Cover 9@9: Ex-Falcon Ricardo Allen only Bengal with Super Bowl experience

(Here’s our weekly nine items at 9 a.m. Wednesday on the Atlanta Falcons, otherwise known as the Cover 9@9 blog!)

LOS ANGELES1. The no-spin zone: Former Falcons safety Ricardo Allen is a key reserve and special-teams player for the Cincinnati Bengals.

He played 11 snaps on special teams in the Bengals’ win over the Chiefs in the AFC title game and likely will be active for the Super Bowl against the Rams at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

Allen signed with the Bengals as a free agent after he was released last offseason by the Falcons. He played 171 defensive snaps (19%) and 109 snaps on special teams (27%) during the regular season.

“He’s a great guy who came in and in the spring as a kind of a free-agent tour, you know, see the city, see the stadium,” Bengals secondary coach/safeties Robert Livingston said. “He was already planning on where they’re going to live. Where he’s going to send his kids to school.”

Allen, who said he wants to be a coach, was slowed by injuries but was helpful to starting safeties Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates.

“His veteran leadership has been great,” Livingston said. “I can’t speak enough about it. I told him a long time ago that he was going to do more for me than I probably ever do for him. He continues to be that way each week. He’s a true professional. He’s got great questions, great ideas. Just to spend a year with him, I feel like I’m lucky to have that opportunity.”

Allen was drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft as a cornerback from Purdue. He was cut and climbed his way back to the roster through the practice squad. In 2015, Dan Quinn’s staff came in and converted him to a safety.

He went on to start 76 regular-season games and five playoff games, including Super Bowl LI. The Bengals signed him to a one-year contract March 29.

“He has been a huge addition for us not (to our) defense but as a defensive back,” Livingston said. “You’re sitting in a room with 12 guys for over six months now, and he does a great job of keeping things light and keeping guys moving.”

The Bengals will lean on Allen for his Super Bowl experience this week.

“Now that we’re in a situation that only he has been in, he can speak about these things like, ‘Hey, this is what to expect,’” Livingston said. “This is what pregame is. This is what halftime is. So, I can’t say enough good things about him. I really do love him and have enjoyed getting to know him. I really appreciate all he’s done for me.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Ricardo Allen (37) played for the Falcons in the Super Bowl against New England.

Credit: Ezra Shaw

Ricardo Allen (37) played for the Falcons in the Super Bowl against New England.

Credit: Ezra Shaw

Combined ShapeCaption
Ricardo Allen (37) played for the Falcons in the Super Bowl against New England.

Credit: Ezra Shaw

Credit: Ezra Shaw

2. Bates is a keeper: Bengals safety Jessie Bates made The Associated Press’ second-team All-Pro in 2020. He was drafted in the second round of the 2018 draft from Wake Forest.

“His potential is limitless,” Livingston said.

Bates was a big part of the second-half shutdown of the Chiefs’ passing attack in the AFC title game.

“So, we’re sitting at a restaurant in Winston-Salem, and I asked him, ‘Hey, dude, what do you want to do?’” Livingston said. “You know, ‘where do you see this thing going?’ I told him that the sky was the limit.”

Bates had 88 tackles in the regular season. He had four tackles and a pass breakup against the Chiefs.

“He’s only 24 years old,” Livingston said. “He’s put a ‘C’ on his chest, being a captain for the first time in his career this year. With that comes responsibility and added pressure.”

3. Bell a trooper: Bengals safety Vonn Bell, who played at Ridgeland High in Rossville and at Ohio State, was drafted by the Saints in the second round of the 2016 draft. He played four seasons with the Saints before signing with the Bengals in 2020.

“Vonn came in after a little bit of a slow start to his career in New Orleans,” Livingston said. “He really took off his last year there and had success. But if you look back at his career, he’s always been a winner.”

He’s helped to stabilize Cincinnati’s secondary.

“He’s probably the most driven or motivated guy that I’ve ever met,” Livingston said. “Whether it’s offseason Zoom calls or showing up to the building at 5:45 or 6 a.m. in the morning every day to work out or take a Pilates class. He is solely focused on being successful and being the best player that he can be.”

4. Dolphins called for London: The Falcons received a request from the Dolphins to interview quarterbacks coach Charles London for their open offensive coordinator position, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday.

Former Falcons assistant Mike McDaniel recently was named the Dolphins’ head coach.

London, who played at Dunwoody and Duke, has been with the Falcons for one season.

The Falcons already lost running backs coach Des Kitchings, who became the offensive coordinator at Virginia.

He was replaced by Michael Pitre, formerly of the Chicago Bears.

Pitre, 37, held the same position in Chicago in 2021.

5. Steve Sabo departure: The decision to mutually part ways was hashed out over last week after Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot returned from the Senior Bowl. By all accounts, it was a mutual parting although Sabo was a holdover from the Thomas Dimitroff front office.

His departure was announced Monday.

Sabo had been with the Falcons in various capacities since 2010. He previously worked 12 seasons for the Cleveland Browns.

Fontenot discussed how the Falcons were reluctant to make sweeping changes after being named general manager in January 2021. But several changes have been made since, and this is the first personnel move in the structure of the front office.

The pro personnel director and the director of college scouting are the key roles in most front offices.

Anthony Robinson is the director of college scouting. It’s unclear if the Falcons will promote from within or look for a new executive from outside the club.

“Sometimes it just looks a little, small things just look different to you,” Fontenot said last week at the Senior Bowl. “And you kind of have to learn a little bit of a different language to go through that process. And I didn’t want to change too much right away. This staff has been working through it for a long time. So you have to adapt yourself a little bit. But now this year, we’ve adapted the process a lot and made a lot of changes. So, we feel very comfortable where we are right now.”

6. Reserve/future players: The Falcons have signed 21 players to reserve/futures contracts.

The players are guard Rashaad Coward, tight end Daniel Helm, outside linebacker Duke Ejiofor, cornerback Corey Ballentine, defensive back Dee Alford, defensive back Cornell Armstrong, offensive lineman Willie Beavers, outside linebacker Quinton Bell, outside linebacker Jordan Brailford, inside linebacker Dorian Etheridge, wide receiver Chad Hansen, running back Caleb Huntley, cornerback Luther Kirk, tight end Brayden Lenius, punter Dom Maggio, offensive lineman Ryan Neuzil, cornerback Lafayette Pitts, tight end John Raine, outside linebacker Rashad Smith, defensive end Nick Thurman and wide receiver Austin Trammell.

7. 2022 opponents: The Falcons know their opponents for the 2022 season. The Falcons (7-10) finished in third place in the NFC South. Dates and times will be announced later.

The Falcons will play home and away games against the rest of the NFC South (Saints, Buccaneers and Panthers).

The home games will include the Cardinals, 49ers, Browns, Steelers, Bears and Chargers.

The away games will include the Ravens, Bengals, Rams, Seahawks and Commanders.

8. Draft order: The top 28 spots are set heading into the championship round of the playoffs:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars; 2. Detroit Lions; 3. Houston Texans; 4. New York Jets; 5. New York Giants; 6. Carolina Panthers; 7. Chicago Bears (traded to N.Y. Giants); 8. Falcons; 9. Denver Broncos; 10. Seattle Seahawks (traded to N.Y. Jets); 11. Washington Commanders; 12. Minnesota Vikings; 13. Cleveland Browns; 14. Baltimore Ravens; 15. Miami Dolphins (traded to Philadelphia); 16. Indianapolis Colts (traded to Philadelphia); 17. Los Angeles Chargers; 18. New Orleans Saints; 19. Philadelphia Eagles; 20. Pittsburgh Steelers; 21. New England Patriots 22. Las Vegas Raiders; 23. Arizona Cardinals; 24. Dallas Cowboys; 25. Buffalo Bills; 26. Tennessee Titans; 27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 28. Green Bay Packers; 29. San Francisco 49ers (traded to Miami); 30. Kansas City Chiefs *31. Cincinnati Bengals; *32. Los Angeles Rams (traded to Detroit).

*- Subject to Super Bowl result

9. Falcons’ 2021 season review series: We have used a heavy dose of analytics to help us break down the Falcons’ 2021 season in our eight-part series that is winding down with the secondary and the special teams. Here are the links to the previous stories.

Falcons’ position-by-position analysis:

Part 1: Running backs

Part 2: Quarterbacks

Part 3: Wide receivers/tight ends

Part 4: Offensive line

Part 5: Defensive line

Part 6: Linebackers

Part 7: Defensive backs

Part 8: Special teams

The Bow Tie Chronicles