Cover 9@9: Falcons coping with bizarre start to camp

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan works with receivers and running backs as the team begins conditioning training at Flowery Branch ahead of the 2020 NFL season.

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. The Falcons have had six players placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and three were activated Wednesday.

Rookie safety Jaylinn Hawkins, fullback Keith Smith, defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, safety Jamal Carter, 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 on Wednesday, according to the team.

So far, the Falcons have not had a player opt-out of the season, but the deadline is 4 p.m. Thursday.

League-wide, 11 players were activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list, three added to reserve/COVID-19 list and four more players opted-out Tuesday. The overall totals: 90 on reserve/COVID-19 list, 52 opt-outs and 30 reactivations.

Teams were quick to point out that it doesn’t mean a player has contracted the coronavirus to be on the list. Some have come in contact with a person, who has had the virus. Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who played at Georgia, was placed on the list but had a false positive test.

The battery of tests to enter the team facilities has been rigorous.

Falcons players Todd Gurley and Grady Jarrett were outspoken earlier about the league paying lip-service to player safety. But now, after going through the protocols, both have changed their tunes.

“I feel like everybody over here is doing a pretty good job of making sure that we stay safe and doing all of the protocols,” Gurley said.

The week before players were set to return, several players around the league posted tweets with the hashtag #WeWantToPlay.

“I know you guys want to see football this year, but we need the NFL to step up and create safer work environments for the players,” Jarrett posted.

But the NFL and NFLPA reached an agreement on several fronts including the frequency of testing.

Each player had to pass at least three tests to be allowed in the building and then each team was set to test daily for the first two weeks of watered-down training camp, which will not include any exhibition games.

“Really the whole process of it, I mean you either sulk about it or just find a way to make it best, so it’s totally different around here how you got to handle business, but it is what it is and whether it’s getting tested every morning and the way we get to the locker rooms and stuff like that, it’s all different,” Jarrett said. “I’m glad we are here.”

The players are trying to make a go of it.

“The strangest thing is people telling me to put my mask on all the time,” Falcons defensive end Dante Fowler said. “I know we have to put our mask on, it’s just reminds you that we are living in a new world kinda sorta. I mean as long as we can play football, I’m fine with that.”

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Falcons defensive end Dante Fowler reflects on a slow start to his NFL career.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Also, most players are understanding of the players who are opting-out for the season around the league.

“I support all of the players that are opting out,” Fowler said. “I’d never go against those guys. They have families at home. You never know what kind of situations they have going on with their families. Some guys have been through cancer.”

He noted the case of former Rams teammate Chandler Brewer, who opted out because he’s a cancer survivor.

“With my history with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I am at high risk and will opt out of playing in the NFL this season,” Brewer said in a statement posted to the team’s website. “I would like to thank the Rams for their support and I look forward to getting back on the field in 2021 and beyond.”

Fowler couldn’t immediately recall Brewer’s name, but he knew of his plight.

“He really had beat cancer and you know, he really had cancer,” Fowler said. “These things (with the) coronavirus, people are passing away, especially if they have old issues. When it comes to that, opt-out. We’ll see you next year. These are the crazy times we live in.”

Fowler doesn’t plan to opt-out.

“As far as me, my family is good, so I’m going to be right there on the football field,” Fowler said.

2. Gurley on Quinn: Falcons coach Dan Quinn has a “good name” in players’ circles.

“One thing about coaches, if players don’t like him, you’ll hear about it,” Gurley said. “I haven’t heard anything bad about (Quinn).”

Gurley said players just want to be treated fairly.

“Most people could care less about who’s their coach,” Gurley said. “It’s about how they get treated. You definitely want to get treated the right way, whether you are a starter, backup or practice-squad guy. I feel like he’s treating everybody the same from what I’ve heard. It just kind of tells you all about a person.

“I didn’t really have to meet him or talk to him too much because I really kind of get the gist of who he is.”

3. Gurley and Fowler: Gurley, who played at Georgia, and Fowler, who played at Florida, were fierce rivals in college.

They were teammates with the Los Angeles Rams for the past two seasons and both came to the Falcons over the offseason via free agency.

Both had birthdays Monday.

“I’m smiling behind this mask,” Gurley said. “I’ve been competing against him since the Georgia-Florida days.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons's new running back Todd Gurley discusses player safety as the team returned to the practice field in Flowery Branch.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Fowler recalled those days.

“I remember my freshman year, he started as a freshman and he literally ran all over us,” Fowler said. “That next year when we played them, (I) was starting and things like that. I didn’t take it (lightly) for what he did to us last year. So, I was like on him pretty hard. We kind of got into a little scuffle in the pile. ... It was kind of a big thing.”

Peace has been restored.

“Now, we’ve been teammates,” Fowler said. “We were in the same draft class. We have the same birthday. It’s crazy how the world works.”

4. Terrell on what he can bring: Falcons rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell believes he can contribute immediately.

“Definitely, juice,” Terrell said about what he brings to the table. “Come in there making plays. Leading the guys and getting turnovers. Just making the whole back seven and all the DBs just improve their game and go crazy off the energy "

Credit: AJC

Falcons first-round pick A.J. Terrell discusses how he developed his leadership skills at Westlake High and his start with the team.

Credit: AJC

5. Ridley wants his 1,000 yards. Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley was upset when he was in the hospital and realized that he was not going to reach the thousand-yard plateau last season.

Here’s a story on his plans for this season.

6. Dennard assigned No. 38. No one from the team has commented about the signing of cornerback Darqueze Dennard. Quinn is set to speak to the media Friday, four days after the signing.

Dennard, who will wear No. 38, was a first-round draft pick (24th overall) of the Bengals in 2014. The Falcons now have 18 first-round draft picks on the roster.

Before the deal was finalized, Dennard, who resides in Atlanta and is from Twiggs County,, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he was looking forward to playing in his home state.

“Most definitely,” he said.

Dennard has played in 77 NFL games and made 24 starts. He has three career interceptions.

7. DVR Alert: Former Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith will be on Von Miller’s Pass Rush Summit, which is set to air on NFL Network at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday.

8. Beasley watch: The deadline for players under contract to report to their team to earn an accrued season for free agency is Tuesday.

The Falcons need Vic Beasley to report to the Titans and play this season for the team to be in line for a projected fifth-round compensatory pick.

Beasley has been on an unexcused absence, but has been in contact with the team.

9. DEPTH CHART: After signing Dennard and waiving seven players, the Falcons are currently at 83 players. They have three players on the COVID-19 list, to put the roster at 80.

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, 74 Hunter Atkinson

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, 42 Craig Reynolds

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, 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

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