FLOWERY BRANCH -- Here’s what Falcons head coach Dan Quinn had to say Wednesday before the team’s first practice of the week ahead of Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills in Mercedes-Benz Stadium:
Opening statement: “For us, the process takes care of the learning and so much of our early game plan, some of our two-minute stuff, goes in today. Past that, the players and all of us, we’re really excited for this weekend to get back at home in front of our fans. We definitely felt the energy that they brought to the building last week, so, same challenge back at them.
“We’re starting earlier so get there early.
“I’ll give you some injury updates. Two players are still in the concussion protocol as we’re getting prepared to play. That’s [safety] Ricardo Allen and [right tackle] Ryan Schraeder.
“A couple guys won’t practice today. [Defensive lineman] Courtney Upshaw, it will be tough for him to make it back for the game, but two guys who are closer [and] doing some running today will be [defensive end] Vic Beasley and [running back] Terron Ward.
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“Lots of work to put in today, but we’re off to a great start. We talk about our one percent and getting better . . . we talk about great competitors and we showed one of (all-time great sprinter) Usain Bolt today and the difference of going from 9.69 (seconds in the 100 meters) to 9.58.
He had a quote, “Dreams are free, but goals have a cost” and that’s what today is really about: putting out for one another to help get each other ready.
“Glad to open it up on topics for the game.”
How do you assess Buffalo’s offense, and how they try to use running back LeSean McCoy? “First, they’re a big offensive line. That’s the first thing when you go through film that jumps out to you. That’s been the case there for a few years . . . they’ve been a really equipped run team for a few years so that jumps out.
“McCoy, I think . . . there are some concepts in their system that are similar to ours. The wide-zone with the play-action and the keepers that go along with that.
“The quarterback (Tyrod Taylor) can really get out on the edge and especially on third downs create to get first downs. He’s dangerous in that way. Big receivers.”
Is it just as simple as you load the box against McCoy? “No, I think he’s been pretty accustomed to that for a while . . . It just seems like forever he’s been effective in the passing game, fantastic in the screen game. They’re committed in the run game .”
Against Denver last Sunday it seemed like they ran a lot of crossing routes; what do you see? “In that game especially there was a lot of quarterback movement, a lot of bootlegs and a lot of chances for the quarterback to get outside the pocket.”
Bills head coach Sean McDermott has said that ever since his time at William & Mary [he’s thought highly of Quinn]. What was your relationship with him? “It’s very humbling because when you look back at players that you had a chance to coach and be around . . . that was my very first year coaching and it just so happens that there were two guys who were going to be seen as fantastic leaders on their college teams.
“One was a sophomore and one was a senior who played wide receiver, and that was [Steelers head coach] Michael Tomlin. He was pretty good, and he’s turned out to be a hell of a leader.
“The other was Sean McDermott, who was a safety on that team. During those interactions with players in my first year of coaching . . . I was closer in age to the players than I was the coaches so I really had a good bond with some of those guys as my coaching career was starting.
“I’ve really kept up with them through the years, and have really admired the toughness that they played with, both in Philadelphia and Carolina, so it’s good for me to see that transition to the whole team. The defenses that [McDermott] has been involved in, you can always see that hard-nosed approach through to the entire team. That’s not easy to do, but that’s now his personality coming through to the team.”
When you talk about a team taking on the coach’s personality, can you talk about their 4-3 [defense] and how aggressively they play? “It starts with their defensive line, and they’re big, they’ve got movement, they can penetrate. That part of the game really stands out.
“Past that, they’ll bring corner blitzes, safety blitzes so that aggressive style really comes through. Like most teams, it’s going to start up front and they’ve got some guys who can really push it.”
Will the Falcons kneel before Sunday’s game? “For us, we will lock arms together during that time, and we would encourage our fans to do the same. I think that would be kind of a nice tribute as we’re getting started.
“It’s an important time in our world. There are a lot of issues that are really important to talk about, and we’ll spend some time and we have as a team talking through some of those.
“For us, you know how many things we do together as a group and that would seem appropriate for us.”
Did you ever foresee that you would have to take on a role like this? “No, I certainly haven’t. As you go through different things, sometimes there’s history that gets written right while we’re going through it, and this is one of those times. How do we handle those situations in the very best way?
“What’s fortunate we live in an area where civil rights had a pretty strong foundation on our country for years and years and years, and we’re really honored to be here and to be a part of this as a team.”
Is McCoy still the same dynamic back that he’s been? “He sure seems that way. He’s such a dangerous guy with the ball, especially when he gets out in space. He has the ability to run full speed, and then make a cut and go. You can see why he’s such an effective zone runner. . . .
“Then, in the screen game is where he’s a real factor, when they can get out and go and run option routes on linebackers . . . For us, going against guys like (Devonta Freeman) and Tevin (Coleman) in practice provides training examples when you have to match against guys like that. We have some receivers who can do that as well.”
Are you concerned that Matt Ryan threw three interceptions last Sunday? “The one at the end of the half he would definitely like to have back. His back was turned, and we could have gone a different way on that one.
“The other two were tipped passes, and so I won’t put those on him the same way. Yeah, we were bummed that we had them, but by no means did I think they were three bad decisions on his part. I think there was one that he’d like to have back, not three.”
Might the ball that went off Mohamed Sanu’s hands in the fourth quarter for an interception affect his confidence? “What I love about him is he really represents how much fun you can have playing this game. It totally comes out. It comes out in practice, it comes out in the game.
“I’d like this time to be the best time they’ve ever had in their lives playing football, and to kick ass and work really hard at it. He exemplifies all those things because the way he came back in the offseason with real intent to go, his fitness, his [being in] shape, he was ready.”
Additional thoughts about the protests around the NFL: “I think it’s interesting to note . . . by no means was it ever a protest of the anthem. This weekend was a difficult weekend that showed, ‘I’m pissed about something,’ or, ‘I’m upset and I want to react in a certain way.’
“I think that [Dontari Poe and Grady Jarrett kneeling] was a one-off for us as a group, and our best way to show how solid we are is by showing everything that we do as a group.
“You’ve heard me say that I wish the rest of the world could see our locker room, and to understand that Matt Ryan, who grew up in Westchester, Pa., and Julio Jones, who grew up in Foley, Ala., they didn’t grow up on the same block. I wish they could see how tight they are, and the friendship that they share.
“Although Matt can’t understand and hasn’t lived some of the same experiences, he wants to support players and teammates like crazy, and I really admire that about our team.
“We come from all walks, different spots, different groups and we recognize those differences with each other.
“We talked about it in the team meeting today, where I talked about Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman, who grew up in Liberty City, Fla., it couldn’t be the same, but what I can tell you is how connected they are and the love that they have for one another.
“I think that’s really important for the rest of the country to see how it can be, and I often have told how close this group is. You guys get a chance to see that on a semi-regular basis in the locker room . . . and the way they connect on the field. It’s a real brotherhood that they have, and it’s an example of what it can be.
“I always think they provide such a unique example for so many people. I’m really proud of who they are.”
Did you speak with Dontari and Jarrett about their decisions to kneel before the Detroit game? “Yes. I’ll keep those conversations private, but we definitely did and it’s a really important topic, but especially in our world. We want to make sure that we’re always keeping our group in mind.
“There was a lot of people that felt a certain way over the weekend, and that’s OK. It’s OK to have those feelings and have those emotions. How can we best show what we can be and provide the best example for our community in lots of ways?
“I think there were lots of ways, some real reactions this weekend, and that showed all through the country. You guys were witnesses to it, too, but the best way we generally can show that is to do it together.”
Who had the better touchdown celebration, Devonta when he shot the football through the Andy Levitre basket in week one or Taylor Gabriel in Detroit when he did the “relay” with Julio Jones? “The 4-x100? That’s a good question [like who’s] your favorite child? I’m not going there. As long as we get a lot of them, I’ll be really happy and able to judge more. If I had to pick one, I got to give it to the basketball shot because that was [in] the opener.”