Q&A: Falcons coach Dan Quinn on evaluating the roster

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OPENING STATEMENT: It’s been an incredibly exciting time since I was interviewed just a few weeks ago. Since that time, having a partnership with Thomas (Dimitroff) has been everything that I hoped it would be. As we got started, it was time to go through evaluating the roster. Being here in Indy is the next part of that process and getting a chance to go look at these guys and see who has the stuff to be a part of that. In the opening press conference, I talked about playing fast and physical. As we get started this week, those are the guys we are looking for. The guys who can compete. The guys who can finish. As we are starting into this process, I’m so proud to be here at this combine and watch these guys, to see who has the stuff that we’re looking for.

Q: Where are you all at with the roster evaluations?

Falcons coach Dan Quinn at the scouting combine. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/Dledbetter@ajc.com)

A: The biggest part was getting to learn the players here. So that process with Thomas and I, let’s put the tape on and go watch the guys.  After that, it was on to here to get ready for this part, both in free agency and the draft. It’s been a big process, but going through it with Thomas has been good. It’s been exciting to watch tape together and to learn the guys has been the biggest part for me.

Q: Do you have any pass rushers on your roster? How much does that area need to be enhanced?

A: You guys know me, in terms of affecting the quarterback, that’s one of the things that’s near and dear to me. There are a number of guys on our roster that I can’t wait to work with and continue to develop. As we go through the combine and through free agency, we’ll get a vision of who else can be a part of this team and add to that. When you look at a guy, you’re trying to picture things that he can do. I was fired up about the guys on the current roster. Then we’ll add into whether if it’s in the draft or free agency, all of the unique stuff that a guy has, we’ll try to use it in the future.

Q: Did anybody jump out at you when you are watching the team on film?

A: Not necessarily any one person.   . . .just when you first watched it, you go, there are some things that you could see that we could get better with, a number of things. That’s why I’m so excited to get started.

Q: Did watching how Seattle operated affect your decision to seek control of the roster?

A: It was a big factor. I saw how closely connected that John (Schneider) and Pete (Carroll) are. So, I thought if I had the opportunity that I could have a partnership with the guy that I wanted to be aligned with in all of the personnel decisions and do it together. When Thomas and I first met, it was one of those times when you met somebody and you thought, this could work. This is what I’m looking for. Now, that we’ve started over the last few weeks, we’ve been in lock-step together. The line between his office and mine’s, the carpet has been worn out for sure.

Q: When did you make the decision to bring in Kyle Shanahan?

A:   When we found out that he was available we reached out to him. He does a great job of attacking. He’s got great balance. He can run it and pass it. When I went through the process last year, he was one of the guys I was connected with, but it didn’t happen. I was so fortunate this year that when he was available that we could connect again.

Q: How did you land Raheem Morris?

A: Raheem is a really unique guy. I actually coached him in college. That’s where our relationship begin. We’ve remained close ever since that team. He is an unbelievable teacher. He’s one of the best coaches that I’ve seen on the grass. Really, as an assistant coach, that’s where you make your mark. How far can you develop the guy? How you coach them and drill them to get them right. For me to have an opportunity to have him here, I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Q: What will his role be as passing game coordinator?

Scouting combine.

A:   He’s going to help support (defensive coordinator) Richard (Smith) and well as Marquand (Manual). We had a similar structure with Rocky Seto working as the pass game coordinator in Seattle. He’ll be in charge of specific situations, like third down, two minutes and a number of different areas. He’s such a unique guy. When that connection happened, it fired me up.

Q: Can Devonta Freeman be a full-time running back in the new scheme?

A: My first impression of him is that you can feel the quickness. In our outside-zone-system, I feel like this is tailor-made for a guy who can really explode off the edge. I love this guy’s competitive spirit. I remember it all the way back with him coming out of Florida State. The mind-set and the attitude that he brings. I have high hopes for him. I can’t wait to get started with him.

Q: How much improvement can be made with a scheme change?

A: That’s where the scheme will start. From there, it’s how well can you learn the guys to feature them and put them in the very best spot for them. That’s what the process is right now, to learn these guys . . . It’s not really what we play, but how we play. The attitude and the style. That’s one of the things I can’t wait to connect with these guys.

Q: Did you see anyone like Michael Bennett in your evaluation of the Falcons?

A: I don’t think there is any one like Michael Bennett. He’s such a unique guy. . . . that kind of versatility is what we are looking for. Here’s a (defensive) end who can also play defensive tackle. We are looking at linebackers who we can add as pass rushers and defensive tackles who can move inside and play nose. That type of versatility, we are going to push that in every way we can. There are going to be corners who play nickel. There are going to be safeties that will go down to play outside (linebacker). All of the guys, we are going to try and find out what type of versatility that they have and try and feature them every way that we can.

Q: Does it help that you know Dante Fowler from your days at Florida?

A: He’s a terrific player. I’ve known him all the way through, growing up. He has that kind of versatility. He can play down. He can play inside or outside. That’s the way they tried to feature him there.

Q: What did you learn from recruiting in college that could help you in the pros?

Dante Fowler in action against South Carolina.

A: One of the fun parts, whether if it’s recruiting or going through the draft process, when you look at player and look at what that vision is of what that player can become. Sometimes, the player doesn’t even know how good he can become? They don’t even know. So, it’s our job to pull it out of them or draw it out of them. It’s very rewarding for me to see Dante (Fowler) be the player that he maybe thought he would become three or four years ago. Now, it’s up to him to continue it, take the next step and develop more. One of the most fun parts in coaching is finding guys, see what they can become and see it play out in front of you. I’ve seen it first hand in Seattle for the first time with the two safeties with Earl (Thomas) and Kam (Chancellor), from where they were in their first year to what they have become. That vision of what they could be come was awesome.

Q: How important was it to keep Terry Robiskie on your staff?

A: Terry has been a perfect coach in the league for a long time. When I knew that we had an opportunity to possibly connect and work together, he was one of the very first guys that I wanted to reach out to. I have a high regard for what he does and how he does it. He’s a huge part of what we are doing moving forward.

Q: Are you worried about Matt Ryan having another quarterbacks coach?

A: I haven’t talk to him about that specifically, but what I have talked to him about is just that you feel that challenge that he has. He wants to be great. He wants to push and he wants to keep getting better and find that edge. Those are the things that most fire me up about him. You can feel that in the conversations right off the bat with them. I couldn’t be more fired up to work with Matt as well.

Q: How doe Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford fit in your defense?

Georgia running back Todd Gurley. (D. Orlando Ledbetter;/dledbetter@ajc.com)

A: They absolutely fit and the first part of the makeup is the competitiveness. That’s where Robert and Desmond totally have it, they can step, kick and stay on guys. They have the mindset and attitude to keep playing down after down. At corner, it’s a special spot. We love guys that have length and when they do, we have to feature them in that way when they play on the line of scrimmage. Both of those two guys, certainly fit into the profile and we can’t want to get started with them.

Q: Why is versatility so important to your defense?

A: I think it’s real important to have that versatility because often times, your nickel defense might play as many as 500 or 550 snaps in a year of your 1,000 or 1,100 snaps. When you have guys who can play on first and second down and then kick down to play another position on third down, that kind of versatility just adds all kind of value to your team. . . .we are in the process of finding all of the unique guys on the roster and who else we can add to it. Let’s find all of the things they do well and try to feature them.

Q: Do you have to guard against changing after becoming a head coach?

A: One of the real things that I made sure of is to stay true to yourself in terms of the attitude and the style of what you want to do. That part has been great. It’s been an absolute blast over the last couple of weeks. Getting connected with the staff and the players. … Just staying true to who you are is the real message.

Q: Are you going to call the defense?

A: I haven’t gone all the way through that yet. I’m certainly going to be involved on the defensive side. Whether if Richard calls it or I call it, we are going to move on that road as we go. The biggest part right now is finding all the unique stuff that goes along with the players.

Q: How do you plan to fill the Leo position?

A: I think just pass rushers in general, always finding ways to affect the quarterback. Sometimes, it’s outside with the guys who cover so well. Sometimes, you blitz them and do it. But having multiple pass rushers, who can keep attacking and trying to get the quarterback to move is always at the front of our thinking. . . .that spot is a unique one. We’ll find some guys that can do it.

Q: Are you comfortable with the restructured front office?

A: I knew that if I could partner up with a guy we could keep trying to connect and keep trying to evaluate and push to find ways to get better. So, basically when I met Thomas, I felt, this is a guy who I can partner up with. It’s good to have that connection in that way. It was awesome. . . .It’s going to be a total partnership as we go through the whole thing. I couldn’t be more fired up to connect with him.

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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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