New Atlanta coach Dan Quinn has roots all over the football landscape, so identifying what kind of team to expect is not as simple as saying the Falcons will be Seahawks South. Plus thoughts on the draft, including one QB to watch
It would be easy to say that the Falcons, after hiring former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as head coach, eventually will become a replica of Seattle’s smothering defense.
That’s not reality. Besides the obvious personnel differences (Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas aren’t walking through that door in Flowery Branch, Ga.), there’s the difference of experience when it comes to Quinn.
One of the reasons why I thought Quinn was a better head coach candidate than most is that he’s been around and sampled different defensive schemes and coaching styles.
As a young coach, Quinn spent most of his time under Joe Gardi at Hofstra. There, Quinn crossed paths with Raheem Morris, a close friend who was one of Quinn’s first hires with the Falcons. Morris is most comfortable with the Tampa 2 defense he used in nine years with the Buccaneers.
In the NFL, Quinn counts Steve Mariucci (49ers), Nick Saban (Dolphins), Eric Mangini (Jets) and Pete Carroll (Seahawks) as his major influences. Even though Quinn had the most success with the Seahawks, and Carroll taught him the most, the influence of the Bill Belichick tree should not be discounted and makes him a good fit to work with two former Patriots personnel lieutenants (Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli).
Saban and Mangini are direct Belichick descendants, and the defensive coordinator Quinn hired with the Falcons, Richard Smith, has been closely aligned with Saban—they worked together in Houston, and Smith was on Saban’s staff with Dolphins.
That’s not to say the Falcons will be the Patriots South (that’s already happening with the Texans). Far from it. The tenet the Belichick tree and Carroll share: fit your scheme to your talent. Quinn definitely subscribes to that.
“It goes back to getting to know our team the best. And then once we find unique stuff they have and how to feature them, then that will play a big part in the scheme,” Quinn said. “So I don't just want to say, ‘We're going to do exactly everything the same,’ because it's not the same so I want to make sure I get to know our own players as well as we can and try to feature the things they do best.”
One big hurdle in becoming like the Seahawks is the free safety position. Seattle didn’t become a top 10 unit until Thomas played at his All-Pro level in second season, 2011.
“Well, yeah, there's only one Earl so...” Quinn said, admitting the difficulty in finding another Thomas. “He's such a unique player. But I think the free safety position is a big one because you have to have the range to be able to play over the top on the deep balls to either side when you play a lot of three deep or man to man. And then I think one of the things that goes unspoken about Earl is his ability to tackle. He's a terrific tackler. So sometimes as a free safety, when the ball does break or get outside, he's the one that can eliminate it from becoming an explosive play. That position, pass rushers and the corners when you play a lot of middle field defense, those are the ones that are the most critical.”
And that’s the first problem with the Falcons transforming into the Seahawks: a big hole at free safety. As of now, Atlanta only has 2014 third-round pick Dezmen Southward at the position. It certainly will be a position the Falcons look to address in the draft, but the talent is underwhelming in this class.
On the other side of the ball, the focus will be on the Falcons’ offensive line, which has struggled mightily the past two seasons with play and injuries. The progress of left tackle Jake Matthews, the sixth overall pick last year, will be monitored closely. He’s returning from Lisfranc surgery.
“I can't wait to get started with these guys and a number of them have been banged up,” Quinn said. “They've had a great offseason in terms of the work and effort that they put in to get healthy. Jake's one that I'm particularly excited about. It’s going to be a challenge for all these guys. For us in terms of implementing the scheme, we're going to be a wide zone running football team, so it's important for the linemen to get in and get indoctrinated into the system.”
Quinn was named Falcons coach Feb. 2. This past Monday was the first time he could (voluntarily) have his players in the building, a span of 63 days. There’s much work to be done for a team that was 10-22 the past two seasons.
“It's challenging only because you want to get started so quickly but one nice part is it's the same for everybody,” Quinn said. “I would have loved to have gotten started already, no doubt about it.”
1. Falcons coach Dan Quinn was effusive in his praise of Kris Richard, who was promoted from defensive backs coach to replace Quinn as Seahawks’ defensive coordinator. “He doesn't get a lot of the credit that he deserves for the players he's had a huge impact on developing there,” Quinn said. “From Richard (Sherman) to Byron (Maxwell) to Kam (Chancellor), Earl (Thomas), Walter Thurmond, he's got a pretty big stable of guys. I think he's a really disciplined guy and it goes back to, ‘Hey, let's do the technique we do, let's not make things up.’ He tells the truth, he's honest. As a former player, that perspective has given him insight to the players that I wouldn't have been able to give as a guy who didn't play out at corner in the NFL. He's a very good teacher. I think he's really consistent with the guys. I think he’s got a huge future, I really do.”
2. Expect the name of Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion to be heard more as we get closer to the draft. Last year at this time a respected personnel executive told me, “If you need a quarterback, you take Mannion next year.” Mannion isn’t flashy and a limited athlete, but he’s big, strong, tough and doesn’t need much prep time to slide into a pro offense.
3. Fascinating study by Football Outsiders on the aggressiveness of coaches going for it on fourth down. Sean Payton was the most aggressive coach, with Chip Kelly coming in 27th. Lot of great tidbits in there, including Bill Belichick being most aggressive as a head coach with the Browns, not the Patriots. And check out the regression of former Falcons coach Mike Smith.
4. Mike Mayock caused an internet stir this week by moving Marcus Mariota ahead of Jameis Winston in his quarterback draft rankings. I don’t understand the outcry. Mayock is entitled to his opinion, and this is obviously a decision he’s been wrestling with for some time. If anything, it just goes to show how close the two players are. And if you’re not dead-set on having a dropback passer, they are close, especially when Winston’s off-field behavior is put into the equation (as it should be and will).
5. Congrats to Sarah Thomas on becoming the first full-time female official hired by the NFL. Football is not just for men. Hopefully this opens the door a little wider on women entering the coaching profession at some point. The NBA, which hired the first full-time female official, had Becky Hammon become the second female assistant coach (Lisa Boyer) this season.
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