Here’s what Falcons coach Dan Quinn had to say at the scouting combine on Wednesday:
OPENING: Good morning. Good to see everybody here. As you know this marks the kickoff for us as we get into our offseason…I’m excited. We had a meeting with our staff on Monday. During that meeting we told them that there are 110 days until the end of our mandatory minicamp and 49 days until our players come back and 60 days until the draft and oh, by the way, these seven days here for the combine. Our goal is to see if we can have the best offseason that we’ve ever had. That’s a real challenge for us. That part, I ‘m really pumped up to be here and getting that underway with you guys. One of the questions that you may ask, ‘have you watched the game?’” Yes, I have. A lot. You have to own that. The calls. The things you can do differently. That’s not unlike most Sunday nights for me where I wrestle with all three phases, could there be something different, as a head coach those are the moments that I do have to own. What I can tell you and share from that experience, this connection with our team and the brotherhood that these guys have is so real and so strong. I love these guys and it’s fun to be a part of it. When they asked me if I watched it. I say ‘yes. I am past it. I am not over it. I don’t think I ever will be and that’s a good thing. Those kind of experiences propel you to have the kind of offseasons that you like to have. The analogy that I use for our team is that we are fighters. Those who cover our team on a regular basis we talk about boxing quite a bit. We got our asses knocked down on the canvass. You get back up and you go fight again. That’s kind of what this offseason is about for us. With that I’m glad to open it up for some questions. We have a lot of cool topics to talk about regarding our offseason and our players, the combines, 60 days to the combine and the development of our team, which I’m so pumped up about. We have got this big nucleus of guys that we are pulling through and I’m so encouraged about where we are headed. With that I’ll be glad to open it up:
Q: On Marquand Manuel being promoted to defensive coordinator.
A: Marquand has been someone that’s been a very trusted add to me for a long time. We got all the way to when he played at the University of Florida. He came back and his first coaching job was there with me. Then he went out to Seattle and we spent two years together there and then the last two year here. We are very connected in terms of scheme and the attitude (with which) we’d like to play. He’s well equipped for that and I’m very excited for him and this opportunity.”
Q: Did the Falcons strike the balance they wanted between running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman?
A: For those two to have, both running backs over 10 touchdowns apiece and knowing that dealing with both of them together, that’s a monster. Having two of those guys who can be as effective in the run game and pass game, that’s something that we’re really fired up about. You should see the connection that they have. The way that they push each other at practice. That’s honestly, sometimes as a coach I will turn around and smile when I see back to back to back plays where they are just lighting it up. So, yeah, we are excited about how to feature them best. That will be a real challenge as we move forward to, to make sure that we are featuring the guys in the best ways and I thought we captured that with those two.
Q: With a linebacker with the range of Deion Jones who does that change the defense?
A: Deion had a terrific year. I shared this story with a few people. At some point during the year, he went from like a first-year player to a second- or third-year player. That’s pretty rare to do. There were times where we’d put our head into the huddle and he would gave us the arm-bar toward the end of the season. He was like, I got it. Where in the beginning part of the season, he could lock in on his assignment but couldn’t share all the things that happen at linebacker with everyone else. Once that communication started to take place, not only did you see his speed increased because he’s had more experience in the scheme. He’s always been able to run fast. We like the guy who runs 4.5 here, but plays at 4.5. That’s what we say from him. Early in the season when as he was still learning the system and growing into it. You knew the speed was there. When those plays that you saw, you were like that’s it, that’ it. Then as he gained more confidence as it went, we saw it more and more. We are really lit up about the guys who are up and coming, especially defensively, (De’Vondre) Campbell is one at linebacker. (Keanu) Neal, Brian Poole, those guys and in our four underneath positions, the speed, the tackling and the hitting, we are really encouraged by that.”
Q: On Starting four rookies in the Super Bowl. Expect that to happen again?
A: “We didn’t want to put any limitations on would they start or wouldn’t they. We just wanted to make sure we had competition. That’s a central theme of what we do. For them to become starters, they were going to have to earn it. We are encouraged about where they are headed. We do feel along with them and guys up front like Grady (Jarrett) and Vic (Beasley) and then the secondary guys like Ricardo Allen, they are kind of still coming into their own. Then we’ve got some guys on the outside with (Desmond) Trufant, Rocky (Robert Alford) and Jalen (Collins), who really understand the principles that we are playing. We feel like we are going to make big strides defensively.”
Q: What is the lasting thing you learned from the Super Bowl that you’d like to impart to your team?
A: “Number one, you have to own it. There are consequences good and bad when you make plays and when you don’t. Owning those decisions, can we nail execute on this play better. When the opp comes to making a sack or creating a turnover, owning those scenarios. End of the games ones are always fluid and always changing, but what I can tell you is that being in that experience and battling it for at the highest level. You can’t duplicate that. We actually had on the job training and there is something that you totally gain from that. We’ll be stronger for it. It’s tough and painful to go through when you have a difficult loss. It doesn’t define us. We have got a team that’s totally on the rise. We are going to battle like crazy this offseason to become even better moving forward.”
Q: How do you ensure there is no hangover?
A: “It’s a fair question. How do you deal with overcoming that loss. You’ve got to learn to get past it. I didn’t say that you have to get over it. You do have to get past it. When you get into the offseason, like I said there are 49 days until these guys get here, our sole focus is going to be on our growth and our improvement. Each individual player, how do they get better at their game. By replaying everything all the time and looking in the rear view mirror, you’re not going to get better. We try to really focus on the process that we go through. We really try to live in the present moment and how good can we get today. We know what that process looks like in the offseason. We’ll grow harder from the experience. But as tight and connected as this team is, you know they are going to push each other to be really good again.”
Q: What will (new offensive coordinator Steve) Sarkisian bring to the offense?
A: “As you go through, the scheme will be the same. There are principles that we do. The way we run wide zone, the keepers that we feature with Matt (Ryan), the play-action game, all that part of our system will be intact. How do we feature new players that come in to it? How do we feature the existing schemes and how do we do that better. That’s where the gold will be. We have a terrific group of guys on the staff. How do we utilize those and how we utilize the players in the best way. There won’t be any wholesale changes in the scheme, but each year is a little different in how you feature the guys. We’ll find the best way to do that.”
Q: (More on Sark)
A: “He’s got a real background as a player caller. Number one, that was important to us and having familiarity with what we do. He’s somebody in his career who’s been really committed to running the ball, having play-action and having the keepers in his game that we do. I thought through the years, he’s somebody that I personally connected with and I thought we’d make a good fit together. He fully understands how we utilizing our guys the best. Knowing that each season, how do we utilized the players on the roster is very important. We are fully under way with that.
Q: Do you foresee Julio Jones getting more action in the red zone?
A: “We do. Certainly, when players have unique stuff, they sometimes get a lot of attention and the redzone is one of those ways. As long as the production is where we’d like it to be. Every play that’s going to Julio is a pretty good play in my opinion. But when there is opportunity based on the coverage going a certain way for other guys who are singled (covered) to get open, I’m happy with that, too. As we go through the offseason, for sure, that’s going to be a spot where can he become even more involved with what we do. Fortunately, for us we’ve got some weapons at a number of different spots, tight end, running back, the other spots at receivers (and they know) how to attack.”
Q: On Saints fans trolling of the Falcons with a young and the ringless Mardi Gras float of Matt Ryan?
A: “In the division it’s a lot of fun. We get to play the teams in the division twice a year so there is some natural rivalries that take place. Being in the NFC South, we have a fantastic division. The battles that we go against with between Carolina, Tampa Bay and New Orleans is real. The team that comes out and wins that division, they’ve had to go through some fights. Honestly, we love the competition that goes along with the division.”
Q: Can the Falcons improve the defensive line in free agency or the draft?
A: “Number one, the line of scrimmage on both sides is always an emphasis for us. Being here, I am excited to look at that group of guys. Get to know them better and get to know them more. Loaded up a number of (them on) film to watch while we are here as well. As far as free agency goes, there are some guys on our own team that we are still going to talk to. Our free agency period started earlier this year when we signed (right tackle Ryan) Schraeder and (right cornerback Robert) Alford and some other guys that are really important to us and a part of our team already. As we looking through and building, we’ll add some two through free agency as well.
Q: What’s the number one thing when you’re looking at a college edge rusher?
A: “The number one thing is get off. I want to see if the guy can beat you to the punch. As a pass rusher, having that get off to stress the offense tackle the most right off the bat and to break down their technique based on the guys initial quickness. That’s what I look of the most. Past that, you want to find a guy who has a finisher’s mentality. Very rarely, do you just beat guy one time with one move. It’s the strain, the battle, the finish to go the extra step and win the last yard. Those guys that have that kind of fight and that kind of speed and get off, generally, you are going to hear their names called early on (in the draft).”
Q: What the 49ers getting in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan?
A: “They are getting a fantastic coach. A guy who has a very clear understanding offensively, defensively, line play….I said this before that he’s one of the few coaches who has a full understanding of the run game, offensive line, quarterback play, receiver play…you can put him into any spot on the offense and he’d be able to coach that position. That’s a rare trait. There are some guys who are so strong in one area. It might be in the run game. Are they are so strong in the pass game. But he’s got a really clear understanding on how to do the whole thing. I never like to see anybody leave the staff, but what I can appreciate is a guy taking a risk and say I’m want to go give this a shot and go battle for it. So, I’m excited for him and the opportunity that he has there.”
Q: What’s your evaluation of Hooper headed into his second year?
A: “We are excited for Hooper, we really are. When he was coming out of Stanford he was a younger guy and he developed. His love for ball is evident. Usually, when the tight end coach Wade (Harman) comes down, there is usually one guy already waiting in his meeting room with questions at 7 o’clock in the morning and that’s Hoop. So, his energy and his enthusiasm to get better is evident on a regular basis.”
Q: Is there a medical update on Julio Jones foot?
A: “He’s going to visit with the docs again coming up next week. We’ll make a determination after that. It hasn’t been determined when or if at this point. But it’s something that he is definitely going to consider.”
Q: How much time did you spend re-playing the game and second-guessing decisions that you made?
A: “The what if game is real. If you are prepared to go down that road, there are a lot of layers to it. So, what I can tell you is that I went through it just like every game. No game comes down to one play. As you go back through it, can you have a do over on certain plays, yeah. That’s not a lot different than most games. The Sunday night sleeping are the hardest for me and not the Saturdays, because you go back through it and you could have had a different call here or a different way to play that scenario there. But at the end you have to own it. You do what you think is best to go win the game at that time. We’ll always do that. We are an aggressive team and we’ll take our shots. That’s a reason why we were able to play in the Super Bowl was because we are aggressive. We are not going to back off from challenges. Do-overs, would you like to have some, yes. Is that every game? It is. But what I can tell you is the feeling that team has, how tough and connected that they are, it’s 100 percent a blast to be a part of it.”
Q: What did the Falcons learn from New England in the Super Bowl?
A: “The execution that you have to have at the end, you have to give them credit to in terms to be able to execute in certain spots in certain areas. When you go back through it, different calls and different ways, yeah, there are lessons to be learned. It’s one that goes in the memory bank forever. Like I said, we are kind of hopeful that we learned those lessons, take from them and move forward.”