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Hard Knocks Episode 2 Recap – Big Balls

August 13th, 2014 2 comments

Hard KnocksAs I did a week ago, I’m here for you folks that either missed last night’s episode of Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons, or those that saw it and just want to read my take on it.

The second episode opened showing the team’s release of fullback Roosevelt Nix and players’ reactions to it. That was followed up by showing general manager Thomas Dimitroff riding his bike with Lance Armstrong. At least as far as I’m concerned, while TD’s bike-riding may be interesting to outsiders, it may be the dullest aspect of his personality. How and why people find a 47-year old man riding a bike and palling around with Lance Armstrong to compelling television is beyond me.

But anyway, the show then began to showcase several of the Falcons 2014 draft class, including Ra’Shede Hageman getting some tough love and hard-coaching from Bryan Cox. We got to see the Falcons work against the Tennessee Titans in their scrimmage from last week and were privy to the mixed messages that Mike Smith seems to be sending to the team about fighting. Although in this instance, it seemed more clear that Smith was okay with his players fighting other team’s players versus teammates.

We got to see how some of the rookies spent their off days from camp practice. Hageman and Marquis Spruill swam with a giant whale shark at the aquarium, while Ricardo Allen and his girlfriend went zip-lining. We also were witness to Spruill’s unfortunate knee injury from last week. Aside from Spruill’s injury, I enjoyed these parts the most since we got to see the rookies as human beings blowing off a little steam away from the practice field.

The show closed showing some of the highlights from the Falcons preseason win over the Miami Dolphins last week. Bryan Cox closed out the show in fine fashion with a cigar smoke-laden conversation with outside linebackers coach Mark Collins, discussing some of the Falcons players but more importantly Cox’s examination of the darkness of men’s hearts.

Next week’s show promised a preview of the battle for backup quarterback, with undrafted rookie Jeff Mathews’ arm likely being featured.

Other highlights of the show:

  • A Sean Weatherspoon cameo that also showed his mentoring of Prince Shembo, who looks hungry enough to have Joplo Bartu looking over his shoulder.
  • Cuteness overload with Tyler Starr’s son. Although, a tip to Tyler, teach your son to run with proper form. Apparently, athleticism skips a generation.
  • How Ricardo Allen earned the nickname that headlines this recap.
  • William Moore and Roddy White’s perpetual war of trash-talking.

Atlanta Falcons Takeaways From Last Week – May 19, 2014

May 19th, 2014 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Matthews

I really like the Jake Matthews pick.

I’m optimistic that he’s going to be one of those foundation players for the Atlanta Falcons offense for years to come. The team’s offense will be known primarily by quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones and Matthews.

The Falcons are going to need Matthews to hit the ground running as far as his transition to the NFL goes. There is a leadership void in regards to their offensive line thanks to the recent departures of center Todd McClure and offensive tackle Tyson Clabo, and Matthews will be counted upon to fill some of that void in the coming years.

And whether or not he can fill that void will depend on him playing well, and doing so relatively soon.

I have a great deal of optimism that Matthews will be a Falcon for a very long time, assuming he can stay healthy, similar to McClure, who played 14 years with the team.

Like Other Quality Tackles, Matthews Could Fly Under Radar

As I said in my scouting report of Matthews, I’m not convinced he’ll be one of the premier offensive tackles in the league but I do believe he’ll settle himself to become one of the better ones.

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Falcons Promote Collins to Outside Linebackers Coach

March 10th, 2014 Comments off

Picking up on the previous report that the Atlanta Falcons had hired a brand new defensive assistant in Andrew Thacker, Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reports that the team is promoting current defensive assistant Mark Collins to outside linebackers coach.

Collins first joined the Falcons in 2010, spending the bulk of his time assisting defensive line coach Ray Hamilton. Prior to his time in Atlanta, Collins spent several years as an assistant at various colleges. He worked under Falcons previous defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder at Georgia Southern in 2006. He spent two years following that as a graduate assistant at Georgia, before coaching safeties at Louisiana-Monroe. He was then hired by The Citadel as that team’s defensive coordinator before changing his mind and joining the Falcons.

Collins’ past has seen him working with several different elements of defenses, having spent time coaching linebackers, defensive linemen, safeties and special teams during his decade of coaching in the college ranks. Collins went to East Tennessee State and upon graduation in 1999 began his coaching career as a defensive assistant.

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Falcons Hire Defensive Assistant

March 8th, 2014 Comments off

Jason Munz of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports that the Atlanta Falcons have hired former Southern Mississippi assistant coach Andrew Thacker as a defensive assistant.

Thacker spent one season on the Golden Eagles staff after three seasons as a graduate assistant at Oklahoma State. There he worked with the team’s linebackers. He also spent two years as a graduate assistatnt at Central Florida following his playing career as a safety at Furman.

During his time at Furman, Thacker earned All-Southern Conference Academic Honor Roll all four seasons. He finished his career with 43 starts at both free and strong safety, tallying 254 career tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, four interceptions, eight passes broken up, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and a blocked kick. He also ran track at Furman as a member of the school’s 4×100 meter relay team.

Thacker, 28, is a native of Cumming, GA.

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Falcons Add OL Coach Harman to Staff

February 7th, 2014 Comments off

Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Atlanta Falcons have hired Wade Harman, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, to their coaching staff as the assistant offensive line coach. At the end of the 2013 regular season the Falcons fired both offensive line coaches in Pat Hill and Paul Dunn, and hired Mike Tice to coach the unit.

Harman previously served as the Ravens tight end coach for the past 15 years, being an original hire of former Ravens head coach Brian Billick in 1999 alongside current Falcons head coach Mike Smith. During his tenure in Baltimore, Harman coached the likes of Shannon Sharpe, Todd Heap, and Dennis Pitta. Prior to joining the Ravens, Harman worked with Tice as a coaching assistant coach with the Minnesota Vikings (1997-98). Before his stint in Minnesota, Harman was an assistant coach on the college level for a decade. He got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant with his alma mater Utah State in 1987. Harman played linebacker at Utah State after starting his college playing career at Drake.

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Falcons Announce Extensions for McKay, Dimitroff, and Smith

January 27th, 2014 1 comment

The Atlanta Falcons today announced that they have reached contract extensions with the three principal figures within the organization: team president Rich McKay, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith. McKay’s deal adds four years to his contract, while both Dimitroff and Smith add another year to their deals. McKay’s deal now runs through 2019 while the latter two are signed through 2015.

McKay last received an extension at the end of the 2009 season. He joined the Falcons in 2003 as the team’s general manager but was relieved of those duties following the team’s disastrous 2007 season. He was then replaced by Dimitroff, and assumed duties solely as team president. In those duties, he has been instrumental in the team’s attempts to build a new stadium, and his extension likely is indicative that owner Arthur Blank intends him to continue those duties through the construction of the stadium. Ground has yet to be broken on the stadium, which is projected to cost in excess of $1 billion, but it is expected to open in 2017.

Dimitroff and Smith appear joined at the hip, and Blank made comments earlier this month that indicate that expectations are for the team to get back on track and have a winning season and playoff berth after a disappointing 4-12 campaign by the Falcons in 2013. Both Dimitroff and Smith received contract extensions following the 2010 season, extending their deals through 2014.

Smith’s extension is pivotal as concerns over his lame duck status have been an underwritten subject this offseason.

Browns Hire Pettine; Koetter stays in Atlanta

January 23rd, 2014 Comments off

The Cleveland Browns announced today that they have hired Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as their new head coach, ending the possibility that Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter would take over that team. Koetter was said to have interviewed with the Browns this week for their vacant head coaching position. The hiring of Pettine fills all the vacancies for head coaching positions in the NFL, likely ending any potential turnover the Falcons could have on their coaching staff this year.

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Browns Now Looking at Dirk Koetter as Head Coach

January 21st, 2014 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Dirk Koetter

Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reports that Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will interview for the vacant head coaching position for the Cleveland Browns.

No timing on when the interview will occur, although it will likely occur within the next day or two. The Browns remain the only NFL team with a vacancy at head coach. Koetter was linked to the Browns a year ago for the same job before opting to sign an extension to stay on with the Falcons. That was followed by the subsequent hire of Rob Chudzinski by the Browns. Chudzinski was then fired after one season when the Browns finished 4-12 after beginning the 2013 season 3-2.

Browns officials are currently in Mobile, Alabama along with representatives from every NFL team to watch Senior Bowl practices. The Falcons are coaching the North team, and it makes sense that the Browns would take advantage of the access they gain from Koetter being there. Word of Koetter’s impending interview comes in the wake of news that Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase has withdrawn his name from the Browns’ search. The Browns are scheduled to interview Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine tonight in Mobile, according to reports. It is likely Koetter’s interview will occur shortly thereafter.

Koetter was a candidate this past fall for the head coaching job at Boise State University before the school opted to hire someone else. Koetter is finishing his second season as the Falcons offensive coordinator. Prior to joining the Falcons, he spent five seasons in the same role with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Prior to his time in Jacksonville, Koetter was a head coach on the college ranks for nine years where compiled records of 26-10 at Boise State and 40-34 at Arizona State.

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Takeaways from Divisional Playoff Round 2013

January 13th, 2014 Comments off
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

A player like Jadeveon Clowney could revitalize the entire Falcons team

If the Atlanta Falcons want to improve their chances of winning games in January, they must improve their defense.

Everyone knows the Falcons sport one of the better home-field advantages in the NFL today. The Falcons have the sixth best winning percentage of any team in the past six seasons (including postseason games) in their home stadium.

It’s then obviously to their advantage if they are able to get a top seed in the playoffs and be able to host opponents in the Georgia Dome come January. But what happens if adversity strikes as it did this past season, and the team is unable to rack up all those regular season wins to get a high seed?

And given an already tough NFC South might have gotten tougher with Lovie Smith becoming the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the chances have increased that the Falcons may have to “settle” for more wildcard playoff berths in future seasons. And thus defense becomes their best asset if the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome are no longer part of the equation.

History Shows Strong Link between Road Playoff Success and Defense

All one has to do is look over the past several years at teams that have managed to win multiple playoff games on the road and you see a commonality among them: good defense.

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Falcons Hire Cox to Improve Defensive Line

January 12th, 2014 Comments off

The Atlanta Falcons announced yesterday that they have hired Bryan Cox to become the team’s defensive line coach. Cox was approached earlier this week to interview for the vacant position due to the team dismissing former defensive line coach Ray Hamilton at the end of the 2013 season, after six seasons on the job.

Cox previously worked with Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan as a pass rush coach in Miami in 2011. Prior to that, Cox played under Nolan when he was the defensive coordinator of the New York Jets in 2000. The past two seasons since his stint with the Dolphins, Cox has served as the pass rush specialist coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Prior to his time in Miami, Cox worked under Eric Mangini as a defensive line coach with two separate organizations: New York Jets (2006-08),and Cleveland Browns (2009-10). Cox began coaching in 2006 after playing 12 seasons as a linebacker in the NFL from 1991-2002. He made the Pro Bowl three times and won a Super Bowl ring in 2001 with the New England Patriots, where he played under Mangini.

Under Cox, the Buccaneers saw improvement with their pass rush each year. Prior to his arrival, the Buccaneers were dead last in the NFL in sacks with 23. In 2012, that figure improved slightly to 27 but then jumped to 35 in 2013, ranking 23rd in the league. The Dolphins also saw minor improvement from 2010 to 2011, improving their sack total from 39 to 41. Cox’s arrival in Cleveland in 2009 coincided with a unit that improved from 17 sacks in 2008 (ranked 30th) to 40 sacks the following year for a ranking that tied them for eighth in the league. His final season in New York in 2008 also saw a top 10 ranking, where the Jets tallied 41 sacks on the season, good for seventh best in the NFL.

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