Tuesday, the Falcons held their usual morning training camp practice session and a motivational seminar broke out.
Leading the session was Ricardo Allen, the safety newly given a three-year, $19.5 million deal. Put him in a Holiday Inn ballroom and you’d have to pay good money to hear what he was saying about the new contract and the journey of a one-time practice squad guy to newly enriched defensive leader.
“It wasn’t just a deal for myself, it was a deal for everybody who has to struggle to fight from the bottom,” he said. “It’s possible to make it to the top. Possible if you just come with it every day and give it all. Nobody can hold you back.”
Here’s a guy who said he went back last night and re-watched one of the painful chapters of his career – the 2014 HBO “Hard Knocks” scene of the Falcons cutting him – just to remind himself again of how far he had come. It wasn’t until the arrival of Dan Quinn the next season that Allen was moved from cornerback to safety, finding his place in Quinn’s scheme.
“For the longest, when I was coming off the practice squad thought I was going to be a special teams guy my whole life,” Allen said. “Going from practice squad right to starting, that was a big jump. I made sure I stayed level-headed. I kept grinding. I never wanted to shoot up and come back down.”
Said Quinn on the quality that led him to change Allen’s position: “His tackling is something that’s under-appreciated, because the tackles as a middle-field safety - if you miss that one it’s a bad experience. Fortunately, that’s one of the very best parts of his job.” Allen, who has missed but two games in the last three seasons, had 54 tackles and one interception last season.
He is, at 5-foot-9, 186 pounds, by his own admission, “not the fastest, not the strongest, not the biggest.”
“I’m nobody’s first pick (he was a Falcons fifth-rounder). But I show people that you can still show value and you can still be somebody great if you just believe in yourself,” Allen said.
Next to the size of the deal and the security it provides his family, Allen counted a Monday team meeting as one of the highlights of the whole new-contract experience. Quinn asked players to stand if Allen had advised or motivated them in any way during their various Falcons tenures. Everyone in the room stood, Quinn said.
“You see the kind of impact a guy like him as on the team, not just from the defensive side but from the offensive side as well,” Quinn said.
Future Hall of Famer in the house: The masters of football visiting professors program continues at Falcons training camp. Tuesday it was former Baltimore safety Ed Reed paying a visit. Among the others who have passed through are former Falcons defenders Chuck Smith and Patrick Kerney.
“One of the best ball hawks of all time,” Quinn said of Reed. The coach said his contributions included, “a mentor role, watching tape together, sharing opinions on things – another example of a guy paying it forward.”
Reliving Julio’s first impression: One way of preparing the youngest receivers for Friday’s first preseason game was to let the (relatively) old guy’s counsel them.
“We have a great group of young receivers on our team, but it’s going to get blurry out there,” warned Julio Jones. “You’re out there full speed, you don’t know what to expect. I just told them to just do what you do, do what got you here. You don’t have to go out there and make up things, the game will come to you.”
Another way was to show the youngsters tape of the vets back when they made their pro, preseason debut. Jones did OK in his, playing in three series against Miami, catching two passes for 43 yards and gaining 12 more yards on a reverse.
If this year’s first-round pick, Calvin Ridley, mimics that, he’ll have a fine evening.
“I was flying around,” Jones remembered.
Another heaping helping of red zone work: In Atlanta, every highway is a work zone and every Falcons practice seems to end in the red zone. Once more Tuesday the Falcons worked on red zone offense, devoting extra time to it even after the scripted part of practice. You’ve heard about their emphasis on correcting one of last season’s glaring deficiencies pretty constantly since last season ended on the Philadelphia two-yard line. And you’ll hear more about it, still.
“It’s very important for me and Matt (Ryan) to be on the same page in the red zone,” Jones said. “It’s all about us being on the same page – not having to think when we get down there, knowing where he’s going to put the ball and knowing what I’m going to do when he puts the ball in there.”