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. Camp Brotherhood goes West: Now, it has been three straight offseasons that the Falcons have gathered for a players-only camp.
This year, because of the birth of quarterback Matt Ryan’s twins and him doing his father duties, the camp was a little later and at a different venue.
The last two were in South Florida and held before the offseason program started. The latest one was held recently in California, with the players reporting for training camp on Wednesday.
Ryan was to work out with former Braves pitcher Tom House (1971-75) for the third consecutive offseason in California. That’s home to House and Adam Dedeaux’s firm, 3DQB, is listed as Golden West College in Huntington Beach.
After his major league career, House earned a PhD in sports/performance psychology. He’s become highly recognized arm specialist while coaching both professional pitchers and quarterbacks.
Some of the other clients include Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Jared Goff.
They used elite biomechanics training combined with motion analysis to help the quarterback. They boast of 40 years of in-game research and combine functional strength and conditioning, mechanics and motion analysis, mental and nutritional components to the training.
Before the team’s minicamp ended, Ryan discussed working out with the receivers and noted that Julio Jones would attend. He did, based on a picture from Calvin Ridley’s snapchat. Jones missed team offseason workouts in a contract dispute.
“It’s been really productive for us in the past,” Ryan said on June 13. “This timing will be really good too, closer to training camp. Where a lot of things we are working will carry over and we’ll be able to apply those things as we get into the season.”
In addition to Ridley, Jones and Ryan, tight ends Austin Hooper and Eric Saubert, wide receiver Justin Hardy, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Hall, Reggie Davis, rookie Russell Gage and assistant equipment manager Kenny Osuwah were in the photo.
With Jones skipping the offseason program and the mandatory minicamp, Sanu was in charge of the wide receiver room.
“Mohamed has been on the field for us and has done a great job of mentoring some of our younger wide receivers with how to run routes, when to expect the ball in certain positions and recognition of coverage,” Ryan said. “Justin Hardy, recovering from (shoulder surgery) this offseason, he’s kind of been like a coach on the field for us because he knows the system so well.”
2. Matthews’ improvement plan: The Falcons have been clear that defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and left tackle Jake Matthews are next up for contract extensions.
We chatted with Matthews before the break about his offseason and what he’d hope to improve upon.
“It’s kind of vague, but every year it’s the same mindset of going in and becoming a better overall player,” Matthews said. “It really starts with the work you put in over the offseason. Just trying to get into the playbook that much more to get an understanding of not just what you’re doing, but what everyone’s job is. Once you get to that level, you can settle things down and it will make you play much faster.”
The Falcons are putting in new wrinkles on offense, but what does that mean for the linemen? They just have to block, right?
“I wish it was that simple,” Matthews said. “There is a lot more to it.”
So, what should we expect?
“We definitely added a few more wrinkles,” Matthews said. “We are always trying to improve. We’ve got a lot of big-time players on this offense. So anytime we can add new things to get guys the ball out in space, that’s what we are going to try to do.”
3. Sputtering 2017 offense: Thoughts abound about why the offense sputtered so much last season, but the answer has been staring us all in the face.
It was the 30 dropped passes, which led the league.
When Jones returns, the spotlight will not only be on him, but on the entire receiving corps.
Here’s the drop count: Jones (seven), Sanu (six), Devonta Freeman (four), Tevin Coleman (three), tight end Austin Hooper (three), Taylor Gabriel (two), Hardy (two), Marvin Hall (two) and tight end Levine Toilolo (one).
The drops were staggering after the team had just 16, the third fewest in the league in 2016.
“We’ve got work to do in that area,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “It wasn’t just one player, and it wasn’t just one position.”
4. Fusco corner: We chatted with offensive guard Brandon Fusco before he departed for the break.
“Minicamp and OTAs went pretty well,” Fusco said. “Just getting used to the guys and listening to the calls. The scheme is all the same. Really just some terminology stuff and just getting use to everybody was the biggest thing for me and getting comfortable with everyone. I’m excited for camp coming up and we’ll take it from there.”
Fusco started for San Francisco last season and is expected to compete with Wes Schweitzer for the starting right guard spot.
“Just some terminology stuff is different from what I’ve been used to, but it’s not a big deal,” Fusco said. “I’ve been around this game for a long time. It all kind of mixes in. I’ll get it down and I’ll be ready to go.”
5. First impressions: Fusco started his career with Minnesota and was in San Francisco for one season. He noticed a few things different about the Falcons.
“This team really knows how to work,” Fusco said. “They are really serious about football. I haven’t seen one guy on this team since I’ve been here who hasn’t taken this thing serious. They are always doing extra work. Guys are always staying after practice. That’s what I noticed. The guys are always staying after practice working on something. I’ve never seen that personally on a team. It’s pretty cool and fulfilling. It’s exciting.”
6. The McClain file: Defensive tackle Terrell McClain was another newcomer that we had to catch up with before the team broke for the summer.
McClain played last season with Washington and was signed as a free agent.
He wanted to leave the younger players with a message.
“You can always better yourself,” said McClain, who was originally drafted by Carolina. “I like to tell the young guys during the time before training camp, those six weeks can make or break your season. You don’t want to go home and not keep training. You don’t want to get in shape in training camp. You want to be in shape before training camp. Training camp is only supposed to make yourself better.”
Like Fusco, McClain, who’s been on the Panthers, Redskins, Texans, Patriots and Cowboys, notices a difference in the Falcons.
“The bond is real,” McClain said. “The brotherhood that they preach here is really real. I like that. Everybody is cool with each other. Everybody comes out here to work and they all have a good time. Having fun and also putting in the work, a lot of people don’t know that can go hand-in-hand. I like how it is around here.”
7. Ito Smith vs. Brian Hill: After Brian Hill was drafted in the fifth round of 2017 draft out of Wyoming, he said he was the best running back in the draft.
Things didn’t work out with the Falcons and he was cut. He later signed with Cincinnati.
If Hill had made it, the Falcons wouldn’t have had to draft Ito Smith out of Southern Mississippi in the fourth round this season. Smith will get an opportunity to replace Terron Ward as the third running back.
Smith ran for 2,874 yards with 27 touchdowns over his final two seasons.
Some of the draft analysts believe the Falcons over-drafted Smith, who was projected to go in the seventh round by NFLDraftScout.com.
He’s similar to Hill, who was bigger and faster than Smith. Hill, at 6-foot-1, 219 pounds to Smith’s 5-9 and 195 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds to Smith’s 4.49 at the combine.
Hill also had better change-of-direction numbers in the three-cone drill, 7.03 to 7.22 seconds.
Smith had better explosion with a 37.5 inch vertical jump to Hill’s 34 inch jump and tested stronger than Hill with 22 lifts of 225 pounds to Hill’s 15.
8. Training camp prep: You’ve been off watching the World Cup and need to get ready for training camp? Well, you can get up to speed quickly with our 10-part position-by-position look at the Falcons 90-man roster.
9. Depth chart: Here’s the working depth chart. We’ll get he first “unofficial” one from the team before the exhibition season opener against the Jets on Aug. 10:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 18, Calvin Ridley, 14 Justin Hardy, 13 Reggie Davis, 86 Lamar Jordan, 16 Taj Williams
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 68 Austin Pasztor, 76 Daniel Brunskill
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 63 Ben Garland, 64 Sean Harlow, 75 Jamil Douglas
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 61 J.C. Hassenauer
RG 65 Brandon Fusco, 71 Wes Schweitzer, 62 Salesi Uhatafe
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 74 Ty Sambrailo, 77 Matt Gono
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 82 Logan Paulsen, 85 Eric Saubert, 89 Alex Gray, 80 Troy Mangen, 87 Jaeden Graham
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 17 Marvin Hall, 83 Russell Gage, 15 Christian Blake, 19 Dontez Byrd, 7 Devin Gray
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 9 Grayson Garrett, 6 Kurt Benkert
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 25 Ito Smith, 41 Terrence Magee, 32 Justin Crawford, 35 Malik Williams
FB 40 Daniel Marx, 43 Luke McNitt, 30 Ricky Ortiz
DE 98 Takk McKinley, 50 Brooks Reed, 79 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 96 Mackendy Cheridor
DT 99 Terrell McClain, 94 Deadrin Senat, 93 Garrison Smith,
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford, 92 Justin Zimmer, 99 Jon Cunningham
DE 44 Vic Beasley, 90 Derrick Shelby, 55 J’Terius Jones
WLB 42 Duke Riley, 54 Foyesade Oluokun
MLB 45 Deion Jones, 52 Emmanuel Ellerbe, 53 Emmanuel Smith
SLB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 56 Anthony Winbush, 49 Richard Jarvis
CB 23 Robert Alford, 20 Isaiah Oliver, 28 Justin Bethel, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 39 Deante Burton
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole, 35 Leon McFadden, 43 Chris Lammons
NB 34 Brian Poole, 27 Damontae Kazee, 42 Tyson Graham, 30 Joseph Putu
FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Damontae Kazee, 38 Marcelis Branch, 41 Jason Hall
SS 22 Keanu Neal, Ron Parker, 35 Secdrick Cooper
K 3 Matt Bryant, 1 David Marvin
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall, 30 Ito Smith
PR 14 Justin Hardy, 16 Reggie Davis
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher