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: Just a matter of time before exhibition games are history

Let's get right to it this morning:

1. THE FUTURE OF EXHIBITION GAMES: Perhaps the day is coming where the fans are not forced to pay regular-season football prices for exhibition games.

Nobody likes the exhibition season.

The fans, players (Sam Baker) and the football folks.

“Our goal is to obviously get to the season as healthy as possible,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff. “We know that the more games in preseason, the more apt you are to run the risk of an injury. That could happen in Game 1 as we’ve seen. I think the league is well thought out with how they’re approaching this. It will be interesting to see in time if we truncate that and how it’s going to be beneficial.”

How about an 18-game schedule with no exhibition games?

“But in lieu of the games, we’d probably spend more time in duo-practices with other teams,” Dimitroff said. “I think that’s what is going to be happening.”

Some of the Falcons were ticked after the Baker injury.

“Some times things happen as you know out of the blue,” Dimitroff said. “Sometimes guys are tired and they get hurt. Other times it just the luck of the draw which is unfortunate. I feel think our A.P. (athletic performance) department is really dialed.”

2. EXHIBITION GAMES II: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is probably not even taking his shoulder pads with him to Jacksonville. He is not going to play in the meaningless game.

He does see some value in the third game.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity to play a sustained number of plays and to get out there and get into a rhythm heading into the regular season,” Ryan said. “I think that is productive.”

3.. WORRILOW ON TACKLING: Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow believes the next generation of football players will be better tacklers.

“Especially, all of the stuff they are doing with heads up football,” Worrilow said. “There are so many organizations who do a great job of teaching the correct way to tackle to keep you safe, secure the tackle and get the ball carrier down.”

We did a story on tackling in the NFL. Several people pointed to the 1980s when head-on and launch tackles were highlighted. ESPN had that weekly segment called “jacked up” that basically glorified wrestling style moves and not tackling.

Of course, the players wanted to get on the show and instead of tackling they would try to decapitate the ball carriers.

“The big hits are going to come,” Worrilow said. “In a game, how many of those do you see? Throughout the course of the game, it’s your good and secure form tackles where you’re driving the guy backwards and gang tackling where everybody is getting to the ball, that’s what football is about.”


4. QBs MAKING OPRAH DOLLARS: Here’s a list of the projected starting quarterbacks in the NFL with their base salaries for the 2014 season:

Arizona: Carson Palmer, $9 million

Atlanta: Matt Ryan, $9.5 million

Baltimore: Joe Flacco, $6 million

Buffalo: E.J. Manuel, $808,877

Carolina: Cam Newton, $3.3 million

Chicago: Jay Cutler, $17.5 million

Cincinnati: Andy Dalton, $986,027

Cleveland: Brian Hoyer, $1 million

Dallas: Tony Romo, $1 million

Denver: Peyton Manning, $15 million

Detroit: Matt Stafford, $2 million

Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers, $900,000

Houston: Ryan Fitzpatrick, $1.75 million

Indianapolis: Andrew Luck, $2.39 million

Jacksonville: Chad Henne, $1.5 million

Kansas City: Alex Smith, $7.5 million

Miami: Ryan Tannehill, $570,000

Minnesota: Mat Cassel, $2.65 million

New England: Tom Brady, $2 million (plus $15 million in "signing" bonus payments)

New Orleans, Drew Brees, $10.7 million

NY Giants: Eli Manning, $15.1 million

NY Jets: Geno Smith, $633,164

Oakland: Matt Schaub, $4.5 million

Philadelphia: Nick Foles, $615,000

Pittsburgh: Ben Roethlisberger, $12.1 million

San Diego: Philip Rivers, $13.8 million

San Francisco: Colin Kaepernick, $645,000

Seattle: Russell Wilson, $662,434

St. Louis: Shaun Hill, $1.75 million with another $500,000 through incentives. (Sam Bradford will make $14 million)

Tampa Bay: Josh McCown, $3.7 million

Tennessee: Jake Locker, $2.09 million

Washington: Robert Griffin III, $2.3 million

5. BULLDOG CORNER: Here’s a little update on the 5 UGA rookies in NFL camps.

TE Arthur Lynch (155TH OVERALL), Miami Dolphins – He received a $185,000 signing bonus, but has been hurt most of training camp with a back injury. He appears headed for injured reserved.

QB Aaron Murray (163 OVERALL) Kansas City Chiefs  -- Murray has completed 5 of 10 passes (50 percent) for 81 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He has a quarterback rating of 71.3 and is playing behind Alex Smith, Chase Daniels and Tyler Bray.

OG Chris Burnette (Miami Dolphins) – He was released on Aug. 23.

DL Garrison Smith (Miami Dolphins) – Here’s a link to a story on Smith's visit to the Georgia Dome with the Dolphins.

WR Rantavious Wooten (Miami Dolphins) – He was cut by the Dolphins on Aug. 3.

6. YELLOW JACKET CORNER: Here’s a little update on the Yellow Jackets in NFL camps.

LB Jeremiah Attaochu San Diego – He was shining early in camp.’s Gil Brandt raved about him after his visit to their camp.

DB Jemea Thomas New England – He has missed time at camp with an undisclosed injury.

DE Brandon Watts, Minnesota – He’s listed as the second-team weakside linebacker behind Chad Greenway.

DE Euclid Cummings, Tampa Bay – He was waived by Tampa Bay on the cutdown to 75 players.

DE Emmanuel Dieke, New York Giants – He was waived/injured on the cutdown to 75 players.

CB Louis Young, Denver Broncos – He’s made it to the final cut. Had a strong start to camp.


7. 70 PERCENT COMPLETION PERCENTAGE: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed a whopping 78.3 percent of his passes against Tennessee in the third exhibition game.

Ryan was 18 of 23 for 224 yards and two touchdowns.

Ryan has completed 75 percent or more of his passes 15 times in his six seasons, including four games with a completion percentage of 80-or-better.

He believes a 75 percent completion percentage may be the new standard for quarterbacks.

“I don’t think there is any limit,” Ryan said. “I think that everybody has to be of the mindset when you’re playing at this level that you can complete every pass that you throw.”

Ryan believes that film review and a good set of wide receivers make such a high completion percentage possible.

“One of the things that we’ve talked about as we’ve watched the film for the past couple of years, we always have three or four plays a game where we feel like we could be a little bit better in those situations,” Ryan said. “I feel if we can do that, have three, four or five more completions a game, you can get that number up over 70. I think that’s a good place for us to start.”

8. REAL TALK WITH MIKE TICE: Here's our interview with new offensive line coach Mike

Tice interview that conducted by Chris Vivlamore and Jeff Schultz.

Plain and simple. If the line doesn't block, the Falcons aren't going anywhere in 2014.

Q: What is your perspective on the switch of Jake (Matthews) to left tackle and in layman’s terms what might be different for him?

TICE: Fortunately for him and us he has played both sides. Some say when you look at his college tape he was better on the right side, some say he was better on the left side. I think athletically and technique-wise because he’s so sound with his feet and so in balance all the time, I don’t think the footwork stuff will be a transition for him. …

I think the biggest transition seriously will be the mental part of changing plays on the line of scrimmage and having to flop that in his brain. I think that will take a week or so where it’s smooth for him. He is a student of the game. He studies football so he understands why we are doing things.  I think it will be a seamless transition.

Q: How about the role for Lamar (Holmes) and the role he’s going to play on the right side?

TICE: Lamar has played better in the games than he has practiced at times - which I guess is encouraging and discouraging. We are hoping that he can take the next step to becoming more consistent. You take Ryan Schraeder, a young guy who has played both sides for us, it tends to be a little easier for him to make the transition flip-flopping. He is a pretty good athlete. With Gabe Carimi coming back sooner than later, I think that will be a pretty good battle.

Q: How unsettling is that a few weeks before the season not really knowing?


TICE: Things happen for a reason. We drafted Jake to be the eventual left tackle later than sooner. Sam was having his best camp from what I’ve heard from people. He was having a very solid camp. We were tweaking some things in his game. We’ve got Jake over there where he was eventually going to end up. So that’s not too unsettling. I think the unsettling thing is with a three-way competition of the right tackle position and one of the guys isn’t practicing. I think more than anything the Carimi injury has me unsettled because I’d like to see the three guys take equal snaps the last two weeks and get some good work with Jake and Jon on stunts. Jake and Jon were picking up stunts real well and now all of a sudden you’ve got new people. That is the biggest problem.

You always want to make sure you start everything you are doing with matchups. Whether they are for you or against you, you want to make sure you are protecting the guys who might have a long day the best you can. You can’t always. They have to go out and earn their money sometimes and be one-on-one. Then you want to take advantage of the matchups you do have in your favor. That is part of your O-line play too.

Q: One of your players said when OTAs started rather than show them clips of last year, you basically brought Bears clips. Forget what you’ve done before, this is what we want to do. Was there a reason you did it that way?

TICE: I’m teaching some different techniques and showing examples of how they were doing it and saying ‘Ok, but we aren’t going to do it this way, we are going to do it like this’ and having them close their eyes and envision it, I don’t think is as good of a teaching tool than you show them the way I want it done. Then they can emulate that and try to copy that because that is what we want them to do. We wanted to change some of the ways we were doing things.

Q: What coach had the most influence on you?

TICE: I’ve had a lot of great teachers in my life.  I’ve been very blessed. Chuck Knox has been a great teacher for me and O-line coach. Joe Bugle from my little stint with the Redskins. Brian Billick as far as organization. Denny Green as far as breaking down defenses. I even go back to my high school coach who taught me how to work and work ethic and how to be a student of the game – Coach O’Leary, George O’Leary. You guys had him down here at Georgia Tech.

Q: He was your high school coach?

TICE: Central Islip, New York. That’s where it all started. He is a pleasant sort, huh? It started with George and I was also blessed to have a great college coach in Jerry Clayborne (sp) who has passed. A college Hall of Famer, tough guy, fundamentalist, fundamentally sound. I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a lot of great coaches. I played for Jim Hannifan (sp). My first O-line coach was, we didn’t have tight end coaches in the early 80s, I spent half my time with Howard Mudd, who was a great line coach, and the other half of my time with Jerry Rome, who was running up for the Heisman Trophy. I’ve been around a lot of great college. But the number one guy, to answer your question, is Chuck Knox.

Q: Offensive line coaches a lot of time tend to be screamers. How do you balance that between screaming and berating a guy and teaching a guy and explaining why and how at this level?

TICE: I used to be a screamer. I would scream every play. Denny Green pulled me aside and said if you don’t stop screaming every play they are going to shut you out. I tried to pick my spots. Now, the only time when I scream, possibly, is when a guy makes the same mistake multiple times. That either tells me he is not paying attention or he doesn’t give a shit. That is normally when I find myself screaming. I try not to scream anymore. You are better off talking to them. Sometimes, though, they are feeling sorry for themselves and you need to scream to light a fire under their ass. You tend to try to pick your spots. When I was younger, I scream after every play but that was probably stupid too.

Q: Notwithstanding Sam’s injury, do you think you are better off now than when you first got this group?

TICE: I think the guys have worked really hard and they’ve tried to buy into the techniques. I think we are better because they worked it. Players win. Coaches don’t win. At the end of the day, they have to go out and do all the blocking. I’ve had my time with the helmet on. I don’t play anymore. They have to play. Pass protection has been much improved. Run game is coming along. I like where they are at. I like the group. They’ve done a good job. The thing that has been most pleasing is the lack of mental errors. It shows me they are giving their football time, they are studying and they understand what we are trying to accomplish. When I see the minimized mental errors that, to me, is the best tribute to them as far as students of the game.

Q; What is the biggest lingering concern?

TICE: I think the biggest concern right now, with the injury to Sam, there goes our veteran depth. Because you had Carimi, who has been a starter. The ankle sprain is an ankle sprain but he’s had a serious knee injury. Veteran depth I was feeling good about but now we are back to being really young with our depth. That’s probably our biggest concern if we had another injury early.

Q: Do you get a sense today if you will be better at run blocking or pass blocking?

TICE: We have to be better at pass blocking. That is what I’ve told the guys and they have bought into it. We’ve been pretty solid. Even in the game the other day the pass protection didn’t fall apart until the fourth quarter. The rims and the shiny car and the fancy tinted windows were out of the game by then. We are the engine and the car is those other guys. So by the time we had the bad stuff fortunately for us the fancy wheels and rims and paint job and stripes and freaking tinted windows were gone. But we didn’t fare well in the second part of that fourth quarter protection-wise but up until that point I thought the protection was pretty solid. It’s been solid all camp. In fact our best periods have been the blitz periods.

Q:Run blocking?

TICE: Run blocking takes time. We have a lot of different schemes in. We are trying to figure out what we do best. We are practicing against a team that blitzes heavy. We haven’t played any real over teams yet so that is tough. You are playing a team like Houston and you aren’t really going to have any explosives. But we had a lot of seven-yarders. We were extremely efficient running the football in the first half in the range of 60 percent plus. If you are efficient in the running game that is going to help. The problem is if you are not explosive you have to make it on third down. We didn’t make it on third down. That’s what sucks. You want to be efficient running the ball but you want to be explosive too until late in the game. That defense, they aren’t going to give up explosives. That system they have, that New England, Bill Parcells 3-4 defensive system. They don’t give up big plays so you have to be patient.

Q: How good does Clowney look?

TICE: Oh, he’s a freak. I need one of those for Christmas. The other guy, I’m very familiar with because he’s friends of the family in Wisconsin. J.J. We were lucky he didn’t play. We fared better the second practice against them. I was happy how we settled down. The first practice, he took turns whipping our ass.

Q: A couple of guys talked about the communication between the tackle and the guard and how a lot of it is non-verbal before a play …

TICE: I don’t like line calls. Line calls are for guys who don’t know football. I think if you understand why we are making a particular call and then we need to be on the same page. If we know how we are blocking a certain look, we don’t need to make a line call. That’s always been my thing. One of the first things I try to do is limit the number of line calls as I can limit and try to teach football and understand, based on the safeties who is spiking, so now they can cheat their steps and their footwork and favor the inside, favor the outside. Understand if it’s a coverage down and they look up and it’s two-depth, there are going to be running gains because they have to stop the draw. The only way to stop the draw is run gains. They have to learn football. That is what we are trying to teach them. Football, not just you block him. We need to learn football. And the centers need to learn coverage. And so once we teach them that they can be better players. They can play faster. They can play more aggressively. They are not guessing. That’s how you teach and if you teach it that way, starting with your centers learning coverage, now there is communication. And the centers are smart. We have smart centers, all three of them. They are able to understand coverage and rotation. They know where the potential problems are coming from. They can change calls. That’s what we are trying to teach. Then they can play faster.

9. HARD KNOCK LIFE: The final episode is set to air next week.

The crew will work through the weekend and they'll get to go home for Labor Day.

One thing that was striking from episode four was that head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff personally talk to the players before they are released. Quarterback Jeff Matthews didn't take his cut well. However, he might have a chance to be recalled to the practice squad.

Here's the Mike Check on the fourth episode.


Matt Ryan, Julio Jones shine for Falcons against Titans

Coach praises Schrader for sticking up for Ryan

Falcons Southward leaves game with possible head injury

Falcons rookie LB Jacques Smith ejected from the gam e

PHOTO GALLERY: Titans vs. Falcons

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About the Author

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