The Falcons have a man on the inside during this Senior Bowl week. Quarterbacks coach Charles London is down in Mobile, Ala., coaching a prestigious college all-star game featuring top quality NFL Draft prospects.
He isn't a position coach, either. He's the American team offensive coordinator and will call the game on Saturday in what can be considered a win-win for London and the team he represents.
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The Falcons will get some inside dirt on coveted Senior Bowl prospects, which will aide their quest to find the right combination of talent and culture fit. London will have an opportunity to call plays in a game for the first time.
That's good for his squad, good for his career. That fact isn't lost on London, who is relishing the opportunity before him.
"We want it to look clean and precise and we want guys to execute well," London said last week in an interview with this website. "I'm going to have to think of the game in a different way. What hash is the ball on? How much time is left in the game? How many timeouts do we have?
"Those are all things I think about in games and you think you know how you'll handle situations, but you never really know until you're in it. I'll be in the situation on Feb. 4 and I'm looking forward to it. I'm sure I'll want a play call back or whatever. But you just don't know until you do it, so I think it'll be a great for my professional development to be the coordinator, to present an offense and do the installs and then go out there and call a game on Saturday."
This opportunity came about with a change in who coaches the Senior Bowl. The showcase used to be run by full NFL staffs, typically a team with a higher draft pick that also retained a head coach.
This is the first year a Senior Bowl staff comes from several different teams, with coach serving in a higher capacity than they normally do with their current employers. That allows position coaches to gain experience as coordinators and coordinators to be head coaches and so forth.
Head coach Arthur Smith nominated Charles London for this Senior Bowl and London was told recently that he'll have a grand opportunity ahead of him. He'll also serve two distinct parties in this weeklong enterprise.
He needs to create an offensive game plan simple enough for players to execute well enough to showcase their skills without much prep, yet provide enough substance to go out and win a football game.
He also has to keep his eye out for future Falcons. He'll put his scouting hat back on – he was a Philadelphia Eagles pro scout in 2010 – to make sure he's making mental notes on players who might be good culture fits.
He'll have plenty of evidence to parse through, with an inside look how at the Senior Bowl talent works and processes information.
"I should be able to see how attentive they are in meetings, how the operate in a walk-through and how much they can absorb and then execute," London said. "How does a guy practice? Does he finish his reps? How does he interact with his teammates? How does he respond to being coached and critiqued? Those are all little things you can't get by observing from the outside.
"I'll be taking good notes and I'll be ready to relay the information [GM Terry Fontenot], Arthur and [VP of player personnel Kyle Smith]. Hopefully we can make the best evaluation, and, in April, it pays off in the draft."
Smith's faith in London has paid off for the Falcons. The two shared a small office as lower-level assistants in Tennessee, where their friendship and professional respect for one another grew. Smith developed within Tennessee's system while London headed through the college ranks before two stops in the NFL as a running backs coach.
That makes sense, given that London admits to being a running back at heart. The sentiment tracks, considering he played the position for Duke and locally at Dunwoody High, then coached it for his college alma mater, Penn State, the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears.
His focus homed on running back responsibilities with or without the ball.
Not anymore. Not after Smith brought him to Atlanta with a new focus.
London's looking at the game from 30,000 feet as quarterbacks coach, working with a position group that's involved in everything offensively. It's an opportunity to see the game in a different light and evolve his offensive philosophy, which has happened over the last two seasons.
London has earned league wide respect in his current role, as evidenced by opportunities to become an offensive coordinator. He reportedly interviewed for an OC gig in Miami last year, and there has been reported interest in him from Tennessee and Washington this offseason.
London says he has learned so much from this Falcons opportunity, yet knows he'll continue to learn and develop as a coach with enhanced opportunities.
"A lot of my focus had been on the run game and protections and things that I felt would carry over to the quarterback room, particularly the protection part," London said. "I've always had ideas or concepts that I'd like to see or that may be successful. It has been a good experience. I was always a running back at heart, so I always wanted to run, run, run. Now I'm figuring out ways to throw the ball well. I've done a total 180 now. It has been good and has really expanded my knowledge of things and my understanding of football. This has been a good experience for me, and I couldn't ask for a better group of guys to work with these last two years."
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