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Falcons training camp 2016: The defense stands out, the offense has work ahead

What has stood out from Falcons training camp thus far?

NFL: Atlanta Falcons-Training Camp Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Today’s the first day off of training camp, which means it’s a good time to take a step back from what we’ve seen thus far and try to make sense of what it is we’ve seen.

In essence, what we’ve seen has been a series of encouraging defensive efforts in practice, with the offense having its ups and downs along the way. That’s boiling things down to some very big picture takes, of course, particularly since there have been some true offensive standouts, but it sort of fits what we all expect.

The defense won’t look stellar all training camp, or all preseason, or especially all season, because there’s simply not enough talent at some positions and a lot of youth at others. But we all anticipate this will be a better defense in 2016, and training camp is bearing that out early on. The offense, meanwhile, figures to improve thanks to new additions and another year of comfort in Kyle Shanahan’s system (even if history hasn’t exactly borne that out at previous stops), but also features a new #2 receiver and center, and is practicing against a better defense. Hiccups are part of the process.

Beyond those big picture takes, let’s break down a few worthwhile notes:

  • Tevin Coleman came into training camp expecting to push for more touches at the expense of Devonta Freeman, and while Freeman has been terrific by all accounts, Coleman has been electric and has shown the ability to catch deep passes. If he’s ready to be a bigger part of the passing game, the sky’s the limit for him.
  • Our own Jeanna Thomas declared Coleman and rookie De’Vondre Campbell to be the standouts of camp thus far, and it’s not hard to figure out why. Campbell was a bit of a puzzler in the fourth round in some quarters, but most of us figured that his athleticism and obvious talent made him a player worth molding for Dan Quinn, given that most of his knocks were based on instinct and situational familiarity/awareness.

Campbell may or may not win a starting job—I still think that may be a year away—but he’s shown himself to be ahead of where any of us would have anticipated, and I really do think it’s more a question of when he becomes an asset than if he does.

If you’re looking for reasons to believe in the passing game, I’m sure Coleman and impressive rookie Austin Hooper has helped, and Justin Hardy has been mentioned again and again as an improved player. The Matt Ryan to Mohamed Sanu connection hasn’t been overly sharp early, and Ryan has thrown a notable number of interceptions along the way, which is probably going to give you at least mild heartburn.

As I cautioned earlier this week, don’t read too much into this, especially with the defense amped up early. It is true that an improved Ryan and useful Sanu are big parts of an improved Falcons offense, so they’ll need to iron this out over the next month.

  • Keanu Neal is supposed to be a tone-setter for this new Falcons defense, and we saw that in earnest during the fourth, padded practice, where Neal just started hitting his fellow Falcons because he can. Neal will have his struggles like every other rookie does, but if you’re looking for physicality and aggression at the back end of the defense, it looks like he’ll provide it.
  • The position changes have not stopped. Brooks Reed is getting legitimate time at defensive end, Paul Worrilow got a look on the weakside (more on that later), and we haven’t seen the end of the tinkering just yet. This is a good reminder that we really have no clue how Dan Quinn is going to manage his rotations (and who will start at a couple of positions) without watching over the next month.
  • Dan Quinn is happy with everything thus far. I mention that not because you’d expect him to feel differently, but because that’s all we really need to know at this point. If things aren’t progressing well and Quinn becomes agitated, that would be somewhat of an issue.

Be sure to follow Jeanna Thomas on Twitter, if you don’t already, so you can stay up-to-date on everything happening at Falcons training camp.