Cover 9@9: Target date for Kirk Cousins’ full recovery: season opener vs. Steelers

1. The no-spin zone: Falcons quarterback Kirk Cousins is recovering from a ruptured Achilles. He had surgery Nov. 1.

Coach Raheem Morris was asked if there was a time between now and the start of training camp where he wanted to see Cousins go full speed.

“What’s the date of our first game?” Morris said. “Whatever that date is of our first game that we line up against Pittsburgh and get ready to go play, I want him to feel as close to 100 percent as possible.”

That would be Sept. 8.

Cousins pointed out that Aug. 1 would be the nine-month marker. Achilles recuperation can range from nine to 12 months in recovery time. If Cousins can hit his Aug. 1 marker, he’d have another month to get ready for the Steelers, which would be the 10-month marker from surgery.

If he goes into the 11- or 12-month, Taylor Heinicke likely could open the season for the Falcons. Left tackle Jake Matthews said he hasn’t taken a snap with rookie quarterback Michael Penix Jr.

“I think what’s been the most positive part for me is getting the reps because when I first did it, and I was in Minnesota the second half of last season, the conversation was, what will OTAs look like?” Cousins said. “And the answer I got back was, we won’t put you in the practice reps, it’s just not worth it. If it’s a walk-through, maybe, but the practice reps, you don’t need to be in there.”

Cousins appears to be ahead of schedule. He hasn’t missed any OTA reps.

“I was planning on basically getting my first practice rep late July,” Cousins said. “I feel that I’ve gotten every rep there was to get in these OTAs. I think that’s been a huge win for making up, you know, building that continuity that we talk about.”

Cousins is looking forward to eventually getting full-speed reps.

“I mean, I want it to be (Monday),” Cousins said. “But you’ve just got to let your body tell you when. So, my body will, I’ll be able to feel that, OK, the strength is there fully or I’m not feeling anything in the ankle or Achilles.”

Cousins plans to trust his body.

“You just kind of let your body tell you,” Cousins said. “What I’ve learned is what you can’t do is ignore what your body tells you. I’ll tough it out. I’ll grind it out. And that’s the surest way to make sure it doesn’t heal as fast as possible. You just try to listen to your body.”

Cousins has been plenty durable. He’s played all 16 or 17 regular-season games in seven seasons. He played 15 games in 2019 and eight games last season.

Cousins has been monitoring himself in practice.

“I think there has been moments like that at practice when your adrenaline gets going and you do maybe take off to run,” Cousins said. “And they’re like, you don’t need to do that right now. It’s OTAs. So, that happens from time to time. But it’s a good problem if that’s happening.”

2. Cousins likes to draw up the plays: As part of the installation, Cousins like to draw up the offensive plays.

“One habit among several that has worked for me that I just probably never will stop is drawing the plays,” Cousins said. “I like to see them. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a visual learner or what. But if a play gets installed, I have to take my pen and I have to just draw it myself like a doodle and see it.”

Cousins looks at the play as he draws it, go through the progressions, think about his footwork and if there are any problems that may arise.

“Drawing the play has been something I just can’t stop,” Cousins said. “So, every script, every day, I fill up a page and just draw every play. It’s worked for me this long. I’m probably not going to stop now.”

Cousins started drawing up the plays in his second or third year in the NFL.

“I felt like the only way I could hear these plays and call them in the huddle or really own them is if I saw them,” Cousins said. “So, I know when I’ve learned a system. That’s when (offensive coordinator) Zac (Robinson) says the play, I don’t just hear it. I see it in my mind’s eye.”

Atlanta radio engineer Miller Pope died Monday, May 27, 2024 at the age of 65. An independent contractor, Pope engineered broadcasts for Georgia, Georgia Tech, the Falcons, Hawks and Atlanta United in a career that spanned more than 40 years. In this photo, Pope was engineering the radio broadcast of a Tech men’s basketball game at McCamish Pavilion on February 20, 2019. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech AThl

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Credit: Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech AThl

3. Miller Pope will be missed: Miller Pope always had a smile on his face. He was a quick to greet you and always provided some uplifting words.

He was a radio engineer whose skill and conscientiousness helped bring to air literally thousands of Falcons, Hawks, Atlanta United, Georgia and Georgia Tech games, Pope died unexpectedly May 27 at the age of 65.

“First off, our condolences to Miller Pope,” Morris said. “Losing him over the weekend. To his family and all of those guys, it’s really sad and hard when that stuff happens, especially in that case. … just want to give condolences.”

KEN SUGIURA’S COLUMN ON POPE: Remembering Miller Pope, an indispensable member of Atlanta’s sports community

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Falcons running back Bijan Robinson talks about the team's new rushing attack while meeting with the media Monday in Flowery Branch.

4. Robinson to McCaffrey role: Falcons running back Bijan Robinson said the Falcons will continue running their wide-zone plays, but have added several other running schemes this offseason.

“We still run the wide zone, but there are so many other run-schemes that we have now, that I love and that I ran in college,” Robinson said. “That I can’t wait to run. We’re good on like coming off the wide zone and going to something else.”

Robinson likes his role in the offense.

“I’m going to be more of a runner that does everything else,” Robinson said. “... It’s like run first, like I did in college and then still have access to go to receiver. Still have access to do creative things out of the backfield. More so, like how they use Christian (McCaffrey) down there in San Francisco. Something like that. That is kind of what the plan is here.”

Credit: Screenshot

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Credit: Screenshot

5. Book corner: “Better Than Lifting Things” takes you behind the scenes for Glenn Sheeley’s 44-year career in and out of newspapers, including 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, when he assumed the golf beat in 1994 and covered 32 consecutive major championships, 10 of them won by Tiger Woods, and also reported on the Falcons, Hawks, and Braves.

Sheeley started out covering the Steelers at age 25 and went on to cover 17 Super Bowls. The foreword was written by Pro Football Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw.

6. Morris on the defensive backs: Morris was asked if anyone in the cornerback room stood out to him while A.J. Terrell Jr. was out dealing with his ankle injury.

“It was a plethora of guys,” Morris said. “Clark (Phillips III) was one of those guys who went out there with the first unit and was able to do some really good things and I was really fired up to see him go out there. The best thing about corners—they’re like left tackles right, if you don’t notice that there’s a change then there is probably something good going on.”

Morris noted that in a recent practice that Phillips had a pick-six.

“That’s a pretty impactful play,” Morris said. “When those things happen, that’s exciting to watch.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell talks about the secondary while meeting with media Monday in Flowery Branch.

7. Terrell – standing on business: Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell has quietly gone about his business this offseason, while he’s in line for a lucrative contract extension.

“I’m doing me,” Terrell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. “I’m going to let my agent handle that.”

The Falcons picked up Terrell’s $12.34 million fifth-year option for the upcoming season and could offer a long-term deal like they did Chris Lindstrom last season.

“Well, again, we’ll never get into those private conversations,” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said recently at the league meetings. “Those are things that we’ll talk specifically with him and his agent about at the appropriate time. (We’ll) make everyone aware of it. But again, love A.J. and everything he’s about.”

Terrell, who played at Westlake High and Clemson, can play next season under his rookie deal, but the team will need to work an extension to keep him from potentially becoming a free agent next offseason.

Tennessee recently signed cornerback L’Jarius Sneed to a four-year, $76 million deal.

8. Two former HBCU players added: Wide receivers Daylen Baldwin and OJ Hiliare, who were recently signed by the Falcons, both play at HBCUs.

Baldwin originally signed with the Cleveland Browns following the 2022 NFL draft out of Michigan. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound wide receiver played four seasons at Morgan State (2017-18), Jackson State (2020) and Michigan (2021).

Hiliare spent three seasons (2019-21) at Alabama A&M before transferring to Bowling Green for his final two seasons (2022-23) of his collegiate career. The 6-foot, 185-pound wide receiver appeared in 50 games and caught 205 passes for 2,644 yards and 23 touchdowns.

9. Depth chart: Here’s the updated Falcons’ depth chart as they head into their mandatory minicamp next week:


QB – Kirk Cousins, Taylor Heinicke, Michael Penix Jr., John Paddock

RB – Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, Avery Williams, Carlos Washington Jr., Jase McClellan

FB – Robert Burns

WR – Drake London, Josh Ali, Austin Mack, Greg Washington, JaQuae Jackson, Dylan Drummond

Slot WR – Rondale Moore, Ray-Ray McCloud

TE – Kyle Pitts, Charlie Woerner, John FitzPatrick, Austin Stogner, Ross Dwelley

LT – Jake Matthews, Tyler Vrabel, Barry Wesley

LG – Matthew Bergeron, John Leglue, Ryan Coll

C – Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil, Jovaughn Gwyn

RG – Chris Lindstrom, Kyle Hinton, Nolan Potter

RT – Kaleb McGary, Storm Norton

WR – Darnell Mooney, KhaDarel Hodge, Chris Blair, Isaiah Wooden, Daylen Baldwin, OJ Hiliare.

DEFENSE 3-4 alignment

DE – Zach Harrison, Kentavius Street, Demone Harris, James Smith-Williams, Brandon Dorlus

NT – David Onyemata, LaCale London, Tommy Togiai, Eddie Goldman, Zion Logue

DT – Grady Jarrett, Kentavius Street, Ta’Quon Graham, Willington Previlon, Ruke Orhorhoro

LOLB – Arnold Ebiketie, Bradlee Anae, Kehinde Oginni

LILB – Kaden Elliss, Donavan Mutin, Milo Eifler

RILB – Troy Andersen, Nate Landman, JD Bertrand

ROLB – Lorenzo Carter, DeAngelo Malone, Bralen Trice

CB – A.J. Terrell, Antonio Hamilton, Jayden Price, Anthony Sao

Nickel CB – Mike Hughes, Dee Alford, Trey Vaval

FS – Jessie Bates III, Micah Abernathy, Tre Tarpley III

SS – DeMarcco Hellams, Richie Grant, Lukas Denis, Dane Cruikshank

CB – Clark Phillips III, Natrone Brooks, Kevin King


K – Younghoe Koo

P/H – Bradley Pinion, Ryan Sanborn

LS – Liam McCullough

PR – Ray-Ray McCloud or Avery Williams

KOR – Ray-Ray McCloud or Avery Williams