1. The offensive coordinators of the NFC South. Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith spent a great deal of his offseason trying to devise a way to generate a pass-rush, which will be important in the NFC South matchups.
The Falcons went 1-5 in the division. A playoff run in 2016 will require a much better pass-rush.
The Falcons plan to move Vic Beasley to strongside linebacker in the base defense and will play him at defensive end in the nickel package.
In addition to creating a pass rush, the Falcons want to cover tight ends and running backs better.
Last season, NFC South tight ends caught 37 passes for 423 yards and four touchdowns against the Falcons. There was Ben Watson's 10 catches for 127 yards and one touchdown in the 31-21 loss to the Saints on Oct. 15. Watson, the former Georgia standout, also had six catches for 59 yards and a touchdown in the Saints' 20-17 win over the Falcons on Jan. 3.
Slowing down tight ends was an offseason priority.
“We got (safety Keanu) Neal in the draft,” defensive coordinator Richard Smith said. “He upgrades us that way. He’s got the ability to cover. …He’s got size, length, and speed, so I think we have better matchup on tight ends than we had a year ago.”
Smith plans to be creative with Neal.
“We can do some things with him,” Smith said. “We can bring him on pressure. We can drop him into coverage. He can man-up. Which is really a good addition.”
The Falcons, who play mostly cover-three zone to prevent deep passes, concede that some running backs and tights end will be open as check-down receivers.
“In our system, the (defensive backs) are going to stay on top and eliminate the big play,” linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich said. “The check down is going to be there. That’s running backs and tight ends typically…Now, what has to come to life is the ability to close on them and punish them.”
Here’s a look at the offensive coordinators of the NFC South:
2. Todd Monken, Bucs. He was the head coach at Southern Mississippi over the past three seasons and will also coach the wide receivers. Head coach Dirk Koetter, the former offensive coordinator, will continue to call the plays. Koetter was the Falcons offensive coordinator from 2012-2014. The Bucs offense set a franchise record of 6,014 yards in 2015. While the Bucs moved the ball at a record pace, they failed to score points inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. The Bucs scored touchdowns on just 52.9 percent of their red zone trips, which ranked 22nd in the league.
3. Pete Carmichael, Saints. Carmichael is set to enter his eighth season as the offensive coordinator. He was the quarterbacks coach for three seasons before being promoted in 2009. Under his tutelage, the Saints have been ranked first in the NFL in yardage in five of the past nine seasons and in the top six each season. The Saints are hoping that running back C.J. Spiller can bounce back and help Mark Ingram shoulder the load in the run game. While Watson left to sign with Ravens, the Saints signed tight end Coby Fleener in free agency.
4. Mike Shula, Panthers. Shula has done a masterful job of integrating college zone-read concepts with old-school power running plays. The passing attack revolved around quarterback Cam Newton mostly throwing to tight end Greg Olsen. Shula gets back wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin who missed last season with knee injury that required ACL surgery. He was Newton’s favorite target during Benjamin's rookie season in 2014.
5. Youth Coaching Clinics. The Falcons will host a youth football coaching clinic at the Rainwater Conference Center in Valdosta on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. They will also host a youth football coaching clinic at Meadowcreek High on Saturday, July 23. Registration is required.
6. Durant could surface in Dallas. Linebacker Justin Durant, who was released by the Falcons in February, is in talks with the Cowboys. He played just one season for the Falcons.
7. Turner on the running backs. The Falcons have one of the best running backs coaches in the NFL in Bobby Turner.
He was in Denver from 1995 to 2009 when he was churning out 1,000-yard rushers in Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Clinton Portis, Michael Anderson, Rueben Droughns and Tatum Bell.
In Washington from 2010 to 14, Turner helped to develop Alfred Morris, who had three straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2012-14. (We met Turner back in 1989 and 1990 when he was the running backs coach for John Cooper at Ohio State. His running backs included Carlos Snow, Scottie Graham, Robert Smith, Byler By'note and Raymont Harris. Kirk Herbstreit spilt quarterback duties with Kent Graham. All of Turner's backs received shots in the NFL, before he left to become Purdue's assistant head coach/offensive coordinator).
Last season, Turner helped Devonta Freeman have a breakout 1,000-yard season.
Turner, who sees a lot of promise in Tevin Coleman, talked about the running backs group with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Here's a Q&A with Turner, who plans to use Freeman less in 2016:
Q: How did the offseason go for the backfield guys?
A: Well, they are never 100 percent of where you want them. But I’m happy with where we are right now. I’m still pushing them to get better and improve. Those guys are still competing. The main thing is that we are not emphasizing it any more than we did last year, but it’s about protecting the football. Ball security, it starts there. But we emphasize the heck out of it every day. That’s what we’re about. That’s throughout the village.
Q: What are you plans for Tevin Coleman?
A: We are constantly emphasizing (ball security) and the key thing, unfortunately for Coleman, is to stay healthy. Those were the reasons last year that we fell short there. The ball security and the fact that he came up with some (injuries). But his attitude is still good along with Freeman. They are pushing each other. We want those guys competing and they are doing that.
Q: What's the key moving forward for both running backs?
A: It’s about growth. Free had a good year, but I’m expecting even a better year. Well, you’re saying, how can it be better? It can be even better with less carries or less catches because I’d obviously like to get Tevin more involved and that also keeps Free fresher.
We want them competing. They are very similar. The only difference is really when it comes down to it is that both are competitive. They both can catch the football. They both have run instincts. When it comes down to it, the one difference is the flat out long speed of Tevin Coleman.
Q: What did you all see from rookie Will Ratelle to convert him to fullback from linebacker?
A: We’ve done that in the past through my history. At the fullback position, we want a kid who’s physical. He’s 250 pounds. He has good quickness. He has good speed. The mind-set was that we saw an athlete there and he was willing. He was open-minded about playing fullback in the National Football League.
Q: Was he a physical linebacker?
A: When it comes down to it, you want a player who is tough. I don’t care what position that you play, I'm looking for a guy that’s tough. If he competes and he’s tough, that’s what we are about. We saw a player that competed. We saw a player that was tough. We also saw a player that was willing to make the change.
Q: How did Terron Ward play for you last season?
A: Again, he wasn’t a surprise. He was a free agent for us, undrafted, and we’ve done this in the past. He made the team for a reason. What he lacked in size, height and speed...we were looking for a football player. So, he did a good job for us and again, I’m expecting him to be even more competitive. Maybe he can compete and push those other two.
8. Countdown to camp. The Falcons report for training camp on Wednesday, July 27. The first practice is set for Thursday, July 28. Several practices will be open to the public.
Here’s a closer look at the training camp schedule:
27 – Wednesday, team reports for camp.
28 - Thursday, practice open to public, 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
29 – Friday, public practice, 10:00 a.m. - 12 p.m.
30 – Saturday, public practice, 10:00 a.m. - 12 p.m.
31 – Sunday, public practice, 10:00 a.m. - 12 p.m.
1 - Monday, no practice.
2 - Tuesday, public practice, 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
3 – Wednesday, public practice, 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
4 – Thursday, public practice, 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
5 - Friday, 7 p.m. - 9 p.m. Grayson High School
6 - Saturday, players off.
7 – Sunday, public practice, 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
8- Monday, public practice, 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
9 - Tuesday, public practice, 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
10 - Wednesday, public practice 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
11 – Thursday vs. Washington 7 p.m. (Georgia Dome).
12 – Friday, closed practice.
13 - Saturday, players off.
14 – Sunday, public practice, 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
15 – Monday, public practice, 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
16 – Tuesday, public practice: 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
9. Depth chart. Here's the projected depth chart heading into training camp.
WR 11 Julio Jones, 16 Justin Hardy, 17 Devin Hester, 87 Devin Fuller, 18 Jordan Leslie
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 76 Tom Compton
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 71 Wes Schweitzer, 79 Shabaz Ahmed
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 69 Jake Reed
RG 65 Chris Chester, 68 Mike Person, 64 Collin Rahrig, Michael Huey
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 72 Bryce Harris, 66 Laurence Gibson
TE 83 Jacob Tamme, 80 Levine Toilolo, 81 Austin Hooper, 86 D.J. Tialavea, 82 Joshua Perkins
WR Mohamed Sanu, 14 Eric Weems, 19 Aldrick Robinson, 15 Nick Williams, 7 David Glidden, 85 J.D. McKissic, 89 Daje Johnson
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 12 Sean Renfree, 4 Matt Simms
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 35 Gus Johnson, 20 Brandon Wilds
FB 42 Patrick DiMarco, 39 Will Ratelle
RDE 99 Adrian Clayborn, 50 Brooks Reed, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 71 Brandon Williams
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 94 Tyson Jackson, 95 Jonathan Babineaux, 96 Nordly Capi, 98 Cory Johnson
DT 90 Derrick Shelby, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 92 Joey Mbu, 74 Chris Mayes
LDE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 48 Ivan McLennan, 93 Malliciah Goodman, 52 Tyler Starr
LB 56 Sean Weatherspoon, 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 41 Philip Wheeler, 46 Torrey Green
LB 55 Paul Worrilow, 45 Deion Jones, 53 LaRoy Reynolds
RCB 25 Akeem King, 43 DeMarcus Van Dyke, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 33 Devonte Johnson, 32 Jalen Collins (Suspended for 4 games)
NCB 23 Robert Alford, 43 DeMarcus Van Dyke
LCB 21 Desmond Trufant,, 38 David Mims II, 39 Jordan Sefon
FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Robenson Therezie, 20 Sharrod Neaseman, 34 Brian Poole
SS 22 Keanu Neal, 30 Charles Godfrey, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 40 Damian Parms
RDE 99 Adrian Clayborn, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 71 Brandon Williams, 96 Nordly Capi
DT 77 Ra'Shede Hageman, 95 Jonathan Babineaux, 98 Cory Johnson
NT 97 Grady Jarrett, 94 Tyson Jackson, 92 Joey Mbu, 74 Chris Mayes
LDE 90 Derrick Shelby, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 93 Malliciah Goodman, 52 Tyler Starr
WLB 56 Sean Weatherspoon, 59 De'Vondre Campbell, 46 Torrey Green, 48 Ivan McLennan
MLB 55 Paul Worrilow, 45 Deion Jones, 53 LaRoy Reynolds
SLB 44 Vic Beasley, 41 Philip Wheeler, 50 Brooks Reed, 91 Courtney Upshaw,
RCB 25 Akeem King, 32 Jalen Collins, 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 33 Devonte Johnson, 38 David Mims II
LCB 21 Desmond Trufant, 43 DeMarcus Van Dyke, 39 Jordan Sefon, 34 Brian Poole
FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Robenson Therezie, 20 Sharrod Neaseman
SS 22 Keanu Neal, 30 Charles Godfrey, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 40 Damian Parms
K 3 Matt Bryant, 1 Nick Rose
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 17 Devin Hester, 14 Eric Weems, 16 Justin Hardy, 7 David Glidden, 85 J.D. McKissic
PR 17 Devin Hester, 14 Eric Weems, 16 Justin Hardy, 7 David Glidden, 85 J.D. McKissic
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher, 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub
90-MAN ROSTER ANALYSIS -- POSITION BY POSITION
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
PROJECT PASS RUSH
FALCONS' OFFSEASON SPOTLIGHTS