Jeff Ulbrich

Jets DC Jeff Ulbrich To Call Defensive Plays

While Robert Saleh earned some rightful praise for his defensive schemes in San Francisco, he won’t be calling defensive plays as head coach of the New York Jets. Myles Simmons of ProFootballTalk.com writes that defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich will be handling defensive play-calling duties in 2021.

Saleh explained his logic during his introductory press conference (via Simmons):

“I’ve got the utmost respect and confidence in Jeff Ulbrich to be able to do that,” Saleh said. “This is an organization that has to work locked in arms and work together. And to ensure that the messaging and the way that we want things done all the way across the board is there and maintaining that connection throughout — whether it’s offense, defense, special teams, business of football — somehow, some way, everyone’s got to find their connection to the player with the mindset that we’re going to get these guys better every single day. And to be able to have that focus and ensure that the entire organization is moving in the direction that we want, I won’t be calling plays.”

Saleh could have certainly given himself those duties considering the success of the 49ers defense in recent years. After finishing with the NFL’s second-best DVOA in 2019, the coach played a big role in keeping the 49ers’ injury-ravaged defense afloat in 2020. San Francisco still finished the season fifth in total yards, seventh in rushing yards, and fourth in passing yards allowed.

While Saleh is clearly a defensive maestro, he’ll be putting his trust in Ulbrich to call defensive plays. Ulbrich started 2020 as the Falcons’ assistant head coach and linebackers coach. He was promoted to defensive coordinator following Dan Quinn‘s firing, and the Falcons showed improvement during the later stages of the season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets Hire Jeff Ulbrich As DC

The Jets have hired Jeff Ulbrich as their new defensive coordinator, per a club announcement. In addition, head coach Robert Saleh has appointed five new assistants to his staff.

Ulbrich started 2020 as the Falcons’ assistant head coach and linebackers coach. Then, when Dan Quinn was fired, he was promoted to defensive coordinator under interim HC Raheem Morris. The Falcons improved in the later months of the year, positioning Ulbrich for a step up.

Ulbrich was a third-round pick of the Niners back in 2000. He went on to enjoy a long career in SF, tallying 488 tackles through 2009. He’s been working as a coach ever since, including stops with the Seahawks and the UCLA Bruins. He’ll have his work cut out for him in New York, though the roster is something of a blank canvas. Armed with one of the top picks in this year’s draft, the Jets are prepared for a total reboot.

In addition to Ulbrich, the Jets have also appointed Aaron Whitecotton, Nate Ollie, Chip Vaughn, Ricky Manning Jr., and Hayes Pullard to jobs on Saleh’s staff.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Falcons Fire ST Coordinator Ben Kotwica

It’s been a busy day for the Falcons, and the changes keep coming. NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero reports (via Twitter) that Atlanta has fired special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica. Running backs coach Bernie Parmalee will take over the position.

[RELATED: Falcons Fire Dan Quinn, Thomas Dimitroff]

ESPN Vaughn McClure notes that Kotwica had been on the hot seat since the team’s Week 2 loss to Dallas. Late in that game, the Falcons’ special teams unit fell victim to the “watermelon” onside kick late. The Cowboys recovered the ball and proceeded to win on a game-winning field goal.

Kotwica, 45, joined the Falcons in 2019. He had spent the previous five seasons as the Redskins special teams coordinator, and he also held that role with the Jets in 2013. Parmalee, who spent nine years in the league as a player, has served as the Falcons running backs coach since 2018. McClure tweets that game management coordinator Will Harriger will be the new running backs coach.

Earlier today, we learned that the Falcons had replaced Dan Quinn with defensive coordinator Raheem Morris. McClure tweets that Jeff Ulbrich will now take over as defensive coordinator. The former third-round pick had served as the Falcons linebackers coach since 2015, and he had earned a promotion to assistant head coach earlier this year.

South Notes: Gipson, Quinn, Thomas, Ryan

Texans safety Tashaun Gipson is expected to return to the lineup this week, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. Gipson has missed the team’s previous two games after sustaining a back injury in Week 7. Houston has won both games without their starting safety, but set to go up against the Ravens and their dynamic offense, the team hopes to be as close to full strength as possible.

Here’s some more notes from the NFC and AFC South:

  • Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has relinquished defensive play-calling duties, according to Darin Gantt of NBC Sports. It appears that assistant head coach Raheem Morris and linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich are now responsible for sharing the duties. Given Atlanta’s atrocious start to the season defensively, it makes sense that the staff decided to make a change. While the team remains just 2-7 on the season, they are coming off their strongest performance of the season in a dominating 26-9 victory against the Saints.
  • Two AFC South rivals could be welcoming back some depth in the coming weeks. Texans tight end Jordan Thomas and Jaguars linebacker Jake Ryan have both returned to practice for their respective teams, according to Howard Balzer. Both players were placed on the injured reserve with a designation to return earlier this season. They will now be allowed to practice for up to 21 days before they must be added to the 53-man roster or must return to the injured reserve for the remainder of the year.

Falcons Fire DC Richard Smith

The Falcons have fired defensive coordinator Richard Smith and defensive line coach Bryan Cox, according to Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL Radio (Twitter link). Smith could eventually be re-assigned within the organization, sources tell Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com.Richard Smith (Vertical)

[RELATED: Falcons Hire OC Steve Sarkasian]

Atlanta may look to fill the DC vacancy with an internal hire, per McClure, who identifies secondary coach Marquand Manuel as a “strong” contender for the job. Manuel, 37, doesn’t boast any play-calling experience, but did interview for the Jaguars’ coordinator gig last offseason. Other internal candidates to become the Falcons’ next coordinator could include pass game coordinator Jerome Henderson, linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich, and receivers coach Raheem Morris, adds McClure. Henderson is on the 49ers’ radar, as well, as new head coach Kyle Shanahan reportedly wants to hire co-defensive coordinators.

Smith, meanwhile, has coached NFL defenses since the late-1980s, and has coordinated units in Miami and Houston in addition to Atlanta. Since joining the Falcons in 2015, Smith never led a defense that finished among the top half of the league in DVOA, with the team’s best finish coming in 2015 (22nd). This past season, Atlanta ranked just 27th in defensive DVOA, although the club improved as the season progressed. As McClure hinted at, Smith may stay with the Falcons, but is currently exploring his options, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

Cox is also on the outs after Atlanta’s defensive line ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of sacks, but finished just 24th and 25th in adjusted sack rate and adjusted line yards, respectively. Although he deserves credit for helping second-year end Vic Beasley flourish (and lead the NFL with 15.5 sacks), Cox’s unit was subpar overall. Cox, who’s coached in the NFL since 2006 following a long playing a career, is now a coaching free agent.

Given that Shanahan has left Atlanta, the Falcons will begin the 2017 campaign with new coordinators on each side of the ball. Steve Sarkasian has already been hired to replace Shanahan on offense, but the club also lost a respected offensive mind in quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, who was hired as the Rams’ new OC.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC South Notes: Benson, S-Jax, Falcons

A court in San Antonio ruled yesterday that Saints owner Tom Benson needs help in managing his assets in Texas, as Katherine Sayre of The Times-Picayune writes. Meanwhile, Benson’s daughter Renee is seeking to overthrow Tom as trustee in the Texas trust, arguing he has mismanaged assets and is in declining health.

Benson, who owns the NBA’s Pelicans in addition to the Saints, suffered another loss in court today, when a New Orleans judge ruled that the 87-year-old must undergo evaluations by three different doctors to determine whether he remains competent to control his NFL and NBA franchises. As Andy Grimm of the Times-Picayune details, one doctor will be appointed by Benson, one by his daughter Renee, and the third will be named by those first two physicians.

Here’s more on the Benson story, along with a couple other notes out of the NFC South:

  • Saints owner Tom Benson issued a statement regarding his current situation and it sounds like he has no intention of backing down. “I have instructed my attorneys to spare no effort in defending my rights and the decisions I have made. The decisions I have made are well within my rights to make at any point in my life, and rest assured that I am making sound decisions. I need not look any further than to read the allegations made against me in these multiple lawsuits to rest easy that I have made the correct decisions,” Benson said in the statement (via Saints VP of communications Greg Bensel on Twitter).
  • Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com (on Twitter) doesn’t expect Steven Jackson to be back with the Falcons next season. McClure notes that Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan declined to address Jackson’s future with the team, though that would ultimately be more in the court of head coach Dan Quinn.  Jackson, 32 in July, appeared in 15 games for the Falcons last season, running for 707 yards off of 190 carries with 6 TDs. Cutting Jackson would save Atlanta $3.75MM against the cap.
  • The Falcons officially announced the rest of their coaching staff for the upcoming season. Atlanta hired Keith Carter as assistant offensive line coach, Matt LaFleur as quarterbacks coach, Doug Mallory as defensive assistant/linebackers coach, Marquand Manuel as secondary coach/senior defensive assistant, Mike McDaniel as offensive assistant, Chris Morgan as offensive line coach, Jeff Ulbrich as linebackers coach, and Chad Walker as defensive assistant/defensive backs.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

Falcons Notes: Weatherspoon, Coaching Staff

As the Browns face potential sanctions from the NFL regarding a violation of the league’s electronic use policy, the Falcons are under investigation for pumping in artificial crowd noise at their home games, as we heard over the weekend. Owner Arthur Blank essentially acknowledged the team’s guilt during his meeting with the media yesterday, as ESPN.com details.

“I think what we’ve done in 2013 and 2014 was wrong,” Blank said. “Anything that affects the competitive balance and fairness on the field, we’re opposed to, as a league, as a club and as an owner. It’s obviously embarrassing but beyond embarrassing it doesn’t represent our culture and what we’re about.”

Like the Browns, the Falcons face penalties that may include fines or the loss of a draft pick, and Blank confirmed that he expects to hear from the league regarding the matter within the next couple weeks.

Here are a few more Falcons-related items for Wednesday:

  • Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who missed the 2014 season with a ruptured Achilles, will be “an important part of building this defense and building this team,” Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said yesterday, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. That’s a strong endorsement for a player who doesn’t yet have a contract for the 2015 season, and suggests Atlanta is serious about bringing Weatherspoon back.
  • The Falcons received permission from the Seahawks to speak to Marquand Manuel, and will interview him Friday for their defensive backs coach job, according to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. McClure hears from a source that Seattle tried hard to keep Manuel, but it appears he’ll be joining former Seattle DC Dan Quinn in Atlanta — Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (TwitLonger link) says Manuel will be a senior defensive consultant for the Falcons, in addition to overseeing the secondary.
  • A pair of former Washington coaches are also set to join Quinn’s staff. Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated tweets that current Notre Dame QBs coach Matt LaFleur is expected to leave the Fighting Irish for the Falcons, while John Keim of ESPN.com says (via Twitter) that Atlanta will also likely hire Mike McDaniel in some capacity. LaFleur previously served as Washington’s QBs coach, while McDaniel was the club’s WRs coach.
  • Alex Marvez of Fox Sports has even more details on new hirings for the Falcons, writing that the team has hired former Syracuse director of football operations Steve Scarnecchia (assistant to the head coach) and former UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich (LBs coach).