Well before the season starts, all eyes will be on a pair of coaches who have a lot to prove. Not coincidentally, they're both on offense.
You can’t help but watch Sark. He was an immediately controversial hire as a college head coach and offensive coordinator who lost his job at USC because of alcoholism, but more than that, because he had no NFL coordinating experience. He’s kicked his alcohol problem, which is inspiring in the extreme, but the latter problem definitely reared its head for long stretches of 2017.
Bluntly, you saw an offensive coordinator who didn’t know how to maximize his personnel. Jet sweeps on 4th and 2, touchdown-hopeful passes to Ty Sambrailo (?), and plenty of vanilla routes for Julio Jones in the red zone helped translate to an offensive pullback from that majestic 2016 season that veered between mild and extreme. Most notably, Sark’s inability to adjust and find some effective plays doomed the Falcons against the Eagles, who went on to win the Super Bowl and saw their defense utterly gashed by the Patriots along the way.
Equally bluntly, Sarkisian can’t survive another year where the Falcons offense looks listless, because this team is built to win in the next 2-3 years and there are very few guarantees beyond that. The team is loaded with quality players, boasts the most expensive offensive line in football (more on that later today), and has perhaps their most talented defense ever. There’s just too much going for this team for Sarkisian to have a long leash, so the pressure on him will be immediate.
Watching how he handles it in training camp and preseason will be instructive.
If Sark doesn’t do well this year, of course, he may well be succeeded by....
The former Falcons offensive coordinator has come full circle and returned to Atlanta. Knapp’s track record as an offensive coordinator and assistant offensive coach isn’t, to be blunt yet again, particularly inspiring.
Knapp was best known during his time in Atlanta for frustrating the hell out of me personally with his work with Michael Vick, which too often leaned away from Vick’s strengths. His stints from there were a real mixed bag, but Knapp wasn’t hired to be a brilliant offensive mind so much as a steady hand at the tiller, someone with experience with both veteran quarterbacks and calling plays.
Knapp’s shown an ability to work well with quarterbacks, which is why he’s in this QBs coach position in the first place, but he also felt like a veteran fallback plan at OC if Sark isn’t up to the task. We’ll want to see how involved he is in the offense, as much as that is possible to see, and what kind of responsibilities he’s being handed early on. That should help us figure out if his hiring as an assistant to Sark and potential heir have been overblown or are quite accurate.