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  1. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/26036/patrick-dimarco-looks-to-keep-fullback-role-alive-with-falcons-or-elsewhere Atlanta Falcons fullback Patrick DiMarco was well aware of how NFC South rival Carolina released Mike Tolbert, a three-time Pro Bowl fullback, on Tuesday. “I was surprised,” DiMarco said. “Mike’s been a good player in this league for a long time. It’s kind of goes to show you how cutthroat it is. Mike will land on his feet. Mike will have a job, probably in the next few days.” Although DiMarco is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 9, he'll have a job going into the 2017 season, too. Maybe it will be with the Falcons. Maybe not. "I’m kind of unsure of what’s going to happen,” DiMarco said. “The Falcons are going to be good here for a while, and I would love to be a part of it. But it’s a business. Essentially I’ve got to do what’s best for my family and my career. Hopefully the numbers can work out and we can get a deal because Atlanta is a special place. But it’s a business.” We'll see how much the Falcons value DiMarco's position; fullbacks have been referred to as “a dying breed” for years. DiMarco, a former undrafted player out of South Carolina, played in the Pro Bowl in 2015, the same year he was a second-team All-Pro selection. This past season, DiMarco was a Pro Bowl first alternate behind Tolbert. The Falcons signed DiMarco to a two-year, $1.495 million contract extension on Feb. 24, 2015. He made $860,000 last season. One would think the Falcons can scrape up enough cash to keep DiMarco, considering how valuable he's been clearing holes for running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman and considering the emphasis on keeping the offensive system in place under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. The Falcons are expected to have between $26 million and $29 million in cap space when the new league year starts, based on a projected salary cap between $166 million and $168 million. Then again, fullbacks simply aren't a priority these days. "I keep hearing about the dying position and the dying breed, but I kind of see a revival coming, just with the way defenses want to be faster and more athletic,” DiMarco said. “You get a hard-working fullback with some toughness and you can bring him to the table, you can have some matchups in some good situations. “But if you look at the good teams in this league, they run with the fullback a lot. You look at New England, us, Green Bay, Baltimore, Seattle, Dallas -- those teams all have good fullbacks and use them a good amount. I definitely think there’s something in the water that has to do with the fullback, running the ball, and having success within the win-loss category.” DiMarco certainly helped his value with seven receptions and a touchdown on 10 targets this past season, with no drops. He also had a 31-yard reception in the Falcons' 44-21 victory over Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game. “The fullback position, you’re built to block, and you’re built for that purpose generally 90 percent of the game plan,” DiMarco said. “But when your opportunity is called, there is a skill set that you have to have to be able to catch the ball because sometimes defenses disrespect you and kind of leave you in your own little world, which happened a few times this past year with me. “The big value in a fullback, though, is opening up holes in the run game and pass protection. I think where I definitely made some strides here in the last two years was just kind of getting better and getting more comfortable in the run-blocking scheme, knowing different angles and different techniques to make myself successful and to spring Devonta and Tevin.” Not to mention what DiMarco brings on special teams. “That's huge, especially for fullback,” DiMarco said. “It’s vital to your success. A typical fullback, especially in an offense like ours, plays 25-40 percent of the offensive snaps. You’ve got to make your bread somewhere else, too. When you’re on special teams, you open up eyes to play more on offense. That’s the way that [special-teams coordinator] Keith Armstrong has put it several times.” All of it seems to add up to a Falcons return for DiMarco, but nothing is guaranteed. He'll likely have the option of reuniting with ex-Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, now the head coach in San Francisco. But he's not speculating about other teams just yet. "We’ve got a super-young team here in Atlanta and, man, the future is bright,” DiMarco said. “I’d love to be a part of it. If all the stuff doesn’t work out upstairs -- and the business people handle all that -- Atlanta is going to be a good team for a long time. It will always be a special for me.”
  2. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/26020/jacob-tamme-would-love-to-stay-with-falcons-but-49ers-a-possibility Jacob Tamme could be a factor in the Atlanta Falcons' future under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Or Tamme could end up helping his old coordinator establish the offense in new surroundings. Tamme, a veteran tight end who turns 32 next month, is one of 17 Falcons set to become unrestricted free agents when the new league year begins March 9. He was an integral part of the NFL's top-scoring offense until he suffered a season-ending right shoulder injury against Green Bay in Week 8 of the regular season. General manager Thomas Dimitroff said the Falcons’ primary objective is locking up their own players coming off a Super Bowl run. Where Tamme stands in the pecking order remains unclear, but he wants to return. "I love being a Falcon, love my teammates, love what we have going on here in this organization," Tamme told ESPN.com. "I’m interested to see what the future holds." Tamme, coming off a two-year contract with the Falcons that had a base value of $2.9 million, didn’t want to speculate about other options, but multiple sources indicated San Francisco is a strong possibility if Tamme doesn’t re-sign with the Falcons. The 49ers are now coached by former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. There's little doubt Shanahan would love to have a cerebral player such as Tamme on board to help implement his offense, although the 49ers just re-signed tight end Vance McDonald to a five-year contract extension in December. Tamme was the Falcons’ leading receiver after the first three games of 2016 with 14 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown. Then, in a 33-32 victory over Green Bay on Oct. 30, he injured the AC joint in his right shoulder, which resulted in season-ending surgery. Tamme said he was told the recovery process would take to five to six months, and it’s been three so far. "I’m rocking and rolling with rehab and it’s going great," he said. "I feel like I could play in a month. ... Just been focused on the day to day." The Falcons invested a third-round draft pick in tight end Austin Hooperlast year, and Hooper emerged as a threat as the season progressed as he recovered from an MCL sprain. Hooper, who caught a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, is expected be the featured pass-catching tight end moving forward, with his blocking still a work in progress. Levine Toilolo, who enjoyed some success in 2016 both catching and blocking, is also set to become an unrestricted free agent along with Tamme. The Falcons also liked what they saw from undrafted rookie Joshua Perkins, who played for Sarkisian at the University of Washington. We’ll see how much the Falcons value Tamme, who won't carry a high price tag. "He’s a true pro," tight ends coach Wade Harman said of Tamme during Super Bowl week media availability. "He’s very reliable. He studies his craft. He can be counted on to be at the right place at the right time, executing his assignment. He gets the most out of his ability. It was a credit to him that he was playing some of the best football in this part of his career, in my opinion. After the [2015] season, we targeted some things to improve on and he nailed it in the offseason." Tamme started his career with the Indianapolis Colts in 2008. He became a favorite target of Peyton Manning, so much that Manning hand-picked Tamme to join him in Denver with the Broncos. Tamme also developed chemistry with NFL MVP Matt Ryan. We’ll see if that connection continues into next season.
  3. http://www.espn.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/231030/expect-falcons-defense-to-reflect-marquand-manuels-no-nonsense-approach Don't mess with Marquand Manuel during pregame warm-ups. You're liable to catch some heat. On any given game day, you'll see the 37-year-old with his headphones on, drowning out the noise as he bobs his head to the beat. He'll run a few laps around the stadium with a menacing stare on his face, like an assassin fixated on his next victim. Folks unfamiliar with the Atlanta Falcons likely would mistake Manuel for a player. His players view him as a guy who will cuss anybody out, make no mistake about it. That's part of the reason why Manuel commands respect as he makes the leap from secondary coach to defensive coordinator, a move made official Friday. "M, he's a perfectionist," free safety Ricardo Allen said of Manuel. "He knows the ins and outs of every player. He does the studying. He has the passion to lead. He's a natural leader. And people are willing to follow him." 7:00 AM ET Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer Facebook Twitter Facebook Messenger Pinterest Email print comment Don't mess with Marquand Manuel during pregame warm-ups. You're liable to catch some heat. On any given game day, you'll see the 37-year-old with his headphones on, drowning out the noise as he bobs his head to the beat. He'll run a few laps around the stadium with a menacing stare on his face, like an assassin fixated on his next victim. Folks unfamiliar with the Atlanta Falcons likely would mistake Manuel for a player. His players view him as a guy who will cuss anybody out, make no mistake about it. That's part of the reason why Manuel commands respect as he makes the leap from secondary coach to defensive coordinator, a move made official Friday. "M, he's a perfectionist," free safety Ricardo Allen said of Manuel. "He knows the ins and outs of every player. He does the studying. He has the passion to lead. He's a natural leader. And people are willing to follow him." Falcons coach Dan Quinn promoted longtime colleague Marquand Manuel, right, to defensive coordinator. Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire Manuel is a coach willing to put on cleats, line up opposite his defensive backs and get physical with them off the line. His hands-on approach and aggressive style just might be the added push the Falcons need to elevate an improving defense to yet another level. Falcons coach Dan Quinn relieved former defensive coordinator Richard Smith of his duties earlier in the week, with Smith now reportedly interviewing to be linebackers coach for the Los Angeles Chargers. Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, Quinn took over playcalling duties from Smith late in the regular season, during a Dec. 4 game against Kansas City. It was about that time Atlanta's defense started to show remarkable improvement, surrendering 21.4 points per game over the final seven, including the playoffs, after allowing 27.6 over the first 12. Manuel had a hand in the improvement, too. According to multiple sources, Manuel was involved in playcalling involving nickel situations. Maybe it was an audition. Maybe it was just a matter of getting a different coaching perspective. Whatever the case, there's confidence in Manuel's ability to make the defensive calls, even if Quinn, the former defensive coordinator in Seattle, has a heavy hand in it moving forward. Quinn no doubt will refer to it as a collaborative effort, but Manuel will get ample opportunity to run the defensive show despite no prior coordinating experience. He knows the defense thoroughly, having previously served as the assistant defensive-backs coach under Quinn in Seattle. Allen wisely declined to discuss anything related to playcalling, but he certainly backed Manuel as his defensive coordinator. "The players are going to be pushed by him daily, and he's going to push us to another level to be great," Allen said. "I think he's a good person for the job because he'll put the work in." Manuel will have to deal with scrutiny, of course, but expect him to be unfazed. Folks will bring up the story of him asking then-draft prospect Eli Apple, now with New York Giants, if he liked men during an interview at the NFL combine. Manuel was publicly reprimanded by the organization and required to go through sensitivity training; he apologized for the embarrassment he caused. If Manuel's defense falters in matchups against Drew Brees, Jameis Winstonand Cam Newton next season, he'll certainly hear criticism. But again, it's not his personality to be rattled, no matter the situation. As with the rest of the Falcons, Manuel will enter the 2017 season with a bad taste in his mouth from the Super Bowl LI implosion in which Atlanta blew a 28-3 lead in a crushing, 34-28 overtime loss to the New England Patriots. But at least Manuel knows he'll have a talented group around him that in 2016 featured NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr., emerging nose tackle Grady Jarrett, rookie standouts Deion Jones and Keanu Neal and Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant, who will return after missing the season's second half following pectoral surgery. The improved speed on defense, coupled with the presence of Trufant as a shutdown corner, will allow the Falcons to continue the trend of playing more man-to-man defense, as they did successfully later in the season. Manuel’s ability to get the best out of his players was evident in the way cornerback Jalen Collins made a dramatic leap in his second season as a replacement for Trufant; in the way cornerback Robert Alford shook off problems with penalties to become a playmaker; in the way Brian Poole went from being undrafted to evolving into a reliable nickelback; and in the way Neal and Allen were able to work in unison at the safety spots. Again, Manuel is all about an aggressive, attacking style. It's in his nature as a former NFL strong safety. That's the mentality and approach you see from him every day in practice. And that's the look you'll see in his eyes every game day.
  4. http://www.espn.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/229222/falcons-feed-off-mohamed-sanus-authentic-swag LOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Mohamed Sanu talks. And he talks. And he talks. The Atlanta Falcons wide receiver has no problem trash talking anyone. Just watch one of those clips of him "Mic’d Up" during a game, like last week’s divisional matchup with Seattle when he had plenty to say to Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane. "I told him he can’t guard me," Sanu shouted to the camera after hauling in a 3-yard touchdown reception over Lane. Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen has heard it all before -- every single day in practice. "Man, that’s all he does is talk," Allen said with a laugh. "You know, he’s the 'best' at everything he does. I guess it’s not arrogance, but it’s a high level of confidence. We love it because he brings juice to everybody else. "It’s never a surprise because he’ll talk crap to anyone. You can put a DB, linebacker, or D-lineman against him, it doesn’t matter. The thing he says is, 'You can’t guard me,' with a little expletive thrown in there.’’ Talking smack to "anyone" includes wide receivers coach Raheem Morris. Attend a practice and you’ll get the uncensored version of Sanu and Morris giving each other the business. "Mohamed is, without a doubt, loose," Morris said. "He’s almost loose sometimes where you have to reel him back in. But his attitude is awesome because he’s got authentic swagger. He’s got authentic, genuine love for football and cares about the game. His toughness is real. He brings that to the room. He brings a happy, delightful mood every day. "No matter what’s going on, no matter what the circumstances are, no matter how you practice, how you look, how you play, he’s going to come back the next day the same guy. That’s­­­ what we genuinely love about the guy that he is." And, by the way, Sanu can back up his talk with his play. He is a key figure as the Falcons head into this Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers' banged up secondary. His role could be more significant if top target Julio Jones is limited by a foot sprain he aggravated in last Saturday’s 36-20 divisional playoff win over the Seahawks. The Falcons signed Sanu to a five-year, $32.5 million contract ($14 million guaranteed) to be the ideal complement to Jones. And Sanu responded with a career-high 59 catches for 653 yards and four touchdowns on 79 targets during the regular season, with just one drop. All four of his touchdowns came in the red zone, where he caught nine passes on 11 targets. Last week against Seattle, Sanu made tough catches, using his physicality to ward off defenders while showing great concentration, athleticism, and hands. The last time the Falcons played the Packers, in Week 8 of the regular season, Sanu had the game-winning, 11-yard touchdown from Matt Ryan. "I wouldn’t say Mohamed is under the radar," Jones said. "They know. They watch film. They definitely see what Sanu can do on film. If not, they will see." The sense of levity Sanu brings to the team is an added bonus. It’s helped strengthen the bond between an already tightly knit group. Sanu’s teammates get a kick out of watching him walk out to practice with his shorts hiked up as if he's wearing a diaper. "It’s about letting your legs breathe," Sanu said with a serious look on his face. Said Morris: "We don’t mess with his swag, man. We let those guys be themselves at whatever they do." There's nothing wrong with having a little confidence. Sanu’s boastful but playful approach seems to have rubbed off on his teammates, in a good way.
  5. http://www.espn.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/229152/dan-quinn-admires-how-mvp-candidate-matt-ryan-has-not-backed-off FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is far from satisfied, and coach Dan Quinn knows it. Ryan certainly has silenced a lot of doubters by posting an MVP season while guiding his team to Sunday's NFC Championship Game against Green Bay. From the start of the season, Ryan vowed to block out any negative chatter and just worry about what he could control regarding his own play. Quinn, the second-year Falcons coach, was asked Monday how rewarding it's been to see Ryan shut up the doubters. "You know what I'm always happy about? When you see somebody really apply themselves and really go for it to get to a new level when you're already at a really high level," Quinn said. "To take another step to break through a new ceiling, it's really difficult. And he totally owned that challenge to do that. "That's from on-field performance. That's from a leadership on and off the field; the connection he has with his teammates, the things he wanted to improve in his game. It's kind of like a New Year's resolution: Do you stay with it or do you not back off? And he's had the grit to not back off and to keep striving to get to a new spot, to keep working on the same things. Those are some things that maybe everybody else wouldn't know about that makes me most proud of him, because he has not stopped backing off." Ryan enters Sunday's matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers with 14 touchdown passes and no interceptions over his past five games -- all wins. Ryan has completed 73.2 percent of his passes during the streak while averaging 293.8 passing yards per game. His 9.26 yards per attempt this season is highest for a quarterback with 500-plus attempts in NFL history, according to ESPN Statistics and Information. During the playoff bye week, Ryan talked about refining aspects of the offense. Then he came out and completed 26-of-37 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns (125.7 passer rating) in a 36-20 win against a Seattle team that was supposed to have a formidable, even without free safety Earl Thomas. Ryan credited his offensive line for keeping the pressure off, but he made the throws, ducked blitzes, and showed great poise. "He's finding things to improve upon in his game," Quinn said of Ryan. "That was the case during the bye. You felt it in his intent. And it will be the same thing this week. He's very locked into the process of getting ready. So, yeah, I am pumped up for him in a big way."
  6. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/24803/playoff-ups-downs-prepared-atlantas-matt-ryan-for-this-moment FLOWEREY BRANCH, Ga. -- The guy they call "Matty Ice" was somewhat of a nervous wreck. Matt Ryan, then just a 23-year-old NFL baby, walked into the University of Phoenix Stadium on Jan. 3, 2009, greeted by a raucous crowd of about 63,000. A good portion of those spectators twirled white Arizona T-shirts in unison as a deafening roar welcomed Ryan to his first-ever postseason appearance. "I think I can remember probably being a little bit too excited in that situation," the Atlanta Falcons quarterback told ESPN.com. "That was my rookie year, and just calming yourself ... I think I threw a pick on the first third down." He sure did, on a pass intended for the franchise's all-time leading receiver, Roddy White. "I was nervous, too," White said. "I dropped a 40-yard pass in that game. But after the first interception, I was like, 'F--- it. Let's roll.' I thought we were still going to win." Ryan settled down and thought he played "really well" after falling behind, 14-3. He even guided the Falcons to a three-point lead before halftime. However, the 30-24 loss against Kurt Warner and a Cardinals team that eventually advanced to the Super Bowl served as a valuable lesson. "You have to be on it from the start, and that's something that I've learned from regular-season games, too," Ryan said. "Every play is really, really important in every game. You never know which ones are going to be the ones that determine the outcomes of games. You just have to stay even-keeled. "I think I've calmed down a lot since then." Such calmness has helped the now 31-year-old Ryan elevate his game to an MVP level as he prepares for his sixth career postseason contest. Saturday's divisional playoff matchup with Seattle offers Ryan yet another chance to show the NFL world just how masterfully he's orchestrated the league's highest-scoring offense at 33.8 points per game. Ryan brushed off any negative chatter related to his 1-4 postseason record, with his lone win coming against the Seahawks in the divisional round following the 2012 regular season. Each of those games better prepared him for the moment at hand. "You only get better with experience, and he has plenty of it now," White said of his former teammate. "Looking back, we would have won a couple of those games if we had done things differently. The playoffs are so hard because everybody has to do their job, not just Matt. You just know he's going to be better this time around just based on experience and what he's seen." Ryan has seen it all. His second playoff game was a 48-21 loss to Aaron Rodgers and the No. 6-seeded Packers at home in the divisional round after the 2010 regular season. The first-round bye and home-field advantage failed to work in the Falcons' favor against a hot Packers team that went on to win the Super Bowl. The loss emphasized one particular aspect of preparation for Ryan. "We've had the bye twice and we won one and lost one, and you have to approach it as a normal work week," Ryan said. "That's probably the thing that I've learned in both of those times, is to keep doing things that we've done up until this point and stay in rhythm. "I think we practiced really, really well last week. I think that's important, to keep that rhythm and keep that timing and get out there and work." Ryan's third playoff experience was simply a mismatch: a 24-2 road loss in a wild-game game (2011 season) against the defensively dominant Giants, yet another team that went on to win the Super Bowl. "You've got to score points, man," Ryan said. "Their defense was really, really good. When you have your opportunities -- I think we missed on a couple fourth-down opportunities in the red zone or just outside the red zone early on -- those are critical. When you have those opportunities, you have to make those plays." It's hard to fathom this season's version of the Falcons, averaging 35 points per game at the Georgia Dome, failing to reach double digits on Saturday. But, as Ryan said, those red-zone opportunities are crucial, particularly when you have a dominant receiver such as Julio Jones, who can either go up and make a play or create one-on-one opportunities for others. The 2012 season provided the backdrop for Ryan's other two postseason appearances. The Falcons earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC then faced the No. 5 seed Seahawks after a bye. A 20-0 start to the game after Ryan hit White with a 47-yard touchdown pass turned into a 30-28 finish as the Falcons held on. Ryan, starting from his own 28, made a pair of clutch throws down the field to set up the game-winning, 49-yard field goal by the always reliable Matt Bryant. "We kept battling," Ryan said. "We got off to a really fast start, and they battled back into the game. But we were resilient. You know, I think that's important. No matter how the game shakes out, you have to keep playing and make plays and trust what you do. And I think we did a good job of that in that game." Ryan celebrated by pumping his left fist in the air, embracing team owner Arthur Blank, then smacking Bryant in the chest. Yes, the playoff monkey was finally off his back. "It was a good feeling," Ryan said. "It certainly beats the alternative, that's for sure. That was a good feeling, because you have an opportunity to keep going. Hopefully we can recreate some more of that." Defeating the Seahawks on Saturday would earn Ryan another spot in the NFC Championship Game. He came so close to reaching the Super Bowl, only to walk off with a bad taste in his mouth following a disheartening, 28-24 loss to No. 2 seed San Francisco in the 2012 season's NFC title game. Remember, the Falcons blew a 17-0 lead. Ryan had a chance to make one of his Matty Ice-like, fourth-quarter comebacks, but his pass to White on fourth down from the 49ers' 10-yard line fell incomplete right near the first down with just over a minute left in regulation. Tight end Tony Gonzalez broke free from a double team and was wide open in the end zone, but Ryan already had his sights set on a crossing White, who was tightly defended by linebacker NaVorro Bowman. "We had kind of two stick routes on the right side, and Tony on the backside slant," Ryan explained. "I had a pre-snap read for us to go to the two-stick side. Just ... we didn't win. We didn't come away making a play. That's disappointing." Did he see Gonzalez? "Nah," Ryan said. "I was working the other side. That's one of the things that just happens. That's part of the deal. But it's not one play. We have other opportunities in that game. Another time, we had a big lead and kind of let them chip away." His playoff experiences, both good and bad, aren't ones Ryan dwells on too often. But they serve as reminders of how to handle certain situations at the most critical time of the season. "The biggest thing is, when you're playing in the playoffs, it's not that different," Ryan said. "You still have got to go do the right things. You've got to play well. You've got to convert third downs. You've got to score when you're in the red zone. That stuff doesn't change. "That's probably the No. 1 thing that I've learned throughout my career: Don't make it any less than it is, and don't make it any more than it is. It's about going out there and playing well." Ryan has done an admirable job following those words all season long. Now let's see if he can lead his team all the way to Houston for his first-ever Super Bowl.
  7. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/24312/falcons-rookie-deion-jones-raises-his-play-and-now-his-voice-too "Alert. Alert. Back up. Back up." When Deion Jones says those words these days, he shouts them with much more authority. The Atlanta Falcons rookie middle linebacker’s voice is a lot louder now, a product of him settling into his role as the primary on-field conductor of the defense. At the beginning of the season, it was almost as if he was whispering at the opera. "At a practice, I remember Grady [Jarrett], when we had to line some stuff up, him saying, 'Hey, I couldn’t hear you,' Jones recalled. "Or if somebody got beat on something, I’d be like, 'Man, I could have said something to alert him that was coming.' "I could say it was the immaturity. I could say it was me not knowing [the defense] better. I could say it was a learning experience. But I realize speaking up, that’s what it takes to be an [NFL] linebacker. In college, we talked, but it wasn’t like that. I realize it’s a game of chess now. It’s a thinking-man’s game." Jones' difference-making speed and athleticism have been evident from Day 1, which is why he was the NFC’s Defensive Rookie of the Month to start the season and why he has two pick-sixes to his credit. His vocal maturity is an element that could elevate the defense to another level as the 9-5 Falcons prepare for the playoffs. "I’ve been very impressed over the last few weeks with Deion Jones," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "I felt his presence at practice where he found his voice, so to speak; a voice where you can get information out to other guys." Jones, who has endured the expected growing pains of a first-year player, said his change of tone began immediately after the bye week. It was the same time he came off a poor individual performance in a 24-15 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. "I watched film during the bye week and I felt like there were a lot of things I could have said better," Jones said. "Like alerting on certain routes. That’s what the whole week was for, just locking in and seeing how I could get better for the next stretch." Jones leaned on lessons learned from teammates Sean Weatherspoon and Paul Worrilow. Weatherspoon, who suffered a season-ending Achilles tear, is naturally loud and carries his booming voice onto the field. And Worrilow, the guy Jones supplanted as the starting middle linebacker, has a great understanding of the defense and a better method of communicating it. "I remember Spoon, when he was in and how he was," Jones said, "and I thought back to it and said, 'Man, that helped us play a lot faster.' Yeah, he’s loud in general. "After that, I was thinking about hearing Worrilow in practice during OTAs and camp. I knew I could take my game to the next level doing it like that. I’ve just kind of locked in and said, 'I don’t care what it is, just make sure everybody is on the same page and yell it out. Don’t keep it a secret.'" His teammates have noticed the drastic change. "He’s confident now," free safety Ricardo Allen said. "He’s going out there and he’s able to set the defensive line faster. Even if they see things a different way, they’re listening to him now because they know he’s the middle linebacker, he’s the leader of this defense, and he's played well enough to have that voice now. "He’s good enough to know now that if it comes to the huddle and we don’t have a call, he’s going to make the call. He’s comfortable enough now to know, 'If I say something, I don’t always have to go textbook. When I say something, it’s going to go, and everybody else is going to spin around me.' Confidence comes with good play." And Jones has been quite the player. Now he’s got a voice to go with it.
  8. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/24246/dissecting-film-not-just-spin-move-has-helped-dwight-freeney-flourish Seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney offered simple advice to teammate and fellow Atlanta Falcons pass-rusher Vic Beasley Jr. leading into last week’s game. Freeney saw the movements of Los Angeles Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein on film and knew Beasley could flourish. "I advised Vic to use his athleticism against No. 79," Freeney said. "I said, 'All he wants you to do is run into him, so the last thing you want to do is run into him. Use these certain moves and you’ll win.' And Vic made plays." Freeney by no means took credit for Beasley’s three-sack performance, which included a forced fumble, recovery and 21-yard touchdown return while lined up against the slow-footed Havenstein. But the knowledge Freeney has gained over 15 NFL seasons is wisdom he passes on to Beasley on a weekly basis. "When I take Vic and I help him out on certain things, I’m not going to overload him with all types of stuff that he’s not ready to even think about," Freeney, 36, said. "I will analyze it for him to where he can understand it the best he can. So, I’ll help take out the gray area for him. "I’ll see his strengths, so I try to talk to him about certain things he can do better -- and stay away from -- just so he doesn’t run into those issues. But even more than that, I’d like to see him be as successful as possible to feed his family and get a monster contract, plus lead the league in sacks. I’m just happy to still be part of the game where I can teach and help younger guys grow." A large part of Freeney’s success over the years, outside of his signature spin move, has been his attention to detail while dissecting film. It’s something Falcons coach Dan Quinn noticed immediately when he spotted Freeney walking through the hallways with an iPad, going over film. "I get cutups from coaches, so I’ll get kind of what a defensive coordinator would get," Freeney explained. "I can go through those cutups to see what [offenses] like to [do], what they don’t like to do with certain personnel on the field. And then from there, I would go into a film room or the iPad that we have and I would start breaking down the film based on what tendencies they have as a team. "From there, I go to the individual to see what he likes to do; see what bothers him. I’ll go back years, if I have to, to see who has done well against him, what doesn’t go well against him. Then I’ll cater my game based on those studies. If I know him and if I know myself, I have more success. If I don’t know him but I know myself, I’ll have success half the time." There are five elements Freeney looks for when breaking down an offensive tackle. The first is footwork, followed by hand placement. He analyzes how the tackle reacts to certain moves, then proceeds to evaluating whether the tackle is overaggressive or passive. Lastly, he checks how the tackle reacts based on scheme. "It’s a matter of doing it long enough to know when there’s too much information," Freeney said of film study. "Paralysis by analysis, they say. You don’t want to be that. So I started trimming the fat to where I could get a good base of things to work on that particular week versus a particular guy." Freeney certainly has had to prepare for his share of talented players. Asked which tackle over the years possessed the best footwork, he couldn't single out just one. "Where he was just never out of position? I played against Walter Jones (Seahawks), Jonathan Ogden (Ravens) and Orlando Pace (Rams), and those guys are Hall of Famers," Freeney said. "I wouldn’t necessarily say they had the best footwork, but I think they were just gifted athletes. "Ogden was a beast at 6-9, [345] pounds and moved like a 300-pound man. Then you've got Walter Jones, who was just country strong. Once he got a hold of you, there was no shaking him." What about the best hands? "You’ve got Brad Hopkins (Oilers, Titans)," Freeney said. "He wasn’t a big tackle, but he would grab you in different places and stop you from going. He actually made me build a new pad on my pads just to stop him because he would grab me in a certain way, and I don’t even know how he found that place to grab." Freeney gave credit to another former Tennessee Titan, Michael Roos, for being an unheralded guy who gave him a tough battle every time. One guy Freeney never had to cram for was former Houston Texan Seth Wand. "I used to love seeing Seth because Seth had a problem hanging with me," Freeney said with a laugh. "I think he lasted only two years, but I remember always saying, 'I want to see him so badly.' It wasn’t just the spin move. I used to do all types of stuff against him." Although Freeney hasn’t watched film of all the new-age tackles, he did single out one in particular. "That’s tough because I don’t give young guys credit until their fifth year," he said, "but you know who I like and who’s not bad? The guy from Green Bay, Bacardi or whatever his last name is (David Bakhtiari). I think he has something good going on there protecting Aaron Rodgers. Outside of that, bro, it’s hard for me to identify any young offensive tackles." Freeney even watches some practice film of one guy in his own locker room. "I like Jake [Matthews]," Freeney said. "I like Jake a lot, honestly. I play against him every day, so that’s a good one."
  9. http://www.espn.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/224783/revised-pregame-routine-helps-matt-ryan-preserve-his-arm FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Catch Matt Ryan early enough in warmups on a given Sunday and you’ll see the Atlanta Falcons quarterback strolling from sideline to sideline with his hands in air, wiggling his fingers in unison with fellow quarterback Matt Schaub. You’d think they were practicing dance moves or mirroring synchronized swimming, without the water. Observers find the practice a little odd, or at least they did initially. “Our guys gave us a ton of s--- on it for all of OTAs while we were doing it,” Ryan said with a laugh. “You name it on our roster, and they’d laugh at you or whatever.” The pregame routine was something Ryan picked up during his offseason training sessions in California with ex-baseball players Tom House and Adam Dedeaux. It is referred to as “Activation Protocol/Arm Care and Recovery,” essentially a 15-to-18 minute session for Ryan to get his arm ready to throw. “For me, it’s just a great way to get warmed up and to get blood flow in your shoulders,” Ryan said. “It’s a lot harder than it looks, and a little more painful than you might think. But for me, it’s been great. “I feel like I don’t have to throw as many balls to get loosened up. And it takes some wear and tear off some joints and some different spots. That’s really important, especially as you get older, to make sure you’re maximizing: Every time you’re throwing it, you’re throwing it with a purpose.” Ryan, 31, and Schaub, 35, go back and forth eight laps with their arms extended above the shoulders. The twitch of the hands simulates some of the throwing angles they would utilize throughout a game or even during a practice. The exercise decreases the amount of throws he needs to make to get warmed up. “In the past it was 15, 20, 25 throws, something like that to start to get loose,” Ryan said. “Three or four throws now and we’re good to go. You talk about that over the course of six, seven months and even with the offseason, it’s a lot of throws. It’s a lot of wear and tear off of your shoulder, which is really important in the long run.” Like Ryan, Schaub eventually adjusted to the routine and noticed the benefits. “Once you’ve done this warm-up, you can just go and let it rip,” Schaub said. “I think in the long run, it saves your arm a little bit because you’re not sitting there trying to play catch and waste all these throws.” Added Ryan, “It’s definitely an adjustment. It’s something that you have to make time for. But I think as you get older and as you learn yourself a little bit better, you make time for what’s important. And I think it’s really important. I think Matt would agree.” Left tackle Jake Matthews wasn’t sure what Ryan was up to at first with the routine, so he might have snickered a time or two. “They probably look at us and think we’re idiots, some of the stuff that we’re doing,” Matthews said with a laugh. “Whatever they need to do to get him playing the way he’s playing, I’ll take it.” Ryan, second in the league in passing yards (4,050) and tied for second in touchdown passes (30), said his teammates don’t harass him about it too much anymore. “I think they’ve also seen how it is a part of our routine,” he said. “It’s what we do. It gets us right. I don’t think anybody’s mad when you’re throwing it pretty good.”
  10. http://www.espn.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/216304/matt-ryan-silences-critics-for-now-but-much-more-to-accomplish FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Mohamed Sanu hasn’t been around Matt Ryan long, but the Atlanta Falcons wide receiver has spent enough time with Ryan to appreciate his quarterback’s demeanor, regardless of the situation. "Matt just goes about his day and does his job,’’ Sanu said. "He goes about his day and he has fun doing it. He’s always in a great mood. He’s always happy.’’ Ryan has reason to smile. His Falcons are 2-1 and boast the league’s top offense in terms of scoring (34.7 ppg) and total offense (448.0 yards per game) heading into Sunday’s NFC South showdown with Cam Newton and three-time defending division champ Carolina (1-2). He was named the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Month after completing 70.9 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns, one interception and a league-high 119.0 passer rating through the first three games. But Ryan knows all the good feelings surrounding him and the team right now can change with one bad performance against the Panthers, a team he’s 6-2 against at home in his career. That’s why he maintains an even-keel approach each week. Right before the regular season began, Ryan was the target of much criticism coming off last year's 8-8 implosion following a 5-0 start. His struggles in the preseason only made the naysayers more vocal. Skeptics wondered if he’d ever be a good fit in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, with the out-of-the-pocket movement it requires. Then more doubts surfaced after a 31-24 season-opening home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Such pessimism quieted after Ryan shook off a red zone interception against the Oakland Raiders to complete 12 consecutive passes and guide his team to a 35-28 road win. Through it all, Ryan drowned out the noise, as he often puts it. Falcons coach Dan Quinn appreciates Ryan’s approach to such criticism. "What you can’t do is let somebody who’s outside either the white on the practice field or the meeting room dictate how you feel,’’ Quinn said. "You've got to know, 'Here’s what I’m doing. Here’s my training. Here’s what I’m doing right.’ I think he does a good job with that. He makes sure that he’s on point and makes sure he controls the things that he can control.’’ Ryan knows he has much more to accomplish than simply a monthly award three games into the season, particularly when one of those strong performances was against an abysmal New Orleans Saints defense. Earlier this week, Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre put Ryan on the spot by saying Ryan won’t get the burden off his back until he experiences postseason success. Ryan is 1-4 in the playoffs, including a loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2012 NFC Championship Game. "Obviously, I have a ton of respect for Brett," Ryan said. "He was one of my idols growing up. And I think he would say the same thing: If I'm worrying about that now, it doesn't matter. I've always felt like you've got to concentrate on this week and not look too far down the road. For me, I'm not worrying about anything other than getting ready to play well, play the best I can this week. And we'll handle all the other stuff when that comes down the line." Tight end Jacob Tamme insists he hasn’t heard any of the criticism directed toward Ryan because he doesn’t read such reports. Regardless, Tamme admires the way Ryan responds to any negativity. "I think he handles criticism great,’’ Tamme said. "I’ve only been around him a short while, and he’s had great success so far this season. But just watching him from afar and knowing him, I think he handles it great. "He handles it the way you want your quarterback to handle it. He works on his craft and he doesn’t pay attention to the noise. He controls what he can control and does what he can to put his team in position to win on Sundays. That’s the way you want your quarterback to be.’’
  11. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/22769/devonta-freeman-tevin-coleman-looking-like-the-next-dynamic-running-back-duo Devonta Freeman is very familiar with Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. The Atlanta Falcons running back knows Stewart and Williams made up a rather potent running back tandem for the Carolina Panthers from 2008 to 2014. In fact, Stewart and Williams, nicknamed both “Smash and Dash” and “Double Trouble,” each rushed for 1,000 yards back in 2009. "They were really good with that 1-2 punch," Freeman said. "I still talk to DeAngelo sometimes. When I was coming into the league, he was in the corner on the bus with me at the [NFLPA] Rookie Premiere, just giving me little keys on how to be successful in the league." Speaking of success, can Freeman and teammate Tevin Coleman evolve into the next dominant running back combo? "Free and Fly" has a nice ring to it. And they’re off to a pretty good start this season. Going into Sunday’s matchup against the Panthers, Freeman and Coleman have combined for 617 yards on 93 touches with five touchdowns, four on rushes by Coleman. Both are catching the ball well out of the backfield, with Coleman improving dramatically in that area. And the threat they bring in the running game opens up the play-action game for quarterback Matt Ryan. “I think they both are really good and make the offensive line look really good,” center Alex Mack said of Freeman and Coleman. “I’m really happy about it. Our whole team is fighting to get those couple extra yards, and the running backs are turning those couple extra into a lot.” Could Freeman and Coleman be the next combo to each rush for 1,000 yards? Freeman is on a 1,400-yard pace and is averaging a league-best 6.3 yards per carry. Coleman is on pace for about 600 rushing yards right now, but this is the same guy who routinely broke free for long touchdown runs in college at Indiana. “If that could happen, that would be great,” Freeman said of each reaching 1,000. “But we don’t try to be like nobody. We try to be like us.” Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon used to have to defend against the Stewart-Williams combo and sees a similarity. “It just doesn’t matter which guy you hand it to; they’re going to get into the end zone, they’re going to make you miss, they’re going to do what they’ve got to do for the football team to help us win,” Weatherspoon said of Freeman and Coleman. “We love that about those guys. “I do remember the Carolina guys and how they did a great job of running the football. Our guys do the same. I bet Mr. [Arthur] Blank is smiling and saying, 'Ah yeah, I’ve got two of them.' Them boys, they’re doing their thing. I just take my hat off to them. We gotta keep it going because we’re about to be in the thick of it with our third divisional game coming up.” It will likely be tough to run the ball consistently against Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and the stingy Carolina defense on Sunday. The way Kuechly and Davis move from sideline to sideline makes it virtually impossible to run outside. The Panthers' defensive line, led by tackle Kawann Short, makes it difficult to run inside. So maybe Freeman and Coleman might have their best success as pass-catchers in this game. Or maybe they’ll help set up the play-action, with the way the Panthers come hard downhill, allowing Ryan to hit on some big passes down the field. Whatever the case, Freeman and Coleman have opponents on high alert. Panthers coach Ron Rivera was asked if they remind him of his former tandem of Williams and Stewart. (Williams is now with the Steelers, while Stewart remains with the Panthers but is sidelined by a hamstring injury.) "I’ve never thought about it, but I do see some similarities," Rivera said. "Both guys are dynamic and cause you different issues. They complement each other very well, and we will have our hands full."
  12. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/22728/matt-ryan-pokes-fun-at-himself-after-failed-block-tumble NEW ORLEANS -- Matt Ryan's teammates are sure to give him a hard time about it all week. One of them already did. Defensive lineman Derrick Shelby playfully nudged Ryan on Twitter after the Atlanta Falcons quarterback had a comical tumble while opting not to block 6-foot-4, 308-pound New Orleans Saints nose tackle Nick Fairley on a Devonta Freeman cutback run Monday night. Matt Ryan's wife, Sarah, got in a shot via Twitter, too: Even Ryan had to poke fun at himself. "That was bad," Ryan said with a laugh. "Free did such a good job. I didn't really anticipate the ball coming back that way. And when he did, I just kind of wanted to get in the way and make sure he could outrun him. And I caught an edge on my cleat and fell. It probably ended up for the best because [Fairley] was kind of eyeing on me pretty good. He would have hit me pretty good. Not my finest moment, but a good play for us nonetheless." Freeman picked up 16 yards on the late fourth-quarter run, then followed with a 48-yard dash on the very next play. The Falcons (2-1) won the game over their division rival, 45-32, to take over first place in the NFC South.
  13. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/22617/22617 Atlanta Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow is scheduled to undergo surgery Thursday to fix a lingering groin-related issue and is expected to be sidelined at least four weeks. Worrilow’s agent, Jim Ulrich, confirmed the timetable, with a three-week recovery period hopeful but highly unlikely. The surgery will be performed in Philadelphia by noted sports hernia specialist Dr. William Meyers, who also performed surgery on Falcons defensive end Brooks Reed last year. Worrilow’s injury is related to tearing in his adductor muscles. He had been playing with lower abdomen pain for a while, and the pain eventually led to straining of the adductor muscles. Based on the recovery time following surgery, Worrilow could be placed on injured reserve and activated later in the season, if the Falcons elect to go that route. New NFL rules allow the Falcons to make such a move without immediately designating Worrilow for a return. Placing Worrilow on IR would open up a roster spot for outside linebacker O’Brien Schofield, who agreed to terms on a one-year contract Wednesday. Worrilow, formerly the starting middle linebacker, was the team’s leading tackler the previous three seasons. He was replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Deion Jones, a second-round pick from LSU. Worrilow played a team-high 25 special teams snaps in last Sunday’s 35-28 win over the Oakland Raiders. He also played one snap on defense. The Falcons are likely to move Philip Wheeler from outside linebacker back to inside linebacker for depth. Rookie De’Vondre Campbell is nursing an ankle injury and missed last week’s game, leaving Sean Weatherspoon to start at weak-side linebacker. Weatherspoon played primarily middle linebacker during the preseason when the defense was vanilla. And LaRoy Reynolds is the other player listed on the depth chart at inside linebacker.
  14. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/22342/jameis-winstons-third-and-19-play-still-haunts-falcons FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- To put it simply, it was an embarrassment for every Atlanta Falcons player involved. Late in the fourth quarter of last year's 23-19 loss at Tampa Bay, defenders watched Buccaneers rookie quarterback Jameis Winston keep a play alive they thought was dead on third-and-19 from the Falcons' 43-yard line. Winston scrambled up the middle, maintained his balance after being hit by Paul Worrilow and Brooks Reed, bounced off a few more weak tackle attempts, and scrambled for 20 yards. Adrian Clayborn and Vic Beasley Jr. were two Falcons who appeared to stop while thinking Winston was down. The play sustained a drive that ended with Winston's game-winning, 6-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans. "No doubt, that's a play that will kind of make you sick when you watch it," Worrilow said. Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith echoed those thoughts. "First of all, that was a play that you can still see very vividly in your mind," Smith said. "It was very disappointing. It wasn't like us. Hopefully, we'll be able to correct that kind of play." Winston reflected on the play and brushed it off as nothing out of the ordinary. "That's just pure passion," he said. "That's all that was." The lesson for the Falcons, as has been the focus ever since Dan Quinn took over as head coach, is to wrap up and take the runner to the ground. Tackling continues to be Quinn's big emphasis as he tries to remake what has been a porous defense. The film says it all. "They've definitely seen some plays that are uncomfortable," Quinn said. Was the Winston play part of the reel? "That was uncomfortable, so yes," Quinn responded. There were too many games with double-digit missed tackles last season. Quinn hopes part of the solution is having more speed on the field with rookie inside linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell named the starters. Rookie strong safety Keanu Neal, the team's first-round pick, is a heavy hitter, but is out for at least the opener after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. (He'll be replaced by Kemal Ishmael). The starting free safety, Ricardo Allen, was the guy Quinn called the team's best tackler last season. Allen was the guy who finally got Winston to the ground on last season's play. All-around, the Falcons have to be sure tacklers come Sunday. Winston is lighter and could be more elusive. Running back Doug Martin, who rushed for 1,402 yards last season and averaged 4.9 yards per carry, is tough to bring down. Backup running back Charles Sims, who also averaged 4.9 yards per carry, is no slouch, either. The Falcons can ill-afford to allow Winston to extend plays. Such could be the recipe for a disaster after being swept by Winston and the Buccaneers last season. "He's a guy who finishes plays as a quarterback, and you have to treat him like a running back when he's in the open field," Worrilow said of Winston. "Is he going to slide? You just have to treat him like any other ball-carrier."
  15. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/21948/falcons-dwight-freeney-to-vic-beasley-stand-out-be-dominant FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons figured signing veteran pass-rusher and seven-time Pro Bowler Dwight Freeney would have a positive impact on the younger players. It has. A couple weeks ago, Freeney pulled aside second-year rusher Vic Beasley Jr. and relayed a strong message to the former eighth-overall draft pick. "He said, `It's all about standing out and being a dominant player,'' and obviously he's been that,'' Beasley said. ``We talk on the practice field and in the locker room. We talk everywhere. ... It's just about making folks notice me and standing out.'' Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley aims to get healthy and make a bigger impact in his second season. Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports Beasley would be the first to say he has yet to play up to his potential. He flashed as rookie last year and had a team-high four sacks, but he was far from dominant. Beasley played the entire year with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. As the Falcons prepare for the 2016 regular season, Beasley once again has an obstacle to overcome. He sprained the AC joint in the same shoulder last week in practice, an injury that caused him to miss the second preseason game at Cleveland last Thursday. Beasley was limited during Sunday's practice. ``I feel good,'' Beasley said. ``I'm just trying to strengthen it up as much as I can; rehab. I'm doing (resistance) bands. Just the normal rehab.'' Beasley explained how he suffered the injury. ``It was just an inside stunt, and (got hit) by one of my teammates,'' he said. ``They were trying to clean me up. You know how that is. Who was it? I don't know. But I'm rehabbing. I'm trying to get back out there for Miami (Thursday).'' The Falcons are counting on Beasley to boost the pass rush despite making a transition to strong-side linebacker. He'll rush from the left defensive end spot as part of a nickel rush group that will feature Freeney on the other edge and a combination of players such Adrian Clayborn, Derrick Shelby, Grady Jarrett, and Jonathan Babineaux inside. The Falcons are trying to make a drastic improvement after finishing last in the league with 19 total sacks a year ago. Beasley, like the coaching staff, insists the new role won't take him away from his pass-rush specialty. ``The adjustment to Sam has been good, now I'm just trying to earn it out here on the field,'' Beasley said. ``I'm trying to be a leader by example and be the best player I can be.'' At his best, Beasley is expected to be dominant.
  16. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/21973/pro-bowler-desmond-trufant-getting-beat-deep-will-help-falcons-in-long-run FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Desmond Trufant made a mistake, and his teammates will benefit from it. The Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl cornerback, who was rarely targeted by opposing quarterbacks last season, was beat deep last Thursday night when Cleveland Browns quarterback-turned-receiver Terrelle Pryor got a couple of steps behind him on a 50-yard touchdown reception from Robert Griffin III. Trufant relaxed for a second, and that second proved costly. "There's always a standard," Trufant said. "I have a standard. We have standard. I didn't meet that on that play. I know I'm better than that. At the same time, I've got to move on. That's just part of being a corner. Sometimes, you get got sometimes. I just bounce back and, yeah, I'm ready for this week." Yes, Trufant has moved on to this week, but the play won't be forgotten. Not by Trufant. Not by fellow starting cornerback Robert Alford. Not by any of the defensive backs in the meeting room. Secondary coach Marquand Manuel won't allow it. He knows how valuable Trufant's uncharacteristic preseason slipup could be to the group's overall success in 2016. "It's good, and people don't understand this, but when your guy who is the ultimate pro and competes at every level and it happens to him, that makes everybody accessible to the coaching lesson," Manuel said. "Everyone. It's like, 'Now, I can't take any play for granted.' "Trufant taught everybody in the room -- Jalen [Collins], Robert [Alford], Keanu [Neal] -- he taught everybody in the room, 'If it can happen to the guy we call elite who comes and competes at every level, it can happen to me.' So it's a learning, teachable moment for everybody." Back during organized team activities, Manuel cautioned all of his defensive backs, including Trufant, not to overlook any receiver despite the receiver's reputation. The Pryor play was a prime example. "Even when it happened, we made eye contact and I said to [Trufant], 'That's exactly what I told you when we first got out of OTAs, right?' And he said, 'Yeah, it is.' And I'm like, 'Sooner or later, you're going to believe what I'm saying. And when it happens, you're going to believe what I'm saying.' The message was you've got to finish plays. You can't relax on guys you think you know you can cover." Trufant and the rest of his defensive backfield will have plenty of challenges during the regular season with the likes of Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen, Tampa Bay's Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, and New Orleans' Brandin Cooks and Coby Fleener in the NFC South alone. The rookie safety Neal learned his own lesson against the Browns when he got beat by tight end Gary Barnidge for a 29-yard touchdown. "Just a wheel route, he's on his man, out of phase ... don't look back," Manuel explained. "It's a chest-to-chest, ball-combat moment. When you're out of phase, don't look back. But that's OK. It's a learning, teachable moment."
  17. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/21748/falcons-step-on-the-gas-with-aldrick-robinson ATLANTA -- To Mohamed Sanu, it was no surprise to see Atlanta Falcons teammate Aldrick Robinson blaze down the field for a pair of explosive plays against the Washington Redskins Thursday night. It's become routine this preseason. ``He's just a phenomenal player,'' Sanu said of his fellow receiver. ``He came in and seemed a little tentative. But now, he's just aggressive and showing aggressive hands. He has tremendous speed. We all call him ``gas'' because he's got straight gas.'' We'll see what Robinson has in the tank the rest of the preseason. The former Washington Redskin, who wasn't on a regular-season roster last season, definitely opened eyes with his big-play ability. He had catches of 68 and 47 yards from Matt Schaub to set up a touchdown and field goal, respectively. Robinson actually held up for the ball on the 47-yarder and might have scored had he caught it in stride. On the 68-yarder, Robinson came back for ball, jumped up in front of the defender, then picked up another 20-plus yards after the catch. ``He's one of those guys who came in ready to perform during camp,'' receiver Justin Hardy said of Robinson. ``You saw him stretch the field twice. That's something that's big for the team. We've got Julio [Jones], and we've got him now. It could be real big.'' Jones was the one who insisted Robinson could be a big-play threat for the Falcons this season as the fourth receiver. Robinson backed his teammates words Thursday, although it's way too early to say what type of impact he'll have. Anything could happen between now and the actual determination of the 53-man roster. Robinson, a former sixth-round pick, was cut by the Redskins twice and once by the Ravens last season. He was on the practice squad for both teams. For the moment, Robinson also backed the words of his former teammate Trent Williams, who bet other Redskins that Robinson would go deep on them Thursday night. ``It was big for me,'' said Robinson, who finished with three catches for 118 yards while being targeted a team-high five times. ``I've been making a lot of big plays down the field at practice. It was good to transition into the game. ``I talked to [the Redskins] before the game. They already knew that I was having a good camp. I told them I was going deep on them. ... T. Williams told a couple guys I was going to go deep, so I made him look good tonight.'' Now Robinson just has to keep his foot on the gas.
  18. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/21662/hazing-for-falcons-means-stocking-up-on-candy-nuts-and-energy-drinks FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It used to be all about the red gelatin. These days, red candy will suffice. Atlanta Falcons veteran linebacker Sean Weatherspoon altered his expectations of rookies over the last few years. In 2013, when Weatherspoon was in his fourth season, he would summon undrafted rookie linebacker Paul Worrilow and order him to bring fruit punch-flavored gelatin from the cafeteria to the meeting room. After a one-year detour to the Arizona Cardinals, Weatherspoon's taste buds have obviously changed. Just last week, Weatherspoon's old buddy Worrilow ordered rookie linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell -- the team's second- and fourth-round draft picks -- to make a snack run that included strawberry Twizzlers and SweeTarts for Weatherspoon, pistachios for Philip Wheeler and Monster ultra blue energy drink for Worrilow. The total bill was around $30. "We said, 'Deion's paying, De'Vondre driving,'" Weatherspoon explained. "Deion's got the most money right now, he's paying. So, 'De'Vondre, get him on up there to Target and get him right.' We're stacked up now. We're taken care of. They always make sure we have drinks. They don't give you any lip or nothing like that." Both Jones and Campbell, along with the other four members of the draft class, understand such errands are a typical welcome-to-the-NFL moment. The same goes for the long-standing tradition of carrying pads, and neither Jones nor Campbell refused. "It's all part of it," Jones said. But the Falcons insist they don't push their rookies to the limit with a relentless "hazing" process, so don't expect to see anyone locked in a hot room or with one half of their head shaved. Coach Dan Quinn discourages anything over the top. "The rooks now, I don't ask much of them because of the way they came in here," Weatherspoon said. "They are taking care of their business. They're doing what they're supposed to do." Yes, it's different than what Weatherspoon experienced when he entered the league in 2010. He was running in circles thanks, in large part, to then-veteran linebacker Mike Peterson. "If we were at the hotel, Mike P. would send me to his car to go get his charger," Weatherspoon said. "Ain't no problem because he had a little mileage on him." Not to mention Weatherspoon had his "America's Got Talent" moment inside the meeting room. "I had to sing Ruben Studdard's'Flying Without Wings,'" Weatherspon said. "It was good. I got some claps and finger snaps. When I first got here, when we had a little break in the meeting, it would be like, 'Roo-kie, Roo-kie,' and folks would hit on the table and the rookie would get up and do his thing. But it's a different standard now." The light-hearted razzing of today's rookies extends beyond the linebackers' room. Seventh-round pick Devin Fuller, the receiver from UCLA, has had to tote Julio Jones' pads already. "That's nothing compared to other teams taping guys to the goal posts," Fuller said. Fifth-round pick Wes Schweitzer, the offensive guard from San Jose State, said the offensive linemen are required to tell jokes or state interesting facts in front of the vets. "I always pick the facts," said Schweitzer, who aims for Ph.D. in chemistry one day. "We just had Olympic facts, and I just came up with some stuff." Third-round pick Austin Hooper, the tight end from Stanford, hasn't had to appease veteran Jacob Tamme just yet. "Jacob, that's the cool thing about him is he doesn't really do that with the pads," Hooper said. "None of the tight ends do. They're big boys. They just keep the pads on their shoulders and walk in. But if I'm put in a situation where I need to carry them, I know I'm a rookie." Free safety Ricardo Allen, who is entering his third season, said he hasn't asked first-round pick and fellow starting safety Keanu Neal to carry his pads. "It's not about what you can do for us. It's a brotherhood," Allen said. "Everybody holds their own. That's how I look at it. Every now and then, they bring water and they bring snacks, but they don't have to do anything. You're family. You're not our toy. You're not our pet. You hold your own. "We're here to play football. We're not here to haze each other. If you're a family, you can't show levels. That's why I think it's wrong with some veteran bring rookies in and keep them kind of underneath. We don't do that here. Carrying [pads] and everything, it's for respect. We can all carry our own pads. We can all hold our own. You come in as a brother."
  19. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/21518/big-defensive-paydays-not-offensive-to-falcons-desmond-trufant-yet FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant is well aware of the lucrative contract extension cornerback Darius Slay just received from the Detroit Lions. Slay, a second-round draft pick in 2013 who has yet to be named to the Pro Bowl, received a four-year, $48 million extension that included $21.3 million guaranteed and a $14.5 million signing bonus. Slay's average salary of $12 million per season ranks eighth among cornerbacks, with Washington Josh Norman ($15 million), Arizona's Patrick Peterson ($14.01 million), Seattle's Richard Sherman ($14 million), and the New York Jets' Darrelle Revis ($14 million) leading that group. "Definitely respect for Slay," Trufant said. "He was in our draft class. Yes, definitely a great player." So when will Trufant, who has evolved into one of the best at his position and shuts down his side of the field, get his big payday? Well, a couple more defensive players were rewarded with lucrative extensions this week in Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman. Trufant certainly will be the next Falcons defensive player to be rewarded with a long-term extension. The only other player on the roster right now likely in line for a significant pay bump is right tackle Ryan Schraeder. "I've just got to focus on me and being a leader and a teammate," Trufant said. "Everything else, it's going to come. I know it's a business so [earning a new contract] is always an objective. But I'm just focused on getting better, being consistent, being a leader, and I know [the contract] will come." Trufant, the 22nd overall pick in the 2013 draft, is under contract through the 2017 season after the Falcons exercised the fifth-year option at $8,026,000. This season, he'll make $1,518,558. Considering the franchise tag for cornerbacks was $13,952,000 this season, the Falcons essentially are in control for the next three seasons at roughly $25 million factoring in this year's salary, the fifth-year option figure and the possible franchise-tag number for Trufant in '17. Then again, completing a deal early would allow the Falcons to reduce cap charges on a top of market contract. However it all unfolds, Trufant is not one to publicly complain about his contract situation. His time will come. He saw how both quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones were rewarded with extensions before entering the final years of their rookie contracts. Ryan, a 2008 first-round selection, signed his five-year, $103.75 million extension on June 26, 2013; Jones, a 2011 first-rounder, signed his five-year, $71.52 million extension on Aug. 31, 2015. While he's willing to wait, Trufant wants to be among the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league, of course. "You're always working for that," he said. "Like I said, as long as I'm being consistent and working and being a leader, that's going to come."
  20. http://www.espn.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/208657/falcons-rookie-linebackers-showing-flashes-as-they-learn-on-the-fly FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- A noticeable image from the first few days of Atlanta Falcons' training camp was rookie De'Vondre Campbell nodding his head and demonstratively moving his hands while engaged in conversation with linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich. It wasn't a tongue-lashing, but the conversation certainly was intense. One could tell Campbell took to heart the words of Ulbrich, a former NFL linebacker who played 10 NFL seasons with the 49ers. "The thing I appreciate the most is his experience," Campbell, a fourth-round pick from Minnesota, said of Ulbrich. "He played in the league for a really long time, and he played my position. Everything he says I try to soak in because he knows what he's talking about, from personal experience. Just having that experience, it makes it a lot easier for me to believe stuff that he's telling me. So every day in the meeting room and out here in practice, I just try and pick his brain and get as much information from him as I can.'' It might be a case of information overload for both Campbell and fellow rookie inside linebacker Deion Jones, the second-round pick from LSU. Both saw extensive first-team reps Tuesday, with Campbell playing the weakside linebacker and Jones the middle. Both have shown flashes through five practices, including Jones with his blazing speed and Campbell with both the speed and length to thrive in coverage. And both have the tools to help improve the Falcons' third-down defense. The next phase is getting more accustomed to the defense in preparation for a game situation, with the Falcons set to host the Redskins in next Thursday's preseason opener. Ulbrich said he's pleased with what he's seen thus far. "With all these guys, I try to give them instant feedback as the day goes," Ulbrich said. "I try not to get in their head pre-snap and before the plays, but try to give them instant feedback after so we don't error repeat. ... The youngsters, they've got less reps. They haven't seen a lot of this stuff. So sometimes, they need a little more of that [feedback]." Ulbrich has tinkered with his rotation at inside linebacker, giving Jones and Campbell a chance to work alongside veterans Paul Worrilow and Sean Weatherspoon, respectively. Worrilow led the team in tackles the past three seasons but doesn't possess the same type of speed at middle linebacker that Jones has. And Weatherspoon, who returned to the Falcons following a one-year hiatus in Arizona, is trying to regain his step after an injury-plagued career. At one point, Jones and Worrilow even lined up on the field together, with Worrilow moving to the weakside spot. It made for an intriguing side story, considering their ongoing competition in the middle. "It's a mad science," Ulbrich said. "Every day it's just a little bit different. We just try to get different combinations out there. I like the veterans working with the rookies and kind of helping them along a little bit. And there are days I like the rookies in there together, where they have to lean on each other and they have to figure it out. It's just forcing them to grow every day. "The veteran guys, I'm seeing how much they can do. The youngsters, I'm not trying to mess with them as far as position versatility. I'm trying to get them to master something. But for the guys who have been here, I want to keep stretching them and see how much they can do." Campbell has shown the ability to do a lot, but he's still growing. It might take time for him to become totally comfortable. Some have questioned his instincts, which is an element he needs to overcome. "I think the thing that I'm doing well, in [Ulbrich's] eyes, is I'm picking up things pretty well," Campbell said. "I've only been here for like two months now and I know the defense pretty well. There's still little detail things that I'm trying to get figured out. I need to get the little things down. I know the basics of the defense, but sometimes I'll be a step wrong in my alignment. At this level, that's very important, because one step and you allow a lineman to get up on you and, boom, it's off to the races."
  21. http://espn.go.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/208552/falcons-tevin-coleman-determined-to-keep-tight-hold-on-more-opportunities FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- One of the storylines at Atlanta Falcons' training camp through four practices was how smooth and comfortable running back Tevin Coleman looked catching the football. "It's way better than last year," Coleman said. "It's pretty good now." The Falcons knew they had such an element in Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman. However, Coleman seems to have elevated that aspect of his game, lining up on the outside and catching go routes with ease. Now Coleman just has to continue to convince the coaches he can secure the football with more touches. They're counting on him to complement Freeman in the running game and possibly step into the role as the primary kickoff returner. But Coleman had fumbling issues last season. He had three fumbles over a six-game stretch, including fumbles in back-to-back games against the Colts and Vikings. Against Minnesota, he had a 46-yard run before getting the ball jarred loose. Against New Orleans, Coleman fumbled after a 17-yard run that would have put the Falcons inside the Saints' 10-yard line. "Mostly, the problem with the fumbling is you loose track of the ball when you're making cuts," Coleman explained. "It gets away from your body. So, I just need to make sure that ball is as tight to my body as possible when spinning and doing things like that." Coleman said constantly reviewing film of those fumbles has helped him address the problem. "I watch them a lot because I can't believe that happened," Coleman said. "It makes me sick to my stomach watching it, but it's getting me stronger and it's making me learn more to keep it tight. It's not like the coaches told me, 'Never [fumble] again!' It's just 'Keep it tight. Keep it tight.' It's always in your mind." If Coleman follows those words, maybe he'll make the competition between Freeman a little tighter. There's been a lot of discussion about Coleman taking touches away from Freeman, but the coaches view it more as a potent one-two combination rather than a heated battle for carries. Freeman would have every right to be selfish coming off a 1,061-yard, 14-touchdown season, but that's not his nature. He constantly refers to Coleman as his brother as the two continue to push each other. "They know I have talent, and they just want to see it out there," Coleman said. "Me and Devonta, we're just competing and working hard. That's about it."
  22. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Maybe rookie Keanu Neal didn't mean to do it, but Atlanta Falcons teammate Eric Weems sure felt it. Neal, the team's first-round draft pick at strong safety, couldn't pull up in time before knocking the wide receiver Weems off his feet during Sunday's padded practice. One would think a 10-year veteran such as Weems would take exception to such a blow from a young player. Weems didn't. In fact, he encouraged it. "I didn't tell him nothing because that's football," Weems said. "What do I need to tell him something for? We're good. It's football. Why slow him down?" And Neal's response? "I wasn't trying to kill him," he said with a chuckle. "But it just happened." Tight end Jacob Tamme -- you know, the most hated guy in the league -- wasn't as forgiving when Neal got a little too physical. That's why Tamme shoved Neal following a collision during team drills. "He just really emphasized protecting the team," Neal said of Tamme's reaction. "That's the point he was trying to get across. That's the biggest thing, and it's true. He held me accountable, so he put me in check. I got out of hand hitting him like that. We are a physical team, but we have to protect the team. He emphasized that." Regardless, Neal has made his presence felt in a very short time. It started this offseason as he displayed more speed than the coaches anticipated. Then his leadership qualities started to emerge, with his charisma and confident demeanor. Sunday, Neal backed coach Dan Quinn's claim the rookie would be able to assist in covering tight ends. The 6-foot Neal showed excellent athleticism in leaping up to knock a ball away from 6-8 tight end Levine Toilolo in coverage. "See ball, get ball," Neal said. "I just went for it." Neal made sure to come to training camp prepared. He accepted an invitation to train for a week and a half with Seattle strong safety Kam Chancellor, considered one of the best at the position. Chancellor, of course, played under Quinn when Quinn was the Seahawks' defensive coordinator. One of the primary lessons Neal said he learned from Chancellor was perseverance. "No matter what, just having that grit to fight through anything and everything," Neal said. "He mentioned this: There's a lot of talent in the NFL, but some guys don't have that grit, that willpower. And having that makes people become great." Quinn couldn't say enough about the impression Neal has made thus far as the rookie strives for greatness. "He's got such respect from other members of his team because of his work ethic," Quinn said of Neal. "Really as a veteran player, what you're looking for from a young guy [is] a guy who has confidence, a guy who's willing to work, and a guy who keeps his mouth shut and keeps helping the team. Like, he epitomizes those things. All he wants to do is help the team. "That physicality, we know that's the element [he brings] to our team, but I think we're just getting started with that topic." In other words, Neal is sure to let his hits do the talking. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/21440/falcons-rookie-first-rounder-keanu-neal-already-a-big-hit
  23. Unsigned Vic Beasley participates in OTAs 54mVaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer FLOWERY, BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons first-round draft pick Vic Beasley participated in Tuesday's organized team activities despite remaining unsigned. The pass-rusher from Clemson is the only unsigned player among the team's seven draft selections. It is unclear what is holding up negotiations. Typically a player not under contract who participates in OTAs will sign an injury waiver which states the team will negotiate his contract in good faith based on his draft position. Beasley was the eighth overall pick. The Falcons sorely needed a pass-rusher, which is why they selected Beasley. He showed off his power and speed in bull-rushing by left tackle Lamar Holmes during a drill. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Beasley stood out rushing the passer in third-down situations Tuesday, along with Adrian Clayborn and Kroy Biermann. There were a handful of players sidelined during the practice while rehabbing from injuries: safety William Moore (shoulder), left tackle Jake Matthews (foot), linebacker Brooks Reed (groin), center Joe Hawley (ACL/MCL), tackle Sam Baker (knee), guard/center Peter Konz (ACL), running back Antone Smith (leg), defensive back Dez Southward (knee) and rookie cornerback Jalen Collins (foot). Quinn said Baker was rehabbing indoors while the other injured players were on the field working with the athletic performance staff.
  24. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/13488/falcons-adrian-clayborn-in-a-rush-for-2015-season Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn refining pass rush skills for 2015 season New Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn is taking the necessary steps to help improve the team's pass rush in 2015. Clayborn has spent time this offseason working out with former Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith, a well-respected pass rush guru who trains numerous professional and amateur athletes. Smith had 58.5 sacks in eight years with the Falcons and reached double-digit sacks in three different seasons, including his last (1999) at the age of 30. "I've always wanted to work out with Chuck," Clayborn said. "I've heard nothing but good things about him. Being in the same city, I've got the opportunity to now. The first person who told me about him was Gerald [McCoy]. Then I asked Michael Johnson because he's worked with him. Again, nothing but good things about him." Clayborn completed three sessions with Smith in between offseason workouts with the Falcons. FOX 5 Sports Atlanta has video of Clayborn's workout. "Just getting off the ball better and being more violent," Clayborn said of what he's improved thus far. "It's just about being a better pass-rusher." Whatever Clayborn learns from Smith is an added bonus to the instruction he'll get from his head coach, Dan Quinn. Remember, Quinn earned his reputation in the league for his expertise along the defensive line. "It's just about being nasty as a pass-rusher and using different moves," Clayborn said of Quinn's philosophy. "It's been good so far." Clayborn, who turns 27 in July, has just 13 career sacks but also has missed significant time due to injury. He had 7.5 sacks as a rookie in 2011. Quinn tinkered with playing Clayborn, a defensive end, inside along with Jonathan Babineaux in the nickel defense during voluntary minicamp. "I think it will be good," Babineaux said of playing alongside his fellow Iowa Hawkeye, Clayborn. "It's the first time in a long time that we've have depth on the defensive line. The competition going into camp this year is going to be off the roof. I'm just looking forward to the vet guys and the young guys competing for the same positions. Hopefully in the end, we'll put forth one of the best D-lines for the season." The Falcons need to improve drastically. They pressured opposing quarterbacks on 22.3 percent of dropbacks last season, which ranked 29th in the NFL and worst in the NFC, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
  25. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/11990/four-things-we-learned-at-the-combine-falcons Atlanta Falcons Four things we learned at the combine: Falcons Here are few other things we learned about the Falcons on Day 2. The Falcons have their eyes on a talented veteran inside linebacker: The Falcons are expected to pursue linebacker David Harris from the New York Jets if he hits the free-agent market. The 31-year-old Harris has started every game for six straight seasons with 884 career tackles and 30 career sacks. Quinn was the Jets' defensive line coach during Harris' first two seasons in New York. Harris will get plenty of attention on the market, especially from the Chicago Bears. The Falcons also are expected to look into Mason Foster from Tampa Bay, who was drafted by Falcons assistant head coach Raheem Morris when Morris was the Buccaneers' head coach. There should be more clarity on Dwight Lowery's situation by Sunday: The free safety, who played well for the Falcons this past season but is bound for free agency, is leaving all negotiations up to his agent, Frank Bauer. Bauer is scheduled to meet with the Falcons on Sunday. Quinn mentioned how he likes Lowery's versatility, plus Quinn was with the Jets when Lowery played there. Quinn likes tall safeties with speed, which is why he spoke highly of Dez Southward, but Lowery plays smart and gives the team another veteran presence, so he's worth keeping. There's a certain aspect about Quinn that Pete Carroll will miss: Carroll, the Seahawks' head coach, obviously hated to see his defensive coordinator leave, but Carroll obviously is happy to see Quinn move on to become a head coach. I asked Carroll what he'll miss most about Quinn. "I'm going to miss his consistency," Carroll said. "He was a tremendously consistent person and coach. He's just awesome." The Falcons have every intent to bring back linebacker Nathan Stupar: It's not a huge surprise, but the Falcons will extend the exclusive rights' tender to Stupar before the start of the new league year. Stupar, who was picked up on waivers last season, was the team's second-leading tackler on special teams with seven, right behind Eric Weems (11). He plays hard on the field and is a likeable guy in the locker room.
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