Falcons targeting Saints, Packers, and Panthers assistants for DC role

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With Dean Pees retiring for the third and likely final time, the Falcons are in the market for a defensive coordinator, and there is no shortage of high-quality candidates. Atlanta is leaving no stone unturned, targeting the top names. The team has already been denied an interview request with Broncos defensive coordinator Ejire Evero, but they’ll likely interview Brian Flores, who is primed to return to a DC role in 2023. The Falcons are also targeting Saints, Packers, and Panthers assistants for the position.

According to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, the Falcons have requested to interview Saints co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen.

The 43-year-old joined New Orleans as the defensive line coach in 2017, where his connection to Terry Fontenot derives. In 2021, Nielsen was promoted to assistant head coach, then again in 2022 to co-defensive coordinator. He’s highly regarded around the league.

Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith are also targeting Green Bay defensive passing game coordinator Jerry Gray, who has extensive experience working with Smith during the pair’s time in Washington and Tennessee.

Gray is about as experienced as any coach in the league. He began as a defensive quality control coach with the Oilers in the late ’90s and spent time with the Titans, Bills, Seahawks, and Vikings in defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator roles over 20+ years. Despite being well-versed in the NFL, the Packers defense was incredibly disappointing this season, given the wildly talented personnel. Now, it can’t all be put on Jerry Gray’s shoulders, but he deserves a share of the blame.

According to Mike Garafolo, the Falcons are interviewing Panthers interim defensive coordinator Al Holcomb as well.

The Panthers overachieved once Matt Rhule was fired, and it shows how great of coaches Steve Wilks and Holcomb are. The latter has spent more than a decade in the NFL as a run game coordinator, linebackers coach, defensive assistant, and defensive coordinator. Most recently, he’s spent time in Carolina and Cleveland, serving as the teams’ run game coordinators.

That marks more than a handful of potential defensive coordinator candidates for the Falcons. I imagine the list will get longer before it gets shorter. Atlanta is casting a wide net, as they should.
Photographer: Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire

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