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Falcons 2019 training camp: What to watch

An important training camp on the slate for the Atlanta Falcons.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Key players returning from injuries, rookies on the forefront, and “new” coordinators on the sideline create the 2019 edition of training camp for the Atlanta Falcons.

The derailing of the 2018 season early on for the Falcons dampened lofty expectations, unfortunately. The team turned the chapter on the season as the offseason began. Now, the 2019 season places the team in a different spotlight. One where there are a few more questions to be answered as the season draws near. Training camp begins on July 22nd for the Falcons and it is arguably the most important one in recent seasons. Here are a few factors to closely monitor.

Rookies at the forefront

The current Falcons contingent has placed a premium on rookies being utilized very early during the Quinn-Dimitroff era. This newly crowned class will be no different. A pair of first round offensive linemen in Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary could very well find themselves as starters once training camp concludes. Fourth round pick Kendall Sheffield is a raw prospect that has enough speed and athleticism to factor into the Falcons rotation at corner this season. The team double dipped in the secondary in the draft with sixth round corner Jordan Miller. As a result, it’s very possible the team found a couple of athletic prospects to round out their cornerback group.

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Key players returning

As you all know by now, the Falcons faced a rash of injuries during the 2018 season. Enough injuries that truly decimated the team. From the team’s best running back to both of their starting safety tandem. Now, the team is expected to see a number of familiar faces back on the field as team looks to rebound. Running back Devonta Freeman missed 14 games last season and has not rushed for 1,000 yards or more since 2016. It’s safe to say that the hard-running rusher is more than eager to be back on the field with a full bill of health.

Safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen suffered season-ending injuries early in season and were severely missed. Especially Neal, as the team missed his physical nature with the defense ranking 25th in rushing defense and 28th in yards per carry allowed. Starting middle linebacker Deion Jones was limited to just six games and even when he returned, it was obvious he was not completely 100%. Their presence on the Falcons defense can make a difference in a below average unit and a defensive group that can make necessary plays to win. With all of the players mentioned fully healthy, the Falcons roster has an opportunity to reach it’s full potential.

“New” coaches

A number of changes were made to the coaching staff during the offseason, yet two in particular standout amongst others. There is a new offensive coordinator in town that is familiar to the franchise and the fan base. New play caller Dirk Koetter returns to team in the same role he held during the 2012-2014 seasons. During those three seasons, the Falcons offenses were ranked eighth, 14th, and eighth respectively in total offense. So many are expecting the Falcons offense to be equally productive under Koetter and if the former Tampa Bay head coach proves to be a consistent play caller, many will be pleased.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The defensive coordinator reins now are in the hands of the head coach. After the termination of former defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel this offseason, Dan Quinn decided to take matters into his own hands. What prompted Quinn to become a head coach in the first place was his coaching prowess on that side of the ball. If you recall, Quinn took over the defensive responsibilities in the second half of the 2016 season. Coincidentally, it led to the young defense playing their best that season. It will be interesting to see during training camp how Quinn establishes his defensive assignments. The fate of the season could rely on the young defense and how Quinn navigates the unit.