Unprecedented times have brought significant changes to the world of football. A complete deletion of the preseason means we will have an expanded training camp.
Veteran players have reported by this point and the full-contact phase of practices will begin on August 17. As you are fully aware by this point, this offseason was a busy one for the Falcons and despite the season looking the way it does at this time, there has been a steady buzz about the team and how the roster looks prior to the regular season. With a little over a month left until the season kicks off, here are a few items to keep an eye on as training camp progresses.
Todd Gurley’s activity
Arguably the biggest acquisition this offseason was the signing of Gurley after the former Georgia Bulldog was released by the Los Angeles Rams. Coming equipped with a $5.5 million dollar price tag, Gurley is definitely a bargain for the Falcons if you look as his age and past production. The 224-pound running back was tied for fifth in the NFL last season with 12 rushing touchdowns and has recorded at least 14 total scores in each of the last three seasons.
A lingering knee issue has produced an equal number of questions. There is no question Gurley adds juice to the offense overall, but being skeptical about how Dirk Koetter might incorporate him into the offense is a major question as well. The notion of the team preserving Gurley is a constant feature in offseason writeups and discussions of the signing, as well. As training camp rolls along, it would not surprise to see Gurley take a few less reps than the running backs behind him, but not because he is an established veteran. It’d be about keeping him fresh, and his importance for the season.
A.J. Terrell’s trial run
The Falcons surprised a few onlookers when selecting the Clemson cornerback with the 16th overall pick in this year’s draft. At 6’1 and a smidge under 200 pounds, Terrell possesses the size and quickness to battle the prototypical NFL receiver.
Without a preseason, however, Terrell will not have game experience by the time the Falcons open up the season at home against the Seattle Seahawks. To help soften that cushion however, Terrell will have to see a sizable share of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley in practice. The Falcons need Terrell to gradually develop as the season goes on. No better way to get his feet wet under these circumstances than to go up against the best WR duo in the NFL in practice.
The return of Keanu Neal
The absence of their hard hitting strong safety has been quite noticeable each of the past two seasons. Neal has played a total of four games in the past two seasons combined thanks to a pair of season-ending injuries. Neal’s rehab has gone quite well this offseason and it appears Neal will be a full go come week one. Now that he is back, it will be interesting to see how the Falcons incorporate his services while also juggling playing time for Ricardo Allen and Damontae Kazee.
Could we see Neal return to strong safety full time? Will the coaching staff keep him closer to the line of scrimmage as a hybrid weak-side linebacker? Training camp may very well provide some insight to his usage.
A motivated Takk
Plain and simple, the Falcons can truly use a big season from Takkarist McKinley. He knows it, the team knows it also. The former 2017 first round pick has not necessarily lived up to expectations so far in his career but there are still some positives to take away from his game.
No, he has not registered double digit sacks, only recording 16.5 during his tenure. But if you look closely, McKinley is a few tweaks away from being a major chess piece. It appears he has a clean bill of health and has added some bulk. The Falcons gave him a little added motivation this offseason by declining his fifth-year option. Which will make him a free agent at the conclusion of the 2020 season.
If McKinley is to have a career-year in 2020, it can all start with having his best training camp to date.
Offensive line chemistry
Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked 48 times last season and was hit a considerable amount of times outside of that. The run game was ranked 30th in rushing and 26th in yards per carry. Only three 100-yard rushing games were recorded on the season. All aspects point back to the Falcons offensive line. A unit that entered the 2019 season with promise but faced injuries and inconsistency from start to finish.
A full season from 2019 first rounder Chris Lindstrom would be massive. Injuries caused the physical right guard to miss 11 games last season. However, Lindstrom was a bright spot on the line when on the field. Continued development from right tackle Kaleb McGary will only bolster the right side of the line. Finding stability at left guard would be nice as well. The right combination needs to be established early in order for this offense as a whole to have any kind of success.