What’s the most significant thing to pay attention to on Thursday night? The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter & Noah Coslov talk Falcons-Browns, Keanu Neal’s debut & Matt Ryan-Kyle Shanahan.
(Here’s your weekly Cover9@9 blog. We drop it for you each Wednesday at 9 a.m.)
1. A quick look at the NFC South. The Falcons are in first place in the NFC South!!!
Guess we can’t start forming the parade committee as the Falcons were the lone NFC South team to win their exhibition opener.
Tampa Bay (17-9), Carolina (22-19) and New Orleans (34-22) were defeated by Philadelphia, Baltimore and New England, respectively.
The Falcons (1-0) play the Browns (0-1) at 8 p.m. Thursday and will get a chance to TV-scout the rest of the division Saturday night.
Carolina plays at 3 p.m. at Tennessee. Tampa Bay plays at 7:30 p.m. at Jacksonville and New Orleans plays at 8 p.m. at Houston.
Here’s a quick tour around the division:
PANTHERS CAMP: The buzz around Carolina’s camp has been the play of second-year wide receiver Devin Funchess. With the team bringing Kelvin Benjamin along slowly, Funchess has taken a step forward.
Funchess only had 31 catches for 473 yards and five touchdowns last season as a rookie.
The Panthers also had a spirited practice altercation this week where players had to be separated. Thomas Davis was one of the peace-makers.
While the crowds have been generally sparse in Flowery Branch for Falcons’ practices, the Panthers have drawn record numbers, according to Charlotte Observer.
Coming off their Super Bowl appearance, the Panthers drew a record 135,000 fans to Wofford — an average of more than 9,600 over the 14 practices. That’s nearly double the attendance of 77,000 from last season.
This year’s total included the record 22,000 fans who turned out for the kickoff party on the first night of practice.
The Saints wrap up their camp in West Virginia today before heading to Houston for practices against the Texans.
The Saints caused an uproar when they dropped tight end Coby Fleener, a major free agent signee, to third on the official depth, but then quickly elevated him to first in what must have been a clerical error.
BUCS CAMP: The Bucs, in Dirk Koetter’s first camp as head coach, added former Browns nose tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, who’s 330 pounds. They are looking for depth behind tackles Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald and Akeem Spence. Former Falcons defensive lineman Cliff Matthews is also in the mix.
Cornerback Brent Grimes, center Joe Hawley, wide receiver Freddie Martino, safety Kimario McFadden (Mundy’s Mill High) and wide receiver Bernard Reedy are other former Falcons on Tampa Bay’s 90-man roster.
2. Jones and Campbell to start? Veteran linebackers Paul Worrilow and Sean Weatherspoon started against Washington, but the Falcons want to see rookies Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell in action.
“They’re going to be in the mix a lot,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Kind of every other series we’ll get those two going, but sure in the first half, they are going to get a good bit of reps.”
3. Neal watch. The Falcons can’t wait to see safety Keanu Neal in action. He missed the exhibition opener with with a “trunk” injury.
“Really the physicality,” Quinn said when asked what he hopes to see from Neal. “That’s the part of his game that really comes to life. He’s done a very good job at picking up the system and now I want to see the communication take place on the field where he and Ricardo [Allen] are back there at safety and they can direct it. Really, just the physicality and tackling. That’s such a really strong part of his game and I can’t wait to see that come to life, and for all of you to see that as well.”
4. Surprises of camp. Quinn was asked for a couple of candidates who have surprised him in training camp.
“I would say on the offensive line Ben Garland has totally jumped out to us in a big way,” Quinn said. “At tight end, Joshua Perkins is one. I know he’s a rookie and an undrafted player, but he’s really jumped out for sure. Brian Poole is one who is in that spot of guys who are taking their opportunity and going for it. That was really the case with Ricardo Allen last year.”
5. Roster churn. When the Falcons return from Cleveland, they will fill the vacancy on their roster created by the departure of Chris Mayes, who was waived/injured. They could have two openings if the team reaches an injury settlement with backup center Jake Reed (foot).
The team is working out former Northern Colorado quarterback Seth Lobato.
Lobato has spent time with Indianapolis and Tampa Bay. He was worked out by Carolina in April.
Safety Damian Parms will get extended time against the Browns. He’s trying to make the most of his second chance with the Falcons.
6. Shanahan speaks. In wake of the first-team offense stalling against Washington, Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan spoke with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday.
We wanted to know if he planned to do anything to get the first-team offense rolling and then moved around to other topics.
Here’s the full interview:
Q: How do you plan to get the first-team rolling this week?
A: “We don’t game plan much. It’s not about what are we going to try to do to get them rolling. We are trying to give the guys looks and put them through situations that we want to see if they can do in the heat of battle like they’ve done in practice. My thing with these (exhibition games) is that you want to win. You want to look good. But the main thing is to get better. We are going to put our guys in situations that we think are going to help improve them from week to week and get them ready for week one.”
Q: How’s the battle for the No. 3 quarterback position between Sean Renfree and Matt Simms?
A: “Renfree got a lot more action especially more passing plays and stuff. When Simms got in there, we were more trying to run out the clock. He did a good job on a couple of the opportunities that he had. I thought Sean played really well with the opportunities that he had. Simms probably should get a little bit more than Renfree this week, but we’ll see how it pans out. We plan to get them both opportunities before these four games are over.”
Q: How are the running backs working out?
A: “They have been good. Both of our two running backs are guys that I’ve been around. They both are great players. We want to keep them healthy, but we also want to keep pushing them to get better. I think those guys have done a good job. (Running backs coach) Bobby (Turner) did a good job of balancing them out in the game. We’ll see how this games pans out. You try to give each guy a little bit more each game until the fourth game. I expect them both to get more carries and hopefully they’ll keep taking advantage of their opportunities.”
Q: How’s the rookie fullback Will Ratelle been doing?
A: “The rookie fullback did a good job. He’d never played fullback until this year. For a guy who’s been at the position for a few months, I’ve been very impressed with him.”
Q: How is the unity coming along with the offensive linemen?
A: “It’s coming. We are ahead of last year in terms of …I know Alex (Mack) is new, but the other guys have done it before. They’ve gone through the techniques and stuff for over a year. We are not where we want to be yet, but we plan on getting there. I think we are going in the right direction.”
Q: How’s Matt Ryan doing in practice in the games?
A: “Matt didn’t get a lot of opportunities in the game. I know that we would have loved for him to get more opportunities, a few longer drives, but it didn’t work out that way. In practice he’s doing great. Everyone has some good days and some bad days, but I think overall, week to week, Matt has done better each week and I think that will continue into week one.”
Q: How’s the relationship between you and Matt developing? Are you all more in sync with what you want to do with the offense?
A: “Yeah, definitely. It’s not about re-inventing the wheel or changing who you are. It’s about having more time together. I think it’s been pretty similar, but when you’ve been together for a year instead of a couple of months, everybody gets used to stuff. You’ve been through the heat of a battle. You know the adjustments. You know what direction we are going. It’s been real fun to work with the guy for a second year.”
Q: Any thoughts on going back to Cleveland?
A: “Not much, I’m glad we are going now instead of the end of the year. It gets very cold up there. They have some great fans. Great people out there. The stadium is a fun place to play in. I still have a lot of guys that I’m close to that are in that building and on that team.”
7. Freeney on Beasley. The Falcons are hoping that Dwight Freeney is able to show second-year linebacker/defensive end Vic Beasley some pass-rushing tricks of the trade.
“I think Vic is a tremendous talent,” Freeney said. “He has a lot to learn. The upside is absolutely amazing for him. I’m going to try to help him out as much as I can.
“I’m going to navigate him through all of the troubled waters and all of the things that he’s going to run into that he hasn’t experienced yet. I’ll try to catch him up to speed as much as possible.”
8. Beasley film review. Freeney is aware that Beasley has studied film of his play and he said that makes him feel ‘old.”
But film study is part of the game.
“I can’t watch Reggie White,” Freeney said. “There is no way that I’m hump (moving) anybody or flipping somebody over. But I might watch a guy like Derrick Thomas or Lawrence Taylor.”
9. Depth chart for Cleveland game. The Falcons (1-0) are set to face the Cleveland Browns (0-1) at 8 p.m. Thursday at FirstEnergy Stadium. Here’s the team’s official depth chart.
(The team calls it an ‘unofficial’ depth chart. But if they are releasing it, for our purposes, that makes it pretty official.)
ATLANTA FALCONS DEPTH CHART
WR 11 Julio Jones, 16 Justin Hardy, 14 Eric Weems, 87 Devin Fuller, 18 Jordan Leslie,
6 Corey Washington
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 76 Tom Compton, 66 Laurence Gibson
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 71 Wes Schweitzer, 64 Collin Rahrig
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 69 Jake Reed
RG 65 Chris Chester, 68 Mike Person, 74 Michael Huey, Jordan Walsh
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 72 Bryce Harris
TE 83 Jacob Tamme, 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 86 D.J. Tialavea, 82 Joshua Perkins,
49 Arthur Lynch
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 19 Aldrick Robinson, 15 Nick Williams, 85 J.D. McKissic, 7 David Glidden
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 13 Sean Renfree, 4 Matt Sims
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 35 Gus Johnson, 20 Brandon Wilds, 30 Cyrus Gray
FB 42 Patrick DiMarco, 39 Will Ratelle
DE 99 Adrian Clayborn, 50 Brooks Reed, 93 Dwight Freeney, 96 Nordly Capi
DT 94 Tyson Jackson, 95 Jonathan Babineaux, 98 Cory Johnson, 75 Brandon Williams
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 92 Joey Mbu
DE 90 Derrick Shelby, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 54 Malliciah Goodman, 49 Efe Obada
LB 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 41 Philip Wheeler, 52 Tyler Starr, 48 Ivan McLennan
LB 55 Paul Worrilow, 45 Deion Jones, 53 LaRoy Reynolds, 46 Dominique Tovell
LB 56 Sean Weatherspoon, 59 De’Vondre Campbell
CB 23 Robert Alford, 32 Jalen Collins, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 39 Jordan Sefon, Ryan White
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 25 Akeem King, 34 Brian Poole, 43 DeMarcus Van Dyke,
33 Devonte Johnson
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Robenson Therezie, 20 Sharrod Neasman
S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 40 Damian Parms
K 3 Matt Bryant, 1 Nick Rose
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 26 Tevin Coleman, 14 Eric Weems, 87 Devin Fuller, 85 J.D. McKissic
PR 14 Eric Weems, 87 Devin Fuller, 85 J.D. McKissic
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher
ICYMI — TRAINING CAMP STORIES
90-MAN ROSTER ANALYSIS — POSITION BY POSITION