The Falcons are not undergoing a makeover this offseason.
Currently, 19 of the 22 starters in the Super Bowl are set to return, but that doesn’t mean the team is standing pat.
“Not every team is the same, year to year,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “I’ve never been someone that’s said, let’s reload and do everything exactly like it was.”
Only right guard Chris Chester, fullback Patrick DiMarco and defensive end Dwight Freeney of the Super Bowl starters are no longer on the roster. Chester is contemplating retirement. DiMarco signed with Buffalo, and Freeney is a free agent who wants to continue playing.
“For me, it’s way more about the development and how we can bring guys through and get going,” Quinn said. “I’ve never been one to reload. That’s more of saying just keep it status quo. I want to see how we can get better.”
Here are five positions the Falcons still need to fill this offseason:
1. Right guard. Ben Garland and Wes Schweitzer are next up on the depth chart.
Garland is a converted defensive lineman, and Schweitzer was a seventh-round pick in 2016. Quinn said that both are potential NFL starters.
“They’ll battle for sure at the guard spot, and (we’ll) see where it goes,” Quinn said. “Both of them are unique. Both of them, in the run game, are really rock solid. Pass protection is something where you have to get in the fire. You have to go through it and do it.”
Both were members of the team’s developmental program last season.
“In practice they’ve shown real improvement,” Quinn said. “They are shining examples of our Plan D program. The amount of work that they put in pre-practice. … (They) are some of the first guys out on the practice field, Garland and Schweitzer. I’m sure they are out there before the media, on some days. The grit, the attitude, the resiliency that they have is on point.”
Also, the Falcons had a formal interview with Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp at the NFL scouting combine. He’s considered the second rated guard in the draft and should be available when the Falcons use the 31st pick.
Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson, who could start his career as a guard, was the Falcons’ first-round pick in ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay’s latest mock draft.
Tom Compton, the backup swing tackle, signed with the Chicago Bears as a free agent and must be replaced.
2. Pass rusher. The Falcons need to improve the pass rush opposite Vic Beasley, who led the league with 15.5 sacks and won the Deacon Jones award. Adrian Clayborn returns, but Freeney’s status is up in the air.
The Falcons finished with 34 sacks, which ranked 16th in the league.
Opponents started “chipping” Beasley with tight ends and running backs. They got away with it because the Falcons didn’t really have an every-down pass rusher opposite Beasley.
The Falcons had to get their second-year linebacker free with exotic stunts, twists and blitzes.
The Falcons were interested in Nick Perry in free agency before he returned to the Packers. Freeney remains a possibility.
“For him, he’s going to take his time,” Quinn said.
For now, Freeney works on his golf game in the morning, goes to lunch and then invites a friend to play with him in the afternoon. When training camp rolls around, he wants to ditch his routine and continue playing.
“It’s something that we would consider,” Quinn said. “I think so. He certainly showed that as the postseason went through. There is so much that you have to put in to get right. That has to be something that he has to decide. All of the commitment. All of the time. All of the focus. All of the things that you have to go through to get ready. He and I haven’t had that discussion yet.”
The draft is deep with edge rushers that the Falcons could develop.
3. Defensive tackle. The Falcons, after not re-signing Jonathan Babineaux and releasing Tyson Jackson, signed Dontari Poe in free agency. Poe, a former two-time Pro Bowler, should add some teeth to the run defense.
The Falcons could still address the position in the draft and there are several options.
Michigan State’s Malik McDowell, Florida’s Caleb Brantley, Michigan’s Chris Wormley, Iowa’s Jaleel Johnson and Auburn’s Montravius Adams (from Dooly County High) are highly rated.
“Wormley, again, he’s not a great pass rusher, but he’s going to probably end up being a (defensive tackle),” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “I think Jaleel Johnson is one of the more underrated guys in this draft. He’s probably going to be a second- or third-round pick. He became more consistent this year coming out of Iowa.
“Auburn’s Montravius Adams was the most explosive of the defensive linemen at the Senior Bowl. Had a really good season on tape this past year. Two years ago, the effort was not there.”
4. Fullback. Former Cincinnati Bengals running back Rex Burkhead, who visited the Falcons, signed with the Patriots on Tuesday, and the Falcons are still looking for a replacement for DiMarco.
“That’s one of the situations where he had to look at everything,” Dimitroff said about losing DiMarco to Buffalo. “He had to make the move that he thought was most financially right for he and his family. No one can be faulted for that, of course.”
The scouts have extensive discussions with new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian about DiMarco’s replacement.
“We will be coming into this year making sure that we have an athlete at that position, a guy who can move around,” Dimitroff said. “The sort of old-fashion fullback-type might not be exactly what we are looking for. … We’ll continue to look. We figure that might happen in free agency, but there are a lot of opportunities in the draft to pull someone’s (name) off the board as well.”
5. Returner. Free-agent signee Andre Roberts will compete for the kickoff- and punt-returner job. Devin Fuller and Justin Hardy are other candidates. Taylor Gabriel returned four kickoffs with Cleveland in 2014.
Roberts, who played at The Citadel, was a third-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2010. He played four seasons with the Cardinals, two with Washington and one with Detroit.
Over his career, Roberts has had 456 targets and 253 catches (43.1 percent) for 2,899 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Roberts had 20 punt returns for 246 yards and two touchdowns last season. He also had 33 kickoff returns for 747 yards (22.6).
Also, the Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong worked out returner Isaiah McKenzie at Georgia’s Pro Day on Wednesday.