Cover 9@9: Dave Ragone believes Falcons can be explosive

New Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone discusses his new weapons and quarterback Matt Ryan.

1. The No Spin Zone. Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone has reverse scouted his new team.

He went back to the Sept. 27 meeting when the Bears beat the Falcons 30-26 last season. The Falcons blew a 26-10 lead by giving up 20 points in the fourth quarter.

“In Chicago, they were fortunate enough to win that ballgame,” Ragone said. “But you got to see the explosion and the talent on offense.”

The Falcons just couldn’t close the deal. They had three punts and an interception in the fourth quarter.

Todd Gurley had 80 yards rushing. Calvin Ridley caught five passes for 115 yards, and Julio Jones didn’t play in that game.

Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley catches a long pass from quarterback Matt Ryan to setup a touchdown on the Falcons' first drive and first offensive play of the game against the Chicago Bears Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley catches a long pass from quarterback Matt Ryan to setup a touchdown on the Falcons' first drive and first offensive play of the game against the Chicago Bears Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

“It’s something when Arthur (Smith) had the opportunity to run the organization, chosen to be the head coach,” Ragone said. “It was a no-brainer for me when going through the process and being chosen to be the offensive coordinator to be a part of this.”

The former Louisville product pointed to his experiences as a player and coach in different organizations that will help him re-center the Falcons’ offense.

“The experienced that I had there through the ups and downs,” said Ragone, who was with the Bears from 2016-20. “A couple of playoff appearances and things didn’t go our way in those appearances, which meant having a top-5 pick as well in my time there.”

The Falcons pick fourth overall in the draft, and some want the franchise to draft a quarterback, despite issues along the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary.

“So, I think anytime you are allotted those different experiences as a coach, you grow from them,” Ragone said. “There are some things at the time when you’re making certain decisions, you think they are the best for not just you, but for the organization. Only time really tells those out.”

The roster evaluation will be key. Left guard, running back, center and to a lesser degree right tackle are the trouble spots on the offense.

“I just want to make sure before anything else is said about where we are going with anything, is that I truly sit down with the rest of the coaches and coach Smith and we truly evaluate and put our eyes on what we have on this roster,” Ragone said. “From what I know, it’s a pretty special roster in terms of the offensive side of the ball. I’m excited to work with them.”

Ragone knows that quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are his main weapons. They have to find a running back and help tight end Hayden Hurst continue to improve.

“I feel like I know Calvin even though he has no idea that we’ve ever met, because we haven’t,” Ragone said. “It’s from being with his brother (Riley Ridley). We were fortunate to have him in Chicago. Got to know him on a personal and professional level.”

Ragone believes that he and Ryan will hit it off.

“I’ve been fortunate to coach guys at the end of their careers in terms of Jay Cutler,” Ragone said. “Guys who were younger and are now older like Ryan Fitzpatrick. Guys who were young in this league, who came in a rookies, as top picks. So, kind of the gamut in terms of experience.”

2. High draft pick: The Bears drafted Mitchell Trubisky second overall during Ragone’s time in the Chicago. The Falcons don’t have a backup after Matt Schaub retired. Kurt Benkert has been on the practice squad for two season is not NFL regular-season tested.

“I think each quarterback is treated differently in terms of the personality and then where they are in their career,” Ragone said. “So evaluating Matt as we go through this process and getting to know him, even though I feel like from the people that we have the same kind of background with, they’ve kind of told me who Matt is, again when I go in and have a chance to sit down and have a conversation with him, he’ll understand where I’m coming from and I’ll understand where he’s coming from, which is also exciting.

“Just to get to know where he’s at. Then you want to (formulate) a plan, with all the players, just not the quarterback. (Get) a plan in place for each one of those players to get better.”

3. Coach’s corner: Ragone believes that players just want help.

“Do you think the coach can help you get better?” Ragone said. “That’s one of the most important things outside of him caring about you as a person. Those two things go hand in hand. Person first. Player second.”

His approach is centered on the player.

“If they know you care and they know you can help them, I think you can build the relationship to maybe you can get them to a level that maybe they didn’t think they could get to,” Ragone said.

4. Super Bowl connections: Eight former Georgia high school football players are on active rosters for Super Bowl LV, which will be played Sunday in Tampa, Fla.

Four are Kansas City Chiefs playing in their second consecutive Super Bowl. Those are wide receivers Tyreek Hill of Coffee High, Mecole Hardman of Elbert County and Demarcus Robinson of Peach County and place-kicker Harrison Butker of Westminster.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also have four Georgia players. They are linebacker Cam Gill of Chapel Hill, defensive lineman Jeremiah Ledbetter of Gainesville, linebacker Kevin Minter of Peachtree Ridge and safety Andrew Adams of Woodward Academy.

Gill and Ledbetter are the first players from their schools to play in a Super Bowl.

Georgia ranks third among states behind Florida (14) and Pennsylvania (nine), according to MaxPreps.

The eight Georgia representatives are the most from the state since a record 12 suited up for Super Bowl 50 between the Panthers and Broncos in 2016. The state also had eight in the 2014 Super Bowl between the Seahawks and Broncos.

Former Georgia players have appeared in every Super Bowl except one. That was Super Bowl II in 1968 (1967 season). The first Super Bowl champion from Georgia was Bill Curry, who played for the Packers’ Super Bowl I team. Curry played at College Park.

“I always joke with them that Texas football is a little bit better than Georgia,” Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes said of Hill and Hademan. “But they definitely have the speed out of Georgia, for sure.”

5. Mahomes on Falcons: The Falcons played the Chiefs about as tough as anybody this past season.

The Chiefs needed a fourth-quarter Mahomes’ 25-yard touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson with 1:55 left to pull out a 17-14 win on Dec. 27.

“The Falcons game, I think they just had a good game plan,” Mahomes said Monday on the virtual Super Bowl LV media call. “They came in, and they were physical.”

Mahomes completed 24 of 44 passes for 278 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating of 79.5 was his lowest of the season.

He was forced to throw away several passes as the Falcons mixed up their coverages all game under interim coach Raheem Morris and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.

“They did a lot of good things and they confused me whenever they needed to,” Mahomes said. “They didn’t win as many games as they wanted to, but if you look at that team they have playmakers everywhere. They battled everybody all year long, but luckily enough we were able to find a way to get a win.”

Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell dropped a potential game-clinching interception in the end zone, and kicker Younghoe Koo missed a 39-yard field goal that could have sent the game to overtime.

Credit: AJC

Falcons special teams coordinator Marquice Williams was mentored by Jim Caldwell and former Falcons special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis.

Credit: AJC

6. Return game: New special-teams coordinator Marquice Williams will have to spice up the return game.

With Detroit he had Jamal Agnew, who had two punt returns for a touchdown and one kickoff return for a touchdown over the past two seasons.

“He’s a dynamic returner,” Williams said. “He can get north-south immediately. But when you ask Jamal, if you speak to him one-on-one, it was the other 10 men on the field doing their job. That’s big in my eyes in our team’s vision. Doing our jobs. If guys can do their jobs, blocking in space, we’re going to get yards.”

Williams figures if the punt return unit can get 10 yards they’ll be on the verge of busting big returns.

“We’re looking at hey, if we can get 10, if we get 10 at least, then whatever happens after that happens,” Williams said. “Great plays are made from great effort. It’s not only the returner, but its guys blocking down field.”

7. Offensive line help: Chandler Henley was named an assistant offensive line coach by the Falcons on Monday.

Henley was with the Titans for the past three seasons as a quality-control coach.

Before his stop in Tennessee, Henley spent three seasons (2015-17) coaching tight ends at Yale, his alma mater. Before getting into coaching, he worked for IBM and Google.

8. Front-office moves: Scouts Russ Bolinger and Justin Schaaf are no longer with the Falcons.

Bolinger, who played nine years in the NFL, was a player personnel scout with the Falcons. He’d been with the team since 2014.

Schaaf has been with the Falcons since 2018 in a variety of roles, including director of strategic initiatives, assistant to the general manager, pro scout and college scout.

The moves align with a front-office reshuffling under new general manager Terry Fontenot that included the addition of Kyle Smith, formerly of the Washington Football Team, as new vice president of player personnel and Dwaune Jones, formerly of the Ravens, as assistant director of college scouting.

9. Falcons’ 2021 draft position: NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks released his Mock Draft 1.0 and has the Falcons selecting BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. He has Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields going second overall to the New York Jets.

Bucky’s picks

1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

2. New York Jets - Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston) - Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

4. Falcons - Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

5. Cincinnati Bengals - Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

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