The Falcons have wrapped up training camp, and we've learned a fair amount about this team from under a month of practices. That inspired the team here to put on our thinking caps and get down to business.
Below, several of our writers share their takeaways from training camp. Share yours in the comments, as well.
1) Turns out reader B17 Bomber is smarter than all of us. I admit it, I thought his relentless praise for Ricardo Allen was nothing more than him picking a player and running with it far into the night, but now Ricardo Allen has gone from practice squad cornerback to potentially starting free safety. Not only does Allen have a place on the team, but I anticipate Quinn is going to get the absolute most out of a guy many people had written off in 2014. Well done, B17.
2) So far, the running game is still a concern. We've still got a ways to go before the preseason is over, but I haven't seen much of anything personally to suggest our running woes are over. I do anticipate this worry will fade over time, but the run blocking against the Titans didn't leave me thinking all was well. The RB talent is young, but it'll be good. We just need to give them a chance to shine.
3) This team will exceed a lot of outside expectations. After 2014, I was ready for change. Any change. Quinn and the new staff have not only come in and given the team a breath of fresh air, it's clear the team is headed in the right direction. Just look at how prepared the first team looked for a meaningless game! Atlanta fans, remember ESPN's prediction of the Hawks? (It was 42-42.) Good coaching can lift up talent to greater heights, and those heights, friends, are where we're headed.
1) When this coaching staff says they're emphasizing competition between players to earn playing time and starting roles, they're not just saying it. We've seen Ricardo Allen essentially lock up the first team free safety role over veteran Charles Godfrey, Jonathan Asamoah relegated to a backup role, and undrafted free agents like Kevin White, Terron Ward and Nick Williams getting first team reps. The coaching staff intends to put the best players on the field, regardless of age or experience.
2) The run game isn't where it needs to be just yet. Hopefully it will make a difference to have Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman healthy, but the blocking last Friday left a lot to be desired.
3) This defense is going to be vastly different from what we saw on the field in 2013 and 2014. The simpler scheme frees players up to just run, hit, and attack the ball, and none of those things were hallmarks of Atlanta's defense in 2013 and 2014. There's an emphasis on wrapping up, preventing the big plays, and creating turnovers. They're going to be a lot of fun to watch, and should be significantly improved.
1) A new coach brings a new sense of confidence. It's been apparent throughout the training camp process and first preseason game that this year's Atlanta Falcons have a new sense of "swagger" about them. "Having the best offseason you've ever had" and actually competing for your job has turned a complacent, downward spiraling team into a family with 2008 or 2012 type hunger. Dan Quinn is to thank for that.
2) Matt Ryan is still #elite. If you have lived under a rock for the last 7 years, or are a sports t.v. personality, you probably didn't know that Matt Ryan is one of the top five quarterbacks this league has to offer. Watching Ryan come out with a perfect drive versus Tennessee shouldn't have surprised any Falcons fan, but it's still good to be reminded every so often that we've got ourselves a gem.
3) Some of our biggest questions could have exciting answers. After losing Dwight Lowery and cutting players like Justin Blalock and Harry Douglas, most fans began to wonder what to expect of their respective positions. When they weren't initially addressed, it caused a slight scare. Thankfully, guys like Ricardo Allen are stepping up and the low-key additions of Leonard Hankerson and Justin Hardy already look to have improved the Atlanta receiving corps from a year ago. Chris Chester and Mike Person have added solid competition to the line, and Jon Asamoah (I'm not counting you out just yet, Jon) should return to form as well. Looks like the front office plans after all, guys.
1) The running back battle is far from settled. If you think the Falcons are keeping four backs, then it's fair to wonder whether Terron Ward or Jerome Smith is going to grab that spot, and the Tevin Coleman vs. Devonta Freeman battle for the starting job won't pick up again until they both hit the practice field full-time. This will be one to watch, and don't rule out another free agent addition to the corps if there are any injury setbacks.
2) The defense! Yes! Look, we all know this isn't going to be a dominant defense, but we've been watching this team stumble, bumble, and fumble their way through games for nigh on two years now. The possibility of a fast, aggressive, and competent defense is enough to make me salivate like one of Pavlov's dogs at the sound of a bell, and what we saw and heard out of camp makes me think we'll get it.
3) The Falcons are still figuring out their offensive line. I don't doubt that there's a plan here, but I also think the plan is making the best of a sub-optimal situation. I'm bullish on James Stone and think Chris Chester is a fine stopgap, but this line is going to concern everyone until we see more robust results, and I don't think this team is 100% sold on its starters across the board just yet.
1) Dan Quinn couldn't be more unorthodox. From running sprints inside the Georgia Dome to having his defensive linemen hit boxing pads, Quinn's unique methods have really caught my attention. His personality couldn't contrast more from the mundane Mike Smith. We won't be able to rate Quinn as a head coach until November at the minimum. His style of coaching has been very crowd-pleasing so far.
2) Losing weight has become common.Tyson Jackson and Ra'Shede Hageman weren't the only players to lose weight. Quinn's message of having the best off-season of your life has even inspired the best players in Atlanta. Julio Jones and William Moore have lost weight to become even more effective this season. Paul Soliai looked more agile against Tennessee, which makes me believe that he went on some strict diet as well. After seeing how slow the team played last season, Quinn has done an excellent job in attempting to implement the "fast and physical" slogan.
3) Play-actions and rollouts. Dirk Koetter's gameplan stagnated Matt Ryan from moving out of the pocket over the past three seasons. That will change this year with Kyle Shanahan from utilizing more play-action plays. If Atlanta can generate some type of running game, Ryan's efficiency should be reminiscent of his production from 2010-2011.
1) This defense should be improved. Of all the things Dan Quinn was hired to do, improving the defense had to be 1st on the list. So far, so good. Free agent additions Durant, Schofield and Clayborn appear to be doing well. Beasley seems like the real deal. Finally, players like Worrilow, Allen and Hageman all appear to be benefitting from the simplified scheme. It's a work in progress, but the arrow is pointing up on this D.
2) New coaches and coordinators are making a difference. Music during camps. Guys coming into camp in great shape. Active teaching on the field. We've heard all these things during camp and they appear to be legitimate. This coaching staff has definitely changed things around and the players are buying into it.
3) Competition is not just a buzz word. Whether it's Jon Asamoah ending up on the bench or Ricardo Allen being moved to free safety and becoming the presumed starter, there's plenty of evidence to support Quinn's philosophy of competition. Even an undrafted player like Nick Williams is getting reps with the first team due to his performance in the first preseason game. This competition is about finding the best guys, and Quinn seems to be completely sincere about doing just that - no matter what their draft position.