FILE - In this Sept. 1, 2016, file photo, Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn watches play against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half of a preseason NFL football game in Atlanta. Quinn says his team has grown closer since the front office red
John Bazemore, File
September 09, 2016

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn is always seeking ways to bring his players closer together.

During the offseason, he asked the front office to redesign the locker room, removing two long inner rows of lockers that divided the room and opening up the space so everyone can see the entire room.

Locker spots are now mixed by position and age. No longer are defensive backs in one area and quarterbacks in another. Quinn shuffled everyone around.

''I like it,'' said defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who sits next to fullback Patrick DiMarco. ''You see D-linemen all day, so it's nice to talk to someone different.''

Quinn said the change was necessary after the Falcons began last year 6-1 and finished 2-7 to miss the playoffs in his first season. Atlanta opens the season Sunday against Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

''It was honestly a way to bring the whole team together more,'' Quinn said Friday. ''We thought that would be important.''

Personal locker space shrunk - linebacker Sean Weatherspoon joked that everyone's ''riding coach now'' - but the wide areas allowed Quinn to put in a pingpong table, sofas, recliners and chairs.

''The seats aren't quite as big, but the view's pretty good,'' Quinn said Friday. ''You're still having fun with the guys, so that's a good way to look at it.''

Second-string quarterback Matt Schaub, back with the Falcons after spending his first three NFL seasons in Atlanta, likes the new layout. It's what he was accustomed to in Houston, where he spent seven seasons as a starter.

''When I was here (from 2004-06), you had to make it a point to go over to other areas and talk to guys,'' Schaub said. ''Even though you could be a tight-knit team, it's hard to have that in the locker room when you can't see everyone. This is where it's most important.''

Now that the roster has been pared to down to 53 active roster players and the 10-man practice squad, the loquacious Weatherspoon can sense different parts of the room taking on their own personalities.

''This is already an effervescent area over here,'' Weatherspoon said. ''That area over there is a little more reserved. It's louder over here. A lot of personality.''

Quinn positioned veteran leaders at the three high-traffic exits to other parts of the building.

All-Pro receiver Julio Jones and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, the longest tenured Falcon at 12 years, have lockers on either side of the hallway that leads to the equipment room and dining area.

Quarterback Matt Ryan, who sits next to new center Alex Mack, is right beside the door that leads to the weight room and practice fields. Kicker Matt Bryant, 41, is positioned near the hall that leads to meeting rooms.

''With those lockers right in the middle, it was hard to see guys on the other side of the locker room,'' Babineaux said. ''I used to be on the far end of the locker room. Now I'm in this corner. Tyson (Jackson), Julio, (Devonta) Freeman are all right here, and it's a brotherhood. We're all tight.''

Notes: Quinn said RB Tevin Coleman will split kickoff return duties with Weems. WR Justin Hardy will do the same on punt returns. ... Quinn added that Jones has fully recovered from a mild ankle sprain and will be 100 percent on Sunday. ... Third-string RB Terron Ward (ankle) and reserve S Dashon Goldson (hamstring) are both questionable.


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