FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Dean Pees gathers a select group of Falcons players every Wednesday for what the defensive coordinator calls the "signal callers meeting."
It's invite only.
Steven Means is in this weekly meeting of respected minds but wasn't willing to share how to gain admittance, certainly not with the cameras rolling and reporters all around.
"I can't really go into the secret codes of how you get in," the veteran edge rusher said with a smile.
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While Means had fun playing coy with this particular topic, the signal callers aren't a secret society. What goes on isn't all cloak-and-dagger.
Pees wouldn't have discussed it at the podium on Thursday if it was. He has conducted the meeting at every stop during his storied run as an NFL defensive coordinator. That includes his time in Baltimore, when the signal callers included Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.
Pees waited a few weeks before getting it started in Atlanta but it's up and running now, with one or two players from every position.
"It's that same meeting, and what you do is present them with the game plan," Pees said. "You watch them as you present it to them, explaining to them what we're going to do and what I'm thinking. You can get the feedback from them. They have their chance in a big setting where they can tell you, 'what do you think about this?' and you listen to them. You don't ignore them. You listen to what they have to say. You may do it or you may not do it but, if you don't do it, you explain why you don't.
"It's not like when you're a kid and your parent says, 'because I told you so.' I let them have input. It's their team."
Falcons veterans appreciate that meeting for several reasons. One is the open forum it provides to discuss a game plan and give those executing play calls a voice.
"He wanted us to be able to understand things and give that feedback if something doesn't feel right," Means said. "If you like something else more, you can say it. It's week-to-week. We have watched tape for two, sometimes three days prior to that meeting. When we get in there, we can discuss things. There are a lot of intricate conversations.
"…There have been times where we like something a little bit more, we send it upstairs and, if he likes it, sometimes he'll call it. That's the great thing about Dean. He really knows what is best for us. He knows what to implement and how to get us going with the best plays at the right time."
In addition to giving veterans a chance to provide feedback, it helps get Pees' message spread throughout the unit. If a player has a question about executing the game plan not brought it up in a full-squad defensive meeting, he can get detailed and accurate info from a peer in the know.
"It helps us from a leadership standpoint," defensive tackle and team captain Grady Jarrett said. "When you're on the same page with the coach and what he's looking for and how he wants it done schematically, or if he needs more from a group or specific guys, we meet and discuss it and address it as the week goes on."
Those in the meeting have found it a valuable exercise that improves the level of understanding that aids execution on game days.
"It's about laying the groundwork for the week, what he's thinking and why he's thinking it, but also having an open mind and open door to guys who feel a way about something," Jarrett said. "That's what he tells us. If we have a question or suggestion about something, or something we want to get done – it's a healthy dialogue."
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