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. For his part in the greatest collapse in Super Bowl history, former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan generously received a hall pass.
With Shanahan set to take the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV, the topic came up Monday.
He still won’t admit that he should have run the ball after Julio Jones’ spectacular 27-yard catch moved the ball to the Patriots’ 22-yard line with 4:40 to play and a 28-20 lead.
Run the ball three times, let Matt Bryant make the 40-yard-plus kick and everybody is partying down Peachtree Street.
» MARK BRADLEY: Guess who learned to run the ball
After a Devonta Freeman run for minus-1 yard, Shanahan goes for broke and calls a pass play.
Coach Dan Quinn didn’t stop him. This wasn’t the time to be aggressive, but that’s what Quinn said he was doing.
While there’s no real need to re-live for the 10,000th time the disaster that ensued, when it was brought up in Shanahan’s opening news conference in San Francisco, a day later, he said, “Every play that didn’t work, I’ll regret.”
Fast forward to Monday, Shanahan had the opportunity to own mistake and didn’t.
“The days after were real tough,” said Shanahan, about the collapse. “Losing a Super Bowl is extremely tough for everybody, especially when you lose one when you have a 28-3 lead going into the fourth. The way it came down on me personally, I didn’t react to that, I think, the way people would expect because there were definitely parts in that Super Bowl that I would love to have back and stuff.
“I was very hard on myself, but the whole narrative of if I would’ve just ran it, we would’ve won, I know that wasn’t the case.”
Again, the Patriots would have been forced to use at least two timeouts. They called one after Trey Flowers’ 12-yard sack knocked the Falcons back to the 35. They would have had to call another one after a third-down running play. Even if the Falcons lost a yard on two quarterback sneaks, Bryant would have been lined up for a 43-yard field goal with just over 3 minutes to play and the Patriots within one point and maybe no timeouts.
So, the narrative is still pretty strong.
Not sure, why he won’t acknowledge the facts. We’ll get to ask him again next week in Miami.
“I know what went into that game and all the stuff that happened, so that stuff didn’t bother me,” Shanahan said Monday.
Shanahan didn’t have to face any music in Atlanta. He was able to safely escape to San Francisco with a new six-year contract as a first-time head coach. He said it was “nice” to be able to move on.
“You’ve got to deal with that and listen to other people, but it was nice to be able to move on and move out here and just keep working,” Shanahan said. “I’m glad I’m going to get the chance to go back.”
It hasn’t been so nice for the Falcons fans, though. And, they’re still waiting for their chance to go back and have that party down Peachtree Street.
If Shanahan had “owned” his role in the debacle, it might make it “nice” for everyone to move on and smoothly as he Shanahan has.
2. Back to the Senior Bowl. Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy noted that 93 players from the 2019 game were drafted, which was 37 percent of last year’s draft.
A total of 40 players in the first three rounds and 10 players in the first round were drafted, including Falcons linemen Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary.
“We’re really proud of those numbers,” Nagy said. “This game was in a period where a lot of those first-round and second-round players weren’t coming to the game. I owe last year’s class for coming down. Eleven of those guys were all-rookie this year, and that’s another thing we are proud of.”
3. Hybrid defenders. NFL teams are looking for hybrid defenders and Kyle Dugger from Lenoir-Rhyne and Whitewater High in Decatur is one at the Senior Bowl.
“The game is changing,” Nagy said. “The game is getting smaller on defense. It’s more matchup-oriented, so you need guys that have kind of a hybrid skill-set. So, we’ve got a lot of those guys. Antoine Brooks from Maryland and Khaleke Hudson from Michigan. That was really a point of emphasis.”
With more spread concepts, defenses have to cover more ground.
“The way the league is going with match-up and zones,” Nagy said. “Nobody plays base defense anymore. It’s all sub stuff.”
4. Linemen class is down. The Falcons must continue to build along the offensive line despite spending heavily in free agency and using up a lot of draft capital last season.
“It’s a good (offensive tackle) group,” Nagy said. “Offensive line, on the whole is probably down a little bit. For our game the tackle group is really strong in the junior class. The (Tristan) Wirfs kid at Iowa and (Andrew) Thomas at Georgia, those kids are great players. Last year, we had nine of our 10 North guys drafted in the first three rounds. We had five first-round offensive linemen. It’s not going to be that strong of a group.”
5. Herbert top prospect. Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, who will play on the South team, is a top-10 draft prospect.
“I’m really excited for Justin,” Nagy said. “Everyone has pegged him as one of the top 10 guys for two years. Justin is a really exciting player because his best football is so out in front of him right now because he’s got ... for all positions, when you’re looking at players, you’re looking for stuff that coaches can’t coach and he’s got all of that.
“He’s got a size. He’s got athleticism. He’s got a (howitzer) for an arm. He’s got a great mind. He’s a 4.0 in molecular biology.”
6. Poll on Shanahan. After watching the 49ers run over the Packers on the way to the Super Bowl, votes in our Twitter poll believe that Shanahan learned his lesson from Super Bowl LI. The poll was taken before he elected not to own his role in the collapse.
7. Poll on uniforms. The Falcons’ fan base is excited about the new uniforms, the first uniform change in 17 seasons.
8. Pro Bowl-bound. Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones pulled out of the Pro Bowl and was replaced by Green Bay wide receiver Davante Adams on Tuesday.
Jones was selected to his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl and seventh overall.
Tight end Austin Hooper, who was an alternate Pro Bowl selection, was picked Monday to replace 49ers tight end George Kittle.
Hooper had career highs in catches (75), receiving yards (787) and touchdowns (six) in 13 games in 2019. He missed three games with a knee sprain.
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is set to play in his first Pro Bowl.
9. Locals at the Senior Bowl. Here’s a list of the players with Georgia connections.
• Kindle Vildor, CB, Georgia Southern, North Clayton High — A two-time all Sun Belt conference selection.
• Essang Bassey, CB, Wake Forest, Columbus — He was a first-team all-state Class 5-A pick by the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Georgia Sports Writers Association after high school. He was second-team All-ACC as a junior.
• Jabari Zuniga, DE, Florida, Sprayberry — He helped the Gators reach the Outback, Peach and Orange Bowl over the past three seasons. He considered leaving for the NFL, but returned for his redshirt senior season, which was marred by a high-ankle sprain.
• Kyle Dugger, S, Lenoir-Rhyne, Whitewater — Intriguing big-hitter who was won the Cliff Harris award as the nation’s top small college defensive player. He was named a Division II All-American.
• Josiah Coatney, DT, Mississippi, Chapel Hill — “Just be physical,” Coatney said when asked what he hopes to show the scouts this week. “Just show them that I can affect the game from the line of scrimmage. I’m somebody who will give it my all. Football is not just a job for me, it’s more than that.” Coatney started playing youth football for the Douglasville TigerCubs, Mount Carmel and Yeager Middle School before Chapel Hill. “I definitely had my experiences in Douglasville,” Coatney said. “That’s definitely where I come from. I was raised most of my life there.”
• D.J. Wonnum, DE, South Carolina, Stephenson — Had 29.5 career tackles for losses to finished ranked ninth on the school’s all-time list. He was a two-time captain in 2017 and 2019. He appeared in 43 games and made 30 starts.
• Jonathan Greenard, DE/LB, Florida/Louisville, Hiram — He was slowed last season by an ankle injury, but elected to come back and play against Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
• Blake Ferguson, LS, LSU, Buford – Was preceded at LSU by his brother Reid Ferguson, who currently long snaps for the Buffalo Bills.
• Rodrigo Blankenship, PK, Georgia, Sprayberry — He was the 2019 Lou Groza Award winner as the nation’s top placekicker. He was an All-SEC first-team selection by the Associated Press and coaches.
• Tyler Bass, PK, Georgia Southern — He made a school-record 20 of 28 field goals last season and made all 36 of his extra-point attempts. He led the team with 96 points scored. He also kicks off and had 55 touchbacks on 72 kickoffs.
• Tremayne Anchrum, OL, Clemson, McEachern — He was a right tackle for the Tigers. He’s 6-foot-2 and 315 and could be a better fit at guard in the NFL. Anchrum became the starter at right tackle in 2018 and has played in more than 53 games, including 35 starts entering the Bowl season.
• Antonio Gibson, RB, Memphis, Eagle’s Landing — Was listed as a wide receiver for the Tigers, but will get a shot a running back at the Senior Bowl. He caught 38 passes and averaged 11.2 yards per carry on 33 rushing carries last season.
• Harrison, Bryant, TE, Florida Atlantic, John Milledge Academy — He won the John Mackey award, which goes to the nation’s top tight end. He was named first-team All-Conference USA football and all-academic. He led the nation’s tight ends with 65 catches for 1,004 yards. He also had seven touchdowns.
• Jared Pinkney, TE, Vanderbilt, Norcross — He started 11 games and had 20 catches for 233 yards and two touchdowns last season.
• Antonio Gandy-Golden, WR, Liberty, Paulding County — At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Gandy-Golden was highly productive in 2017 and 2019 at Liberty. He caught 150 passes for 2,433 yards and 20 touchdowns. He missed 2018 after a car crash and wrist injury.
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