Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly blog of everything you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons. This week, the Falcons will conclude their OTAs. Next week, the mandatory minicamp runs Tuesday through Thursday before the team breaks for the remainder of the offseason.
1. SLIDING TO BEASLEY: Slide to the left. Slide to the right. Dip.
After All-Pro outside linebacker/defensive end Vic Beasley led the league in sacks with 15.5 last season, the Falcons are preparing for teams to start sliding protections his way.
Falcons defensive line coach Bryant Young wants to create a balanced pass-rush that will make teams pay for over-compensating for Beasley.
“You always have protections where they can either (identify) the (middle linebacker) or slide to a certain guy,” Young said. “I think when you have guys that are able to put pressure on different areas of the line, you can’t slide the protection all of the time to one guy. We are hoping to have some balance there and we understand that may be happening sometimes when they are sliding to a guy.”
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett broke loose for a three-sack game in the Super Bowl matching his regular-season total of three sacks.
The Falcons are hoping that defensive tackle Dontari Poe can push the interior of the pocket. They also drafted defensive end Takkarrist McKinley, who’s recovering from shoulder surgery, and are getting back Adrian Clayborn from pectoral surgery.
A passing line of Beasley, Jarrett, Poe and McKinley or Clayborn looks dynamite on paper. Poe, a two-time Pro Bowler, has only 13 sacks over 78 NFL games. He had a career-high six sacks in 2014.
Beasley is preparing for the extra attention.
“I’m going to accept the attention,” Beasley said. “I know that other elite pass rushers around the league like Khalil (Mack) and Von (Miller), they get a lot of attention just like that. I know that we have a great line and we have people that we have put into the puzzle and, you know, I think they are going to execute very well.”
Receiving the extra attention is a sign of respect and an acknowledgement of Beasley’s All-Pro status.
“I was definitely expecting it as I progressed as a player and became a better player over the course of my career,” Beasley said. “I knew that I would start getting more attention like the elite pass rushers in this league. It comes with the success.”
Poe was used to gobble up blockers and free-up Justin Houston and Tamba Hali in Kansas City. With the Falcons, if the opponents are sliding to Beasley, he’ll have a one-on-one that he could possibly dominate.
If the double the massive Poe, then the opposition can’t slide to Beasley and Jarrett would get a one-on-one matchup, too.
McKinley and Clayborn should have one-on-one matchups regularly.
The whole idea is create pressure with just four players and allow the Falcons to leave seven players in coverage.
The Falcons have high hopes for Poe.
“He’ll be a significant factor for us,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.
Young is also high on Poe.
“He’ll be in there on first, second and third down,” Young said. “Run plays and pass- rush as well.”
The Falcons like how Poe is moving around during OTAs.
“We want to be as efficient as possible,” Young said. “The way we play the game, you want to be in the best shape that you possibly can. Weight-wise, we want to make sure, as we look at each guy that they are where they need to be. He’s a guy that has an opportunity to do that.”
The Falcons registered 34 sacks over 655 pass attempts last season. The Falcons had 19 sacks over 561 pass attempts in 2015.
In 2016, when you count the hurries and quarterback hits, the Falcons affected the quarterback on 255.5 of 655 pass attempts (39 percent). Beasley led the team with 16.5 hits and 33.5 hurries. With his sacks, he affected the quarterback on 65.5 plays.
The 34 sacks were the most by a Falcons team since the 37 in 2007.
Young believes the Falcons can improve the pass rush.
“Every year is a chance to grow and get better,” Young said. “If you take last year and see where we can improve, having additional guys in that group, I think there is always room for improvement. We are working to do that. Each year…You have to continue to grow as a group.”
2. PASS RUSH 2016 TOTALS
Player; Sacks; Hits; Hurries; Total
Vic Beasley; 15.5; 16.5; 33.5; 65.5
Adrian Clayborn; 4.5; 15.5; 17; 37
Dwight Freeney; 3; 9.5; 20; 32.5
Grady Jarrett; 3; 9.5; 17; 29.5
Brooks Reed; 2; 7.5; 12.5; 22
Ra’Shede Hageman; 2; 4; 4.5; 10.5
Courtney Upshaw; 1; 3; 6; 10
Jonathan Babineaux; 0; 1; 7.5; 8.5
Brian Poole; 1; 3; 2.5; 6.5
Derrick Shelby; 0; 3; 3.5; 6.5
Tyson Jackson; 0; 1.5; 4.5; 6
Desmond Trufant; 2; 2; 0; 4
Deion Jones; 0; 3.5; 3.5
Philip Wheeler; 0; 2; 1; 3
De’Vondre Campbell; 0; 0; 2; 2
Paul Worrilow; 0.5; 1; 1.5
Kemal Ishmael; 0; 0; 1; 1
Cliff Matthews; 0; 0; 1; 1
LaRoy Reynolds; 0; 0; .5; .5
Team; 34; 81.5; 135.5; 255.5
3. HAND TO HAND COMBAT: Young is focusing on techniques for the defensive linemen.
“For us, you just have to be violent with our hands,” Young said. “How you play and the physical style with which you play, doing it every time. It has to be your style of play. We’re asking guys to be violent with their hands. Be physical at the point of contact. For us, that style is what we want to be as a group.
“These guys have a really good understanding of what it takes. To push each other to bring out the best in each guy on both sides of the ball, guys understand that. From what I’ve seen so far, I really like how these guys work.”
4. REUNION: Young was a player when Quinn was an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers from 2001-04. He also coached with Quinn in the SEC when he was the defensive coordinator at Florida from 2011 and 2012.
“It was important in knowing each other and understanding what each person is about, that helped in a big way,” Young said. “The messaging from Dan and where it comes from, I understand it. To relay that and be a part of that, I think started back from our first time together.”
Young remembers Quinn fondly as an assistant coach.
“He was a getting-out-the-stack guy,” Young said. “Very energetic. Passionate. He just loved it. He just loved being out there on the grass and as well as in the class teaching it. He brought a lot of energy to the group.”
5. FREENEY UPDATE: Quinn said he has talked to former defensive end Dwight Freeney, but he said the team is committed to evaluating the current players on the 90-man roster.
Quinn also noted that he has talked to other former players, too.
“I haven’t even found out if he’s ready to play yet,” Quinn said. “I know he was pretty committed to golf. He’s such a competitor. But our conversations haven’t been about playing.
“When we drafted (Takkarist McKinley) that was someone I wanted him to connect with. But we haven’t talked about playing. If he does (bring it up), he knows we’re going down the line of looking at our team here first.”
Freeney, a future Hall of Famer, previously said he wants to continue playing. The Falcons drafted McKinley in the first round (26th overall).
Freeney was solid last season in a part-time pass-rusher role. He had a positive impact on Vic Beasley, who went on to lead the league in sacks with 15.5.
“We haven’t gone down the road of talking about playing yet,” Quinn said. “I don’t know where he is on that yet. If we get down to that spot where we talk about it, it would still be that I’m focused on the guys here right now.”
6. BEASLEY RANKED: Beasley landed the No. 40 spot on the NFL Top 100 Players list.
Beasley was unranked last year.
7. TRUFANT BACK AT PRACTICE: Cornerback Desmond Trufant (pectoral surgery), defensive end Derrick Shelby (Achilles surgery) and linebacker Kemal Ishmael (shoulder surgery) all returned to practice on Tuesday.
8. INJURY REPORT: Wide receiver Julio Jones, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, tight end D.J. Tialavea did not practice and worked off to the side with trainers on Tuesday. Jones did some light jogging. Also, Clayborn (pectoral injury) and linebacker Christian Tago did not practice. Wide receiver Devin Fuller spent some time with the trainers before returning to practice.
9. DEPTH CHART: Here’s the updated depth chart,
WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 19 Andre Roberts, 13 B.J. Daniels, 1 Reggie Davis, 17 Marvin Hall
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 66 Kevin Graf, 79 Will Freeman
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 64 Sean Harlow, 72 Cornelius Edison
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 61 Travis Averill, 62 Cam Keizur
RG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 63 Ben Garland, 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, 87 Deante Burton, 7 Josh Magee
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 4 Matt Simms, 4 Alek Torgersen
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 38 Brian Hill
FB 40 Derrick Coleman, 39 Tyler Renew
DE 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takkarist McKinley
DT 92 Dontari Poe, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 92 Joe Vellano, 74 Taniela Tupou
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 91 Courtney Upshaw
DE 95 Jack Crawford, 90 Derrick Shelby, 93 Chris Odom
LB 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 50 Brooks Reed, 54 Darius English, 56 Jermaine Grace, Jack Lynn
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
K 3 Matt Bryant, 6 Mike Meyer
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 19 Andre Roberts, 13 Devin Fuller, 14 Justin Hardy, 38 Brian Hill
PR 19 Andre Roberts, 13 Devin Fuller, 14 Justin Hardy, 18 Taylor Gabriel
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher
THE FALCONS 2017 DRAFT