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Roundtable: Immediate takeaways from interviews with Falcons positional coaches

The editorial team met the Falcons' positional coaches Thursday. Here are three things that stood out most from interviews.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – For as busy as Wednesday afternoon was with the Falcons introducing Zac Robinson and Jimmy Lake as their new offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively, Thursday was surprisingly just as busy. 

For the first time, the Falcons made a group of old and new position coaches available. As a refresher, here’s a look at Raheem Morris’ coaching staff as it continues to fill out.

Over the course of the next week, the editorial staff will break down every single conversation with each position coach, highlighting their hopes, goals and evaluations of the position they'll be coaching in 2024. So, be on the lookout for that. 

For the time being, though, Tori McElhaney, Terrin Waack and Amna Subhan look back at some of the most interesting notes they took during their chats with the Falcons position coaches from Thursday afternoon's availability. Here's what they took from the conversations:


Tori McElhaney: I spent a lot of my time with offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford during the offensive coaches availability. As has been previously announced, Ledford was one of a handful of coaches retained from last year's coaching staff to this year's. Ledford even got a new title, too: Along with his original offensive line coach title, he's also the Falcons run-game coordinator in 2024.

Something we spent quite a bit of time talking about was this idea of continuity and how it relates to the Falcons offensive line. The Falcons have the opportunity to return their entire starting offensive front – an offensive line that has played very well with each other for two seasons now. There's something to be said about that consistency. It's something that as I spoke with Ledford, I was struck by the strategic continuity Morris exhibited in his retention of certain assistant coaches. 

Ledford returns to coach the offensive line. Micheal Pitre returns to coach the running backs. Jerry Gray, the secondary. All units that have seen obvious improvements over the course of the last three seasons. It wasn't retention for retention sake; it was retention within position groups where continuity and consistent communication are most heavily seen. 

Examples? The longer the same five offensive linemen play together, the more in sync they are. The more a running back plays with said offensive line, the more feel they have for how the guys in front of them are creating holes for them. The safety position has morphed into the defensive quarterback in certain defenses. There was no one on defense in 2023 with more of an immediate impact than Jessie Bates III. And he would be the first to say he was able to make that impact because he trusted other members of the secondary to cover their specific spots, too. There's continuity in all of that.

So, by bringing back the coaches who helped establish that in Atlanta, Morris found a certain sense of strategy in retention of assistant coaches. It's a strategy based in the idea of continuity.

Atlanta Falcons tight ends coach Kevin Koger is interviewed by media during a press conference in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Thursday, February 15, 2024. (Photo by Amanda Valle/Atlanta Falcons)

Terrin Waack: The way Zac Robinson collectively spoke about tight end Kyle Pitts and running back Bijan Robinson sparked interest more so toward the former name than the latter. 

On Wednesday, Zac Robinson was asked about how he plans to use the two players in 2024, whether it'll be in a different or straightforward way from 2023. His answer left more to be desired, which isn't much of a surprise considering the coaching staff is still in the evaluation phase of the roster; a little too early to specifically be game planning. But the tidbit received was enough to start thinking ahead.  

"Certainly, I think (of) Kyle as a tight end and Bijan as a (running) back," Zac Robinson said. "Those guys are going to get their touches how they get their touches. That's part of the process we're putting together right now. I view those guys as versatile. But those guys can play just tight end, those guys can play just (running) back." 

Bijan Robinson was a rookie last season, so he's still learning and developing his identity. He was used in both the run and pass game, though, recording 976 yards rushing on 214 carries and 487 yards receiving on 58 catches. So, his versatility was definitely on display. 

Pitts, meanwhile, has completed his third season and mainly been used in the pass game. Last year, he had 667 yards receiving on 53 catches. 

The diversity with Pitts is different. Everyone knows about Pitts' talents as a pass catcher, but he can be an asset when it comes to blocking in the run game, too. And that potential, the Falcons' new tight ends coach, Kevin Koger, plans to tap into. 

"We're not oblivious to the fact of his skill sets, what he does bring to the team from a receiving standpoint, so there are a lot of things that you can do to be creative and use his skill set in the pass game," Koger said Thursday. "But with him and the way we're going to run the ball and the athleticism he does have, there are a lot of things he can do in the run game to help us out to win football games. 

"You'll see him all over the field, not just out wide but also in the box."

Atlanta Falcons assistant head coach of defense Jerry Gray is interviewed by media during a press conference in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Thursday, February 15, 2024. (Photo by Amanda Valle/Atlanta Falcons)

Amna Subhan: The Falcons have a whole lot of DB guys on their coaching staff. 

Head coach Raheem Morris. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake. Assistant head coach/defense Jerry Gray. Secondary coach Justin Hood. 

All of these coaches on the Falcons staff have extensive experience coaching defensive backs. Together they have 28 seasons of experience with a defensive back or secondary coaching title in the NFL.

"We won't be lacking in coaches back there," Hood said. "We'll tag team." 

After Lake watched film of the Falcons defense from the past season, the secondary stuck out to him.

"I texted Raheem, and I said these DBs are coached up," Lake said. "You can tell they know how to play technique, they know how to leverage the ball, they know how to attack the ball." 

Lake credited Gray, which excited Lake and Morris about the possibility of retaining the tenured assistant coach. 

That sentiment was mirrored by Gray. When Lake was still coaching at the University of Washington, Gray took special notice of Lake's secondary unit. 

"You can tell (Lake's) a defensive back guy," Gray said. "I really like his demeanor on the back end."

Not only have they bonded over each other's shared defensive-back camaraderie, but some have crossed paths in unexpected ways.

Gray and Hood crossed paths with the Green Bay Packers from 2021-22. Gray was the defensive backs/defensive passing game coordinator while Hood served as the defensive quality control coach. Hood said he jumped at the opportunity to work with Gray's "wealth of knowledge" again.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Lake and Morris dates back almost 20 years when both the coaches were interviewing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back coaching job. Ultimately, Morris got the position and Lake was named to the assistant job.

When Lake first met Morris the Falcons head coach told him, "I know you wanted this job, but we're gonna do this together."

Now, they'll all get that chance to do so this season in Atlanta.

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