of potential, and he had the production in college to match. Adding to his arsenal of pass-rush moves would be the next step in helping Sweat really become a nightmare for opposing linemen in the NFL, and he sometimes struggles to bend the pocket and arc to the quarterback. Sweat is an asset against the run, however, and most of his issues can be coached at the next level. And he offers a lot of positives for a coach to work with. AP/John Raoux 3. Brian Burns, DE, Florida State Dan Quinn wants to get after the quarterback, and Brian Burns can certainly do that. During his three seasons at Florida State, Burns recorded a total of 23 sacks, including 10 in his final season. He also racked up 123 tackles, 38.5 tackles for a loss and caused seven forced fumbles. Burns is lightning-quick off the blocks and already has a nice array of pass-rush moves that he employs. The downside for Burns in college was his play against the run. At 6-foot-5 and 249 pounds, which is up a bit from what he was listed at Florida State, Burns could be beaten at the point of attack. While he didn’t win with strength too often, Burns did show good ability to anticipate blocks and slip through creases to knife into the backfield or around linemen. Bottom line, Burns could be an effective addition to a pass rush rotation as a rookie. AP/Paul Sancya 4. Chase Winovich, DE, Michigan There don’t appear to be a number of ends who could become impact starters as a rookie after Day 1 of this year’s draft, but there are some who could be a solid part of a rotation in their first couple of seasons. Chase Winovich fits that bill. Winovich destroyed the three-cone drill at the combine, posting the second-fastest time at 6.94 seconds. That time speaks to Winovich’s mobility, which he put to use at Michigan, earning 18.5 sacks, 166 tackles and 43 tackles for a loss. Winovich, who is 6-foot-3 and 256 pounds, is more of a technically proficient pass rusher than an overly athletic one, but he rarely gives up on a play and is a smart player who could become a savvy one in the NFL. AP/Eugene Tanner 5. Jaylon Ferguson, DE, Louisiana Tech A nightmare off the edge while playing at Louisiana Tech, it will be interesting to see how Jaylon Ferguson’s game translates against far better competition. There’s no doubting he feasted against the teams he played against, however, as Ferguson ended his four-year career with 45 sacks, 187 tackles, 67.5 tackles for a loss and seven forced fumbles. The 6-foot-5, 269-pound Ferguson can get off the ball pretty well at the snap, but he doesn’t have the pure speed or flexibility to beat a lineman around the edge consistently. And Ferguson hasn’t yet developed a variety of other moves and counters that he will need in the NFL. He was a very good run defender in college, however, which will make him valuable early on as part of a rotation while coaches work to develop him as a rusher
  7. NFL Draft: 5 offensive line prospects who could help the Falcons Will McFadden Offensive line is one of the areas many expect the Falcons to address this offseason, and while they may opt to add to that unit via free agency, there are some intriguing early-round draft prospects who could fit what the team is looking for. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list – in order from the best fit and value to the least – of five offensive linemen who could be on the Falcons’ radar. AP/Michael Woods 1. Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama A three-year starter at tackle for Alabama,Jonah Williams is one of the most experienced and polished offensive linemen in this draft class. At 6-foot-4, 302 pounds, Williams isn’t overly long, which is one of the reasons some believe he could slide over the guard at the next level. There’s no mistake, though: Williams has the tools to succeed wherever teams place him. Williams is a smart player who countered blitzes and stunts effectively in college, and he showed improvement as a pass protector during his final year at Alabama. Most importantly for the Falcons, however, is that Williams was a player who moved well in space and latched onto defenders at the second level. AP/Sue Ogrocki 2. Cody Ford, OT, Oklahoma Cody Ford is among the offensive linemen with the highest upside in this year’s draft. Despite starting for only one season, Ford has a rare combination of size, strength and speed. Ford could likely play either tackle or guard in the NFL, but he might be better suited to start on the interior early on given his relative lack of starting experience. Due to Oklahoma’s offensive scheme, Ford has plenty of reps in space against defenders. More often than not, once Ford got his hands on a defensive player, it was game over. Ford’s biggest weakness at this point seems to be getting set in pass protection, but that would be covered up slightly by moving to guard. Ford confirmed at the NFL Scouting Combine that the Falcons were a team he had met with. He’s a somewhat raw player, but Ford could develop into a really good football player. AP/Orlin Wagner 3. Dalton Risner, OT, Kansas State Another player who could be a candidate to move inside, Dalton Risner bring a lot to the table as an offensive lineman. He is sure-handed and locked down some highly regarded pass rushers while at Kansas State, and Risner is a fluid mover in space and would be an asset in the run game. Risner’s ability to locate the most pressing threat and adjust his angles while on the move is something that would be a great benefit in the Falcons’ offensive scheme. At 24 years old, Risner will be among the older players entering the NFL in this draft class, but that hasn’t stopped the Falcons in the past. In this offensive line class, Risner is a very well-rounded prospect. AP/Michael Conroy 4. Chris Lindstrom, OG, Boston College The first true guard prospect on this list, Lindstrom is a very athletic player who will enter the NFL ready to help a team from Day 1. While he may not have the sheer natural upside of a player like Cody Ford, Lindstrom has very few glaring weaknesses. He’s competent in nearly every facet of his game, and he offers a lot as a run blocker. Given how well he moves in space, it’s easy to envision how Lindstrom would fit in with the Falcons. He’s adept at leveraging players while on the move and he makes solid use of his hands to harass defenders even if they aren’t providing a clean target. AP/Gerry Broome 5. Garrett Bradbury, OG, NC State As with Lindstrom, there are few nits to pick with Garrett Bradbury’s game. He moves very well and has noticeable body control while blocking defenders in space. Bradbury is a refined, technical lineman who didn’t make many mistakes on the interior of NC State’s offensive line. The Wolfpack run a zone blocking scheme, so Bradbury has direct experience that would translate to the Falcons. Bradbury is a former tight end, and it shows in his athleticism. If the Falcons are inclined to address the offensive line on Day 2, Bradbury would be a pretty appealing option.
  8. NDIANAPOLIS – When the Falcons drafted Isaiah Oliver with their second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, it appears they had one eye on the present and the other on the future. At the time, the Falcons had both of their starting quarterbacks from the 2017 season returning in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Fast-forward a year and the Falcons released Alford on Feb. 5 with all signs pointing to Oliver being the player who could assume the starting job opposite of Trufant. “I think he’s going to really thrive,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “He got reps, he got experience and I think he’s one who is going to take a big step.” Oliver played in 14 games in his rookie season with two starts and recorded 23 tackles. Similar to most rookies, as Oliver got more reps he continued to get more comfortable on the field and his play improved. His first interception of his NFL career came in Week 16 against the Carolina Panthers. Quinn often talks about the “on-the-job training” players will go through when they’re first getting acclimated to a new role. Oliver is a perfect example of someone who embraced the lessons and grew from the experiences, positive or negative. “If you haven’t been beat at cornerback then you haven’t played it very long,” Quinn said. “What I absolutely love about him, the lessons that he learned this year you had to go through some and I call that on the job training.” Standing at 6-foot, 201 pounds with a 33½-inch wingspan, Oliver has the physical traits and athleticism Quinn likes in his cornerbacks. One of the biggest adjustments Oliver had to make in his transition from college to NFL was playing at the line of scrimmage. At Colorado, Oliver primarily played more off-man coverage. He certainly has the makeup and talent to be a key piece of the Falcons’ secondary in 2019 and based off what Quinn and his coaching staff have seen in games and practices, they’re all in on Oliver’s development. “You have to make decisions based on what you think a person can do and what they will develop into,” Quinn said. “It’ pretty rare for a guy to be as good as they’re going to be in their rookie year. I think he and some of the guys from that first year are going to get better as we go.”
  9. ORLANDO, Fla. – To those he worked with prior to his arrival in Atlanta, Dan Quinn is more than just a football coach. He’s a leader, a teacher and someone who respects those around him enough to let them inform his decision making. Those who have spent time working with him still hold Quinn in high regard, as was apparent during this year’s Pro Bowl. Generally, when a member of the media approaches a player or a coach he or she is met with a cautious façade. But at the mention of Quinn’s name, a smile crept across the faces of Bobby Wagner, Kris Richard and Gus Bradley. That cautious façade replaced by a willingness to talk about a man they respect. “He was amazing, man,” said Wagner, a linebacker with the Seattle Seahawks who played for Quinn in 2013 and 2014. “I loved working with him. Every second. He’s so smart. “The way he approached the game, the way he prepared, it was inspiring. It made you want to watch more film and make sure you were doing your job, because you knew he was doing his work. He’s a great leader and a great person. Just a good dude to be around.” Quinn spent two seasons as the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator, helping the team reach back-to-back Super Bowls and establishing the Legion of Boom, one of the best defenses in modern NFL history. After spending the past four seasons as the Falcons’ head coach, Quinn will once again take charge of the defensive coordinator role in Atlanta. “I think my background in the scheme of what we do and the style exactly like I want to do it,” Quinn said of his decision to take over the defensive play-calling. “I like doing it. I've done it before both as a defensive coordinator and as a head coach some. I just thought that was the best way for us moving forward, and something I'm looking forward to.” Injuries played a key role in what was ultimately a lackluster and disappointing season for a Falcons defense that appeared to be trending upward after a strong finish in 2017. But Quinn’s decision, as he explained it, seemed to be more about a desire to get his style of defense back to exactly where he wants it rather than an indictment of former defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel’s ability in that role. Quinn’s ability to identify and develop a very specific style of play on defense is a strong suite of his, according to those who have worked with him. So too is his ability to communicate that style in an effective way that makes it clear to Quinn’s players exactly what their role is in the defense. “He has a vision of what it should look like and then he does a great job of illustrating that to the players, so it is very clear,” Bradley said of Quinn, who served as the Seahawks’ defensive line coach in 2009 and 2010 while Bradley (shown below) was defensive coordinator. He is a tremendous leader and has great understanding of the defense as a whole.” Falcons fans saw a glimpse of the type of impact Quinn can have when taking a greater role in the defense. During the second-half of Atlanta’s 2016 Super Bowl run, Quinn took over the defensive play-calling and had a defense with four rookie starters peaking at just the right time. The defense surrendered an average of 28 points and 386 yards prior to Quinn taking over and gave up just 20.5 points and 346 yards per game during the rest of the regular season. But while Quinn has a proven track record and a clear vision for how he wants his defense to play, he isn’t a rigid leader who dictates terms to those who work for him. Richard, the Dallas Cowboys defensive backs coach who worked under Quinn in the same capacity for the Seahawks before replacing him as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, remembers how empowering his former leader was. “What’s really special about him is that he utilizes the people around him, and he trusts them to give him the information that he needs,” Richard said. “He recognizes that he’s not in there and it’s not him solely trying to get everything done, it’s a collective effort. And that empowers everyone around him, which in turn, gives him great authority. “That’s so valuable from a leadership standpoint because he’s grooming you, whether you realize it or not. So, he’s putting that trust in everyone around him and in turn everyone around him trusts him to be accurate, and he is.” Relying on help from his assistants, Quinn will seek to realign the Falcons’ defense with the exact style he expects. Quinn discussed constantly throughout the 2018 season his desire to see the team create more turnovers, generate increased pressure on opposing quarterbacks and get off the field on third downs and in the red zone. He will have the ability to have a direct impact on those desires not only in practice but on Sundays moving forward. While the intricacies of defensive play-calling may not be talked about as often as those on offense in this era of high-scoring football, each defensive coordinator has a unique fingerprint. “For us, the defenses always remained the same,” Wagner said of the Seahawks’ defensive scheme. “The difference is there are certain plays that Gus liked to run more than DQ, and coach Richard liked to run more than DQ. It’s just like that vibe. [Quinn] prefers certain fronts more and he prefers certain things more. He blitzed a little bit more, so I loved that. He was really good at scheming the team.” As a head coach and a defensive coordinator, Quinn will have more on his plate than ever before. But this is a scheme that Quinn understands in its entirety and utilized to unassailable success while in Seattle. There will likely be some adjustments to Quinn’s approach during the week, but any NFL head coach is already involved in every aspect of the team anyway. Quinn won’t just be involved with the defense in Atlanta now, however. He’s taking ownership of it. “I think as a defensive coordinator if you know the front, linebackers and the coverage, that’s so important,” Bradley said. “I think that’s what he did when he was at Seattle, he could bring those three together. “For Dan, he’s been so involved from Day 1 that I think it will be a real smooth transition for him.”
  10. Kelsey Conway reporter 4-5 minutes FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – If the Falcons season ended today, it would be hard to argue against tight end Austin Hooper being named Atlanta’s most improved player. RELATED CONTENT Hooper is playing the best football of his career and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by his peers as the third-year tight end was named an alternate for the 2019 Pro Bowl. Ready for the scary part? He’s only 24-years-old and he hasn’t even come close to scratching the surface of his potential. He even said so himself. “Keep working … that’s been my mantra since I got here and I’ve just gotten better and better since I’ve been here,” Hooper said. “I’m just going to keep going on that trajectory because I feel like there’s a lot more I can do and I still feel like there’s another level I can go to.” Since the Falcons drafted Hooper in the third-round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Stanford, he’s improved every year. The statistics show it. In his first season, Hooper caught 19 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns. In 2017, he caught 49 passes for 526 yards and three touchdowns. With two games left to play this year, Hooper has already caught 64 passes for 557 yards and four touchdowns. Hooper’s progression didn’t happen overnight and certainly without a commitment to improving his craft more than ever. Following the 2017 season, Hooper made sure to reach out to his quarterback Matt Ryan to let him know when he was going to start throwing again. When Ryan was ready, Hooper was going to be there. No matter the time or the place. Hooper, a California native, previously spent most of his offseason back on the West Coast. That wasn’t going to be the case this time around. One or two weeks with Ryan here and there wasn’t enough. He wanted more. Ryan began throwing in March and who was there to catch passes from him? Hooper. And their improved rapport has been on display all season long. “It’s just repetition,” Hooper said. “It’s not sexy. You’re getting up there at 8 in the morning, going to an empty park, running routes until Matt says, ‘We’re good.’ It’s just a lot of hard work that nobody saw, it’s just between me and him and I’m glad that work came to fruition.” Ryan couldn’t have been more complimentary of the work Hooper has put in and how he’s played this season. “I think Austin has had a really good year for us,” Ryan said. “He’s worked really hard and he’s playing the best football of his career and I think his potential is to keep improving and to get better. I think he’s going to be a really critical and good player for us in this league for a long time.” One of the biggest areas Hooper and Ryan feel their connection has made the biggest growth is their non-verbal communication. Rather than having to tell Hooper exactly where he expects him to be on a specific play, Ryan can just give him a look or not even having to say anything because they’ve repeated it so many times. “It’s come a long way,” Ryan said. “Just his understanding of the offense and what our expectations are for him on certain routes versus certain coverage [and] what we expect him to do. He’s been spot on that this year. He’s been in the right place at the right time, given us good opportunities to convert third downs, to get first downs, catch touchdowns. I think that part of that game has improved.” At 6-foot-5 and 254 pounds, Hooper has the size and athleticism to be an elite tight end in the league. He’s proven his catching radius is something Ryan can benefit from. While his physical attributes certainly make him a tough matchup week in and week out, the thing that could take Hooper’s to the next level has nothing to do with his physical makeup, it has all to do with the mental aspect of his game. “I think his confidence has improved,” Ryan said of Hooper. “You see that when he’s making contested catches and big plays and going up and using his size and his length to his advantage.”
  11. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons made a handful of roster moves Tuesday, including placing longsnapper Josh Harris on the injured reserve list. The Falcons placed the 29-year-old Harris, who signed a three-year extension earlier this season, on IR and signed longsnapper Jon Condo in a corresponding move. Condo, 37, is a two-time Pro Bowler and has played for three teams in his NFL career, including the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and most recently the Oakland Raiders. The Falcons also promoted defensive tackle Justin Zimmer, 26, from the practice squad to the active roster and waived safety Keith Tandy. Wide receiver Julian Williams was also signed and he’ll fill Zimmer’s spot on the practice squad. Williams is a native of Suwanee, Ga., and played collegiately at Florida International University. Williams was signed by the Falcons as an undrafted free agent out of FIU in the preseason. He caught one pass for 4 yards in the Falcons’ final preseason game.
  12. Will McFadden FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – When Bruce Irvin agreed to terms with the Atlanta Falcons on Wednesday after being released by the Oakland Raiders at the start of the week and clearing waivers, he was not only reuniting with his former coach Dan Quinn, but he was fulfilling a lifelong dream. “Yesterday it hit me a little bit,” Irvin said during his introductory press conference Thursday. “I know I look scary, but I really was crying yesterday. This is a childhood dream for me, growing up watching Michael Vick, Terence Mathis, guys like that. This was always my dream, so for me to be able to come and live it out it was a surreal moment. I’m just very fortunate to be an Atlanta Falcon right now.” Irvin, 31, has been considered among the more productive pass rushers in the NFL since he was selected by the Seattle Seahawks with the 12th-overall pick in the 2012 draft. In 2013, Quinn arrived in Seattle, where he coached Irvin for two seasons and helped the Seahawks reach two consecutive Super Bowls and earn an Lombardi Trophy. Irvin was a part of a 2013 Seahawks defense led by Quinn that finished the season No. 1 in points allowed (231), yards allowed (4,378) and takeaways (39), which marked the first time a defense finished atop all three of those categories since the famed 1985 Bears. That season cemented the “Legion of Boom” era for Seattle, but Irvin is reuniting with Quinn to be a part of something new in Atlanta. “Me and DQ can’t sit and dwell on what we did in Seattle and going to those Super Bowls and stuff like that,” Irvin said. “It’s about right now. I feel like they needed me and I wanted to be here so I did what I had to do and we made it happen.” The Falcons defense dealt with some major losses due to injuries to several key players early this season, but they’ve rebounded in recent weeks and have begun to find their stride. Better still, Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones began practicing for the first time on Wednesday since going on injured reserve after Week 1, and he could potentially return to the lineup for the Falcons’ Week 11 game against the Cowboys. But Atlanta (4-4) didn’t hesitate to add Irvin to bolster their pass rush. The seventh-year defender has recorded 40 sacks and 15 forced fumbles during his career, and he joins a Falcons defense that has just 17 sacks this season, tied for 27th among all NFL teams. “Sometimes the things have to align just right for that to happen,” Quinn said of the signing. “We thought maybe we’d have a chance when he left Seattle a few years ago to join, and he ended up going to Oakland during that time. But sometimes it just has a way to work itself out, so if it was the right fit for him it was going to be the right fit for us. I think for both sides, for our team and for him, it was the right fit at the right time and it just aligned at the right time for us.” The Falcons have talent along the defensive line, and it will be interesting to see how they plug Irvin into the mix. Quinn has said Irvin will start out with Atlanta at defensive end, and he will be a part of the team’s nickel packages. With Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley already in place on the edge, might Quinn and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel get creative and bump one of them inside? If that turns out to be the case, Atlanta could roll out a pass-rush group that includes Beasley, McKinley, Irvin and Grady Jarrett. That’s a lot of firepower. Irvin is coming in to help a team that’s won its last three games keep that momentum rolling. He knows what it takes to reach the Super Bowl and win it, and he wants to help the Falcons in any way he can. “I’ve got a lot of knowledge,” Irvin said. “I’ve been in two Super Bowls, won one and lost one, so I know the blueprint of it … I think these guys are doing a great job of getting in their zone and getting on a roll at the right time of the year. “I’m just happy to be where I’m at and being a part of something great, and I’m looking forward to contributing.” But, football aside, Irvin is where he wants to be. A native of Georgia, Irvin wants to achieve success in his home town. A lot of different factors can go into a free agent’s decision to sign somewhere, but with Irvin the allure of going home and reuniting with his former coach seemed like a no-brainer. And other NFL teams knew it. “When I talked to my agent he said, ‘You know every team thinks you’re going to Atlanta,’” Irvin said. “And I said under my breath, ‘They’re right.’”
  13. Andy Dalton was getting the ball out quickly, taking what was there Cincinnati knew that the Falcons were going to play zone coverage. So they used their quick game, meaning three-step drops, and when they were in the shotgun it was quick catch and throw for Andy Dalton. He was just taking what the defense was giving him. I thought Atlanta tackled extremely well, but when Cincinnati did take shots down the field, the Falcons were playing loose and the pass rush couldn’t get there because Cincinnati’s receivers were coming off the ball uncontested with nothing to disrupt their routes, so they were at full speed in two or three steps. When the Falcons were in a single high safety, Cincinnati’s receivers could get into those seams in the coverage quickly. I thought the looseness of the coverage affected the ability to disrupt Andy Dalton and the pass rush in the first half. Atlanta had some guys playing a little bit differently than they normally would, so I think that played into it. Desmond Trufant was playing inside, Robert Alford played inside some and they had Brian Poole playing safety. The Falcons defense made a big change at halftime, nearly won the game In the second half, the Falcons adjusted. They came up and played tight man coverage, and scrapped the zone. That was a huge change for the Falcons defense because they are a zone team. Atlanta came up and played bump-and-run coverage, and because Dalton had to hold the football longer, now Takk McKinley, Vic Beasley and those guys had a chance to start getting home with the pass rush. I think that Defensive Coordinator Marquand Manuel and Head Coach Dan Quinn must have talked to them and said, “listen, we’re going to have to come out of character here a little bit. We know like to play zone and mix in man coverage in, but we’re going to scrap that and play man coverage across the board, and I mean bump-and-run, tight man coverage, and we have got to find ways to disrupt routes and make Andy Dalton hold the football”. And they did that really well. The Bengals still made some plays, but the scoring came down dramatically, the big plays came down dramatically, and the Falcons defense gave their offense a chance take control of the game a little bit. It’ll be interesting to see if that carries forward. Sometimes in a bad situation you find something that you’re better at than you thought. Andy Dalton made a perfect throw to win the game, and Isaiah Oliver will learn from it Ironically enough, the Falcons went back to zone coverage on the Bengals final offensive play of the game. And the thinking was that the Bengals could not afford to complete the ball inbounds because they had no time outs left. So the Falcons decided to play zone and drop their defenders down near the goal line, and anything completed in front of the end zone would allow them to rally up and make the tackle and end the game. The Bengals put their best receiver, AJ Green, on the side of the Falcons defense that had a rookie cornerback in Isaiah Oliver, and Brian Poole playing safety in the back instead of his usual nickel corner. That wasn’t a coincidence. Essentially, Poole was in the proper position. The only thing that could have been different on the play was if Isaiah Oliver had lost more ground. He needed to back pedal and sink more. Even though he would typically be responsible for the flat in that coverage, in that situation anything completed in front of him would have been fine, but nothing can be completed behind him. So even if they run a guy in front of him in the flat, he needs to leave that alone and take away the throw in the end zone. And it was a perfect throw from Andy Dalton. He sees it quickly and puts it exactly where it needed to be. It was a learning opportunity for Oliver, and he will grow from that. The need to switch things up on defense may have revealed a new path forward Any time you don’t win, the natural tendency for those outside the building is to concentrate on all the things you didn’t do and all the plays you missed. But Atlanta needs to concentrate on all the things they did right, because they did a ton of stuff right, especially in the second half on defense. For much of that second half, you saw the Falcons put both the pass rush and the coverage together. And that’s what I would concentrate on. If I’m defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, I might be saying ‘wait a minute, I might be able to do a little more of this’. I think he knew that his group has talent back there, and maybe the injuries are making you a little reluctant, but now he may be thinking ‘we’re good enough back there to come up and play man coverage, and if we’re not getting a pass rush we can send and extra rusher to get after them’. Sometimes, when you struggle there is a blessing in disguise. And I think maybe we discovered that the Falcons may be a little better in man coverage than even Marquand Manuel thought. And that may help them in play calling coming up. Falcons run game took the pressure off Matt Ryan Ryan was aided by offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian because Steve really did a good job of sticking with the ground game. They made Cincinnati defend the ground game even as Matt had a hot hand. That was one of the keys we talked about during the week. What do you do against this front to potentially neutralize their pass rush? Can you get them a little bit worn down? I thought the run game did that. The Falcons ran successfully enough that Cincinnati’s adjustment at halftime was to focus on the run because they were getting gashed in the run game. They thought coming into the game that they were going to be able to control the run and get after the passer, and they weren’t able to do that. That gave Matt Ryan more time to throw the ball down the field. It’s just fun to watch Matt Ryan play right now. His ability to diagnose what’s going on defensively is outstanding. And I think Matt’s trust in his weapons on offense is off the charts right now, which I love to see as a former quarterback. It doesn’t matter who’s on the field right now, he trusts throwing the ball their way. Mohamed Sanu led an inspired performance by Atlanta’s receivers I thought that Mohamed Sanu was the inspirational driver on offense in this game. No one wanted to play better today than Sanu did against his former team. I think there was a little more in the tank for Sanu today, even though he always plays hard. He was very demonstrative after he made catches and I thought the other receivers fed off of that. And his ability to run after the catch is really underrated. He ran through people today. Calvin Ridley defies how old he is. The routes he runs are old guy routes. I mean, when he runs the out and up, and starts to the flat to pull Dre Kirkpatrick out of coverage, and then blows right by him, that’s a veteran play. It’s fun to watch him operate. It’s fun that Ryan has been able to spread the ball around. He doesn’t have to try to force it to Julio all the time. And that’s a credit to those other guys. And I think it’s making Julio a more viable target. Credit Austin Hooper for making a tough play when his number was called And how about Austin Hooper? Hooper was kind of left out of the mix the entire game, and then he makes a huge play on the Falcons next-to-last drive. A third and long, he catches the ball well short of the first down and he runs through four Cincinnati Bengals to get the first down. You talk about a guy that stayed in the game, I mean he wasn’t involved, but he stayed with it and made a huge play for the Falcons. Ito Smith can run the ball, but did you see that block? Ito does a lot of cool stuff with the ball, and I thought he did again as well today. But the best play I saw him make was when stepped up on a blitz pickup. Cincinnati blitzed a backer right up the middle and Ito made him eat his chinstrap. It was a big time hit, he stepped right into the hole and gave Ryan the opportunity to shoot ball down the field. I thought he made a lot of nice runs, but that was the play that jumped out to me. As a former quarterback, so whenever you see a guy step up like that in protection, that’s pretty cool. I think that he brings a lot of the same things that Devonta Freeman brings to the table. He’s not quite as thick as Devonta is, but when you start talking about his start-and-stop, and his ability to cut back, he can do that. Ito Smith is one of those guys that can make you miss in a phone booth. Falcons had opportunities to finish the Bengals off The Falcons had their chances to finish this one off, and a couple of plays stand out. Trufant missed on the interception, that was the only chance he had defensively. But there was also Beasley’s near strip-sack, and Ryan has a chance to end the game. It was going to be a tight throw and I think he could have led Austin Hooper to the inside, but I think he was so caught up with trying to take care of the ball down there close that he erred on the safe side and threw it out of the end zone. But those are three opportunities to win the game. And because of the injuries, this could be the type of season where it comes down to taking advantage of those opportunities more so than usual. Any one of those plays could have won the game for the Falcons. But if you get three of them and don’t get any of them, then you need to go back and evaluate and find a way to make those plays.
  14. Well done.
  15. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons will face the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2018 NFL Kickoff on Thursday night in a game that features two of the most talented teams in the league. The Falcons have 19 of their 22 starters from 2017 returning, and the Eagles will once again be facing backup quarterback Nick Foles, who threw for 246 yards in last year’s playoff game between these two teams. Carson Wentz was listed as limited in Tuesday’s injury report. While Foles’ play will undoubtedly impact the outcome of this game, there are a number of key matchups for Thursday night. Among them is the battle at the line of scrimmage between both offensive and defensive lines but we’ve already covered that a bit in this week’s After Further Review, so we’ll be focusing on three other important matchups. Takk McKinley vs. Jason Peters Takk McKinley came on strong late in his rookie season, registering four of his six sacks in the Falcons’ final seven games. He continued that streak into the postseason, where he recorded one sack in each playoff game, including the Falcons’ loss to the Eagles. Philadelphia was without its Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters for the second half of the 2017 season and all of the playoffs last year, but “The Bodyguard,” as he’s known to Eagles fans is back for Week 1. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said the team didn’t affect the quarterback enough the last time they played the Eagles. McKinley had the Falcons’ only sack in that game, and he will be a big factor in whether or not Atlanta improves in that aspect of the game this time around. Peters is a tough assignment for any pass-rusher, but Quinn said he’s seen a nice jump in McKinley’s play. “Really at practice that’s where I’ve seen his game really take over,” Quinn said. “The physical style that he brings, the effort, the intensity. Over this past week I guess I’ve almost seen another jump take place. I thought he’s had a good camp and then he took a shift. It was good, and then he took a shift again this week, which I was really happy Zach Ertz vs. Falcons linebackers and safeties A strong argument can be made that tight end Zach Ertz is the best weapon the Eagles have in their passing game. A Pro Bowler in 2017, the sixth-year tight end has surpassed 800 receiving yards in each of his last three seasons and caught a total of 21 touchdowns in his career, including eight last season. Falcons SAM linebacker De’Vondre Campbell has become the defender Atlanta often utilizes to cover bigger athletic tight ends like Ertz, but there may be times when safety Keanu Neal or nickel corner Brian Poole are on Ertz as well. In their last game, Ertz caught three passes for 32 yards, but he’s capable of getting hot at any time. “You just have to have different ways to make sure that you’re able to cover him,” Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said. “And with our guys, I think we have the guys that can do it. [De’Vondre] does a good job covering tight ends, Keanu does as well. Brian [Poole] at times has to cover tight ends from that standpoint, and then you’ve got the nugget that comes in, [Damontae] Kazee … Just to have the ability to understand that he runs precise routes, he knows how to get open, he has experience. He’s not really testing you down the field until you let him, but he knows how to put himself in position with each quarterback and make himself a target.” Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman vs. Eagles run defense The Eagles were the top-ranked rushing defense in 2017, holding opponents to an average of 79.2 yards on the ground. The Falcons topped that mark slightly last season, gaining 86 yards on 20 carries, but they weren’t at full strength in the backfield. Devonta Freeman came into the game nicked up, and he managed just 7 yards on his 10 carries, but he did catch the Falcons’ lone touchdown. Tevin Coleman carried the load for Atlanta in that game, gaining 79 yards on the 10 carries he was given. Not only are both running backs fully healthy for this season opener, but offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has had an entire offseason to become more familiar with each player’s unique skill sets and how to best utilize them. Freeman and Coleman are a unique duo who can provide mismatches all over the field, and although they face one of the best defensive lines in the country, they’re talented enough to overcome the challenge. “I think he has had a fantastic offseason and training camp,” Quinn said of Freeman. “When we talk about it and talk about Julio and the difference that you see him being healthy I feel the same way with Devonta. His intent, energy, the violence that he can put his foot in the ground and transfer it and break guys off, it’s been remarkable to see because he is really intent and ready.” Bonus matchup: Dan Quinn vs. Doug Pederson This game has the potential to become a very interesting chess match between two of the games top coaches. Eagles coach Doug Pederson has been on the forefront of some of the league’s newer offensive innovations, and he proved last postseason that he’s not afraid to gamble in big situations. Quinn, meanwhile, has quickly turned Atlanta’s defense into a top-10 unit with tons of speed. The last time these two teams met, Quinn’s halftime adjustments proved effective in slowing down an Eagles’ rushing attack that averaged nearly 5 yards per carry in the first half, holding them to a 1.19-yard average on the same number of carries in the second half.
  16. I found this very interesting. Welcome to Straight from the ’Beek! The Falcons are down to their final two preseason games of 2018, with the Jaguars up first on Saturday night. You’ve got plenty of questions – so let’s get right to them. Just remember, all opinions here are mine unless otherwise noted. And away we go. Mason from Mocksville, NC Let me start by saying that I love Straight from the Beek. I’ve read every question and answer since you've started it and think you’re doing an amazing job. There are a lot of position battles going on right now but one of my favorite standout players is safety Damontae Kazee. Do you think there is a chance of him stealing a starting position if he continues to shine in the preseason? Matt: After the first two preseason games the one word that comes to mind when I think of Damontae Kazee is playmaker. He keeps making them. First it was a game-high 11 tackles against the Jets and then it was an interception against the Chiefs. How do you keep a guy like that on the sideline? Tough call, but nice to have. Falcons coach Dan Quinn talked about how some of the players have made some big jumps from their first to second years, and Kazee is definitely one of them. He’s been a bright spot for this Falcons team this preseason. It may be too early to start talking about “stealing a starting position,” but my guess is that he’ll see the field plenty – and even more if he keeps playing the way he has been. Thanks for the question – and for being a loyal SFTB reader! Much appreciated, Mason! Timm from Los Angeles, CA LOVE reading your articles, sir! Thank you for keeping me up to speed! Question, do you see us lining up both Freeman and Coleman in the backfield sometimes? Matt: Thanks, Timm. Yes, I do, but do not expect a steady diet of it. While one of the things that makes the Falcons’ offense so potent is the fact that Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are interchangeable and equally productive, there are times when they do share the backfield. The Falcons love to get that running game going, which sets up the play-action (and big plays downfield) for them. And with an effective 1-2 punch in Freeman and Coleman, it allows the offense to have a fresh set of legs in the backfield throughout the game. That's big, and it strains a defense. Jerry from Statesboro, GA Hey, Beek. As it sits at the moment, Foye seems to be a lock to make the 53-man roster. Do you think Celestin will make the final 53 or practice squad? He has played just as well if not better than Foye. I’ve seen Saubert’s speed this preseason and I think he’s a down the field threat and Hooper as a security blanket for Matt Ryan. With that said, will we carry three tight ends this year on game day? The return battle seems to be unsettled, but I would say Hall has the edge at this point until Ito Smith gets more acquainted to the NFL. Do you agree? Lastly, Beek, I owe you an apology. Months ago, we went back and forth about Matt Schaub being expendable. I thought he should be released and you said he was an asset because of familiarity of the offense and eyes and ears for Matt Ryan on the sidelines during games. Boy were you right, plus he played very well against the Chiefs. I think he has another year or two left. #BelieveinBeek. Matt: I told you not to count Matt Schaub out, Jerry! Even at 37 he can still make all the throws, he understands the offense, he can help Matt Ryan diagnose defenses and coverages on the sidelines and, a biggie here, the coaches trust him when he’s in the game. Schaub, by the way, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in 2019. To answer your questions, yes, I fully expect Foye Oluokun to not only make the 53-man roster, but to be a contributor on special teams and on defense this season. Linebacker Jonathan Celestin has been a real surprise this preseason and I think he’s going to make things interesting if he keeps playing the way he has been. I remember watching Chris Odom last preseason, who really played well in the Jaguars game, and thinking the same thing. Odom was later signed by the Packers. I think it’s going to be tough to crack this 53-man roster. As far as tight ends go, yes, I think the Falcons will keep three. Jim from Townsend, TN Beek, thanks for your great insights. Your assessment of preseason games is really helpful and sets the right context. My question has to do with Takk. While the Falcons are mum on continued shoulder issues, Takk tweets, “Can’t catch a break.” With zero context. Shoulder? Another injury? Off-field issue? I am a huge fan and love his passion but am getting a bit weary of the unexplained drama. Any idea what is going on? Thanks again for telling it like it is. Matt: Hey, Jim. I’ve received several questions about Takk McKinley in the last 24 hours. My advice to everyone is to tap the brakes here. Like you noted, Jim, there is absolutely no context with that tweet (below) for one thing. McKinley could’ve been talking about a hundred different things when he tweeted that, so let’s not jump to conclusions and go into panic mode (and some of you definitely are right now). If there is something official regarding McKinley’s health, the team will announce it. Otherwise, keep in mind that this is the preseason and the players have been grinding all through training camp. They’re tired, they’re sore and they’re chomping at the bit to get the regular season started and play for keeps. As far as tweets go, again, they could be about anything. As soon as I know something definitive, I’ll be sure to note it here. The tweet stated I can't catch a break this season. Emphasis added by the OP. Lawton from Cape Coral, FL Howdy Beek! Being a Falcons fan awash in the tide of Buccaneer-land, how do you feel that our team can stack up to the rest of the division this year, and do you see a division title in our future? Matt: I think the NFC South is perhaps the toughest division in the NFL, from top to bottom. I also think the Saints and Panthers improved during the offseason. I also think the Bucs had a nice draft, but Jameis Winston’s three-game suspension will set them back some. The good news for Falcons fans, in my opinion, is that nearly everyone is back, and they added a legitimate offensive weapon in Calvin Ridley. The only question marks I have is how that defensive tackle rotation shakes out with the additions of Terrell McClain and rookie Deadrin Senat and the overall depth at linebacker. If those two can fill the void left by Dontari Poe and everyone else stays healthy (knock on wood), I like the Falcons’ chances to contend for a division title. I think this team is very capable of winning 10-12 games. Tim from Augusta, GA Glad you are here to answer our questions with professional insight. Thank you. All of the talk so far about our offensive performance from last year has been entirely about Sark, but he inherited a complicated system built by a very smart offensive mind. Please explain how difficult it is to implement someone else's system when you only have the preseason to learn it and to adapt it to your strengths. I learned early in my adult life that you cannot do things or be like another person. You have to be yourself, use your strengths to be most successful. Defense: BBQ = Built By Quinn. Matt: Thanks, Tim. I think the first thing fans should wrap their heads around is the fact that every single team is different. The players, the coaches, the schedule, the locations, the bye weeks, the weather conditions – everything is different every season. And the opponents’ rosters are different each year as well. That’s a whole lotta change before anyone ever calls a play or takes a snap. And you’re right, every person is different – from the way they communicate to their personalities. Sometimes, too, it takes time to build up a chemistry between a play caller and the quarterback. That all said, Steve Sarkisian had to come in and learn the offense as well as the personnel. Now that he’s gone through an entire season and offseason here, he even said the difference for him compared to this time last year is like “night and day.” Sarkisian now has better understanding of what certain players can do well – their strengths and weaknesses. And now, he said, he’s moving players around more, to put them in a position to have more success. It’s safe to assume that Sarkisian is putting more of his stamp on this offense. And keep in mind, Tim, that is built to win games differently now with a defense that finished in the top 10 last season. It sounds like I’m making excuses, but I’m not. We all know the NFL is a results-based business; it’s all about wins and losses. These coaches are extremely smart guys with a ton of pressure on them – and it’s up to the players to go out and execute on gamedays. A lot of things have to come together for a team to win – good coaching, talent, preparation, good health and even some luck. To put it all on one guy is, well, ridiculous sometimes. And you could have some fun with the BBQ suggestion. Good one. Got a question? If there is something you want to ask or comment about, submit it right here.
  17. They call him Thor. Brooks Reed certainly has the long, flowing blond hair similar to the hammer-wielding fictional superhero most often seen in comic books. But the name fits for more reasons than looks alone. “He’s a man of few words, but he packs … he packs a punch,” Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said while explaining why the nickname fits for Reed. When it comes to Reed’s playing style and how he handles himself off the field, it’s definitely a case of more walk than talk. “A lot of people misunderstand him because he doesn’t talk,” Manuel said. “He has a motor that talks about everything that we do – and we talk about effort and energy. From the standpoint of him bringing everything and sacrificing everything every day, his effort is what separates him apart from everyone.” And those traits are ones that Falcons coach Dan Quinn covets. On the eve of training camp, Quinn listed two areas where the Falcons must improve in 2018: Turnover ratio and consistency. The latter, Quinn explained, isn’t so easy to measure and it’s certainly not something that’s done overnight. “That’s the hard part about consistency,” Quinn said. “It’s a sexy word to talk about, but it takes a while to prove that, ‘Hey, this guy is doing it day after day after day.’” When you think of Falcons players who produce week in and week out, names like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones or Deion Jones probably come to mind for most casual fans. And rightfully so – they’re great players who, in turn, have garnered lots of attention because of their production and accolades. But you’d better include Reed’s name on that list, too. “Game after game, he’s shown he is rock-solid consistent,” Quinn said. “Not only a role on defense but on special teams as well. He’s a real important part of what we do, and it’s men like him that add to the team the toughness, the resiliency. And we’ve got a number of them just like him.” There’s the spotlight and then there’s Reed Reed doesn’t have the gaudy stats; he tallied 39 tackles, four sacks, six quarterback hits and six tackles for loss last year. Nor is he an in-your-face trash talker with elaborate or choreographed sack dances. When players are posting workout videos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram during the offseason, don’t expect to see any on Reed’s newsfeed or timelines, either. In that sense, it’s easy to understand why some fans and the media in general might overlook Reed and what he brings to the defense. Reed doesn’t spend a lot of time under the spotlight because, well, he avoids it. “I’ve never been like a guy who embraces the media and stuff like that,” said Reed. “I’ve never really loved it. Even as a kid in high school I’d get off the field and didn’t want to do interviews. I never liked being in the spotlight." Before signing a five-year deal worth a reported $22 million with the Falcons in 2015, Reed was a second-round pick (42nd overall) of the Houston Texans in the 2011 NFL Draft. He grew up in Tucson, Arizona, played at Sabino High School before going on to play at the University of Arizona. He was a first team All-Pac-10 selection for the Wildcats in 2010. “It’s kind of always who I’ve been, more on the quiet side,” Reed said. “I’m more of a lead-by-example type. I try to be humble about where I am. I know the type of team that DQ wants and I try to really embrace that. And just go out there and embrace my role on this team.” From quiet guy in 'the dungeon' to Thor Reed says that when he meets people that don’t know he’s an NFL player, they sometimes find it hard to believe that he’s a defensive end for the Falcons. “When they get to know me a little bit and then they find out that I play D-line, they’re like, ‘What? You’re too nice. You’re not mean enough!” said Reed as he chuckled. “I’m a pretty even-keeled guy off the field.” Reed then explained the process he puts himself through every offseason. The 6-foot-3, 254-pound defensive lineman said there is no proverbial switch to flip. It’s not that easy. “It takes practice, really, in putting yourself in tough conditions and training your mind and your body,” Reed said. “Once you learn how to do it once, you keep doing it every year. You know how your body is supposed to feel when the season comes.” And then there’s that massive chip on his shoulder he carries with him. “I don’t really care about putting it out there – what I do, how I train, how hard I train,” Reed said. “I put myself into the basement – the dungeon – and just put work in and sweat. And that’s kind of what helps me carry myself and my mentality through the season with a chip on my shoulder.” Reaching ‘that place’ and preparing for battle Reed said that while it takes him a long time to warm up, he’s developed a routine that works for him on gamedays. Part of it includes stretching alone with the headphones blaring music. When asked about his song list, Reed said it was “a wide array of stuff” that includes heavy metal, rap and even classical music. The mixture of songs usually amps him up pretty good, but it’s nothing that gets him “too wild.” “That pregame is to get your mind ready and mentally prepare for a battle,” Reed said. “There is a place that you really have to take your mindset to in order to get that competitive level on Sundays. “There’s a lot of people who can’t get to that place.” While Manuel and some of his teammates refer to Reed as Thor, Quinn prefers to call him one of his “dogs” on gamedays and during practice. And that’s a high complement coming from the Falcons head coach. “He one-hundred percent is,” Quinn said of the dog moniker. “His attitude on gameday; he goes down full-speed to cover a kick and he’s ready to go rush on third down. Those moments, he has ‘the look’ especially not just on gameday but especially then.” That “look” was on full display in last year’s season-opening win over the Bears in Chicago. On fourth-and-goal on the 6-yard line with less than eight seconds left in the game, Reed clinched a 23-17 win for the Falcons when he came in hot from the left side and sacked Bears quarterback Mike Glennon for an 8-yard loss. “Sacks come and go and they come in bunches, especially the walk-off sack,” Reed said. “I try not to let that stuff get to my head. As soon as you think you’re on top of everything, you get humbled. That’s what I learned early on in my career.” Reed: We all want to win a Super Bowl Reed said that he’s trying to be a better leader for the Falcons’ defensive line, especially with the younger players because he said it will pay dividends down the road. “We all want to win a Super Bowl,” he said. “We want to be the best defense. We have really high goals as a defense – we understand it’s going to take a lot of work, dedication and sacrifice. “It’s always easier to say and set goals, but they mean nothing unless you put the work in.”
  18. EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Let’s remember one thing before we start passing judgment on Friday night’s preseason opener: these 2018 Falcons are still very much a work in progress. And while we’re at it, let’s put some added emphasis on the word ‘preseason.’ These games are all about evaluating the roster and coming out of them with the players’ health intact. The outcomes mean absolutely nothing. Need proof? The Falcons were 0-4 in preseason play a year ago and ended up finishing 10-6 and advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs. And don’t forget that in 2012, your Dirty Birds went 1-3 during the meaningless portion of the season and finished 13-3 when it mattered. That Falcons team advanced to the NFC title game. OK, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about the penalty-marred 17-0 loss the Falcons suffered here at MetLife Stadium. Keep in mind that all opinions here are mine unless otherwise noted. Let’s get some of the indisputable facts out of the way first. Sure, the scoreboard was a skosh lopsided but this was by no means a complete one-sided affair. Look at these seven team stats: Total yards: Falcons 254, Jets 253 Total plays: Falcons 62, Jets 60 Yards per play: Jets 4.2, Falcons 4.1 Total drives: Falcons 11, Jets 10 Turnovers: Falcons 1, Jets 1 Punts (yards): Falcons 6 (267), Jets 6 (264) Time of possession: Jets 31:10, Falcons 28:50 On the flip side, these are seven more team stats where the Jets separated themselves: Red zone offense: Jets 2 of 2, Falcons 0 of 1 Field goals: Jets 1 of 1, Falcons 0 of 1 Third down: Jets 7 of 16, Falcons 5 of 15 Fourth down: Jets 1 of 2, Falcons 1 of 3 Interceptions thrown: Jets 0, Falcons 1 Sacks registered: Jets 3, Falcons 1 Touchdowns: Jets 2, Falcons 0 If you’ve paid any attention to coach Dan Quinn’s press conferences during the offseason and training camp, a couple of those stats above probably hit you like a brick in the face: red zone offense and turnover ratio. Think back to the eve of training camp when Quinn was asked about why the 2017 Falcons fell short of their ultimate goals. “We finished in the minus in turnover ratio and that’s hard to do and play really good football,” Quinn said. “When you’re in the minus or right around zero or one, man, you’re as average as can be.” The Falcons finished the year at minus-2 in turnover ratio. And back in January, Quinn noted that the Falcons dropped off significantly in red zone touchdown percentage, going from ninth in 2016 to 23rd in 2017. After scoring a league-high 540 points in 2016, the Falcons scored 353 points in 2017. Atlanta converted 50 percent of its red-zone chances after converting 61.9 percent last year. So, on Friday night, those two not-so-great trends continued. And, as you’d expect, Quinn said the Falcons have “a lot to work on” following the loss. “We could be better at the ball and going after it. Those were two of the things at the top of the list going into the game where I thought we missed our mark.” But not everything was off the mark against the Jets. One player who repeatedly hit the mark – and several Jets players – was safety Damontae Kazee. The second-year safety was a tackling machine against New York, finishing with 11 total tackles, including nine solo. For a little perspective on Kazee’s night, the next closest player on the stat sheet – and there were eight different Falcons – had three tackles. Kazee was flying around out there and, at times, looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he flew up to the line of scrimmage to make tackles. Watch for yourself: Kazee’s performance is not a total surprise. When asked about him earlier in the week, Quinn said Kazee is among a group of players going from Year 1 to Year 2 “as whole new players” because “they’ve improved so much.” And Kazee wasn’t the only one who will make the coaches feel a little better as they head into their second preseason game against the Chiefs this week. Here are a few others: Quarterback Kurt Benkert didn’t finish the night with an eye-popping stat line, but the rookie out of Virginia came in and gave the Falcons offense a much-needed jolt – with his arm and legs. Benkert completed a couple long passes – one to Devin Gray for 30 yards and another to Dontez Byrd for 27 yards – before finishing the game completing 9 of 17 passes for 125 yards with one interception. He also ran the ball twice for 11 yards. The aforementioned Devin Gray. Some might consider the undrafted rookie out of Cincinnati a longshot to make the final 53-man roster, but if he keeps playing like he did against the Jets he’ll make it a tough decision. Gray was targeted five times and hauled in four passes for 83 yards – that’s 20.8 yards per catch. That’s not bad, regardless of who the Jets were lining up on defense at that point Linebacker Jonathan Celestin, an undrafted rookie out of Minnesota who grew up in Jonesboro, Ga., had the Falcons’ lone sack of the night. Celestin also had three solo tackles and quarterback hurry while on the field. There were more, but I’ll stop there. I wouldn’t want to be accused of overreacting to a meaningless loss.
  19. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – When Falcons rookie linebacker Foyesade Oluokun steps onto the field at MetLife Stadium on Friday night for Atlanta’s first preseason game against the New York Jets, he will have one goal in mind. “To show how much I’ve improved since I’ve gotten here,” Oluokun said. “And to go against another team will be nice, because we get to go full-out, tackles and everything. I’m excited for it. I think I’ll keep a level head, I don’t think the lights or whatever will get to me. I’m pretty level-headed when I get to big stages. I’m just going out there to prove to myself that I’ve improved and play my game and show what I know now.” Like all Falcons rookies, Oluokun will get his first taste of live NFL action on Friday night. A sixth-round draft pick in April’s NFL Draft, Oluokun has quickly had to transition to a new position with the Falcons. After spending much of his career at Yale playing safety, Oluokun is now learning how to play linebacker and the knowledge he’s gained thus far will be put to the test against the Jets. Although the doesn’t have experience playing a true linebacker position, it’s understandable why the Falcons, who desire speed at the position, would envision Oluokun in that role. “I think they knew about my athleticism,” Oluokun said of why the Falcons drafted him. “First and foremost, they believed in me to be able to compete with all of these guys here. My coaches must have told them I was a hard worker and just willing to do anything to get myself to where I need to be. The [draft-day] phone call was all about, ‘Enjoy it right now, but get ready to work immediately.’” Hybrid players are more common in the NFL today than they were a decade ago. Players like Deion Jones and Grady Jarrett, who were considered undersized at their respective positions coming out of college have now become part of a new-prototype at linebacker and defensive tackle, respectively. Given Oluokun’s size – 6-foot-2, 215 pounds – and his speed – he ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day – he appears to have the tools needed to succeed as a linebacker in a league that has become pass-oriented. Before he has success, however, he has to prove he can handle the new responsibilities that come with his new position. “I guess seeing formations is something linebackers have to do but coming from safety you can anticipate motions really well,” Oluokun said of his position change. “There are a lot of calls that come off of motions, so lining up is a big part of being a linebacker. If you’re expecting someone to motion and you have a different alignment off of that motion, it’s really advantageous if you can kind of expect or know where that’s going to come from. “What I’ve had to learn, we’re still working on it, is just how to move inside the box. At safety, I’ve got a lot of space I can work with. As long as I can get to my position I can kind of anticipate where the running back is going to go. At linebacker you kind of have to be on the prowl the whole time and move swiftly into your gap while staying low. I’m working on that still, but it’s coming along.” It will take more than just flashing as a linebacker in the preseason, though. Like most of the Falcons’ rookies, Oluokun will be asked to perform on special teams as well. Given the changes to the kickoff rules the NFL made this offseason, we may see more teams employing linebackers, tight ends and fullbacks in that aspect of the game than in years past. If that is indeed the case, head coach Dan Quinn will certainly be looking to see which players can step up and claim that role. “Can some of these guys make an impact on special team,” Quinn asked of his new defensive players after Wednesday’s practice. “Guys like Foye, who’s going to have that kind of role. (Emmanuel) Smith, (Emmanuel) Ellerbee and that group. Those are a handful to keep an eye on for the first game.” Coming from the Ivy League, Oluokun says he’s definitely noticed an increase in the level of talent around him. But instead of allowing himself to be intimidated by that, he says it’s forced him to pick up his level of play as well. He’s had some help along the way thus far from a linebacker room that he describes as “the perfect environment for a young guy,” but he will have to continue to absorb their knowledge and showcase his skills on the field to earn a role with this team. In training camp, Oluokun was often among the first players to rotate in at linebacker and he received reps with several of the starters on defense at various points. Oluokun was listed as a second-team linebacker on the Falcons’ first preseason depth chart behind De’Vondre Campbell, Atlanta’s starting SAM linebacker. With his first NFL preseason game quickly approaching, Oluokun appears to be focused on just one thing – the same focus he’s had since he joined the Falcons. “As soon as I came here I was just ready to improve myself,” Oluokun said. “I feel like I had to prove to myself – the coaches believed in me – that I belonged here. It’s been my mission to get better and better every day. That’s my focus: come in and improve myself and in time I’ll be where I need to be.
  20. The National Football League implemented a number of rule changes for 2018, but the one garnering most of the attention right now is the new helmet-hit rule. Under the new rule, players who lead with the crown of their helmets to initiate contact against an opponent on any play will be penalized 15 yards. Offending players may also be disqualified depending on the severity of the hit. It’s also worth noting that the rule applies to any player anywhere on the field. "The goal here is to improve the game and protect the players while still playing a game and style we all want – one of toughness and physicality," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. So, what’s all the fuss about? Implementing a rule that focuses on protecting players by discouraging them from leading with their helmets seems to be in everyone’s best interest, right? Those who tuned in to watch the Hall of Fame game last Thursday night between the Bears and Ravens saw the first call on the helmet-hit rule come into play. By game’s end, the Ravens were flagged two times for unnecessary roughness under the rule and it left some wondering if this is how games are going to be called during the regular season. Not everyone is pleased with the implementation of the new rule. San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman told The Wall Street Journalthat the new rule could “ruin the game” if the penalty is called too much. Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman said in terms of fines, the new rule could also end up being costly for some players who refuse to alter the way they tackle. Even Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who praised the rule when it was passed, reportedly said that he now wants to study the calls more after seeing it in action. One team that doesn’t believe the new rule will affect the way they play or change the way they tackle is the Atlanta Falcons. It stems from a leveraged-based tackling technique that Quinn brought with him from his days as the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks. Back in May, Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel put together a video presentation for the Atlanta media and Falcons beat reporters to explain the new rule and demonstrate how the Falcons teach players to tackle. “We just have to do a better job of explaining exactly how we tackle,” Manuel said. “You guys are going to see some of the drills that we show, implementing the fact of how you now take the helmet – not as a weapon – and utilize it as a safety tool. That means I’m now using my shoulder pad.” Manuel emphasized how having proper leverage and posture when making a tackle, block or initiating any sort of contact will be key – for the players’ overall safety as well as avoiding penalties. “The posture is what we’re working on a lot – what hits first,” Manuel said. “We cannot lead with the helmet. The helmet cannot be the first part of contact for anyone.” Manuel added that players like Keanu Neal won’t be affected by the helmet-hit rule because “because we do it the right way in practice all the time." Neal, who has compiled 153 tackles and 65 assists in his first two years in Atlanta, was named to his first Pro Bowl following last season. The Falcons safety also has a reputation for being one of the hardest hitters in the league right now. Falcons linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich doesn’t expect the helmet-hit to rule to be an issue for players like Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell and Duke Riley, either. Ulbrich said that when it comes to tackling, the Falcons already teach their players to keep the head completely out of contact. “We’ve taught this rugby-style tackle for quite a while now,” Ulbrich said. “It’s just going to be another level of mindfulness on the tackles where in the past it’s been very hard to avoid the helmet-to-helmet.” The NFL released a fact sheet on the helmet rule which includes an official explanation of the rule and outlines the penalties for violating it. The league also created an educational series – called the NFL Way to Play – to promote proper use of the helmet to protect players from unnecessary risk and what it hopes will foster culture change across all levels of football. When asked if the new rule would change his approach at all, Neal said it wouldn’t. He said because of the way the Falcons teach tackling it allows him to play fast and within the rules. “We do a good job of training different ways to tackle here,” Neal said. “The Falcon roll – that’s a technique that we mention all the time, that we practice, critique and really work on. There’s things already implemented in what we do that kind of counteracts what the rule is saying. “With my game, obviously I’m a physical player,” Neal added. “I don’t think too much about it when it comes to the rule because I play the way I play. You never want to think (while playing) because you end up playing slower.” Manuel stressed the importance of getting to the young players early, teaching them their tackling techniques “and continuously keeping them on the same path." Five head coaches, including Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn, volunteered to create position-specific videos – for ball carriers, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs – to assist in educating coaches and players on position-based applications of the new rule. The Falcons will play their first preseason game on Friday, when they travel to East Rutherford, N.J., to take on the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. When asked about how the new rule was enforced in the Bears-Ravens preseason game, Quinn said it’s something the entire league will learn from. “Those two examples I’m going to show in the team meetings, and then now this weekend when we’re fully underway from the preseason standpoint, I’ll try to pull good teaching examples and go,” Quinn said. “I’m hopeful that because of the way we taught tackling, to begin with, we’ll get less, but let’s be honest, we all need work at it. If we can help the game become safer and teach it better, and get it down to college and through high school and youth football that would be a huge win.”
  21. Brian Poole on his journey from undrafted to becoming a key player in the Falcons’ defense: ‘All I want do is win’ Emily Macuga Brian Poole joined the Falcons as an undrafted free agent in 2016. With many offers from other NFL teams, Poole chose to reunite himself with his former defensive coordinator at the University of Florida, Dan Quinn. During Poole’s first season at Florida in 2012, Quinn was the Gators’ defensive coordinator. Earning a spot on the Falcons’ 53-man roster would be a tall task considering the talent Atlanta had at his position. But Poole didn’t shy away from the competition. He embraced it. He then went on to make the 53-man roster and played in all 16 games with nine starts. Poole recorded his first career interception in Week 16 against the Carolina Panthers when he picked off Cam Newton. In his second year with the Falcons, Poole became a defensive asset and someone the team could rely on. Poole played in 15 games with three starts. By the end of the season, he had a total of 64 tackles (49 solo), two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, and three passes defensed. Fast-forward to 2018, now with two seasons under his belt, Poole has “established himself as a leader amongst the defense,” Quinn said of Poole’s growth. Poole’s been an important player for the Falcons on special teams as well. Atlanta’s defense has now emerged into one of the top defenses in the league. Poole credits the players on the defense for helping him grow into the player he is today. Poole says the Falcons have “a team with great leadership and that made [his] transition smooth.” With a young, fast, and physical defense, Poole believes they will only continue to grow together and he’s excited about taking it to “the next level this year.” With all of the weapons the Falcons now have at cornerback and their want to “win,” there’s no reason to believe this unit won’t put their best foot forward come Sept. 6 in Philadelphia.
  22. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Falcons coach Dan Quinn said that one of the best ways a player can help the team is to know their own style – and to not try to be something they’re not. “When a player knows who they are, and when a player knows not only who they are, but how to work and develop that, I think you can blow the lid off who they could be, because they’re really true to themselves,” Quinn said. Case in point: receiver Mohamed Sanu. When you think of the prototypical slot receiver in the NFL, smaller guys like Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate or Danny Amendola usually come to mind. So, when you see Sanu – who is 6-foot-2 and weighs 215 pounds – lined up in the slot for the Falcons, he’s hard to miss. “How often do we see the very small guy in the slot?” Quinn said. “’Sometimes in the draft or free agency, just because they guy’s 5-8 and 170 pounds, ‘he’s a slot!’ Our slot receiver is a **** of a lot bigger than that, but that’s not every big guy who can do that so he’s found the niche of who he is.” And Sanu, who is often on the field with Julio Jones, Justin Hardy and Marvin Hall, relishes his role. So much, in fact, that he used a video game analogy to make his point. “Sometimes you need a guy that’s quicker, faster can be shifty, shifty, stop on a dime and get those mismatches when he’s going against a linebacker or another DB that’s not as fast or not as big, you know,” Sanu said. “It’s like almost another cheat code.” Sanu definitely flourished last season, catching 67 passes for 703 yards and five touchdowns. It was easily his most productive season in Atlanta since joining the Falcons in 2016. Entering his seventh year in the league, Sanu said he learned to play slot because he’s always felt comfortable playing inside or outside. He also knows that quarterbacks like big guys over the middle – not just a tight end. “Yeah, I definitely see myself as unique in that regard,” Sanu said. “I move differently. I move a lot faster and quicker than people think. When I get the ball in my hands, I’m very hard to tackle. A linebacker isn’t going to just flat-out maul me because I’m big. And a DB isn’t going to out-quick me because I can move, too. It’s tough.” And with the Falcons adding first-round pick Calvin Ridley to the mix, the Falcons have one of the most talented and versatile receiving corps in the league. “Our entire group is just different,” Sanu said. “And people don’t know a Marvin Hall or a Reggie Davis or a [Justin] Hardy. Those guys can make tremendous plays. And top of that you have we have Calvin Ridley who’s going to come in and contribute really early. And that’s the thing, we just have guys who can rotate in and out and not miss a beat.” Different for sure, and definitely in the conversation when it comes to the very best receiving units in the league. “In my opinion, I think we’re the best,” Sanu said. “That’s just my opinion. Everybody’s entitled to their own opinions, and how they see things. I watch receivers play, I understand it. I study the game. There’s a lot of talented receivers out there and it’s tough to say, ‘Oh, this group is better than this group because they did this and have better numbers.’ It’s not always about numbers. It’s about how well you block. How you affect the game, the type of coverage you draw and little things like that. There’s a lot of things that go into it.” Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen, who faces the Falcons receivers daily in practice, concurs. In fact, he hinted that he might lose a little sleep over it. “It’s a nightmare,” Allen said. “To go against it every day, I personally don’t think there’s any other offense that has as many weapons from sideline to sideline that can give us as much pressure. “If you’ve got Julio [Jones], you’ve got [Mohamed] Sanu and you’ve got [Calvin] Ridley on the field at the same time, and then you can throw the two running backs in there, who do you match up against, who do you put your best players on.”
  23. ATLANTA – The Falcons held their first ever open practice in Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday and having 60,000 fans in attendance created a different atmosphere and a new lens through which the coaches could evaluate their players. There was an added focus on reps inside of the red zone during Sunday's practice, as the Falcons seek to improve their performance at that critical area of the field. Prior to the start of practice head coach Dan Quinn explained how special it was to see the fans turn out in big numbers to show their support of the team. The fans in attendance brought some tangible benefits as well, especially for some of the newer players on the team. Quinn was eager to see how the rookies performed with 60,000 spectators For the Falcons’ rookies, Sunday was their first opportunity to suit up and play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in front of a decent sized crowd. With the added energy inside of the building, Quinn said prior to practice that he was looking to see how the rookies responded. “Every time I’m on the field with the rookies I’m always watching them, because there’s always something to evaluate,” Quinn said. “To have under, let’s call it, the watchful eye of 60,000 and see how they perform, yeah, I’m definitely looking for that. Are they going to stay within the system and true to what we’re saying or will the external forces have an impact?” Three players sat out Sunday’s practice but Ridley was not among them Defensive end Takkarist McKinley and wide receiver Calvin Ridley left practice late on Saturday, but Quinn said afterwards he didn’t believe the injuries to be too serious. Prior to practice Sunday, Quinn offered updates on those injuries, revealing that McKinley would be held out but Ridley would be able to practice. He also revealed that two other players, offensive lineman Ty Sambrailo and running back Ito Smith, would not participate in practice. “We’ll hold three guys today, nothing too serious from that end,” Quinn said. “Takk [McKinley], his shoulder is sore, he’ll be kind of day to day but hopefully soon. We knew we weren’t going to give him all of the contact work early, so we’ll see what it looks like for tomorrow. Ty Sambrailo had a hand [injury], we’re going to hold him out. Ito Smith has foot contusion. All three of those are day to day.” First day in pads offers better evaluation in the trenches The rookies weren’t the only players Quinn was watching closely. Sunday marked the first fully padded practice for the team, which allowed for much better evaluation of the offensive and defensive linemen. “Their game changes,” Quinn said of the linemen putting on pads. “The offensive line, the defensive line, they’re the ones that probably need it more than most. You probably don’t hear too many receivers and corners that say, ‘Hey man, I can’t wait; we’re in pads today.’ The other guys are like, ‘Hey man, this is part of my game.’ “This is an important part – obviously it’s not going to be a live scrimmage – but this is a better evaluation tool for the big guys.” Other notes and observations The red zone was a major emphasis for the Falcons on Sunday. It’s one area where Quinn wants his team to improve this season, and he’s tapped several training camp practices as days where the team will have added work in the red zone. There were a few nice plays from the Falcons’ secondary on Sunday. Safety Keanu Neal had an interception in the 7-on-7 portion of practice and nickel corner Brian Poole had a pick during one of the 11-on-11 period. Cornerback Leon McFadden also had a good pass breakup on a long crossing pattern where he showed off his speed to catch up to receiver Christian Blake and knock the ball away. Speaking of Blake, the rookie receiver had one of the most impressive plays of the afternoon. During the first 11-on-11 period, Blake ran a crisp post route, caught a well-thrown pass in a tight window and broke away from his defender for what could have been a touchdown in live action.There were a number of players who looked sharp in practice. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett got into the backfield on multiple occasions, shutting down running lanes and getting to the quarterback for would-be sacks. Defensive end Brooks Reed was stout in his run defense early on, while running back Terrence Magee ran the ball well and tough. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu ended the practice with a touchdown in the red zone after a scramble by Matt Ryan to keep the play alive. Much has been discussed about how Steve Sarkisian will fare in his second season as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator, and it appeared h as though the offense ran a few more pre-snap motions and shifts than they did last year. Looks like Grady? is trying to tear the Larynx out of Schweitzer's neck in the photo.