Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan talks about preparation at training camp and the extra preseason game. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

Cover 9@9: Going to 18-game schedule is a no-brainer

1. Bring on the 18-game season: It was 1978 when the NFL went from a 14-game schedule to a 16 games.

Before that year, there were six exhibition games.

Talk about watching paint dry!

It’s real simple to see the 18-game schedule is on the horizon. 

The fans are already paying full price for four exhibition games, that the starters barely play in.

A schedule with two exhibition games and 18 regular season games makes sense. 

Eliminate the player safety concerns by activating the entire 53-man roster. The elimination of inactive players would be mandatory. The NFLPA could demand expanded practice squad rosters.

"I haven’t given it too much thought,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “We’ll see what ends up coming of that. I think as players we’d like to see what that might look like for us and what the (exhibition) season and offseason might look like.”

Oh yes, the players need more money for the offseason program, organized team activities and mandatory minicamp. 

“I think there’s more to it than adding the two additional games,” Ryan said. “If it makes sense, we’ll obviously take a look at that as a union and see what’s best for us.”

I asked Ryan if teams could get ready for the season with just two exhibition games. 

“I don’t see why not,” Ryan said. “For a lot of the starters, two is what you really end up playing. You end up playing in two. I usually feel very well prepared coming into a season.”

Some contend the current four-game exhibition season is too long anyway.

"I think, obviously, I don’t play in all of them,” Ryan said. “It probably doesn’t affect me as much as some other guys. I really don’t have much of a problem with it at this point. 

“I get there being some unnecessary hits and shots that guys might take, but again I think there are smart people on both sides. We’ll find a way to make sure that this works as best as it can for both sides ... I will say this, four is better than six.”

Falcons’ 2019 schedule

2. Gonzalez corner: Ryan shared his reflections on tight end Tony Gonzalez, who will be enshrined Saturday, Aug.  3, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. 

“He was automatic and one of my best friends that I ever played with and meant so much to me as a person and as a friend,” Ryan said. “He taught me so much about what it means to be a professional.”

Gonzalez joined the Falcons in 2009 in a trade with the Chiefs. 

“But as far as playing with him, he was just incredibly reliable,” Ryan said. “Third down, you mentioned, if it was 3rd and 10 or less, we were going (in) his direction. He was making a play. They (the defense) knew we were going that direction and he would still make the play. Same thing in the red area.”

After the 2009 season, Gonzalez went to four straight Pro Bowls with the Falcons before retiring. 

“He had so many touchdown catches for us that were sometimes double-teams, triple-teams, where he had the ability to track the ball and catch the ball with strong hands, be able to come down through contact and maintain possession probably better than anyone that’s ever been able to do it,” Ryan said. “It was a blast to be able to play with him for the amount of years that I did. I’m thankful that I had that opportunity.

“I’m just so happy for Tony, that he’s recognized as a first-ballot Hall of Famer as he should be.”

It took Ryan awhile to adjust to having such a dependable target at tight end. 

“From my first year playing with him, he would always tell me that he was open,” Ryan said. “I would go back and watch the film and he was like completely covered. I was like, ‘What are you talking about, man?’ And he was like, ‘Nah, if you just put it in this one spot, it’ll be perfect.’ It took me a while to develop that trust to let it rip and throw it to this spot, but he was right. He was open, and if you could deliver the ball in a spot that he could make a play, he didn’t let you down.”

Ryan, who’s on pace to break all of the franchise’s passing records, could one day follow Gonzalez to Canton.

“I pretty much knew when he came to us that he was going to the Hall of Fame,” Ryan said. “Mine was just the icing on the cake, he was pretty much going there before he came here. To just be a small part of it, that was fun. As far as personal stuff, I’m trying to win games. That’s, at the end of the day, what is important to me.”

3. Scelfo story: One day I asked then Falcons tight end coach Chris Scelfo how Gonzalez was doing and he quipped, “All I have to do is make sure 88 is on the bus.” 

060731 DARIEN, GA - Portrait of Allen Bailey (WATER) of McIntosh Academy for the 2006 Super 11. Bailey lives on Sapelo Island and takes the ferry, operated by his father Julius, to get to school everyday. (POUYA DIANAT/AJC staff)
Photo: POUYA DIANAT/AJC

4. Bailey deal: Falcons new defensive end Allen Bailey is expected to be available to the media, once his passes his physical and his paper worked in signed. 

5. Roster move: The Falcons made room for Bailey by placing safety J.J. Wilcox on injured reserve on Tuesday.  

Wilcox tore the ACL in his right knee in practice on Monday and will miss the entire 2019 season.

6. Padded practice: Falcons coach Dan Quinn’s measured approached to the first padded practice makes so much sense after the team had a rash of injuries last season

7. Position by Position preview: In order to help everyone get ready for training camp, here’s the 10-part position-by-position series

Falcons safety Keanu Neal addresses his year recovering from a season-ending knee injury. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

8. Falcons’ open practice dates: Here’s the remaining schedule of the open practices: 

The Falcons open the exhibition season Thursday, Aug. 1 when they play the Denver Broncos in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.

TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE 

Wednesday, July 24 
Practice: 9:35 a.m.
OPEN - Gates: 8:30 a.m.

Thursday, July 25 
Practice: 9:35 a.m.
OPEN - Gates: 8:30 a.m.

Friday, July 26 
NO PRACTICE

Saturday, July 27 
Practice: 9:35 a.m.
OPEN - Gates: 8 a.m.

Sunday, July 28 
Practice: 9:35 a.m.
OPEN - Gates: 8 a.m.

Monday, July 29 
Practice: 9:35 a.m.
OPEN - Gates: 8:30 a.m.

Sunday, Aug. 4Military Appreciation Day at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Practice: 12:30 p.m.
OPEN - Gates: 10 a.m.

9. DEPTH CHART: Here’s a look at the depth chart heading into the first padded practice of training camp: 

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, 68 Jamon Brown, 60 Adam Gettis, 73 Matt Gono 

C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer 61 Chandler Miller

RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 68 Jamon Brown, 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, 87 Jaeden Graham

DEFENSE

DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., Allen Bailey, 91 Chris Odom

DT 95 Jack Crawford, 96 Tyeler Davison, 94 Deadrin Senat, 50 John Cominsky, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 93 Michael Bennett (broken ankle) 

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 Causey

FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman, 34 Chris Cooper, 35 Jason Thompson

SS 22 Keanu Neal, 40 Ryan Neal, 43 Parker Baldwin 

SPECIALIST 

K 4 Giorgio Tavecchio

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 38 Kenjon Barner, 18 Calvin Ridley

PR 38 Kenyon Barner, 3 Marcus Green, 16 Shawn Bane 

L S 47 Josh Harris, 48 Kyle Vasey

H 5 Matt Bosher 

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