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  1. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- De'Vondre Campbell clearly sees the difference. Last year, the Atlanta Falcons linebacker had trouble making out letters while reading without his glasses. Those issues translated to the football field. "Like when I was looking at the scoreboard, I couldn’t even read it, really," Campbell said. "I had terrible vision." Campbell didn’t wear contact lenses while playing, yet strolled through the locker room wearing glasses on a regular basis. So he decided to address his vision problems by having Lasik eye surgery this offseason. "A lot kind of went into it ... really just the fact that I needed it," Campbell said. "It's a tremendous difference. I can notice it. On the scoreboard, I can see everything clearly on it now. That's how I knew my vision was better." Campbell, last year's fourth-round draft pick out of Minnesota, went through the typical growing pains of a rookie after being thrust into a starting role. He was set back by a severe ankle sprain that caused him to miss four games and missed another game because of a concussion. But in regards to his vision problems, Campbell refused to use that as a crutch for any bad plays throughout last season. "I wouldn't say it affected me," Campbell said. "I would say, though, (having the surgery earlier) definitely could have helped me." Having clearer vision certainly can help when you’re trying to see the ball, react to plays, and dissect hand signals from teammates. Falcons coach Dan Quinn offered his thoughts on Campbell deciding to have the Lasik surgery. "I think it will help, because he didn't use his corrective lenses when he played," Quinn said. "He played for years without them, but wore glasses full time. So I was glad he thought (the surgery) would be an edge for him. We supported that decision to get the vision corrected, for sure. When you wear them all the time and don't wear them just for when you play, I think that's a difference, for sure. ... I am excited for him." Campbell consulted with others before having the procedure. "It was something I kind of looked into myself, because I heard some guys talk about how they got it and how it helped them out tremendously," Campbell said. "Not anybody here, but just some people I know, personally. They said it could help. You don't have to wear contacts. You won't need glasses anymore. They say it last for like 10 years, so I was like, 'Yeah, I’ll check it out.'" The Falcons are counting on Campbell to take another step in his second season. He played weakside linebacker last season next to fellow rookie and middle linebacker Deion Jones, who finished third in the balloting for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. The Falcons drafted inside linebacker Duke Riley, a former teammate of Jones at LSU, in the second round this year, which could lead to more time at strongside linebacker for Campbell. "Is there a big adjustment? Not really," Campbell said. "There are a couple different wrinkles that the strong side has that the weak side doesn't, but it's not a huge adjustment. They're both interchangeable positions. I think the biggest difference is, playing on the strong side, you're more up closer to the line of scrimmage, which is a little bit different, but it's not a huge adjustment. So I'm kind of glad that I'm making the transition now in OTAs so that way, by the time we get to training camp, it will kind of just start flowing." The Falcons count on Campbell to cover tight ends because of his speed and length. As part of the transition to strongside linebacker, Quinn wants Campbell to develop into a better blitzer. "I think I have all the tools it takes to be a really good blitzer," Campbell said. "I think it just starts with a mentality and us doing it more and getting more reps at it. The more you do it, the better you get at it." Having clear vision of the quarterback should help Campbell's cause as well.
  2. Atlanta Falcons pass-rusher Vic Beasley Jr., the NFL leader last season with 15.5 sacks, said he'd be willing to travel anywhere to meet Denver's Von Miller for some offseason training. Well, the one-time Super Bowl MVP Miller has a place in mind. "We'll get it done, for sure," Miller said recently. "We’re going to do it in San Francisco. We'll get him out San Francisco. I got a house. I don't like going places and being uncomfortable, especially when I'm working out." Miller promised Beasley would be comfortable there. "I got a nice house in San Francisco," Miller said. "Plenty of room to get done what we want to get done." Miller even suggested the two run some "sand dunes" during the training session, which he referred to before as a "pass-rush summit." We'll see if Miller gets other pass-rushers involved. "I love talking to young guys about the pass rush, the league," Miller said. "Vic, that's one of my guys. We'll get that done and it'll be great." Said Beasley, "Oh, it will help me out a lot. The attention that Von gets year in and year out is unbelievable. They respect him as a pass-rusher, and I'm headed in that direction. So I can learn a lot from him in that case." The Falcons are in the midst of organized team activities, which started this week. The Falcons and Broncos have mandatory minicamp from June 13-15. Then the players have about a month off before training camp begins, leaving Beasley and Miller some time to collaborate. New Falcons defensive line coach Bryant Young, who played all 14 of his NFL seasons in San Francisco with the 49ers, offered his thoughts on Beasley teaming up with Miller. "I think that's great," Young said. "If guys can have a chance to work with other good rushers in the league and be able to share different things, I think that's great. You see receivers and quarterbacks working out with each other across the league. Why not have defensive guys do the same thing? That's good for them."
  3. This was informative for me. I hope you enjoy it. You basically get the full coaching bio in a 5 minute read. LINK Falcons' Marquand Manuel groomed by greats to coordinate defense By Vaughn McClure Ray Rhodes saw all the qualities years ago. The former NFL head coach and longtime defensive assistant recalled how a kid named Marquand Manuel, who played under Rhodes when he was the defensive coordinator in Seattle, used to arrive at the facility well before anyone else to dissect film. Rhodes remembered how Manuel, a safety from Florida, would remain on the field after practice trying to perfect his skills. And Rhodes remembered how Manuel wasn’t afraid to keep teammates afterward to make certain they understood the nuances of the defense. So it came as no surprise to Rhodes when Manuel, at age 37, was named the new defensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons under head coach Dan Quinn. "He was always very studious and very serious about football," Rhodes said. "He studied extremely hard. And he demonstrated the same on the field. And he was one of those guys who understood the game. I saw a young man that I knew would be a coach at some point. Heck, he was a coach back then." Rhodes’ endorsement of Manuel didn’t stop there. In reflecting on Super Bowl XL -- a game the Seahawks dropped to the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-10 -- Rhodes emphasized just how important Manuel was in the grand scheme. Manuel, the starter after Ken Hamlin’s nearly fatal beating outside a Seattle nightclub, got injured tackling Hines Ward in the second quarter and didn’t return. He was replaced by former practice-squad player Etric Pruitt. "My worst moment was when we were playing the Super Bowl and Marquand got hurt because it hurt the team that he wasn’t in there," Rhodes said. "Had Marquand been in the game, I really felt like we would have won the Super Bowl. For me as a defensive coordinator, I felt that good about him and his ability to execute the defenses. He understood everything. He was like a quarterback on the field." Manuel, who addressed the media Tuesday for the first time since being named coordinator, was quick to credit Rhodes for helping guide him to this point in his career. Manuel also praised his other coaching influences, including defensive mastermind **** LeBeau, his first NFL head coach in Cincinnati and currently the defensive coordinator in Tennessee; John Fox, the head coach when Manuel played for Carolina and now the head coach of the Chicago Bears; and Quinn, who was the defensive coordinator in Seattle when Manuel got his first defensive assistant job in 2013. Manuel played for six different NFL teams during his eight-year career and also learned under coaches such as Marvin Lewis, Gunther Cunningham and Leslie Frazier, among others. Manuel said LeBeau was the one who explained things in a calm, gentle manner. He said Rhodes was the one who "put his elbow in you" and taught him about devising game plans and making sure the players make the playcalls come to life. Frazier taught him about studying the demeanor of opponents and keeping calm under pressure as a playcaller. And standing next him on the sideline the last two seasons certainly prepared Manuel to see the game in the same manner as the defensive-minded Quinn. "I always tell the players I’ve been blessed because a lot of people look at me as a journeyman, but actually was blessed in the process of having some great coaches," Manuel said. "Then I go to Ray Rhodes, who collectively put it all together. He put the **** LaBeau with the Gunther; he put everybody together for me. Then I went to John Fox and [Mike] Trgovac. In those guys, there’s a piece that you took away from each one of them. "And me and Dan [Quinn] always talk about it from that standpoint of I’ve played in every defense known to mankind." Now for Manuel, it’s about simplifying things so his players can perform at a high level on Sundays. Of course, Quinn will have a big influence with his defensive coordinator background and after taking over the defensive playcalling from former coordinator Richard Smith at the end of last season. But Quinn, who had the top-ranked defense as the coordinator in Seattle, said Manuel will get ample opportunity to call plays. "No. 1, [it's] utilizing your staff and the preparation that we did throughout the week," Manuel said. "No. 2, understanding the tendencies of an offense and a coordinator in a game. ... I always tell the players this: I cannot adjust on Monday. It's too late. I've got to be able to do that on Sunday." The Falcons finished with the 25th-ranked total defense last season, allowing 371.2 yards per game. They were 28th against the pass (266.7 yards per game), 17th against the run (104.5 yards per game), and dead last in red zone defense, allowing opponents to convert 72.7 percent of the time. That same defense showed remarkable improvement as the season progressed, although it was the league’s top-ranked scoring offense that led the Falcons to the Super Bowl. The challenge for Manuel is getting a defense led by returning NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr., onetime Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant and Defensive Rookie of the Year finalist Deion Jones to take another step, particularly against an NFC South that improved with the additions of DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard in Tampa, Christian McCaffrey in Carolina, and Adrian Peterson in New Orleans. "Getting DeSean in Tampa, it's understanding how he fits in their offense," Manuel said. "That's the first thing that you have to think about. Adrian Peterson? How does he fit in their offense? The weapons that they picked up as far as the draft, how do they fit in their offense? How is Jameis [Winston] going into this third year? "And I think that's the part of, we got better, too. A lot of people don't want to see that. We went and tagged some holes. Not only did we get better, but we also have our second-year guys that are coming back that now have experience they didn't have the first time. ... When you look at the division, the division has gotten better. It's going to take one week at a time, playing at our standard."
  4. I've linked the entire article, but have cut and pasted the Falcons portion... What went right? The Falcons continued to add pieces to their front seven. While Atlanta's speedy young defense jelled in time for its postseason run, it's also worth noting that the Falcons weren't a very good defense for most of the season. They finished the season 27th in DVOA and 29th against the run, a problem teams weren't able to exploit because the dominant Atlanta offense kept getting out to leads. Players such as Deion Jones and Ra'Shede Hageman should continue to improve, but the Falcons lost Jonathan Babineaux to retirement, and Vic Beasley Jr. is exceedingly unlikely to repeat his 15.5-sack campaign, given that he knocked down opposing quarterbacks only 16 times. Atlanta didn't need to overhaul its defense, but the first (and maybe only) spot it needed to address was that front seven. The Falcons made two big additions to upgrade their defense. When defensive tackle Dontari Poe's market failed to materialize, Atlanta executive Scott Pioli swooped in for a player he once drafted in Kansas City. Poe's one-year, $8 million deal is an excellent contract for a player who made the Pro Bowl twice during his rookie contract and is still just 26. Poe's pass-rush ability hasn't returned since undergoing back surgery two years ago, but he's still an effective run-stopper. It also helps that the Falcons used their first-round pick on UCLA edge rusher Takkarist McKinley, who should be part of a deep rotation at defensive end. It's hard to dislike McKinley, both for his motor on the field and his public display of appreciation for his grandmother during the draft. The one frustrating part for the Falcons is that they had to trade their third- and seventh-round picks to move up five spots and jump ahead of the Cowboys and Steelers to grab McKinley in a draft in which edge rushers were plentiful. When you consider that the Falcons have been able to find useful contributors such as Tevin Coleman and Austin Hooper in the third round of recent drafts, the hidden cost of trading up for McKinley might be missing out on a useful player at another position. They locked up Desmond Trufant. Atlanta's defense broke out, surprisingly, with its star defensive back on the sidelines. Trufant has been an excellent cornerback for years now, with teams mostly avoiding throws to the left side of the field with him in the lineup. It's hard to compare Trufant to Richard Sherman because Trufant has just seven interceptions over four professional seasons while Sherman has racked up 24 during his first four campaigns, but he's about as close as coach Dan Quinn is going to get to his former charge. Trufant's deal is worth $41.5 million over its first three seasons, slightly more than what Janoris Jenkins ($39.7 million) and A.J. Bouye ($40 million) recently picked up in free agency and just below the deal handed to Stephon Gilmore ($42 million). Don't be fooled: Trufant would have gotten more if he had been allowed to hit unrestricted free agency, as the Falcons were able to leverage a relatively cheap fifth-year option at $8 million into a friendlier contract. What went wrong The offensive line might be a concern. The Atlanta offense spiked last season after the addition of star center Alex Mack, who was the fulcrum on one of the league's best starting fives. Crucially, the Falcons were healthy up front; they went 80-for-80 with all five starters answering every regular-season game. Tackle Jake Matthews missed a few snaps, and Mack eventually suffered a fractured fibula that limited him during the Super Bowl, but the Falcons were able to rely on their best linemen in a way no other team in the league could match. The line is unlikely to be as healthy in 2017, simply by sheer regression to the mean. It's too difficult to expect five linemen to stay healthy for four months of football. The Falcons also lost underrated guard Chris Chester to retirement and don't have an obvious replacement. Rookie fourth-round pick Sean Harlow is likely to compete with 2016 sixth-rounder Wes Schweitzer, who has yet to take an NFL snap after sitting out inactive his entire rookie season. Neither is likely to be as effective as Chester, and the only other veteran the Falcons have on the bench is utility player Ben Garland. Atlanta could be in the market for a backup lineman during camp. What's next? Work on a deal with Devonta Freeman. The Falcons might find it difficult to find a fit on salary with Freeman, given the number of players already making massive amounts of money on the roster. Their successful run of draft picks on defense over the past couple of seasons, however, might have cleared out a window for the Falcons to pay Freeman to be their starting running back. Freeman will look to top the $19 million Lamar Miller picked up on the first three years of his deal with the Texans last offseason, although this year's cold free-agent market should be a reminder that most teams still aren't paying a premium for halfbacks. Grade: B+
  5. Nothing but love from Goober for Devonta!! FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman reiterated that he has no plans to hold out for a new contract and said business will take care of itself as he approaches the start of the 2017 season. "It ain’t hard at all, because I’m good," Freeman said Tuesday about maintaining his focus amid his contract situation. "I play football because I love it. … I spoke to other guys about being in similar situations that I’m in right now. The main thing I can do right now is focus on my business, and my business is being the best Devonta Freeman I can be. And business will get taken care of outside of what I do and what I bring. I can just focus on me. When it happens, it happens. It’s going to be a surprise. I’m just patient." Freeman is in the final year of his rookie deal and scheduled to make $1,797,000 in 2017 based on an escalator in the deal. The two-time Pro Bowler’s agent, Kristin Campbell, has had talks with the Falcons regarding a new contract and said during the Super Bowl that she wants Freeman to be paid like an "elite" back. Fifteen running backs are scheduled to make $4 million or more in 2017, led by Pittsburgh’s Le'Veon Bell with the franchise-tag figure of $12,083,000. Freeman is well aware of other players who have gone through contentious contract negotiations. "I just always wanted to be that guy that never wanted to hold out and leave my guys out there working," Freeman said. "I understand it’s a business, 100 percent. But I know what I signed up for at the same time. It’s that business, you’ve just got to be patient and take care of yourself. "(I) feel like you can’t walk around and act sad and have an attitude. That ain’t good for the team, especially when a lot of guys are looking up to you. You have to come in and be a pro on and off the field about it." One of the players Freeman spoke with was All-Pro teammate Julio Jones, who signed a five-year, $71.25 million extension back on Aug. 31, 2015. What advice did Jones offer to Freeman? "A lot of stuff," Freeman said. "Personal." Freeman expanded a little bit on their conversation. "One great (piece of) advice that he did tell me was just make sure whatever I do, just to come in and work and compete and try to get better," Freeman said. "That’s what I call my business, my little own, personal organization; make sure I’m healthy, make sure I’m getting the proper rest, eating right and I’m paying attention to my weight. … If I can take care of that, everything else is going to take care of itself." Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said he’s had productive talks with Freeman’s agent. Dimitroff also implied a new deal with Freeman could get done by training camp, based on his history with the timing of such negotiations with a player going into the final year of his contract. Owner Arthur Blank also expressed a desire to see Freeman locked up for the long term. "We love Devonta," Blank told ESPN during Super Bowl week. "We plan on him being a Falcon for a long period of time." Freeman said he put on about five pounds of muscle already this offseason in preparation for the season. He also plans to run with a more "disrespectful" style toward opponents in order to run through tackles. Freeman again downplayed any friction between himself and backup Tevin Coleman, insisting they are brothers. Freeman was asked about the organization having to decide which running back to invest in for the future. Coleman’s rookie deal runs through 2018. "That’s way too far down the line for me," Freeman said of the Falcons choosing one back over the other. "I’m aware of everything that goes on, of course, but that’s not my business. I stay in my lane and get better." Freeman said holding out isn’t even in his vocabulary. "I’m going to play," Freeman said. "Like I said, business is going to get handled regardless of what, so I just come to work. I’m going to play regardless. "I love football. I love to compete. It doesn’t matter about what I did last year, how many Pro Bowls I got, a thousand yards. I want to do it again and even get better, hopefully one day be a Hall of Famer. I want to leave a legacy. And holding out, that’s not going to leave a legacy, because if I hold out, I’m behind. I don’t want to be behind. I want to gain."
  6. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman always runs with a purpose. But the Atlanta Falcons running back wants opponents to feel him even more in 2017. In talking about things he plans to do to enhance his game, Freeman gave opposing defenders a warning. "Just little things like breaking arm tackles, running through," Freeman said. "I feel like that's what I can get better at helping the offensive linemen out because those guys, they bust their butts. They don't get to rotate. The only time they get a break is if we score a touchdown, then when the defense goes on the field. But if we have an 18-play drive, they're on the field all game. So helping those guys out by giving them a blow by breaking a big tackle. "Last year, I left some runs out there. Also in the open field, continue to make guys miss, punishing guys. I just want to be real disrespectful this year when it comes to football." Freeman finished ninth in the league in rushing last season with 1,079 yards on 227 carries with 11 rushing touchdowns. He had 350 yards after contact, which was 18th among runners with 160-plus carries. Miami's Jay Ajayi led the league with 656 rushing yards after contact, followed by Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott with 632. In 2015, Freeman had 404 of his 1,056 rushing yards after contact. But the Falcons had a much better run last season in making it all the way to the Super Bowl.
  7. Falcons looking even faster on defense after first two picks play May 3, 2017 Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer LOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- One NFL executive made an interesting observation after seeing the Atlanta Falcons select pass-rusher Takkarist McKinley and LSU linebacker Duke Riley on the first two days of the NFL draft. 2017 NFL DRAFT | Philadelphia "They have put together one of the fastest defenses in the league," the exec said. "You'll be hard-pressed to find a defense with that many fast people." Dan Quinn vowed to build a fast and physical defense from the moment he was named the Falcons' head coach in February 2015. Each of his first two draft picks the last three years have been defensive players: reigning NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr. and cornerback Jalen Collins his first year, strong safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones last year, and now McKinley and Riley. Folks marveled how fast the Falcons looked during last year's Super Bowl run, with middle linebacker Jones, with his 4.38 speed, orchestrating the defense and Beasley, with his 4.53 speed, chasing down quarterbacks from behind. And that run was completed without injured Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant (pectoral surgery) and his 4.38 speed on the field opposite fellow cornerback Robert Alford (4.39). Now the Falcons add the 6-foot-2, 250-pound McKinley, who ran a 4.59 at the NFL combine, and the 6-foot, 232-pound Riley, who ran a 4.58. Quinn talked Thursday about the relentless style and passion McKinley brings to the defense as an edge rusher and a perfect complement to Beasley. Then on Friday, Quinn gushed about having Riley in the fold to help enhance the defense. "The toughness, the speed that he plays with, fits terrifically into our style," Quinn said. "We clearly know how to feature him in that role. So we're pumped to have him on board. I can wait to get him here and get started with him." Quinn said Riley "will likely start off" as a weakside linebacker, although the inside linebacker spots in the Falcons' defense are interchangeable. Quinn is all about versatility and getting the best combination on the field. With that in mind, playing Riley alongside former LSU teammate and starting middle linebacker Jones likely would mean a switch to strongside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who worked more often at weakside linebacker last season. The trio of Jones, Campbell and Riley certainly would cover a lot of ground. It also would leave open some options in the nickel package in terms of which pair of linebackers plays together, depending on matchups. Although Riley made his mark at LSU on special teams before becoming a full-time starter on defense his final season, Quinn said the Falcons didn't just draft him to run around on special teams. "No, 100 percent not," Quinn said. "I see all three of them playing (on defense)." Maintaining a fast defense is even more imperative now for the Falcons considering some of the offensive improvements teams around the NFC South have made through free agency and the draft. Tampa Bay gave quarterback Jameis Winston two new weapons in speedy veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson and talented rookie tight end O.J. Howard along with rookie receiver Chris Goodwin. Carolina and Cam Newton added all-everything running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Curtis Samuel. And the Saints gave quarterback Drew Brees a couple more weapons in former MVP Adrian Peterson and rookie running back Alvin Kamara. "This time of year, you definitely look out for your division," Quinn said. "That's what certainly comes across my radar first. All three teams in the division, as you would expect, have (draft picks) that we liked as well. It will be more of that over the next couple days. It's how each of the three teams change and, 'OK, how will they feature that player? What role will he have?' So that's definitely a big part of it." Based on the way Quinn is building his team, the Falcons certainly should be up to speed to defend their division title.
  8. Falcons now must figure out who will be starting right guard Apr 30, 2017 Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer Biggest post-draft questions still to be answered by the Atlanta Falcons: 2017 NFL DRAFT | Philadelphia Who is on guard? The Falcons still need to figure out which player will step in as the starting right guard following Chris Chester's retirement. It's unlikely to be fourth-round draft pick Sean Harlow out of Oregon State, although not out of the question. Harlow started all 37 of his college games at tackle, with 23 on the left side and 14 on the right. He said he practiced some at guard, but that's not nearly enough experience at the position. The Falcons will give him a look at both guard spots as well as some snaps at center. So the starting right guard seems likely to come down to returning players Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland. Schweitzer, a former tackle who struggled with the move into the interior as a rookie last season, was inactive for all 16 games in 2017. But it's easy to tell the coaches like Schweitzer's progress heading into his second season. “We're excited about where Wes is headed,” Quinn said. “... He is an all-day [player] here trying to find the one thing to do better. I use the term, 'set it off.' Wes Schweitzer this year has set it off in terms of having the offseason of his life. He's battle for it in every way. I have a sense that Sean is made of the same things. That's what everybody has reported to us.” Schweitzer is working on getting stronger and improving his pass protection. Garland, with the most game experience, is no slouch at all, but his value extends beyond offense. He played his most productive snaps at defensive tackle last season while also serving as the backup to Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. How will nickel and dime packages shake out? New defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, formerly the secondary coach, has plenty of new toys. He has the established corners in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, with Trufant coming back from pectoral surgery. He has a true leader in Ricardo Allen at free safety and a hard hitter in Keanu Neal at strong safety. He has a solid nickelback, Brian Poole, playing with a chip on his shoulder after being undrafted. And Manuel has some quality depth with Jalen Collins, C.J. Goodwin, and now fifth-round draft pick Damontae Kazee, a ball hawk who also can tackle. Now it's about putting everyone in the best position to succeed. Both Alford and Trufant can move inside in the nickel, and Collins is more of an outside guy after shining in a starting role because of Trufant's absence. The Falcons need depth behind Allen, and now have it with Poole getting a free safety audition and the rookie Kazee. In a crunch, the Falcons also could move Kemal Ishmael from linebacker back to strong safety. It's actually a good problem for the Falcons to have after lacking quality depth at corner in recent years. Can Brian Hill be productive behind established backs? Two-time Pro Bowl selection Devonta Freeman is the primary running back, the guy who is expected to get the most touches, and the one likely to secure a new lucrative contract before the start of the season. But it will be interesting to see how the Falcons incorporate fifth-round pick Brian Hill, a highly productive back from Wyoming, into the mix behind Freeman and speedster Tevin Coleman. Immediately after being drafted, Hill told Atlanta reporters that the Falcons just “got the best running back in the draft in the fifth round.” You've got to like his confidence, but Hill also said he didn't expect to be drafted by Atlanta because they already have two great running backs. Said general manager Thomas Dimitroff of Hill: “He's an angry runner. He's fun to watch him.” Quinn wants to see if on third down, Hill can step in and do some of the protection work asked of the fullback last season. “He's got the size and strength to do it,” Quinn said of Hill. “We won't really know on that until you get to training camp. You can imagine it's way easier to pass block without pads.”
  9. NFC SOUTH Atlanta Falcons Fred Zerblis, OG, Colorado State Chris Chester retired this offseason, making his vacated spot at right guard the only hole on an otherwise excellent Falcons offensive line. Considering the strong pieces already in place at center and right tackle, it doesn't make sense for Atlanta to invest a high-round pick on a protected position. Zerblis has been a standout performer for Colorado State each of the past two seasons, as he combined to give up just 10 total pressures between 2015 and 2016 and did not yield a sack. He also excelled on run blocks this past year, as his 84.9 PFF run-blocking grade ranked eighth among all FBS guards with at least 250 run blocking reps. Competition level and lack of elite athleticism is likely to drop Zerblis to Day 3 of the draft, but his excellent awareness, angles and upper-body strength make him a good fit for Atlanta's outside zone-heavy scheme. Insider Link to Full Article
  10. Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said one-time Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant, who underwent season-ending pectoral surgery back in the winter, will be held out of offseason workouts as a precaution. Trufant initially suffered the injury in a Nov. 3 win at Tampa Bay. He visited the doctors for a second opinion during the week of Nov. 29 and then followed up with the surgery. Such a procedure typically involves three to four months of recovery. "Trufant is coming along great,'' Quinn responded at the NFC coaches breakfast in Phoenix. "We won't have him practice during [organized team activities (OTAs)], but by the time we get to training camp, he'll be ready to go and battle.'' The Falcons are scheduled to begin the offseason workout program April 17. Trufant's return and anticipated full recovery is expected to enhance the defense going into the 2017 season, although Jalen Collins did an admirable job stepping in for Trufant this past season. The Falcons could move forward with Trufant and Collins playing outside in nickel situations with No. 2 cornerback Robert Alford then pushed inside to cover the slot. Trufant is on the verge of a lucrative contract extension expected to pay between $12 million and $15 million per year. The team exercised the fifth-year option on his rookie deal, meaning the former first-round draft pick from Washington is currently scheduled to make $8.026 million this coming season. "Tru is our No. 1 priority,'' Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said of Trufant. "That doesn't mean he's going to be the first [extension] done, of course. But that should [happen] during this spring sometime.'' In other injury news, Quinn addressed the status of several other players, including Julio Jones. The star wide receiver had a bunion removed from his left foot and faced four to five months of recovery following his March 6 surgery. Jones told ESPN that everything was on schedule for a training camp return. Quinn agreed. "Julio's doing good,'' Quinn said. "He had surgery on his foot, and that part is coming along really well -- the strengthening of his toe and the foot. Like most surgeries, the first part is the healing, and then comes the strengthening. He's starting to get into the strengthening phase now.'' Quinn spoke about defensive end Adrian Clayborn coming off of a biceps tear and defensive lineman Derrick Shelby coming off of an Achilles tear. "Adrian Clayborn ... he's doing well,'' Quinn said. "And then Derrick Shelby had an Achilles injury like the fifth week of the year. He looks good physically. He's actually changed his body. ... He looks different as a guy walking around. You can see the size, the strength. He looks great. .... All of them are in different phases of their rehab, but all we anticipate being fully ready.'' Starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder just got cleared to start running again after tearing a ligament in his right ankle during the Super Bowl. Starting center Alex Mack (fractured fibula), running back Tevin Coleman (ankle) and safety Kemal Ishmael (shoulder) are other key players coming off of injuries. The Falcons have to forfeit the first three days of OTAs this year for violating the NFL-NFLPA rules prohibiting excessive contact during offseason workouts last season.
  11. Atlanta Falcons starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder, who tore a ligament in his right ankle during his team's Super Bowl LI loss to New England, received medical clearance Tuesday to resume running again, a league source told Schraeder is expected to begin running next week. He's been lifting weights at the team facility five days a week since the end of February, working out alongside fellow offensive lineman Wes Schweitzer. The Falcons are scheduled to begin the offseason program April 17, and Schraeder is expected to participate. The injury, which did not require surgery, occurred in the second quarter of the Super Bowl, although Schraeder did not exit until his ankle finally gave out in the fourth quarter. Schraeder is one of several offensive starters coming back from injuries. Wide receiver Julio Jones, who had surgery to remove a bunion on his left foot, won't be available for offseason workouts but expects to be healthy in time for training camp. Center Alex Mack played through the Super Bowl despite a hairline fracture in his left fibula. Mack was not scheduled to undergo surgery. Also, backup running back Tevin Coleman injured his ankle in the Super Bowl. On the defensive side, Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant (pectoral surgery), defensive end Adrian Clayborn (biceps), defensive lineman Derrick Shelby (Achilles), and safety Kemal Ishmael (shoulder) are all coming off season-ending injuries. Cornerback Akeem King (foot) and wide receiver/returner Devin Fuller (shoulder) spent last season on injured reserve. A handful of Falcons have maintained a normal workout schedule at the team facility this offseason, including MVP Matt Ryan and backup Matt Schaub, who have been spotted running together ever since Schaub re-signed on March 8. Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman said he spends four days a week working out at the team facility. The Falcons have scheduled another team offseason camp session for next month. Ryan paid for all of his teammates to come together in South Florida last April for the inaugural camp.
  12. Atlanta Falcons two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman vowed to move beyond his team's historic collapse in last month's Super Bowl loss to New England Patriots. At the same time, Freeman knows the empty feeling might stick for a while. "That's like a scar you'll see forever," Freeman told ESPN. "You'll always remember that scar. It's about, 'How can I shake back?' In life, you've got to always learn how to shake back and have another elite year." That the Falcons blew a 28-3 third-quarter lead in a 34-28 loss to the Patriots continues to be a topic of discussion this offseason. Critics still harp on the blunders, including then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan declining to run the ball late and Freeman missing a fourth-quarter block on Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower that led to Matt Ryan being sacked and losing a fumble -- resulting in a momentum-swinging touchdown for the Patriots. Freeman was asked if there was anything he would take back from the game. "Nothing," he said. "No play. Even the mistake I made with the missed block. When you look at a football game, you're talking about four quarters. You're talking about the best guys against the best guys on both sides of the ball. Mistakes are going to happen. If you're perfect in the NFL, something is not right. I don't know anybody who's perfect. "My mistake is a scar. I'm going to learn from it. I'm going to get better from that. That's how I look at it." Freeman said the loss will serve as inspiration heading into next season and beyond. The Falcons hope to make another strong run in 2017 behind reigning MVP Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones, Freeman and a rebuilt defense, led by the addition of two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe. "If I dwell on the Super Bowl like, 'Oh man, we lost,' already, I lost," Freeman said. "I'm worried about something that I can't control that's over with and that's in the past. It's peanuts to me. You just move on from it. But until you win the Super Bowl, ain't nothing else going to feel better than winning that Super Bowl. I guarantee it. I don't care if I get 1,000 yards, 10 Pro Bowls. If I don't win that Super Bowl, I'm going to always remember that one Super Bowl we lost."
  13. Dontari Poe is not an Atlanta Falcon, at least not yet. Poe, the top free-agent nose tackle and formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs, visited the Falcons' facility on Tuesday but left without a contract. It was the third stop on Poe's free-agent trek following visits to Indianapolis and Jacksonville. Now Poe is in Miami visiting the Dolphins, as ESPN's Josina Anderson reported. The fact that he hasn't secured a contract yet makes you wonder about his asking price. It also raises questions about his health, with reported concerns about Poe's back. If it is all about the money, it would be surprising if the Falcons get into a bidding war, considering general manager Thomas Dimitroff already implied the Falcons wouldn't make a big splash in free agency. Sure, Poe could have a great impact on a defensive line in need of help, and his athleticism is off the charts for a guy who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 346 pounds. But giving Poe, let's say, $10-$12 million in a one-year deal doesn't seem like the best option, even if another team is offering the same. His replacement in Kansas City, Bennie Logan, just received a one-year, $8 million deal that included $7.68 million guaranteed. The Falcons don't have a ton of cap space. The latest NFLPA figures have them at around $14.5 million. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have $47 million in cap space, according to numbers obtained by ESPN's Field Yates. The other two teams on Poe's list -- the Colts and Dolphins -- have $37 million and $18 million in cap space, respectively, according to NFLPA figures. We'll see how it all plays out from the Falcons' standpoint. They need to fill a hole at defensive tackle after cutting veteran Tyson Jackson and not re-signing veteran Jonathan Babineaux. They need a game-changing type player who can stop the run and has pass-rush ability. Poe has to the potential to be that guy, but will he consistently be that type of player? His production dropped the last two seasons after Pro Bowl showings in 2013 and 2014. The Falcons have gone the bargain route with their other free-agent signings thus far, so maybe spending big on one wouldn't be all that bad. But again, it's hard to imagine the Falcons getting into a bidding war, especially against the cap-rich Jaguars. Poe's willingness to accept a one-year deal seems to indicate the 26-year-old wants to prove himself and secure a lucrative, long-term deal after the 2017 season. Maybe the Falcons can convince him he'll have his best opportunity to shine playing for a team fresh off a Super Bowl. And maybe the Falcons can convince him to sign -- for the right price.
  14. With NFL-high in performance-based pay, Brian Poole gets hit up by Falcons 6:11 PM ET Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer Word spread quickly on Wednesday about Atlanta Falcons nickelback Brian Poole getting a nice bonus. Poole, an undrafted rookie out of Florida last season, led the entire league with $371,973.11 in performance-based pay. He topped Dallas Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, who received $353,544.47. Falcons wide receiver Taylor Gabriel playfully nudged Poole via Twitter and got a hilarious response: Taylor Gabriel ✔@TGdadon1 @JustPooleN_It u owe me 100 Brian Poole ✔@JustPooleN_It lol I ain't got it! … Poole certainly earned it. He played in all 16 regular-season games and recorded 58 tackles, eight pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, an interception, and a sack. He also played in all three postseason games and had 15 tackles, two quarterbacks hits, and a tackle for loss. The performance-based pay system usually benefits players in their first NFL contracts, or minimum-salaried free-agent signings who become significant contributors. For those wondering, Poole made $453,500 during his first season, with a base salary of $450,000. Starting free safety Ricardo Allen was second on the team in performance-based pay at $342,712.65. Here are the top 10 for the Falcons, with rookies being four of the top six: PLAYER POSITION EARNINGS Brian Poole, CB (rookie) - $371,783,11. Ricardo Allen, SS - $342,712.65 Grady Jarrett, DT - $189,684.63 Deion Jones, LB (rookie) - $185,227.93 De'Vondre Campbell, LB (rookie) - $158,693.36 Austin Hooper, TE (rookie) - $154,689.15 C.J. Goodwin, DB - $141,837.48 Devonta Freeman, RB - $140,543.23 Justin Hardy, WR - $129,632.93 Robert AlfordCB
  15. And that's a wrap. The 2016 season ended moments ago, with the New England Patriots' 34-28 overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. The Patriots and Falcons have now joined the rest of the NFL in the offseason, where preparations for the 2017 campaign are well underway. You know what that means, right? It's never too early -- or maybe, in this one case, it is just a bit -- for Power Rankings. What follows is an initial rendering from our ESPN voting panel (a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities) of how the league might stack up next season. Click here to see the final regular-season rankings of 2016. 1. New England Patriots 2016 record: 14-2 Why they're here: It's tough to pick against coach Bill Belichick to field an elite team -- especially after the Patriots compiled the league's best record in a season that began with quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension. Brady will turn 40 in August, but for the moment, he is backed up by two quarterbacks who won starts without him in 2016. More than anything, this season reaffirmed Belichick's unique ability to build a team out of what other teams might consider indiscriminate parts. What could change: The big question looming over the Patriots is when Brady will start playing to his age. It has to happen sometime, right? That will be the point when we start questioning the Patriots' short- and long-term fortunes. Trade rumors around backup Jimmy Garoppolo are illuminating. Would the Patriots really trade a player with such upside when their starter is nearing his 40th birthday? 2. Atlanta Falcons 2016 record: 11-5 Why they're here: The Falcons had the best offense in the league in 2016, and that does not appear to be a one-year wonder. Quarterback Matt Ryan led the NFL in QBR and won the league MVP, receiver Julio Jones was unguardable, and the tailback duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were more than complementary. From a personnel standpoint, the Falcons are poised for another high-scoring season. What could change: The Falcons will suffer a big loss in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who will leave to be the 49ers' head coach. Ryan has plenty of experience in changing offensive coordinators, but he clicked better with Shanahan than with any of his previous coaches. Personnel is the most important part of success, but changing schemes can be tricky. The Falcons' defense, meanwhile, had a deficient pass rush in 2016, which went largely unnoticed amid Vic Beasley Jr.'s 15.5 sacks. Atlanta ranked No. 27 in pressure rate (24.9), a weakness that could have more impact next season.
  16. This was not a great unit during the regular season, but Atlanta's pass rush has come on strong in the playoffs. Per ESPN Stats & Information data, the Falcons pressured Aaron Rodgers on 42 percent of his dropbacks. Atlanta had two sacks, seven quarterback hits and five tackles for loss. The Falcons picked their spots with when to blitz and kept Rodgers uncomfortable throughout the game. Figuring out how to best pressure Tom Brady will be at the top of Dan Quinn's to-do list this week.
  17. I'm on mobile so can't copy paste, but was pleasantly surprised ESPN actually took time to detail to the world the same thing we've known all season: that for all the praise Rodgers has been getting for his elite QB play, Ryan has gone toe to toe with him.