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In-depth insight into Arthur Smith’s Falcons coaching staff: Part 1 - The Athletic


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by Tori McElhaney for The Athletic

 

While Arthur Smith said in his introductory news conference that he intended to take his time deciding who would be joining his staff with the Falcons, he didn’t waste any time doing so. By the end of his first official week on the job, Smith had named his coordinators and a number of assistants.

To get a better idea of this growing staff, let’s take a look at a number of the individuals coming to Atlanta and what the situation is for their specific unit with some insight into their past through various voices in The Athletic’s newsroom.

Dave Ragone, offensive coordinator

Most recent stop: Chicago. Last season was Ragone’s first as Chicago’s passing-game coordinator. He had spent the previous four seasons as the quarterbacks coach.

What he’ll inherit in Atlanta: An offense that underperformed and underproduced at times in 2020. Atlanta was one of the worst teams in the red zone, and in the latter half of the season, the offense struggled at times to even stay on the field. The running game wasn’t flashy, and Matt Ryan was sacked too many times. Without Julio Jones for much of the season, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage did some good things in his absence. But without much of a running game to support the offense’s balance, Atlanta seemed to be limited in its overall attack. Those limitations showed up against good defenses and almost always in the red zone. Raheem Morris said it best: While the Falcons love that they had Younghoe Koo, they would like to see a little less of him. Teams can’t win very many games without touchdowns.

The unknown of the offense: What pieces will Ragone have to work with in 2021? Will the lack of offensive success in 2020 carry over?

Newsroom insight: When Matt Nagy got to Chicago in 2018, the only offensive coach he retained was Ragone, which says something considering Nagy’s own quarterback acumen. Ragone’s experience with Mitch Trubisky probably helped, but Nagy easily could’ve gone elsewhere. The Bears liked some of Ragone’s play designs — and Nagy let Ragone call plays in a preseason game in 2019. As part of last year’s staff overhaul, Nagy wanted a different coach with the QBs, hiring John DeFilippo, and he easily could have moved on from Ragone but instead promoted Ragone to passing-game coordinator. As lackluster as the passing attack has been, Ragone hasn’t taken much of the heat in town for it. He has been with two very different offensive systems in Chicago and multiple roller-coaster quarterback situations — in 2016, Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley all started games, then it was Mike Glennon and Trubisky in 2017 and then Trubisky versus Nick Foles this past season, so he should be NFL-battle-tested. — Kevin Fishbain, Chicago beat reporter

Charles London, quarterbacks coach

Most recent stop: Chicago. London has been the running backs coach for the Bears for the past three seasons.

What he’ll inherit in Atlanta: Ryan. Ryan’s individual numbers were on par when comparing 2020 to the previous three seasons after his MVP year in 2016. This coming season will be Ryan’s 14th in Atlanta.

The unknown of his position group: How will the draft impact Ryan’s backup situation and the future of the position? General manager Terry Fontenot’s philosophy when drafting players is to select the best player available. Will that be a quarterback? It’s likely.

Newsroom insight: London returned to the Bears when Nagy got to Chicago in 2018 after London spent the 2007-09 seasons as a Bears quality control coach. The running game struggled for most of London’s time here, but it was rarely considered the fault of the players in his room. Tarik Cohen was outstanding in 2018. David Montgomery had a strong finish to the 2020 season. Both players seemed to have a good rapport with London, but there’s no way of telling how he’ll be as a quarterbacks coach based on his time in Chicago. — Fishbain

Dave Brock, wide receivers coach

Most recent stop: Atlanta. Brock was one of only a couple of coaches retained from the previous staff. He has been with the Falcons for four years. He has served as the running backs coach and an offensive assistant and spent the past two seasons as the wide receivers coach.

What he’ll continue to have in Atlanta: Talent. Let’s not even mention the Jones situation for a second (I promise if you look below, it’s there). Just look at Ridley and Gage’s 2020 successes in a year that didn’t include much success for the offense. Ridley finally broke through the 1,000-yard mark. It was a goal he set at the beginning of the season, and he finished the season in the top five in the league with 1,374 yards. Gage was a favorite target of Ryan’s on third down and set a career high with 786 yards.

The unknown of his position group: Will Brock have Jones again? Even with the questions the Falcons have surrounding their plans for the draft, this is one of the biggest decisions the new staff and front office will have to make this offseason: What exactly do they do with Jones?

Newsroom insight (was retaining Brock a good idea?): How do I answer this? “Well, he didn’t screw up Jones or Ridley.” Seriously, it’s difficult to know what incumbent assistant coaches Smith liked, didn’t like or just wasn’t sure about. This isn’t a statement about Brock, but it’s also possible that with some potential candidates under contract elsewhere and several teams competing for assistants, Smith simply can’t get everybody he wants. All that said, this position has not been a problem for the Falcons, so I don’t want to sell Brock short. He deserves at least some credit for Ridley’s development, especially in 2020, and the significant improvement of Gage. It’s also noteworthy that when Fontenot was asked at his introductory news conference what stood out about the Falcons as an opponent, he said: “Obviously, the receivers stress you out. … I don’t want to get into the roster, but it’s not rocket science to say the Falcons have really good receivers.” — Jeff Schultz, Atlanta columnist

Dwayne Ledford, offensive line coach

Most recent stop: Louisville. Ledford has been the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach the past three seasons.

What he’ll inherit in Atlanta: A group with potential that needs to be tapped into further. When breaking down some of the most important offensive weapons, one of the first names Smith listed was Chris Lindstrom. Lindstrom was a player the previous staff was excited about and pleased with. He’ll be the best piece Ledford will have to work with. Fellow first-round pick Kaleb McGary will be around, too, along with Jake Matthews. So while there are questions about how much better this group can be in 2021 and what adjustments and shifts need to be made, there are some key pieces returning.

The unknown of his position group: How will the transition from Alex Mack to Matt Hennessy go? The development of Hennessy will be one of the most important storylines this offseason. Mack is a free agent, and unless the Falcons can make room under the salary cap, Mack’s days in Atlanta are likely over. So, center falls to Hennessy, which is what everyone thought would happen when Hennessy was drafted last year. How much better can Hennessy get from Year 1 to Year 2? There was quite a jump for Lindstrom and McGary from their rookie year to 2020. Ledford will have to get Hennessy ready quickly and make sure there’s an obvious step up in his play in 2021.

Newsroom insight: As a general rule, I view it as risky to hire a college coach with no NFL experience. But two things work in Ledford’s favor: 1) He had an excellent reputation as a line coach in college, having been nominated three times for the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant. 2) Offensive coordinators generally bring their line coach with them, since philosophy, play design and blocking schemes are all intertwined. Smith is effectively the offensive coordinator so he would not hire a line coach unless he was confident his desires were in line with Ledford’s coaching skill set. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe the Falcons’ line is as big of a disaster as some others do. The obvious questions: What do they do at guard? Is it possible McGary or Matthews will move inside? Can Hennessy replace Mack at center? But I think they have decent pieces, and guard Lindstrom, Hennessy and McGary are all young. — Jeff Schultz, Atlanta columnist

Justin Peelle, tight ends coach

Most recent stop: Philadelphia. Peelle has been the tight ends coach for the Eagles for six seasons.

What he’ll inherit in Atlanta: A position with room to grow, in scheme and size. While Hayden Hurst’s numbers in his first season with the Falcons were double what they were when he was in a different system with Baltimore, at times it felt as though he was underutilized, especially without Jones on the field. When Hurst did get the ball, it was more likely than not that the Falcons picked up a first down. Continuing to see Hurst’s comfort with the system in Atlanta grow (especially with a new play-caller in Smith) will be interesting, and with someone as experienced as Peelle leading him, this could be an exciting time for Hurst.

The unknown of his position group: This position is a little more simple in comparison to some of the other positions listed here (and positions that we’ll discuss as the week goes on). The Falcons will need to fill out the depth of the room a little more. Luke Stocker, who was Hurst’s backup, is a free agent in 2021, as is Jaeden Graham. So, if the Falcons choose not to resign either (mainly Stocker), they will have to find bodies to fill the room. In comparison to some of the other unknowns for this team, this one seems manageable and nothing Peelle hasn’t dealt with before.

Newsroom insight: Peelle had been one of the Eagles’ longest-tenured assistants, joining the staff in 2013 when Chip Kelly was the head coach and remaining with the Eagles after Kelly’s dismissal when Doug Pederson was hired in 2016. The Eagles’ tight ends enjoyed considerable success during Peelle’s tenure, which started as an assistant tight ends coach for his first two years. Zach Ertz was drafted in the second round during Peelle’s first season, so he was the constant throughout Peelle’s eight years. Ertz was paired with Brent Celek during the first five years, and Dallas Goedert was paired with Ertz during the past three years. There was a rotating group at the No. 3 tight end, with Trey Burton as the most notable.

Peelle was a major part of the development of Ertz, Goedert and Burton. Ertz is a three-time Pro Bowler who set the NFL’s single-season receptions record (116) in 2018. Burton was an undrafted rookie who signed a $32 million contract after four seasons under Peelle. The Eagles used tight ends more than any team in the NFL in recent seasons. They played 12 personnel on a league-high 31.9 percent of the offensive snaps since 2016.

In Peelle, the Falcons will get a credentialed position coach who also brings playing experience to the group. He had a 10-year NFL career, playing with Drew Brees in San Diego. He was Matt Ryan’s teammate during Ryan’s first three seasons. He was known for his blocking as a player and can help in the development of tight ends in that area. — Zach Berman, Philadelphia Eagles beat writer

 

 

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I find the staffing a bit confusing.  Hope these guys are great.  

I would have expected, since AS is a first time coach and won't be able to devote his whole time to the offense, that he would have taken a proven line guy and QB coach to assist, along with a young great mind OC.

It doesn't look like a strong group, but it may be.  Ragone has never shown he can be an OC, but maybe he can.  A RB coach for QB coach doesn't seem to make sense.  A college OL coach doesn't seem to make sense.

He didn't choose safe or known options very often.  So it's high risk...hopefully it's also high reward.

 

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3 hours ago, Xfactor said:

The only head scratcher for me is London a RB coach now a QB coach. I haven’t read much about him no clue if he coached QB’s in his career.

I had the same thought. Maybe (hopefully) there's something we don't know.

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45 minutes ago, takeitdown said:

I find the staffing a bit confusing.  Hope these guys are great.  

I would have expected, since AS is a first time coach and won't be able to devote his whole time to the offense, that he would have taken a proven line guy and QB coach to assist, along with a young great mind OC.

It doesn't look like a strong group, but it may be.  Ragone has never shown he can be an OC, but maybe he can.  A RB coach for QB coach doesn't seem to make sense.  A college OL coach doesn't seem to make sense.

He didn't choose safe or known options very often.  So it's high risk...hopefully it's also high reward.

 

Well they are mostly known to him.

Most of the staff has worked with Smith at some point in his career.

 

Honestly the staff is underwhelming to me but they have the benefit of the doubt, and they will have a couple season worth of that as long as we see improvement.

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4 hours ago, falconsd56 said:

Well they are mostly known to him.

Most of the staff has worked with Smith at some point in his career.

 

Honestly the staff is underwhelming to me but they have the benefit of the doubt, and they will have a couple season worth of that as long as we see improvement.

Yeah, I understand he knows them.

I just expected a more established defensive team, and a couple young guys who could help him innovate on the offensive side.

We got an established D coordinator, but not an obvious guy to push him or take over for him.

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17 hours ago, takeitdown said:

I find the staffing a bit confusing.  Hope these guys are great.  

I would have expected, since AS is a first time coach and won't be able to devote his whole time to the offense, that he would have taken a proven line guy and QB coach to assist, along with a young great mind OC.

It doesn't look like a strong group, but it may be.  Ragone has never shown he can be an OC, but maybe he can.  A RB coach for QB coach doesn't seem to make sense.  A college OL coach doesn't seem to make sense.

He didn't choose safe or known options very often.  So it's high risk...hopefully it's also high reward.

 

The bears offense is so bad yet we have two bears personal in key offensive spots, OC and QB coach.  This is already a really bad start.  They couldn't turn Trubisky into a starter and they got the worst performance out of Nick Foles out of the teams he's been on.

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1 hour ago, BLM said:

The bears offense is so bad yet we have two bears personal in key offensive spots, OC and QB coach.  This is already a really bad start.  They couldn't turn Trubisky into a starter and they got the worst performance out of Nick Foles out of the teams he's been on.

Trubisky never been a starter and never was going to be one. Should had drafted Mahomes 

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