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. If the coronavirus pandemic restrictions end in time, Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa and Buffalo’s Jake Fromm will take some of their first NFL snaps against the Falcons.
Coach Dan Quinn said the team has plans to have joint practices with the Dolphins and the Bills this offseason.
Tagovailoa, who played at Alabama, was drafted fifth overall by the Dolphins in the NFL draft. Fromm, the former Georgia signal-caller, was drafted by the Bills in the fourth round.
Tagovailoa is expected to be Miami’s franchise quarterback of the future.
Fromm is expected to be in a battle with Matt Barkley for the backup job behind Josh Allen, who guided the Bills to the playoffs last season.
The Falcons would host the Dolphins, who are set to play the first exhibition game sometime from Aug. 13-17 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Falcons would hit the road to scrimmage the Bills, who they are scheduled to play in the all-important third exhibition game, sometime from Aug. 20-24.
“As far as the timing, the teams that we spoke to way back in the offseason were Miami and Buffalo,” Quinn said. “If those guidelines are in place that we are able to, we will. If they are not, we won’t.”
While rebuilding of the offensive line last season, the Falcons discussed holding joint practices with another team, but elected not to do so. They had the benefit of playing in five exhibition games to help them get ready for the season.
Under former coach Mike Smith, the Falcons held joint practices with the Patriots, Bengals, Titans and Jaguars. Quinn has elected to used his “iron sharpens iron” approach to let the Falcons prepare each other for the start of the season.
The key for joint practices is that both teams have a mutual respect and the scrimmages don’t erupt into fights.
Also, the Falcons, who must improve their offensive and defensive lines, would get a chance to prepare against opposing lines.
Along the offensive line, the Falcons are counting on right tackle Kaleb McGary and right guard Chris Lindstrom to improve in their second seasons in the league.
Also, they will have an open competition for the starting left guard position.
Center Alex Mack and left tackle Jake Matthews are entrenched starters.
“For us, it revolves around the run game first,” Quinn said. “That’s what allows some of the play-action. That’s where a lot of the explosive plays really come from. The misdirection, the play-pass, those were often times the big explosive plays come from. The better your run game is. The better your play-action is.”
So, the Falcons are counting on improving the pass protection by running the ball better. With the run game stuffed last season, the Falcons’ offensive line gave up 50 sacks and 135 quarterback hits.
“We definitely anticipate our two young players on the right side, their improvement going in,” Quinn said. “We are going to work on our space with where we are at at left guard.”
Veteran James Carpenter, Matt Gono and rookie third-round daft pick Matt Hennessy will be the chief competitors for the left guard spot.
“That will certainly be a competition that we go through,” Quinn said. “I like where the guys are. I like the work that they are putting in at the moment.”
2. Takk off social media. Falcons defensive end Takk McKinley shut down his sometimes rude and obnoxious social-media accounts. The timing was curious and seemed to happen after the team declined to pick up his $10 million fifth-year option.
“Everybody has their own individual personality and how they do things, so no,” Quinn said when asked if the two items were related. “Everything is emotional about how we play. That’s what makes the game so much fun.
“Fortunately, we’ve had good conversations. He’s really putting out in terms of preparing to play well. That’s the important thing. He’s connected with the guys and the coaches and throwing the best offseason that he can.”
The Falcons are quietly hoping for the best for McKinley.
“Part of that sometimes comes with focus and what do I want to do for the short term to say how do I want to lock in,” Quinn said. “I doubt that he’ll be life-long free of social media. But that’s just my guess.”
McKinley also is attempting to recover from his third shoulder surgery.
“We are really excited in the progress that he’s made,” Quinn said. “Being in California and having a really specific rehab plan for him, have that go on like you thought, that’s pretty good.”
3. Harris next Bennett, Avril? Defensive end Charles Harris, a former first-round draft pick who was acquired in a trade with Miami, is expected to be a part of the Falcons’ defensive line rotation.
“We want to get him in, get him to know the guys, get him to know the program,” Quinn said. “Get the best version of him.”
When in Seattle, the Seahawks had some success with free-agent signees Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. After four seasons in Tampa Bay, Bennett earned three Pro Bowl trips with Seattle. Avril made it to one Pro Bowl after leaving Detroit after five seasons.
Bennett and Avril were at least solid players before going to Seattle.
Harris was drafted 22nd overall in the 2017 draft, but has been labeled as a bust after recording only 3.5 sacks over 41 games and eight starts.
The Falcons sent a seventh-round pick to the Dolphins to get Harris, who played at Missouri.
“We are still learning him,” Quinn said. “What’s the best weight for him so that he can really explode and be at his best. Those are things that we’ll learn as we go.”
Harris has made a good first impression during the virtual offseason program.
“He’s been a good addition for us,” Quinn said.
4. New sports dietician to be hired: The Falcons are in the process of hiring a new sports dietician.
They have parted ways with Marie Spano, who was hired in 2017 to work with the players.
5. Winston pushing ‘Embrace the Space’ slogan: Falcons vice president of players affairs Kevin Winston sent the entire team “Embrace the Space” T-shirts, while starting the rookies orientation program.
“Their biggest stresser right now, is man I want to get there and work,” Quinn said. “I want to see you guys. ... I just can’t wait to get there.’ But, the only thing we can do right now is build the best time here in that space.
“That’s what Kevin is leaning in on the guys hard, to say embrace what we are doing, if it’s virtual, how we will get there.”
6. Kicking competition on the way: The Falcons still plan to add a kicker to compete with incumbent kicker Younghoe Koo, coach Dan Quinn said Tuesday.
The Falcons have 89 players on the roster, which leaves an open slot.
“We are still definitely considering adding a kicker into that spot,” Quinn said. “You could imagine that some of those decisions involve workouts and things that aren’t at this space.”
The Falcons passed on drafting a kicker, but did select a punter, Sterling Hofrichter in the seventh round.
New England selected controversial Marshall kicker Justin Rohrwasser in the fifth round, Georgia Southern’s Tyler Bass was selected by Buffalo in the sixth round and Miami (Ohio) kicker Sam Sloman was drafted in the seventh round by the Rams.
Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship was signed by Indianapolis as an undrafted rookie free agent. Blankenship and Bass were given 5.9 grades by NFL.com heading into the draft as the highest-rated kickers.
“We were pretty intentional, (general manager) Thomas (Dimitroff) and myself, about not adding all the way up to 90 on the day after, so you would have some flexibility if opportunities came up to add some guys post-draft to the team,” Quinn said. “That definitely is still something that we are looking into. That’s why we are keeping that space available. We’ll see what takes place over the next couple of weeks.”
It was a revolving door in the kicking department last season.
The front office handed the kicking job to Giorgio Tavecchio in the offseason instead of bringing in some competition.
When he kept misfiring, the Falcons re-signed Matt Bryant after taking a look at former Georgia kicker Blair Walsh.
Koo was added midseason after Bryant started missing field-goal attempts and a key extra-point attempt at Arizona.
Koo made 23 of 26 field-goal attempts, including a long of 50 yards last season. He made 15 of 16 extra points.
Koo also handled the kickoffs. On his 50 kickoffs, 27 went for touchbacks.
7. High school coaching clinic. The Falcons and Quinn will host high school coaches, with a majority from Georgia, to a three-day virtual coaching clinic focusing on topics related to coaching techniques and developing student-athletes at the high school level.
“I’d put them up against anybody across the country,” Quinn said. “We have some outstanding coaches.”
Coaches from Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern and Georgia State all helped Tuesday on different offensive topics.
8. Falcons Mount Rushmore. Thanks for voting in the Falcons’ Mount Rushmore poll. The results will be released soon.
There were some tough decisions made to come up with the list of 10 players, and it was an even more difficult time coming up with the final four.
I can tell you that I voted for all of the four who made it.
9. Depth chart. We’ve added the undrafted rookie free agents to the depth chart this week:
Here’s a look at the Falcons’ updated depth chart:
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, 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
DE 56 Dante Fowler, 53 Austin Larkin, 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, 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 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, 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
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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