Falcons safeties Keanu Neal (left) and Ricardo Allen get in some work after team practice. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Cover 9@9: Falcons need to go slowly with Allen’s recovery from Achilles surgery 

1. Allen’s slow recovery from Achilles surgery: Falcons defensive end Steven Means and free safety Ricardo Allen are at the opposite ends of the torn Achilles recovery spectrum.

Means just suffered his injury, while Ricardo Allen is at the eight-month marker in his recovery. 

“You usually try to repair it,” said Dr. Mark C. Drakos, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in disorders of the foot and ankle as well as sports-related injuries at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. “It’s usually about a year until you are at your best.”

Means suffered his injury at the outset of OTAs on May 20. Allen went down in the overtime loss to New Orleans on Sept. 23.

“It’s definitely a season-ender,” said Drakos, who played football at Harvard. “It’s now, at the earliest, it would be six to nine months. It’s really a year to when they are at their best. If you look at a bunch of studies, a lot of times they don’t match their (statistics) from the prior year. It takes time for them to really recover well.”

The Falcons may want it to take slowly with Allen’s return to the field.  

“There is about a six percent chance (of rupturing other Achilles),” Drakos said.

Patience is key in recovery for Achilles injuries. 

“You don’t want to go back too quickly because there is a risk of re-rupture early,” Drakos said. “I will tell you that overall, the major thing is that there is a long road and a long recovery. You can get tendinitis afterwards. 

“It’s one of those things that even though the tendon takes a couple of months to heal, it usually takes at least six to nine months, even up to a year, to get your strength back. The strength is the last thing to get back.”

Allen said he just went to plant his left foot and his  left Achilles went. 

“It’s one of those injuries that’s actually hard to predict,” Drakos said. “The most common risk factors are doing an acceleration, de-acceleration sport like basketball, football, soccer or Lacrosse. Where you are back pedaling and then you kind of sprint forward.”

In a study of the recent Achilles injuries suffered by Falcons, the case of Brent Grimes stands out. He went down in the season opener against Kansas City on Sept. 9, 2012.

Grimes, after signing with Miami, returned the next season, played all 16 games and made it to his second Pro Bowl. 

“That’s a really great recovery,” Drakos said. “I will tell you that not all Achilles injuries are the same. If you have a complete rupture, that would be very good. Sometimes, they just have a partial tear and they are dealing with movement, which is a more quicker and predictable recovery.”

When Allen and Means may recover their speed. 

“It’s the acceleration that’s the issue,” Drakos said.    

Following residency, Drakos did a sports-medicine fellowship at Hospital for Special Surgery where he assisted the medical team for the New York Giants.

2. McKinley getting some linebacker snaps: Back at the owners’ meeting, coach Dan Quinn promised new alignments to help get Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley into better pass rushing situations.

While Beasley has elected to skip the voluntary OTAs, McKinley has been on hand and has spent some time at linebacker over the tight end, which is traditionally the strongside linebacker’s spot. 

“There will be some packages where can be a linebacker,” Quinn said. “The value in that (presents the question of) is he a rusher or is he a dropper?”

Teams will have to determine if they count him in their blocking formula. If they miscalculate, McKinley could have a free path to the quarterback. 

“The more versatility that we have (the better),” Quinn said. “I’d rather start on those packages now. We may not play them all the way through, but I’d like to start on them and get the experience. That way when you get into the season, here’s a package that I’d like to discuss and we’ll have already put work in on it.”

3. Hat tip to Jackson. Devonta Freeman, 27, learned the ropes from veteran Steven Jackson when he was a rookie in 2014. 

Even though his sidekick Tevin Coleman left to sign with San Francisco this offseason, Freeman is comfortable out front.

“I learned a lot from Steven Jackson, just listening to him,” Freeman said. “Seeing how he prepared. He was a true pro. Everyday he came to work.”

Freeman listened to Jackson, who was near the end of his stellar career that saw him rush for more than 11,000 yards. 

“As a young guy, you always want somebody to look up to and have someone to talk to and ask questions,” Freeman said. “He was one of the guys that gave some very good advice. I took it and ran with it. I enjoyed my time here with him.”

4. Hill vs. Ollison. Falcons running back Brian Hill, a fifth-round pick (156th overall) in 2017, will have to hold off rookie Qadree Ollison to earn the third running back spot.

Ollison was selected in the fifth round (152nd overall) of the 2019 draft.  

Hill finally received an opportunity late last season and ran with authority. He’d been cut, went to the Bengals, came back to the practice squad before playing in 10 games last season.

After being the 15th running back taken, Hill declared himself the best back in the 2017 draft. He has some catching up to do as Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffery, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, Tarik Cohen and Marlon Mack are off to fine starts.  

Hill had 20 carries for 157 yards last season, including a 60-yard run and a fumble. 

“When you look at what Brian’s done here in-game, you’d have to be impressed with what he was able to do for us at the end of the year,” running backs coach David Brock said. “At the core, this league is a production league. So, he’s got a phenomenal opportunity in OTAs now and going into the summer and training camp to show exactly what type of player that he is and build on what he did in the those games at the end of the year.”

Brock, like most coaches, is keeping an open mind.  

“You certainly look at the opportunity that he got and his ability to make the most of it,” Brock said. “I focus on the production and all of the good things that he did, the energy he brought and how hard he played. I don’t focus on the fumble, because that’s correctable.”

Brock wouldn’t say if Hill was the forgotten back on the roster.

“I’m excited about what he does,” Brock said. “There is not a player in our room that’s a forgotten player. There’s not a player in our room that isn’t thought to be deserving of being there and deserving of the opportunity to help us try to be the best team we can be.”

5. O-line is expensive. Over the offseason, the Falcons spent $80.3 million to rebuild the offensive line.

A total of $51.7 million of those contracts was guaranteed. 

Here are the individual breakdowns:

 Guard James Carpenter ($21 million, $9.2 million guaranteed).

 Guard Jamon Brown ($18.7 million, 12.7 million guaranteed).

 Guard Chris Lindstrom ($14.7 million fully guaranteed.

 Tackle/guard Ty Sambrailo ($14.2 million, $6 million guaranteed. He has an escalator that could push his deal up to $18 million.)

 Tackle John Wetzel ($720,000 with no guaranteed money).

 Guard Adam Gettis ($805,000 with no guaranteed money).

It’s practically guaranteed that someone making a lot of money will be sitting on the bench at the start of the season.

“We are not worried about it,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “We are not worried about offending anyone. We are not worried about having invested money in certain areas. 

“We are 100 percent going to do what we thought was best for the team. We had to make sure that we had not only the starters in mind, but make sure that we had depth. If we have situations that we need the depth to step up, we’re in a considerably better position than we were last year.”

Falcons safety Keanu Neal gives update on his return from knee surgery. Video by. D. Orlando Ledbetter.

6. A look at the rookie contracts: The contacts for the Falcons’ seven draft picks have been filed with the NFLPA.

First-round pick Chris Lindstrom, the last to sign May 16, who was the 14th player taken overall, received a fully guaranteed four-year $14.7 million deal with the team holding an option for the fifth-year. He received an $8.7 million signing bonus. 

The 2011 collective bargaining agreement set up a value for every pick in the draft from No. 1 to the final overall selection. First-round picks typically receive four-year contracts that include a fifth-year team option.

Here is the Falcons’ rookie pay breakdown from NFLPA documents:

Chris Lindstrom, G, Boston College 
Pick: First round, No. 14 
Salary: $14,708,756 
Signing bonus: $8,717,278 
Cap: $2,674,319 

Kaleb McGary, T, Washington  
Pick: First round, No. 31 
Salary: $10,265,742
Signing bonus: $5,485, 992
Cap: $1,866,498

Kendall Sheffield, CB, Ohio State 
Pick: Fourth round, No. 111 
Salary: $3,279,688 
Signing bonus: $759,688 
Cap: $684,922 

John Cominsky, DE, Charleston 
Pick: Fourth round, No. 135 
Salary: $3,008,392 
Signing bonus: $488,392 
Cap: $617,098 

Qadree Ollison, RB, Pittsburgh 
Pick: Fifth round, No. 152 
Salary: $2,831,564 
Signing bonus: $311,564 
Cap: $572,891 

Jordan Miller, CB, Washington  
Pick: Fifth round, No. 172 
Salary: $2,754,884 
Signing bonus: $234,884 
Cap: $533,721 

Marcus Green, WR, Louisiana-Monroe 
Pick: Sixth round, No. 203 
Salary: $2,667,852 
Signing bonus: $147,852 
Cap: $531,963

7. Attendance. Wide receiver Julio Jones, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, linebacker Deion Jones and Beasley have elected to skip the voluntary OTAs.

Defensive end Adrian Clayborn was on hand for two OTAs, but was “excused” from the open session last Thursday. 

8. Coaching clinic. Quinn will host more than 200 high school coaches to a one-day clinic on May 30. 

The focus will be on coaching techniques and developing athletes at the high school level. 

9. Depth chart. Lindstrom and McGary are expected to start, but you have to put them behind veterans until they “earn” the starting spots. 

The first-team line: left tackle Jake Matthews, left guard James Carpenter, center Alex Mack , right guard Jamon Brown, right tackle Ty Sambrailo.

The second-team line: Matt Gono, Adam Gettis, Wes Schweitzer, Lindstrom and McGary. 

They started out the open OTAs with the second-team unit.

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, 73 Matt Gono, 75 John Wetzel, 69 Lanard Bonner, 65 Jaelin Robinson 
LG 77 James Carpenter, 60 Adam Gettis
C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer 61 Chandler Miller
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, 32 Qadree Ollison, 38 Kenjon Barner, 30 Tony Brooks-James, 43 Marcus Green 
FB 30 Ricky Ortiz, 88 Luke Stocker

Defense

DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 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

---

Subscribe to “The Bow Tie Chronicles” podcast with the AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter on iTunes or on the new AJC sports podcasts page.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

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