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Falcons Offseason News

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Players excited to work alongside new Falcons coach Dan Quinn

By Vaughn McClure

Atlanta Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow knows plenty about his new head coach, Dan Quinn.

Worrilow's friend and former college teammate at Delaware, Marcus Burley, played nickelback in Quinn's Seattle Seahawks' defense this past season. Worrilow already picked Burley's brain about Quinn.

"Marcus had nothing but good things to say about (Quinn)," Worrilow said. "Energy-wise and passion and everything ... it's all positive. I'm excited just to get things started. I know everybody here is anxious to improve.

"Him coming in with that defensive background and all the past success that he's had, he's obviously proven. And again, I've heard nothing but great things about him, and that he's a first-class kind of guy."

Quinn was hired on Monday and will be introduced as the new head coach during a news conference this afternoon. He orchestrated one of the best defenses in the league the past two seasons as the Seahawks made it to back-to-back Super Bowls, winning the first.

Richard Smith will be hired to be the Falcons' defensive coordinator, but Quinn's influence is certain to be felt on the defense. Quinn has operated with a 4-3 under defense that's included some 3-4 personnel tendencies. A key figure in the defense is the "LEO" stand-up pass-rusher, the role Bruce Irvin played for the Seahawks. Quinn also likes long cornerbacks and fast safeties. In general, his defenses play with speed and are physical downhill.

"They just got after it so much," Worrilow said of the Seahawks. "I'm excited to learn from (Quinn) and what type of things he's going to bring to us. You want to mimic that type of production that he's had with them."

Worrilow, the Falcons' leading tackler in each of the past two seasons, has been at the facility daily this offseason getting his body in shape for the 2015 campaign. He knows nothing is guaranteed in regard to a starting role, with Quinn and the Falcons expected to bring in more linebackers. But he hopes the work he puts in now helps him improve his speed and adjust to the new scheme.

"I know my rookie season we were more of a 4-3 at times, and last year was a lot different, scheme-wise," Worrilow said. "We put in a lot of new stuff last year. I guess schematically, I felt better in a 4-3 look. The best thing you can do is be versatile and prepare yourself to play any position, really."

Ra'Shede Hageman is a versatile defensive lineman who started to show some progress at the end of last season. It will be interesting to see how Quinn views Hageman's role.

"From what I heard, I heard he's a great coach," Hageman said of Quinn. "The fact that Coach (Bryan) Cox is still on staff kind of puts me in a position where I can play comfortable. When I play relaxed, good things do happen."

Hageman became more familiar with Quinn's defense by watching the Super Bowl.

"The Seahawks are some dogs on defense," Hageman said. "They run. They play a 4-3, which I love. It's a lot more just firing off the ball, which is what I grew up doing. And I feel ultimately, if we do play that, I'll be a lot more comfortable and a lot more familiar with the terminology overall and how things work. So I'm definitely excited about that."

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Now it's time for the Falcons to build Dan Quinn's roster

By Vaughn McClure



FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- New Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn knows how to control a room. He's also savvy enough not to come across as a control freak.

When asked Tuesday about being a first-time head coach, yet having the power to control the makeup of the 53-man roster, Quinn made a point of emphasizing that general manager Thomas Dimitroff would be his right-hand guy throughout the process.

"Thomas and I are going to collaborate," Quinn said. "For he and I to be this close and connected, that was an important part for me. You know when you meet somebody right off the bat, you know you can connect? It's like ... 'OK, this is my kind of guy.' So for he and I to connect in that way to talk about players -- I can't wait to get started with him and go through the whole process together."

nfl_u_quinn_d_300x200.jpgOn the immediate to-do list for new Falcons coach Dan Quinn: strengthen the team's inept pass rush.

Pressed on the topic of controlling the 53-man roster, Quinn wouldn't budge.

"We're so fortunate to be in that spot," Quinn said, "but like I said, [Dimitroff] and I are connected on this."

Quinn obviously sold the Falcons on his vision to come in and be a take-charge type of head coach. It's exactly what an organization seeking to get back to its winning ways sorely needs: a fresh, new approach.

What will that mean in relation to building the roster? Well, Quinn's recurring theme of playing fast and physical would suggest he knows exactly the type of players -- at least defensively -- he plans to target in free agency and the draft or mold from the current roster. As the Seattle Seahawks' coordinator he was in charge of the best all-around defense in the league the past two seasons. He knows the kind of athletes who best fit what he wants to accomplish in a 4-3 defense. And Quinn plans to wear his coordinator hat, on occasion.

"It starts with effort first," Quinn said of his defensive philosophy. "That's always the thing that we talk about right at the forefront of it. ... We want to be really aggressive in terms of the way we attack the football.

"Past that, we want to play as fast and as physical as we can. For us to play that style, we won't have 1,000 different defenses. What we will do, it's not necessarily what we play, it's how we play it."

Turning around what was the league's worst defense last season starts up front. The Falcons, who own the eighth overall pick in this year's draft, have to find multiple pass-rushers to help alleviate some of the pressure on the rest of the defense. The pass rush has been neglected in recent years and has to be addressed, now. Remember, Dimitroff and the Falcons opted to pursue big run-stuffers Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson last season.

Quinn fully understands the significance of quality pass-rushers and pinpointed the traits he seeks from such players.

"Speed and length," he said. "And ultimately as a pass-rusher, it's his ability to finish. Very rarely as a pass-rusher do you beat a guy just cleanly and, 'OK, there's the sack' or 'there's the hit on the quarterback.' [but] the speed and the get-off, those are the things that we look for in the rushers first. But we don't necessarily just talk about rushers just as D-ends. It's defensive tackles, too. And it's all four of those guys working in concert together."

Quinn preached balance on offense, which might take some adjustment for a team used to airing it out. He realizes he is inheriting a jewel at quarterback, Matt Ryan, and a game-changing receiver, Julio Jones, whom Quinn would like to remain with the Falcons long-term. It will be interesting to see, though, if Quinn seeks out a running back in the same mold as Marshawn Lynch to handle the load in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme.

With the new power structure, Quinn has to work in concert with both Dimitroff and assistant general manager Scott Pioli, who will oversee the free agency and draft efforts and report back to Dimitroff. It would be hard to imagine Dimitroff and Pioli just bringing in players whom Quinn would turn away. So, from that aspect, it indeed has to be a collaborative effort among the three.

If anything, both Dimitroff and Pioli have to put their egos aside and realize they have to do what fits Quinn's strategy. Dimitroff said Tuesday that he and former coach Mike Smith rarely, if ever, disagreed over players. Still, as somebody who grew accustomed to calling all the shots, the new setup could be a gut-wrenching challenge to Dimitroff. But he has no choice but to comply.

"Given the fact that this is Dan Quinn and the fact that he has all of his understanding of the defense and all of his understanding of how he believes he wants to build a football team, I have no problem with how this setup is at all," Dimitroff said. "I encouraged it."

If Dimitroff is indeed all-in, that's an encouraging sign as the Falcons try to rebuild a winner.

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Wonder if Donald would have been a Falcon last year with him as coach, assuming the line wasn't that horrible

I'm thinking his focus is going to be on guys who can rush the passer. Donald would have definitely fit that category.

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I'm thinking his focus is going to be on guys who can rush the passer. Donald would have definitely fit that category.

yep. It's amazing how bad St Louis is with such a good young defense. They ever get a qb, the West better watch out

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Falcons granted permission to interview Marquand Manuel for DB coach

By Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons were granted permission to interview Seattle Seahawks assistant coach Marquand Manuel for their defensive backs coach position, a league source told ESPN.com.

Manuel, who spent eight seasons in the NFL as a strong safety, worked as a defensive assistant under new Falcons head coach Dan Quinn for two seasons in Seattle, where Quinn was the defensive coordinator. Manuel also was a coaching intern under Quinn when Quinn was the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida.

The Seahawks tried hard Tuesday evening to keep Manuel, according to the source. Now, it appears Manuel joining the Falcons is inevitable. His interview is scheduled for Friday.

Quinn already hired former Washington Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris as his assistant head coach/defensive pass-game coordinator. After his introductory news conference, it was made clear Quinn was still in the market for a defensive backs coach.

The team announced the additions of Richard Smith as the defensive coordinator and Kyle Shanahan as the offensive coordinator. Quinn retained special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, defensive line coach Bryan Cox, wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie, former assistant offensive line coach Wade Harman -- now the tight ends coach -- and assistant special-teams coach Eric Sutulovich. The other new additions include running back coach Bobby Turner and offensive assistant Mike LaFleur.

If Manuel is hired, the Falcons would be left with at least five coaching positions to fill: quarterbacks, linebackers, outside linebackers, offensive line and assistant offensive line. Fox Sports' Alex Marvez reported Quinn will bring Seahawks assistant offensive line coach Chris Morgan as his offensive line coach.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Another year made Dan Quinn better prepared to be a head coach

By Vaughn McClure


Dan Quinn had an opportunity to be a head coach prior to being introduced by the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday.

He mentioned how he interviewed with both Minnesota and Cleveland before last season. The Vikings hired Mike Zimmer while the Browns went with Mike Pettine. The latter was probably a blessing in disguise for Quinn, who would have been wrapped up in plenty of drama in Cleveland. Quinn had plans to partner with current Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan with the Browns.

Things worked out for Quinn in the end as he spent another year as the Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator. He was able to dissect head coach Pete Carroll's brain a little more extensively.

"I'm much more prepared now than I was last year," Quinn said. "I'd probably say, after going through the experience last year, I thought another year would help me.

"And I had a chance to talk to coach Carroll and evaluate him more. Scenarios that would come up, he involved me in. So I've got a great deal of gratitude for him. As the situations and scenarios came up through the year, he kept me involved with that: through the draft process, looking at other positions. This period, for me, was an important one to go through and follow his lead on a lot of them."

Quinn's first task as head coach is evaluating the current roster, a process he vowed to dive into thoroughly. His first tough decision could be cutting ties with veteran running back Steven Jackson, who is entering the last year of his contract and has a base salary of $3.75 million. Quinn was given final say over the 53-man roster.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Dan Quinn eager to have Julio Jones for the long haul

By Vaughn McClure


New Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn obviously wants to see receiver Julio Jones be a significant part of the Falcons for years to come.

When asked after his introductory news conference if Jones is someone the coach hopes to see with the team for the long term, Quinn responded, "[He] is. What a tough matchup to cover. I think one of the things that I respect most is [he's] a relentless competitor, the way he can go attack the ball. I can't wait to get connected with him."

Jones, who turned 26 on Tuesday, is going into the last year of his contract after the Falcons exercised his fifth-year option. He will make $10.176 million in 2015 and become a free agent going into 2016 unless the Falcons give him an extension or opt to place the franchise tag on him. Team owner Arthur Blank told ESPN.com it would be Quinn's decision whether to extend Jones, with Quinn in control of the 53-man roster.

It's a safe bet Quinn will make sure Jones gets locked up.

"The things I've heard about him, just in terms of the leader he's become on and off the field, can't wait to connect with him," Quinn said. "For me, just to have the chance to start the process with him, I can't wait. … We love great players, and we want to celebrate all the good guys that we have. We're trying to collect more great players, not the other way around."

Here are some other odds and ends from Quinn's first day:

• Quinn had some characters to deal with while he was the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks, including vocal cornerback Richard Sherman. But even with all the Pro Bowlers on the roster, Quinn said he had no issues getting on the top players when he had to. He'll carry the same philosophy moving forward. "To me, it's going to start in terms of our practice," Quinn said. "If we're going to be a great team, we're going to become a great practicing team first. And it's going to carry over onto the field." And by the way, Quinn made sure to clarify how great it was to work with Sherman. "He has the mental quickness of a QB,'' Quinn said of Sherman. "Add that to the fact that he was one of the hardest-practicing players. He was as fun to coach as you could get. Sometimes people get a perception about a guy. He loved to be coached hard, and he wouldn't want a pass completed on him in walk-through.''

• Quinn takes his relationships with the players very seriously. He addressed the topic several times. "It's one of the things I love the most about coaching, being connected with these players," he said. "There are all sorts of guys and we reach them differently. Some guys you have to put your arm around and tell them what a good job they did, and other guys you have to find other ways to motivate them. For me, that job is one that I cherish -- knowing that I can have an effect on how a guy can improve and develop. Our whole staff, we are going to be a developmental staff. Our real goal in that is how far can we take each player. That's our goal. From the guys that we bring in to training camp, how well can we learn them, how far can we push them, and see how good each guy can get.

"As we go through the whole team and each guy that we bring here, that is going to be our goal, how good each guy can get. That's a lot for the staff, to get to know these guys and find out what makes them tick. That relationship is one that we really cherish. Through the years there have been a number of guys that have had a huge impact on me through my years in San Francisco with Bryant Young, or in Miami with Jason Taylor, or at the Jets, or so many of the guys I've been connected with in Seattle. They have had a huge impact on me, as well. That is one of the parts of the job I love the most."

Quinn already has a connection with cornerback Desmond Trufant because he is the younger brother of former Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant.

• After Quinn talked about how excited he is to begin his partnership with franchise quarterback Matt Ryan, the coach laid out his offensive philosophy.

"The No. 1 thing for me is balance," he said. "A team that's able to … run and pass, that's the hardest to go against. I have always admired teams that have tough, physical styles, something like the zone run game, and then also have ways to attack vertically in the passing game. For me, the No. 1 criteria is going to be balance and having different ways to attack. That's why it's so important for me to have this understanding of how we can do it. With all of the pieces we have here, it's going to be a terrific fit."

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Thursday, February 5, 2015
Dan Quinn defers comment on crowd noise investigation

By Vaughn McClure

New Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn was on ESPN's Mike & Mike Show on Thursday morning and was asked about the investigation into the team piping in crowd noise to the Georgia Dome over the last two seasons.

Team owner Arthur Blank admitted it occurred and called the situation "embarrassing." Blank expects the results of the NFL's investigation to be released in the next few weeks, and the Falcons have dealt with the culprit internally. The Falcons face a fine and potentially the loss of a draft pick.

"I haven't heard of any ramifications, but I'm aware it's going on," Quinn said. "I know Arthur commented the other day at the press conference. I'm sure he was the appropriate person to do that. So respectfully, I'm not going to add anything to what he already said on it. But, yeah, I'm aware that's going on."

League spokesman Greg Aiello told ESPN.com there have been a "few" cases of teams being investigated for piping in crowd noise, although the names of those teams were not disclosed.

"The rule is simple: At no point during the game can artificial crowd noise or amplified crowd noise be played in the stadium," Aiello said.

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Friday, February 6, 2015
Marcus Trufant says Desmond Trufant will thrive under Dan Quinn

By Vaughn McClure

Marcus Trufant wasn’t a part of Dan Quinn’s position group, but the former Seattle Seahawks cornerback was around Quinn long enough to realize what type of coach he was for the team.

Quinn, now the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, was the Seahawks’ assistant head coach in charge of the defensive line in 2009-10, the latter stages of Trufant’s 10-year career.

nfl_a_trufant_ap_200x300.jpgAtlanta cornerback Desmond Trufant, right, will like playing for new head coach Dan Quinn, according to Desmond's brother Marcus, a former NFL cornerback.

"He’s a players’ coach but he’s a players’ coach in a different way," Trufant said. "Usually when people say players’ coach, that means the guy is not so much a pushover, but guys have a little bit more fun than they should. Dan Quinn is a players’ coach because he keeps it real and he shoots it straight. And I think guys have a lot of love and respect for him because he’s transparent.

"He's always real. In the NFL, sometimes that’s hard to come by."

Trufant’s younger brother, Desmond, will get a chance to witness Quinn’s coaching traits up close as one of the primary returning defensive players for the Falcons. During Quinn’s introductory news conference, he talked about being familiar with Desmond since he was a baby Trufant. But Desmond is all grown up now and developing into a top talent as he approaches his third NFL season.

"I think (Desmond) is going to be able to showcase his natural ability under Quinn,’’ Marcus Trufant said. "He’s big, he can run, and he likes to tackle. In Seattle, the DBs always had to tackle.

"I just think the system is going to be good, man. It’s a corner’s system. It’s actually a little bit easier for the corners, just because they expect you to go out there and you just do you. ... You can go fast and you can go hard, and you really don’t have to think about a bunch of stuff."

Marcus Trufant studied Quinn's 4-3 under defense (with 3-4 personnel tendencies) from a different perspective. After retiring from the NFL, he became a radio talk show host on Seattle’s ESPN 710 AM. His show, called "The Barber Shop" airs nightly between 9-11 p.m. (PST).

"He didn’t come with a whole bunch of tricky type of stuff to fool people," Trufant said of Quinn, who was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator the past two seasons. "He was just about playing football. It was like, 'If you guys are better football players than we are, that’s what it comes down to.' If he said he was going to punch you in the mouth, that’s exactly what he did. I can just respect that about him as a coach. And he lets the players play. You don’t want to outsmart yourself. If you’ve got talent, you just want to point them in the right direction and let them go."

There is another interesting link between the elder Trufant and the new Falcons' coaching staff. His former teammate, Marquand Manuel, will come over from Seattle to coach Desmond and the rest of the Falcons defensive backs. Manuel played safety in the same secondary as Marcus.

"I’ve been calling Marquand coach since he was a player," Marcus Trufant said. "He’s always been a coach on the field. He was that type of safety. I was a young corner, so he was pointing us in the right direction. It’s only fitting now that he’s going to be in charge of the DBs.

"He’s full of energy. He’s a young guy. He can still relate to the players. I think the players are going to respect that, man. He’s energy is off the charts. He’s one of those guys when you’re warming up for practice, he’s out there doing the drills with you. I know they’ve got a younger secondary. I know they’ve got a couple of young corners running around over there. So it’s going to be a good look."

So what happens the first time Desmond calls and complains about his position coach?

"I don’t think (Desmond) is going to call me on that," Marcus Trufant said. "He’s a man himself. He can take care of business. He’s a younger brother, but he’s known how to stand on his own two since he was 2 years old."

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Friday, February 6, 2015
No hards feeling between Arthur Blank, Rex Ryan

By Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons found their man in new head coach Dan Quinn, but Rex Ryan was a top candidate going into the search process.

Ryan was among the first round of candidates interviewed. His Jan. 6 interview ended up being the longest of them all due to some unforeseen circumstances, as owner Arthur Blank explained.

"Unfortunately, the day that coach Rex Ryan came in, I had an emergency situation with my mother," Blank said. "So I had to leave during the interview and go to the hospital, so that interview went on further. I spoke with him from the hospital.

"He's outstanding. I had known Rex from the last [coaching-search] process we had gone through. But that certainly complicated things a little bit. That made that particular day a little bit longer."

Blank's mother, Molly, passed away on Jan. 7 at the age of 99. Ryan actually called Blank the next day to make sure he was OK.

A report surfaced about Ryan being upset about the Falcons dragging their feet in the process. He became the coach of the Buffalo Bills six days after interviewing with the Falcons.

"To be honest with you, I ignore those reports," Blank said. "I depend on direct conversations and direct communication on everything, rather than having it reinterpreted and taken out of context.

"I think that Coach Ryan and I have a good relationship. I'm happy that he made a decision. And I hope he likes snow, which apparently he does. I'm happy for him and his family. [buffalo] has a very fine coach up there."

When reached by phone, Ryan politely declined comment out of respect for his new team.

Blank said the Falcons had seven primary candidates. Quinn emerged as the leader following the first round of interviews. The team also interviewed Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, former Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone and former Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who replaced Ryan as the coach of the New York Jets.

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Dan Quinn defers comment on crowd noise investigation

By Vaughn McClure

New Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn was on ESPN's Mike & Mike Show on Thursday morning and was asked about the investigation into the team piping in crowd noise to the Georgia Dome over the last two seasons.

Team owner Arthur Blank admitted it occurred and called the situation "embarrassing." Blank expects the results of the NFL's investigation to be released in the next few weeks, and the Falcons have dealt with the culprit internally. The Falcons face a fine and potentially the loss of a draft pick.

"I haven't heard of any ramifications, but I'm aware it's going on," Quinn said. "I know Arthur commented the other day at the press conference. I'm sure he was the appropriate person to do that. So respectfully, I'm not going to add anything to what he already said on it. But, yeah, I'm aware that's going on."

League spokesman Greg Aiello told ESPN.com there have been a "few" cases of teams being investigated for piping in crowd noise, although the names of those teams were not disclosed.

"The rule is simple: At no point during the game can artificial crowd noise or amplified crowd noise be played in the stadium," Aiello said.

Good reply

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Jeff Ulbrich leaves the Bruins

By Kevin Gemmell

ESPN.com

UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich is leaving the program after three seasons, the team announced Sunday.

Ulbrich is set to sign a contract with the Atlanta Falcons on Monday where he will oversee all linebackers under new coach Dan Quinn, a league source told ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure.

In an official release from the school, head coach Jim Mora said he would begin an immediate search for his replacement. Ulbrich joined UCLA's staff when Mora was hired in 2011 and was promoted to defensive coordinator last season when Lou Spanos left for the Tennessee Titans.

"I would like to thank Coach Ulbrich for everything he has done for UCLA football over the past three years," Mora said. "The hard work he put in on a daily basis was surpassed only by his dedication to helping develop our student-athletes both on and off the field. It was a pleasure working alongside him and watching him develop as a coach, and I anticipate nothing but success for him in the future."

UCLA ranked seventh in the Pac-12 last year in scoring defense (28.1 points per game) and third in total defense. The Bruins were just one of three Pac-12 teams that didn't yield an average of at least 400 yards per game.

Ulbrich's departure leaves the status of committed linebacker Roquan Smith in question. Smith committed to the Bruins last Wednesday on signing day, but did not file his paperwork after the news leaked that Ulbrich may depart for the Falcons job. According to Mora, Quinn reached out to Ulbrich either Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Ulbrich was Smith's primary recruiter.

Smith, who is No. 29 on the ESPN 300, is said to be considering a number of schools, including UCLA, Georgia, Michigan and Texas A&M.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Ranking Falcons who need to be re-signed before free agency

By Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons have 19 players who can become unrestricted free agents on March 10. A handful of those players will be a part of new coach Dan Quinn's plan to reshape the roster.

Bryant

This week, we will rank the Top 5 on the priority list in descending order, just for kicks. Here is the player who should be the team's top priority among the impending free agents:

No. 1: Matt Bryant

Age: 39

2014 base salary/cap number: $2,750,000/$3,312,500

Key stat: Bryant still has a streak of 38 consecutive field goals from within 50 yards, dating to the 2013 season.

What he's worth: Bryant's average of $2,675,000 per year ranked 11th among kickers last season. Certainly he deserves to be above $3 million, as eight other kickers will be above that mark going into the 2015 season. Not to mention the team rewarded punter Matt Bosher with an extension that pays him an average of $2.9 million per year.

Quinn factor: Quinn trusted Keith Armstrong enough to retain Armstrong from the previous coaching staff. As the special teams coordinator, Armstrong no doubt will lobby to Quinn about guys he believes deserve to be a part of his units moving forward. Bryant is a no-brainer, provided he wants to keep kicking and wants to be a Falcon.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Falcons free-agent priorities: Eric Weems

By Vaughn McClure

We started the process of ranking the Top 5 players out of 19 unrestricted free agents the Atlanta Falcons should re-sign with the guy who has to be the No. 1 priority: kicker Matt Bryant. After mulling it over a while, we decided another special-teamer should be next on the priority list:

No. 2: Eric Weems

Age: 29

2014 base salary/cap number: $730,000/$730,000

Key stat: Weems led the team with 11 special-teams tackles, recovered two fumbles and forced another. He also made a few plays on offense at receiver, where he caught 10 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns in 190 snaps played.

What he's worth: Definitely more than the NFL minimum, which Weems made last season. His value extends beyond statistics, with the leadership and toughness he brings as a co-captain on special teams. If signed to the minimum again, he will make $870,000 with seven credited seasons under his belt. Weems was a second alternate to the Pro Bowl this past season. New England Patriots receiver Matthew Slater, a 29-year-old Pro Bowl special teams ace, signed a two-year, $4 million extension last season that included $3 million guaranteed.

Quinn factor: Again, new coach Dan Quinn has to trust the judgement of special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong when it comes to making decisions on key special teams players. Armstrong will no doubt fight hard for Weems. Fellow wide receiver Roddy White did the same last season before the Falcons decided to re-sign Weems for a second stint. Quinn talked about wanting his players to play fast and physical. Well, Weems fits the mold.

Click here for the rest of the posts in this series.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Falcons complete Dan Quinn's coaching staff

By Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons made new coach Dan Quinn's coaching staff official Tuesday by announcing the additions of offensive line coach Chris Morgan, quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich and secondary coach/senior defensive consultant Marquand Manuel.

The team also announced Keith Carter as the assistant offensive line coach, Doug Mallory as a defensive assistant/linebackers and Chad Walker as a defensive assistant/defensive backs.

Morgan and Manuel come over from the Seattle Seahawks, where Quinn served as the defensive coordinator the last two seasons. Morgan was the assistant offensive line coach while Manuel, who played eight NFL seasons as a safety, was a defensive assistant.

LaFleur comes to the Falcons after a year as Notre Dame's quarterbacks coach. He was the quarterbacks coach under new Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan when Shanahan held the same title with the Washington Redskins. LaFleur's brother, Mike, previously joined the new Falcons staff as an offensive assistant. Mike McDaniel also was added as an offensive assistant.

Ulbrich comes to the Falcons by way of UCLA, where he was the defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach under former Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr. Ulbrich played linebacker in San Francisco at the same time Quinn was a defensive assistant coach for the 49ers.

Quinn hired longtime coach Richard Smith as his defensive coordinator and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris as the assistant head coach/defensive pass game coordinator. He also brought in Bobby Turner as the running backs coach.

Five coaches were retained from the previous staff: special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie, defensive line coach Bryan Cox, tight ends coach Wade Harman and assistant special teams coach Eric Sutulovich.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Steven Jackson likely out of running in Kyle Shanahan's offense

By Vaughn McClure

New Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was cautious with his words as he addressed the Atlanta media for the first time on Tuesday.

Naturally, Shanahan avoided being critical of any of his new players as he assessed the talent he inherited. He expressed excitement for the opportunity to work with Matt Ryan and praised Julio Jones as the type of explosive receiver he once coached in Houston during Andre Johnson's glory days.

nfl_u_jackson11_300x300.jpgSteven Jackson's days running the football for the Falcons could be over after two seasons in Atlanta.

In discussing the running back situation, Shanahan even spoke glowingly about veteran Steven Jackson, although the aging Jackson is expected to be on the way out.

"I've been here a week ... the main things we're doing right now is looking at our own personnel," Shanahan said. "I don't have a set opinion right now because I haven't watched enough tape, but Steven's a guy I've been a huge fan of over his career.

"Devonta (Freeman) was someone I loved coming out of college last year. And then the guy from Oregon State (Jacquizz Rodgers), I loved him coming out of college. So they're guys I remember from their college days, hard. I know Steven because he's played for a long time. But I haven't evaluated any of those backs since college or just Steven over the years. So, they're guys I'm excited and really looking forward to seeing them and getting them here in (organized team activities) and seeing what we can do."

Jackson, who turns 32 in July, is likely to be released with one year left on his contract. The move would save the Falcons $3.75 million against the salary cap. And the Falcons no doubt want younger, fresher legs in Shanahan's offense.

Shanahan will implement a zone-blocking scheme that relies on offensive linemen capable of running and running backs capable of making that quick one cut for explosive runs. Shanahan was asked what type of running back best fits his scheme.

"People asking me that all the time ... I like a good running back," Shanahan said. "There's no absolute. I've had big guys. I've had smaller guys. I'll take any type of guy. I think Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch are pretty good backs that are pretty big. That doesn't mean I don't want LeSean McCoy. So, I think any type of back can succeed in this system.

"But the type of guys you want are guys who can put their foot in the ground, get downhill. You do want guys who can create arm tackles and then run through them. I'm not looking for a guy that you have to give 30 carries to get 100 yards. You want guys who get downhill, who get over 4.0 yards a carry and they move the chains for you."

Last season as the offensive coordinator for the Browns, Shanahan watched rookies Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West rush for a combined 1,280 yards while averaging 4.0 yards per carry. During the 2012 and '13 seasons in Washington, Shanahan watched running back Alfred Morris post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons while averaging better than 4.6 yards per carry.

Even during his first season as a NFL coordinator with the Houston Texans back in 2008, Shanahan saw running back Steve Slaton go for 1,282 yards while averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

The Falcons haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Michael Turner in 2011. And no Falcon has averaged better than 4.0 yards per rush on 25-plus carries since Turner that same season.

It will be interesting to see how the Falcons upgrade the position. One player the team should strongly consider re-signing is Antone Smith, who had his 2014 season end prematurely due to a broken leg. Smith had five touchdowns on just 36 touches last season. His ability to make the one cut and take it to the house would be ideal in Shanahan's system.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Calling plays not a must for Falcons D-coordinator Richard Smith

By Vaughn McClure

During his introductory news conference, new Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he was undecided about calling the defensive plays this coming season.

Quinn, formerly the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, brought in veteran coach Richard Smith as his defensive coordinator. And although Smith once had Quinn under him while the defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins, Smith said he was more than willing to turn over the play-calling duties to Quinn, if asked.

nfl_u_smith_r_200x300.jpgRichard Smith is taking over a Falcons defense that finished tied for 30th in the NFL in sacks in 2014.

"I'm not an ego person," Smith said. "[Quinn] and I go away back. Like I said, we have a very good relationship not only as friends, but as coaching partners. And if that's the way it goes, you'd be crazy not to have him [call plays] because he's had the experiences. It's the system that he's been. He sure knows a lot better than we do as a coaching staff.

"And so, I have no problem about that whatsoever if that comes to that. But there's plenty of people in this league that that goes on on a daily basis; all sorts of teams. I'm not worried about that at all."

Quinn runs with a 4-3 under defense with some 3-4 personnel tendencies. The "LEO" standup pass-rusher is a key figure in the defensive equation. Quinn likes long corners and fast safeties and wants all of his defenders to, of course, be physical. The past two seasons, his defenses in Seattle ranked first in yards allowed per game and first in points allowed per game.

When Smith was asked about his defensive philosophy, he again deferred to Quinn.

"It's not my philosophy, it's our philosophy," Smith said. "You heard Dan talk when you guys met with him the first day. What we're looking for is, first off, guys that come out and have fun. We're looking to play fast, be fundamentally sound and be able to attack.

"And what we mean by attack -- I think Dan explained it to you the first day he came in -- it's not necessarily where we're going to have to be big pressure-type football team. ... It's making it where you don't have a thousand different defenses that we're playing where players can just react fast and hard, trying to create turnovers in terms of our aggressive style of play."

Smith talked about how he prioritizes sacks in the defense. The Falcons had 21 sacks this past season, which ranked tied for 30th in the league. They had 32 in 2013, which was tied for 29th.

"Yeah, sacks matter," Smith said. "First of all, defense is more than just third-down defense. To be successful on third down, I really believe you have to play well on first down. You've got to make those third downs where you're not playing a lot of third-and-shorts; you're playing third-and-longs. And I think from that standpoint, you're going to be a better successful team on third down.

"But, yes, to generate pressure on the quarterback and get him off his spot, all those issues are really, really important. ... You'd love to have a 45-50-sack football team every year. You might not have that. But can you get that quarterback off his spot? Can you make him feel uncomfortable? Those are the things that we'll try to create."

Buffalo’s Rex Ryan and Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer are head coaches who will call defensive plays during the 2015 season.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Falcons' Joe Hawley getting up to speed for zone-blocking scheme

By Vaughn McClure

Near the conclusion of last season, Joe Hawley was one of the first people to applaud undrafted rookie James Stone for an admirable job filling in as the starting center.

Hawley also made sure to give his Atlanta Falcons teammate a playful nudge heading into 2015.

“The maturity James showed to be able to lead the offensive line and make the calls, it was very impressive,” Hawley said, “ but I did tell him, 'Enjoy it because as soon as I get back, that’s going to be my job.'"

Hawley started the first four games at center last season before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his right knee. He is scheduled to take the next step in the recovery process in two weeks, when he begins doing drill work on the field. Hawley is confident about being back at full strength by training camp.

And Hawley is confident about excelling in new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme to clear paths in the run game.

“I don’t think it will be an adjustment; I’m actually really looking forward to it because I know it fits my strength,” Hawley said. “I’m an undersized lineman for the NFL, so running and my quickness I have to use to my advantage. I think that will play a huge role in it. I don’t think the adjustment is going to be hard. I think it’s going to be a positive.”

Hawley spent a few moments Monday chatting with new offensive line coach Chris Morgan about the scheme. Shanahan spoke at length about it when he addressed the media Tuesday.

“We believe in the outside-zone scheme,” Shanahan said. “It’s something I do believe in very strongly. And the main thing we’re going to get these linemen when they get in here is we just want to get them to run. They’re going to run a lot more than they ever have before. We’re going to try and challenge the defense from sideline to sideline, not just between the tackles.

“And it’s a challenge to get guys to run and yet still be as physical as anybody. So there’s an element there where it’s not just lateral, but it’s getting downhill, too. It takes time to develop. There’s nowhere I’ve been where you get in right away and guys just get it. You’re usually asking them to do stuff that they haven’t done consistently throughout their career. But when you get the commitment from guys to do it, you rep it all the time, guys usually come around.”

Former Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice, who implemented some zone elements, often raved about Hawley’s ability to run. The 6-foot-3 Hawley weighs 290 pounds and entered the NFL with a reputation for his quickness. He even posted the second-fastest three-cone time at the NFL combine back in 2010 when he worked out as a guard.

But will the other linemen be able to run with him?

“I think the big thing in terms of zone-blocking is teamwork and unity as an offensive line,” Hawley said. “You’ve got to work well together. It’s a lot of combination blocks and getting to the second level with those combination blocks. If you can get that and work well with the guy next to you, that’s going to help the zone scheme.”

Health might keep the line from developing unity in the zone-blocking scheme immediately. Besides Hawley, tackles Jake Matthews (foot) and Sam Baker (knee) are recovering from significant injuries. Matthews had surgery for a Lisfranc ligament tear in January and has another three months before he’s back to full strength.

As for Hawley coming off knee surgery, he’s building confidence by the day.

“I think the biggest thing, because this is the first surgery I’ve ever been through, is getting your body stronger and adjusting to it and getting back to normal,” Hawley said. “And it’s also half mental; getting that confidence back in using it. I’m actually just getting to that point now where I’m starting to use it more. I’m doing some leg press and balance work.

“The doctors have told me that once I get to full health, it should be stronger than my left ACL. As I worked toward getting better and getting healthier for training camp, I think confidence is going to play a huge role. And I think that might take a little time once I get the pads back on. But I think I’ll be good once I get rolling.”

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Falcons free-agent priorities: Sean Weatherspoon

By Vaughn McClure

We started the process of ranking the top 5 players out of 19 unrestricted free agents the Atlanta Falcons should re-sign with kicker Matt Bryant as the No. 1 priority and receiver/special-teams ace Eric Weems at No. 2. Here is the next guy on the list:

No. 3: Sean Weatherspoon

Age: 27

2014 base salary/cap number: $2,831,250/$4,132,500

Key stat: Due to injury, Weatherspoon has missed 33 games in five NFL seasons, including the entire 2014 season with an Achilles tear.

What he's worth: Weatherspoon could be a very valuable player as the weakside linebacker with the versatility to play middle linebacker. He's physical and, when healthy, the best linebacker on the roster. But even Weatherspoon has to understand that the injuries have decreased his value. He averaged just over $3 million per year in his first contract. The reality is, he likely will have to take a step back in pay to first prove he can stay healthy, so he might be looking at half that amount.

Quinn factor: General manager Thomas Dimitroff came out and said the team needs Weatherspoon back. Well, it's no longer Dimitroff's decision. New coach Dan Quinn was given final say over the 53-man roster. Maybe Quinn wants to go in a different direction at linebacker. One would think, however, that Quinn would at least want to see what he would get out of a former first-round draft pick such as Weatherspoon. And certainly Weatherspoon's strong reputation as a locker room leader has to appeal to Quinn.

Click here for the rest of the posts in this series.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015
Falcons free-agent priorities: Antone Smith

By Vaughn McClure

We started the process of ranking the top 5 players out of 19 unrestricted free agents the Atlanta Falcons should re-sign with kicker Matt Bryant as the No. 1 priority, receiver/special-teams ace Eric Weems at No. 2 and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon at No. 3. Here is the next guy on the list:

No. 4: Antone Smith

Age: 29

2014 base salary/cap number: $730,000/$767,750

Key stat: Smith scored five touchdowns last season on just 36 touches and averaged 51 yards per scoring play.

What he's worth: Smith positioned himself for a nice payday with a team-MVP-like performance through the first nine games of last season. Then he suffered a broken leg in the 10th game at Carolina while playing special teams which spoiled his spectacular individual effort. Had he continued at the same pace, maybe Smith would have been viewed in the same light as Darren Sproles of the Philadelphia Eagles, who averages $3.5 million per year. Sproles' value, of course, increases due to his ability to be an explosive return man. Smith, however, should be worth at least a million or two, if he returns to full strength. Not to mention Smith is quite a special-teams contributor in his own right as a top-flight gunner.

Quinn factor: If you check Dan Quinn's Twitter account from yesterday (@FalconsDQ), you'll notice he uses the hashtag #FastandPhysical. Well, you can't get much faster than Smith with his ability to explode by defenders. And Smith runs with power, too. All Quinn needs to do is click on the film to show just how valuable Smith can be for the Falcons. Not to mention owner Arthur Blank said he wanted Smith around for years to come.

Click here for the rest of the posts in this series.

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