Cover 9@9: A closer look at the Falcons’ defensive line

Jacob Tuioti-Mariner ‘was everywhere’ in win over Raiders
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Jacob Tuioti-Mariner ‘was everywhere’ in win over Raiders

1. The no-spin zone: The Falcons are looking for help in the trenches on offense and defense.

The new coaching staff knows what they have in two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and they re-signed stout defensive tackle Tyeler Davison and defensive end Steven Means.

If the Falcons are vastly improved along the defensive line, Marlon Davidson, John Cominsky and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner need to have major surges in their games.

We’re leaving Dante Fowler out of this because he obviously has to play better.

But the younger players should have more room for growth.

Last season, Davidson, without the benefit of offseason activities, couldn’t get on to the field much after he was drafted in the second round out of Auburn. He played in eight games and had eight tackles.

He played 132 defensive snaps (12%).

“It’s hard enough to be a rookie in the NFL,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “Then dealing with everything, it was much harder for a lot of people around the world and in this country dealing with the pandemic.”

Davidson, who’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 278 pounds, is getting a clean slate with the new staff.

“So, it was an unusual offseason,” Smith said. “Everybody gets a fresh start here. Marlon has been working hard. All of these guys just want to improve.”

Cominsky, 6-foot-5, 285 pounds, played in 13 games last season and made one start. He finished with 28 tackles, three tackles for losses and three quarterback hits.

Cominsky, who played at Division II Charleston (W.Va.) and was a fourth-round pick in 2019, played 398 defensive snaps (37%).

Tuioti-Mariner will play outside linebacker. He will play against the run and sometimes he’ll drop in coverage.

He played in 16 games last season and made 31 tackles and had five quarterbacks hits, two pass breakups, a sack and a forced fumble.

Tuioti-Mariner was signed as an undrafted free agent from UCLA and is product of former coach Dan Quinn’s Plan D (developmental) program.

In one of the few highlights from 2020, Tuioti-Mariner wrecked the Raiders in Week 12 and was named the NFC’s defensive player of the week. He finished with six tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in the 43-6 win over the Raiders.

The new staff would like to see more of that player.

In the fifth round this year, the Falcons drafted defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham, a four-year starter at Texas, and outside linebacker Ade Ogendeji, who’s being groomed at outside linebacker.

Other defensive linemen on the roster include Chris Slayton, Zac Dawe, Eli Ankou, Deadrin Senat, Jonathan Bullard, Olive Sagapolu, Barkevious Mingo and Kobe Jones.

2. Five of nine rookies signed. With salary cap room available after the trade of wide receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons signed five members of their nine-member rookie class Tuesday.

Third-round pick Jalen Mayfield (68th overall) was the highest draft pick signed.

The Falcons also signed fifth-round picks Ta’Quon Graham (defensive line), Ade Ogundeji (outside linebacker) and Avery Williams (cornerback), and they signed sixth-round pick Frank Darby (wide receiver).

The Falcons still must sign first-round pick Kyle Pitts (tight end), second-round pick Richie Grant (safety) and fourth-round picks Drew Dalman (center) and Darren Hall (cornerback).

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Falcons fifth-round draft pick Avery Williams, a cornerback from Boise State, talks about his motivation entering camp.

3. Falcons Moms Academy: The Falcons Moms Football Academies will hold a sessions for youth football moms June 22 and one for high school football moms June 23 at the Home Depot Backyard. The sessions are intended to provide moms with information on youth and high school football fundamentals and development.

Speakers will include former Falcons players, high school football head coaches and people from the Taylor Hooton Foundation. Elisha Jarrett will speak at the Wednesday session for high school moms.

Registration for the two academies can be found at AtlantaFalcons.com/Academy.

4. Injury report: Smith would not confirm any injuries, but said if they were major injuries he would.

Running back Mike Davis, wide receiver Russell Gage, right tackle Kaleb McGary and tackle Matt Gono were not present during the open OTA on Monday.

“The whole objective is – and I know I sound like a broken record here – is to make sure we’re as healthy as we can be going into the summer,” Smith said. “You don’t want people to have nagging injuries to linger on. We want to be as healthy as we can so guys can be in the best shape they can be in, come training camp.”

He wouldn’t clarify is any players were injured, just resting or rehabbing from surgeries.

“They’re at different phases,” Smith said. “Everybody has different things going on. Some people we want to focus on a certain area. Certain guys we’ve wanted to put more in the weight room, some guys wanted to get them alternative conditioning, all different things going on.”

So, all should be expected to be present when training camp starts in late July.

If there was something major, not to be evasive, I know what you guys are asking and I know what the rules are with the injuries, but if there was something major, we would let you guys know,” Smith said. “I’m not going to play that kind of game with you guys. It would be well documented.”

5. Offseason program: Smith is not putting much stock in the offseason program.

“It’s just part of it,” Smith said. “I take the spring, take it with a grain of salt. We’re just trying to improve their understanding of the schemes and what the objective is. I just don’t get too worked up over spring and OTAs and minicamp.”

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Falcons coach Arthur Smith said he is confident players will make right choice for themselves on whether to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

6. Getting to know Grady. Smith is working on building relationships with all of the players.

“It’s been really fun getting to know Grady (Jarrett),” Smith said. “Obviously, I had a lot of respect for him from afar. We played against him two years ago, getting ready and watching him be successful, but I really like the way he handles himself.

“We’ve had some great conversations, and just like with every player here, you’re just trying to get to know him, hope they get to know me. But I’ve been very pleased with what Grady has brought to the table so far.”

7. Ridley at APS: Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley worked with Atlanta Public Schools as he recently visited both Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy and Lenora P. Miles Elementary school, where workers from Mercedes-Benz USA distributed ice cream to students to celebrate persevering after a challenging pandemic year.

“Just going out and catching up with a bunch of the kids,” Ridley said. “Some of them had this big test. I was just giving them some confidence. I brought out some ice cream. Brought out some cars so they can check it out and get in the cars and take some pictures, just to (help) them get out of school for 30 minutes and have a little fun.”

8. Football and fashion collide: Former Falcons players, cheerleaders and Freddie Falcons and a surprise guest will take part in Fashion Play to benefit the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta on Wednesday

The event will be hosted by former wide receiver Harry Douglas, running back Mike Davis, long snapper Josh Harris, defensive lineman Grady Jarrett and cornerback Isaiah Oliver virtually to talk fashion and football.

“I’m thrilled to be hosting Fashion Play,” Douglas said. “Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta is doing amazing work in our city, and as an Honorary Big Brother I try to do whatever I can to promote their mission. We’ve had great response from other alumni players and I’m excited to see everyone on the catwalk on June 16.”

For 61 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta has transformed the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in our community through a proven youth development strategy: one-to-one mentoring.

“It’s super important to pour into someone and to be encouraging to somebody because we all have bad days,” Jarrett said. “There are people, who when you’re down, bring you back up and keep you level-headed. It’s super important that the things that are poured into you, you pour into somebody else because all knowledge is here to be shared.”

For more information visit www.bbbsatl.org/fashionplay.

9. Depth chart: After the mandatory minicamp, it looks like the Falcons could flip six of 11 (54%) of the opening-game starters from 2020 to 2021 under new defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

Takk McKinley, Cominsky, Ricardo Allen, Damontae Kazee, Keanu Neal and Isaiah Oliver all started in the 38-25 loss to Seattle on Sept. 13 at Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Cominsky and Oliver are projected to make the team, but are not projected as starters at this time.

Here’s what looks like the first-team 3-4 alignment:

Defensive line – Grady Jarrett, Tyeler Davison and Marlon Davidson.

Linebackers – Dante Fowler, Deion Jones, Foye Oluokun and Jacob Tuitoi-Mariner.

Secondary – A.J. Terrell, Duron Harmon, Erik Harris and Fabian Moreau.

Davidson, Tuioi-Mariner, Harmon, Harris, Oluokun and Moreau would be the new starters.

The Falcons opened in a nickel defense with three safeties against Seattle and Oluokun didn’t start.

After Qadree Ollison’s fine showing at minicamp, we moved him up to RB2 ahead of Cordarrelle Patterson.

We also moved rookie tight end Kyle Pitts to TE1 ahead of Hayden Hurst, although both are projected to play a lot in “12″ formations (one back, two tight ends).

After the OTAs conclude we’ll look at the training camp position battles and breakdown the position groups in our 90-man roster analysis before the start of training camp.

Here’s the updated depth chart:

OFFENSE

WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Tajae Sharpe, 88 Frank Darby, 13 Christian Blake, 86 Antonio Nunn

WR 14 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 12 Chris Rowland, 16 Greg Dortch, 82 Austin Trammell

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 William Sweet, 71 Willie Beavers

LG 68 Josh Andrews, 77 Jalen Mayfield, 66 Willie Wright, 62 Bryce Hargrove

C 61 Matt Hennessy, 67 Drew Dalman, 65 Joe Sculthorpe

RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 64 Ryan Neuzil, 75 Kion Smith, 71 Sam Jones

RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 73 Matt Gono, 77 Jalen Mayfield

TE 8 Kyle Pitts, 81 Hayden Hurst, 85 Lee Smith, 87 Jaeden Graham, 46 Parker Hesse, 80 Ryan Becker, 89 John Raine

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 5 AJ McCarron, 15 Feleipe Franks

HB 28 Mike Davis, 30 Qadree Ollison, 84 Cordarrelle Patterson, 36 Tony Brooks-James, 25 Javian Hawkins, 42 Caleb Huntley

FB 40 Keith Smith

DEFENSE

DL 90 Marlon Davidson, 55 Steven Means, 95 Ta’Quon Graham, 79 Chris Slayton

DL 97 Grady Jarrett, 93 Zac Dawe, 98 Eli Ankou, 94 Deadrin Senat,

DL 96 Tyeler Davison, 50 John Cominsky, 99 Jonathan Bullard, 69 Olive Sagapolu

OLB 56 Dante Fowler, 92 Adetokunbo Ogundeji, 59 Alani Pututau, 42 Jeff Holland

ILB 45 Deion Jones, 51 Brandon Copeland, 53 Erroll Thompson

ILB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 43 Mykal Walker, 48 Dorian Etheridge

OLB 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 52 Barkevious Mingo, 49 Kobe Jones

RCB 22 Fabian Moreau, 20 Kendall Sheffield, 29 Chris Williamson

LCB 24 A.J. Terrell, 33 Tyler Hall, 34 Darren Hall, 38 Marcus Murphy, 41 J.R. Pace

NCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 25 Delrick Abrams, 35 Avery Williams

FS 23 Erik Harris, 27 Richie Grant, 37 Dwayne Johnson

SS 21 Duron Harmon, 32 Jaylinn Hawkins, 39 T.J. Green, 38 Marcus Murphy

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo

P 4 Sterling Hofrichter, 9 Dom Maggio

LS 47 Josh Harris

KO 7 Younghoe Koo

KR 84 Cordarrelle Patterson, 12 Chris Rowland, 35 Avery Williams

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Falcons coach Arthur Smith talks about the importance of having a good relationship with quarterback Matt Ryan and development of backup quarterbacks.

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