Monthly Archives: June 2017

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — If the scheduling works out, Atlanta Falcons strong safety Keanu Neal plans to work out with mentor Kam Chancellor in Virginia before training camp begins.

However, Chancellor has some other business to attend to that’s a bit more important.

“That’s the plan, but he’s getting married,” Neal said of Chancellor. “So, we’ll see how that goes.”

Neal worked out with the Seattle Seahawks safety last year and those sessions obviously paid off. Neal came into the league carrying the same hard-hitting style that is Chancellor’s signature. Many folks said Neal would be the Chancellor of Dan Quinn’s defense, as Chancellor was an enforcer when Quinn was the defensive coordinator in Seattle. Neal finished his rookie season with 105 total tackles and five forced fumbles.

Chancellor certainly took note of Neal’s play, particularly after a fan posted a side-by-side video of one of Chancellor’s hits compared to one of Neal’s crushing blows.

“It’s cool, man,” Neal said of being acknowledged by Chancellor. “Great dude. That’s a guy that I looked up to and watched play from high school. He’s like a mentor to me.”

Quinn naturally supports Neal training with Chancellor. And Quinn continues to see a rise in Neal’s performance, including an emphasis on improving middle-of-the-field coverage.

“He plays so much down by the line of scrimmage that the 20 percent of the time that he’s back, he wanted to have that part of his range in order,” Quinn said of Neal. “What I saw from him this spring was increased speed. … He looks faster than he has been, and that’s usually when it shows up — in the middle of the field — because you have such a long way to go.”

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The Falcons’ running back corps might be a little bigger this season. According to CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco, who is out at minicamp this week, Tevin Coleman is 10 to 15 pounds heavier than he was last year.

Coleman suffered an ankle injury during Super Bowl LI, but it’s all healed up and he didn’t require surgery. It’s likely that Coleman is trying to add some quality weight.

His fellow running back Devonta Freeman is, also. Freeman told reporters during the team’s offseason training program that he’s was trying to come back this season “bigger, faster and stronger.”

“And also my eating … trying to change that,” Freeman said. “And just working. I feel like I haven’t even hit my prime yet. I’m a young running back in the league. I can get so much better.”

Freeman said he’d cut out the late-night meals and unhealthy snacks, but had actually gained weight.

“Actually, I gained weight, but It’s all muscle, so it’s good,” Freeman said.

I’m expecting that Coleman’s additional weight is the same thing. Dan Quinn brought in a new team nutritionist this offseason to help players be at their best, and adding some good weight has been a theme, between Freeman and also second-year linebacker Deion Jones.

Coleman and Freeman are already arguably the best running back tandem in the league. If they’re both bigger and stronger without compromising speed, that’s a good thing for the Falcons and not great for opposing defenses.

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When Falcons linebacker Deion Jones walked out of his massage on April 28 – which also happened to be Day 2 of the 2017 NFL Draft — he noticed his phone was buzzing off the hook.

The incoming call was from his former LSU teammate, Duke Riley.

Jones answered to Riley shouting, “I’m coming to Atlanta!”

And that he was, as the Falcons made Riley the No. 75 overall pick.

The two Louisiana natives have taken similar paths to the NFL. After growing up in the Westbank of suburban New Orleans, they both went on to star at LSU – at the same position, no less. Riley took over as the Tigers’ starting middle linebacker after Jones was drafted in the second round – 52nd overall – of the 2016 draft.

And much like he did in Baton Rouge, Jones is ready to continue mentoring Riley. And there’s plenty to work with. In his final season with the Tigers, the 6-foot, 227-pound Riley tallied 144 tackles – including nine for losses.

Jones and Riley have different strengths, but both possess what Dan Quinn is looking for most in his linebackers: Speed.

“I’d say there are definitely similarities because the size is similar,” Quinn said of the similarities between Jones and Riley. “Deion is a little smaller than Duke. I would say Deion is faster, but as we get into it we’ll find out what they both can do. We’ll be anxious to throw in this mix together. Our linebackers are going to be able to run. That showed today not just with him, but with the other guys that we added as well.”

Jones’ first message to Riley: Enjoy the moment, but get ready to go to work.

And Riley is in an enviable spot. He’ll not only be guided by one of his closest friends, but by one of the NFL’s best rookies in 2016. Jones led all rookies in tackles last season, even earning a spot in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Success didn’t happen right away for Jones, though. It took the 6-foot-1, 222-pound linebacker months to adjust to the game at the pro level – a lesson he’s ready to share with Riley.

Jones admitted the biggest challenge for him in his transition from college to professional football was the importance of establishing a personal routine.

“The biggest lesson I learned [in my rookie year] was finding a routine during the week,” Jones said. “Recovery, studying, all of that. Once you set that routine, it’s pretty much [about] keeping to it.”

Once Jones found his rhythm during the week, it immediately translated to his game day performance.

Following Atlanta’s bye week in Week 11, things really started to click for the 22-year-old. He found himself making calls at the defensive line without any hesitation and a louder, more confident voice.

Atlanta’s defense benefited exponentially from Jones’ elevated level of play as the season went on. Following the bye week, the Falcons went on to win five of their last six regular-season games, in large part due to their defensive performance. During that time span Jones recorded 44 of his 106 total tackles.

Also during those five wins, Quinn’s defense surrendered only 18.8 points per game.

Riley said he watched Jones closely last year, and the thought of getting to play with him again for the foreseeable future is a surreal feeling.

“I’m so excited just because I know how much respect Debo has for himself, his teammates and for the game,” Riley said. “Just to be next to a guy like that and knowing that I’m going to be with him again is the best feeling in the world man.”

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For the second consecutive year, Falcons running back Devonta Freeman has earned a spot on NFL Network’s Top 100 list, this time coming in at No. 41.

The Top 100 Players of 2017 is voted on by the players themselves.

Freeman rushed for 1,079 yards in 2016, marking back-to-back seasons with more than a 1,000 yards. He recorded 13 total touchdowns on the year, which was the fifth most among running backs.

The 25-yar-old played a key role in an offense that averaged 415.8 yards per game in 2016, a franchise record.

NFL Network profiled players ranked No.50-41 on Monday night, with Freeman being the first Falcon to be named to the list this year.

Freeman continues to climb the latter, earning his second Pro Bowl nod after his production in the 2016 season. Freeman was the No. 50 ranked player on the list in 2016 following his breakout year.

Atlanta’s running back is the fourth running back to be named to the list with Jay Ajayi (69) LeGarrette Blount (80) and Adrian Peterson (98) also making the cut.

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Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr., edged out Denver Broncos pass rusher Von Miller for the league lead in sacks last season. The friendly rivals are apparently getting together this summer for a conference designed to help them hone their crafts.

Miller invited Beasley to his San Francisco home for a “pass-rush summit” and Beasley appears to be all for it, according to ESPN’s Vaughn McClure.

“I love talking to young guys about the pass rush, the league,” Miller said, per McClure. “Vic, that’s one of my guys. We’ll get that done and it’ll be great.”

Beasley appears to have accepted the invite and seems excited to learn from Miller and others playing his position.

“Oh, it will help me out a lot,” Beasley said, according to McClure. “The attention that Von gets year in and year out is unbelievable. They respect him as a pass rusher, and I’m headed in that direction. So I can learn a lot from him in that case.”

Beasley better hope Miller doesn’t pick up too many tips. Beasley is the reigning sack champion after recording 15.5 takedowns last season. Miller wasn’t far behind with 13.5 sacks for the Broncos.

The Falcons and Broncos have mandatory mini-camp from June 13-15 before getting roughly a month off before training camp. The assumption would be for this summit to take place during that window.