Falcons center Alex Mack (51) warms up before an exhibition game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Photo: John Bazemore/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Photo: John Bazemore/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Cover 9@9: Alex Mack wants NFL stadiums full of fans 

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. Falcons center Alex Mack has been sheltering in place in California.

He’s hoping that everyone is doing their part during the coronavirus pandemic so that Mercedes-Benz Stadium can be full in September. 

“I think all of the fans want to be there,” Mack said. “We want the fans there. We want full stadiums.” 

The NFL has the opportunity to sit back and see how things unfold as the NBA, NHL and possibly Major League Baseball and MLS restart their seasons.

Mack weighed in on the pros and cons of starting up without fans in the stands. 

“The selfish answer that no one really likes to hear, is that it would be really great to have a quiet stadium when it’s an away game,” said Mack, the Falcons’ six-time Pro Bowl center. “My communication could be like absolutely great. The trade off there is that fans are unhappy and they kind of pay my paycheck so I’d rather have them there.”

Playing in an otherwise empty building would be tough.

“I know communication would be easy, but it would also be a really flat environment that’s not easy to get hyped up for,” Mack said. “The other end of that is if the defense is trying to get hyped up, good make it harder on them. Maybe they are going to be real flat and lazy. Fantastic. There is always like a two sides of a coin kind of thing. But I think everyone is on the same page as wanting the whole world to go back to normal.”

At home games, Mack believe the defense would miss the fans the most. 

“The other side of that coin is, when we are at home, I want our fans to be there and be loud,” Mack said. “Help out our defense when they are on the field and make it hard on the opposing offense. We definitely want to see the world come to normal. I think part of that is people being responsible now, making sure we take care of this in this one go and hopefully things can get back to normal in September.”

2. Workouts tough. Mack acknowledged that working out on his own is tough.

Before he runs a route, he has to check the surface for any holes and uneven parts that could lead to an ankle injury. 

There’s also the issue of motivation. 

“The hardest thing we have to deal with, is it’s hard to motivate yourself,” Mack said. “It’s easy to show up as a team, you get your running in, keep pace and tempo and somebody is blowing a whistle at you to get out on the field and do the sprints. 

“It’s not as easy now. It’s tough to get out there, be motivated and run around and do those drills. Being part of a team is a very powerful motivator and we are missing that.”

3. Special guests. Falcons offensive line coach Chris Morgan has had two of his former Colorado teammates speak to the offensive linemen virtually. Morgan played for the Buffaloes from 1995-99. 

Chris Naeole, who was a first-round pick by the Saints in 1997, played for the Saints (1997-2001) and the Jaguars (2002-07).

Andre Gurode, who was a second-round pick by the Cowboys in 2002, played until 2013 with Dallas (2002-10), Baltimore (2012) and Oakland (2013).  

Also, former Falcons right guard Chris Chester spoke to the unit. 

“Just having these old offensive line vets with a lot of experience, a lot of success, come in hear their stories has been great,” Mack said. 

4. Return to the field. The path to getting back on the field is being discussed between the league and the NFLPA.

“I know the NFL and NFLPA have a joint task force in creating some of those guidelines and giving some recommendations on what they believe to be the best thing,” Mack said. “I know the NFLPA is primarily concerned about the health and safety of the players. I know that’s important to the NFL, but they also want to get games played and fans in the stands and all that going with as much normalcy as possible.

“As far as testing, I think we need to figure out a way to do it as often as possible that’s safe for people and creates the safest environment.”

Mack hasn’t had a coronavirus test and isn’t looking forward to it, either. 

“I’ve seen the Q-tip that they stick up people’s noses,” Mack said. “So, I don’t know how often they are going to make us go through that, but that’s not something that I’m terribly thrilled about, but I also understand that it’s for the health and safety for everybody. So, those are some one of the sacrifices that everyone is going to have to make, I think.”

They will likely be other protocols.

“Daily temperature screening is not that invasive and is not that bad,” Mack said. “A systems check or a symptoms check in the morning: Do you have fever? How do you feel? That’s not that hard, being on top of things, having open communication and keeping people up and safe. It’s going to take a lot of communications. It’s going to be a big challenge for a lot of people and a lot of moving parts.”

5. Salary-cap space. The Falcons post-June 1 release of Desmond Trufant, which gave the Falcons $10.75 million in salary-cap space, is officially on the books. The team is $11,677,141 under the $198.2 million salary cap, according to NFLPA documents. 

» RELATED:  Falcons set to receive June salary relief

Most of the new room will be used to sign the rookie class, which will take up $6.84 million of the new money.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff likes to keep about $2 million in cap space for emergencies that may pop up over the course of the season.

So, that will leave the team with enough room to possibly add a couple of mid-level free agents, but not enough room to chase a big-ticket free agent such as Jadeveon Clowney, unless he takes a major discount. 

The Falcons have not signed any of the six rookie draft picks. Last year, the Falcons had all of the rookies deals completed by May 16.

Cornerback A.J. Terrell, who was taken with the 16th overall pick, is projected to sign a four-year contract worth $14.3 million with a $7.9 million signing bonus, by salary website Spotrac. Terrell’s deal likely will be fully guaranteed. 

Defensive end Brian Burns, who was selected 16th overall by Carolina last season, signed a four-year, $13.5 million fully guaranteed contract last season. He received a $7.8 million signing bonus.

Terrell’s cap number is projected to be $2.6 million. Also, here are the projected salary cap numbers for the remaining rookies: second-round pick Marlon Davidson ($1.2 million), third-round pick Matt Hennessy ($860,000), fourth-round picks Mykal Walker ($790,000) and Jaylin Hawkins ($760,000) and seventh-round pick Sterling Hofrichter ($630,000).

Tennessee Titans cornerback Logan Ryan breaks up a pass intended for Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu in the first half of their game Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

6. Free agents to consider. The Falcons are young at cornerback and could add some help in the late free-agent market. Cornerbacks Logan Ryan, Darqueze Dennard and Trumaine Johnson are all free agents.

Ryan, 29, has played with the Patriots and Titans. 

Dennard, 28, of Twiggs County, was a first-round draft pick (24th overall) of the Bengals in 2014. The Falcons currently have 17 first-round draft picks on the roster. 

Dennard has played in 77 NFL games and made 24 starts. 

Johnson, who underperformed after signing a lucrative five-year, $72 million with the Jets, is a big corner at 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds. 

Other notable free agents who could be in the Falcons’ price range include linebacker Clay Matthews, defensive tackle Mike Daniels, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and tight end Delanie Walker. 

7. A closer look at the special teams. The Falcons were the 30th ranked special-teams unit by Rick Gosselin’s 2019 rankings, with 451 points. The long-time sportswriter and Pro Football Hall of Fame voter ranks teams in 22 categories from 32 (worst) to 1 (best). 

This was the 41st year for Gosselin’s ratings.

We asked Gosselin to break out the Falcons’ ranking for us so that we can take a closer look at the issues. 

He sent along the numbers and noted that “punting and penalties were the major culprits” that led to the third lowest ranked team in the league. 

The top unit was New Orleans with 256 points. The Panthers (28th overall) and Tampa Bay (32) were down in the same neighborhood with their NFC South division opponent the Falcons.

The Falcons, who were in the first year under coordinator Ben Kotwica, were first in takeaways with five and second in points scored with 12. 

Here are the Falcons’ special-teams rankings: Kick return (12th), Punt return (15th), kickoff coverage (16th), punt coverage (14th), starting point (26th), opponent starting point (18th), punting (30th), net punting (30th), inside-the-20 punts (25th), opponent punting (28th), opponent net putting (24th), field goals (3rd), field-goal percentage (17th), opponent field goal percentage (28th), extra-point percentage (21st), points scored (2nd), points allowed (16th), blocked kicks (14th), opponent blocked kicks (18th), takeaways (1st), giveaways (23rd) and penalties (31). 

8. Forbes’ list. Four Falcons landed on the richest athlete in 2020 list, according to Forbes.

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, quarterback Matt Ryan and defensive end Dante Fowler made the Top 100.

9. Depth chart. With the signing of linebacker Deone Bucannon, here’s a look at the Falcons’ updated depth chart, which includes the undrafted rookie free agents, who haven’t been assigned numbers yet:

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

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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.
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