The smell of fresh cut grass. Shiny new equipment. The sound of a freshly picked playlist by one of the coolest coaches in the league.
It's that time of the year again. On July 26th, the Atlanta Falcons will kick off another edition of their annual Training Camp chronicles.
This one will be quite interesting. As you all know, the team is coming off an historic ending to their season in a particular game that rhymes with "Trooper" and "Goal" back in February and now their sights will be turned to a new season. As training camp kicks off and carry the team through the preseason and right to Week 1 in Chicago, here are several key items to closely monitor during the festivities:
The Right Guard "Competition"
The right guard spot on the offensive line will see a new starter this season as the team transitions from former starter Chris Chester to a trio of possible names. The "favorite" at this point is second-year guard Wes Schweitzer out of San Jose State. Rookie Sean Harlow will have his name in the contest thanks to his run blocking ability that stands out on tape. The versatile and highly valued Ben Garland may see time at the position as well during camp, but as of now, Schweitzer appears to be the starter to begin the season. Assuming things go according to plan.
Rotation In The Secondary
One of the perks of having a coaching mind such as Dan Quinn's is the development of numerous ideas to attack opposing offenses. Quinn loves versatility (obviously) and now the Falcons secondary has an abundance of depth that will lead to a combination of activity on the backend. The drafting of rookie Damontae Kazee in the fifth round this year gives the Falcons a nice shot of versatility. His ballhawking skills will be utilized at free safety and as a nickel corner this upcoming season. His talent is refined enough for Kazee to be an actual threat to the starting free safety spot, which is manned by veteran Ricardo Allen.
Last year's nickel corner, Brian Poole, will also see looks at free safety during training camp and if Quinn wanted to get really creative, inserting Robert Alford ther.......ok never mind.
Basically, with the drafting of Kazee, the emergence of Poole, the solid 2016 outing from Allen, the return of corner Desmond Trufant, and improvement from Alford and Jalen Collins, Quinn and defensive coordinator Marquand Manual has several interchangeable parts in the secondary and training camp may see a little experimentation.
The Evolution Of Young Assets
The Falcons defense received a tremendous boost from edge rusher Vic Beasley this past season as he led the league in sacks with 15.5. How he progresses in his third season will be important for the defense and their long-term success. Strong safety Keanu Neal was also an integral piece to the puzzle this past season as he was second on the team in tackles and added five forced fumbles. Running back Tevin Coleman added pounds to his frame this offseason that will aid his inside running and the ability to run through tackles.
The team has several young pillars that are still at a stage in their career where development is expected. Watch some of the young players mentioned above and a few more that can take that next step in the skill set.
Communication On Offense
Unless you've been taking an incredibly peaceful nap since the day after the Super Bowl, it is no secret that there is a new offensive coordinator in town by the name of Steve Sarkisian. During his time at the University of Washington, Southern Cal, and Alabama, Sarkisian has carved a respectable reputation in terms of his knowledge of Xs and Os.
Now he has the privilege (or challenge, however you perceive it) to take a record-setting offense, add his flavor, and possibly have very little drop-off from what former coordinator Kyle Shanahan established prior to his departure.
Where it all starts is communication. From Sarkisian to Ryan, Ryan to his offensive constituents, so on and so forth. One underlying factor in the team's offensive success last season was the component as a whole being on the same page. If Sarkisian can establish cohesion early, it will make the transition that much smoother.
Talent In The Undrafted Pool
To find useful talent in the undrafted free agency element is a talent on it's own. This past season, Quinn and the staff made use of their undrafted class. Defensive back Brian Poole led all rookie corners in yard per coverage snap, running back Terron Ward averaged 4.9 per carry, safety Sherrod Neasman played in three games and is now slotted as the backup strong safety.
So the coaching staff may be looking to pluck another talent or two from the 2017 undrafted pool. Certain names to be mindful of are offensive tackle Andreas Knappe, wide receiver Reggie Davis, safety Quincy Mauger, linebacker Jermaine Grace, and quarterback Alek Torgersen, just to name a few. Based on last year's success, it is worth watching if an undrafted prospect makes a few plays here and there.
New Faces Establishing Their Presence
Even with a talented roster, the Falcons made notable additions this offseason that will only ascend their talent level. Picking up nose tackle Dontari Poe adds 346 pounds worth of beef that opposing lines will have to tangle with. Rookie linebacker Duke Riley was taken to add more athleticism and speed next to 2016 rookie Deion Jones. The staff will look to insert Riley early to get him acclimated and up to speed. The team picked up wide receiver Andre Roberts this offseason to shore up the return element of the game. It will also be interesting how he is incorporated into the offensive scheme. The team will likely not see rookie first rounder Takkarist McKinley during training camp due to offseason shoulder surgery however, the team has plenty of other new faces that will look to add to what is already built in Atlanta.