Cover 9@9: Deion Jones backs Oluokun promotion

Atlanta Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun (54) celebrates the recovery of the ball during a kickoff against the New Orleans Saints Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Atlanta Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun (54) celebrates the recovery of the ball during a kickoff against the New Orleans Saints Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog — our weekly list of nine things that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.

1. The no-spin zone. One of the Falcons major offseason moves has been to promote linebacker Foye Oluokun into the starting lineup essentially to replace De'Vondre Campell, who left in free agency.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn, based in part on Oluokun’s play in 2018 and 2019, is confident that the former sixth-round pick from Yale can replace Campbell, who was the team’s leading tackler in each of the past two seasons.

Also, former Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones is a staunch supporter.

“I really can’t wait to see him come out and show the world what he’s been working on,” Jones said. “He’s been grinding. He’s been working and he’s been solid.”

In 2018, Jones went down with broken foot in the season opener. Over the course of the season, Oluokun moved ahead of Duke Riley, who opened the season as the starting weakside linebacker.

In 2019, with Jones healthy, it took a while for the Falcons to find a way to get Oluokun on the field more. Riley was traded mid-season to the Eagles for safety Johnathan Cyprien.

» ANALYSIS: Falcons' defense flipped script in 2019

Oluokun played in all 16 games and made three starts last season. He started seven games in 2018.

“He knows a lot of ball,” Jones said. “It’s our job as his teammates to bring all of that knowledge out of him. I think he’s going to do a good job. He’s not backing down from the plate. He’s going to be A-OK.”

Oluokun, who’s 6-2 and 215 pounds, continues a trend of smallish linebacker with speed and power.

“I think that’s just the way the game is changing,” Jones said. “(There are) a lot of spread offenses and a lot of guys in space (who) are really good in space. You could say (Carolina running back Christian) McCaffrey and you could name a dozen guys.”

Oluokun must hit in run support and execute coverage duties. In 2018 against Green Bay, he was 40 yards down the field when he knocked down an Aaron Rodgers pass intended for tight end Jimmy Graham.

“That transition is to keep up with the offenses and be able to go match-for-match (with) people so linebacker-and-running back won’t be a mismatch,” Jones said. “We still need the big guys, but it’s still good to have the hybrid guys down in the mess, too.”

Falcons linebacker Deion Jones addresses recent social unrest nationwide and what NFL players can do improve racial relations. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

2. Fowler's energy: Jones can't wait to get on the field with defensive end Dante Fowler, who was signed in free agency this offseason.

“I think Dante Fowler is going to be a great addition to the team,” Jones said. “He brings energy and a lot of enthusiasm. I love his dog mentality on the edge, too. Just having him on the team and having the juice on the defense, I can’t wait to see him out there with his hair out and having fun.”

3. Last season: Jones believes the team got stronger after going through a difficult 7-9 season.

“I think it was awesome the way we gelled and didn’t point the finger,” Jones said.

The virtual offseason has gone smoothly.

“It’s been going pretty well,” Jones said. “I think it’s fun seeing guys and their different backgrounds and seeing how their man caves are set up and stuff. I think it’s been good. Everything has been flowing well. Guys are connecting still. We are still on task and making sure that everything is taken care of.”

4. Return to the facility. The NFL and NFLPA have agreed on protocols that will reopen facilities to the players soon.

“I’m going to be really excited,” Jones said. “Being on the iPad is fun. It’s very productive working from home and being able to be in your comfort zone. But you are still missing that coaching element. Watching film with the guys and getting their input all together. I can’t wait to get that team camaraderie going and gel the team even closer.”

5. Quarantine life. Several Falcons have taken to grilling, cooking and baking.

“I’ve been taking it to go,” Jones said. “I have not been anywhere. I’ve been playing it safe. I’ve been working out and coming back home. Just bonding with the guys that are in town.”

6. Ryan's GoFundMe surpasses $1 million mark: Falcons QB Matt Ryan currently stands 10th on the NFL's list of career passing yards.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's GoFundMe to advance the lives of the black community in Atlanta passed the $1 million mark in pledges in four days since he started the fundraiser, Ryan announced in a tweet Tuesday.

“From the bottom of my heart; thank you every single person who has donated to my GoFundMe,” Ryan wrote. “Over 1,700 people have donated since Friday and we have raised more than $1 (million) which will ALL go to help support the black community in Atlanta. I’m so moved by how many people have joined me in this mission, but we still have work to do. We are more than half way until we hit the $2 million dollar goal. Please continue to donate and share, as you do, write in the comments your TW/IG handle and I will select some of you at random to highlight in my IG story.

“This week, I’ll be working to continue listening, reading your comments and hearing from leaders in the black community to find (out) how we can make the biggest impact. More news is coming this week, lets go ATL Rise Up!”

The total includes some donations from Falcons management and coaches.

As of Monday morning, some of the 287 donors include coach Dan Quinn ($10,000), general manager Thomas Dimitroff ($10,000), president Rich McKay ($5,000) and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter ($5,000). Several other coaches, team personnel and NFL personnel have made donations.

Ryan started the fund with a $500,000 donation Friday. He set a goal of $2 million.

The fund comes in the aftermath of the recent deaths of black men Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick and George Floyd in Minneapolis.

7. Crowd noise: Ryan wasn't sure if it was a good idea to address whether the Falcons should pump crowd noise into the stadium in no fans are allowed.

"I'm not sure our organization should be talking about pumping in crowd noise," Ryan said. "We had a small issue with that a little while ago."

The Falcons were fined $350,000 and forced to forfeit a fifth-round pick in the 2016 draft and team president Rich McKay was suspended from the powerful competition committee by the NFL for violating the league’s crowd-noise rules.

Also, Roddy White, longtime director of event marketing, was terminated by the team.

8. Ryan on the NFC South: Ryan officially welcomed Tom Brady, who signed with Tampa Bay this offseason, to the NFC South. 

“It’s going to be a tough division, no question about it,” Ryan said. “Tom is a great player. Anytime you add a guy who has won that many championships, won that many games, you know he’s going to be tough to beat.”

The Falcons split with the Bucs last season. They needed a Jameis Winston pick-six in overtime last season to get a win in the regular-season finale.

“Their team was tough last year,” Ryan said. “Their defense was really, really good. Real tough to go against. I expect them to be really good (and) tough competitor. Same with New Orleans. Same with Carolina. The division has been tough for a long time.”

Ryan said it would not be wise to count the Falcons out in the NFC South.

“I think it’s about us though,” Ryan said.  The mindset is that we have to have is that we (must) have our selves prepared and be ready to go.

“I have the belief that we are right there with all of those teams. They have to deal with us as well. We create a number of issues for these teams to go against. If we play our best we can go toe-to-toe with anyone, any week.”

9. Depth chart. With the signing of linebacker Deone Bucannon, here's a look at the Falcons' updated depth chart, which includes the undrafted rookie free agents, most of whom haven't been assigned numbers yet:

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 13 Christian Blake, 19 Devin Gray, 80 Laquon Treadwell, Chris Rowland, Juwan Green 
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 75 John Wetzel, Hunter Atkinson 
LG 61 Matt Hennessy, 73 Matt Gono, 77 James Carpenter, 64 Sean Harlow
C 51 Alex Mack, 61 Matt Hennessy, 64 Sean Harlow, Austin Capps
RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 68 Jamon Brown, 65 Justin McCray, Justin Gooseberry
RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 65 Justin McCray, 69 Scottie Dill, Evin Ksiezarczyk
TE 81 Hayden Hurst, 86 Khari Lee, 87 Jaeden Graham, 85 Carson Meier, Jared Pinkney, Caleb Repp
WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell, Jalen McCleskey
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 6 Kurt Benkert, 16 Danny Etling 
RB 21 Todd Gurley, 25 Ito Smith, 30 Qadree Ollison, 23 Brian Hill, 42 Craig Reynolds
FB 40 Keith Smith, Mikey Daniel

DEFENSE 

DE 56 Dante Fowler, 53 Austin Larkin, 71 Bryson Young
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 50 John Cominsky, Hinwa Allieu 
DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 90 Marlon Davidson, 94 Deadrin Senat, Sailosi Latu
DE 93 Allen Bailey, 55 Steven Means, 53 Austin Larkin 
DE 98 Takk McKinley, 92 Charles Harris, 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Austin Edwards
LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 36 Deone Bucannon, 46 Edmond Robinson, 52 Ahmad Thomas, Jordan Williams 
LB 45 Deion Jones, 59 LaRoy Reynolds, 43 Mykal Walker, Ray Wilborn
RCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 29 Josh Hawkins, 39 C.J. Reavis, Delrick Abrams, 44 Tyler Hall 
LCB 24 A.J. Terrell, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 28 Jordan Miller, Rojesterman Farris
NCB 20 Kendall Sheffield, 34 Chris Cooper
SS 37 Ricardo Allen, 22 Keanu Neal, 32 Jaylinn Hawkins, 35 Jamal Carter 
FS 27 Damontae Kazee, 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo
KO 7 Younghoe Koo
P 9 Ryan Allen, 4 Sterling Hofrichter
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 9 Ryan Allen
KOR 15 Brandon Powell, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus
PR 15 Brandon Powell, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus

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