FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes the initial impression of Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary as well as Dan Quinn working with Takk McKinley.
The Falcons doubled down on improving their offensive line in the first round of this year’s draft, selecting guard Chris Lindstrom at No. 14 and tackle Kaleb McGary at No. 31. Thus far, the two players are gelling both on the field and off the field, but it’s still way too early to tell what to make of Atlanta’s first-round rookies.
In a piece for ESPN, however, Vaughn McClure shared his thoughts on the impressions the Lindstrom and McGary have made in their first few moments on the field.
“It's too early to truly make a judgment on offensive linemen Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary, the Falcons' first-round draft picks,” McClure writes. “They are slowing [sic] getting worked in at right guard and right tackle, respectively. The real test will come when they put the pads on. Asked about his first impressions of his two new linemen, quarterback Matt Ryan said, ‘It's tough to tell when they're not in pads, but you can see by the way that they set, the way that they move off the ball, they're both athletic guys for as big as they are. They're into it. I really love how much that they like football.’”
To see how the rest of the league’s first-round picks are faring in their early NFL moments, click here.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
AJC: Quinn working on adding moves to McKinley’s pass rush
Falcons coach Dan Quinn is always looking for pass rushers, as he is fond of saying. But after not adding an established piece along the defensive line outside of Adrian Clayborn this offseason, Quinn, who has assumed defensive coordinator responsibilities, is betting on himself to help players like Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley improve. D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote about Quinn working with McKinley to add moves to his pass rush arsenal in a piece for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“His edge-setting and the way he runs stunts, he’s got this fantastic bull-rush and now we are adding the other part of rushes with his hands,” Quinn said after organized team activities. “I think when we complete that piece, we are going to have a really difficult player to deal with.”
To read Ledbetter’s piece on Quinn and McKinley, click here.
NFL.com: The greatest franchise QB for each NFC team
Statistically, Matt Ryan is the best quarterback the Falcons have ever had. He’s engineered the most successful run in franchise history, won the organization’s only NFL MVP Award and taken the Falcons to the Super Bowl.
That’s a pretty strong resume to be named the ultimate Falcons franchise quarterback, right? Of course it is, and NFL.com’s Ali Bhanpuri agrees with that assessment in a recent piece determining each NFC franchise’s greatest all-time passer.
“No offense to Steve Bartkowski, who had more seasons with 30-plus touchdowns (2) than I ever would've thought, but there's only one correct answer here,” Bhanpuri writes. “The organization rebounded surprisingly quickly from Michael Vick's suspension and imprisonment for his involvement in a dog-fighting operation, enduring only one losing season -- with Joey Harrington, Chris Redman and Byron Leftwich under center -- before selecting Matt Ryan with the third overall pick in 2008.
“Ryan has been everything the Falcons could've hoped for in a franchise QB. The 2016 MVP has the fifth-most touchdown passes (295) and third-most passing yards (46,720) since entering the NFL, and has led the Falcons to as many playoff appearances (six) in his 11 seasons as the team had produced in the previous 27. In May 2018, the team gave the veteran signal-caller 150 million reasons to stick around, so Falcons fans are in good hands for the foreseeable future.”
Ryan is coming off a season that was eerily similar to his MVP season in 2016. Last year, Ryan completed 69.4 percent of his passes for 4,924 yards with 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
To see who else Bhanpuri selected as the all-time franchise quarterbacks for each NFC team, click here.
The Ringer: The top players coming off of injury
After missing much or all of last season, there are a number of players who should be healthy for the Falcons in 2019. That’s the case for many teams around the league, as injuries are an unfortunate and inherent part of the game.
But which returning players could make the biggest impact? The Ringer’s Danny Kelly gave this question some thought in a recent piece, and while the Falcons have several candidates who could make this list, Kelly settled on running back Devonta Freeman.
“The Falcons run game took a step back in efficiency last year in large part because the team lost its starter, Freeman, to a groin injury after just two games,” Kelly writes. “The veteran runner, who was never really healthy even in the two games he played, carried the ball just 14 times for 68 yards and zero touchdowns before hitting the injured reserve. Now he’s healthy and “having fun,” and ready to get back to his role as a dynamic tackle-breaking creator on the ground. The Falcons will need him to do just that; with former backfield mate Tevin Coleman now in San Francisco, the team’s depth chart is thin (with second-year pro Ito Smith, third-year pro Brian Hill, and rookie Qadree Ollison providing support). Freeman should carry a heavy load.”
Freeman was injured in the team’s season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. He returned in Week 5 against the Steelers but suffered an ultimately season-ending injury in that same game.
To see the other returning players who made Kelly’s list, click here.
ESPN: Predicting storylines for all 32 teams
Rarely do offseason and preseason narratives stay with a team throughout the course of the regular season. Remember when Josh Rosen was the Cardinals’ future, when the Browns were (again) the NFL’s laughingstock and when Patrick Mahomes was a guy with a big arm who needed to prove himself?
Although things in the NFL rarely play out the conventional way – why do you think we all love sports so much? – it’s still interesting to think about the storylines for each team as we approach the 2019 season.
ESPN recently asked each of its NFL beat reporters to predict the storyline for the team they cover. Falcons beat writer Vaughn McClure thinks the question of the season for Atlanta will be – “Can the Falcons remain healthy and become contenders again?
“Linebacker De'Vondre Campbell tweeted, ‘I guess people seem to have forgotten how good we are when we're healthy lol. I can't wait till the season starts.’ The injury bug hit the Falcons hard last season, with Devonta Freeman, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco lost to season-ending injuries and star middle linebacker Deion Jones missing significant time,” McClure writes. “Freeman's return should positively impact an already-potent offense now coordinated by Dirk Koetter, while coach Dan Quinn will be thankful to have Neal and Allen back as he takes over the defensive playcalling.”
To see the other predicted storylines in the NFL, click here.
ESPN: Falcons hope Ryan-Koetter reunion sparks resurgence
By bringing in Dirk Koetter this offseason, the Falcons ensured they weren’t starting from scratch at offensive coordinator. Koetter, who was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator from 2012-14, has plenty of experience working with Matt Ryan, and that familiarity should help everyone get on the same page very quickly.
"I know more of the terminology because I've been around it for the last four years," Ryan told ESPN’s Vaughn McClure. "He's pretty smart. He's a really smart coach. He's well-versed. Having played against us a bunch as the head coach, he's well-versed in what we do, too. It might take him a second to remember what we call certain things, but he knows exactly what they are."
To read the rest of McClure’s piece on Ryan and Koetter reuniting, click here.
NFL.com: One key homegrown player for each NFC team
The Falcons have relied heavily on the draft to build their roster since Dan Quinn arrived as head coach. They’ve built the key part of their roster around homegrown players such as Matt Ryan, Deion Jones, Desmond Trufant and Austin Hooper. A number of drafted players will have to step up in 2019, but NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal believes second-year cornerback Isaiah Oliver may be the most important for Atlanta.
“On a relatively static roster that could have only one new defensive starter, Oliver stands out,” Rosenthal writes. “Coach Dan Quinn confirmed the 2018 second-round pick will start and expects him to take a "step up" in his second season after two starts and 240 snaps as a rookie. It wasn't so long ago the Falcons thought they were set at the position for years to come, with Robert Alford and Jalen Collins behind Desmond Trufant. Only Trufant remains of that trio, and Oliver is likely to be targeted early and often because of his lack of experience. In a pass-heavy, QB-dominant division, only the teams with the best cornerbacks survive.”