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Falcons Offseason News

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Holdout still not an option for Falcons' Devonta Freeman

2:38 PM ET
  • mcclure_vaughn_m.jpg&w=160&h=160&scale=c
    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman reiterated that he has no plans to hold out for a new contract and said business will take care of itself as he approaches the start of the 2017 season.

"It ain’t hard at all, because I’m good," Freeman said Tuesday about maintaining his focus amid his contract situation. "I play football because I love it. … I spoke to other guys about being in similar situations that I’m in right now. The main thing I can do right now is focus on my business, and my business is being the best Devonta Freeman I can be. And business will get taken care of outside of what I do and what I bring. I can just focus on me. When it happens, it happens. It’s going to be a surprise. I’m just patient."

Freeman is in the final year of his rookie deal and scheduled to make $1,797,000 in 2017 based on an escalator in the deal. The two-time Pro Bowler’s agent, Kristin Campbell, has had talks with the Falcons regarding a new contract and said during the Super Bowl that she wants Freeman to be paid like an "elite" back. Fifteen running backs are scheduled to make $4 million or more in 2017, led by Pittsburgh’s Le'Veon Bell with the franchise-tag figure of $12,083,000.

 

Devonta Freeman is focused on being the best player he can be, not his contract. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Freeman is well aware of other players who have gone through contentious contract negotiations.

"I just always wanted to be that guy that never wanted to hold out and leave my guys out there working," Freeman said. "I understand it’s a business, 100 percent. But I know what I signed up for at the same time. It’s that business, you’ve just got to be patient and take care of yourself.

"(I) feel like you can’t walk around and act sad and have an attitude. That ain’t good for the team, especially when a lot of guys are looking up to you. You have to come in and be a pro on and off the field about it."

One of the players Freeman spoke with was All-Pro teammate Julio Jones, who signed a five-year, $71.25 million extension back on Aug. 31, 2015.

What advice did Jones offer to Freeman?

"A lot of stuff," Freeman said. "Personal."

Freeman expanded a little bit on their conversation.

"One great (piece of) advice that he did tell me was just make sure whatever I do, just to come in and work and compete and try to get better," Freeman said. "That’s what I call my business, my little own, personal organization; make sure I’m healthy, make sure I’m getting the proper rest, eating right and I’m paying attention to my weight. … If I can take care of that, everything else is going to take care of itself."

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said he’s had productive talks with Freeman’s agent. Dimitroff also implied a new deal with Freeman could get done by training camp, based on his history with the timing of such negotiations with a player going into the final year of his contract.

Owner Arthur Blank also expressed a desire to see Freeman locked up for the long term.

"We love Devonta," Blank told ESPN during Super Bowl week. "We plan on him being a Falcon for a long period of time."

Freeman said he put on about five pounds of muscle already this offseason in preparation for the season. He also plans to run with a more "disrespectful" style toward opponents in order to run through tackles.

Freeman again downplayed any friction between himself and backup Tevin Coleman, insisting they are brothers. Freeman was asked about the organization having to decide which running back to invest in for the future. Coleman’s rookie deal runs through 2018.

"That’s way too far down the line for me," Freeman said of the Falcons choosing one back over the other. "I’m aware of everything that goes on, of course, but that’s not my business. I stay in my lane and get better."

Freeman said holding out isn’t even in his vocabulary.

"I’m going to play," Freeman said. "Like I said, business is going to get handled regardless of what, so I just come to work. I’m going to play regardless.

"I love football. I love to compete. It doesn’t matter about what I did last year, how many Pro Bowls I got, a thousand yards. I want to do it again and even get better, hopefully one day be a Hall of Famer. I want to leave a legacy. And holding out, that’s not going to leave a legacy, because if I hold out, I’m behind. I don’t want to be behind. I want to gain."

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Devonta Freeman plans to run with more disrespect for opposing tacklers

3:35 PM ET
  • mcclure_vaughn_m.jpg&w=160&h=160&scale=c
    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman always runs with a purpose. But the Atlanta Falcons running back wants opponents to feel him even more in 2017.

In talking about things he plans to do to enhance his game, Freeman gave opposing defenders a warning.

"Just little things like breaking arm tackles, running through," Freeman said. "I feel like that's what I can get better at helping the offensive linemen out because those guys, they bust their butts. They don't get to rotate. The only time they get a break is if we score a touchdown, then when the defense goes on the field. But if we have an 18-play drive, they're on the field all game. So helping those guys out by giving them a blow by breaking a big tackle.

"Last year, I left some runs out there. Also in the open field, continue to make guys miss, punishing guys. I just want to be real disrespectful this year when it comes to football."

Freeman finished ninth in the league in rushing last season with 1,079 yards on 227 carries with 11 rushing touchdowns. He had 350 yards after contact, which was 18th among runners with 160-plus carries. Miami's Jay Ajayi led the league with 656 rushing yards after contact, followed by Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott with 632.

In 2015, Freeman had 404 of his 1,056 rushing yards after contact. But the Falcons had a much better run last season in making it all the way to the Super Bowl.

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Kyle Shanahan reveals the one play he regrets most from the Falcons’ Super Bowl loss

 

Cameron DaSilva @camdasilva

FOX Sports  


 

It’s been nearly four months since the Atlanta Falcons blew the biggest lead in Super Bowl history, but fans probably won’t stop talking about the epic collapse for years. It was completely baffling and hard to believe, knowing just how dominant the Falcons had been for nearly three quarters of the game.

Coach Dan Quinn and quarterback Matt Ryan have spoken at length about the loss – Quinn said he’s “not over” it, while Ryan is trying to get past it by watching the game repeatedly – but former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has somewhat dodged the topic since joining the 49ers. However, on Friday, he was asked about any regrets he has nearly four months later.

Shanahan revealed the one play he’d like to take back.

“Yeah, there’s no doubt. The second-and-10 that we got sacked on,” Shanahan said on the Rich Eisen Show. “I wish I had dialed up something differently. And then the next play, we called an option to [Mohamed] Sanu, we got right back in field goal range, but we had a holding call on the play and it knocked us out some more, and an incompletion on the next one.”


The former Falcons offensive coordinator admits that the second-and-10 call in the fourth quarter wasn’t his only regret, but it is the play he keeps coming back to.

“It’s not just that. I go through every single play in the game, but when it comes down to it, the big one was the sack that we had on second-and-10.”

Up by eight points with under 5 minutes remaining and the ball inside the Patriots’ 30-yard line, all the Falcons needed to do was run the ball, use some clock and kick a field goal. It would have made it a two-possession game with very little time left, a task too tall for even Tom Brady.

Instead, Shanahan called a pass play on second down rather than milking the clock – a decision he’ll probably always regret. He said he thinks about the game “a lot” and there aren’t many days that go by where he doesn’t think about it, particularly this specific play call.

Shanahan gets to hit the reset button, so to speak, in San Francisco now as the team’s head coach, but that Super Bowl loss is something he’ll always carry with him.

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538 Sports: NFL teams don't value running backs anymore, and what it means for Devonta Freeman

 

by Matthew Chambers@FalcoholicMatt May 17, 2017, 10:00am EDT

The Falcoholic  


 

The Atlanta Falcons have reportedly been trying to sign their young running back Devonta Freeman, but there seems to have been little movement since he began clamoring for a new deal. Freeman has been a great player, but can the team meet his contract demands and keep other core players?

Benjamin Morris of 538 Sports looked at modern offenses and running back contracts, and determined that backs are finally getting paid what they are worth. It’s no surprise, but he says, “In the modern NFL, teams appear reluctant to commit resources to ball carriers like they used to.”

They even include this cool graphic that helps sum up how teams value backs compared to other positions.

 

The biggest change since the glory days of Jamal Anderson is guys like Jamal Anderson aren’t getting paid. What’s changed? Per this article, running the ball “sucks.” While all teams not run by Mike Mularkey have cut back on running the ball, they have seen the average yards per play skyrocket.

Obviously, running the ball is important if you want to kill the clock, set up play action, take the pressure off of your quarterback, or just generally win the Super Bowl when your defense is gassed. Statistically, the best use of an offensive play is to throw the ball.


Of course, running the football has ancillary benefits, such as burning time off the clock, avoiding turnovers, gaining positive yards more consistently, picking up shorter yardage a higher percentage of the time, keeping the defenses honest, and so on. (There may even be situations in which teams pass too often, such as with 2-point attempts.) That sounds like a lot of good uses for the run! But note that, when it comes to these things, the quality of your running back — at least by conventional measures like how many yards they gain — is of secondary importance.

This is because even a great rushing attack is still worse at picking up yards than even a mediocre passing attack. The all-pro running back may gain a lot of yards as his team funnels its offense through him, but many (or even most) of those yards are picked up in spots — like when a team is slightly up or down in the third quarter — where passing would have been better (or at the very least, where teams should be passing more often). Indeed, much like with having a good punter, there’s a danger that a great running back could hurt his team, if he entices them to run too often.

Morris argues that the more valuable back is involved in the passing game, noting the elite talent of Le’Veon Bell. Freeman is absolutely talented, and one of these versatile backs, but he’s clearly in a tier below Bell. And if we are looking heavily at the passing game, Freeman isn’t quite as explosive as Tevin Coleman.

What eventually happens with Freeman is still unknown. The Falcons are desperately short on cap space, and would likely need to make multiple moves to fit an extension for Freeman. He should come in well above Lamar Miller’s four-year, $26 million deal. That will be tough for the team to pay, and based on the trends, few teams will be willing to pay that either.

 

© 2017 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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Falcons confident Devonta Freeman deal will get done

 

Jeremy Bergman NFL.com

NFL.com  


 

For the last five months plus, Devonta Freeman and his party have made it well known that he deserves to be paid like the best backs in the league.

Ahead of the Super Bowl, NFL Network's Michael Silver reported that Freeman's agent claimed the back deserved "elite pay," a comment that, due to its timing and confidence, seemed to anticipate a contract struggle coming this offseason before the terms expire in 2018.

Fast forward past the Super Bowl collapse, one badly missed block and an offseason of little change in Atlanta, and Freeman still holds himself in that same regard. The tailback said this week that, while he won't hold out, "I want to be the best. I want to be elite paid. Whatever that is, that's where I want to be -- straight up."

With momentum building toward an impasse, in the same vein of DeAndre Hopkins with the Texans last season, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff took to the airwaves to set the record straight regarding Freeman's contract situation.

"Like I've said before, we want him here and he's a very important part of our organization. Contrary to what people were saying around the Super Bowl time with what came out, we're ready in the relatively near future to have some discussions with their representation," Dimitroff told Adam Schein on Schein on Sports. "Devonta, he's a really good guy, he's really -- as far as his personality -- he's so hyper competitive. ... He's an urgent, angry runner, which we want and we know is important for us. We want him to be around for years to come and we're confident that we'll be able to get it done."

As far as when Atlanta intends to pursue an extension or negotiation of some sort with Freeman's representative, Dimitroff said to check back when camp rolls around.

"We've talked about approaching these types of contracts and situations usually going into camp is when we start talking about them and really start having some discussions about it," the Falcons GM added. "That's not a hard line for us, but in my mind, I like to make sure that we have those kind of things worked on. You know, look, he's in a really good space here, he loves being here and he loves playing for Dan Quinn."

The dynamic pairing of Freeman and Tevin Coleman (under contract through 2018) is arguably the most cost-effective backfield in the NFL. With both backs still on their rookie deals, the Falcons paid the duo less than $2 million combined, per Spotrac, in exchange for historic production in '16 -- 2,482 yards from scrimmage, 24 touchdowns, 6.16 yards/touch -- en route to their first Super Bowl in nearly two decades.

Going forward, Freeman looks to be the workhorse back, garnering more carries, more targets and consequently more cash. But with Coleman in tow for at least two more years, will Atlanta be willing to reward Freeman with the elite contract he desires this offseason? Le'Veon Bell, a one-man wrecking crew in Pittsburgh, is earning $12.1 million on the tag; LeSean McCoy does it all in Buffalo and garners $8 million per year.

Does Freeman, a back-to-back 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown back who surrenders one of every three carries to another capable option, warrant that investment?

You heard Dimitroff: Check back in late July.

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Arthur Blank on NFL touchdown celebration, overtime rule changes

 

JuliaKate E. Culpepper The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ajc | 8:53 a.m. Thursday, May 25, 2017Sports


 


Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank appeared on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday to discuss the new NFL rule changes.

 

On Tuesday, the NFL announced touchdown celebration rules would be relaxed in 2017, allowing players to use the football as a prop, celebrate on the ground and take part in group celebrations.

 

"Allowing (the players) to celebrate in appropriate ways after something great happens, a touchdown, field goal, winning a game, whatever the event may be is natural... Frankly, our players are going to be, in my opinion, very creative because they are creative. You know, they love to dance, they love music and they know how to do it, so I certainly expect to see a lot more of that and I'm looking forward to that next year personally,” Blank said.

 

 


The NFL also announced on Tuesday overtime would be reduced from 15 minutes to 10 minutes.

 

Blank said all parties— the NFL and team owners— agreed they don’t want the NFL to encourage ties.

 

“The reason it's gone from 15 to 10 minutes is not so much in games one, two, three or four, but when you get to... games 10, 12, 14, 15 et cetera, you know, players are tired, teams are tired. I mean they get out there and they play again great. They commit themselves and they get into the flow of the game, but those extra five minutes at the wrong time of the year can create more of an atmosphere or environment for injuries. So that was the effort behind it. It'll be tested, we'll see how it works and we'll go from there,” Blank said.

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Pro Football Focus: Atlanta Falcons WR Mohamed Sanu is one of NFL’s most sure-handed receivers

 

by James Rael@falcoholicjames May 29, 2017, 11:11pm EDT

The Falcoholic  


 

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan earned his MVP award in 2016. He played his butt off, fearlessly carrying the Falcons into the playoffs and all the way to the Super Bowl. He’s truly incredible. And without knocking Ryan’s raw ability or outstanding leadership, it’s fair to highlight his excellent supporting cast.

The Falcons have plenty of stars that dominate the headlines. But then there are unsung heroes like Mohamed Sanu. Pro Football Focus just did a piece about drop rate since 2015. They ranked the top five lowest drop rates, but they also gave a couple players “honorable mention.” Sanu earned the latter designation.


While Sanu wasn’t targeted nearly as much over the past two years as others on this list, his hands have been just as consistent. Sanu has dropped only three passes combined these past two years, on 95 catchable targets, just below the 100 target threshold. That’s a drop rate of 3.2 percent, but factoring in his 11 playoff targets that number would fall to just 2.8 percent, as good as any receiver in the game.

Sanu has played his role perfectly since joining the Falcons last offseason. He and Julio Jones are widely regarded as the NFL’s best WR tandem. He’s also a good guy, earning praise from random strangers and hosting a football camp for kids.

 

© 2017 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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Which players on each team have the most to prove in 2017?

http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/page/32for32x170530/players-most-prove-all-32-nfl-teams-2017-offseason#NFC  S

NFC SOUTH

atl.png?w=110&h=110&transparent=true

Atlanta Falcons

S Ricardo Allen

Allen is a true leader on the defense and played his role much better than folks gave him credit for last season. At the same time, the Falcons are adding competition to the mix with nickelback Brian Poole also getting a look at free safety and ballhawking rookie Damontae Kazee considered a steal as a fifth-round draft pick. Allen knows that he needs to be more of a playmaker, but his knowledge of the defense shouldn't be discounted. He will be a free agent in 2018. -- Vaughn McClure

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Initial Falcons' weigh-in calls for Dontari Poe to be 340 pounds

 

Vaughn McClure

ESPN.com | 7:07 PM ET


 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Dontari Poe should have no problem making weight, judging by the way he looked walking out to his truck Tuesday afternoon.

The new Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle, who stands 6 feet, 3 inches, looked like a man under 300 pounds, at least in street clothes. The Atlanta media will get a better feel for how Poe looks in shorts when the Falcons conduct their first open practice of OTAs Thursday.

As some may recall, Poe, who signed a one-year, $8 million contract, has a $500,000 workout bonus tied to four separate weigh-ins. New details discovered in Poe's contract explained exactly what weights he has to reach.

The first $125,000 weigh-in, which will occur during the first day of mandatory minicamp June 13, requires Poe to weigh 340 pounds or less. Poe said he was 340 upon signing with the Falcons.

The second $125,000 weigh-in, which occurs on the first day of training camp in late July, requires Poe to weigh 330 pounds or less. He has to hit the same 330-or-less figure during $125,000 weigh-ins on Sept. 4 and Nov. 6.

Poe was listed at 346 pounds last season with the Kansas City Chiefs. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he discussed the weight with Poe before he signed. Not to mention the Falcons hired a new nutritionist to help all the players be in the best shape possible.

The Falcons plan to use Poe both at the three-technique and nose tackle positions. And the attacking style Quinn desires means the linemen have to be a little lighter and quicker on their feet.

``He's got a plan on how to get lighter because we're going to play him at a little different style,'' Quinn said of Poe in April. ``So he's already on that path. I'm not going to encourage more than what's already on the path right now.''

New Falcons defensive line coach Bryant Young echoed Quinn's words.

``He'll be in there first, second and third downs; run plays, passing opportunities as well,'' Young said. ``We want him to be as efficient as possible. The way we play the game, I think, allows for you to be in the best possible shape you can, and you want to be in the best possible shape you can. Weight-wise, we want to make sure when we look at each guy, they're where they need to be. He's a guy that has an opportunity to do that.''

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Upshaw In Line For More Playing Time With Falcons In 2017

 

By Knox Bardeen

cbslocal.com | May 31, 2017 1:47 PM


 

In his first season with the Atlanta Falcons, Courtney Upshaw started five games, played in 13 and amassed 14 tackles with a 1/2 sack. That output was down considerably his first four seasons in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens.

There are a few reasons why.

Upshaw spoke with Jake Weaver of Touchdown Alabama, who pulled some information out of the former Alabama star about his position change with the Falcons.

“They actually flipped me to defensive tackle. I came in, and my weight was a little defensive tackle-ish,” Upshaw told Weaver. “I played defensive tackle, (defensive) end, and a little linebacker toward the end as guys got hurt.”

Not only did Upshaw come in a little heavy, his shift inside brought with it sort of a learning curve. Then when injuries occurred, Upshaw moved to places to fill in. There seemed little continuity to Upshaw’s season with the Falcons.

But with a season on the interior of the defensive line under his belt, Upshaw should grow more into his role in 2017. He’s also in line for more playing time, which led to him re-signing with the Falcons.

“I’ll be playing D-Tackle and D-End this season as well,” said Upshaw. “They were talking about more playing time at both positions, so that’s why I decided to sign back again this year.”

Atlanta’s defensive line is stacked with more depth now than it’s had in recent memory. There should be two legit edge rushers on the outside with Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley and a slew of interior cast members that can wreak havoc (remember Grady Jarrett’s Super Bowl bonanza) in whatever head coach Dan Quinn has in store.

Upshaw now seems ready to take that next step with the Falcons.

 

©2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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ATLANTA FALCONS
2016: 11-5, 1st in NFC South. Lost in Super Bowl.
Significant Additions: Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, DT Dontari Poe (FA), DE Jack Crawford (FA), DE Takkarist McKinley (R1), LB Duke Riley (R3)
Significant Losses: Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, DE Dwight Freeney, FB Patrick DiMarco

Let’s not harp on the blown Super Bowl lead, and instead remember that the Falcons were an exceptionally good football team in 2016, especially on offense. Atlanta scored 540 points in the regular season—seventh most in league history—as Matt Ryan found his stride, and Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman emerged as the NFL’s fiercest running back tandem. The good news: Atlanta brings back almost nearly every major player from that offense. (While fullback Patrick DiMarco, who signed a four-year, $8.5 million deal in Buffalo, was popular among fans, the truth is he only played in 31 percent of Atlanta’s snaps last season.) This offseason, it’s clear GM Thomas Dimitroff didn’t want to tinker too much with a good thing; he even re-upped backup QB Matt Schaub for two more years. An extension for Freeman,  who is in the final year of his rookie deal, could be on the way.
However the Falcons do lose the man most credit with orchestrating the offense: coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who became the 49ers head coach. How much of the success can be attributed to the play-caller and how much in the talent he’s surrounded by? That’s not so easy to parse. Atlanta does have an intriguing replacement in Steve Sarkisian, the former Washington and USC coach who spent last year on Alabama’s staff. Sarkisian is known in college football circles as an innovative mind, and already Falcons players have noted the coach has added a few new wrinkles to Atlanta’s playbook. For now, more details are scarce.

The Falcons did get some help on defense. Atlanta actually ranked 27th in the league in points allowed (25.4 per game). The Falcons should immediately improve with the return of top cornerback Desmond Trufant, who suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in Week 9. Dimitroff has a ton of faith in Trufant and showed it with a five-year contract extension this spring—his $41.5 million guaranteed trails only Joe Haden, Josh Norman and Patrick Peterson.

But more pressing for the Falcons is the front seven. Gone is 37-year-old Dwight Freeney, who had an important role and played very well in the Super Bowl. Dontari Poe, signed on a one-year deal, feels like a quick fix for that. But Atlanta really needs a long-term solution alongside Vic Beasley, so it was important for the Falcons to draft an edge rusher. Quinn is going to take a larger role on defense, and his preference has always been in subbing many players through the front seven. That’s why Atlanta traded up to snag UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley in the first round. McKinley is a highly emotional player (look no further than draft night) who melds perfectly into Quinn’s “brotherhood.” But just as important: McKinley is an ascending talent with tremendous upside as a pass-rusher. In the fall, a scout told me he thought McKinley could be the next DeMarcus Ware.
Overall, it seemed Dimitroff didn’t push the panic button after the Super Bowl collapse. He barely touched the offense and made enough tweaks on defense to hope his players can repeat what they did in 2016, with a better finish.
Grade: B

http://mmqb.si.com/mmqb/2017/06/01/nfl-season-reports-grades-falcons-saints-panthers-bucs

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Atlanta Falcons

 


ESPN.com | 4:54 PM ET


 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- quarterback Matt Ryan said it is time to move on from the team's devastating Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots, during which the Falcons squandered a 25-point lead before falling 34-28 in overtime.

Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP, addressed the media Thursday following the Falcons' second practice of OTAs and said he is focused on making the necessary improvements to get his team back to the Super Bowl.

Asked if he is finished watching the Super Bowl tape, Ryan said he is and emphasized that he and the Falcons are focused on the upcoming season.

"I mean, we've got practice to watch," he said. "We've got different stuff, different cut-ups. We're on to 2017. You learn from [the Super Bowl], like we did. You deal with it, like we did. And then you move forward and you start preparing to try and be the best football team that this group can be. And that's where we're at. I mean, we're a different bunch than we were last year. That's good. That's exciting. And I think guys are ready for that challenge.''

When Ryan last faced the media in April, he told 680 The Fan radio in Atlanta he watched the Super Bowl the day after, two days after, and then three days after. Now, the Falcons are collectively trying to proceed forward.

Coach Dan Quinn recently went through a series of live interviews on various ESPN shows and the NFL Network and answered Super Bowl-related questions. Quinn, too, emphasized spinning forward rather than looking back.

"For sure," Quinn said. "We felt that way for a while, that 2017 was here. We've added guys to the group. And now that we're back on the field, it's this team's identity and how hard we go for it. New leaders emerge. New roles will be filled. Honestly, as a coach, it's one of the coolest parts. And you're seeing some of that come to life, guys who are going now and really making that development push."

The Falcons added two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe in free agency and selected UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley in the first round of the draft. Quinn hired Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator to maintain the same scheme that led the league at 33.8 points per game last season. And Quinn promoted the highly energetic Marquand Manuel from secondary coach to defensive coordinator, among other coaching changes.

Quinn also encouraged each player to find an element of his game to improve. For Ryan, who is coming off his best NFL season, he said that means more accuracy and consistency in his throws. He led the league with a 117.1 passer rating last season, completing 373 of 534 passes for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

"For me, it always comes back to getting yourself in position to throw the ball most accurately," Ryan said. "And I feel like even though we did some good things last year, that part's done. We evaluated. We've seen some things that can get better in terms of our footwork, in terms of getting in position to throw the ball more consistently. And that's been a point of emphasis for us the first two days [of OTAs]. And it's tough to replicate that without doing it live, without doing it at full speed. That's what I've been most excited for, is to get onto that field and start working on that footwork stuff that we've been trying to get right."

Ryan said he already returned to Southern California for training sessions with ex-baseball players Tom House and Adam Dedeaux at 3DQB, a process he started last year to improve his game and one he plans to continue.

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ESPN’s Football Power Index examines Falcons’ playoff chances

 

Jeff Haws The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ajc | 2:42 p.m Friday, June 2, 2017Sports


 


ESPN released its Football Power Index ratings, along with estimated win totals and percent likelihood for winning the division and making the playoffs for the Falcons and the other 31 teams.

 

According to the ratings, the Falcons have a 59.1% chance of making the playoffs, which is the fourth-highest percentage in the NFC -- behind the Seahawks (83.5%), Packers (73.9%) and Cowboys (63.2%) -- and sixth-highest in the NFL, trailing the Patriots (96.2%) and Steelers (75.9%).

 

The FPI makes the Falcons the NFC South favorites, though not overwhelmingly. It estimates the Falcons for 9.3 wins, with the Carolina Panthers slated for 8.8. It gives Atlanta a 40.3% chance of winning the division, while Carolina has a 28.8% chance. The Saints (16.5%) and Buccaneers (14.3%) trail behind.

 

 

 

 

As far as the Super Bowl goes, the FPI gives the Falcons a 12.5% chance of returning to the big game, and a 5.2% chance of being victorious this time. Those are the sixth-best odds in the NFL and fourth-best among NFC teams. The Patriots are at 50.7% to return to the Super Bowl, and 34.7% to repeat as champs.

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Julio Jones running, Desmond Trufant practicing for Falcons

 

Vaughn McClure

ESPN.com | 5:01 PM ET


 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones looked ready to break into a full sprint, while one-time Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant looked ready to be back in uniform for the first time since November.

There were signs of progress for the injured Atlanta Falcons' stars as the team continued OTAs Tuesday. Jones, who had surgery in March to remove a bunion from his left foot, didn't practice but completed a series of sprints from the 20-yard line on a side field.

"It's a jog," Jones insisted. "Sprinting is a little faster. ... Nah, it was good just to be back out on the grass and just testing it out. I felt great. Just working my way into it; just easing into it."

Jones remains on pace to return for training camp and doesn't plan to push it, even with teammates such as Trufant (pectoral surgery), defensive lineman Derrick Shelby (Achilles), and linebacker Kemal Ishmael (shoulder) back on the field in helmets Tuesday -- sooner than initially anticipated. Coach Dan Quinn hinted at a return for Trufant and the others.

"It felt good just to be back out there with the guys," said Trufant, who was limited. "It's been awhile. Got hurt in November, so it’s been some time. ... But just getting out there, getting some footwork in, just going through the routine again, it feels good."

A typical day of rehab for Jones involves getting to the facility at 7 a.m. and getting warmed up for an hour. From there, he goes through stability and balance training. Then he'll stretch and run.

"We're just gradually getting back," Jones said. "I'm not trying to press anything. Got some time."

In reflecting on the surgery, Jones was asked how much hesitation there was on his part considering he had multiple surgeries to repair foot fractures in the past. Noted foot surgeon Dr. Robert Anderson performed the procedures on Jones. The latest surgery called for four to five months of recovery, according to the team.

"Me? I just pray," Jones said. "And everything else will take care of itself. Yeah, I've had foot injuries before. This time it was my toe. I kind of got the formula, because I had two foot surgeries in the past. But just taking your time. Don't rush anything.

"Obviously I want to be back out here right now. I understand, too -- and they understand -- it's a process."

Jones reiterated that he feels "great" and expects to be at full speed for training camp.

"We're just taking our time," he said. "Training camp comes, we'll definitely be rolling. But as of right now, it's just one day at a time."

Defensive end Adrian Clayborn (biceps) and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (undisclosed) remained sidelined at practice alongside Jones. Tight end D.J. Tialavea and undrafted rookie linebacker Christian Tago also were held out of practice. Tago's injury likely led to the Falcons signing undrafted linebacker Jack Lynn from Minnesota on Monday.

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Falcons’ ‘fast and physical’ identity starts with Dan Quinn

 

by Jeanna Thomas@jeannathomas Jun 5, 2017, 8:10am EDT

SBNation.com  


 

If you spend any amount of time around Dan Quinn, you’ll notice that there are several words he consistently uses to describe the type of play he wants to see from the defense. It’s not just “fast and physical,” but also “toughness and grit.”

These are cliches, but you see the words translated to action with players like Grady Jarrett, who managed to sack Tom Brady three times in Super Bowl LI. You see it in the speed of middle linebacker Deion Jones, who returned two interceptions for touchdowns last year. And you see it in the dramatic improvement of Vic Beasley, who led the league in sacks last season.

The year before Quinn arrived, the Atlanta Falcons’ defense finished the 2014 season ranked dead last in the league for total defense. The hope was that Quinn could shape the unit into something like the top-ranked Seattle Seahawks defense that he was leaving to come to Atlanta.

The Falcons defense keeps getting better

In 2015, Quinn’s first season at the helm, the Falcons improved from 32nd in the league for yards allowed per game to 16th.

But those players didn’t fit what Quinn was trying to build. That defensive scheme is essentially a 4-3 defense, but with one defensive end, known as a LEO, who typically comes off the snap standing up instead of having a hand on the ground. It also employs a lot of cover 3 zone, which requires not just quality secondary play, but relies on linebackers who can pick up the slack, too.

Atlanta had two good cornerbacks in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, but it was lacking hard-hitting safeties like Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Also missing was someone who could fill the LEO role, and the speed Quinn covets on that side of the ball wasn’t really on the roster.

When you look at Atlanta’s traditional stats from last season, they’re not overly impressive. The Falcons finished the year ranked 25th in the league for yards per game, and 27th in the league for scoring.

But if you break it down game by game, you see improvement after the team’s bye in Week 11. The 361.3 yards per game they averaged over those six weeks was only slightly better than the 371.2 yards per game they allowed the rest of the season. The biggest improvement was that Atlanta averaged 20.5 points allowed per game down that stretch, compared with 25.4 per game over the whole year.

More importantly, the defense now fits Quinn’s ideal.

You see the speed everywhere on the roster, but most notably in the defensive players the team has brought in under Quinn.

Charles McDonald of The Falcoholic notes that the two traits the Falcons prioritize when scouting defensive players are their performance in the broad jump and the three-cone drill.

The three-cone drill provides a baseline expectation for a player’s change-of-direction skills, and the broad jump measures the potential for explosive play. All of the defensive players the Falcons have drafted in Dan Quinn’s first three seasons as head coach hit at least the 70th percentile in one or both drills, with the exception of De’Vondre Campbell.

Deion Jones exemplifies that speed. He used it to turn two of his three picks last season into scores.

That speed sets Jones, and the rest of his unit, apart.

“Deion, I don’t know if there’s a faster linebacker in the NFL,” linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich said. “De’Vondre is not far behind, and then to add Duke. And Josh Keyes has speed. LaRoy Reynolds has speed. I mean, everybody — Jermaine Grace has speed. I’d put our group against about anybody when it comes to that.”

They added to that speed this offseason, bringing in Takkarist McKinley and Duke Riley in the draft. McKinley ran a blazing-fast 4.59 40-yard dash for a 6’2, 250-pound man. Riley, who is projected to take over the starting weakside linebacker role, was a top performer at the combine in the 40-yard dash with a 4.58, as well as the three-cone drill with a 6.89-second performance.

McKinley should help with the Falcons’ pass rush, building on what Vic Beasley did last season. Riley is already penciled in as the starting weakside linebacker.

Pressuring opposing quarterbacks is a priority in Atlanta, and it’s an area in which the team took a big step forward last season.

They went from 22 sacks in Mike Smith’s final season, to 19 and dead last in the league in 2015. Last year, they turned it around with 34, which placed them 16th in the NFL. Beasley had help last year from veterans like Adrian Clayborn and Courtney Upshaw, but McKinley’s speed could be devastating when coupled with Beasley’s.

It’s not just the young guys. The Falcons added Dontari Poe, a remarkably athletic defensive tackle who’s also 6’3 and 346 pounds. Just watch him score a receiving touchdown for the Kansas City Chiefs last season. Oh, and Poe had a passing touchdown for Kansas City, too.

The Falcons also brought in Jack Crawford, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys, to replace Tyson Jackson. Crawford has the same skill set as Jackson and can play defensive end or slide over to tackle in Quinn’s scheme, but he’s got a better motor. That makes him a smarter fit for this defense.

It doesn’t stop with rushing the passer. It extends to limiting big offensive plays and creating turnovers, which is still a work in progress.

Last season, the Falcons finished with 12 interceptions, good for 18th in the league, and 17 forced fumbles, which placed them fifth. It’s an area where the coaching staff wants players get better.

They do all of this by constantly working on perfecting their fundamentals. Hand placement, sound tackling, gap discipline, and footwork are things that you might think would come naturally to players who have been immersed in this game since childhood. But the Falcons’ coaching staff believes that a constant focus on refining those basic elements of football will help this unit get to where they want it to be.

“If we improve on those, and as you look at the entire part of it — fundamentals,” defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said. “Tackles where the guy throws four yards, but they gain 35 — that’s hidden yardage that shouldn’t be there.”

Of the projected starters on defense, a majority have three seasons or fewer of experience. That includes three starters entering their second season — Keanu Neal, Campbell, and Jones, as well as nickelback Brian Poole, an undrafted free agent who played a majority of the defensive snaps last season.

Ulbrich said that experience the young players got as rookies last season is invaluable, and it’s rare.

“A lot of times, young players aren’t given that opportunity for whatever reason — the organization, coaches are scared, whatever,” Ulbrich said. “Because there were moments that were rough last year, where like I said, they didn’t know what they didn’t know. But it was really cool to see how they grew.”

As these young players get more experience, the defense will continue to get better. And while the Falcons still have work to do to build up that side of the ball, they haven’t let the offense fall by the wayside.

The offense hasn’t been neglected

The mistake Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith made when building the Falcons’ roster together was overlooking the defense to create an explosive offense.

The Falcons had the benefit of decent depth at most positions heading into this offseason. It freed them up to prioritize keeping key players who were set to hit free agency, like wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, a major contributor to Atlanta’s top-scoring offense last year, and tackle Ryan Schraeder, who has been a reliable fixture on the right side of the line.

The biggest question for the Falcons going into the season is how the departure of Kyle Shanahan will impact things. Shanahan was hired to be the San Francisco 49ers head coach after the Falcons lost the Super Bowl because he didn’t want to run the dang ball. Steve Sarkisian was hired to take his place.

Part of the reason the team went with Sarkisian to fill the offensive coordinator role is because he can orchestrate essentially the same offense Atlanta ran last season, with some tweaks. There will probably be less emphasis on the fullback and more on the tight ends, but otherwise, the scheme should remain similar to the one the Falcons experienced so much success in last season.

The other element of the culture Quinn has brought to the Falcons carries over to the locker room.

A ‘prove-it’ culture

“It doesn’t matter how they got their butts into that room,” Quinn said. “Here on a tryout, here as an undrafted free agent or a draft pick, we’re looking for great competitors and guys who want to totally buy into the team concept that’s part of our locker room, our team.”

You can already see the culture Quinn has worked to build reflected in the rookies. It hasn’t taken long for them to pick up his catchphrases.

“A lot of people don’t make it this far, and I’m just happy to be able to be here and just be a part of a brotherhood,” rookie first-rounder Takk McKinley said during rookie minicamp. “For me, being a brother, the brotherhood — you can say it all you want, but you’ve got to prove it to the guys.”

That brotherhood and the standard Quinn and the rest of the coaching staff have set are central to the team’s success, almost as much as the fast and physical play.

“It’s brotherhood,” Manuel said. “And the thing that we always talk about — if I can watch tape and I don’t see my brother straining the same way I am ... my brother, you know what, am I sacrificing my life for your life right now? I don’t know, as I look at that play. I could have probably done more.”

The Falcons got to Super Bowl LI because of the talent on the roster and the culture Quinn has built in Atlanta. They’ll lean on that culture to move past the blown 28-3 lead and the historic Super Bowl collapse to get right back into contention in 2017.

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Julio Jones makes Steve Sarkisian see red, as in red zone

6:06 PM ET
  • mcclure_vaughn_m.jpg&w=160&h=160&scale=c
    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- New Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian hopes to enhance one of the league's top offenses, and that could mean more red-zone touches for top receiver Julio Jones.

Sarkisian reiterated Wednesday how he hopes to enhance the offense, not just "uphold it."

"The competitor in me is, `How far can we take it?'" Sarkisian said.

 

Falcons WR Julio Jones had only eight red-zone targets in 2016. AP Photo/John Bazemore

Sarkisian, who took over for new San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, inherited an offense that led the league in points per game (33.8), yards per play (6.69) and passing yards per play (8.23), plus ranked in the top five in eight major offensive categories.

Still, Sarkisian sees room for improvement, including the use of Jones in the red zone. Last season, Jones had four red-zone receptions on just eight targets, scoring two touchdowns. Running back Devonta Freeman led the Falcons with 12 red-zone receptions on 16 targets with two touchdowns. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was next with nine red-zone receptions on 11 targets with four touchdowns.

Of course, Jones was the one who drew double coverage inside the 20, so MVP Matt Ryan wasn't about to force him the ball when he didn't have to. Plus the Falcons' ranked ninth in the NFL in red-zone percentage at a 61.9 percent conversion rate. But Sarkisian seeks to build on the production.

"I think, No. 1, they were still very good in the red zone," Sarkisian said of last year's Falcons. "But when you have a player like Julio, it's making sure we maximize his opportunities because there is so much double-coverage, there are so many unique coverages that roll his way that when we don't get that, let's make sure he's one of the primary receivers on that play because it is such a tough matchup for anybody one on one."

Besides Jones, Sarkisian also talked about how to best utilize the running back tandem of Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The duo combined for 2,482 total yards and 24 touchdowns in 2016.

"I think first and foremost, we have two really electric tailbacks, and they are bad matchups on defenses," Sarkisian said. "Just making sure we're putting those guys in the best position to be successful -- whether it's separately on the field, whether it's being on the field together."

Nothing is more vital to the offense than the chemistry between Sarkisian and his quarterback, Ryan.

"It's excellent," Sarkisian said of the relationship thus far. "Matt is a very competitive human being, at anything. It doesn't matter if we're shooting hoops at the front of the team room, he's a competitive guy. But we'll say for a guy who has had so much success, his willingness and humbleness to want to be coached -- in his mind, he hasn't made it. It's about, `How do I get better? What do I need to work on?'

"Coming out of the first meeting, he really wanted me to dig into his game overall from a year ago and where can he improve. I think that just speaks volumes to the type of player he is, the type of teammate, the type of leader. Anybody that walks in this building, when you see that guy working as hard as he works, it's contagious."

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Matt Ryan will have another great year for the Atlanta Falcons

 


yardbarker.com  


 

The Atlanta Falcons selected quarterback Matt Ryan with the third overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft to become their franchise quarterback. His first few season in the league were pretty good, but he soon fell into mediocrity and just was not as good as he had been. Last season, he re-emerged onto the scene and led the Falcons to the Super Bowl, where they infamously fell to the New England Patriots.


Matt Ryan was selected as the NFL MVP last season and was a First Team All Pro. He compiled one of the greatest seasons for a quarterback in recent memory, as he threw for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns. It certainly helped him that he had arguably the best wide receiver in football with Julio Jones lining up for him, but Ryan was spectacular. He was money all season and proved to everybody that he was not only an elite quarterback with good stats but he was an elite quarterback with good stats that knew how to win. He did not choke away the Super Bowl, so I place no blame on him for that. Ryan is a guy who puts up stats and wins, something that seems to get lost in today’s game.

Matt Ryan is having all of his weapons return for next season. He has a top NFL receiver in Jones, and has arguably the best pass-catching running backs in the league. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are very good catching the ball and provide Ryan with a good security blanket, and also have the ability to take the ball to the house at any time. A major part of Ryan’s come back season last year was also the play of the offensive line, and they will only get better as they play more together. Ryan is poised for another MVP-level season.


This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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Michael Vick told Roddy White he was destined for NFL stardom

 

Vaughn McClure

ESPN.com | 7:00 AM ET


 

Roddy White couldn't recall the exact day, but the former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver remembered it was at OTAs during his rookie season.

White, then the 27th overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft, was approached by quarterback Michael Vick, the first overall pick in 2001.

"He told me I was going to be a star in this league," White said of Vick. "He always believed in me from Day 1, from the time he met me and when we were going through OTA practices. Since that day, we always connected. We always had a bond."

Vick and White, teammates for two seasons with the Falcons, will share the stage Monday when the organization honors the retirement of both players with a special ceremony at owner Arthur Blank's family business office. Vick, who galvanized an entire city with his electric performances, spent his first six seasons with the Falcons and was named to three Pro Bowls before a 23-month prison sentence for running a dog-fighting operation ended his time with the organization. He was the first quarterback in league history to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in a season (1,039 in 2006) and was named to three Pro Bowls with the Falcons.

"I love Mike, man," White said of Vick. "That's my guy to the end, no matter what. My locker was right across from his and we had a lot of conversations. He would invite me over to the house. And then I became close to his family. We just always stuck together."

White said one game with Vick stood out more than any other: a 38-28 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on a Saturday night inside the Georgia Dome. Vick, battling Tony Romo, threw four touchdown passes and had a 121.0 passer rating. White caught three passes for 104 yards, including a 52-yarder.

"I played really well and we connected on some passes," White said. "We played a game against the Saints and did some good stuff, too. One of the things I remembered was how good Mike was and how special he was, especially when the lights came on. He was just a different dude out there and basically unstoppable. Watching him rush for 1,000 yards as a quarterback and watching him throw for over 2,400 yards, that was amazing. To actually be a part of that was special."

White, who played 11 seasons with the Falcons and made four Pro Bowls, left as the franchise's all-time leading receiver with 10,863 yards on 808 catches with 63 touchdowns.

"Roddy is the single greatest competitor that I have ever coached," Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter, the Falcons' former offensive coordinator, said Sunday. "Roddy brought a unique combination of toughness and swagger."

Like Koetter, the Falcons had tremendous respect for what White brought to the franchise.

"This [ceremony] just says how much they appreciated my time that I was there and I'm grateful for that,'' White said. "I really do appreciate just them making the effort and making this stand out and having the whole ceremony. You know, they didn't have to do it.

"I'm really, really grateful."

So are Falcons fans for having Vick and White as their own.

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Bleacher Report ranks Matt Ryan the NFL’s best deep passer

 

Jeff Haws The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ajc | 3:28 p.m Friday, June 9, 2017Sports


 


Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is the NFL’s best at connecting with his receivers on passes 20 or more yards downfield, according to an analysis by the Bleacher Report’s Doug Farrar.

 

“Of all quarterbacks who attempted at least 25 deep passes last season, Ryan is the only one who didn’t throw an interception,” Farrar wrote. “Instead, he completed 32 of 63 deep passes for 1,149 yards and 11 touchdowns.”

 

He also mentioned Ryan’s stats on deep balls in the Super Bowl -- 5 completions, 128 yards and a touchdown. Ryan had the league’s highest completion rate on long passes, and the second-most touchdown passes during his 2016 MVP campaign.

 

Just behind Ryan in the rankings was New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady at No. 2. The only other NFC South quarterback on the list was Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston at No. 6.

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Roddy White 'open' to future front office role with Falcons

 

Roddy White is potentially interested in a front office role with the Falcons in the future. AP Photo/Reinhold Matay

10:48 AM ET
  • mcclure_vaughn_m.jpg&w=160&h=160&scale=c
    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- At the end of his retirement speech Monday, former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White said, "I plan to be around this franchise forever."

He didn't mean just as a spectator.

White, currently working as a volunteer coach at a suburban Atlanta high school, was asked if he'd like to coach for the Falcons in the future.

"I don't think I can coach, but I would be open to a front office job," White told ESPN. "I'm not watching over players (as a coach). That job is too hard."

So what type of front office role would White want?

"I don't know yet, but I would like to figure out the process," he said.

How about going the scouting route?

"Yeah, but not college," White said. "Is that possible? Yes, probably as a pro scout."

White, who was released by the Falcons after the 2015 season, still has a strong relationship with owner Arthur Blank, a guy he said he "loves to death." Certainly Blank would vouch for White for as long as Blank owns the franchise.

Former teammate and fellow wide receiver Brian Finneran, who gave an emotional speech to introduce White at the retirement ceremony, says he could envision his good friend in a front office role.

"Roddy became such a student of the game throughout his career," Finneran said. "He studied great wide receivers to improve his own game. He watched more film than anyone in our meeting room. He realized after his first two years that to be a great wide receiver he had to study and learn, and he did. If he wants to be in an NFL front office, he will be fantastic because he knows what great players look and act like."

Regarding coaching, White said he enjoys his current job working with wide receivers and tight ends at the high school level. After already ruling out coaching in the NFL, White doesn't see himself moving up to the college level anytime soon -- even if his alma mater, UAB, came calling.

"Not right now," White said. "My youngest kid is 5 years old. In order for me to think about it, my kids all would have to be going to college before I would pursue a career doing that. The time and commitment that you have to put in as a coach is so hard. I can't dedicate that much time. And then recruiting? You've got to go on the road and recruit? Nah, I'm not doing that right now."

White, the franchise's all-time leading receiver, hopes to have his No. 84 jersey retired with the Falcons, and Blank didn't rule out that possibility.

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