Cover 9@9: Marquice Williams set to lead East team in Shrine Bowl

(Here’s the fourth Cover 9@9 blog for 2023. Every Wednesday at 9 a.m., we will drop the Cover 9@9 blog on the Atlanta Falcons.)

1. The no-spin zone: Falcons special-teams coordinator Marquice Williams, coming off a top-10 finish in the special-teams rankings conducted by Rick Gosselin, will serve as the head coach in the East-West Shrine Bowl.

The Falcons assistant will coach the East team, with the first practice set for Saturday. The game is slated for 8:30 p.m. Feb. 2 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

Tight ends coach Justin Peelle will serve as the offensive coordinator, and linebackers coach Frank Bush will work as the defensive coordinator. Diversity coaching fellow/special teams Steven King will serve as the special-teams coordinator.

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Williams’ units finished 10th in the special-teams rankings compiled by Gosselin and fifth in the DVOA special-teams ranking by Football Outsiders.

“Any opportunity that we get on the field to help out our offense and defense with field position, creating an extra possession or putting points on the board, that’s critical for us,” Williams said. “That’s what we look at day in and day out: What can we do to help our team?”

The special teams helped the Falcons defeat the Bears, Panthers and Cardinals. Kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson had a kickoff return for a touchdown against the Bears. Kicker Younghoe Koo had game-winning field goals against the Panthers and the Cardinals.

The Falcons also had a blocked punt against the Cardinals.

So, without the key special-teams plays, the Falcons may have gone 4-13.

“It’s a big credit to our players and how they go about their business,” Williams said. “In all six phases (of special teams), we’re always looking to improve.”

Williams said the Falcons will review their techniques, fundamentals, personnel and schemes over the offseason.

“We’ll tie that all together moving forward when we get into the offseason,” Williams said.

The Falcons made the leap from 22nd to 10th in the Gosselin ratings.

“In order to change a culture, change the mindset of special teams, it doesn’t happen overnight,” Williams said. “You only get better with reps.”

2. Player to watch: Looking forward to seeing S.C. State wide receiver Shaquan Davis in the East-West Shrine Bowl.

Davis, 6-foot-5 and 180 pounds, set a Celebration Bowl record with three touchdown receptions as S.C. State defeated Jackson State 31-10 in 2022 to claim the Black College national championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He’s from Summerville, South Carolina.

He caught 29 passes for 662 yards and seven touchdowns last season, including an 87-yard score against Bethune-Cookman on Sept. 10.

3. QB watch: The quarterbacks for the East are Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan, Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell and Fordham’s Tim DeMorat.

The quarterbacks for the West are UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Illinois’ Tommy DeVito and Appalachian State’s Chase Brice.

4. Bulldogs in the Shrine Bowl: Wide receiver Kearis Jackson is the lone player from the University of Georgia slated to play in the game.

5. Defensive coordinator update: The Falcons interviewed Vic Fangio, Brian Flores and Al Holcomb last week.

Ryan Nielsen was interviewed Tuesday.

Bush and Jerry Gray are the other known candidates.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith said he would conduct a wide search. There is no timetable to find Dean Pees’ replacement.

Credit: Seth Wenig

Credit: Seth Wenig

6. Championship round: The AFC and NFC Championship games will take place Sunday:

NFC: San Francisco (2) at Philadelphia (1) at 3 p.m., Fox

AFC: Cincinnati (3) at Kansas City (1) at 6:30 p.m., CBS

7. Falcons’ position-by-position analysis:

Part 1: Running backs

Part 2: Quarterbacks

Part 3: Wide receivers/tight ends

Part 4: Offensive line

Part 5: Defensive line

Part 6: Linebackers

Part 7: Defensive backs

Part 8: Special teams

8. NFL draft-eligible list: Five players from Georgia’s national championship team have been granted special eligibility for the NFL draft, the league announced Friday.

Defensive tackle Jalen Carter, offensive tackle Broderick Jones, cornerback Kelee Ringo and tight end Darnell Washington were granted eligibility for the draft.

Offensive tackle Warren McClendon is in the group of 13 underclassmen who have graduated and also was declared eligible.

Also, running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who played at Georgia Tech before transferring to Alabama, is draft eligible.

The NFL draft is scheduled April 27-29 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Sixty-nine players met the league’s three-year eligibility rule and renounced their college football eligibility by written notice to the NFL by the Jan. 16 deadline.

Here’s the list (last name, first name, position, school):

Abanikanda, Israel, RB, Pittsburgh; Achane, Devon, RB, Texas A&M; Addison, Jordan, WR, Southern California; Anderson, M.J., DE, Iowa State; Anudike-Uzomah, Felix, DE, Kansas State; Austin, Alex, DB, Oregon State; Banks, Deonte, DB, Maryland; Bigsby, Tank, RB, Auburn; Boutte, Kayshon, WR, LSU; Bradford, Anthony, G, LSU; Branch, Brian, DB, Alabama; Bresee, Bryan, DT, Clemson; Carter, Jalen, DT, Georgia; Dexter, Gervon, DT, Florida; Downs, Josh, WR, North Carolina; Evans, Zach, RB, Mississippi; Forbes, Emmanuel, DB, Mississippi State; Gibbs, Jahmyr, RB, Alabama (Georgia Tech); Gonzalez, Christian, DB, Oregon; Harrison, Anton, T, Oklahoma; Herbig, Nick, LB, Wisconsin; Hill, Brandon, DB, Pittsburgh; Hyatt, Jalin, WR, Tennessee; Jarrett, Rakim, WR, Maryland; Johnson, Antonio, DB, Texas A&M; Johnston, Quentin, WR, TCU; Jones, Broderick, T, Georgia;

Jones, Jaylon, DB, Texas A&M; Joseph, Brandon, DB, Notre Dame; Kancey, Calijah, DT, Pittsburgh; Kraft, Tucker, TE, South Dakota State; Mayer, Michael, TE, Notre Dame; McBride, DeWayne, RB, Alabama-Birmingham; McKee, Tanner, QB, Stanford; Miller, Kendre, RB, TCU; Mims, Marvin, WR, Oklahoma; Mitchell, Cameron, DB, Northwestern; Mitchell, Keaton, RB, East Carolina; Murphy, Myles, DE, Clemson; Nichols, Lew, RB, Central Michigan; Ojulari, B.J., DE, LSU; Pelley, J-Min, DT, Calgary (Canada); Phillips, Clark, DB, Utah; Porter, Joey, DB, Penn State; Richardson, Anthony, QB, Florida; Ricks, Eli, DB, Alabama; Ringo, Kelee, DB, Georgia; Robinson, Bijan, RB, Texas; Roy, Jaquelin, DT, LSU; Sanders, Drew, LB, Arkansas; Scott, Tyler, WR, Cincinnati; Sewell, Noah, LB, Oregon;

Skoronski, Peter, T, Northwestern; Smith, Cam, DB, South Carolina; Smith-Njigba, Jaxon, WR, Ohio State; Strange, Brenton, TE, Penn State; Stroud, C.J., QB, Ohio State; Tippmann, Joseph, C, Wisconsin; Torrence, Rashad, DB, Florida; Tucker, Sean, RB, Syracuse; Tuipulotu, Tuli, DE, Southern California; Valentine, Carrington, DB, Kentucky; Van Ness, Lukas, DE, Iowa; Vaughn, Deuce, RB, Kansas State; Washington, Darnell, TE, Georgia; Washington, Parker, WR, Penn State; Williams, Garrett, DB, Syracuse; Wooden, Colby, DE, Auburn; Wypler, Luke, C, Ohio State.

Also, 13 underclassmen notified the league that they have fulfilled their degree requirements and are eligible for the draft.

Here’s the list (last name, first name, position, school):

Anderson, Will, LB, Alabama; Douglas, Demario, WR, Liberty; Foskey, Isaiah, DE, Notre Dame; Hickman, Ronnie, DB, Ohio State; Hull, Evan, RB, Northwestern; Johnson, Paris, T, Ohio State; McClendon, Warren, T, Georgia; Morris, Mike, DE, Michigan; Simpson, Trenton, LB, Clemson; Smith, Mazi, DT, Michigan; Spears, Tyjae, RB, Tulane; Turner, D.J., DB, Michigan; Young, Bryce, QB, Alabama.

There were four players who are eligible for selection without the need for special eligibility, but they can remove their name from consideration on or before Feb. 3 to opt out of the draft.

Bachmeier, Hank, QB, Boise State; Billingsley, Jahleel, TE, Texas; Musgrave, Luke, TE, Oregon State; and Smith, Ainias, WR, Texas A&M.

9. Depth chart: Here’s the offseason depth chart, with the reserve/future signings. Players set to be unrestricted free agents are listed in boldface, and players who ended the season on injured reserve have an asterisk:


QB – Desmond Ridder, *Marcus Mariota, Logan Woodside, Feleipe Franks

RB – Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Allgeier, Avery Williams, *Caleb Huntley, B.J. Baylor

FB – Keith Smith, Clint Ratkovich

WR – Drake London, Damiere Byrd, Frank Darby, *Jared Bernhardt, Josh Ali

TE – *Kyle Pitts, Parker Hesse, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser, Feleipe Franks, *John FitzPatrick, Tucker Fisk, John Raine

LT – Jake Matthews

LG – Elijah Wilkinson, Matt Hennessy, Colby Gossett, *Chuma Edoga, *Jalen Mayfield, *Justin Shaffer, Kyle Hinton

C – Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil, Jonotthan Harrison

RG – Chris Lindstrom

RT – Kaleb McGary, Germain Ifedi, Tyler Vrabel

WR – Olamide Zaccheaus, KhaDarel Hodge, Ra’Shaun Henry


OLB – Lorenzo Carter, DeAngelo Malone, Quinton Bell

DE – Grady Jarrett, Tim Horne, Amani Bledsoe

NT – *Ta’Quon Graham, Abdullah Anderson, Jalen Dalton, Vincent Taylor

DE – Matt Dickerson, Jaleel Johnson

OLB – Ade Ogundeji, Arnold Ebiketie, David Anenih

ILB – Rashaan Evans, Nick Kwiatkoski, Dorian Etheridge

ILB – Troy Andersen, Mykal Walker, Nate Landman

CB – A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Oliver, Mike Ford, Rashad Fenton, Dylan Mabin, Javelin Guidry

FS – Jaylinn Hawkins, Micah Abernathy, Jamal Peters

SS – Richie Grant, Erik Harris, *Jovante Moffatt

CB – *Casey Hayward, Darren Hall, Dee Alford, Cornell Armstrong, Matt Hankins, John Reid


K – Younghoe Koo

P/H – Bradley Pinion

LS – Liam McCullough, *Beau Brinkley

PR – Avery Williams

KOR – Cordarrelle Patterson or Avery Williams