The Falcons have big expectations for many of their young players, which is to be expected. Also expected: Dan Quinn gets really fired up talking about them.
At the NFL’s spring meetings, Quinn was asked about players who he expects to take a next step, and the list was not confined to a small handful of guys. Giant quote incoming:
“Quite a few. That part really lights us up because I wish we could start tomorrow and I’m sure quite a few of them do as well. What naturally happens is a guy going from year one to year two, that’s Ridley, Ito, Isaiah Oliver, Senat, Gage, Foye, to say, OK, how do you take where you were at and you make this big jump, and then past that, there are a number of guys that we are looking forward of taking another level up. That’s both defensive ends, that’s Deion Jones, De’Vondre, it’s having both safeties back with something to prove, it’s Kazee likely making a position change. On the offensive side, I’ve liked what I’ve seen in Jake Matthews and now would like to see him take it up a notch. I’ve already hit on Calvin on his role. Hoop is another one who I keep see getting better so let’s push him again. There’s a lot. That’s kind of exciting. When you add that kind of group and that kind of competitiveness, it really pushes one another. Not only are you competing against the guys at practice but ultimately you’re competing against yourself.”
So in summary, Quinn’s just expecting more out of Calvin Ridley, Ito Smith, Isaiah Oliver, Deadrin Senat, Russell Gage, Foye Oluokun, Takk McKinley, Vic Beasley, Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Damontae Kazee, Jake Matthews, and Austin Hooper. If all of those guys took a step forward, this team would likely be a juggernaut, given that Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Grady Jarrett are also on this squad.
The excitement with which Quinn speaks about that many players clues us in to the team’s broad expectations for the year ahead. The sense that this Falcons team has many players primed to take a step forward, plus a (knock on wood) return to good health, is motivating the Falcons to invest heavily in their future via the draft, instead of trying to clear the decks for big ticket free agents. It motivated them to let go of some players they had previously heavily relied on, with the expectation that young guys are ready to come forward and play well. And it was a factor, clearly, in Dan Quinn seizing a more active role on defense and clearing out his coaching staff in search of better teachers, mentors, and fits.
We’ve outlined the risks of this approach multiple times—if players don’t step up or Quinn’s gamble on coaching fails, the winds of change will be blowing—but it’s a comfort to know the Falcons expect improvement from so many on the team. Let’s hope Quinn’s faith and the team’s willingness to grant opportunity pay off in a major way.