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Atlanta Falcons Blog

Atlanta Falcons blog by D. Orlando Ledbetter, the pro football and Atlanta Falcons reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Cover 9@9: A closer look at the QBs of the NFC South

1. The Quarterbacks of the NFC South. Falcons passing game coordinator Jerome Henderson, the only new member of coach Dan Quinn’s coaching staff heading into his second season, has a daunting task.

With stable quarterback situations in the NFC South, Henderson must coordinate the pass defense to contend with New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Carolina’s Cam Newton and the emerging Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay.

“It is a big challenge,” Henderson said. “This is a very tough division. You look at what the Panthers did last year. You look at how Tampa is growing with the young quarterback and Brees in the wily veteran.

“It’s a tough, tough (division) when you look at defending the pass.”

The Falcons offseason focus was to improve the pass defense by revamping the linebackers corps, adding safety Kenau Neal in the draft and the continued development of Jalen Collins at right cornerback.

“That’s why you look at some of the picks and it was so that we can get better in coverage,” Henderson said. “Those young linebackers who can run and Keanu Neal the safety. We are trying to get better to defend the pass and get better skill-sets in here so that we can go out and we look at those guys in the eye and say, ‘Let’s go.’ ”

Here’s a look at the quarterbacks of the NFC South.

2. CAM NEWTON: Newton will be coming off a MVP season and will get his top receiver back in Kelvin Benjamin. He was Newton’s top receiver in 2014 and at 6-5, 245 pounds is a red-zone problem. With receivers like Benjamin, Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson in Tampa Bay, the Falcons really do need a bigger cornerback like Jalen Collins to come along this season. Newton’s 132 carries last season was a career-high. Newton’s growth as a passer can be attributed to his improved ability to read defenses. Newton is backed up by Derek Anderson and Joe Webb.

3. DREW BREES: At age 37, he’s set to enter his 16th season in the NFL. He threw for a league-high 4,870 yards last season. It was his 10th straight year of 4,000-plus yards passing. Brees, showing no signs of slowing down, had 32 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions in 2015. Brandin Cooks emerged last season with 84 catches for 1,138 yards and nine touchdowns. Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas was added in the second round and tight end Coby Fleener was in free agency. The Saints are developing quarterback Garrett Garrison, a third-round pick in 2015.

4. JAMEIS WINSTON: Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis advised Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter to throw deep more often. With Evans and Jackson it makes perfect sense. Teams will not be able to sit in the box and wait for running back Doug Martin. Winston passed for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdowns as a rookie. He’s backed up by Mike Glennon.

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Former NFL head coach Mike Ditka joins Doug Gottlieb to discuss the passing of Buddy Ryan and their impact on the '85 Bears team.

5. Peter King has declared its Dr. Z week. Many of the long-time Sports Illustrated readers know that Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman was the preeminent football writer of his day. As a youngster, I couldn't wait for his Super Bowl predictions in the weekly sports bible that I received from my Dad before I could afford my own subscription.

The Pro Football Writers of America, during my administration, established an award for Dr. Z that recognizes the top assistant coaches in the NFL.

King points out that Dr. Z is not in good health and has faced some life issues. READ MORE HERE IN THE AT MMQB.COM It appears that Dr. Z is 75 and is in an assisted living facility in New Jersey, is in need of help from the football community.

I don't want to give away the whole story, but there was a robbery that has hurt the family.  The MMQB has started a GoFundMe page for Paul and Linda Zimmerman.

If you feel inclined to help the family, great. Here’s the link. If you don’t feel inclined to help, your good wishes are appreciated.

I'm hopeful that the Atlanta football loving community will find in its heart to help out the Zimmermans.

6. PFWA Award Wrap-up Show. The PFWA recently announced it's off-the-field award winners in several categories.

--Dr. Z Award winners: Two current NFL assistant coaches, Monte Kiffin and Wade Phillips, have been selected as the Class of 2016 for the Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).

The Dr. Z Award is given for lifetime achievement as an assistant coach in the NFL. The award is named for Zimmerman, who covered the NFL for 29 years as Sports Illustrated’s lead pro football writer.

Kiffin and Phillips comprise the third group of assistant coaches selected for the honor by the PFWA. The late Bobb McKittrick was also a 2016 Dr. Z Award finalist.

--Dick McCann Award winner: ESPN Chris Mortensen.  He worked for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 1983-89 where he filed investigative reports and covered the Atlanta Falcons (1985-86) and the NFL (1985-89).

 --Jack Horrigan Award winner: Denver executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway.

--Pete Rozelle Award winner: The Denver Broncos media relations staff.

--2016 Good Guy Award winner: Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis.

--Georgia Halas Award winner: Kansas City safety Eric Berry.

7. Catching up with Thomas Davis.  We caught up with Thomas Davis at the New Era youth football camp and congratulated him on his award. 

Davis, fresh off his first Super Bowl appearance, worked as a counselor for the camp that was held at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School last week.

Davis was named him the winner of its 12th annual Good Guy Award by the Pro Football Writers of America. The award is given to the player who maintains professionalism while helping the media do its job.

Here are five questions with Davis, the Shellman native, who played at the University of Georgia:

Q: How did you play in the Super Bowl with the broken arm?

A: I played in the NFL for 11 years and there was no way I was not going to play in the Super Bowl. Hopefully, it will be ready for this season.

Q: How has the Panthers’ offseason been?

A: We’ve had a good offseason. We know that we’ve won the NFC South for the past three years, but we have to worry about getting better for this year. Other than Kawann Short missing a few days over his contract, things went pretty smooth.

Q: How can the Panthers defense improve?

A: We just have to figure out how to keep getting better. We just have to worry about ourselves and make sure that we’re continuing to improve.

Q: How has it been to be able to play all of your career close to your home?

A: That’s been huge. Being at to play at home in Georgia and then to go to the NFL and play at Carolina. That’s been huge. I wanted to be close to home so I can jump in the car and travel to home. That’s exactly what I got in being in Carolina.

Q: How are the Georgia football alumni thinking everything is going to work out with coach Kirby Smart? Are you all looking forward to the season?

A: We are excited about having coach Smart. We were disappointed to see coach (Mark) Richt leave because you guys know how much we love coach Richt and what he was able to do for us as players. But, if we have to bring in a different guy, you know that you are excited to see a guy who’s vested in the program like coach Smart. We feel like he’s going to do a good job at Georgia.

8. 7 questions with offensive line coach Chris Morgan.  Falcons offensive line coach Chris Morgan, who was named the offensive line coach of the year by analytics site, recently spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the upcoming season.

Morgan, an understudy of respected Seattle assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable, was charged with molding together a unit that featured four new full-time starters and left tackle Jake Matthews last season.

Here’s what Morgan had to say about his unit:

Q: How was the offseason for the offensive line?

A: Good. Really good. They worked really hard. They are worked really hard to develop their style of play. The standard that those guys created and set. It’s fun….They have a clear vision of what they want to be.”

+7 questions with Falcons’ offensive line coach Chris Morgan photo

Falcons offensive line coach Chris Morgan working a drill.

Q: How’s Alex Mack looking for you?

A: It’s going well. Alex brings a lot of experience. He’s played a lot of ball. He brings toughness. He’s a really smart and vocal guy. He’s been really good. He’s done a really good job.

Q: Are you worried about (Andy) Levitre’s penalties? Is that something that can be coached out of him?

A: I can definitely be a bigger part of that, you know what I mean and help with that. But Andy played his (butt) off last year. But that’s some thing that all of us can improve on, not just Andy.

Q: What’s the plan at right guard?

A: There will always be competition. There are some guys competing. It’s a cool deal. There is a cool mix of competition. We are looking at everybody. Mike (Person’s) done a good job over there. (Chris) Chester has played. Tom Compton has repped over there. Wes Schweitzer has repped over there. It’s not just those guys either. We are going to play the best five for sure. It’s always about the completion.

Q: What has Schweitzer shown you guys so far?

A: We don’t have the pads on yet, but he’s shown some really good toughness. We’ve moved him around early. He’s played left guard. He’s played right guard. He’s played center. He’s never done that before. He’s shown that nothing is too big for him right now. He’s been a flexible player. He’s seeing stuff on the move. Being able to adjust and he has good mental quickness. All of that.

Q: Did (assistant offensive coach) Keith Carter have a good recommendation on Schweitzer?

A: Yeah. Keith coached him two years ago (at San Jose State). We knew a lot of about him. We knew about the toughness that he brought and the intensity and how important football is important to him. We knew what kind of teammate he was. We knew all those things and we’re excited to add him to the mix.

Q: What can the unit do better in ’16?

A: You know, we have to continue to grow. Continue to develop our style of play. We should have a better understanding of that in Year Two.

9. PSL have raised at least $172 million. Current sales figures aren’t available, but the AJC last week obtained the latest available figures from the Georgia World Congress Center Authority through an open-records request.

According to those figures, the Falcons had sold 29,835 seat licenses for $172.3 million through April 30. That included 4,497 club seats sold for $99.6 million and 25,338 non-club seats sold for $72.7 million. In April, 624 seat licenses were sold.

Those figures put the PSL sales at about 46 percent of the non-suite seats in the stadium.

9b. Depth chart. Here's the projected depth chart heading into training camp.


WR 11 Julio Jones, 16 Justin Hardy, 17 Devin Hester, 87 Devin Fuller, 18 Jordan Leslie

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 76 Tom Compton

LG 67 Andy Levitre, 71 Wes Schweitzer, 79 Shabaz Ahmed

C   51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 69 Jake Reed

RG 65 Chris Chester, 68 Mike Person, 64 Collin Rahrig, Michael Huey

RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 72 Bryce Harris, 66 Laurence Gibson

TE 83 Jacob Tamme, 80 Levine Toilolo, 81 Austin Hooper, 86 D.J. Tialavea, 82 Joshua Perkins

WR Mohamed Sanu, 14 Eric Weems, 19 Aldrick Robinson, 15 Nick Williams, 7 David Glidden, 85 J.D. McKissic, 89 Daje Johnson

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 12 Sean Renfree, 4 Matt Simms

RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 35 Gus Johnson, 20 Brandon Wilds

FB 42 Patrick DiMarco, 39 Will Ratelle


RDE 99 Adrian Clayborn, 50 Brooks Reed, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 71 Brandon Williams

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 94 Tyson Jackson, 95 Jonathan Babineaux, 96 Nordly Capi, 98 Cory Johnson

DT 90 Derrick Shelby, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 92 Joey Mbu, 74 Chris Mayes

LDE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 48 Ivan McLennan, 93 Malliciah Goodman, 52 Tyler Starr

LB 56 Sean Weatherspoon, 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 41 Philip Wheeler, 46 Torrey Green

LB 55 Paul Worrilow, 45 Deion Jones, 53 LaRoy Reynolds

RCB 25 Akeem King, 43 DeMarcus Van Dyke, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 33 Devonte Johnson, 32 Jalen Collins (Suspended for 4 games)

NCB 23 Robert Alford, 43 DeMarcus Van Dyke

LCB 21 Desmond Trufant,, 38 David Mims II, 39 Jordan Sefon

FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Robenson Therezie, 20 Sharrod Neaseman, 34 Brian Poole

SS 22 Keanu Neal, 30 Charles Godfrey, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 40 Damian Parms

BASE 4-3

RDE  99 Adrian Clayborn, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 71 Brandon Williams, 96 Nordly Capi

DT  77 Ra'Shede Hageman, 95 Jonathan Babineaux, 98 Cory Johnson

NT 97 Grady Jarrett, 94 Tyson Jackson, 92 Joey Mbu, 74 Chris Mayes

LDE  90 Derrick Shelby, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 93 Malliciah Goodman, 52 Tyler Starr

WLB 56 Sean Weatherspoon, 59 De'Vondre Campbell, 46 Torrey Green, 48 Ivan McLennan

MLB 55 Paul Worrilow, 45 Deion Jones, 53 LaRoy Reynolds

SLB 44 Vic Beasley, 41 Philip Wheeler, 50 Brooks Reed, 91 Courtney Upshaw,

RCB 25 Akeem King, 32 Jalen Collins, 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 33 Devonte Johnson, 38 David Mims II

LCB 21 Desmond Trufant, 43 DeMarcus Van Dyke, 39 Jordan Sefon, 34 Brian Poole

FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Robenson Therezie, 20 Sharrod Neaseman

SS 22 Keanu Neal, 30 Charles Godfrey, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 40 Damian Parms


K 3 Matt Bryant, 1 Nick Rose

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 17 Devin Hester, 14 Eric Weems, 16 Justin Hardy, 7 David Glidden, 85 J.D. McKissic

PR 17 Devin Hester, 14 Eric Weems, 16 Justin Hardy, 7 David Glidden, 85 J.D. McKissic

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 5 Matt Bosher, 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub


Atlanta Falcons 90-man roster analysis: Quarterbacks

Atlanta Falcons 90-man roster analysis: Running backs

Atlanta Falcons 90-man roster analysis: Wide receivers

Atlanta Falcons 90-man roster analysis: Linebackers

Atlanta Falcons 90-man roster analysis: Specialists


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Matt Ryan's film session with AJC columnist Jeff Schultz

Alex Mack, Falcons looks good fo r one another


Dan Quinn pressing all buttons to create a pass rush

How does drafting Keanu Neal help the pass rush?

DL line coach Bryan Cox: Hageman needs to improve his play

LB coach Jeff Ulbrich: 'Cream will rise' at linebacker for Falcons

Defensive coordinator Richard Smith pleased with early progress of the defense

Falcons still have a spot for DT Jonathan Babineaux

Dwight Freeney 95 percent certain that he will play in 2016

Falcons working 80 percent of time on pass rush

Weatherspoon on Freeney: 'He still has it'


Falcons' offseason spotlight: OG Wes Schweizter, sixth round pick

Falcons offseason spotlight: LB De'Vondre Campbell, fourth round pick

Falcons' offseason spotlight: TE Austin Hooper, third round pick

Falcons' offseason spotlight: LB Deion Jones, second round pick

Falcons' offseason spotlight: SS Keanu Neal, first round pick

Falcons' offseason spotlight: DE/SLB Vic Beasley

Falcons' offseason spotlight: DT Grady Jarrett

Falcons' offseason spotlight: FS Robenson Therezie

Falcons' offseason spotlight: CB Jalen Collins

Falcons' offseason spotlight: RB Tevin Coleman

Falcons' offseason spotlight: WR Justin Hardy

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.