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  1. https://theathletic.com/2008911/2020/08/19/joe-whitt-jr-s-secondary-coming-alive-early-in-falcons-training-camp/ When asked what his first impression of new secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr. was, Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver didn’t have to think very long or very hard before coming up with an answer. According to Oliver, the answer jumped out at him right away upon his first few interactions with Whitt. Without a second thought, Oliver immediately had high praise for one of the Falcons’ offseason additions. “He’s probably the smartest DBs coach that I’ve ever come in contact with,” Oliver said. “That’s just (knowledge) about the position, about the schemes, about the defense, what the offense wants to do, what they’re trying to do, things like that.” Oliver said in the short time that he has known Whitt and had the chance to be coached by Whitt his new secondary coach already has opened a whole new avenue to the game that Oliver didn’t know he could access before their meeting. He spoke specifically to how Whitt breaks down the game, almost a play smarter, not harder mindset (don’t worry, the defensive backs are playing as hard as ever right now, even this early in camp). Oliver said Whitt emphasizes that every player plays to his leverage, and coach Dan Quinn said earlier in the day that is what makes Whitt stand out as a secondary coach in the first place. “One of the things I admire about Joe from a teaching standpoint is it’s so clear, no gray, this is what we’re going to do and we’re going to tailor it to each individual’s strength,” Quinn said. With Whitt, football is a game of wits. And to a certain degree, the Falcons’ secondary has to be thoroughly caught up on any playbook adjustments … both sides of the playbook. Oliver explained the depth this group has gone over the game with Whitt, and it’s extensive: Know where your help on the field is, know what the quarterback’s reads are, if you’re in this specific coverage, know the quarterback wants to look backside, know split safeties, single safeties and where the quarterback wants to go with each. Oliver said Whitt is highlighting all the nuances that you don’t necessarily think of on every single play. He knows that in the end, those nuances and that knowledge are the difference-makers. Another drilling technique Whitt incorporates is the increased use of the JUGS machine. Every practice starts with every defensive back running through drills with the JUGS machine. It’s something Oliver said he hadn’t seen a whole unit use before until Whitt joined the team. From a teaching standpoint, Quinn said Whitt isn’t reinventing the wheel with the Falcons. It’s more about telling the wheel when to start rolling than it is showing it how. “Think of it like a playbook. ‘Here’s all the plays, but when do you use the certain plays? So, for those guys, when do I off-hand-jam? When do I back off? When do I challenge at the line? And, what do I do well?'” Quinn said. “All of those things factor in. I wouldn’t say it’s one new technique (that Whitt is teaching), as much as it is applying things at the right time.” So far, the secondary seems to be a group that is having the most fun at training camp: The players are breaking up passes, coming up with interceptions. They look more like the secondary that ended the 2019 season rather than the one that started it. That’s good news for the Falcons, and Oliver implied that good news starts with Whitt. “Having Coach Whitt here, just his knowledge of the game and his knowledge of the position I think it’s helped us a lot,” Oliver said. “I think we’ve had a good few days. We just have to keep it up, keep it consistent and keep going.” Practice notes and observations • Todd Gurley and Alex Mack were back out at practice after a scheduled day off on Tuesday. Both were active within their own position groups even without suiting up Tuesday with Mack actually holding what Quinn called a “silent count clinic” with the other offensive linemen after practice because communication didn’t look exactly how they want it to. Twenty-four hours later, Mack and Gurley were right back where they are expected to be by Week 1, with Mack snapping the ball to Matt Ryan, who handed it off to Gurley. • With the dynamic duo of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley set in stone as the No. 1 and No. 2 receivers in 2020, the No. 3 spot was up for grabs entering training camp. By Wednesday’s practice, it seemed as though Russell Gage could be that player. Every practice begins with a special teams circuit. During that circuit, the Falcons’ offensive playmakers (Ryan, Gurley, Hayden Hurst, Jones and Ridley, etc.) go to work on another field, staying loose while running various routes. Gage joined the group on Wednesday. • Speaking of making plays, during the early part of practice the Falcons were working on some shallow goal routes with the wide receivers and defensive backs. Early in the drill, Ryan thread the needle with a pass that slid right between two defenders to Hurst at the goal line. It was a play that showed a particular trust in quarterback and tight end early in camp. • Even with Mack back in full swing on Wednesday, the Falcons wanted to see some full-speed reps with Justin McCray at center as he took snaps with the first- and second-team units. • Along with singing the praises of his new secondary coach, Oliver also spoke to another new addition to the secondary: Darqueze Dennard. Dennard imparted some teaching points to Oliver regarding certain offensive looks. Oliver said he already has seen the impact a veteran like Dennard can have “in a rather younger DB room in comparison to other teams around the league.” Spending the majority of his time at nickel, Dennard adds a certain level of experience to the group, and with Keanu Neal back as well as Damontae Kazee and Ricardo Allen, the secondary is deep. • Continuing on with storylines of the secondary, Quinn said in his morning news conference that it does his heart good to see Neal back out on the practice field doing so well. For one, Neal always has been a presence in the secondary, but Quinn said he also has seen Neal gain more confidence as the days go on, becoming more nimble and agile as he gets stronger and more confident relying on his repaired and rehabbed Achilles tendon. He’s in almost every rotation with the first defense, and with Dennard at nickel, the Falcons have deployed a rotation of Neal, Kazee and Allen deep. • Tyeler Davidson and Charles Harris got first-team looks with the defense through the majority of Wednesday’s practice. On Tuesday, Quinn said he was anxious to see what Harris could do opposite Dante Fowler at defensive end and that the next couple of weeks were going to be important to figure out exactly what Harris can provide the pass rush. Davidson has slotted in nicely beside Grady Jarrett at tackle. • There are many who should be excited about what Chris Lindstrom can do in his second year in the league, and Quinn sure seems to be, saying Lindstrom is “off to a **** of a start” in camp. Things seem to be firing on all cylinders for Lindstrom: His quickness is where it should be, and he’s processing the defense at a heightened speed. The right side with Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary already looks a bit more secure, but calling out Lindstrom in particular, Quinn said he “looks like one of those players ready to take the big leap.” What a move it was to get this guy on the coaching staff with such young talent. If all this talk is true, our secondary is going to be scary good towards the back end of the year when everyone is gelling...
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