Dan Quinn getting Falcons rookies up to virtual speed

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Falcons coach Dan Quinn addresses rookie camp and competitive fairness in light of current restrictions due to the coronavirus. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

Falcons coach Dan Quinn, with 26 rookies to get up to speed, started his virtual meetings over the weekend using the Socratic method.

“Like in rookie camp Saturday morning began with questions,” Quinn said on a virtual conference call Tuesday. “Sunday morning began with questions. So, I thought it set the precedent that I could be called on here.”

The Socratic method, which is used by old-school law professors, is a dialogue form based on asking questions and answering them to simulate critical thinking. It’s named after classical Greek philosopher Socrates.

“I don’t think I would be anywhere near a law school,” Quinn said. “I don’t think they would allow me in. But what I do know is that I love teaching. It’s so much fun finding different ways to do it.”

Quinn cannot make the player stand up in front of the virtual class.

“So, I’m usually pretty specific,” Quinn said. “(Player’s name), this one is for you.”

Then the player, who’s on the spot, has to answer questions from the previous day’s assignment.

“Often times, I’ll fall back to a ‘Who wants to be a millionaire quote?” Quinn said. “If there is a pause, do you want to take a 50/50 question. We can poll the audience. We’ll get into those kind of ways when they are live. We really want to assess where the guys are.”

Quinn has found that the key to the offseason program isn’t just to put out the information to the players, but to see if they’ve truly retained the information.

“The classroom is the testing ground,” Quinn said. “Learning to use some of the tests either on Team Works or Cahoots, especially this week, we have all of these 26 rookies, who’ve never been a part of this program. How do you test the learning?”

Quinn has embraced his new professor role.

“I was hesitant at first because I didn’t know a lot going into this virtual program,” Quinn said. “But we’ve found out that there are so many ways to connect and build this customized program that a player’s offseason, the player could feel like this offseason is for me. That’s exactly the way I’d like for them to feel. So, when we do get back, there is progress that has been made.”

Quinn isn’t trying to be like Professor Charles Kingsfield in the movie “The Paper Chase.” He has not told anyone, “Here’s a dime. Go call your mother. Tell her there is serious doubt about you becoming a (football player.)”

His goal is simple.

“We are just trying to assess the learning,” Quinn said. “We know this is where the teaching is, but I’m more interested in where the learning is. ... I start off most of the meetings usually with questions from the day before.”

The Falcons drafted six rookies and signed 20 undrafted free agents.

Quinn has spent 15 to 30 minutes with each player over video calls. He knows about their stats and all of the information the scouts amassed on the players.

“I found out some things I may not have known if we all just got here on the same day for the rookie camp.” Quinn said.

That was a way for Quinn to try to connect with the anxious new players.

“So our player-engagement side of things, that also kicked into gear, they are doing that an hour a day with (vice president of player affairs) Kevin Winston,” Quinn said. “Having exercises to do together helps. That’s how we’ve approached it.”

Winston sent the entire team “Embrace the Space” T-shirts.

“Their biggest stresser right now is, ‘Man I want to get there and work,’” Quinn said. “‘I want to see you guys. ... I just can’t wait to get there.’ But, the only thing we can do right now is build the best time here in that space.

“That’s what Kevin is leaning in on the guys hard, to say embrace what we are doing, if it’s virtual, how we will get there.”

The Falcons had an outside virtual day, where the players had to go outside and show their house.

They had a virtual tour of some of the facilities at team headquarters in Flowery Branch, too.

“We showed them some of the inside of the building on one of the calls,” Quinn said. “This is the locker room? This is where you’re going to be. Knowing just where they are heading is a big deal, even though they are not here yet.”

Quinn has found other things that work best.

“The smaller the group the better,” Quinn said. “We’ve found on the bigger groups, you like to see their faces and have the feedback.”

All players do not learn in the same form.

“We know that one size doesn’t fit all in terms of the virtual learning,” Quinn said. “There is FaceTime. There have been calls. There have been one-on-ones. We just try to make it as customized as we can for each player.”

Quinn hasn’t met most of the rookies in person.

“The trickiest part is getting new relationships with people that you haven’t met, like the rookies,” Quinn said. “So, getting to know them takes extra time. That part, we’re putting in the work.”

Quinn already is working on a big mid-term project.

“One exercise they are going to do is, I asked the coaches to watch one complete game, from start to finish, with a player,” Quinn said.

They’ll go over every play in detail. The coach can see what the player has been exposed to and get a sense of his football intelligence.

“When we do get our chance to get together, we’ll be champing at the bit to (get ready),” Quinn said.

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