VIDEO: Rookie John Cominsky had a busy first practice with the Falcons. Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter.

Cover 9@9: College position coach shares insights into Falcons prospect John Cominsky

1. Cominsky corner. University of Charleston defensive line coach Zack Santolla has spent the most time with Falcons fourth-round pick John Cominsky, the defensive end/tackle selected by the Falcons in the fourth round with the 135th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.

“He’s going to prove to a lot of people that he can play at that level,” Santolla said via phone Sunday. “He’s going to carry that chip on his shoulder. He’s going to play with that hard edge because he was a Division II player and got overlooked coming out of high school.”

Santolla has coached Cominsky since his sophomore season at Charleston, a Division II school in the Mountain East Conference. 

“The year before I coached against him I was at Shepherd University, another (MEC) school,” Santolla said. “At the time, when I was coaching against him, against us that year he didn’t play a ton. He rotated in. He was still a young guy at the time.”

Coming out of Barberton (Ohio) High school, Cominsky was a 6-foot-1, 215-pound quarterback. Charleston extended to him his only scholarship offer. He was moved to defensive line and turned into a NFL prospect after growing four inches and adding more than 70 pounds.  

“I got here in late June, early July of 2016, which was my first year,” Santollo said. “When I walked on campus, he was one of the first two guys that I met. He and I sat down and had a good conversation.

“At the time, you don’t know these guys until it’s hot and you’re going through camp. Then you find out what they are made of.”

It didn’t take long for Cominsky to impress his new position coach. 

“It was pretty obvious, early on, that he was a little bit different than everybody else,” said Santolla, a native of Roanoke, Va., who played fullback at Emory and Henry. “He carried himself a little bit differently. He was the hardest working guy in any room that we ever stepped foot in.”

Over the years, the two bonded.

“My relationship with him is going to go far beyond when football is over,” Santolla said. “He’s moved on and he knows that.”

After Cominsky’s junior season, NFL scouts started showing up for workouts and at team practices.

“I knew coming out of his junior year, he had a huge year, at one point he was No. 1 in the country in tackles for loss,” Santolla said. “His production was ridiculous. The film was unbelievable. I knew that we were going to start getting some traffic early on. 

“That spring they came in and tested him going into his senior year and he tested through the roof.”

The NFL scouts kept finding their way to Charleston. 

“Then his senior year rolled around and at his first practice we had four teams there,” Santolla said. “We weren’t even in shoulder pads. I knew then. … After he tested really well, we sat down and had a good conversation.

“I said look, ‘this is what you want. You want to play in the NFL. This is your life. Your livelihood. This is what you want to do.’ He brought in from the minute we had the conversation.”

The scouts consulted with Santolla. 

“The one thing that I’d tell everybody, even when scouts weren’t at practice, he was still working,” Santolla said. “You never had to pull to get him to go. He was a guy who was extremely self-motivated and wanted to be the best.”

2. Special talent. Santolla didn’t have to motivate Cominsky.

“For me as his coach, it was hard,” Santolla said. “You try to set the tone with your freshmen and get on one of your older guys at practice and push them. I didn’t have to and that is what I told my young guys. I don’t have to push his buttons to try to get him to go. If anything at practice, I needed to slow him down a little bit.”

3. Growth spurt. Santolla also witnessed the transformation of Cominsky’s body.

“He was about 6-5, but he wasn’t the 285 pounds that he is now,” Santolla said. “My first year, he was probably about 255, 260.” 

Cominsky worked with the school’s strength coach and ate a lot of pizza to put on weight. 

“He needed to eat a ton of calories to match how hard he was working,” Santolla said. 

In addition to pizza, Cominsky could also put away some Mexican food. 

“Our strength program is really good, but being (Division II) we don’t have the nutrition plans that give these guys what to eat and where to go,” Santolla said. “John knew he had to improvise, and we were smart enough to know what he was doing. I’m a huge Chipotle guy, and I know he can go to Chipotle and eat two bowls like nothing. I could finish one and be full.

“Matching what he was eating with how hard he was working, it was impressive to see.”

Santollo has pictures of Cominsky’s transformation from high school through college on his computer. 

“You can see in his face and his body how he was changing drastically,” Cominsky said. “Because at the end of it, it was all about work. He’s just old-school, hard-nosed, hard-working type of guy.” 

4. Getting his pad level down.  Because he was able to physically dominate in Division II, Cominsky sometimes played with a high pad level. That’s one of the things the Falcons must fix. With Dan Quinn and the Falcons staff set to visit in April, Santolla share his critique with Cominsky.

“The first thing they are going to talk to you about is your pad level,” Santolla said he told Cominsky. 

Santolla worked with Cominsky’s hands daily in practice. 

“For us, he would win without (violent hands),” Santolla said. “That’s what kind of hurt me at times with him. He dominated these guys at this level.

“It’s not that we don’t play good offensive lines. There are some pretty good players, no doubt, but he was on another level with his ability, strength and size. He understood that. 

“He’ll admit it, there were times where he wouldn’t get his pads down as well as we wanted him to, but he would still dominate and win.”

Those minor flaws will be fixed in professional practice. The low man wins in the NFL.

“I was excited that Dan Quinn was the one that was going to end up with him,” Santolla said. “I knew Dan Quinn was a defensive (line) guy. That’s a big deal. He’s going to groove it. It’s going to be impressive.”

5. Restless in Atlanta. In wake of the release of Peter King’s power rankings, Falcons owner Arthur Blank responded to the comment that he was “restless” about the football team. 

“I’m feeling very good about what (general manager) Thomas (Dimitroff) and (coach) Dan (Quinn) have done this offseason,” Blank said in a statement sent to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via email. “We have some key guys getting healthy again, the draft picks are getting up to speed, the new coordinators are meshing well and I’m confident we’re going to be ready to go for a very competitive training camp. I like where we’re going.”

The Falcons were  ranked 17th in Peter King’s “Football Morning in America”  column, which was published on Monday.

He notes that the Falcons have an 18-17 record since losing Super Bowl LI and dropped an interesting tidbit about Blank.

“I keep hearing owner Arthur Blank is getting restless,” King wrote. “In the Falcons’ last 35 games (the first one in that 35-game string is the Super Bowl loss to New England), they’re 18-17, and they’ve got a $30-million-a-year quarterback (Matt Ryan) and a receiver (Julio Jones), soon, likely to be a $20-million-a-year player.”

New Orleans is ranked sixth, and it’s noted that they scored 90 points more than the Falcons last season.

Of other NFC South opponents, Carolina is ranked 21st and Tampa Bay 29th.

6. Local sport agency grows. EnterSports Management, a longtime Atlanta-based sports management agency, has acquired Premier Athlete Advisors of Charlotte, N.C., the firms announced Tuesday. 

The purchase prize of the transaction was not revealed.

With Premier, EnterSports, whose president is Hadley Engelhard, picks up a firm that already has a profitable football division and will expand its footprint deeper into the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states. 

Premier’s founder and chief executive officer Adam M. Seifer has represented NFL and NASCAR athletes, along with entertainers such as WWE Superstars and musicians, for more than a decade.

Seifer was named vice president of football operations for ESM.

In addition to football, ESM has a growing baseball division based out of southern Florida that includes Astros All-Star pitcher Will Harris and Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario. Engelhard has been representing athletes for almost 30 years and also has an entertainment background, having worked with Atlanta hip-hop mogul Jermaine Dupri in establishing a sports division at So So Def. 

“The synergies between our companies were too strong to ignore,” Seifer said. “Hadley, (senior agent) Jim (Ulrich) and I share the same vision in terms of what it means to truly service the client and provide one-stop shopping for all of the player’s career and post-career needs. Ultimately, it came down to trust, which is of utmost importance in any business relationship. This really wasn’t a hard decision.”

The combined agency will grow to more than 30 active NFL clients.

“ESM’s in-house full-service staff gives our clients greater access to a comprehensive marketing, public-relations, and client-services team, which in turn provides limitless business opportunities to our players both during and long after their playing days are over,” Seifer said. 

Founded in the early 1990s, ESM’s client roster includes multiple Pro Bowl stars, future Hall of Famer Robert Mathis (of Atlanta), as well as Super Bowl winner Trey Burton. 

The firms have represented more than a dozen first-round draft picks over the years, including Hayden Hurst, the 25th overall pick this year.

“We are very excited to welcome Adam to the ESM Family,” Engelhard said. “Adam’s experience and passion will make him a great asset to the company and we look forward to building upon our success with him.”


7. Levitre calls it quits. Former Falcons guard Andy Levitre announced his retirement from the NFL on social media on Tuesday. 

“Unfortunately, due to injury my body won’t allow me to continue any longer,” Levitre wrote. “Thank you to my wife and children, my family, friends, coaches, teammates and all of the fans who supported me on this journey.”

The Falcons acquired Levitre from the Tennessee Titans via trade before the start of the 2015 season. He came in the week before the season opener and took over the starting left guard position.

Levitre started all 16 regular-season games in 2015 and 2016. He started in the playoffs and in Super Bowl LI for the Falcons.

His troubles started in the 2017 season when he suffered a torn triceps injury after starting 13 games. 

Levitre tried to return in 2018, but was lost for the season when he torn the same triceps in the second game of the season, when he played 12 snaps against the Panthers. Wes Schweitzer, who started 18 games in 2017 at right guard, came on after Levitre was injured and finished the game.

After the season, Levitre said he wanted to continue his career, but changed his mind.

8. The beginning. Levitre, 32, was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the second round (51st overall) of the 2009 draft out of Oregon State.

He played four seasons with the Bills before signing a lucrative six-year, $48.6 million deal in free agency with the Titans. Things didn’t go smoothly for Levitre in Nashville.

The Falcons traded with the Titans to get Levitre only two years into his six-year contract. The Falcons sent the Titans a sixth-round draft pick and a conditional pick. 

Overall, he started 47 games for the Falcons, including all 19 games during the march to the Super Bowl LI in the 2016 season. He played 143 NFL games, all starts.

He’s going to be missed by the media. After a tough 2015, where he had to learn on the fly, he led the team in penalties with 11 that stalled eight drives. We discussed how he planned to eliminate those from his game in 2016. 

9. Updated depth chart:  With the rookie minicamp over, we can stack the 90-man depth chart as the Falcons are set to roll in to phase three of their offseason program, OTAs, on Monday.

While the rookie guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary are expected to start, you have to put them behind veterans until they “earn” the starting spots.

Falcons signed running back Tony Brooks-James and released running back Jeremy Langford on Saturday.

Brooks-James, who attended the rookie minicamp on a tryout, played at Oregon.

Brooks-James, who’s 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, rushed 283 times for 1,863 yards and scored 18 touchdowns for the Ducks. He also caught 40 passes for 392 yards and scored two touchdowns. He also returned 44 kickoffs for 1,047 yards and one touchdown.

Also, Matt Gono has taken over jersey No. 73, while Ra’Shede Hageman got his old No. 77 jersey back.

Here’s a look at the depth chart:

Offense

WR 11 Julio Jones, 14, Justin Hardy, 83 Russell Gage, 13 Christian Blake, 16 Shawn Bane 
 LT 70 Jake Matthews, 75 John Wetzel, 73 Matt Gono, 69 Lanard Bonner, 65 Jaelin Robinson 
 LG 77 James Carpenter, 71 Wes Schweitzer, 60 Adam Gettis
 C 51 Alex Mack, 61 Chandler Miller, 71 Wes Schweitzer
 RG 68 Jamon Brown, 63 Chris Lindstrom, 64 Sean Harlow 
 RT 74 Ty Sambrailo, 76 Kaleb McGary, 67 Devon Johnson
 TE 81 Austin Hooper, 88 Luke Stocker, 82 Logan Paulsen, 85 Eric Saubert, 87 Jaeden Graham, 89 Alex Gray 
 WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Calvin Ridley, 15 Devin Gray, 19 Kahlil Lewis, 7 C.J. Worton, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus 
 QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 6 Kurt Benkert
 RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 25 Ito Smith, 23 Brian Hill, 38 Kenjon Barner, 30 Tony Brooks-James, 43 Marcus Green 
 FB 30 Ricky Ortiz, 32 Qadree Ollison, 88 Luke Stocker

Defense

DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 56 Steven Means, 91 Chris Odom
 DT 95 Jack Crawford, 96 Tyeler Davison, 94 Deadrin Senat, 50 John Cominsky, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 93 Michael Bennett, 79 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner 
 DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 79 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 92 Justin Zimmer 
 DE 98 Takk McKinley, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 50 John Cominsky
 WLB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 42 Duke Riley, 52 Yurik Bethune 
 MLB 45 Deion Jones, 55 Bruce Carter, 49 Tre Crawford, 46 Del’Shawn Phillips 
 SLB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 53 Jermaine Grace, 48 Durrant Miles 
 CB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 23 Jayson Stanley 
NCB 27 Damontae Kazee, 28 Jordan Miller 

 CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 39 Taveze Calhoun, 20 Kendall Sheffield, 32 Rashard CauseyFS 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman, 35 Afolabi Laguda, 43 Parker Baldwin 
 SS 22 Keanu Neal, 37 J.J. Wilcox, 40 Ryan Neal, 34 Chris Cooper 

Specialists

K 4 Giorgio Tavecchio
 KO 5 Matt Bosher 
 P 5 Matt Bosher 
 KR 38 Kenjon Barner, 18 Calvin Ridley
 PR 14 Justin Hardy, 43 Marcus Green, 38 Kenjon Barner 
 LS 47 Josh Harris, 48 Kyle Vasey
 H 5 Matt Bosher

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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