Cover 9@9: What they are saying about the Falcons

ORLANDO – It’s time for our weekly nine items at 9 a.m. Wednesday, the Cover 9@9 blog:

1. The no-spin zone: The Falcons’ tampering case was the talk of the owner’s meeting this week.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed it.

Owner Arthur Blank discussed it and said the team doesn’t believed that it tampered.

Coach Raheem Morris was hopeful that the team followed the rules.

“No,” Goodell said when asked if there was an update. “I usually don’t give an update until it’s concluded.”

The Falcons and the Eagles – the signing of running back Saquon Barkley – are being investigated for tampering charges by the league office.

“I’m sure they are making progress,” Goodell said. “I know they were hard at work at it, immediately.”

Blank was asked about the case after leaving a meeting Monday.

“The tampering deal, we obviously don’t believe we tampered,” Blank said Monday. “We shared all of the information with the league. They’ll review the process and the facts. They are in the middle of doing that. Whatever the result is, we’ll deal with it.”

Morris was cautious in his comments about the case.

“Really not allowed to discuss it while it’s under review,” Morris said Tuesday. “But I’ve got a lot of confidence in our people that we did the right thing.”

Tampering violations are taken seriously by the league.

For tampering with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the Chiefs were stripped of their third-round draft pick in 2016 and their sixth-round pick in 2017 and fined $250,000. Chiefs coach Andy Reid also was fined $50,000, and then-general manager John Dorsey was fined $25,000.

The Chiefs were cited for “improper contact” before the start of free agency that year. Maclin played in Philadelphia for Reid before signing a five-year, $55 million deal with the Chiefs.

2. Falcons are guilty in PFT’s court of law: The folks over at Pro Football Talk.com believe the Falcons clearly tampered and are guilty. They even float a conspiracy theory that the league will take it easy on the Falcons because CEO Rich McKay is chair of the competition committee.

“Some franchises already would have been hammered by 345 Park Avenue,” Mike Florio wrote. “Will the presence of Competition Committee chairman Rick McKay in Atlanta save the birds from a finding that they did the Vikings dirty? We’ll see.

“Regardless, they clearly tampered. Anyone with any amount of common sense knows it. And no one should expect Blank to admit it.”

3. Blatant tampering: There is this headline on Heavy.com: “Falcons Committed ‘Most Blatant Case of Tampering’ for Kirk Cousins: Analyst”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

4. Hip-drop tackling: Morris was asked about the banning of the swivel hip-drop tackle:

Q: What are the challenges of teaching guys to take the hip-drop tackle out of the game?

A: Morris: “It’s really interesting. We kind of go in this circle. We talk about the hip-drop tackle, and it’s become very dangerous. I think the league has done a great job of identifying dangerous tackles in trying to make the game safer for our youth and all the people that we talk about. But the way you coach it, we kind of talked ourselves into it, by taking your head out of the game. Now it’s going to be (about) being conscientious of all of the things we talked about. … We had to go through this with the horse-collar tackle. We had to go through this landing on the quarterback and taking your body weight off. It’s no different than just running your feet through contact and keep your feet grounded so that you can make those tackles and not allow yourself to fall on someone’s leg. It’s going to be a little bit more difficult. We’ll have to do some more explaining. … I know these guys don’t want to hurt each other. If we done these significant amount of studies that the NFL has done, seeing that this tackle is really dangerous for us, I know that guys will want to take it out, and they’ll forward to taking it out. I really believe that with the heart of hearts. In coaching it, as well, there is nobody coaching injuries. We don’t do that. We coach to get guys to the ground. I think we’ve kind of fallen into this realm by taking our heads out of the game and letting our feet die. I think what we have to teach is keeping our feet grounded, running through contact and getting guys on the ground that way.”

5. The new kickoff rule: Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot was excited about the new kickoff play.

“The exciting thing for us personally is I do have a lot of confidence in (coordinator) Marquice (Williams) and our special teams,” Fontenot said. “Avery (Williams) is going to be full tilt after missing last year. Ray-Ray (McCloud), Rondale (Moore), I like our return game. We are still going to continue to add. You are always going to put an emphasis on special teams, so when you have the right core guys and you’re confident in your return game, that’s a part of the game.”

6. Draft is up next: Fontenot said the first order of business was hiring the new coach this offseason.

“Step one, coming out of the season, hire the right head coach, hire the right leader of men,” Fontenot said. “I’m very excited about that. I know we did that with Raheem. He’s special.”

Then it was on to Project Quarterback.

“We had to make sure that we deep dive into the quarterback,” Fontenot said.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

7. Darnell Mooney is smart: When we asked Fontenot about Mooney, he was quick to point out that he went to Tulane. “The Harvard of the South,” he said.

Of course, Fontenot played defensive back and graduated from Tulane.

“He’s obviously smart, tough and gritty,” Fontenot said. “But seriously, Darnell, very excited about the versatility that he’s going to bring. He’s a really good fit for what we have with Drake (London) and Kyle (Pitts). He’s going to fit right in (with) the type of versatility that he’s going to bring to that position.”

8. McCloud connection: Falcons wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud was with the Steelers in 2020 and 2021 when Ike Hilliard was with the team as the wide receivers coach.

McCloud had a career-high 39 catches and 18 first downs in 2021 under the tutelage of Hilliard.

“We have history (between) Ray-Ray and Ike, he knew him previously,” Fontenot said.

9A. Moore can fly: Fontenot said the team couldn’t find wide receiver Rondale Moore to inform him of the trade (for quarterback Desmond Ridder) because he was working out. Apparently, when he works out, he leaves his phone behind.

“He’s an obsessive worker,” Fontenot said. “That’s who he is. We’re excited about the receiver position. Look, we are going to continue to add like all positions.”

Moore ran the 40-yard dash in 4.28 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine.

“The explosive (speed) that Rondale brings, we’re very excited about what he’s going to bring at that position,” Fontenot said. “He can fly. When we were going through that process. Arizona was outstanding the way they handled it.”

9B. Post-free agency depth chart: Here’s what the Falcons’ revised depth chart looks like after the early part of free agency. A total of 15 of 22 (68.2%) projected starters were acquired through the draft:

OFFENSE

QB – Kirk Cousins, Taylor Heinicke

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

FB – Tucker Fisk, Robert Burns

WR – Drake London, Josh Ali, Austin Mack

Slot WR – Rondale Moore, Ray-Ray McCloud

TE – Kyle Pitts, Charlie Woerner, John FitzPatrick

LT – Jake Matthews, Tyler Vrabel, Barry Wesley

LG – Matthew Bergeron, Justin Shaffer, John Leglue

C – Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil, Jovaughn Gwyn

RG – Chris Lindstrom, Kyle Hinton

RT – Kaleb McGary, Storm Norton, Ryan Swoboda

WR – Darnell Mooney, KhaDarel Hodge, Chris Blair

DEFENSE 3-4 alignment

DE – Zach Harrison, Kentavius Street, Demone Harris

NT – David Onyemata, LaCale London, Tommy Togiai

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

LOLB – Arnold Ebiketie, Ade Ogundeji, Ikenna Enechukwu,

LILB – Kaden Elliss, Donavan Mutin, Milo Eifler

RILB – Troy Andersen, Nate Landman

ROLB – Lorenzo Carter, DeAngelo Malone

CB – A.J. Terrell

Nickel CB – Mike Hughes, Dee Alford

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

SS – DeMarcco Hellams, Richie Grant, Lukas Denis

CB – Clark Phillips III, Natrone Brooks

SPECIAL TEAMS

K – Younghoe Koo

P/H – Bradley Pinion

LS – Liam McCullough

PR – Ray-Ray McCloud or Avery Williams

KOR – Ray-Ray McCloud or Avery Williams

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