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Falcons QB Matt Ryan: People read too much into comments about Kyle Shanahan


Gabrielle McMillenOmnisport@GabbyMcMillenUpdated at 2:39 p.m. ETUpdated at 2:39 p.m. ET

Sporting News  


Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had to clarify his comments about Kyle Shanahan after it seemed he had criticized his former offensive coordinator.

In an article published by CBS Sports, Ryan was quoted saying that Shanahan took to long too make decisions during the Falcons' Super Bowl meltdown against the Patriots.

Shanahan, who is now the head coach of the 49ers, heard the comments and said he has never had trouble with players being slow during his calls before.

Now Ryan is saying his comments were misconstrued and blamed the media headlines about his remarks.

"I think sometimes the headlines of articles can be misleading," Ryan said. via ESPN. "In that situation, it was just a reference to how we operated all year. It wasn't coming in too late or anything. That's just the way it came in. I thought Kyle did a great job for us last year.

"I think everybody is reading a little bit too much into it, and it is what it is. But we've moved on. We're on to this year. And we're focused on trying to become the best football team that this team can be."

It's not the first time Ryan has said he has moved on from the Falcons' Super Bowl loss. He has reiterated several times that the team is trying to move forward.

Even though rumors have swirled that Ryan and Shanahan have had a rocky relationship, Ryan has never publicly criticized his former coordinator.

He has spoken highly of new OC Steve Sarkisian, who joined the Falcons after his one-game stint as the offensive coordinator of Alabama during the CFP title game against Clemson.


© 2017 Sporting News Media and its licensors. All rights reserved.

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Julio Jones thinks he can take things to another level for Falcons


ByJoseph Nocco

FanRag Sports  


Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones has already become one of the best pass catchers from around the league — if not the best. While serving as a major part of the Falcons’ success in 2016, which culminated in a trip to the Super Bowl, Jones now believes that he can up the ante even further.

In fact, the veteran wide out recently stated that he can take his game to yet another level going forward.

“I always work on everything,” Jones said, via ESPN. “My one percent is pretty much everything: Getting off the ball, studying, attention to detail, when I’m fatigued, what do I do when I’m fatigued — do I run with my hands down or keep my hands up with the ball? It’s just a lot I do. I love to play the game and not have weaknesses.”

On the other hand, it appears as though Jones is finally healthy and his lingering foot troubles may now officially be a thing of the past.

“My foot’s great,” Jones continued. “We’re just being smart. I still get my conditioning in. I run routes. I do things. I’m in and out of the huddle. I’m in the scheme. … I’ll probably do a little more tomorrow.”

The 28-year-old was originally selected by the Falcons in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Alabama. Spending his entire six-year NFL career in Atlanta, Jones has already appeared in 79 regular-season games for the Falcons en route to producing 497 receptions for 7,610 yards and 40 touchdowns.


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Sack champ Vic Beasley ready to get to 'next level' after pass-rush summit


David Newton

ESPN.com | 8:09 AM ET


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Vic Beasley Jr., the reigning NFL sacks leader, has heard before that tweaking his pass-rush stance might lead to even greater success.

It wasn’t that the Atlanta Falcons pass-rusher ignored those suggestions. But to listen to such advice coming from a guy who played 12 NFL seasons, collected 138.5 career sacks, and was named to nine Pro Bowls just put more emphasis behind those words of wisdom.

So when Beasley took the field at Stanford University for the first annual Von Miller pass-rush summit in June, Beasley listened intently as former Dallas Cowboy and Denver Bronco DeMarcus Ware shared a wealth of knowledge.

"DeMarcus was giving me tips here and there," Beasley said. "He was telling me normally my feet are back too far so a majority of the time, just replace my hand with my first step. And he said if I kind of coil up and put my butt up in the air more and take that first step that I'll step out a longer distance.


"I've heard coaches at the [Falcons] facility tell me the same thing. But to hear it from DeMarcus Ware -- from former player to current player -- definitely paid off a lot."

Over the course of one full day, Beasley did enough studying to earn his Master's in the art of pass rush. Attending the summit was something he had discussed for a while with his buddy Miller, the one-time Super Bowl MVP and the guy Beasley bested by two (15.5 to 13.5) for last year's sack title. Beasley also tied Oakland's Bruce Irvin for the league lead with six forced fumbles as he developed a knack for the strip sack.

"It was interesting to see the moves of each different individual," Beasley said. "You can take that and apply that to your game."

During the summit, each rusher was asked to stand in front of the classroom and break down his best pass-rush moments. Beasley studied plenty of Miller in the past, and Miller's slippery moves were reinforced at the summit.

Beasley saw how effective Oakland's Khalil Mack is in using his long arms and great lower-body strength. He watched how Kansas City's Dee Ford capitalizes on his hands and speed. And Beasley observed how Seattle's Cliff Avril relies on power to complete his moves.

Beasley even developed a new bond with Olivier Vernon of the New York Giants.

"Great guy," Beasley said of Vernon. "Just being able to talk to him and just hearing his insights ... his game is very different from every other player in that room. He's not really the speed guy. He's not really the get-off guy. He's just a guy that can work his hands very well and can slip off things, similar to Von."

Beasley, known for his speed off the edge, hopes to put all those lessons to good use as he chases another sack title and tries to lead a vastly improved Falcons defense. He seems to be playing with a higher level of aggression so far throughout training camp.

Although the Falcons have not yet re-signed his mentor from last year, seven-time Pro Bowler Dwight Freeney, the team has surrounded Beasley with more defensive-line talent.

First-round draft pick Takkarist McKinley, who had been limited at camp coming off March shoulder surgery, is expected to provide a boost off the opposite edge. Two-time Pro Bowler Dontari Poe was signed to push the pocket on the interior alongside ascending Grady Jarrett. And the wild card is Jack Crawford, a high-energy, strong, versatile lineman who came over from Dallas and has already impressed the coaches.

Those additions all could help free up Beasley, who has started to attract added attention and basically got frozen out by the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

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"It's going to help me tremendously," Beasley said. "The guys that we have up front, we’re just blessed with so much depth this year. Just having that depth will definitely take pressure off me. And guys such as Poe and Crawford, those are great players that people kind of underestimate."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn, a pass-rush expert who learned a lot of lessons from being around Hall of Famer Jason Taylor, commended Beasley for making the extra effort to enhance his skills. Quinn talked about the next phase in the development of Beasley, the No. 8 overall pick in 2015.

"With Beasley, there's oftentimes a big jump for a player from Year 1 to Year 2. I think there's another one that takes place from Year 2 to Year 3," Quinn said. "You have to go through some experiences to understand, 'How do I deal with this situation?' 'How does this technique work or not work?' and the call of the defense. 'What can I do in this call?' or 'What can't I do in that call?' When you get to that spot and now you really start learning the smaller nuances of it.

"For the early player, I really emphasize the stance and some of the basic fundamentals. As you get further along, we try to find new levels that you can go to. He's off to a good start so far."

Like the lessons learned at the pass-rush summit, Beasley takes Quinn's advice to heart.

"Last year, I did make a lot of improvements and did have a lot of success," Beasley said, "but now the next level of my game is just being more aware of the whole defense is capable of on each play, what defense is being called, and what the cornerbacks are doing and the safeties are doing and linebackers are doing. It's not just simplified as just the defensive line, but [knowing] the whole defense."

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Falcons' Jalen Collins: Depth chart drop 'ain't nothing to be down about'


Vaughn McClure

ESPN.com | 8:26 PM ET


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- No one expected Jalen Collins to retain his starting job from the end of last season, not with one-time Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant back from a pectoral injury.

But many believed Collins, a 2015 second-round draft pick from LSU, would remain in a backup cornerback role for the Atlanta Falcons going into 2017, considering he started the Super Bowl in place of Trufant.

Such hasn't been the case through the first five practices of training camp, and it's somewhat mysterious. During Tuesday's padded practice, Collins found himself on the field opposite undrafted rookie cornerback Jarnor Jones and lined up to cover undrafted rookie receiver Reginald Davis III. Collins was running with the third-string defense in this particular 11-on-11 drill, going against an offense directed by fourth-string quarterback and undrafted rookie Alek Torgersen.

And to think, Collins was on the field contending with Tom Brady about six months ago.

"Of course, it sucks," Collins told ESPN regarding his drop down the depth chart. "Everyone wants to be out there flying around and competing and stuff. But at the same time, it's not all about me. It's about my brothers and just trying to help those guys.

"It ain't nothing to be down about. ... I don't feel like it's a situation where they don't believe in me or don't trust me or anything like that. They're just trying to give everybody else some extra reps; guys that haven't been in situations like that."

Collins' defensive reps have been limited to start camp, and his reps with the bottom of the roster players have been definitely noticeable. Trufant and Robert Alford are the starters, and C.J. Goodwin and Deji Olatoye have been the two typically running with the second team. Akeem King, who was injured last season, has shown up more than Collins. And even starting nickelback Brian Poole has seen more reps outside at corner than Collins on certain days.

So what exactly is going on with Collins? Is he in the doghouse with the coaches for some reason?

"He's not getting as many [reps], and that's just from a coaching decision," coach Dan Quinn said. "There might be days when he gets more. So for me, we've got [18] guys back there. We're trying to work it all the way through. For me, tomorrow, it could be different."

Is Collins being disciplined for violating team or NFL rules? Remember, he came to the Falcons with some red flags after failing three drug tests at LSU. Once with the team, Collins was suspended without pay for the first four games of his second season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Teams don't talk about whether a player failed a drug test, at least not publicly. The NFL office sends out news releases announcing suspensions related to such violations.

"It's nothing like that," Collins said, insisting no such trouble has led to his demotion. "It's strictly just trying to get guys with a little less experience, trying to get those guys their reps."

Collins mentioned multiple times, "I've been in this situation before." He was heavily criticized after starting just two games as a rookie despite talk of him having first-round talent. The Falcons raved about the 6-foot-1, 203-pound Collins' length and overall playmaking ability, but it didn't show up during his disappointing first year.

Then last year, Collins showed signs of promise after Trufant went down nine games into the season. Collins started six games during the regular season and had two interceptions. Then he started all three playoff games, although he regressed in a 34-28 overtime Super Bowl loss to New England.

There have been no whispers about the Falcons giving up on Collins or seeking to trade him. The preseason games might give him a chance to work his way back up the depth chart, whether that means making a splash play on defense or excelling on special teams.

Collins was asked if he expects to be on the 53-man roster to start the regular season.

"Yeah," he said. "I know everybody's out here trying to get better, and I know Coach has the team's best interest at hand. I'm just out here trying to help as much as I can.''

Quinn talked about where Collins needs to improve moving forward.

"From Jalen, we're always going to challenge him and play him outside quite a bit," Quinn said, "and so playing at the line of scrimmage and playing really aggressive there. And then finding his role on [special] teams, where he's a gunner. ... He's off to a good start. We're not down on him."

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One Falcons Linebacker Watches Super Bowl LI Loss To Patriots Every Week


by Joshua Schrock on Tue, Aug 1, 2017 at 9:44PM



We are sure many New England Patriots fans have watched the Pats’ Super Bowl LI comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons more times than they can count. But we doubt anyone has watched the game as much as De’Vondre Campbell.

The Falcons’ second-year linebacker recently spoke to Bleacher Report for a story on Atlanta’s preparation for the 2017 season, and as it turns out, Campell watches the game every week.

Yes, you heard that right. He watches every play from the devastating loss once a week in order to make sure he doesn’t let that happen again.

And a second-year linebacker, in Campbell, who’s still rewatching the Super Bowl every **** week. Really. Listening to Future one week (“You Deserve It” is a go-to) and Jason Aldean the next (he loves how “authentic” country music is), Campbell deconstructs the loss.

His angle on every tackle. His depth on every drop. Campbell takes meticulous notes. He scribbles a star next to every bad play, vowing to never make that mistake again.

“That’s how you recover quickly,” Campbell says, “when you face it. When you sit there hiding from it… NFL Network ain’t hiding from it!”

The 24-year-old laments his pass interference penalty in overtime that put the ball on the Falcons’ 2-yard line, as well as spots where he didn’t spontaneously blitz Tom Brady.  He also wishes he would have been more vocal when the team got complacent.

We certainly admire Campell’s dedication to his craft, but it might be time to put Super Bowl LI in the past.

Thumbnail photo via Dan Powers/USA TODAY Sports Images


©2017 NESN

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Julio Jones


ESPN.com | 1:26 PM ET


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons wide receiver participated in 11-on-11 Wednesday, his first action in full-team drills since undergoing surgery on his left foot back in March.

Jones had been limited through the first five training camp practices, catching passing during individual drills. Then Wednesday, he ran a few routes in 11-on-11 and threw a couple blocks down the field.

Jones, who said last week his foot felt "great,'' hinted at a return to full-team drills this week. He saw a handful of reps.

"That was good to see,'' coach Dan Quinn said. "We knew he was moving back closer. So the first four-day block, it was going to be all the individual, getting the conditioning right. And then now we're kind of going back to return-to-play (mode), so to speak. So he got about four or five (reps) today. (Takk) McKinley is under those same guidelines, where we can move those guys further along as they're going. It was great to have him back out today.''

The Falcons won't overload Jones coming off the surgery. His injury history has led to limited or no participation in practice during the regular season.

Quinn was asked if the team has determined how much Jones will play in the four preseason games, if at all.

"No,'' Quinn said. "No decisions on that one yet.''

The Falcons play their first preseason game Aug. 10 at Miami. Last preseason, Jones played 25 snaps in three games, sitting out the final game, as usual, to allow the team to evaluate the younger players on the roster bubble.

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Falcons receiver Devin Fuller waived/injured


JuliaKate E. Culpepper The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ajc | 7:44 p.m Friday, Aug. 4, 2017Sports


The Atlanta Falcons waived/injured wide receiver Devin Fuller on Thursday after the second-year player tore his ACL on July 28.


Fuller was selected in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Falcons.


Falcons coach Dan Quinn said the team was disappointed Fuller was injured again this season after missing his rookie season with a shoulder injury.





"He worked really hard to come back from the shoulder, so we wish him the best,” Quinn said. “We're bummed for him being injured. But he’s such a good guy, he works really hard, and we're pumped for him to take it wherever he wants to go from here."


If Fuller passes through waivers through Friday night, he will be able to join the Falcons’ injured reserve, but won’t be on the roster until he passes a physical.

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©2017 Cox Media Group

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Atlanta Falcons: Will New Coordinators Bring Disruption or Regression?


by W. M. Lawson1 day agoFollow @thestrongsauce

ATL All Day  


The Atlanta Falcons burst on the NFL Playoff scene in 2017. During the off-season, they went out and hired new Offensive and Defensive Coordinators.

2016 was, in spite of how it ended, a remarkable year for the Atlanta Falcons franchise and its fans. It was a unique time, for sure, to be in the city with Falcons playoff fever. Normally, that kind of success brings stasis and continuity. Like the old axiom says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

But tinker, they did. Partly, due to the very success mentioned. And partly, due to an inability to stop teams at very crucial times.

The Falcons replaced Offensive and Defensive Coordinators this off-season. Kyle Shanahan (OC) took off as the new Head Coach of the flailing and listless San Francisco 49ers. This, after a year where the Offense racked up yards and points, with Shanahan getting a lot of the credit due to play calling and scheme.

We’re about to find out if that was true. In steps formerly disgraced college Head Coach Steve Sarkisian. “Sark” certainly has a pedigree. In fact, at one time, many considered him one of the best coaches in college football. If Sarkisian comes in and the offense doesn’t miss a beat, or even gets more efficient, then we’ll know that Shanahan was a part of the success, but not necessarily a majority part. If this high-octane offense regresses and stumbles, fans will grumble.

The Defensive Coordinator position change was different. Former DC, Richard Smith, came to Atlanta with success on that side of the ball in Denver.  Yeah, that defense. But, for some reason, something was missing, apparently, and Coach Dan Quinn fired him, and hired new DC Marquand Manuel. Previously the Secondary/Sr. Defensive Asst., players have already commented on Manuel’s upbeat style and coaching.

Both of these guys come into their new roles with the explicit endorsement of Coach DQ. The question, though, is how much regression and disruption come out of this transition. Basic football knowledge tells us that any time you replace Coordinators, especially on both sides of the ball, there will be a few problems.

Many will conclude that they are less worried about the Defense, because of DQ’s history there. And, although Sarkisian and Shanahan are similar, in terms of philosophy, play calling and communication will change. That’s a fact. That kind of transition, most of time, means a period of figuring it out.

With the elevated expectations of Atlanta Falcons fans, and the team itself, this requires close watching. The team is incredibly talented. It will be the fastest Atlanta Falcons team we’ve ever seen in our uniform.

But, history shows that changing Coordinators has an effect. Sometimes a big effect. That transition could mean the difference in winning the division, or not.

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6 hours ago, Stray Dog THA GAWD said:

The question is how soon they get acclimated.  At least the DC was an internal hire, but hopefully Sark and the O don't take too long to pull it together.

I think it's going to be business as usual but Matt will have more freedom at the LOS. Just can't see Sark changing but adding a few wrinkles.

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Devonta Freeman, Falcons agree on five-year contract extension


Michael Silver NFL.com columnist



The Atlanta Falcons and two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman have agreed to a five-year contract extension that makes him the NFL's highest-paid running back, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network's Michael Silver. The extension pays out $41.25 million.

The Falcons confirmed the five-year extension on Wednesday morning.

The former Florida State standout will take home an annual average of $8.25 million over the life of the deal. That's more than any other running back, pending Le'Veon Bell's anticipated acceptance of a one-year, $12.1 million offer from the Pittsburgh Steelers. (The Steelers used their franchise tag on Bell, but he has thus far declined to sign and remains away from training camp.)

The extension includes $17.3 million fully guaranteed and $22 million in guarantees, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. Freeman also receives a $15 million signing bonus, per Rapoport.

"We are very pleased that we were able to get this extension done," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement. "Devonta embodies everything we are looking for in a Falcon, and we are proud that he'll be able to spend his career here in Atlanta."

A fourth-round draft pick in 2014, Freeman has scored 27 touchdowns over the past two seasons and had vastly outperformed his rookie deal, which was due to pay him $1.8 million in 2017. The new contract will be tacked onto the final year of Freeman's rookie deal and runs through the 2022 season.

"Everybody's happy," said Freeman's agent, Kristin Campbell. "I'm so excited for him. He's excited to be a Falcon for life. He loves the city. The organization's been great throughout the process. To have him be the highest-paid back after only three years is a testament to his achievement. Everyone's thrilled."

Six days before Super Bowl LI, Freeman expressed a desire for a new deal, which became a major story during the days leading up to the game. The dual threat backed up his words with a strong performance in the Falcons' heartbreaking Super Bowl LI defeat to the New England Patriots, scoring the game's first touchdown and gaining 121 yards from scrimmage.

Last month, as negotiations with the Falcons stalled, Freeman was prepared to play out his rookie deal and test the market -- or have the franchise tag placed upon him by the Falcons -- following the 2017 season. He spent $50,000 on a $10-million insurance policy to protect him in the event of a career-altering injury, all of which is now moot.

Freeman, 25, will now command an annual average salary second only to Bell (unless Bell declines to sign his franchise tender and elects to sit out the season). For now, Freeman has the NFL's most lucrative deal among running backs, surpassing that of the Buffalo Bills' LeSean McCoy, whose average annual salary is a reported $8 million.

Last January, Freeman admitted that he was "struggling" with his role in Atlanta's offense, which had him sharing the workload with Tevin Coleman, a third-round pick in the 2015 draft. Though Coleman remains an integral part of the Falcons' attack -- now under the guidance of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who replaced Kyle Shanahan after Shanahan was hired as the San Francisco 49ers head coach following the Super Bowl -- it's clear that the organization regards Freeman as its marquee back.

Two seasons ago, the 5-foot-8, 206-pound Freeman made the Pro Bowl after gaining 1,056 yards on 265 carries and catching 73 passes for 578 yards. Last season, he ran for 1,079 yards on 227 carries and had 54 receptions for 462 yards, again earning a Pro Bowl selection.

With Freeman's deal done, the Falcons can now turn their attention toward negotiating an extension for star quarterback Matt Ryan, the NFL's reigning MVP. Before February's Super Bowl, Falcons owner Arthur Blank told ESPN he expected to reward Ryan for his stellar 2016 season, saying, "He needs to be compensated well, certainly. And he will be."

Ryan, 32, has two years left on the six-year, $103.75 million contract he signed in July 2013, a deal that included $59 million guaranteed.

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.

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Can't-miss Falcons storyline: NFL’s best pass rush is within reach for defense


By James Parks

CBSSports.com | 2017-08-10 13:46:51


As football transforms into a more pass-reliant game, the primary objective in defensive scheming boils down to one simple creed: get the quarterback.

Two seasons ago, the Atlanta Falcons were among the worst in the NFL at doing just that. Last season, they were among the most improved, thanks mostly to the play of linebacker Vic Beasley, Jr., whose 15.5 sacks led the league.

It goes without saying that a major element in Atlanta's 11-win season and Super Bowl appearance last season, in addition to their prolific and balanced offensive prowess, was their ability to get this pressure on opposing passers.

As training camp rolls along and the Falcons look to repeat their 2016 successes, one question emerges among many: can the Falcons build the best pass rush in the NFL?

(The Falcons are back at training camp! Don't MISS anything as they prepare to try and return to the playoffs -- )   

In 2015, the Falcons finished with 19 sacks, hurried the passer 70 times, and recorded 75 hits on 561 pass attempts, a 29.2 percent success rate. Last season, that last mark rose to 39 percent, as did total sacks (34, the most since their 37 sacks 10 seasons ago), over 655 pass attempts.

But advanced statistics tells a bleaker story. According to Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, the Falcons produced a mere 190 pressure plays out of 720 in total, a success rate of just 29.4 percent, ranking No. 20 overall in football.

They took a step in the right direction, but heading into this offseason, the organization knew that they would have to provide Beasley some help in the supporting cast. That they did, drafting Takkarist McKinley and Duke Riley, a pair of collegiate edge rushers, and signing veteran tackle Dontari Poe, a 340-pound behemoth who routinely attracts double- and triple-teams of blockers.

Among that trio, Poe is the one expected to make an impact immediately. From 2013 to 2014, Poe wrecked opposing blockers for 10.5 sacks. In the two years after then, however, that number fell to just 2.5, a decrease that likely was the result of a back surgery. But now, considerably lighter and presumably healthy, the team believes they got the best inside pass rusher in the business.

But that the Falcons picked two more rushers with their first two draft selections this year indicates to what degree the team is looking to address this position.

In 28 games at UCLA, McKinley emerged as the college game's best at pressuring quarterbacks, bringing heat on the passer on 21.4 percent of his rushes, according to Pro Football Focus, while adding 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. He has a burst off the line, the hands to fight off blockers, and the agility to spin out of blocks.

Deion Jones' successor at LSU, Riley didn't play a 12-game season until he was a senior, but proved most productive with the increase in playing time, grabbing 93 tackles (the Tigers' most), nine tackles for loss, and the SEC's sixth-most tackles per game (7.8). At 6-foot-1, some scouts consider him undersized for the position, but he has the sideline speed to rush the line and the instincts to find the right gap to exploit.

Suddenly, the Falcons have a very promising rotation, with Poe and Grady Jarrett (three sacks in 2016, and three more against Tom Brady in the Super Bowl) on the inside, McKinley bringing heat from the edge, and Riley and sack-leader Beasley roaming free behind them. This new supporting cast enables the team to reverse one of their self-professed weaknesses last season.

Head coach Dan Quinn says he relied too often on sending the blitz in order to get adequate pressure on quarterbacks, but this season hopes he can make a greater impact by rushing just his front four.

"That allows you the flexibility to do things," Quinn said. "When you play a four-man front, you want to make sure that you can affect the quarterback in the pass game with your rush and be able to drop and play four underneath, or however you want to play your coverages, without having to devote an extra player to do that."

If Quinn and his coaches can figure out the right rotation, the Falcons can build on one of the most improved pass rushes in football, and maybe hold a lead or two in the postseason.



© 2004-2017 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

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Falcons' Matt Ryan gets fast start he wanted in preseason opener


Jamison Hensley

ESPN.com | 10:30 PM ET


The started their trek to avoid a Super Bowl hangover with Thursday night's exhibition opener at Miami. It was the first game for first-time NFL coordinators Steve Sarkisian (offense) and Marquand Manuel (defense). Reigning MVP said he wanted to see a fast start for the offense. The Falcons did just that in their . Here's a breakdown:

•QB depth chart: Ryan played just the first series before giving way to veteran Matt Schaub. In five plays, Ryan marched the Falcons 36 yards in five plays after a nifty 39-yard punt return by Andre Roberts. The drive ended with Ryan's play-action pass to Devonta Freeman for a touchdown on fourth-and-1 -- an early example of Sarkisian's aggressive play-calling. Schaub stepped in for half a series before giving way to Matt Simms. Then Simms took it all the way to the fourth quarter before undrafted rookie Alek Torgersen entered to finish.

•When it was starters vs. starters, the Falcons looked: In midseason form. We talked about Ryan and the offense. He completed all three of his passes for 32 yards, including a connection with Mohamed Sanu, who made a spectacular one-handed sideline catch. Ryan showed good footwork on misdirection plays, and his linemen stood up strong. On the other side, the defense forced a three-and-out to start. The defenders looked fast, particularly linebackers Deion Jones and rookie Duke Riley. You could feel the push from Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe up the middle. Brooks Reed showed relentless effort, and a nice spin move, with his rushes.

•One reason to be concerned: Veteran kicker Matt Bryant, in his 16th season, missed a 47-yard field goal. Bryant hasn't been a regular at practice and has dealt with some nagging injuries in recent years, but the Falcons sure hope Bryant won't los3 his step coming off a Pro Bowl season where he was the NFL's leading scorer. Backup kicker Mike Meyer nailed a 53-yard field goal in the third quarter, only helping his cause to get a longer look with the Falcons or elsewhere.

•That guy could start: Although Ben Garland started the game at right guard, Wes Schweitzer, who is competing with Garland for the starting spot, stood out with the way he stood up to Dolphins star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Schweitzer kept Suh from pressuring Schaub on a third-down play, allowing Schaub to hit Reggie Davis for a 16-yard gain on third-and-4.

•Rookie watch: Third-round pick Riley's speed certainly showed up both on defense and special teams. He's fast to the ball and was quick to drop a receiver right in his tracks. And Riley showed relentless effort in special teams coverage. Damontae Kazee made a great special teams tackle on a punt but also had a penalty that negated a Davis return. Tight end Eric Saubert had a pair of costly penalties, while guard Sean Harlow also was flagged. Running back Brian Hill missed two tackles in a row on the same play while working on the punt team. Undrafted cornerback Jarnor Jones had a one-handed, tight-rope red-zone interception near the sideline to thwart a Dolphins scoring chance.

•Patience, patience: First-round draft pick Takkarist McKinley, who received the green light to participate in 11-on-11 in practice, was a game-time decision as he continues his comeback from March shoulder surgery. Well, McKinley ended up not playing, delaying his Falcons' debut. General manager Thomas Dimitroff said coming into training camp the plan was to have McKinley play in the third preseason game at home against Arizona. McKinley tweeted Thursday: "My time will come. STAY PATIENT!"

•Of note: Cornerback Jalen Collins, who was suspended the first 10 games of the regular season for a second violation of the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances, entered the game in the third and nearly had an interception at the end of the quarter. After a couple of solid plays, the former second-round pick gave up a 99-yard touchdown and was then whistled for pass interference ... Linebacker De'Vondre Campbell made quite an athletic play when he dropped in coverage and picked off a pass by Dolphins QB Brandon Doughty. It was an example of Campbell's evolution. ... Terron Ward took a step ahead in the No.3-running back race with a nifty 26-yard run, a 3-yard touchdown, and a nice blitz pickup.


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The Falcons head into 2017 with some of the best young talent in football


by Dave Choate Aug 12, 2017, 1:00pm EDT

The Falcoholic  


We’re not going to quibble with the honor.

From Keanu Neal to Austin Hooper, the Falcons are loaded with young, gifted players other teams are surely envious of. You’d expect the team to get some recognition for that, particularly in an offseason where recognition has not been lacking, and you would not be disappointed.

Football Outsiders has given the Falcons’ young stars some love, writing that Atlanta has the fifth-best young talent base in the entire league. That’s astonishing given how bare the cupboard was just a couple of years ago, and a testament to what this coaching staff and and front office have been able to accomplish.

While you might be tempted to argue that the Falcons have the best collection of young talent in the league, I wouldn’t go quite that far. Then again, though, look at this group, all 25 or under.

Offense: TE Austin Hooper

Defense: DE Takkarist McKinley, DE Vic Beasley, DT Grady Jarrett, LBs Duke Riley, De’Vondre Campbell, Deion Jones, S Keanu Neal

Add in Damontae Kazee, who could be starting at some point in the near future, and you’ve got a pretty astonishing cast on defense. I look forward to seeing them on the field, and look forward to all of these guys being elite players even when they’re well over 25.


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

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Jones, Campbell taking on bigger roles for Falcons' defense




FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons put Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell on a quick learning curve for linebackers last year.

Having shown they could handle added responsibilities as rookies, Jones and Campbell will have their roles expanded this season as the Falcons try to make it back to the Super Bowl.

The Falcons want Jones to be more vocal on the field, in the meeting room and in the locker room. They want Campbell, who switched in May from weak side to strong side linebacker, to excel as a pass rusher.

Through the first 2½ weeks of training camp, coach Dan Quinn has described Jones as louder and looser since the team began voluntary workouts in March.

It took a while for Jones to feel empowered as a rookie. He did what was required of every middle linebacker, convening the huddle, calling out alerts and lining up the front seven before the snap, but yelling at veterans?

That didn't come naturally until the Falcons reached November.

"It took a good bit of time and it was after that Philly game that it really clicked," Jones said Sunday. "I needed to communicate more, be more physical, get everybody on the same page and get ready to play fast."

Jones has exceptional speed in coverage and in closing against the run, a sure ticket to get noticed by NFL scouts. He went on every team's radar at LSU's pro day, running the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds and then getting clocked again at 4.40 seconds.

Quinn was thrilled when Jones still available late in the second round of the draft. He knew the Falcons were getting a special player, and once they got him on the field, Jones' physical traits stood out.

Jones finished the season with a team-high 108 tackles, 11 pass breakups, three interceptions, two touchdowns and one forced fumble. Quinn wasn't surprised by those numbers. He knew what Jones could produce if he had a chance to play.

Changing Jones' personality took longer, even for a guy who's approachable and smiles easily.

"When I go back and see maybe the first half of the season, he was more rigid," Quinn said. "Even when he made a play, he didn't even know how to celebrate with the guys. It was like, 'I did my job.' Now you see the communication take place all along."

Campbell is still learning his new position.

As the strong-side starter, he will be responsible for covering tight ends and beating their blocks to make tackles. At 6-foot-4, 232 pounds, he has the size to handle the role while the Falcons prepare rookie Duke Riley, a third-round pick from LSU, to become the weak-side starter.

But the Falcons have added a wrinkle to Campbell's responsibilities as a pass rusher.

"They came to me right before OTAs and threw the idea out, just told me to try to learn it," Campbell said. "I played a little closer to the line of scrimmage before, so I was open to it. I thought it was something I could be really good at."

Campbell signed up again with former Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith, who trained him before the NFL combine, to learn the nuances of pressuring the quarterback. Smith ranks third in career sacks with Atlanta and doesn't sugarcoat his critiques.

"I knew he had the resume to get me to where I really want to go," Campbell said. "I really want to master the cross chop and the size scissors because I would consider myself to be more in the category of a speed rusher. I think those can be really good moves for me if I master them and learn to time them up."

Campbell looked sharp in last week's preseason game at Miami, dropping into coverage to intercept a pass. He could've returned the pick for a long touchdown but his foot touched the sideline.

At least he's seeing the field more clearly this year after undergoing offseason Lasik surgery.

"We call him 'New Vision,' " Jones said. "It was a great play. I told him if he didn't wear a size 14 (shoe) he would have stayed inbounds."

Notes: RB Devonta Freeman left the field about 20 minutes before practice ended because of a heat-related issue. Quinn said he would have more information on Monday. It was the second time in camp that heat has forced Freeman, the NFL's highest-paid running back, inside. ... All-Pro WR Julio Jones practiced after missing the preseason game with a tender foot. He is recovering from offseason surgery.

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Steve Sarkisian hire was no leap of faith for Falcons' Dan Quinn


Lindsay H. Jones | USA TODAY SportsUpdated 1 minute ago



FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — When Dan Quinn invited Steve Sarkisian to visit Atlanta Falcons headquarters during the 2016 offseason, the request was both one coach helping out a peer and a preliminary job interview.

Sarkisian, who had been fired by the University of Southern California in October 2015 after a series of alcohol-related incidents, attended practices in the spring and during training camp, and sat in with Quinn’s staff during meetings.

Quinn was impressed enough with his acumen that Sarkisian, who spent 2016 working as an offensive consultant on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama, was one of the first people the Falcons coach called.when offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan took the top job with the San Francisco 49ers after the Super Bowl in February.

Quinn thought Sarkisian’s experience in a West Coast offense, both as a player at BYU and throughout his coaching career, would help ensure a smooth transition.

“To me, he has not only called (plays) in this system before, but he has such a background from playing quarterback and being a play caller for a long time. I thought he was the perfect fit for me,” Quinn told USA TODAY Sports recently. “Kyle did a fantastic job, and I was thinking, ‘Who would be the best guy, so we could be our best self?’ And (Sarkisian) was that.”

With a stop as the Oakland Raiders' quarterbacks coach in 2004 serving as his lone experience at the NFL level, Sarkisian returns to the league after more than a decade in college football. He inherits last season's top-scoring offense, which features the reigning MVP in quarterback Matt Ryan, an all-pro receiver in Julio Jones and a strong running game powered by Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

Sarkisian isn't trying to reinvent the attack, but rather keep it on track. The scheme Shanahan orchestrated for two years remains largely intact, with Sarkisian looking to make minor tweaks. Such changes could include more no-huddle drives, a staple of Sarkisian’s offenses at Washington and USC.

Immediately after he was hired in February, while the rest of Quinn’s staff was on vacation, Sarkisian pored over video of all of the Falcons’ 2016 games and examined how Atlanta used star players like Jones. His next step, when players were allowed to return to the facility in April, was to establish a relationship with Ryan.

“We think a lot alike when it comes to schemes and styles of play, when it comes to what we're thinking on different types of plays and how to attack different coverages,” Sarkisian said of Ryan. “Our dialogue is really good. We have open dialogue that is comforting for both of us.”

Sarkisian voluntarily checked into a rehab facility in October 2015 when he was fired by USC, and Quinn said he did his own research into the coach's past before hiring him. Quinn said the Falcons have a plan in place to help with Sarkisian’s recovery, though he declined to discuss specifics.

Now Sarkisian wants to pay the Falcons back for giving him another chance to coach.

“I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity,” Sarkisian said. “For all of them to trust me to come and do this job is something I'm very grateful for. Now I'm just trying to do my best to continue to show them that they made a great choice to have me.”

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Breaking: Falcons have signed RB Jhurell Pressley


Damond Talbot

NFL Draft Diamonds  


We are learning that Jhurell Pressley has signed a contract with the Atlanta Falcons.

Today Pressley along with David Cobb, and Bralon Addison worked out with the Falcons.

Pressley spent time with the Falcons earlier in his career and the staff are familiar with him. Pressley played college football at New Mexico and was signed by the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He has also been a member of the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Falcons.


Copyright © 2017 NFL Draft Diamonds. All rights reserved.

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Falcons’ defense should benefit from Poe’s long journey to NFL


By Jeff SchultzAugust 17, 2017| Filed in: ajc-sports.ajc, alert, Atlanta Falcons / NFL



FLOWERY BRANCH – There is a story associated with Dontari Poe’s upbringing that is more Hollywood schtick than fact. It goes that this big kid from a tough upbringing in an open sore of a neighborhood in Memphis was walking down the hallway one day, carrying his snare drum from the high school marching band, when the football spotted him and with flames in his eyes and said, “You’re playing football!” And the rest was “Blindside” history.

That’s not completely true.

“I just wanted to play football, so I tried out for the team,” Poe said.

Well, that’s boring.

“It’s true that I was playing drums, but I wasn’t too into it. I wanted to try football because I enjoyed watching it. I got pretty good at it.”

There’s an ongoing debate as to whether the Falcons can get back to the Super Bowl. Poe is one of the biggest reasons, literally and figuratively, why that answer is yes. The team should be improved on defense, in part because of increased talent and depth on the line. They signed Poe, who will start inside with Grady Jarrett, and added free-agent tackle Jack Crawford and end Takk McKinley in the draft.


Poe is about makeovers. Football enabled him to makeover his life. He grew up in a crime- and drug-infested Whitehaven neighborhood with a single mother of four. Many friends never made it out. It’s not an uncommon story.

“Growing up in Memphis wasn’t too different from anywhere else, and it didn’t seem difficult because it’s what I was used to,” he said. “But for the discipline and the structure that I needed, football helped. It kept me out of the streets. I loved it. Football changed my life. Football probably saved my life.”

He wasn’t highly recruited, but Memphis wanted him, so he signed near home. He wasn’t widely considered a coveted NFL prospect, but Kansas City liked him and took him in round one. The Chiefs’ general manager at time, Scott Pioli, was skewered by the media for that decision. But Pioli, who’s now in the Falcons’ front office, turned out to be right. Critics saw Poe as a heavy underclassmen with few sacks who played for a school that won five games in three seasons in the low-level Conference USA.

Pioli saw untapped talent. Poe has gone to two Pro Bowls. Pioli wins.

“I can’t say it enough: He won five games in his three years,” Pioli said. “But we saw the speed and the explosion. He played nose tackle, defensive tackle and defensive end. He played for two head coaches, three defensive coordinators and three line coaches. He was a 350-pound guy running sideline to sideline, and he was playing 60 snaps a game.”

The effort, enthusiasm and athletic ability has been ever-present in Poe’s career. In addition to 202 tackles and 13 sacks, he has scored three touchdowns: a 1-yard run when he got (sort of) airborne, another 1-yard run that actually was a lateral catch off a bubble screen, and a 2-yard Tim Tebow-like jump pass to Demetrius Harris.

He smiles when asked if brought his offensive playbook with him from Kansas City.

“Right now I’m focused on get this (defense) right. But when we the season starts, I’ll be asking.”

There will be plays for Poe in the offense, coach Dan Quinn somewhat confirmed: “You may see that package come alive,” he said.

But that’s not why Poe really here. It’s more about the player’s next makeover.

Poe probably played at close to 350 pounds last season. He said he has shed “about 15” to get under 340 and collect the first $125,000 incentive bonus, which can escalate to $500,000 in future weigh-ins.

Why the slim-down? It’s not just because the Falcons thought he ate too much barbecue. (Cut him some slack: It’s tough living in Memphis and Kansas City.) Poe was a classic nose tackle in the Chiefs’ 3-4 front. He mission was to take up space and plug a hole, left or right.

But Quinn saw Poe as somebody who had the speed and athleticism to penetrate. He wants him to play “north-south” and collapse the pocket, and he believed from watching tape of Poe in the Chiefs’ nickel defense that he has the required skill set. But that necessitated slimming down.

“He did a good job of getting lighter so he could play even faster,” Quinn said. “He’s always had great stamina. It wasn’t like, here’s a 350-pound man who doesn’t have the stamina to play. He’s played really high percentages” (of plays in Kansas City).

Poe sensed the Falcons’ plan for him even before his relative recruiting trip. He was excited when Quinn showed him cut-ups of his games and compared them with Falcons’ tape of a year ago.

“When he showed me the film and told me how he wanted me to play, I loved it, and I saw it in his eyes and there was no question where I wanted to be,” Poe said.

It’s a long way from Whitehaven. It actually was former Alabama coach and Tampa Bay defensive line assistant Mike DuBose who first told Poe he had the ability to play in the NFL. Poe was a freshman at Memphis, DuBose was the defensive line coach.

“He pulled me aside and said, ‘If you take this seriously, you can really do anything you want to on the field,'” Poe said. “It’s one of those things you dream of, but when you hear it from somebody who’s been there, it’s special.”

Poe’s thoughts turned to the obvious for a kid who grew up with so little.

“It’s a way to change you and your family’s life. It was big for me.”

He bought his mother a house and a car. His newfound wealth also led him to start the Poemansdream Foundation, which helps underserved youth in the Memphis area. His desire is to bring the program to Atlanta and other cities.

“I don’t forget where I came from,” he said. The foundation puts on “camps, fundraisers, activities, anything to have a positive impact.”

Pioli is not surprised. He was familiar with Poe’s section of town from his days as a college coach when he recruited the Memphis area. But he saw that Poe had steered clear of trouble.

“He was clean as a human being, a good person, a leader,” he said. “He was the total package, not just as a player but a person.”

Can he make a difference for the Falcons on the field?

“That’s why I’m here,” he said.

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Former Atlanta Falcons RB Michael Turner helping with AtlantaFalcons.com coverage this season


by James Rael@falcoholicjames Aug 19, 2017, 4:00pm EDT

The Falcoholic  


Former Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner is back! But don’t get too excited, he isn’t taking a victory lap as the Falcons third running back. He’s got a whole new gig at The Mothership, this time as a part-time reporter covering the team.

Turner’s credentials are outstanding. He was an amazing asset during his five year tenure with the Falcons. He rushed for over 1,300 rushing yards three times, racking up 1,699 rushing yards during Matt Ryan’s rookie campaign. That 2008 season meant the world to Falcons fans, as the team tried desperately to reinvent itself after Michael Vick went to prison and Bobby Petrino ghosted us following his thirteen game experiment as an NFL head coach. Turner scored 60 rushing touchdowns during his time with the Falcons, including 17 rushing touchdowns in 2008 alone.

It’s not clear exactly how involved Turner will be in covering the team or how frequently we will see his features. The Mothership is giving us just enough to get excited, like when your local Piggly Wiggly lets you sample the fancy wine. Michael Turner, you are our fancy wine.

Your thoughts?


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

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Owner Arthur Blank: Falcons have 'fastest defense in the NFL'


Vaughn McClure

ESPN.com | 7:19 PM ET


ATLANTA -- As Arthur Blank proudly talked about next Saturday's grand opening of the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Atlanta Falcons owner was equally excited about the NFL product that has been assembled to play inside the new venue.

There are high expectations for Blank's Falcons coming off last season's Super Bowl run, which ended with a 34-28 overtime loss to the New England Patriots for the title, during which the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead.

“For some reason, during the Super Bowl, they decided to extend the game by one quarter; it wasn't good for us,” Blank said with a laugh during a news conference at the stadium Saturday afternoon. “So we're getting ready to play a full four quarters now in the Super Bowl. I couldn't be happier with where our team is.”

Coach Dan Quinn, going into his third season, returns the league's top-scoring offense behind Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman. The former Seattle defensive coordinator has quickly put together a Seahawks-style defense in Atlanta.

“I think that Coach Quinn has done a fabulous job,” Blank said. “Thomas Dimitroff, our general manager, a fabulous job; I think all of the coaches and the personnel department and the players. We'll have one of the youngest defenses in the NFL. And we do have the fastest defense in the NFL right now.

“And when you're being led by the Most Valuable Player in the league last year as your quarterback last -- Matt Ryan, who lives up to MVP both on the field and off the field -- and the tremendous about of talent behind him [with] Julio and many, many other players, we're in a good position to compete. But everybody is that way.”

The Falcons have gotten faster on defense with the additions of first-round pick Takkarist McKinley, a defensive end from UCLA; third-round pick Duke Riley, a linebacker from LSU; and fifth-round pick Damontae Kazee, a defensive back from San Diego State. They already have one of the league's fastest rushers off the edge in reigning NFL sack champ Vic Beasley Jr. as well as two starting cornerbacks with speed in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, along with a speedy middle linebacker in Deion Jones.

The Falcons also added two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe up front to team with up-and-coming nose tackle Grady Jarrett, another player with good speed. Hard-hitting Keanu Neal and fast-thinking Ricardo Allen are the safety combo, and De'Vondre Campbell adds even more speed at linebacker. Nickelback Brian Poole gives the Falcons yet another talented defensive back.

With all that speed, the Falcons still have plenty of ground to make up from a statistical standpoint. Last year, they ranked 25th out of 32 teams in total defense, 28th in passing yards allowed per game, tied for 29th in first downs allowed per game and dead last in red-zone defense. Not to mention how much the defense contributed to the blown, 25-point lead in the Super Bowl. The Falcons have a new defensive coordinator in Marquand Manuel, who previously was the secondary coach.

The Falcons will continue to shake off any Super Bowl hangover and build momentum toward the regular season with Sunday's exhibition at Pittsburgh against a Steelers team that's also considered a Super Bowl contender.

“I'm going to Pittsburgh tomorrow, and I spoke to [Steelers owner] Art Rooney the other day, and their quarterback [Ben Roethlisberger] has decided to play a couple more years, so they're ready to compete. It's the beauty of the NFL. Every fan across the country in July and August and even September feels like they have a chance to win. And that's the way it should be. ... We'll take it a game at a time, but we're ready to compete.”

The Falcons open the regular season Sept. 10 in Chicago against the Bears.

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NFL.com names Atlanta Falcons rookie safety Damontae Kazee one of NFL’s “rising defensive players”


by James Rael@falcoholicjames Aug 17, 2017, 11:59pm EDT

The Falcoholic  


Atlanta Falcons rookie safety Damontae Kazee hasn’t played a single regular season game yet. Heck, he’s greener than grass. (Unless we’re talking about Dave’s grass, which is weed-ridden and brown.) But that hasn’t stopped Kazee from getting an incredible amount of hype, particularly given his status as a fifth round draft pick.

NFL.com’s Ike Taylor published an interesting list yesterday afternoon. It highlights five defensive players on the rise, at least from Taylor’s perspective. Three of the five players have NFL experience, while two are rookies. Kazee was one of the two rookies. T.J. Watt, the 30th overall pick in April’s draft, was the other. Here’s part of Taylor’s glowing review:

Kazee has balled out in training camp and preseason as a free safety for the Falcons. He's earned first-team reps and has made several impressive plays. Kazee has outstanding awareness and ball skills, which will make it hard for Dan Quinn to keep him off the field, even with a deep secondary. Expect big things from a guy who reminds me a lot of Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu -- both small, dominant free safeties.

Taylor is so bullish on Kazee that he goes on to suggest that the Pro Bowl could be in the 24 year old’s not-so-distant future. While I love seeing any Atlanta Falcons draft pick get hyped, this all seems a little premature. For now Kazee looks to have been a steal in the draft, and the Falcons are lucky he fell so far. He’s solid depth headed into the season, and I doubt Ricardo Allen doesn’t have his head on a swivel. That said, it’s going to take more than complimentary write ups by NFL analysts to help him unseat Allen.

Your thoughts?


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

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Devonta Freeman out for Falcons vs. Cardinals; Still in Concussion Protocol


Adam Wells

Bleacher Report | August 23, 2017


Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman will miss the team's third preseason game on Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals due to a concussion.

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn announced Wednesday that Freeman would be held out of action this weekend.

"He's doing well," Quinn said, via ESPN's Vaughn McClure. "He's going to visit with the independent part of the protocol come up here soon. He won't play in this ball game. He won't practice today. He's back to full-speed running. But it's soon that he'll be back participating full speed in practice. But you won't see him suited up for this weekend.''

The Falcons placed Freeman in concussion protocol after he showed concussion-like symptoms during practice on Aug. 13.

Freeman has been an integral part of the Falcons offense since being drafted in 2014. The 25-year-old came into his own in 2015 with 1,056 rushing yards, 578 receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns.

Last season marked the first time Freeman appeared in all 16 games for the Falcons. He racked up 1,079 rushing yards, 462 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns to help Atlanta reach the Super Bowl.

After Freeman signed a five-year extension with the Falcons in August, Pro Football Focus noted he was the eighth-highest-graded running back during the 2016 season with an 83.3 overall mark.

The good news for Atlanta is the regular season doesn't begin for two more weeks. The offense remains loaded with skill-position talent to play at a high level without Freeman. Tevin Coleman has been a strong backup to Freeman with 520 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season.

Beyond the running backs, quarterback Matt Ryan is the reigning NFL MVP and wide receiver Julio Jones has had at least 1,400 receiving yards in each of the past three seasons.

Freeman gives the Falcons a more complete offense, but they are still good enough to remain atop the NFC South without him if he is forced to miss an extended period of time due to his concussion.

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