Steven King

Ken Zampese, Ike Hilliard, Barrett Ruud Join Falcons’ Staff; Team Retains Jerry Gray

In Zac Robinson and Jimmy Lake, Raheem Morris installed two first-time NFL coordinators as his top lieutenants. The returning Falcons leader will backstop the OC-DC tandem with some experienced staffers in key posts.

The Falcons hired Ken Zampese as a senior offensive assistant, and the team is retaining defensive assistant Jerry Gray. The latter, an Arthur Smith hire, agreed to an extension to stay under Morris,’s Mike Garafolo notes. Zampese worked as the Bengals’ OC from 2016-17, while Gray has multiple stints of DC experience. The veteran staffer served as the Bills’ DC in the 2000s and led the Titans’ defense from 2011-13. Gray will continue in an assistant HC/defense capacity.

Gray, 61, came to Atlanta after philosophical differences with then-Green Bay DC Joe Barry keyed a Wisconsin exit. The former decorated DB has been an NFL assistant for the past 27 seasons. A second-generation NFL assistant, Zampese brings 24 years of experience at this level. The 56-year-old staffer is best known for his 15 seasons on Marvin Lewis‘ Bengals staff, most of which coming as the team’s QBs coach. Zampese was in that role for the past four seasons under Ron Rivera in Washington.

Ike Hillard also joined the Falcons as their wide receivers coach. This will mark a return to the league for the former Giants starter. Hilliard, 47, did not coach in 2022 and was last in the NFL as the Steelers’ receivers coach from 2020-21. An NFL receivers coach from 2011-21, Hilliard was at Auburn in 2022. The Falcons also added Kevin Koger as their tight ends coach. Koger was on the radar for OC positions in 2022, interviewing for the Broncos and Packers’ jobs. Koger, 34, spent the past three years as the Chargers’ TEs coach. These appointments will be rather important, given the investments the Falcons made in Drake London and Kyle Pitts.

As Hilliard settles in, the Falcons will shift T.J. Yates from receivers coach to quarterbacks coach. The former NFL QB spent three seasons on Smith’s staff, arriving during the 2021 offseason in which Morris left for Los Angeles. This will be his first season as a team’s top QBs coach, though it is not yet known exactly who Yates will be developing. Morris is also keeping Dwayne Ledford as offensive line coach, adding the role of run-game coordinator to his title. Smith brought Ledford out of the college ranks in 2021. Pro Football Focus ranked the Falcons’ O-line fourth last season. The Falcons retained assistant Steven King but will move him from an offensive staffer to assistant special teams coach.

Multiple Rams staffers will follow Morris as well. Tim Berbenich, a 2023 Rams assistant, signed on as a Falcons pass-game specialist. He will also hold game management responsibilities. Lance Schulters, whose DB career included a stop in Atlanta, joined Morris’ staff as a defensive assistant. He last coached with the Rams in 2022. Nick Jones, a three-year Rams staffer, is signing on with the Falcons as assistant O-line coach. Offensive assistant K.J. Black will also come to Georgia after spending time on McVay’s staff.

Jay Rodgers, whom the Chargers fired shortly after dismissing Brandon Staley, will receive another opportunity as part of this staff. The Falcons hired Rodgers as their D-line coach. Rodgers has been an NFL D-line coach for the past 12 years, serving in that capacity for the Broncos and Bears ahead of his L.A. stay. Justin Hood will move up to DBs coach, after spending 2023 on the quality control level in Green Bay.

Former NFL linebacker Barrett Ruud will also make his coaching debut in the pros, being hired as Atlanta’s ILBs coach. Ruud coached at Nebraska, his alma mater, from 2018-22. The Falcons will keep Michael Pitre as their running backs coach. Helping Tyler Allgeier to a 1,000-yard rookie year, Pitre has held this role for the past two seasons.

Rounding out the staff, the Falcons are hiring the son of longtime Patriots O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Steve Scarnecchia is onboard as the Falcons’ chief of staff, coming over from the Jets. Ex-Bolts assistant John Timu is now on Lake’s defensive staff. Chandler Whitmer, in place as a pass-game specialist, will join Rodgers, Timu and Koger incoming from the Chargers’ staff.

NFC Coaching Updates: Bears, Falcons, Engram

The offseason giveth and the offseason taketh away as the Bears learned this past week with the addition and subtraction of two coaching assistants earlier in the week.

After the departure of assistant offensive line coach Austin King to join Sean Payton‘s new staff in Denver under the same title, Chicago hired longtime Titans assistant Luke Steckel to fill the role. This will be Steckel’s first time working specifically with offensive linemen in the NFL. After four years in Cleveland as an assistant to the head coach, Steckel joined the Titans in 2013 as an offensive assistant/special assistant to the head coach. He cycled through other roles with the team over the years including assistant wide receivers coach and his most recent role of the past two seasons as tight ends coach.

Steckel is credited with having contributed to the success of wide receiver A.J. Brown during his rookie season in Tennessee and quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the year that he won Comeback Player of the Year. As a tight ends coach, Steckel worked with newcomer Austin Hooper and rookie Chigoziem Okonkwo. Both finished with similar statistics, combining for 894 yards and five touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Hooper had the 12th-best receiving grade of any tight end in the NFL while Okonkwo finished third behind only Travis Kelce and George Kittle. Steckel will now be assisting with coaching an offensive line that utilizes strong youth pieces like Teven Jenkins and Braxton Jones.

Here are a few more coaching updates from around the NFC:

  • The Falcons have made some updates to their staff from last year, according to Falcons features reporter Ashton Edmunds. Steve Jackson, who shockingly was hired in the position of senior offensive assistant last year despite his years of defensive coaching experience, has rightfully returned to the defensive side of the ball as the team’s secondary coach. Another assistant expected to switch sides of the ball, Nick Perry will move from assistant defensive backs coach to assistant wide receivers coach. Former defensive assistant Lanier Goethie has been promoted to defensive front specialist. The team has also added longtime college coaching assistant Dave Huxatable into his first NFL role of senior defensive assistant. Additionally, former John Carroll offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Matt Baker has been added to the staff as special teams assistant. Lastly, the team has hired Steven King and Patrick Kramer as offensive assistants, Mario Jeberaeel as the special projects: defense coach, Shawn Flaherty as the assistant offensive line coach, Michael Gray as a football analyst, and Mateo Kambui as the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellow assigned to work with the offensive line.
  • With Drew Terrell‘s departure to Arizona as passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach, the Commanders have a vacancy to fill at wide receivers coach. According to Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post, one candidate who has been interviewed for the role is former NFL wide receiver Bobby Engram. After his retirement as a player, the longtime Seahawk immediately went into coaching, signing with the rival 49ers as an offensive assistant. Since then, Engram has worked his way up, going from coaching wide receivers in the college ranks at Pitt to earning the same position in Baltimore. With the Ravens, Engram earned his paycheck putting together veteran receiver groups for quarterback Joe Flacco. In healthy years, Engram coached up impressive duos such as Steve SmithTorrey Smith and Mike Wallace-Steve Smith. When injuries decimated the team he helped Kamar Aiken to a breakout season, pieced together what he could out of a group that included Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, and Chris Moore, and got a respectable output from a corps of John Brown, Willie Snead, and Michael Crabtree. Engram moved to tight ends coach for the Ravens in 2019 and helped in the emergence of star tight end Mark Andrews, who earned two Pro Bowl bids and a first-team All-Pro selection under Engram. Last year, Engram took the role of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Wisconsin, but an interview with the Commanders could indicate his willingness to return to the NFL.