Atlanta Falcons defensive ends John Abraham (55), Kroy Biermann (71) and Jonathan Massaquoi talk during a break in drills at the NFL football team's headquarters in Flowery Branch on Wednesday. Atlanta is scheduled to face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game Sunday.
FLOWERY BRANCH — It's too early for the Atlanta Falcons to know how much defensive end John Abraham will play in Sunday's NFC title game.
Abraham, the NFL's active sacks leader, made it through just 15 snaps in last week's divisional playoff victory over Seattle before aggravating a left ankle injury that forced him to leave in the second quarter.
"You don't want to lose a good player," Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "We won the game, so there's something we did right. But it does change things."
The Falcons are making contingency plans in case Abraham is unable to play at full strength against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
Abraham, who has not been available to speak with reporters this week, missed practice on Wednesday even though coach Mike Smith listed him as having limited participation.
But it's clear that the Falcons (14-3) will be pleased to have Abraham on the field for any length of time against San Francisco (12-4-1).
"He's a sack master," linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. "That's what I like to call him — Father Abe. We look forward to getting him back out there this week. I think the guys that had a chance to play in his absence did a good job stepping in and doing what they need to do in order to help the team get the win."
Abraham, 34, was initially hurt in the regular season finale loss to Tampa Bay, limping off the field with the help of trainers.
Coach Mike Smith said that he expects the 13th-year veteran to start on Sunday. Even so, the Falcons are giving reserve ends Cliff Matthews, Jonathan Massaquoi and Lawrence Sidbury more work this week in case Abraham has to make an early exit.
Matthews took the balance of the work against Seattle, playing 46 snaps and making two tackles opposite Kroy Biermann, Atlanta's other starting end.
Abraham, though, is a special talent.
"Obviously he's an integral part of this defense," Biermann said. "When you lose a player like that, it kind of puts a little bit of strain on you, but the guys behind him know that they've got to step up, play that role and get it done."
The 49ers present several problems for Atlanta's defense.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is coming off an impressive playoff win over Green Bay, passing for 263 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 181 yards and two TDs. He set an NFL single-game record for yards rushing by a quarterback.
Smith knows the Falcons must do their best to contain Kaepernick in the pocket while keeping tight coverage on receivers Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss and tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker.
Running backs Frank Gore and LaMichael James also create issues in the passing attack, too.
"They have playmakers at both levels with their offense," Smith said. "You're going to have to put together a plan to try to slow down certain aspects of it. It's a very explosive offense they've created."
Though Abraham's 122 career sacks rank 13th on the NFL career list, he hasn't had one since Nov. 29 when he took down New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees to help seal a 23-13 victory.
The following week, Atlanta won its second NFC South title in three years.
Before the Falcons traded for him in 2006, Abraham had a long injury history in six years with the New York Jets. He's overcome assorted ailments and offseason surgeries with Atlanta, however, and has missed just two games over the last six seasons.
"When you watch the film, he played through the pain a little bit," strong safety William Moore said. "It was hard to even tell. He rotates a lot, so I didn't even know he was out at one point."
Moore learned of Abraham's absence soon enough while Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were carving up Atlanta's defense in the second half. After Vance Walker sacked him early in the third quarter, Wilson completed 13 of 18 passes for 230 with two TDs.
The Falcons did a decent job covering deep routes, but they struggled badly in trying to defend tight end Zach Miller and other targets Wilson hit in the middle of the defense.
"Those were still miscues on our end," free safety Thomas DeCoud said. "We were short on a drop here or there or someone didn't carry someone here or there. Those things were more about us rather than things that they did."
Notes: S William Moore has a cast on his right hand but participated fully in practice. ... CB Christopher Owens (hamstring) remains out. He hasn't played since a Dec. 22 victory at Detroit. ... DT Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder) also had limited participation in practice.
KELLY BOLTS OREGON AFTER ALL, TAKES JOB IN PHILLY:
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Moments after Chip Kelly’s plane landed, he was handed a new Eagles visor and received a warm greeting from fans gathered at the airport.
Welcome to Philadelphia, Coach.
The Eagles hired Kelly on Wednesday, just 10 days after he decided to stay at Oregon. The 49-year-old Kelly, known as an offensive innovator, becomes the 21st coach in team history and replaces Andy Reid, who was fired on Dec. 31 after a 4-12 season.
He’ll be introduced at a news conference Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at the Eagles’ practice facility.
“The challenge is what I was excited about and that’s why I came,” Kelly told a group of reporters upon landing in Philly. “I was sold on the Eagles the first time I met them, it was my ties to Oregon that made it hard. But the Eagles are the Eagles. This is the NFL.
“My dream is to just win, and with the Eagles, this was the best opportunity for me to win. I never thought a long time ago that I was going to be able to coach in the NFL but I’m excited about the opportunity.”
General manager Howie Roseman gave Kelly the white Eagles visor, the trademark hat he wore at Oregon. Kelly then got a glimpse of what this team means to this city.
Not only were Roseman and president Don Smolenski waiting for him on the runway — they arrived with a police escort — there were fans, decked out in green, waiting outside on a cold, dreary night.
“I know it’s a rabid fan base,” Kelly said. “I hope they don’t boo me. It’s an exciting time and I’m ready to get to work.”
Kelly, who was 46-7 in four years at Oregon, interviewed with the Eagles, Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills in a two-day span after leading the fast-flying Ducks to a victory over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 3.
The Eagles are known to have interviewed 11 candidates, including two meetings with Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. All along, Kelly was thought to be Philadelphia’s first choice in a long, exhaustive process that took many twists.
“Chip Kelly will be an outstanding head coach for the Eagles,” owner Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. “He has a brilliant football mind. He motivates his team with his actions as well as his words. He will be a great leader for us and will bring a fresh energetic approach to our team.”
On the day he fired Reid, Lurie appeared to be describing Kelly when he said he wanted to find a “real smart, forward-thinking coach” who is “strategic, a strong leader, very comfortable in his own skin.”
The enigmatic Kelly reportedly was close to signing with the Browns after a long interview Jan. 4. He met with the Eagles for nine hours the next day, setting up a soap-opera scenario in which the Eagles were competing with Browns CEO Joe Banner, their former president and longtime friend of Lurie who left the organization after a falling out. But that roller coaster ended when Kelly opted to remain — temporarily — in Eugene, Ore.
The Eagles interviewed two other high-profile college coaches — Penn State’s Bill O’Brien and Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly. Both elected to stay with their schools.
Bradley was considered by many to be the leading contender, though former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and former Ravens coach Brian Billick were in the mix.
That all changed when Kelly had a change of heart.
Kelly built Oregon into a national powerhouse in a short time. The Ducks went to four straight BCS bowl games — including a bid for the national championship against Auburn two seasons ago — and have won three conference championships.
Kelly originally went to Oregon in 2007 as offensive coordinator under Mike Bellotti. Before that, he was offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, where he started devising the innovative hurry-up offense the Ducks are known for now.
Oregon finished last season 12-1. The team was ranked No. 1 and appeared headed for another shot at the national championship until a 17-14 loss to Stanford Nov. 17.
Ducks athletic director Rob Mullens said Wednesday that Kelly called him at 7:15 a.m. PST to tell him he had changed his mind: “He wasn’t sure if that opportunity would present itself again, so he felt this was the right one at the right time.”
Mullens now faces a coaching search amid recruiting season.
“I’ve turned the page,” Mullens said. “I was surprised when I got the call this morning, but as the leader of this organization, my focus is on moving forward and that’s what we’re doing. I’m laser focused on what’s next, and that’s finding the right fit to lead Oregon football.”
It’s unknown whether the possibility of NCAA sanctions based on Oregon’s use of recruiting services factored into Kelly’s reversal. He indicated in Arizona that he isn’t running from anything.
“We’ve cooperated fully with them,” he said. “If they want to talk to us again, we’ll continue to cooperate fully. I feel confident in the situation.”
Kelly doesn’t have any pro coaching experience, but aspects of his up-tempo offense are already being used by New England and Washington.
The Eagles fired Reid after two forgettable years. A late flurry brought the team to an 8-8 finish last season, but this season, Philadelphia endured an eight-game losing streak, and dropped 11 of its final 12. A 3-1 start soon washed away, and Reid’s 14-year tenure ended not long after. Within a week, Reid was Kansas City’s new coach.
Still, Kelly has tough shoes to fill. Reid won more games than any coach in franchise history and led the Eagles to nine playoff appearances, six division titles, five conference championship games and one Super Bowl berth.
Kelly and the Eagles have the No. 4 overall pick in the draft as well as some talented players on offense who could fit his scheme. Running back LeSean McCoy and receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin seem like ideal matches. Quarterback Nick Foles, however, isn’t.
“I’ve never run the zone read,” Foles said after the season. “I’m more of a dropback guy. I’ve been under center. I’ve been in the gun. If I can adapt, I want to. But I’m not a zone-read quarterback. Some people are gifted with different things. That’s just not one of my skill sets. I can work on the speed in the offseason and get better with that. But I’ve always been a dropback guy in the pocket. I’ve been able to make plays on my feet throwing the ball or running for a first down.”
On the other hand, Michael Vick could be perfect. But it’s unlikely the Eagles would want to pay the $16 million they’d have to shell out for an injury-prone quarterback, who will be 33 next season.
Kelly had high praise for Foles after Oregon beat Arizona 56-31 in September 2011.
“I’ll tell you what; I’m glad Nick Foles is graduating,” Kelly said at that time. “I catch myself watching him in awe sometimes. Nick is a hell of a football player. That kid’s a warrior. He’s as good as anyone in the country.”
Others interviewed by Philadelphia were former Bears coach Lovie Smith, Atlanta assistants Mike Nolan and Keith Armstrong, former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
The first Eagles to react to Kelly’s hiring on Twitter were defensive players.
Defensive end Brandon Graham wrote: “Happy to have Chip Kelly!! Now it’s time to get to work!”
Safety Kurt Coleman wrote: “Welcome Chip Kelly to the Eagles family. Can’t wait to see what he brings to the team in 2013!”
As he walked by the fans at the airport, Kelly, dressed in jeans and a sweat shirt, stopped to sign some autographs and share some laughs with the faithful.
It indeed was a long journey. But if Wednesday is any indication, Kelly appears to fit right in with Philadelphia.
Bears hire CFL coach Trestman to replace Smith
CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears hired Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman on Wednesday to replace the fired Lovie Smith.
He has two basic tasks — fix the offense and lead the team to the playoffs on a consistent basis.
How he meshes with quarterback Jay Cutler could go a long way toward determining his success.
It’s the first head coaching job in the NFL for Trestman, a longtime assistant in the league who spent the past five seasons coaching the CFL’s Alouettes and led them to two Grey Cup titles.
Trestman was an offensive coordinator with Cleveland, San Francisco, Arizona and Oakland.
Chicago general manager Phil Emery had a wide search, meeting with at least 13 candidates. Besides Trestman, he also brought back Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and the Indianapolis Colts’ Bruce Arians for second interviews.
Trestman wasted little time starting to assemble his staff, bringing in two new coordinators.
The Bears hired New Orleans Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer as their offensive coordinator, hoping to revive a group that often sputtered with Mike Tice calling the plays.
The also added Dallas Cowboys special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis as their special teams coordinator and assistant head coach to replace Dave Toub.
The Bears announced those moves Wednesday evening.
The coaching changes come on the heels of a 10-win season in which they fell apart after winning seven of their first eight games.
Smith was let go after nine years, ending a run that included a trip to the Super Bowl but also saw Chicago miss the playoffs five of the past six seasons.
That move did not sit well with some players at the time, but Cutler and star receiver Brandon Marshall are looking forward to working with Trestman.
“He’s been successful wherever he’s been,” Cutler told the Bears’ website. “He’s from the West Coast coaching tree, which I’m familiar with. It’s what I came into the league with, with (Mike) Shanahan (with the Denver Broncos in 2006), so I’m looking forward to it.
“He understands quarterbacks. He understands their thought process and the minds of quarterbacks and what we have to go through. It’s going to be a quarterback-friendly system and I can’t wait to get started with him.”
On Twitter, Marshall made his feelings clear.
“Heard so many GREAT things about Coach Trestman can’t wait to follow his lead,” he wrote. “Reading his book now.”
Trestman wrote “Perseverance: Life Lessons on Leadership and Teamwork,” a motivational biography released in 2010.
The Bears, who have scheduled a news conference for Thursday morning, are turning to the 57-year-old Trestman in part because of his background with quarterbacks.
He worked with Bernie Kosar as an assistant at the University of Miami and again when he was on the Browns’ staff in the 1980s. Trestman helped the Raiders reach the Super Bowl at the end of the 2002 season with an offense he geared for Rich Gannon, the league’s MVP that year.
In recent years, Trestman has worked as a consultant in the NFL and in the offseason helped quarterbacks entering the league — including Cutler for a few days. His biggest task will be maximizing the man behind center and getting the offense to click.
That’s something that never really happened under Smith, who oversaw a top defense with stars such as Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs but could not solve the issues on the other side of the ball.
The Bears’ offense never ranked higher than 15th under Smith, and the problems in that area along with the postseason misses ultimately led to his dismissal.
The Bears have big holes on the offensive line and at tight end, but the No. 1 task is connecting with Cutler. As gifted as he is, questions remain about his makeup and demeanor.
He has one year left on his contract, and the Bears have to figure out if he can lead them to the top. In Chicago, the deck at times has been stacked against him.
His relationship with former offensive coordinator Ron Turner seemed icy, and he took a beating in Mike Martz’s system. Cutler will now be working in his fourth system since the Bears acquired him from Denver in 2009.
Besides the issues on the line, Cutler also lacked a go-to receiver his first three years in Chicago, but that changed in a big way before this season. The Bears hired Emery to replace the fired Jerry Angelo as GM after a late collapse that season, and although he was given a mandate to work with Smith for at least a year, he was able to retool the roster.
The biggest move? That was the trade with Miami for Marshall, Cutler’s favorite target in Denver.
Marshall set club records for catches and yards, but the Bears still ranked 28th on offense.
It didn’t help that receivers Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett missed time with injuries or that running back Matt Forte was also banged up.
More than anything, Cutler would like to see some continuity.
“It’s hard,” he told the team’s website. “You start back at zero every year with the entire offense, so it’s definitely challenging. I think if you look across the league at elite and very good quarterbacks, they’ve all been in systems for numerous years. That’s what our goal is here, for coach Trestman to come in and install his system and us win games and keep him around for a long time to be able to grow year in and year out in this system and get everyone better.”