NFC South: Bob Bratkowski

Around the NFC South

February, 14, 2012
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Let's take a look at the top headlines from around the division.

Tom Sorensen makes a compelling case for the Panthers to sign receiver Randy Moss, who says he wants to come out of retirement. As Sorensen points out, the Panthers have shown a little more flexibility lately in being willing to take chances on players with reputations (see Cam Newton and Jeremy Shockey) and there’s no doubt Moss has had some issues in his past. But Moss always had the ability to stretch the field and that’s something the Panthers could use to take coverage away from Steve Smith. But they also think third-year pro Brandon LaFell might be ready to blossom and David Gettis will be returning from an injury.

Speaking of compelling arguments and veteran receivers, John Manasso makes a pretty strong case that the Falcons should sign Hines Ward if, as is expected, he is released by the Pittsburgh Steelers. My first reaction was that the Falcons really don’t need to add a receiver who is about to turn 36. But Manasso points to Ward’s strong roots to the Atlanta area, his reputation as a locker-room leader and his experience as a winner. It’s tough to argue that the Falcons couldn’t use a few more players who have experience winning in the postseason.

Speaking of the Falcons and receivers, Atlanta reportedly has denied Jacksonville’s request to interview receivers coach Terry Robiskie for the same job. Former Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey is now Jacksonville’s head coach and he brought quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski along with him as offensive coordinator. Those were steps up and weren’t blocked by the Falcons, but this would have been a lateral move for Robiskie and the Falcons don’t want to lose him.

Roy Cummings writes that new Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan was noted for putting players through quirky drills when he was quarterbacks coach of the New York Giants. But the unconventional methods were used to get a conventional result -- sound decision making. That’s what Sullivan will be working to get out of quarterback Josh Freeman.
The Atlanta Falcons may stay within the organization when they fill their vacancy at quarterbacks coach. Glenn Thomas is a leading candidate for that role, D. Orlando Ledbetter reports.

It makes plenty of sense. Thomas, 34, has been an offensive quality-control coach for the Falcons since the arrival of coach Mike Smith in 2008. He obviously has to know quarterback Matt Ryan pretty well.

The Falcons lost quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski, who became the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville when former Atlanta coordinator Mike Mularkey became the Jaguars' head coach earlier in January.

Bratkowski spent only the 2011 season with the Falcons. He replaced Bill Musgrave, who had been Ryan’s quarterbacks coach in his first three seasons. Musgrave left after last season to become offensive coordinator in Minnesota.

Former Jacksonville coordinator Dirk Koetter has been hired as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator. Koetter obviously will bring some subtle changes to Atlanta’s offense. But promoting Thomas to quarterbacks coach could provide some familiarity and continuity for Ryan.

Smith is a coach who believes in loyalty and promoting Thomas would illustrate that. It’s also not a bad thing to start moving young coaches up the ladder.

The best example I can give you of that is Mike McCoy. I saw him join the Carolina Panthers as a quality-control assistant under George Seifert. McCoy later worked his way up to quarterbacks coach and he had a strong relationship, and a fair amount of success, with Jake Delhomme.

That success put McCoy on the radar for bigger things and he was hired as Denver’s offensive coordinator in 2009. He was reunited there with former Carolina coach John Fox in 2011 and McCoy largely was credited for the success of Denver quarterback Tim Tebow. That led to McCoy getting several interviews for jobs as a head coach this offseason.

Around the NFC South

January, 13, 2012
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Time for a look at Friday morning's top headlines around the NFC South.

Although there has been speculation that he could be moving on once his contract expires at the end of the season, New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said he is focused only on Saturday’s game with San Francisco.

Speaking of the New Orleans coaching staff, Jeff Duncan writes that offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael could be a candidate for a job as a head coach. Carmichael had been in the shadow of coach Sean Payton, who handled the play-calling duties. But Carmichael took over those duties after Payton broke his leg. The Saints fared well, and Payton has let Carmichael continue to call the plays.

It appears you can forget about the possibility of the Atlanta Falcons moving quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski to offensive coordinator to replace Mike Mularkey, who is now the head coach in Jacksonville. Bratkowski reportedly will join Mularkey’s Jacksonville staff as the offensive coordinator.

Speaking of the Falcons and coordinators, they’re also in the market for a defensive coordinator. D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that the top two candidates are Mike Nolan and Steve Spagnuolo.

The Federal Communications Commission is looking into its rules that have kept games blacked out on local television from being shown on cable or satellite television. This could be a step toward ending the NFL’s policy of blacking out games that aren’t sold out. The Buccaneers have had all but two of their home games blacked out locally the past two seasons.

Scott Fowler is wondering if Carolina quarterback Cam Newton had the best rookie season ever by an NFL player. He throws out a stellar list of guys who had great rookie seasons, and Newton definitely compares pretty well.
It looks like the Atlanta Falcons are aiming high in their search for an offensive coordinator.

They need to replace Mike Mularkey, who left to become Jacksonville’s head coach. The early list of candidates includes some pretty big names.

Reportedly, former Baltimore head coach Brian Billick, former Jacksonville coordinator Dirk Koetter, former Jets coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Green Bay quarterbacks coach Tom Clements are on the list.

Koetter and Billick each have deep ties to Atlanta coach Mike Smith. Koetter and Smith worked together in Jacksonville. Smith once was on Billick’s staff in Baltimore and the two are related through marriage

Atlanta quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski, who previously was a coordinator in Cincinnati, also could be a possibility.

Whatever direction the Falcons end up going in, they need to make some adjustments to their offense. Atlanta’s offense was very inconsistent in the 2011 season. There were times when Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and the passing game looked good and there were times when Michael Turner ran the ball well.

But the Falcons never truly were able to establish an offensive identity. Smith and whoever he hires as his new coordinator need to come up with a clear plan of exactly what kind of offense the Falcons want to have in the future.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have a new coach and the Atlanta Falcons are without an offensive coordinator.

Mike Mularkey reportedly has been hired as Jacksonville’s new coach. Mularkey had been the offensive coordinator since Mike Smith’s arrival in Atlanta in 2008.

The Falcons previously lost defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who left to take a position at Auburn.

We’ll see what Smith does as far as replacing both coordinators soon. But there’s an obvious candidate for the offensive job already on staff. That’s quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski, who was hired just about a year ago.

Bratkowski previously was Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator. Mularkey was up for several jobs as a head coach last year and a Falcons official said Smith hired Bratkowski so he would have a potential replacement for Mularkey already in place.

Mularkey may attempt to take some Atlanta assistants with him to Jacksonville.
The Atlanta Falcons are reaching into their past to solidify their situation at tight end.

The team just confirmed that it has agreed to terms with veteran tight end Reggie Kelly. Interestingly enough, Kelly began his career in Atlanta. He was drafted by the Falcons in the second round in 1999. He only stayed through 2002.

Backup tight end Justin Peelle injured his knee in the preseason opener and Kelly was a natural fit. That’s not due to his background in Atlanta. It has more to do with the fact that he was with Cincinnati from 2003 through last season. New Atlanta quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski previously was offensive coordinator for the Bengals during Kelly’s tenure.

In Cincinnati, Kelly developed a reputation as a very good blocking tight end. It’s unclear how serious Peelle’s injury is. But, if he’s out for a long period of time, the Falcons need someone to take Peelle’s role as a blocker.

Tony Gonzalez is the starting tight end, but is mostly a pass catcher. Kelly could step in and be an important part of the offense as a blocker.

A few other items of note from around the NFC South before I get back to work on writing Tampa Bay’s Camp Confidential feature that is scheduled to run Wednesday.

Mike Triplett has some contract details on some of the recent signings by the Saints.

Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis has been cleared to play in this week’s preseason game after missing the opener with an injury.

Former Carolina defensive end Tyler Brayton has landed with the Colts.

Camp Confidential: Falcons

August, 7, 2011
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Every morning since training camp started, Matt Ryan has walked into the quarterbacks room and seen the same two messages on the board.

They were written by quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski, who was not with the Falcons last year. But maybe an outsider’s point of view is what the Falcons need to take the next step in a process that’s seen them post winning records the past three regular seasons but fall flat when January rolls around and the playoffs start.

“It’s kind of those two things that, more so than anything else, are important to us,’’ Ryan said. “The one is 'The most important thing you bring to work every day is your attitude.' Great. The second thing is 'It’s not so much what happens to you, but how you respond to what happens to you that defines who you are.'"

What happened to the Falcons last year was that they cruised through the regular season. They went 13-3 and claimed the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

“And, then, bam, we just got shell-shocked in the playoffs," cornerback Dunta Robinson said.

The 48-21 loss to Green Bay in the Georgia Dome still weighs heavily on the Falcons. They’re not dwelling on it but are trying to use it for motivation and growth.

That’s why Bratkowski’s message about responding hits Ryan so hard. The Falcons have made big personnel moves, drafting receiver Julio Jones and signing free-agent defensive end Ray Edwards. They fit the profile of the “explosive’’ players coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff talked so much about in the offseason.

The physical pieces might be in place. But for the Falcons to take the next step -- winning some playoff games and maybe a Super Bowl -- they know they have to deal mentally with the lingering aftermath of the Green Bay loss.

“Sometimes, you have to make mistakes to kind of push you forward,’’ Ryan said. “We need to take what we learned from that game and apply it to this season so we can hopefully go deeper than we have before.’’

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeJulio Jones
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireThe addition of Julio Jones should open up opportunities for Atlanta's other playmakers.
1. How is the offense going to get more explosive? It’s not as though Smith and coordinator Mike Mularkey have torn up the playbook and drawn up a whole new one. They’ve done some things really well in the past, but they’ve made some personnel changes and some tweaks in philosophy in an effort to get more plays of 20 yards or more.

Ryan has the arm to throw downfield, but other than Roddy White, he didn’t have a deep threat last year. Jones’ presence should change that, and we’re not talking just about the explosive plays he will make. Having him should open things up for White and may allow the Falcons to sneak tight end Tony Gonzalez down the field more often. It also allows Harry Douglas to concentrate solely on playing the slot, a position where he can have the most impact.

With all that passing going on, defenses might not be as focused on the running game, which may allow Michael Turner and rookie Jacquizz Rodgers to break off some longer runs.

2. How much will Edwards help the defense? There’s a bit of a misconception out there that the Falcons expect Edwards to come in and suddenly put up 15 or 16 sacks. That’s not realistic for a guy who never put up more than 8.5 sacks while playing opposite Jared Allen in Minnesota. Edwards will be playing opposite veteran John Abraham, and it’s possible Edwards could get to double-digit sacks.

But the Falcons will be happy if Edwards simply can provide some balance in the pass rush. They’ve got a good interior pass-rusher in tackle Jonathan Babineaux and are hoping 2009 first-round pick Peria Jerry is finally healthy and can generate some push from the other tackle position. For too long, Atlanta’s been relying almost exclusively on Abraham for a pass rush.

Now, the Falcons think they’ve got four guys who can pressure quarterbacks. If that’s the case, you’re going to see more mistakes by offenses, and that’s going to mean more big plays for guys such as linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Curtis Lofton and cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Robinson. Edwards doesn’t have to come in and be a one-man show. He just needs to play a role, and that will make the entire defense better.

3. Does Ryan really have what it takes to win some playoff games and firmly establish himself as an elite quarterback? Absolutely. Ryan’s been very solid in each of his first three seasons. But the supporting cast always has been lacking in one way or another.

Now, all the tools are there, and the Falcons may turn Ryan loose more than ever. White’s made some comments about how the Falcons could be like the old St. Louis Rams when they were known as the “Greatest Show on Turf." That might be a bit of a stretch because the Falcons don’t have a running back quite like Marshall Faulk. But then again, they’ve got tons of talent, and that should allow Ryan to really shine.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

[+] EnlargePeria Jerry
AP Photo/Dave MartinPeria Jerry, a 2009 first-round pick, has looked sharp in camp so far.
After returning last season and playing a limited role as a backup, Jerry has been flying around the field in the early part of camp. The defensive tackle has shed the knee brace he wore all last year and appears to be playing with confidence. Rookie Corey Peters did well in a starting job last season, but he was simply a role player. If fully healthy, Jerry has the potential to be a dominant defensive tackle. The Falcons drafted him because he could get penetration against the run and also put pressure on the passer. If he really is healthy, Jerry can create negative plays by an offense and help produce turnovers.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Although the Falcons were happy when running back Jason Snelling agreed to a one-year deal Sunday morning, they're not happy he missed so much time from training camp. Snelling has been the top backup to Turner and the Falcons view him as an important part of their offense. They're making some tweaks to their system and Snelling will be well behind the rest of the running backs in terms of knowing the new parts of the offense. Snelling's absence also allowed Rodgers to get lots of work early in camp and the rookie has made a good impression. Snelling is a power runner like Turner and will remain the top backup in running situations. But Snelling used to be the top receiving threat out of the backfield. Rodgers could take that role away from him.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The biggest camp battle is at right guard, where former starter Harvey Dahl left for St. Louis in free agency. Garrett Reynolds has been getting most of the first-team work so far and appears to be the leading candidate to start. Second-year pro Mike Johnson also is in the mix. But one of the most pleasant surprises of camp so far has been seventh-round pick Andrew Jackson. He might not be quite ready to start, but he’s likely to make the team and could emerge as a key backup at guard and tackle in the short term and potentially could be a starter down the road.
  • The other key battle is for the nickelback position. The Falcons aren’t going to take the safe route and add a veteran later in the preseason. They’re set on letting Christopher Owens and Dominique Franks battle it out in camp and the preseason. The Falcons like both young players and are hoping the competition forces one of them to really step forward.
  • The most impressive of the undrafted rookie free agents so far has been cornerback Kamaal McIlwain. He’s small (5-foot-10 and 175 pounds) and comes from Newberry College. But he’s shown great athleticism and is displaying a knack for being around the ball. Those traits have worked out pretty well for the Falcons in the past (see Grimes).
  • A lot of people seem surprised that the Falcons didn’t do anything at tight end because Gonzalez is nearing the end of his career. But maybe the team knew what it was doing. Second-year pro Michael Palmer is having a very nice camp and is showing more pass-catching skills than he did as a rookie. His role could increase.
  • The Falcons are very pleased with what they’re seeing out of second-year wide receiver Kerry Meier, who missed his rookie year with an injury. The Falcons aren’t going slowly with Meier because he’s fully recovered. He’s taken part in every practice and he brings a lot of versatility. Meier is the reason the Falcons didn’t bring back Brian Finneran. They believe Meier can do all the things Finneran did as a big receiver -- mainly being a reliable blocker and a dependable possession receiver. But they also think Meier can do some other things, like line up as an H-back or even as a fullback or tight end at times. Heck, you could even see him throw some passes because he’s a former college quarterback.

Hitting the NFC South links

July, 26, 2011
7/26/11
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Let's do some speed reading to cover all sorts of ground on a variety of developments across the NFC South.

Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik didn’t flat out say free-agent linebacker Barrett Ruud is out of the picture. But he sure implied it when he started talking about the Bucs moving forward with rookie Mason Foster.

Can’t say this one’s a surprise. Matt Ryan was the first player to arrive at the Falcons’ complex Tuesday. He spoke with the media about how he’s looking forward to working with new quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski and rookie receiver Julio Jones.

Can’t say this one’s a surprise either. The Weather Channel ranked the 10 hottest venues for training camps. All four NFC South sites made the list.

Continuing with the theme of no surprises, quarterback Matt Moore said he doesn’t expect to be back with the Panthers.

The Saints reportedly have reached agreements with two more undrafted free agents, North Dakota State cornerback Josh Gatlin and Marian University offensive tackle Coy Beilby. The Saints also reportedly have agreed to deals with Nebraska offensive tackle Mike Smith and Belhaven wide receiver Kevin Dizer.

LSU kicker Josh Jasper said he has agreed to terms with the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who is coming off major knee surgery, said he passed his physical and expects to be 100 percent for the regular-season opener.

Best of NFL: NFC South teams

June, 30, 2011
6/30/11
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Best of NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

As part of Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the NFC South:

Best training camp venue, Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C.,: That’s where the Carolina Panthers train, and they’re the only division team right now that goes away for training camp. There’s been a league-wide trend of moving camps back to regular-season facilities. But if you’re going to go away, this might be the best setup in the NFL. Spartanburg isn’t all that picturesque or glamorous. But the Wofford campus is gorgeous, particularly the football facilities. In case you’ve forgotten, team owner Jerry Richardson played football for Wofford -- and later, the Baltimore Colts, before starting to make his fortune with his first Hardee’s restaurant in Spartanburg -- and he paid for those facilities.

[+] EnlargeKenny Chesney and Drew Brees
AP Photo/Tony TribbleKenny Chesney, pictured here with Drew Brees, has been known to show up at Saints practice.
Best coaching staff, Falcons: Coach Mike Smith’s going to be challenged a bit this year because the Falcons lost quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave to a coordinator job in Minnesota, but they’ve replaced him with Bob Bratkowski. The rest of the staff is a group of all-stars, highlighted by coordinators Mike Mularkey (offense) and Brian VanGorder (defense). Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau isn’t a household name, but he’s one of the best in the business. For the past three years, the Falcons have given Matt Ryan great protection without having a lot of big names up front.

Best celebrity fan, Kenny Chesney: He’s not just a fan of the New Orleans Saints, he played for them. Well, sort of. A few years back the Saints held a press conference to announce they were signing the country singer/wide receiver to a contract. They never really did, but it was coach Sean Payton’s way of having fun with one of his best friends. It’s not unusual to see Chesney around the Saints. Heck, he’s even gone out on the practice field and attempted to catch punts.

Best team facility, One Buccaneer Place: It’s referred to as “One Buccaneer Palace’’ by some, and it is a palace on the inside. Also, despite popular belief, it was not paid for with taxpayer money. The Glazer family paid for the facility. The lobby and team meeting room are awesome and the locker room is the nicest in the NFC South. Heck, even the media room is, by far, the nicest in the division. The Falcons’ facility gets a strong honorable mention. In some ways, it’s just as nice as Tampa Bay’s facility, but the media room doesn’t even come close.

Best meddling owner, Arthur Blank: He’s not the Cowboys' Jerry Jones or the Redskins' Daniel Snyder, but I think it’s accurate to say Blank is hands-on in a healthy way. You’ll see him on the sidelines at the end of games, and he sits in on Smith’s postgame press conferences, which is pretty unusual for an owner. But I see Blank as more of a guy who cares passionately about his team and likes to keep a close eye on everything. He lets his people do their own thing, but he observes everything. Nothing wrong with that. After all, he owns the team.
We started the NFC South chat early Friday and, despite the lockout, you came up with all sorts of great questions. Let’s run through some of the highlights.
Rohil Prathap (Atlanta, Ga.): Hey Pat, what do you think are the falcons chances of bringing in Chad Ochocinco? Because ive been hearing alot of rumors that Bob Bratkowski wants to bring him in.

Pat Yasinskas: Bob Bratkowski's the QB coach. Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff make decisions. I know Bratkowski and Ochocinco have history, but Falcons don't have a need. They've got Roddy White, Julio Jones, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas, Eric Weems and Kerry Meier. They kind of let Roddy push the envelope a bit with the "diva receiver" personality, but Roddy doesn't have it as bad as most. You bring in Ochocinco and you could lead Roddy down a bad road and ruin what has been very good team chemistry. I don't see this one happening.

Doug (Charlotte, N.C.): Do you think Brandon Hogan can mature and become a shutdown corner for Carolina?

Pat Yasinskas: Understandably, people are questioning his background. But people might not know his whole story yet. Panthers did their homework on him and they obviously think he's a kid who can straighten things out. I'll try to shed more light on this one in the coming weeks.

Ryan (Wilmington N.C.): Pat, even if the lockout lingers..Cam is working hard with Weinke and Dorsey and learning the playbook already.. Do you really think the lockout will affect his chances to start that much?

Pat Yasinskas: You really think Weinke and Dorsey know the current Carolina playbook that well? I'm sure they can help him with some basics, but I think he needs at least a pretty-close-to-full training camp to be ready to start the opener.

Josh (Canada): Pat, if you were running a franchise, would you want to appear on Hard Knocks?

Pat Yasinskas: Depends, if I were the owner, the ticket people or the marketing people, I'd be all for it. If I was the coach, no way.

Jay (St. Pete, Fla.): Any word on Arrelious Benn? I really thought he was coming on strong opposite Mike Williams last year.

Pat Yasinskas: Yep, go back and read post on Rudy Carpenter from a couple days ago. Carpenter's been working out with Benn in California and says he's running well. Said they've also been working on helping Benn get a better grasp of the offense.

Here’s the entire transcript of the NFC South chat.

Hitting the NFC South links

May, 19, 2011
5/19/11
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Time for an evening look at the NFC South headlines.

Carolina linebacker Jon Beason scored a victory in court Thursday. A man had filed a civil suit for damages, saying Beason had hit him in a Charlotte nightclub. Beason countersued and won. He was awarded $1 in damages, which, at the moment puts him on the same pay scale as Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith.

Add the Denver Broncos to the list of teams to decline to be featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.’’ Not really surprising because Carolina fans know how Denver coach John Fox is about keeping his team out of the public eye. By the way, we already know the Tampa Bay Buccaneers declined “Hard Knocks.’’ I don’t think any of the other three NFC South teams are in the running. According to officials from each of those teams, they either are not interested in being featured or have not been approached by representatives of the show.

The speculation continues about Chad Ochocinco landing with the Atlanta Falcons. Most of the speculation seems to be centered on the fact Atlanta quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski used to be with Cincinnati and is close to Ochocinco. But I don’t see this one happening. The Falcons just drafted Julio Jones. They’ve already got a top receiver in Roddy White and have some other talent (Harry Douglas, Michael Jenkins, Eric Weems and Kerry Meier) at the position. Besides, Ochocinco has a strong dose of the diva personality that comes with many receivers. White has a touch of that, but the Falcons do a nice job of keeping him in check. Coach Mike Smith is a no-frills guy and I doubt there’d be any reason he would think it would be a good idea to put Ochocinco and White in the same locker room.

Once again, the agent for Tampa Bay rookie defensive end Da’Quan Bowers said his client will be ready for training camp. The agent also disputes reports about Bowers’ knee possibly limiting him to a very short career.
I still have lots of leftover stuff from the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans in March, so let’s grab onto another chunk of it right now.

The Atlanta Falcons have been very quiet this offseason. The lockout has kept them from making any transactions and their players haven’t been in any trouble (see Aqib Talib in Tampa Bay). Perhaps the biggest move so far in Atlanta has been the hiring of quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski.

Bill Musgrave had been in that position through Matt Ryan’s entire tenure in the league. Along with offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, Musgrave widely was credited with Ryan’s rapid development. But Musgrave left after this past season to become offensive coordinator in Minnesota.

The Falcons quickly went out and hired Bratkowski, who recently had been fired by Cincinnati after serving as offensive coordinator there from 2001 through last season. Bratkowski is the son of former University of Georgia quarterback Zeke Bratkowski, but that has nothing to do with why he got the job.

Much of Bratkowski’s time in Cincinnati was spent working with Carson Palmer, who had some good seasons, but also had his career interrupted by injury. Bratkowski’s offense with the Bengals was fairly similar to what the Falcons run and Ryan, like Palmer, is mostly a pocket passer.

Bratkowski also had stints as an assistant coach in Pittsburgh and Seattle, after starting his coaching career on the college level. He did a stint as Seattle’s offensive coordinator. At the owners meeting, I asked coach Mike Smith about the hiring of Bratkowski and he said he expects the transition to be very smooth.

“Bob has worked with a very successful quarterback in this league and is highly respected,’’ Smith said. “He’s been an offensive coordinator for a number of years and a number of teams. I feel Bob is going to be a very solid addition to our coaching staff. He has a very good background in the passing game. His teams through the years have always been able to throw the football. We’re excited about integrating Bob into our coaching staff and our offensive system.”

There’s a little more to this and Smith didn’t get into that, but I will. There had been some thinking around the Falcons that Mularkey could be moving on to a head-coaching job and Musgrave was viewed as his logical heir apparent as coordinator. Mularkey drew some interest this offseason, but only interviewed for one job. He could be a candidate for another job after next season and it’s wise for the Falcons to have a guy like Bratkowski already in place.

He’s experienced as a quarterbacks coach and can be fine in that job. But he also could step up and be a coordinator again if Mularkey moves on.

NFC South labor impact

March, 11, 2011
3/11/11
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NFC labor impact: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A team-by-team look at how a continued labor impasse and extended NFL freeze on transactions would affect the division:

New Orleans Saints: This team is probably in the best shape of any in the division to withstand a long labor impasse. You almost get the feeling quarterback Drew Brees could roll out of bed on a September morning and the entire offense would be in midseason form. This is a veteran team with continuity on the coaching staff and the roster. A lengthy impasse actually could give the Saints a big advantage on the rest of the division.

Still, this team could use some time on the practice field. Coordinator Gregg Williams needs to get his defense back to the all-out approach it used to produce constant turnovers in the 2009 Super Bowl season. The Saints are likely to have a couple of defensive draft picks that they will want to work into the rotation quickly.

Atlanta Falcons: This team is somewhat like the Saints because Matt Ryan is an established quarterback, most of the coaching staff has been together the last three seasons and there is a good core of players in their prime. However, quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave left to become offensive coordinator in Minnesota, and it would be nice if Ryan could spend some offseason time with replacement Bob Bratkowski.

Defensive tackle Peria Jerry and receiver Harry Douglas were two players who didn’t produce big results last season. The Falcons have said both were slowed by injuries suffered in the 2009 season and they’re hoping for bigger things from them in the future. Jerry and Douglas are two players who could really use offseason workouts to earn increased roles.

Carolina Panthers: An extended labor impasse probably would hurt the Panthers more than any other team in the division. They’ve got a new coach in Ron Rivera and a coaching staff filled with mostly new assistants. There is a completely different offense waiting to be installed by coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who doesn’t even know who his quarterback will be yet.

There’s a new defensive system to be installed, too. That makes every offseason workout incredibly valuable, and the Panthers are supposed to get an extra minicamp because they have a new coach. Even if the labor impasse is short, every missed workout is going to be a setback for the Panthers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They’ve got their quarterback, Josh Freeman, in place and the coaching staff remains largely intact. But the Bucs aren’t quite like the Falcons and Saints when it comes to experience. They were the league’s youngest team last season and could use the time together.

Part of the reason Freeman blossomed and the Bucs were a surprising 10-6 last season was that Freeman spent so much time in the team facility in the offseason. He established himself as a leader and earned the respect of his teammates. In a labor impasse, Freeman and the rest of the players can’t go near One Buccaneer Place. Freeman has pledged to lead workouts with the receivers at other sites. That’s good, but it won’t be the same as working under the watch of the coaching staff.

Falcons add depth to coaching staff

February, 13, 2011
2/13/11
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The Atlanta Falcons have a new quarterbacks coach. More importantly perhaps, they have a new backup offensive coordinator.

They reportedly have hired Bob Bratkowski as their quarterbacks coach. That’s an important role, and Bratkowski will take over helping with the continuing development of Matt Ryan. The job came open when Bill Musgrave, the only quarterbacks coach Ryan has played for in the NFL, left to become offensive coordinator in Minnesota.

Musgrave had been viewed as the heir apparent as offensive coordinator in Atlanta if coordinator Mike Mularkey moved on to a head-coaching job. But Musgrave got his chance to move up to a bigger role with the Vikings and the Falcons didn’t stand in the way -- even though they could have blocked the move because Musgrave remained under contract.

Mularkey interviewed for the coaching job in Cleveland shortly before Musgrave left, but did not get hired. There were some nervous moments in Atlanta in recent weeks when Mularkey interviewed for the top job with the Tennessee Titans. With Musgrave already gone, there were no real in-house candidates to take Mularkey’s place if he left for the Titans. That job ended up going to Mike Munchak, and Mularkey is staying with the Falcons.

But another strong season by the Falcons in 2011 could raise Mularkey’s stock even more, and he could get a top job after this season. That’s why coach Mike Smith made a good hire with Bratkowski. He’s worked with quarterbacks before, and is widely credited with the development of Carson Palmer in Cincinnati.

Bratkowski was Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator from 2001 to 2010. He also did a stint as Seattle’s offensive coordinator. His main job for now will be working with Ryan. But adding Bratkowski gives the Falcons an immediate option at offensive coordinator if Mularkey moves on in the future.

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