On Day 1 of training camp – not to confused with rookie camp or minicamp or OTAs, all of which NFL clubs consider absolutely essential, none of which is — the Atlanta Falcons were as happy as grown men working outdoors in July can be. Everyone was on hand. Only Julio Jones’ contract status was unresolved, but this seems a temporary thing. Grady Jarrett has his new contract. Deion Jones has his. Dan Quinn has his new coordinators, one of whom is Dan Quinn.
The belief here is that if — to invoke Vince Dooley’s 1995 charge, unmet, to Ray Goff — significant progress is not forthcoming these next five months, Day 1 of training camp next summer could see a new man heading the Brotherhood, if indeed the new man cares to further the fraternity. With the re-ups of Jarrett/Jones, the Falcons again told us what we’ve known for a while: They really like their players.
Their coaches? Well, three coordinators were given the gate on New Year’s Eve, thrusting the burden of proof almost entirely on the peppy shoulders of DQ. Steve Sarkisian got fired. Marquand Manuel got fired. Keith Armstrong got fired. Matt Ryan is never getting fired. Arthur Blank’s not firing himself. Who’s that leave?
The good news for Quinn: He’s one of two coaches to take the Falcons to the Super Bowl. The less-good: The other one – Dan Reeves – got fired two seasons after Blank inherited him from the Smiths. Even worse: Reeves’ Super Birds didn’t blow a 25-point lead. Quinn, who’s already the Falcons’ czar of football, stood 17 ½ minutes from being coach-for-life. Alas, matters deteriorated, and now we’re 2 ½ years past that infamous day and he’s coordinating his own defense
That doubling of duty is an indication that the Falcons view the season ahead as carpe diem time. Ryan is 32. Julio is 30. As much as the Falcons might love their roster, Pro Football Focus has ranked it the NFL’s 11th-best, down nine spots from last year. Not to offer any ultimatums — it is only July — but it’s hard to envision the Falcons missing the 2019 playoffs and having the same head ball coach in 2020.
The belief here is also that the Falcons have, in the main, had a nice offseason. They spruced up an offensive line in need of sprucing. They hired a proven NFL offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter and a proven defensive coordinator in, er, Quinn. They’re not being picked to win the NFC South — New Orleans is — but the Saints’ quarterback is 40, and the Drew Brees of January 2019 wasn’t the Drew Brees of October 2018. The Falcons-to-the-Super-Bowl bandwagon hasn’t left the garage, but this team isn’t starting in a bad place.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited to get going,” Quinn said, perkiness personified. He worked the field Monday morning giving the defense its instructions — he is coordinating — and could be seen upbraiding Vic Beasley, on whom much depends. Quinn also found time to be impressed by Julio Jones, which was intriguing because the great wideout didn’t actually practice. (Said Quinn: “Him not going had nothing to do with his contract.”)
Quinn on Julio: “Not everyone on the team can be a great player, but everyone can be a great teammate. When those two things coincide, a multiplier effect takes place. ... I looked over today and he was talking to a DB, and they weren’t talking about what they were having for lunch.”
Nice, right? Julio Jones, guest coach.
Trouble was, the Falcons had announced, as practice was ongoing, their list of official guest coaches. Conspicuous was the name of DJ Durkin, last seen being fired by Maryland after his players all but revolted when he was reinstated following an-house investigation of what ESPN described as “a toxic culture.” Lineman Jordan McNair died after collapsing during a workout. Reports hold that Maryland staffers took more than an hour to call 911.
Let’s be clear: Durkin hasn’t been hired by the Falcons. He’s on hand to observe and offer input. He and Quinn worked together on Will Muschamp’s staff at Florida. I don’t know Durkin; Quinn does. But why would an NFL coach entering a rather important year ensure that the first question after his team’s first full practice — the AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter asked it; two other reporters made similar inquiries — would involve, of all things, a guest coach?
Said Quinn: “Nothing is more important to me than the team. I know this coach … I want to assure the media and the fans that I always have the team’s best interests in mind.”
No one doubts that he does. Nor does anyone doubt that this is just a coach offering a leg up to a colleague between jobs. (Nick Saban does it all the time.) Still, it was a tiny example of how a coach always looking to whistle a sunny tune can have a tin ear. One thing about being czar of football is that there aren’t many people willing to say, “Is this such a great idea?”
Enough about Durkin. His presence will be forgotten soon enough. Training camp has commenced. The Falcons have returned to work. For their head coach/defensive coordinator to be assured of continuing employment, they’d better work well.
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