Cover 9@9: Falcons must make toughness grade

Good morning! Welcome to the special Super Bowl edition of The Cover 9@9 blog. Normally it is a weekly blog of everything you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons, which is 9 items published at 9 a.m. each Wednesday morning. This week from Houston, we will be live each morning at 9 a.m. with the Super Bowl edition of Cover 9@9!

1. WHAT'S YOUR CT GRADE: Falcons coach Dan Quinn and his staff have come up with a way to measure competitiveness and toughness.

They have a scale for CT scores on the players.

“It actually started with Thomas (Dimitroff),” Quinn said. “We really wanted to make our competitiveness and toughness come to life.  We did what’s called a CT grade, with one being the lowest and highest being a rare number.

“The competitiveness is your urgency and the way that you are trying to go battle for it. The toughness side really has two components. It shows your resiliency and the extra physical toughness that we want to play with.”

The scores would seem to be rather subjective. Just because a player has 10 tackles in a game doesn’t necessarily means he competed with toughness.

“Those two things, may not show up in a production sheet, but there is a real standard of how you want to play,” Quinn said. “Each player in each game is given a CT grade. Then the players in their meeting rooms, also give themselves one and their unit one to see how we competed as a unit.

“(We look at) what our toughness was as a unit. It’s been a good guideline for us. When two guys are comparable talent-wise and scheme-wise, often times, we’ll go back and see what’s the CT grade.

“It’s been a good barometer for us.”

2. MATT RYAN’S ADVICE TO 10-YEAR OLD SELF: “My 10-year-old self, I would probably say enjoy the moment. Some of my favorite memories, whether if it was the kids I grew up with playing on the local teams, football, basketball or baseball, all of those things. They are as good of memories that you can make. Enjoy it. Work hard and do well in school because if you don’t do well in school, you’re not going to have the opportunity to play.”

3. COULD RAHEEM MORRIS BE THE NEXT OC? Falcons assistant head coach/wide receiver

FILE: January 14, 2017, Atlanta: Falcons wide recievers coach Raheem Morris and wide receiver Justin Hardy celebrate a 36-20 victory over the Seahawks in a NFL football NFC divisional playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/

Raheem Morris, who spent his first season on the offensive side of the ball in 2016, is a viable candidate to replace Kyle Shanahan as the offensive coordinator.

Shanahan is in line to be named the San Francisco 49ers' head coach after the Super Bowl. Morris has called NFL signals as a head coach and defensive coordinator.

He's enjoyed his first season on the offensive side of the ball.

"Look where we are, the first year was awesome," said Morris on Wednesday. "I got a great group. I have a bunch of guys who love football. They are competitive and they are tough. They compete their butts off. I’m so proud of them."

Morris was asked if he'd consider serving as the offensive coordinator if offered by head coach Dan Quinn.

“The only fight that matters is the one in front of me right now, the New England Patriots," Morris said. "We’ll figure all of that stuff out of Monday. That's a great topic for next week.”

Morris was head coach of Tampa Bay from 2009-11. A successful stint as an offensive coordinator would likely get him back in the mix for future head coaching jobs.

4. RYAN ON TIGHT ENDS: There has been much talk about the Falcons’ tight ends at the Super Bowl. The could be the secret weapon if the Patriots try to take away the Falcons outside receivers.

“Our tight ends probably don’t get as much credit as they deserve, but they  are incredibly important to our success,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “You’re talking about Levine Toilolo. I feel like every catch he’s had for us has been an explosive play. That’s huge. When he gets his opportunities, he makes plays.”

Toilolo is also the top blocking tight end.

“He’s outstanding in the run game,” Ryan said. “He’s the edge-setter for us in the run game. He does a great job of getting things going.”

Rookies Austin Hooper and Joshua Perkins are the other tight ends.

5. WADE HARMAN ON THE TIGHT ENDS: Falcons tight ends coach Wade Harman said his players will be ready if called upon to carry more of the load against the Patriots.

“I’m very confident in them,” Harmon said. “It depends on what’s asked of them. They are going to be ready to do their job. It depends on how the game flows and the matchups.

“I know that Matt is confident in them. I know we are confident in them. If they get the right matchup and the right look, right coverage on certain plays, there will be no hesitation by Matt. We count on them in the run game as well.”

December 18, 2016, ATLANTA: Falcons tight end Austin Cooper catches a touchdown pass over 49ers Jaquiski Tartt for a 21-0 lead during the first quarter in an NFL football game on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in Atlanta. The score set a Falcons single season scoring record. Curtis Compton/

Early in the season, the Falcons ran a lot of three-tight end formations against the Raiders.

“Kyle does such a good job of understanding teams and he finds out what is going to present them some problems,” Harman said. “As always, we have a lot of different packages that we can use and it depends on what they do.”

6. HARMAN ON HOOPER: Harman was pleased with the development of rookie tight end Austin Hooper, who was slowed late in the season with by a knee injury.

Hooper, who was a third round pick from Stanford, finished the regular season with 19 catches for 271 yards and three touchdowns. In the playoffs, he has three receptions for 33 yards.

“I think having great role models in Levine and Jacob Tamme, I think those two guys have really helped,” Harman said. “They could fill in the gaps in between meetings, they were grinding to kind of help him along. I really credit those veteran guys for helping him out.”

The Falcons believe Hooper has a bright future.

“I’m really impressed with his work ethic,” Harman said. “He’s done some really good things as a rookie this year. He was in a tough position because he had to play. We really saw some really good things. I’ve been really pleased with his progress."

7. PRE-GAME PROP BETS: Odds Donald Trump predicts an exact score during interview with Bill O’Reilly: 5/3

Odds on which team Donald Trump predicts to win Super Bowl 51 during interview with Bill O’Reilly:

Patriots: 1/4

Falcons: 4/1

Odds Bill O’Reilly asks Trump about his friendship with ...

Tom Brady: 1/3

Robert Kraft: 1/1

Bill Belichick: 3/2

8. SHANAHAN ON FACING BELICHICK:  Shanahan, the Falcons play-caller, will match wits with New England coach Bill Belichick and his defensive staff in the Super Bowl.

January 30, 2017, Houston: Kyle Shanahan is surrounded by reporters asking questions about his future during Super Bowl Opening Night on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Curtis Compton/

"There's a fine line," Shanahan said. "I don't think there's much Bill and his staff hasn't seen before. They've seen a lot of football and they do it as good as anyone. The main thing is giving your players confidence going into the game knowing that when we do see what they're doing, you give our players the ability to adjust for us to go in a number of difference directions.

"They're as good as it gets, so we know it'll be a huge challenge, something that we're working at just like they are. When the game starts, it's going to come down to trying to put our guys in good position and enjoy watching them go."

9. THE BIRTH OF THE DIRTY BIRD: The esteemed Matt Winkeljohn, who was the beat writer when the Falcons went to the Super Bowl in 1998, looks back on the birth of the Dirty Bird.

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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.