Cover 9@9: Falcons focusing on the rookie class

In a media conference Monday, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said he will support the players who choose to protest during the upcoming season.

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. With no assurances that the rookies will be allowed to come in early before the start of training camp, the Falcons are spending the last week of the offseason focusing on the group of 26 players.

They had their virtual graduation Tuesday and posted cute pictures online. They had red and black hats, red tassels and baseball shirts with their numbers.

The rookies’ virtual offseason, which didn’t include any on-the-field work because of the coronavirus pandemic, will be completed Thursday.

“I’m going to have some people talk to them at the end of this week from the lockout year (2011),” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.

After that tumultuous offseason, the rookie class came in and had to play right away.

The Falcons received contributions from wide receiver Julio Jones (first-round pick), linebacker Akeem Dent (third), running back Jacquizz Rodgers (fifth), punter Matt Bosher (sixth) and defensive end Cliff Matthews (seventh).

They didn’t have the benefit of a rookie minicamp, OTAs nor a mandatory minicamp.

The Class of 2020, while not going on the field, did have the virtual meetings with their coaches and some practiced with their teammates away from the facilities.

Quinn is hoping that his speakers tell the players not to feel sorry for themselves and that they can get the job done in a less than ideal situation.

“I shared with them that the NFL, playing in the NFL is a dream job, but, trust me, it ain’t easy,” Quinn said.

“You have got to put in the work. What I’ve seen from them so far, what I’ve seen from this group, they are making the choices to study. They are making the choices to put that time in on the field ... that will have to continue for them over the next four weeks.”

The Falcons’ large rookie group includes undrafted players.

“I felt the leader of that group so far is (first-round pick A.J.) Terrell,” Quinn said. “His intent and readiness to come into meetings and engage with others. I would say (third-round pick Matt) Hennessy would be another one ready to contribute, ready for answers ... by and large, I’ve been impressed with this group.”

Under the current NFL rules, teams can report to camp 47 days before their season opener. For the Falcons, that’s July 28. The Falcons are hoping the league will allow for rookies to come in a week or so earlier.

“We’ll get a chance to have them before the veterans hopefully before training camp and we’ll utilize all of those days as well,” Quinn said.

The Falcons are counting on Terrell taking over at left cornerback, replacing the departed Desmond Trufant. They  have veteran Blidi Wreh-Wilson if they have to ease him into the spot.

Second-round pick Marlon Davidson should be able to line up at defensive tackle in pass-rush situations right away.

Third-round pick Hennessy will have an uphill climb to win the starting left guard spot if veteran James Carpenter is healthy.

Linebacker Mykal Walker and safety Jaylinn Hawkins, both fourth-round picks, should be able to provide depth and contribute on special teams immediately.

Punter Sterling Hofrichter will have to win a battle with veteran Ryan Allen.

2. Soft-tissue injuries.  When the players return, Quinn and the medical staff will be worried about soft-tissue injuries such as sprains and muscle strains.

Whatever the NFL exhibition season is going to look like, the players will need some ramp-up time upon their return.

“Where are they going to be at in terms of soft-tissue injuries,” Quinn said. That’s always an issue in a training camp, where you had those issues that could set you back.”

During a normal nine-week offseason program, the Falcons could monitor players and give the appropriate amount of — R.I.C.E — rest, ice, compression and elevation.

“You’re building and working through to get your bodies ready into that space, not having the time together, although we’ve done virtual workouts together, that part is not the same,” Quinn said.

The Falcons want to push the players, but will have to go slowly.

“That’s our concern as coaches,” Quinn said. “Make sure the ramp up is the right number and the hardest part of that is that not everybody is in the exact same space. So, that’s why we pushed the guys so hard.”

Quinn has told the players they’ll have to be stronger and more durable than they’ve ever been.

“What I told the team on Thursday, the veterans, this is the longest layoff that you’ve ever had from competing,” Quinn said. “How are you finding the spaces to do it together in your training when we do come back together. ... We spent a good deal of time discussing that on last Thursday.”

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, who recently returned to the team's practice facilities in Flowery Branch, updates the offseason training program. (Video by D. Orlando Ledtbetter/AJC)

3. Offseason book. Quinn had a book put together of the things the team did over the virtual offseason program.

“We didn’t want some of the things we did to be just experiences,” Quinn said. “Like, some of these lessons will be moving forward into everything that we are doing. The technology is going to be a part of what we are doing with the players. We know this.”

Quinn is expecting issues with social distancing and how many players they can coach at a time. Also, the possibility of player testing positive for COVID-19 and then missing time, is a real possibility.

“If it goes back to the exact way it was before, then we’d be OK,” Quinn said. “But as opposed to (fussing) about it, to say you can’t do football this way, we went the other way and dove as hard as we could knowing that things are going to change moving forward.”

4. Better listener. One assistant coach said using the mute button taught him to be a better listener.

“You can ask any coach around the world what do they enjoy most, being out on the field with the players,” Quinn said. “I miss them because it felt isolated for a long time. Within that isolation there is the doubt, what are we doing and where are we at? Having moments, where four days a week we’re online, being with the guys, discussing topics.”

5. Who's the dog? Quinn enjoyed some of the personality of the virtual meetings.

“You saw families in their backgrounds,” Quinn said. “You had new kids? Who’s the dog? If you couldn’t get online, you had to call back.”

It wasn’t just all football for the Falcons.

“A couple of weeks ago, I think we got even closer when some of the social issues that were coming to the forefront,” Quinn said. “Good discussions that we needed to have. We’ve all heard the term leaning in and I’d say this is a group of people that leaned in hard on one another to give each other feedback. That was something we needed to do.”

6. Gilbert added to Jacksonville staff. Former Falcons linebacker Tony Gilbert, who played at Georgia, was added to Jacksonville's staff as an assistant linebacker coach.

Gilbert was with the Jaguars from 2003-06. He played the 2009 season with the Falcons. He played in 12 games.

Gilbert has jobs in the college ranks at Georgia, East Mississippi Community College,  Auburn, North Carolina and Central Florida.

He’s also coached at Georgia Military College and John Milledge Academy.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn and wife, Stacey (to his right), take part in a protest in Buckhead on Sunday, June 7, 2020.  D. Orlando Ledbetter/dledbetter@ajc.com)
Falcons coach Dan Quinn and wife, Stacey (to his right), take part in a protest in Buckhead on Sunday, June 7, 2020. D. Orlando Ledbetter/dledbetter@ajc.com)

7. Ryan's GoFundMe surpasses $1 million mark: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's GoFundMe to advance the lives of the black community in Atlanta is up to $1.2 million.

The total includes some donations from Falcons management and coaches and has 2,200 different donors.

Some of the donors include 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 June 4 with a $500,000 donation. 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.

Ryan has also posted on his social media about the Atlanta death of Rayshard Brooks, which happened Friday. 

8. Bobby Turner up for Dr. Z Award. Former Falcons running backs coach Bobby Turner, who was with the team from 2015-16, is a finalist for the Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman Award for lifetime achievement as an assistant coach in the NFL by the Pro Football Writers of America.

With the Falcons, Turner coached running back Devonta Freeman, who amassed 1,634 rushing and receiving yards in 2015 and 1,541 in 2016, his most productive seasons in the NFL.

Turner is set to enter his 25th season as a NFL assistant coach in 2020, and his fourth as San Francisco’s running backs coach.

Turner is responsible for overseeing three of the top nine rookie rushing seasons in the NFL since 1970, with Alfred Morris (a sixth-round pick), Clinton Portis and Mike Anderson. He also served as running backs coach with the Falcons (2015-16), Washington (2010-14) and Denver (1995-2009).

In Denver, he worked with Broncos running backs, including Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Anderson and Portis, and the franchise ranked in the NFL’s top five in rushing during 10 of his 15 seasons there.

He has coached in four Super Bowls with three franchises (Denver, the Falcons, San Francisco) and has a pair of victories with the Broncos.

Two winners will be selected from the group of eight nominees, which also includes Floyd Peters, Bill Arnsparger, Buddy Ryan, Romeo Crennel, Dick Hoak, Rod Marinelli and Bobb McKittrick.

9. Depth chart. When the Falcons open for training camp, they are set to have 17 former first-round picks on the roster.

In addition to Terrell (16th overall), here are the first-round picks acquired this offseason:

  • Linebacker Deone Bucannon (No. 27 overall, 2014)
  • Defensive end Dante Fowler (3, 2015)
  • Running back Todd Gurley (10, 2015)
  • Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (23, 2016)
  • Defensive end Charles Harris (22, 2017)
  • Tight end Hayden Hurst (25, 2018)

The other first-round picks on the roster:

  • Quarterback Matt Ryan (3, 2008)
  • Center Alex Mack (21, 2009)
  • Wide receiver Julio Jones (6, 2011)
  • Guard James Carpenter (25, 2011)
  • Left tackle Jake Matthews (6, 2014)
  • Safety Keanu Neal (17, 2016)
  • Defensive end Takk McKinley (26, 2017)
  • Wide receiver Calvin Ridley (26, 2018)
  • Right guard Chris Lindstrom (14, 2019)
  • Right tackle Kaleb McGary (31, 2019)

Full depth chart

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

---

The Bow Tie Chronicles Podcasts:

Can be found on Google, iTunes and TuneIn

For more content about the Atlanta Falcons:

Follow me on Twitter @DorlandoAJC

On Facebook at Atlanta Falcons News Now

Atlanta Falcons coverage on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Have a question? Email me at dledbetter@ajc.com

About the Author

ajc.com