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: Falcons look to get faster, tougher at combine

Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog from the scouting combine in Indianapolis. It's our weekly blog of everything you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons, which is 9 items published at 9 a.m. each Wednesday morning.

1. SPEED AND TOUGHNESS: It's no secret that the Falcons are looking for some more pieces to add to their rebuilding defense.

The Falcons will continue to look for fast  and tough football players while at the scouting combine, which started Tuesday and runs through Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"Keep in mind, for instance, the Atlanta Falcons did an unbelievable job rebuilding their defense over a two-year period and almost (won) a Super Bowl," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "It was

based on a couple of things. It was based on speed and toughness. For instance, they drafted that safety,

Keanu Neal, and he set a tone. They drafted in the second round, Deion Jones, the linebacker from LSU

who is one of the fastest linebackers who ever ran at the combine. And he had a great year. De'Vondre

Campbell, who I think they took in the fourth ... round, again, tough guy that could run."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn and his staff have come up with a way to measure competitiveness and toughness.

They have a scale for CT scores on the players.

12 key offseason dates for the Atlanta Falcons

2. 10 NAMES TO PONDER: The Falcons have the 31st pick in the draft. Here's a photo gallery of 10 players they could draft.

3. FALCONS FREE AGENT TRACKER: The Falcons are working to sign safety Kemal Ishmael before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He's a valuable reserve safety/linebacker who won over the coaching staff with his toughness last season before suffering a shoulder injury.

The Falcons have been slow to move on their other prospective free agents.

The Falcons potential list of unrestricted free agents include: defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (wants to return), quarterback Matt Schaub (likely headed to San Francisco), linebacker Paul Worrilow (likely headed to open market), right guard Chris Chester (likely headed to open market), tight end Jacob Tamme (wants to return, but is likely headed to open market), linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (wants to return), defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw, returner Eric Weems, defensive end Dwight Freeney (headed to the open market), linebacker Philip Wheeler, safety Dashon Goldson, tackle Tom Compton, fullback Patrick DiMarco (wants to return), linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, tight end Levine Toilolo and Ishmael. Exclusive rights free agents – Free safety Ricardo Allen, cornerback Deji Olatoye, linebacker Josh Keyes, tight end D.J. Tialavea and wide receiver Nick Williams.   Restricted free agents – Linebacker Tyler Starr, Ben Garland, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (made just $510,000 last season) and defensive back Akeem King.

4. QUINN TO SPEAK: Falcons coach Dan Quinn is set to speak to the media at 10:15 a.m. today at the combine. He'll he his share of Super Bowl collapse questions.

5. DIMITROFF TO SPEAK: Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff will speak at 2:15 p.m. today.

6. NFC SOUTH ROUNDUP: For some reason, the Saints will not have either coach Sean Payton or general manager Micky Loomis speak to the media at the scouting combine. I guess they are tired of the 7-9 questions.

Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter will speak at 9:45 a.m. on Wednesday. Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht will speak at 10 a.m.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman will speak at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. Panthers coach Ron Rivera will speak at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

7. 5 PLAYERS TO SCOUT: The reigning NFC champion Falcons own the 31st pick in the coming draft. While Dimitroff doesn’t see any major holes on the roster, the Falcons will look to fortify both the offensive and defensive lines in the draft, which is set for April 27-29 in Philadelphia. Also, Dimitroff said the team is always looking to improve the pass rush. Here are five players the Falcons must scout at the combine.

8. CHEEERLEADER TRYOUTS:  Under the guidance of longtime Falcons cheer coordinator Chato Hendrix and choreographer Jakene Ashford audition preparation classes for the 2017 Atlanta Falcons cheerleader squad have started.

The classes will provide candidates with an overview of the program along with a brief question/answer session and teach dance combinations similar to those performed during the games. The Falcons offer several class options. One participant from each class will automatically advance to finals.

Classes will be taught by the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders staff and current cheerleaders. The March 11 and April 1 classes will be held at Windy Hill Athletic Club, located at 135 Interstate Norther Parkway SE in Atlanta.

The auditions for the 2017 squad will be held on Sunday, April 2 with a $35 non-refundable application fee. Click here for all of the details.

9. YOUTH FOUNDATION SURPASSES $1 MILLION IN DONATIONS: The Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation (AFYF) and Good Sports, a national nonprofit, have again teamed up to provide more than $87,000 worth of new athletic equipment, apparel, and footwear that will remove barriers to physical activity for more than 8,300 Georgia children.

For seven years, AFYF & Good Sports have joined together to remove participation barriers in youth sports, physical education and fitness programs. The aim to ensure that every child has the opportunity to be physically active. For every grant dollar AFYF invests, Good Sports provides at least $2 in equipment donations thanks to extensive support from equipment manufacturers & distributors.

Since 2010, Good Sports has leveraged nearly $441,000 in grants from the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation to provide equipment donations valued at more than $1 million to youth programs in 80 of Georgia’s 159 counties. These donations have helped more than 96,900 youth gain access to consistent sports & fitness activities.

“Good Sports’ primary goal every day is to ensure that the resources are available for children in need to become more active,” says Melissa Harper, Good Sports’ chief executive officer. “The fact that through this partnership we have distributed over $1 million in equipment to Georgia youth is a testament to the commitment that the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation places on expanding kids’ access to quality athletic opportunities.”

The application period for the next cycle of AFYF-Good Sports equipment donations is open through Friday, April 21, 2017. Programs can submit an application by visiting the AFYF landing page on Good Sports’ website – – and completing the online application. For this round of donations, AFYF will focus on equipment donations that increase participation in flag and youth football programs.

Approved applicants will be eligible to receive up to six (6) donations through Good Sports regular donation process over the next two years, and will also be considered for future AFYF-Good Sports equipment grants. Any questions regarding the application can be directed to the Good Sports Program Team at

The most recent equipment donations include the following:

Organization: Cedar Shoals High School (Clarke County)

Donated Equipment: Basketballs, cones, agility & fitness equipment, footballs, physical education equipment

Organization: Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Academy (Fulton County)

Donated Equipment: Volleyball uniforms, weightlifting platform, running sneakers, jump ropes

Organization: Cowan Road Middle School (Spalding County)

Donated Equipment: Soccer balls, playground balls, jump ropes, cones, volleyballs, agility equipment, hula hoops

Organization: Douglasville Community Outreach (Douglas, Carroll, Paulding, Cobb, and Fulton Counties)

Donated Equipment: Soccer balls, playground balls, basketballs, pop up goals, and footballs

Organization: Forest Park Middle School (Clayton County)

Donated Equipment: Soccer balls, track shoes, basketballs, footballs, cones, and fitness equipment

Organization: Grove Park Intermediate School (Fulton County)

Donated Equipment: Running sneakers, jump ropes, playground balls, hula hoops, and floor hockey sets

Organization: J.E. Brown Middle School (Fulton County)

Donated Equipment: Running sneakers, fitness rope, softball gloves, softball catcher’s equipment, and football practice kerseys

Organization: KIPP Atlanta Collegiate High School (Fulton County)

Donated Equipment: Football helmets, fitness rope, baseball bats, baseball helmets, soccer balls, track shoes, and fitness rope

Organization: KIPP Vision Academy (Fulton County)

Donated Equipment: Football uniforms, baseball uniforms, practice uniforms, soccer balls, and track shoes

Organization: McGarity Elementary School (Paulding County)

Donated Equipment: Playground balls, running sneakers, cones, jump ropes, speed kits, and physical education assessment tools

Organization: MJM Foundation (Liberty County)

Donated Equipment: Baseball helmets, running sneakers, softball gloves, basketballs, and tennis rackets

Organization: Reidsville Middle School (Tattnall County)

Donated Equipment: Baseball bats, track shoes, playground balls, soccer uniforms, and basketball uniforms

Organization: Score for Kids Foundation (Cobb, Fulton & Gwinnett Counties)

Donated Equipment: Athletic apparel, tennis apparel, running sneakers, basketballs, and tennis rackets

Organization: Shiloh Point Elementary School (Forsyth County)

Donated Equipment: Playground balls, soccer balls, basketballs, footballs, jump ropes, and hula hoops

Organization: The Cobra Foundation (Coweta, Fulton, Troup, and Fayette Counties)

Donated Equipment: Mouth guards, pinnies, football girdles, tackling dummy, and step-over dummies

Organization: Titletown Titans (Lowndes, Brooks, Lanier, and Cook Counties)

Donated Equipment: Mouth guards, football girdles, football practice jerseys, and shoulder pads

Organization: Tomorrow’s Champions (Cobb & Fulton Counties)

Donated Equipment: Batting helmets, softball gloves, softball jerseys, softball bats, and bat bags

Organization: Transitions Learning Center (Bulloch County)

Donated Equipment: Playground balls, jump ropes, fitness equipment, soccer balls, basketballs, and pop up goals

Organization: Tuskegee Global Airmen Academy (Fulton County)

Donated Equipment: Playground balls, jump ropes, mouth guards, footballs, and pop up goals

Organization: Twin Cedars Youth & Family Services (Troup County)

Donated Equipment: Fitness rope, jump ropes, running sneakers, basketballs, volleyballs, agility kits, and pickleball set



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About the Author

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