Despite ending last season 10 yards shy of a trip to the Super Bowl, the Falcons took a high-powered sand blaster to their roster this offseason.
Seven starters and 12 reserves from last season’s opening game with Kansas City are no longer with the team. The Falcons have changed 19 of 53 (35.8 percent) roster spots as they’ll set out to defend their NFC South title starting with Sunday’s season-opener at the New Orleans Saints.
Center Todd McClure, right tackle Tyson Clabo, running back Michael Turner, defensive end John Abraham, cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes and tight end Michael Palmer all started last season’s opener against Kansas City.
Running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Osi Umenyiora were veteran free agent signings and are being counted on to replace Turner and Abraham, two stalwarts over the past seasons.
The major offseason undertaking was the revamping of the offensive line.
Peter Konz will take over at center. Garrett Reynolds will open his third straight season at right guard although he hasn’t been able to finish the previous two seasons as the starter. Second-year tackle Lamar Holmes will be counted on to replace Clabo.
The offensive line struggled during the exhibition season as the Falcons went winless, 0-4
“We are developing our offensive line and I’ve said this time and again, I am not concerned about the development of this offensive line,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “Our left side is very experienced, tough and consistent in their own rights all the way through to a second-year center, who has a real good understanding of how we play this game and interacts very well with Matt Ryan.”
Reynolds and Holmes attracted the most attention in the exhibition season, which saw Mike Johnson, who was the No. 1 right tackle, suffer a season-ending ankle injury.
Dimitroff expects the line to band together as the season is set to start.
“I am not concerned with our right side either,” Dimitroff said. “I know that was the side that saw a lot of competition during training camp and the (exhibition season). I think that was good for them.”
The Falcons have two offensive line coaches in Paul Dunn and Pat Hill.
“I have the utmost faith in our (offensive) line coaches and the (offensive) line that we are projecting to be in place,” Dimitroff said. “So does our quarterback. When you take into account the entire offseason, including the preseason games, we are encouraged with the development we have seen.”
The Falcons are not likely done with their final opening-day roster.
The Falcons are awfully young at tackle behind Sam Baker. Holmes has played just seven NFL snaps. Baker and Holmes are backed up by Ryan Schrader and Terren Jones, two players who made the roster as undrafted rookie free agents.
The Falcons could be in the veteran free agent market for tackle, which includes Max Stark, Tony Pashos, Dennis Roland and Pat McQuistan.
The Falcons are also inexperienced behind Ryan. Dominique Davis, last season’s No. 3 quarterback, is the only other quarterback on the roster. He hasn’t played in a regular season game, yet.
The pool of veteran quarterbacks is particularly weak because three teams elected to keep four quarterbacks.
Vince Young, David Carr, Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn and Trent Edwards are available.
David Carr, 34, played for Hill, when he was the head coach at Fresno State.
The former No. 1 overall pick has started 79 of his 94 NFL games, but hasn’t made a start since the 2007 season. He has a 23-56 record as a starter and had a career passer rating of 74.9
“We are definitely encouraged about Dom’s development from last year into this year,” Dimitroff said. “It looks as though Dom continues to move the ball around the field well enough and is getting better in his ability to discern where the play-making ability is on the field on any given play.
“He has improved quite a bit from last year i.e. knowing when to tuck the ball and run for 40 or 50 yards and when to pull it back and spin the ball down the field. That’s something that a quarterback learns with time and reps.”
The Falcons signed fullback Patrick DiMarco, quarterback Seth Doege, wide receiver Darius Johnson, cornerback Jordan Mabin, guard Phillipkeith Manley, defensive tackle Adam Replogle, wide receiver James Rodgers and tight end Mickey Shuler to the practice squad on Sunday.