Good morning! Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly list of nine things at 9 a.m. Wednesday that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.
1. Hardy the return man: Falcons wide receiver Justin Hardy is listed as the top kickoff and punt returner on the team’s official depth chart that was released on Tuesday.
Hardy, who was a fourth-round pick out of East Carolina in 2015, returned punts in college, but not kickoffs. He has returned three kickoffs in the NFL.
He’s the safe pick in the mode of the dependable Eric Weems.
Hardy, 27, who’s 5-foot-9 and 192 pounds, has won the respect of the coaching staff with his toughness on special teams.
In college, he returned 63 punts for 495 yards, 7.9 yards per return with no touchdowns. In the NFL, he gained 52 yards for a average of 17.3 yards.
Hardy will not strike much fear in the opposing coverage units, much like Weems, but he’ll be dependable and make the decisions that special teams coach Keith Armstrong likes.
Rookie Calvin Ridley will likely be used as late-game or a desperation returner. If the Falcons are down and need to flip the field fast, maybe they’ll set up a wall and send out Ridley.
Also, Falcons coach Dan Quinn wants to see rookie running back Ito Smith return live kickoffs.
“I’m sure you’ve seen (intern assistant coach) Leon Washington back there every day working with him as well,” Quinn said. “I do think he has the traits to do it. He has real quickness to go. We’re going to have to get him into to some game reps and take a look at it.”
At Southern Miss, Smith returned 26 kickoffs for 550 yards for an average of 21.2 yards per return.
In addition to Wes Schweitzer being listed as the first-team right guard, Ricky Ortiz was listed as the first-team fullback, Duke Riley as the first-team weakside linebacker and Terrell McClain as the first-team defensive tackle.
Here is the depth chart:
WR: Julio Jones, Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, Christian Blake, Colby Pearson, Taj Williams
LT: Jake Matthews, Ty Sambrailo, Danie Brunskill
LG: Andy Levitre, Ben Garland, Sean Harlow
C: Alex Mack, Jamil Douglas, J.C. Hassenauer
RG: Wes Schweitzer, Brandon Fusco, Salesi Uhatafe
RT: Ryan Schradder, Austin Pasztor, Matt Gono, Kendall Calhoun
TE: Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert, Alex Gray, Jaeden Graham, Troy Mangen
WR: Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridely, Reggie Davis, Russell Gage, Devin Gray, Lamar Jordan, Dontez Byrd
QB: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Kurt Benkert, Garrett Grayson
RB: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith, Justin Crawford, Terrence Magee, Malik Williams
FB: Ricky Ortiz, Luke McNitt
DE: Vic Beasley, Derrick Shelby, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, J.T. Jones
DT: Terrell McClain, Deadrin Senat, Jon Cunningham, Justin Zimmer
DT: Grady Jarrett, Jack Crawford, Garrison Smith
DE: Takkarist McKinley, Brooks Reed, Anthony Winbush, Mackendy Cheridor
LB: Duke Riley, Kemal Ishmael, Emmanuel Ellerbee
LB: Deion Jones, Emmanuel Smith, Jonathan Celestin
LB: De’Vondre Campbell, Foye Oluokun, Richard Jarvis
CB: Robert Alford, Isaiah Oliver, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Chris Lammons
CB: Desmond Trufant, Brian Poole, Justin Bethel, Leon McFadden, Deante Burton
S: Ricardo Allen, Damontae Kazee, Tyson Graham, Secdrick Cooper
S: Keanu Neal, Ron Parker, Marcelis Branch
K: Matt Bryant, David Marvin
KO: Matt Bosher, David Marvin
P: Matt Bosher, Davin Marvin
KR: Justin Hardy, Calvin Ridley
PR: Justin Hardy, Calvin Ridley
LS: Josh Harris
H: Matt Bosher
2. Kickoff coverage: In the Red-White scrimmage, the Falcons’ kickoff coverage unit had some trouble with the new rules.
“We had two offsides on kickoffs,” Quinn said. “How do we have to tweak our alignments with the new rules? There is some learning that goes on with that. I thought special teams was going to be a real big factor just from some learning and it certainly was.”
3. Jackson on air: Former Falcons and Rams running back Steven Jackson with be a guest analyst on the NFL Total Access at 8 p.m. tonight on the NFL Network. The show will be hosted by Lindsay Rhodes and Scott Hanson along with analysts Akbar Gbajabiamila and Elliot Harrison.
4. A visit from the Godfather and Alex: Former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil “The Godfather” Brandt and award-winning journalist/broadcaster Alex Marvez will host their show on SiriusXM NFL Radio from Flowery Branch today. The show will air from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The visit is part of SiriusXM’s annual NFL training camp tour.
5. High school corner: The Falcons hosted 10 high school football programs to a VIP experience during training camp.
The groups are comprised of about 30 total coaches and players from the school. With the opportunity, the teams were hosted in a VIP tent, watched practice from the field and receive autographs after practice from a variety of players.
Some of the schools included Chestatee High, Discovery High, Baconton Charter High, Meadowcreek High, Troup County High, Chattahoochee High, Toombs County High, Elbert County High, Riverside Military Academy and Twiggs County High.
“Our kids come from a poor rural community with a ton of obstacles to overcome,” Elbert County coach Sid Fritts said. “We have tried to expose our young men to positive influences and avenues toward success the last eight years I have been in Elbert Co. We have taken them to colleges and universities all over the southeast to show them a different way other than the environment they are in. Coming to the Atlanta Falcons training facility will be the pinnacle of those opportunities for our team.”
Two years ago, the Falcons donated their lockers to the Meadowcreek football team, along with previously used practice uniforms.
6. Freeman story: Here’s the lead from Steve Hummer’s fine story on Falcons running back Devonta Freeman: “The new NFL rule governing helmet contact both confounds and covers everyone. No one may initiate contact with the helmet, period. On either side of the ball. So, those who were once ruled to be the victims of a heinous foul now may be called the culprits.”
7. Time to start worrying about Takk?: Second-year defensive end Takkarist McKinley has been limited for most of training camp. He’s being counted on to help replace Adrian Clayborn’s team-leading 9.5 sacks. Quinn doesn’t seem worried about him being ready for the season. So it’s probably best to relax for now while the situation is monitored. But there may be more going on that just a bruise or a contusion as has been previously reported. It could be a really deep bruise and an acute contusion. The season starts on Sept. 6 and I expect Takk to line up against the Eagles.
8. Bryant, Sambrailo out: The Falcons will be without kicker Matt Bryant (undisclosed) and offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo (hand) in exhibition opener at the Jets.
Bryant did not participate in Monday’s practice. The team indicated it did not believe the issue was a long-term issue. David Marvin, from Georgia, is the other kicker on the Falcons roster and will kick against the Jets. The Falcons also worked out former Raiders kicker Giorgio Tavecchio on Tuesday.
9. A study in perseverance: Before Ricardo Allen and the Falcons agreed upon a three-year, $19.5 million contract extension Monday, Allen was cut by the Falcons in 2014. Watch him being cut on Hard Knocks back in 2014.