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Devin Hester expects to be an Atlanta Falcon, if healthy

12:28 AM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Devin Hester, the most accomplished return man in NFL history, expects to return kicks for the Atlanta Falcons this season -- if healthy.

Hester, who underwent surgery on his right big toe in January, realizes his status with the team hinges on whether he makes a full recovery. Although he's been a participant in offseason workouts, the 33-year-old veteran hasn't been cleared to run just yet.

Hester is signed through the 2016 season and is scheduled to make $3 million -- a hefty price if he can't contribute.

"At the end of the day, I feel like it's going to come down to how my toe feels," Hester told ESPN.com. "If my toe isn't ready, then I can't fault them for letting me go because it's a business. I can't go around thinking I'm safe if I'm not playing. I do understand that.

"But if I'm healthy, they'd be crazy to let me go. You've got to think about it: I was coming off a Pro Bowl season. It's not like I couldn't do it anymore. I just got hurt preseason last year and that blew the whole season."

Hester, a former second-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears (2006), joined the Falcons in 2014 on a three-year, $9 million contract that included $4 million guaranteed. He made the Pro Bowl in 2014 after leading the NFL with 1,128 kickoff return yards while averaging 13.3 yards per punt return, which would have led the league had he had enough returns to qualify.

Then last year, Hester suffered what was initially labeled a turf toe injury in the third preseason game at Miami. The injury caused the Falcons to place Hester on injured reserve with a designation to return. He ended up playing in just five games, returning nine kickoffs for 235 yards (26.1 yards per return) and eight punts for 34 yards.

After the season, it was determined that Hester broke two sesamoid bones in his right big toe, which led to surgery. All along, he knew it would be a four-to-six month recovery process.

"They said it's going pretty good, and I'm doing some jogging now and ladders," Hester said. "I started that about a week ago. [Running] pretty much depends on what the toe says. I'm looking at it like the games don't start until September. I want to make sure that I'm good. I don't want to aggravate it; have it flare back up so where I have to deal with it again. I want to let it get right and be ready to go by the time the season starts."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn addressed Hester's status.

"He's doing the rehab and he's able to do certain things, but he's not been fully 'Hey, do it all,' so he's not there yet," Quinn said. "I don't know if I have a timeline for it. I would say we are, for sure, hopeful prior to camp [minicamp, June 14-16]. As far as the [organized team activities], I don't know. That toe has got to be right. And we're not going to put him out there until it is. He's got unique stuff to get up and go. When he's ready to do that, then that's when the docs with clear him."

Quinn was asked point blank if he is confident Hester, who was not utilized on offense last season, can be effective for the Falcons.

"Yeah," Quinn said. "We're hopeful. I just don't know the timeline yet."

Quinn said the team's decision to draft speedy wide receiver/kick returnerDevin Fuller out of UCLA in the seventh round was not directly related to Hester's status.

"Let's not start comparing to Dev (Hester)," Quinn said. "[Fuller] is a receiver first, though. I mean he's going to return for us. But that's not the reason."

It does make perfect sense, however, to have backup plan in the return game, even if there's a chance kickoff returns could be deemphasized with the new rules changes.

Hester wasn't bothered by the addition of Fuller.

"To be honest, the only way I feel like I can get beat out in the return game is if I don't come back 100 percent," Hester said. "If he does [beat me out], he's going to be the best returner in this league."

Hester holds the NFL record with 20 return touchdowns, a record he set in September of 2014 against Tampa Bay and then-coach Lovie Smith, Hester's former coach with the Chicago Bears.

Hester said he wants to play at least two more season before considering retirement.

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Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow welcomes his competition, literally

4:27 PM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

If nothing else, Paul Worrilow always wants to be viewed as a team player.

So when the Atlanta Falcons drafted two inside linebackers this past weekend, Worrilow, the team's starting middle linebacker and leading tackler the past three seasons, didn't cringe. In fact, he welcomed both Deion Jones andDe'Vondre Campbell with open arms via text message.

"Them guys coming in, I'm excited for them," Worrilow said. "It's an awesome opportunity for them to come in here. And I think we have an awesome team. Our linebacker room is second to none in terms of the bond we're developing. And that's something we're taking to the next level to see how close we can get. These guys are a part of it now. I just want to take them in and let them know we're a tight-knit group."

Paul Worrilow welcomed Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell to the Falcons, even though the young players may try to take his job at linebacker. AP Photo/John Bazemore

Worrilow didn't want to take all the credit for reaching out to Jones and Campbell, the team's second- and fourth-round draft picks.

"We have a whole linebacker group text message that we have going on, so it's not just me at all," Worrilow said. "It's everybody in our linebacker room. That's something we always keep going, whether it's football-related or we're talking about getting together and doing something, just chopping it up. It's Spoon [Sean Weatherspoon], Philip [Wheeler], LaRoy [Reynolds], [Vic] Beasley, Tyler Starr, and myself. After the draft, we added those two dudes. They are part of the group now. So are the undrafted guys coming in."

Jones was the first one Worrilow had contact with since Jones was drafted Friday. Interestingly enough, it's Jones who is likely to compete with Worrilow for the starting middle linebacker role, while Campbell will compete for a starting spot at the Will. Jones, with much more speed than Worrilow, is the ideal player to help with some of the coverage woes the Falcons have had. But Worrilow, a highly intelligent player who knows the defense, certainly will fight to keep his role.

"Year in and year out, there's competition, man," Worrilow said. "It's just the situation you're always going to be in in the NFL. It doesn't matter. We're trying to take our games to the next level. And that's not done without competition.

"It doesn't change anything. It's not like I'm thinking, 'I'm in the hole, shoot, I've got to turn it on.' That's the situation, so I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing and that's trying to get as good as I can with my game and trying to be the best teammate I can be. Whether that's helping [Jones] get his game right, that's part of it, too for me. That's how I learned."

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Navy SEALS workout part of Falcons' revamped offseason

6:00 PM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn continues to come up with creative ways to challenge his team while preparing it for the 2016 season.

As cornerback Robert Alford revealed to the media Wednesday, members of the United States Navy SEALS were brought in last week to lead the players through a rigorous training regimen. The Falcons posted a video of the exercises.

Alford was asked about the message he took away from those workouts.

"Just pushing through the rough times," he said. "Every game, you're always going to have some downs, and you've got to come together as a group and decide that you want to push yourself up out of it. And you've got to look to push the next person."

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon appreciated the message as well.

"It was great for developing an elite brotherhood," Weatherspoon said. "It's basically just setting our standard to an elite level and holding each other accountable to the standard. Team over me. It was beneficial."

The Falcons have put together a few bonding efforts this offseason. First, quarterback Matt Ryan paid for players to meet in South Florida for a passing camp. And Quinn gave the locker room a facelift so offensive players and defensive players and older and younger players could be mixed in together.

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Undrafted Falcons LB Ivan McLennan matured after college pellet-gun arrest

May 6, 2016
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Ivan McLennan was a redshirt junior in June 2014, and the former Washington State outside linebacker freely admitted he still had some maturing to do.

Two years ago, McLennan was arrested and charged with unlawful handling of weapons capable of producing bodily harm. He pointed a non-lethal Airsoft pellet gun at a student after police previously warned him about such antics.

McLennan doesn't believe the misdemeanor arrest had anything to do with him going undrafted. He does believe, however, that it helped him realize not to put himself in such comprising situations.

"I know it was wrong because they were expecting me to be a leader," McLennan said. "We were having BB gun wars. The whole team was playing around, but that's still no excuse. I look back at it, and it shouldn't have happened. I learned from it. I learned there are consequences from my actions. I've always been positive but now I'm more mature."

A matured McLennan is now ready to fulfill his NFL dreams after joining theAtlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent. He'll be one to watch as the team begins rookie minicamp, considering he brings a pass-rush element that the Falcons -- who finished last in the league with 19 sacks last season -- sorely need.

"It's a surreal, humbling and blessed opportunity to go there to Atlanta and have the opportunity to compete and try to make this 53-man roster," he said.

The 6-foot-3, 238-pound McLennan didn't work out for the Falcons when they visited Washington State to take a closer look at offensive lineman Joe Dahl. McLennan did, however, post impressive numbers at his pro day with times of 4.59 and 4.61 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 17 bench-press reps and a 36-inch vertical.

He then established a relationship with the Falcons.

"I'd say probably 10 or 12 days before the draft, me and [linebackers coach] Jeff Ulbrich talked," McLennan said. "Ever since then, him and I were always in contact. We talked on a daily basis, **** near. We started building a little relationship, a little connection. He wanted me to come to Atlanta, and I want to be in Atlanta.

"[Ulbrich] wants me to play outside linebacker. He wants me to play inside linebacker. He wants me to pass-rush on third down. He wants me to play every special teams. It's a great opportunity over there because he said he likes my versatility."

McLennan, a native of California who transferred to Washington State from El Camino Junior College, played in 25 games in two seasons with the Cougars. Last season, he registered 42 tackles, nine tackles for losses and six sacks. He had three sacks in a victory over Wyoming.

"As a pass-rusher, I just get off the ball really good," McLennan said. "I'd say I'm good at my burst. I have a good burst off the ball. I've got a couple moves, too, with a little shake. I'm still a work in progress because I haven't been in the NFL. I know it's another level, so I've got to work. I've got to watch film. I know sure, I've got to be violent with my hands. But my biggest positive attribute as a pass-rusher is just my get-off. I just get off the ball really fast."

Washington State linebackers coach Roy Manning is confident McLennan can excel as an NFL pass-rusher in time.

"Ivan's just a guy where his first step is really, really impressive," Manning said. "He can really get off the ball. He plays really, really fast. Sometimes, it's a little bit out of control. But he's got all the ability."

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Falcons not ruling out signing veteran CB Leon Hall

Leon Hall, a 2007 first-round Bengals draft pick, tore both of his Achilles in separate incidents during the 2011 and 2013 seasons, respectively. Joe Robbins/Getty Images
May 6, 2016
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said the team is still considering whether to sign cornerback Leon Hall, who played the previous nine years with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Falcons players said Hall was in the facility this week while the team continued offseason workouts. Hall, 31, did not immediately sign however.

Hall has torn both Achilles since the 2011 season.

"They still went through the medical with Leon," Quinn said Friday. "So we're still getting back and talking with the docs. So, nothing to report on that end yet. But still looking to add, if there's guys we think can compete to make the team better. But nothing to update you on that one."

Quinn was asked if Hall could help the team.

"Certainly he could," Quinn said. "But nothing to update on his scenario just yet."

The Falcons needed more depth at cornerback behind likely starters Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. The plan going into last season was to have Alford play more of a nickel role as rookie Jalen Collins settled in outside opposite Trufant. However, Collins' first year was a total disaster. And he enters the 2016 season suspended for the first four games without pay after violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

Since Collins won't be available for those four games, it makes sense for the Falcons to investigate other options, particularly after not drafting a cornerback. If the season started today, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Akeem Kinglikely would be competing for time as the third cornerback.

We'll see how things progress with Hall, a 2007 first-round Bengals draft pick. Injuries marked much of the latter years of his time in Cincinnati. He tore both of his Achilles in separate incidents during the 2011 and 2013 seasons, respectively. Although he returned remarkably strong following the first tear, he has been a little slower getting back to form since the second one.

Neither Hall nor his Bengals coaches would say if he had lost a step after the second injury, but his role was scaled back. Hall played strictly at the slot cornerback position in 2015 after splitting more time there and on the boundary at earlier times in his career.

Consistency was the biggest issue for Hall the past two seasons. At times he would make timely defensive stops. At others, he would get badly beaten by opposing receivers for first downs or touchdowns.

For many, the play that defined Hall’s career after his second Achilles tear was the 94-yard touchdown pass he allowed against the Steelers in Cincinnati in 2014. On the play, then-rookie Martavis Bryant got quickly by Hall and completely burned him to go untouched for the long scoring reception.

It’s also worth noting that since his last Achilles tear, Hall has three interceptions and broke up 11 passes.

ESPN Bengals reporter Coley Harvey contributed to this report.

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Falcons' Deion Jones confident about being man in the middle

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Although Deion Jones wasn't originally expected to be an option at middle linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons, the second-round draft pick said he's comfortable with playing that role and competing against returning starter Paul Worrilow.

Jones was in the middle for brief periods of 11-on-11 drills during Friday's rookie minicamp. It was way too early to assess his comfort level, but his blazing speed was evident.

Playing the middle isn't just about being fast -- and he knows it.

"My confidence is coming bit by bit," Jones said. "It's about learning the scheme and adjusting to the speed. It got better as the practice went on."

Last year at LSU, Jones said he played middle linebacker half the time and on the weak side the other half.

"Playing the middle is having the confidence and knowing the calls," Jones said. "And it's getting people lined up and making sure everyone is on the same page."

Such might take a little time for a rookie, and Jones fully understands that reality. Certainly the Falcons want to accelerate his learning curve in order to use his speed to their advantage, particular in coverage situations.

Worrilow, the team's leading tackler the past three seasons, expected the team to bring in competition at his position. In fact, Worrilow immediately reached out to Jones via text message after he was drafted.

"I appreciated it," Jones said of Worrilow's warm welcome. "All these guys, like the coaches said, it's a big family atmosphere. It made me feel good that someone older reached out to me. I want to learn from him and get to know him, and learn from the rest of the guys. Like I said, it's a big family atmosphere here."


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Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer 

Quick observations from Day 2 of Falcons rookie minicamp: First-round pick Keanu Neal almost had a pick covering tight end. Wide receiver Devin Fuller didn't do much. Deion Jones and DeVondre Campbell look good working together at linebacker.


Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer 

Falcons sixth-round pick Wes Schweitzer (71), a guard out of San Jose State, going through position drills at rookie minicamp.

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Falcons coach Dan Quinn won't rule out re-signing O'Brien Schofield

Outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield started 10 games for the Falcons last season, finishing with 28 tackles, four tackles for losses and two sacks. Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports
7:06 AM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said the team won't rule out re-signing veteran free-agent outside linebacker O’Brien Schofield, unless Schofield signs elsewhere.

The Falcons made an offer to Schofield this offseason, but the sides couldn’t agree to contract terms. Schofield remains on the opener market, although he has several "good" offers on the table.

"As far as opened or closed, it’s never closed with Scho," Quinn said. "There’s never a time where we close it on a player that we’re connected with, if that makes sense. I’m not going to say we will sign him, but we’ll always have conversation because of our respect for him.

"Not only do I understand what he stands for as a ballplayer, I understand what he stands for as a man. That’s the big thing. So whether he’s here or not here, my connection with him is life-long. That’s why my feelings for him are so strong, and my respect for him is that way."

Schofield played under Quinn for two seasons in Seattle when Quinn was the defensive coordinator and the Seahawks won a Super Bowl. Schofield then signed a one-year, $1.7 million contract to reunite with Quinn in Atlanta.

Last season, Schofield started 10 of 16 games and finished with 28 tackles, four tackles for losses, two sacks, 13 quarterback hits, and one forced fumble. He was viewed as a pass-rusher at first, teaming with Vic Beasley Jr., Adrian Clayborn, and Jonathan Babineaux to comprise the Falcons' best pass-rush combination. As the season progressed, Schofield assumed the starting strongside linebacker role in the base defense ahead of Brooks Reed, who supplanted Schofield as a nickel pass-rusher.

Schofield, who emerged as a vocal team leader, firmly believes he can help enhance the Falcons’ weak pass rush, which finished last in the league with 19 total sacks last season. The Falcons brought in Derrick Shelby and moved Grady Jarrett to nose tackle to help bolster the interior rush, but they need help off the edges.

Quinn was asked if Schofield has the pass-rush ability to help enhance the defense.

"For sure he does," Quinn said. "He’s got speed. He’s got extreme toughness. So as we went through the process, he was certainly somebody that we went through. Now we’re going through some guys here, too.

"It’s not really anything to report on it at this point from our end. Whether it’s now or not, he and I are always connected. That’s a man I respect."

Schofield is working out in Hawaii with former Seahawks teammate Michael Bennett. A return to Seattle could be an option, and Schofield also generated interest from the Jaguars, Cowboys, and Giants, among others.

Schofield said there should be no concerns about an arthritic condition in his left knee. He's missed just one game in the past three seasons.

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Atlanta Falcons will pass on veteran cornerback Leon Hall

May 14, 2016
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

The Atlanta Falcons are not going to sign veteran cornerback Leon Hall at this time, a league source told ESPN.com.

Hall, 31, visited the Falcons' facility last week. Coach Dan Quinn said Hall was a player capable of helping the defense, but Quinn said the team wanted to fully review Hall's medical history before committing to signing him. Hall tore both of his Achilles in separate incidents during the 2011 and 2013 seasons. He also reportedly had a back procedure this offseason.

Obviously the Falcons felt it was best to go in another direction.

The Falcons weren't comfortable enough with Leon Hall's medical history to sign him. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Quinn said he'll always be mindful of cornerbacks and pass-rushers while trying to enhance the roster. The team, of course, has the utmost confidence in Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant and feels fellow starter Robert Alford will flourish as long as he cleans up his technique. The wild card is second-year player Jalen Collins, last year's second-round draft pick out of LSU who had a miserable rookie season.

Collins is suspended for the first four games of the 2016 without pay for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances -- an issue that will stunt his growth. If Collins begins to show signs of the potential the coaches saw in him, he could earn more time outside at corner with Alford moving in to cover the slot in the nickel. The Falcons like Collins' length when it comes to defending taller receivers such as Tampa Bay's Mike Evans and Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin in the NFC South. However, Collins has showed no ball skills at this point.

DeMarcus Van Dyke and Akeem King are the other key figures in the cornerback equation right now in terms of depth. Phillip Adams, who was with the team last season, remains a free agent but wants to return to the Falcons.

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Falcons' Deion Jones sees no red flags regarding repaired shoulder

10:03 PM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons rookie linebacker Deion Jones said there is no reason to be concerned about his surgically repaired left shoulder that drew red flags from at least two teams during the draft process.

The second-round draft pick from LSU, who hails from New Orleans and goes by the nickname of "Debo", was surprised about the attention his shoulder received, considering it was an injury dating back to high school.

"My shoulder is fine; it’s strong," Jones told ESPN.com. "I had surgery in high school."

Jones played in 51 games (13 starts) over four seasons at LSU. LSU coach Les Miles told reporters that Jones started to make "big-time plays" once he came to LSU and was able to rehab the shoulder.

So why was the shoulder such a pre-draft issue?

"I have no clue," Jones said.

Did it make Jones angry?

"No, not at all," he said. "I know what it was able to do. It never restricted me in any way. And I’m blessed someone took a chance on me. Like I said, it was something that happened in high school. I didn’t know it would affect me later on, but it’s all good."

Wayde Keiser, Jones’ coach at New Orleans Jesuit High School, said he even received a few calls from NFL teams inquiring about Jones' shoulder. The Falcons weren’t one of those teams, although they reportedly called the LSU trainer about it prior to drafting Jones.

"It was Week 10 of his senior season and two series before (the game-winning drive) on defense, his shoulder popped out," Keiser recalled. "They worked on him on the sideline and put him back in. He also, when we needed him every now and then, we'd put him in at receiver. ... So he catches the pass that sets up the winning touchdown -- with a hurt shoulder. He goes back in and plays. I mean, it's (separated). He was going to have to have it repaired after the season. So we hold him out one week, then he plays the next three weeks.

"What's crazy about it is that many of these NFL teams, they go all the way back to their high school days. It started happening about six or seven years ago when teams would call me about kids who I had coached that were possible draft choices. And I had to let them know that Debo's shoulder was not an issue. He got it cleaned up and went on the play at LSU. He never had a problem in the weight room at LSU. He was phenomenal in the weight room."

Jones had 18 bench press reps of 225 pounds during his Pro Day.

The Falcons expect the 6-foot-1-inch, 230-plus-pound Jones to make an immediate impact with his blazing speed. He’ll compete with Paul Worrilow at Mike linebacker, a position Jones believes he’s can adjust to instantly after being projected more as a Will linebacker.

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Bill Barnwell's offseason report cards: NFC South


I'm only listing the Falcons info!!!  This is his opinion!!

Bill BarnwellESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons

What Went Right

They secured a massive upgrade at center with Alex Mack. The Falcons have struggled for years to replace long-time center Todd McClure, who retired after the 2012 season. They drafted Peter Konz in the second round that year as McClure's replacement, but Konz never developed and is out of football. Last year, they turned the job over to 26-year-old journeyman Mike Person, who had played all of two NFL games before starting 14 times for the Falcons last year.

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They paid a pretty penny to bring Alex Mack in, but the Falcons have to feel great about finally procuring a useful center. Mack's five-year, $45 million deal pays him $26 million over the next three seasons, which is a premium for a pivot, but Atlanta has been begging for a viable center for years now. Mack also has experience in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme from their time in Cleveland, which should make for a smoother transition than most new contributors.

They re-upped Adrian Clayborn. The latest defensive lineman to get out of Tampa Bay and suddenly play at a much higher level, Clayborn impressed as an interior pass rusher for Dan Quinn, leading the Falcons with 15 quarterback knockdowns. The Falcons re-signed him on a very reasonable two-year, $8.5 million deal with $5 million more available in incentives. That's a contract that should benefit both sides. Clayborn has missed the better part of two full seasons with injuries during his five-year career, which could come back to bite the perennially thin Falcons, but this was a risk worth taking because ...

What Went Wrong

They didn't do enough to address the pass-rush problem. It's hard to gauge whether this was the best they could have done, given their limited financial resources, but the Falcons aren't much better off with their pass-rush options than they were a year ago, when they produced a league-low 19 sacks. Atlanta pressured quarterbacks on just 23.0 percent of opposing dropbacks, which was also the worst in the league. First-round pick Vic Beasley Jr. flashed at times during his rookie season while playing through a torn labrum, but he went missing for games at a time and finished with just four sacks and five quarterback knockdowns. Those four sacks also led the team. That is dire.

The Falcons didn't add much to that group. They re-signed Clayborn and will naturally hope that Beasley plays better as a sophomore, but the only addition they made to the pass rush was Dolphins reserve end Derrick Shelby, whose best season as a pass-rusher saw him produce 3.5 sacks and eight hits on a line with Ndamukong Suh and Olivier Vernon last year. Shelby's four-year, $18 million deal isn't going to break the bank, and there's no money in 2017 or beyond guaranteed right now, but this feels like a broken piece of Atlanta's roster that still hasn't been fixed.


They overpaid for Mohamed Sanu. This is why I can't say the Falcons completely lacked the financial resources to invest in a pass rusher. It made sense for Atlanta to move on from Roddy White, who wasn't an NFL-caliber receiver at this point of his career, but it's hard to see Sanu making the sort of impact his contract suggests. Sanu's five-year, $32.5 million deal includes $14 million guaranteed and $20 million over its first three years. Torrey Smith got $19.75 million over his first three years on his five-year deal last offseason and had been a far more productive receiver by virtually any metric before hitting free agency.

Even during his two years as a starter before giving way to Marvin Jones last year, Sanu averaged 38.9 receiving yards per game. That's roughly what Robert Woods and Malcom Floyd did last year. Atlanta had some success plucking a receiver off of the scrap heap last year in Leonard Hankerson; the difference between Sanu and somebody like Hankerson, who's now on the Bills, in combination with Justin Hardy and another draft pick just isn't enough to justify Atlanta's outlay. That goes double, given how intensely Kyle Shanahan's offense focuses on its top receiver, which isn't going to change with Julio Jonesaround.

What's Next?

Re-signing Desmond Trufant. One of the hidden superstars of the NFL, Atlanta's star cornerback is in line for a massive contract extension, with Trufant's representation probably hoping to compare the star corner to Arizona's Patrick Peterson. Trufant doesn't post huge interception totals, with six during his three-year career, but he shuts down his side of the field as well as anybody east of Seattle. He's not Richard Sherman, but for Dan Quinn, Trufant is the closest corner he'll find.

Grade: C+

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Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer 

Falcons pass rusher Vic Beasley said the torn right labrum he dealt with last season, a college injury, was blown out of proportion. Beasley said he feels fully healthy now.


Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer 

Falcons FB Patrick DiMarco on the addition of three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, "Dude's a genius."

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Falcons' Vic Beasley improving pass-rush technique by studying Von Miller

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Although Vic Beasley Jr. is adjusting to playing strongside linebacker rather than just rushing as a defensive end, the Atlanta Falcons second-year player is confident about elevating his pass rush during the 2016 season.

Beasley set a franchise rookie record with four sacks last season, but he still didn't play up to his high standards. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he wanted Beasley to work on his counter moves rather than just relying on speed. And Beasley has taken Quinn's advice to heart this offseason while working closely with defensive coordinator Richard Smith, linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich, and defensive line coach Bryan Cox.

"Definitely counter moves, and I've been working with a number of coaches this year so far: Coach Smith, Coach Ulbrich, because I'm playing Sam now, and Coach Cox, and they've been helping me a whole lot," Beasley said. "Just having all their different opinions and different strategies has helped me a lot so far."

It's interesting that Beasley would single out Smith, formerly the linebackers coach in Denver. Smith helped tutor Super Bowl MVP Von Miller. Beasley actually has been studying Miller while working on his counter moves.

"Like, I watch Von Miller all the time," Beasley said. "We share a lot of similarities. I don't necessarily try to be exactly like him, because I am my own person. But we do share a lot of similarities, and I try to mirror some of myself after him."

Another year in Quinn's system should help Beasley's cause, regardless of the position switch. Sure, Beasley might have more responsibilities now when it comes to dropping into coverage, but his primary responsibility, no doubt, will be rushing the passer. The Falcons had a league-low 19 sacks last season, and didn't exactly secure a pass-rush specialist this offseason. But they will count on Beasley to show the dynamic ability that made him the eighth-overall pick in the 2015 draft.

He'll likely team with Adrian Clayborn, Grady Jarrett, Derrick Shelby, and sometimes Brooks Reed in the nickel pass-rush group. Beasley even singled out undrafted Ivan McLennan as a guy who might enhance the pass rush.

"We have great guys in place, and the guys that we brought in definitely are going to add to that," Beasley said. "Just relentless pursuit. You have to want to get after the quarterback. And I think we just have to have a relentless pursuit to get after the quarterback."

Although Beasley revealed he played last season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, he refused to use that as an excuse for an average season. Beasley maintains he won't need surgery on the shoulder.

"Honestly, I think that's kind of just blown out of proportion," Beasley said. "Last year, it didn't really hinder me. I played with the labrum in college, but it didn't hinder me any. I was able to become All-American in college. But now, I'm off to a great start, and I feel 100 percent with my labrum."

When he first came in as a rookie, Beasley boldly stated his goal of reaching double-digit sacks. He stopped short of declaring such a goal heading into this season, but he knows expectations are high for him, regardless where he lines up on the field.

"I probably shouldn't put a number on that," Beasley said. "Just try to adapt to the guys around me. The guys around me are going to push me. Obviously that's a goal of mine (double-digit sacks), and I'm just going to keep working hard to get there."


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NFL's most hated player? Falcons' Jacob Tamme goes all in to win Twitter poll


4:49 PM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The scrapbooks Jacob Tamme's wife have put together for him throughout the years will soon have a new item: a SiriusXMNFL radio list citing him as the NFL player fans loves to hate the most.

The mild-mannered Tamme got a chuckle after beating out Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Richard Sherman with 40 percent of the vote. Tamme really engaged the fans to win enough votes. The final results were published here:

The Players you love to hate list was published - @alexmarvezand @TomPelissero want to know 'who you love to hate'

27%Tom Brady
19%Cam Newton
14%Richard Sherman
40%Jacob Tamme
2,617 votesFinal results
     2929 likes"I just happened to cross it and saw my name on it and said, 'This is interesting,'" Tamme said. "And I said to myself, 'I might as well win this thing.'"

Tamme found out a fan called in and wasn't happy that he caught some of Dallas Clark's touchdowns when the two played together in Indianapolis and Clark got hurt.

"At that point, we just had fun with it," Tamme said about discovering the list by chance. "Since I was on it, I thought it would be neat to beat somebody. I kind of singled out Sherman because he was the cl

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Could Dwight Freeney put new spin on stale Falcons' pass rush?

4:46 PM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

The Atlanta Falcons are set to bring in veteran pass-rusher Dwight Freeney for a visit next week, as first reported by ESPN's Jim Trotter.

Freeney, 36, was in Cincinnati for a workout first reported by ESPN.com's Coley Harvey. But as Harvey mentioned, it looks like Freeney will head out of town without a contract.

Freeney, with 119.5 career sacks, had his best days with the Indianapolis Colts. Last year with the Arizona Cardinals, he had eight sacks. But Freeney also played on a pretty stout defense in Arizona.

Will the Falcons' sign him? Well, coach Dan Quinn said he's always looking for pass-rush help. The Falcons had a league-low 19 sacks last season. And although they're counting on a big jump from Vic Beasley in his second season, the Falcons still could use more help after not really finding an edge rusher in free agency or the draft.

Beasley led the Falcons with four sacks last season, so getting four out of Freeney would help regardless of his age.

Here's what one NFL personnel guy said about Freeney:

"He's a guy who really has one move; the spin move. He's old, so he's going to win on effort. He'll get three or four sacks on hustle. He's not going to be groundbreaking or earth shattering. He's just a veteran guy. And, he's old, man. But he might help."

The Falcons have brought in two veteran cornerbacks in Leon Hall and Brandon Boykin but didn't sign either immediately.

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Falcons not signing Dwight Freeney at this time


  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said the team won't sign veteran pass-rusher Dwight Freeney at this time, but haven't ruled him out for future consideration.

Freeney came to Atlanta on Wednesday to visit with the coaching staff. Quinn made it clear that there was no need for the 36-year-old Freeney to go through a workout because Quinn was well aware of Freeney's body of work, with 119.5 career sacks.

"We had a great visit with Dwight in here today," Quinn said. "It was a chance for him to get to know us, and us to know him. So it was more, not a meet-and-greet, but we could explain what our program is all about and where we're headed. So it was awesome to have him here with us. But nothing past that at this point."

Freeney played for Arizona last season and finished with nine sacks in 11 games. It's unclear how much money Freeney is looking for, but he would have made $970,000 last season had he went through a full season with the Cardinals.

Freeney, who also visited Cincinnati without signing, had no other visits immediately planned after Atlanta.

The Falcons, currently with just over $4 million in cap space, according to NFLPA records, get another $4.75 million in cap relief tomorrow after designating released nose tackle Paul Soliai a June 1 cut. In other words, money probably wasn't the primary factor behind the Falcons not signing Freeney immediately, unless his asking price was ridiculous.

The Falcons, who had a league-low 19 sacks last season, are counting on Vic Beasley to take a significant step as both a nickel rusher and blitzer from the strongside linebacker spot. Quinn also has faith in a slimmed down Brooks Reed, who was slowed coming off preseason groin surgery last season but showed little signs of life after getting healthy. The Falcons hope to get a push up the middle from Grady Jarrett, newcomer Derrick Shelby and veteranJonathan Babineaux, while Adrian Clayborn is the other edge rusher expected to make an impact.

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Devin Hester, 33, isn't fully recovered from offseason toe surgery and is due to earn $3 million. Vaughn McClure notes that Hester understands that could all mean the end of his stay with the Falcons. Vets on roster bubble


Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer 

Falcons DC Richard Smith said the transition to him coaching the Leos, Sams, and edge-rushers in individual drills rather than head coach Dan Quinn doing it has allowed Quinn to have more freedom to roam and coach everybody. Smith is partnering with DL coach Bryan Cox.


Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer 

Falcons linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich took the blame for his unit missing too many tackles last season. "A big part of that was me. We made such an emphasis on 'long stride, short stride, shuffle' like making it so mechanical. I'm doing a better job of teaching it now."

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16 hours ago, blkbigdog35 said:

Our sixth rounder obtained in a tradeback for Jones is our most underrated move IMHO

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Falcons Bryan Cox lashes out about unfair outside pressure put on Vic Beasley

11:46 PM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Bryan Cox is tired of hearing the criticism.

The Atlanta Falcons defensive line coach knows all about the chatter still lingering from last season regarding the first-year showing of Vic Beasley Jr., the eighth-overall pick in last year's NFL draft. Beasley had four sacks as a rookie, which fell well below his personal goals and the high expectations others put on him.

Defensive line coach Bryan Cox said it's unfair to say that Vic Beasley Jr. was a bust last season because "it's also everybody else within the group pulling their weight so it's not just a one-man band. It's not one man." AP Photo/David Goldman

"When you're talking about last season, everybody -- the so-called prognosticators and the professionals -- are harping about what Vic didn't do last season, but I take the opposite approach," Cox said. "You look at all the times he hit the quarterback and pressured the quarterback. If we can maybe just do a little better job of turning some of those into sacks, people would be quite pleased with him.

"At the end of the day, at least from my standpoint the way I look at it, I think the guy is going to be OK. He's worked this [offseason]. You see his speed better. You see his work ethic picking up, not that he wasn't a good worker last year. But you see him having a little better understanding in Year 2 making the little jump. There's still some technical stuff that we're going to work on and get better. But I think, at the end of the day, it's also everybody else within the group pulling their weight so it's not just a one-man band. It's not one man."

Beasley has to be the best guy in the group, since the Falcons didn't totally address the pass rush through free agency or the draft. Coach Dan Quinn said the team won't sign veteran Dwight Freeney at this time but could revisit Freeney down the road. There is talk about Brooks Reed helping the pass rush, but that has to be evident on Sundays to be believed. And the coaches insist Beasley's ability to pass-rush won't be thrown off by his move to strong side linebacker.

"I think he's on schedule; I think he's going to do a good job," Cox said of Beasley. "I'm going to let everybody else put all that pressure and talk about all what he should be and 'he's a bust' and this and that because nobody knows. Tell me who looked at the tape? Tell me who can tell what we're teaching?

"I think that's unfair to put on him. And I think it's unfair to say, 'Well, you were the eighth pick in the draft.' It's never one man. How many rookies have ever been drafted that you say, 'This guy's going to come and be elite, and he's going to take us where we need to go.' I don't know one man that's ever done that. So, I think it's unfair. And the pressure being put him is not coming from this side. I think he has a chance to be a really good player, and we're going to keep working towards that."

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Atlanta Falcons: How will Keanu Neal fit in the defense?


by Ford Nicholson13 hours agoFollow @pwnmaster123

ATL All Day  


In the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons selected Keanu Neal, a defensive back from Florida. Neal can play all over the field for the Atlanta Falcons and he can do many different things to disrupt the offense.

Keanu Neal played mainly safety at Florida, where Falcons coach Dan Quinn recruited Neal to. Before Quinn became the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, he was the defensive coordinator at Florida from 2011 through 2012. Neal played in all 12 games as a freshman in 2013. At Florida he improved each year, and with Quinn in Atlanta, he should do the same.

With the selection of Keanu Neal in the draft, the Atlanta Falcons addressed their need of a safety after William Moore left for free agency after last season. The Falcons were searching for a safety who could run and cover and come into the box as an extra linebacker and help stop the run. Neal will be used in many different ways and he will improve the Falcons defense overall.

The Hard-Hitter Mentality

With Neal being a little over six feet and around 210 pounds, he has the mentality of a bowling ball coming at a ball carrier in full force. Kam Chancellor was know for being the hard hitting safety on the Seahawks defense when Dan Quinn was there. Neal was known for being a hard hitter at Florida and being able to separate the ball carrier from the ball.

In the Atlanta Falcons defense, Neal will be asked to roam the back end of the field and at times come into the box and stop the run. In the NFL, defensive players are asked to do more than one thing and be a versatile defender. Neal can bring that hard hitting mentality that has been missing from the Falcons defense.


Neal presents Dan Quinn a player that can defend against the run and the pass. As a junior, Neal recorded 94 tackles and although he only recorded one interception, he was up at the line of scrimmage most of the time. Neal also has the ability to cover both tight ends and receivers. He had one of the best 40 yard dash times at the NFL Combine among defensive backs.

His speed is what sets him apart from other defensive backs and gives him the ability to play sideline to sideline and cover a lot of ground in a little amount of time. The Falcons defense will be better with him on the field and it will free up other players to excel at their specific assignments.

Verdict- Immediate Impact

Neal will be able to make an immediate impact on the Atlanta Falcons defense this year and he will be able to be coached up by Dan Quinn and Richard Smith. Both of them will be able to help Neal become one of the better safeties in the NFL.

Neal will need to work on learning the defensive scheme and work on playing with the rest of the people around him. If he can do that, the Atlanta Falcons will have found a great player who will be a great fit to the defense.

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Atlanta Falcons: Do they have a top five cornerback duo?


by Nicholas Moody2 days ago

Blogging Dirty  


The Atlanta Falcons need some boost from their secondary if they want their defense to be one of the leagues’ best in 2016.

In today’s league, the passing game has become the preferred means of offense for most NFL teams. This rule applies especially to the NFC South, where the  Falcons play. With most teams constantly adding depth to their receiving corps, the cornerback position has grown in importance, and shutdown corners are becoming just as valuable as top-tier wide receivers.

The Falcons have young depth in their secondary, and have made strides the last few seasons to get better. However, the Falcons are going to need a big boost considering the division they play in.  The Panthers are coming off a super bowl run and will have Kelvin Benjamin returning from injury to go along with Cam Newton at the helm. The Buccaneers have a stud in Jameis Winston with two receivers that both stand at over 6-foot-5 in Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. And the Saints have Drew Brees… enough said.

This is a division that relies mostly on the passing attack, and with that kind of talent being played six times a year, Atlanta will need their cornerback duo of Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford to be a top 5 performing duo.

Let’s get something out of the way right now; there is little chance of the Falcons cornerback duo being able to crack the top three. With the Jets and Broncos taking the top two spots, it’s very difficult to crack such tough competition. However, there is plenty of room to fit them into the top 5.  

Desmond Trufant will be 25 years old when the season begins in September, and the corner has already made great strides his first three seasons. Trufant has become one of the better corners in the league, not only for his ability to lock down receivers, but also for his smart decision-making.

Alford, who was selected one round after Trufant, is 27, but is still learning the game and getting better at a slower pace, but is still one of the better investments the Falcons have made.

These two make for a wonderfully athletic duo, but the Falcons also have an ace in the hole. Jalen Collins is expected to be their second outside corner in 2016. 

I understand the off-field issues and rookie struggles, but the kid has serious athletic ability and size, and will hopefully show much improvement from last season after his four-game suspension is served.

Trufant and Alford are a great duo, who honestly are already easily a top 10 duo in the league. With Quinn coming into his second year as head coach, it will give these two a greater chance to improve on what already was a great season for both of them. It won’t be an easy season. The Falcons face multiple teams that will pose a threat through the air. This could ultimately kill the dream of the Falcons having a top five corner duo from a statistical standpoint, but one must also consider the help head coach Quinn has brought to the linebacker position.

If a few draft picks and free agent pick-ups work out, it could be a big benefit for Trufant and Alford.

One can argue either way on where the Falcons corners fall in the grand scheme of things. What sets the Falcons apart, though, is when  Collins returns for the outside role after his suspension. Sure, he might not able to stay out of trouble, and maybe he could turn out to be a bust, but his athletic ability and size under Quinn will turn results if he can get on the field and stay there.

 With Trufant, Alford, and Collins all playing their best, I’m not sure you could find a better cornerback trio in the entire league. This is huge for the Falcons, with their pass-heavy division.

Ultimately, Falcons fans shouldn’t worry about their corners. Trufant and Alford are two of the best prospects a fan could ask for, and there are way more red flags that this team has to worry about. The Falcons might not have a top 5 cornerback duo just yet, but the question isn’t a matter of if, but when. If not this year, there isn’t a doubt in my mind they will next season. As long as they remain with the team of course.

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