Cover 9@9: Falcons working on Air Sark attack

FILE – In this Jan. 9, 2017 file photo, Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian stands on the sidelines during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Clemson in Tampa, Fla. The Atlanta Falcons have hired Sarkisian as their new offensive coordinator. The move was announced Tuesday, Feb. 7 less than 24 hours after Kyle Shanahan left to become head coach of SF 49ers. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly blog of everything you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons, which is 9 items published at 9 a.m. each Wednesday morning.

1. AIR SARK: The Falcons’ offensive players are in the early stages of building a relationship with their new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.

“Sark is really good,” center Alex Mack said. “He’s an upbeat guy. Really positive. Great message about how there is always change and moving forward in any organization. One season is always different from the next. It’s about trying to grow from there and trying to get the most out of every day.”

Sarkisian replaced Kyle Shanahan, who left to become San Francisco’s head coach. While Sarkisian is keeping the offensive scheme, which led the league in scoring in 2017, in tact, he’s also adding some new wrinkles.

“Sark is awesome,” wide receiver Mohamed Sanu said. “He’s come in and he’s adding a lot of his offense in with a mixture of the offense that we had in the past. Everything is just coming out smooth. It seems like him and Matt (Ryan) gel well and everybody in the offense gels well with him. I’m excited to get out on the field and see how we operate as an offense.”

How much mixing is he doing?

“It’s not many different wrinkles,” Sanu said. “It’s just a piece of his system and he’s just adding it in. We are just keeping the ball rolling.”

2. MACK ON POE: Mack faced defensive tackle Dontari Poe three times when he played for the Cleveland Browns and Poe was with the Kansas City Chiefs.

“He’s a really good player. That was a good acquisition for us. I played against him probably three times.  He’s definitely a guy who’s a load and hard to move. He also has a burst of speed. He’s a guy who will challenge you.

When you looked at the schedule of who you were playing, you’d be like alright, that’s a work week.

3. McCLURE AND McKINLEY’S BOND: Angus McClure, UCLA’s defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, has coached several future NFL players including Owa Odighizuwa (New York Giants),  Kenny Clark (Green Bay), Anthony Barr (Minnesota) and Datone Jones (Minnesota) and Takkarist McKinley (Falcons).

“I’ve been very, very fortunate here at UCLA to work with some outstanding young men,” McClure said.   “I will always have a great relationship with Takk. I will always be checking on him as well as the other guys I have in the NFL.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn and UCLA coach Jim Mora worked together in Seattle. McClure also knows Falcons linebacker coach Jeff Ulbrich.

“The coaches in Atlanta, I really think they are going to keep an eye on Takk and make him feel comfortable and really educate him on being a great player,” McClure said.

McClure will be watching the Falcons from afar.

“Takk and I have a great relationship,” McClure said. “It’s the type of relationship that will be lifelong, which I have with a lot of players. He’s certainly a special guy. No question. He’s very inspiring for everyone.”

4. THORNTON RETIRES:  Hugh Thornton, an offensive guard who never played a down for the Falcons, retired from the NFL on Tuesday.

Thornton, 25, signed March 21 after playing in 37 games and making 32 starts for the Indianapolis Colts after he was drafted in the third round of the 2013 draft.

Thornton, who played at Illinois, had a chance to compete for the Falcons’ vacancy as the starting right guard.

After the draft and signing undrafted rookie free agents, the Falcons now have nine interior offensive linemen on the roster.

Excluding center Alex Mack and left guard Andy Levitre, theoretically the other seven will compete for the opening. With Thornton out of the picture, only Trevor Robinson has started NFL games.

Robinson, who played at Notre Dame, started seven games with Cincinnati (2012) and 14 with San Diego (2014-15) as a center.

Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland are contenders. The Falcons drafted Sean Harlow in the fourth round and signed former Auburn guard Robert Leff and centers Travis Averill and Cam Keizur.

The backup interior linemen must be functional at center, left guard and right guard.

5. DEION JONES ON IMPROVING: Falcons linebacker Deion Jones, who made the Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie first-team, is working to elevate his play.

“A lot of guys are trying to figure out how they are going to take their games to the next level,” Jones said on Tuesday. “It’s been all of us together. A combined thing in the linebacker room we have our goals. It’s up to us to make sure we meet our goals.”

6. ROOKIE DEALS: The Falcons signed rookie draft choices Sean Harlow and Damontee Kazee on Tuesday. Others are expected before the start of the rookie minicamp.
Harlow, who is expected to compete for the starting right guard spot, was drafted in the fourth round. Kazeee, who the Falcons said would play nickel cornerback and safety, was a fifth-round pick.Both will be on hand for the teams’ rookie minicamp that runs Friday through Sunday.

Harlow, who played at Oregon State, started 37 career games, including 23 at left tackle and 14 at right tackle.

Kazee, who played at San Diego State, holds the school record for most interceptions with 17 and was named the Mountain West defensive player of the year for the past two seasons.

7. JOHNSON FOUNDATION: Former Georgia Tech and Detroit Lions standout Calvin Johnson is holding fundraiser “Going Purple” Bowl-A-Thon to help fight Pancreatic Cancer on Thursday, June 15.

8. NEAL’S NEW WORKOUT:  Read about how Falcons safety Keanu Neal is using Pilates and Yoga this offseason.
9. DEPTH CHART: Here’s the updated depth chart to reflect the retirement of Thornton.

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 19 Andre Roberts, 13 B.J. Daniels, 84 Reginald Davis III, 89 Garrett Scantling

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 66 Kevin Graf, 79 Will Freeman

LG 67 Andy Levitre, 64 Sean Harlow, 65 Robert Leff

C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 61 Travis Averill, 62 Cam Keizur

RG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 68 Trevor Robinson

RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 76 Daniel Brunskill, 75 Andreas Knappe

TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 82 Joshua Perkins, 86 D.J. Tialavea, 85 Eric Saubert, 49 Darion Griswold

WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 13 Devin Fuller, 15 Nick Williams, 16 Anthony Dable, 89 Garrett Scantling, 87 Deante Burton, 7 Josh Magee

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 4 Alek Torgersen

RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 38 Brian Hill

FB 40 Derrick Coleman, 43 Soma Vainuku, 39 Tyler Renew

DEFENSE

DE 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takkarist McKinley

DT Dontari Poe, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 92 Joe Vellano

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 74 Chris Mayes

DE 95 Jack Crawford, 90 Derrick Shelby, 93 Chris Odom

LB 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 50 Brooks Reed, 54 Darius English, 56 Jermaine Grace

LB 45 Deion Jones, 53 LaRoy Reynolds, 42 Duke Riley, 46 Chrisitan Tago

LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 52 Josh Keyes, 55 J’Terius Jones

CB 23 Robert Alford, 34 Brian Poole, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 25 Akeem King, 39 Janor Jones, 38 Taylor Reynolds

CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 32 Jalen Collins, 30 Deji Olatoye, 27 Damontae Kazee, 41 Quincy Mauger

S 37 Ricardo Allen, 20 Sharrod Neasman, 35 Marcelis Branch, 27 Damontee Kazee

S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 48 Jordan Moore, 49 Deron Washington

SPECIALISTS

K 3 Matt Bryant, 6 Mike Meyer

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 19 Andre Roberts, 13 Devin Fuller, 16 Justin Hardy

PR 19 Andre Roberts, 13 Devin Fuller, 16 Justin Hardy

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 5 Matt Bosher


THE FALCONS 2017 DRAFT

MUST READ PROFILE: Falcons top pick McKinley makes name for himself

2017 Falcons report card: Falcons earn a B-plus

NFC Champs add a pass rusher, quality depth 

1st rounder: Meet defensive end Takkarist McKinley

3rd rounder: Meet linebacker Duke Riley

4th rounder: Meet offensive guard Sean Harlow

5th rounder: Meet defensive back Damontae Kazee

5th rounder: Meet running back Brian Hill

5th rounder: Meet tight end Eric Saubert

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