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: Dimitroff doubling down on character fits for the team 

Team noted lesson from exceptions: Hageman, Collins 


Good morning! Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly dive into nine issues at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Everything you need to to know about the Atlanta Falcons.

1. Character matters: When looking to buttress the roster, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn consider the personality and character fit of the player. 

That’s a couple of extra layers after evaluating the talent for the scheme-fit. 

» More: Grady Jarrett, ‘from ash to hellfire’

The Falcons have had to part ways with a couple of second-round picks that they made exceptions for in Ra’Shede Hageman and Jalen Collins. 

“I think that’s a big thing,” Dimitroff said. “It starts from the very beginning and the message that Dan and the philosophy that Dan and I have, making sure that we have the right system-fit which is vitally important for this organization, both offensively and defensively.”

There’s more work to do once they figure out if the player can help immediately or down the road after some development. 

“Being incredibly clear with each other so that we can pass that information along to our scouting staff to make sure that we are acquiring the right type of talent,” Dimitroff said. “We also are, as you know, it’s a challenge to combine the right type of talent with the right type of team fit.”

Hageman and Collins both had red flags coming out of college. Hageman had the reputation for being a slacker and Collins had a drug suspension. The ardors of the NFL league proved to be too much for either to handle.

Both are still out of league. 

“We have definitely requisite traits here for our guys on and off the field,” Dimitroff said. “How they handle themselves, their personality and character fit, their passion for the game, their focus. That becomes a challenge as real challenge as well.”

The Falcons may take some risk in the return, but they want to make sure they have learned their lesson from Hageman and Collins. 

“I’ve always said it’s quite easy to find the talent, just making sure that you find the mix of the talent and the right team fit,” Dimitroff said. “Dan is very, very particular about the type of player that we have in our meeting room and out of the field as I am.”

Going back, the Falcons, desperate for a pass rusher, learned a lesson from the signing of defensive end Ray Edwards late in free agency. He didn’t fit in and wasn’t serious about practice.

The Falcons had to bite the bullet on the contract and continue their search for a pass rusher. 

“We make sure that, for the most part, we try not to have many if not any exceptions in that area for sure,” Dimitroff said of the sketchy character guys. “We’ve seen it many times in the NFL. We’ve seen it here over the years as well, those players that don’t truly fit into the team makeup, the basic tenants of the team concept, won’t last here. It doesn’t matter how good they are.”

2. NFC South receivers: Falcons cornerback Robert Alford is bracing for another tough year against the NFC South receivers. 

“I feel like our division is good every year,” Alford said. “It’s in the top tier (at wide receiver) every year. I feel like we have the toughest division. We have good quarterbacks and we have good receivers. Each and every week we have to be on you Ps and Qs. You have to make sure that you study those guys down to the T so on Sundays, it comes natural to you.”

3. Foles or Wentz: The Eagles are going to be without wide receiver Alshon Jeffery for the Thursday night season opener against the Falcons.

Also, they expect to know by Friday if they are going with Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles or Carson Wentz, who’s trying to come back from double knee ligament (LCL and ACL) surgery. Expect Foles to be the starter. 

Also, linebacker Nigel Bradham has been suspended by the league and will miss the game.

Bradham played all 63 defensive snaps and had a key sack in the Eagles’ 15-10 victory over the Falcons in the divisional playoff game Jan. 13. The Eagles went on to defeat Minnesota in the NFC Championship game and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

Bradham had four tackles, one sack, a quarterback hit and a pass breakup.

On third-and-5 with 6:50 left in the third quarter and the Falcons leading 10-9, Bradham sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to force a punt. The Eagles, on their ensuing possession, went on to add a field goal and take the lead for good, 12-10.

4. Go with Hardy to be the punt and kickoff returner: While Falcons coach Dan Quinn wouldn’t name the kickoff and punt returner, wide receiver Justin Hardy is listed as the top kickoff returner and punt returner on the team’s official depth chart. 

Rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley is listed as the backup kickoff returner and Marvin Hall as the backup punt returner. 

“I don’t think we’ll do a committee all year,” Quinn said. “I’d like to have more certainty than they. I have a pretty good idea about where I’m heading now, but I’d like to not give it away in terms of the season and who’s going to be preparing against (us). I’m pretty well squared away on the decision for that.”

Hardy appears to be the most dependable.

“Every guy that I’ve been here with, I was with Hest (Devin Hester), with (Eric) Weems and last year with Dre (Andre Roberts),” Hardy said. “All of them were great returners. Just being around them, just seeing how they set the blocks up, how they catch the ball. I used to be a sponge around them. … I’ll go out there and give them 110 percent, every time that I’m out there.”

5. Veteran roster watch: With Brandon Fusco being named the starter and Wes Schweitzer the backup swing guard and center, guard Ben Garland is clearly on the bubble.

Sean Harlow, a former fourth-round pick, is in a battle with Harlow for possibly the fourth and final roster spot.

We’re not sold that the Falcons will keep Ricky Ortiz or Jalston Fowler as the fullback. If a better veteran is released, look for them to make a claim or possible call around to trade for one. 

Ortiz, who also played tight end and linebacker at Oregon State, appears to have the special-teams advantage over Fowler. 

Also, the Falcons played safety Ron Parker for 27 snaps against the Jaguars. When I asked about Parker, Quinn just mentioned that he played. It’s crowded back in the secondary and the Falcons only signed Parker to a one-year, $915,000 contract. 

6. Longshots to watch: The reserves will handle most of the game against the Dolphins. We have counted 43 locks on the roster, so there are basically three spots up for grabs for the 46-man game day roster, 10 for the final roster and 20 if you count the 10-member practice squad.

In addition to Garland, Parker, Ortiz and Fowler, players on the bubble include wide receiver Reggie Davis, tackle Austin Pasztor, defensive tackle Justin Zimmer, defensive tackle Garrison Smith and linebacker Jonathan Celestin. 

7. Roster Breakdown: Here’s my position-by-position look at how the Falcons could cut down to 53 players for the start of the season:

OFFENSE 

QUARTERBACKS (2) 

LOCKS: Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub. LONGSHOTS: Kurt Benkert and Garrett Grayson.

RUNNING BACKS (5/6) 

LOCKS: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith. ON THE BUBBLE: Ricky Ortiz (fullback). LONGSHOTS: Justin Crawford, Terrence Magee, Jalston Fowler (fullback) and Malik Williams.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6/7) 

LOCKS: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy and Russell Gage. ON THE BUBBLE: Marvin Hall and Reggie Davis. LONGSHOTS: Dontez Bryd, Devin Gray, Lamar Jordan, Julian Williams and Christian Blake.

TIGHT ENDS (3/4) 

LOCKS: Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen and Eric Saubert. LONGSHOTS: Jaeden Graham, Troy Mangen and Alex Gray.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9/10) 

LOCKS: Alex Mack, Jake Matthews, Ryan Schraeder, Brandon Fusco, Andy Levitre, Wes Schweitzer and Ty Sambrailo. ON THE BUBBLE: Ben Garland, Jamil Douglas, Sean Harlow and Matt Gono. LONGSHOTS: Daniel Brunskill, J.C. Hassenauer, Salesi Uhatafe, Austin Pasztor and Kendall Calhoun.

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE ENDS (5-6)

LOCKS: Vic Beasley Jr., Takkarist McKinley, Derrick Shelby and Brooks Reed. ON THE BUBBLE: Anthony Winbush. LONGSHOTS: Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, J.T. Jones and Mackendy Cheridor.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES (5/6)

LOCKS: Grady Jarrett, Deadrin Senat, Terrell McClain and Jack Crawford. ON THE BUBBLE: Justin Zimmer and Garrison Smith. LONGSHOTS: Jon Cunningham.

LINEBACKERS (5/6)

LOCKS: Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Duke Riley and Foyesade Oluokun. ON THE BUBBLE: Kemal Ishmael. LONGSHOTS: Emmanuel Ellerbee, Emmanuel Smith, Jonathan Celestin and Dewey Jarvis.

CORNERBACKS (5/6)

LOCKS: Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Brian Poole, Justin Bethel and Isaiah Oliver. ON THE BUBBLE: Blidi Wreh-Wilson. LONGSHOTS: Chris Lammons, Leon McFadden and Deante Burton.

SAFETIES (3/4)

LOCKS: Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee. ON THE BUBBLE: Ron Parker. LONGSHOTS: Tyson Graham, Secdrick Cooper and Marcelis Branch. 

SPECIALISTS (3)

LOCKS: Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris. LONGSHOTS: David Marvin and Giorgio Tavecchio.

8. Special section coming: Stories from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Falcons special section will start appearing online on Friday. The section, which I helped plan, will run in Sunday’s editions.  We went with the theme of the window being open for the Falcons to make another run to the Super Bowl. Kind of ignore the 0-3 exhibition season record like Matt Ryan suggested. 

9. Depth chart: The Falcons (0-3) released their official depth chart for the exhibition game against the Dolphins (0-3) at 7 p.m. Thursday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The majority of the starters are not expected to play. 

Here’s the depth chart: 

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall, 15 Christian Blake, 16 Julian Williams, 19 Dontez Byrd

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo, 76 Daniel Brunskill

LG 67 Andy Levitre, 63 Ben Garland, 64 Sean Harlow

C 51 Alex Mack, 75 Jamil Douglas, 61 J.C. Hassenauer

RG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 65 Brandon Fusco, 62 Salesi Uhatafe 

RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 68 Austin Pasztor, 77 Matt Gono, 72 Kendall Calhoun

TE 81 Austin Hooper, 82 Logan Paulsen, 85 Eric Saubert, 89 Alex Gray, 87 Jaeden Graham, 80 Troy Mangen

WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Calvin Ridley, 13 Reggie Davis, 83 Russell Gage, 7 Devin Gray, 86 Lamar Jordan 

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 6 Kurt Benkert, 9 Garrett Grayson

RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 25 Ito Smith, 32 Justin Crawford, 41 Terrence Magee, 35 Malik Williams

FB 30 Ricky Ortiz, 43 Jalston Fowler

DEFENSE

DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 90 Derrick Shelby, 74 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 55 J.T. Jones 

DT 99 Terrell McClain, 94 Deadrin Senat, 91 Jon Cunningham, 92 Justin Zimmer

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford, 93 Garrison Smith

DE 98 Takk McKinley, 50 Brooks Reed, 56 Anthony Winbush, 96 Mackendy Cheridor LB 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 52 Emmanuel Ellerbee

LB 45 Deion Jones, 53 Emmanuel Smith, 46 Jonathan Celestin

LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 49 Dewey Jarvis

CB 23 Robert Alford, 20 Isaiah Oliver, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 30 Chris Lammons 

CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole, 28 Justin Bethel, 29 Leon McFadden, 39 Deante Burton

S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Damontae Kazee, 32 Tyson Graham, 35 Secdrick Cooper, S 22 Keanu Neal, 48 Ron Parker, 38 Marcelis Branch 

SPECIALISTS

K 3 Matt Bryant, 1 David Marvin, 4 Giorgio Tavecchio 

KO 5 Matt Bosher, 1 David Marvin

P 5 Matt Bosher, 1 David Marvin

KR 14 Justin Hardy, 18 Calvin Ridley

PR 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 5 Matt Bosher


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About the Author

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