Falcons ‘appropriately agitated’ by back to back 7-9 seasons

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons defensive linemen run through drills on the team's first conditioning workout Aug. 3, 2020, in Flowery Branch.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

’’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. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has been around a lot of football teams over his career.

The Chiefs, Browns, Patriots and Falcons.

He shared his early view of the Falcons, who have yet to put on pads, but are squeezing in installation periods into the strength-and-conditioning portions open to the media. They also have put a big emphasis on their walk-through sessions as they ramp up to real football.

“There is something about this group coming together and the focus that they have,” Dimitroff told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I think the last two years (are the reason), and I think they are appropriately agitated by it. You can see it in their eyes.

“You can see it their eyes, in their focus and how they are moving around the building. At least that’s my take, moving around the indoor (building) in the walk-throughs. There is an intent about it and a focus about it that feels really, really sound and really driven.”

The Falcons missed the playoffs after finishing 7-9 in 2018 and 2019.

Based on Dimitroff’s comments, the players seem to know that a lot is on the line in 2020.

Another losing season, and the Falcons could elect to hit the full-blown rebuilding button.

Gettin back to the playoffs and making a Super Bowl run is about the only path to tranquility for this team.

“It’s really important to see the organization, the players and the coaches all coming together,” Dimitroff said. “(Coach) Dan (Quinn) is leading the charge very, very well.”

The Falcons’ season started to take shape when the league shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. They held the virtual program and now are aiming to play the 2020 season without any exhibition games.

“I’m very proud of watching (Quinn) navigate through a pandemic, which is unfathomable for most of us,” Dimitroff said. “Those head coaches, Dan included in the league , who had their hands on the wheel, but they had no real direction getting ready for this.

“No solid direction. Meaning, we were getting rule changes all the time. That’s not anything against the league, but that just the way that it was. There was always a change and an adjustment. I think the overriding factor and theme is agility, adaptability and adjustments. That’s what this team needs to be and I feel that we are that.”

The rules weren’t finally set until the NFLPA and NFL agreed to terms to attempt to try to play the season. The Union wanted to ensure player safety.

The Falcons felt long snapper Josh Harris, did a great job keeping the team informed and their NFLPA player representative.

“I think he did a good job because it’s not an easy job to do, right?,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “Very fluid situation, changing by the day, by the hour. I think he did a good job of trying to keep us informed as best he could, but also to have our best interests, from a safety standpoint and – balancing the safety part of it with our ability to get ready to play football.

“I think he did well for us, and our guys appreciate him for it because it’s not an easy thing to do, and it takes up a lot of time, but he did a great job with it.”

So, far things have gone pretty smoothly. However, fullback Keith Smith, a major contributor on offense and special teams, and reserve safety Jamal Carter, remain on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

“I think the fans should be really proud of the way that this group has come back to some semblance of a training camp,” Dimitroff said. “Again, watching them move around in walk-throughs and how they are handling themselves around the building, in a building that is very different than could have imagined it to be.”

Dimitroff remained steadfast in his initial observations about this team.

“Again, I know it’s early, and I know that I’m always on the positive side leading into a season like anyone is, but I will say there is something that the fans should be very encouraged by,” Dimitroff said. “This group knows what they needed to do. They know they need to be together appropriately,.the approach needs to be understanding. People have to take care of their business so nothing happens where someone (comes) down with COVID.

“There is just a maturity and responsibility to each one of the players that you feel more than you’ve had in the past.”

2. Freeman watch: We found it interesting that Dimitroff said that running back Devonta Freeman had something left in the tank. Why was he cut then?

He just wasn’t the same after signing the big contract in 2017 and obviously the team soured on his play.

The Falcons clearly determined that he wasn’t worth the three years remaining on his contract, which called for Freeman to receive base salaries of $6.5 million in 2020, $6.3 million in 2021 and $8.2 million in 2022.

Freeman likely is trying to recoup as much of that $21 million in base salaries he was set to receive from the Falcons. The numbers explain why he turned up his nose at Seattle’s $3 million offer, with incentives to get up to $4 million.

A total of $22 million of the five-year, $41.25 million deal was guaranteed.

From 2014-19, Freeman made $24 million from the Falcons, and they tore up the final year of his rookie contract. He played only three years on the original deal.

3. Beasley watch: Former Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley, the first winner of the Deacon Jones Award in 2016, reported to Titans and is going through COVID-19 testing. He was placed on the team’s Non-Football Injury list on Tuesday. Beasley is eligible to re-join the team upon passing a physical.

He reported after 10 days of an unexcused absence and faces $500,000 in fines after signing a one-year $9.5 million contract in free agency.

“Vic is here, which I am excited about,” Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel said to the team media on Tuesday. “He has been in the meetings, he is working through the same program, the same schedule that everybody else is.”

If Beasley plays, the Falcons are projected to receive a fifth-round compensatory draft pick.

Beasley has not discussed the reason for his absence.

4. Locker-room blues: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan missed the traditional locker room. Players are spread over the team facilities now. Some have their own locker-room suites back in the dorms behind the football fields. Others are spread out in the indoor barn.

“I think probably the biggest difference is just the lack of a locker-room setting,” Ryan said. “You guys have been in there. You know how after practice everybody comes in and you see everybody.

“I think the thing that we have to work on is seeing other position groups. We work kind of exclusively on the offensive side of the ball and see those guys and now that we’re distancing and set up in different spaces, you don’t really get to spend a lot of time with your guys on the defense.

“That part of it will probably get a little bit better once we’re out on the practice field working with each other and going against each other. But, that’s probably been the thing that I find the most different.”

5. No master plan: Instead of developing young talent, the Falcons acquired seven previous first-round picks and drafted cornerback A.J. Terrell to add talent to the team.

Dimitroff said there was no “golden plan” to amass former first-round picks.

6. Salary-cap issues: The Falcons are projected to be $45 million over the 2021 salary cap, but Dimitroff is not worried.

7. Welcome back Wilcox: Safety J.J. Wilcox will wear jersey No. 48. The coaches raved about him last season before he was injured.

They were experimenting with Wilcox, Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen on the field at the same time in a big nickel formation.

The former Georgia Southern and Cairo High standout re-signed with the Falcons on Sunday.

Wilcox suffered a torn ACL in his right knee on the first day of training camp last season and was placed on the reserve/injured list.

8. Record watch: Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones is 12 receptions away from breaking Roddy White’s team record of 808 career receptions.

Jones, who’s set to talk with the media this week, has 797 catches entering in the 2020 season.

9. Depth chart: Falcons safety Chris Cooper was activated to the roster from the team’s reserve/COVID-19 and former Georgia State offensive lineman Hunter Atkinson was released Tuesday.

The Falcons placed Cooper on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list Sunday.

Cooper spent the majority of the 2019 season on the Falcons’ practice squad. He was signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2018.

Cooper was the seventh Falcon placed on the list. Now, five have been activated from the list.

Smith, Cooper Carter, rookie safety Jaylinn Hawkins, defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, quarterback Danny Etling and linebacker Foye Oluokun have all been placed on the league’s reserve/COVID-19 list. Hawkins, Etling, Oluokun and Davison were activated Wednesday.

Smith and Carter remain on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Atkinson is from Flowery Branch and played at West Hall High. He graduated from West Hall in 2014 and signed with Georgia, but never played for the Bulldogs.

Atkinson played four years with the Panthers and was a two-time All-Sun Belt Conference selection.

Here’s the projected depth chart for training camp:

OFFENSE

WR -- 11 Julio Jones, 13 Christian Blake, 19 Devin Gray, 80 Laquon Treadwell, 14 Chris Rowland, 12 Juwan Green

LT -- 70 Jake Matthews, 75 John Wetzel

LG -- 77 James Carpenter, 61 Matt Hennessy, 73 Matt Gono, 64 Sean Harlow

C -- 51 Alex Mack, 61 Matt Hennessy, 64 Sean Harlow

RG -- 63 Chris Lindstrom, 68 Jamon Brown, 65 Justin McCray, 66 Justin Gooseberry

RT -- 76 Kaleb McGary, 65 Justin McCray, 72 Evin Ksiezarczyk

TE -- 81 Hayden Hurst, 86 Khari Lee, 87 Jaeden Graham, 85 Carson Meier, 89 Jared Pinkney

WR -- 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell, 1 Jalen McCleskey

QB -- 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 6 Kurt Benkert, 16 Danny Etling

RB -- 21 Todd Gurley, 25 Ito Smith, 30 Qadree Ollison, 23 Brian Hill

FB -- ***40 Keith Smith, 44 Mikey Daniel

DEFENSE

DE -- 56 Dante Fowler, 95 Austin Edwards

DT -- 97 Grady Jarrett, 50 John Cominsky, 99 Hinwa Allieu

DT -- 96 Tyeler Davison, 90 Marlon Davidson, 94 Deadrin Senat, 79 Sailosi Latu

DE -- 93 Allen Bailey, 55 Steven Means

DE -- 98 Takk McKinley, 92 Charles Harris, 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

LB -- 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 36 Deone Bucannon, 46 Edmond Robinson

LB -- 45 Deion Jones, 59 LaRoy Reynolds, 43 Mykal Walker, 48 Ray Wilborn

RCB -- 26 Isaiah Oliver, 29 Josh Hawkins, 39 C.J. Reavis, 42 Delrick Abrams, 44 Tyler Hall

LCB -- 24 A.J. Terrell, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 28 Jordan Miller

NCB -- 38 Darqueze Dennard, 20 Kendall Sheffield, 34 Chris Cooper

SS -- 37 Ricardo Allen, 22 Keanu Neal, 48 J.J. Wilcox 32 Jaylinn Hawkins, ***35 Jamal Carter

FS -- 27 Damontae Kazee, 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman

SPECIALISTS

K -- 7 Younghoe Koo

KO -- 7 Younghoe Koo

P -- 4 Sterling Hofrichter

LS -- 47 Josh Harris

H -- 4 Sterling Hofrichter

KOR -- 15 Brandon Powell, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus

PR -- 15 Brandon Powell, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus

*** -- On the reserve/COVID-19 list

---

The Bow Tie Chronicles Podcasts:

Can be found on Google, iTunes and TuneIn

For more content about the Atlanta Falcons:

Follow me on Twitter @DorlandoAJC

On Facebook at Atlanta Falcons News Now

Atlanta Falcons coverage on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Have a question? Email me at dledbetter@ajc.com

About the Author

ajc.com