With the start of the 2017 NFL season a few months away, it is important to look towards the upcoming Falcons training camp. While on paper the Falcons still have one of the best rosters in all of football, many question linger about the after effects of their Super bowl loss. As a new draft class comes in, the team will have to acclimate to the new personnel additions and subtractions. The Falcons were able to keep the core group of play makers together while solidifying the middle of their defense with the addition of Dontari Poe. Here’s a look at five players to watch during Falcons training camp.
Trufant is still one of the best cover corners in the NFL, but coming off of a season ending injury, he will be tested to see how well he has healed. One could argue that his being out played a big part in the Falcons Super bowl collapse. Due to him missing the playoffs, the Falcons had to rely on both Robert Alford as well as second year corner Jalen Collins. Collins acclimated well to the starting corner back role and showed much more maturity than he had in his first year and a half in the league. If the Falcons defense is to continue the progress they showed in the postseason, they will need both a healthy Trufant as well as continued production from Collins.
Vic Beasley Jr.
Following a slow rookie campaign, Beasley exploded with a league leading 15.5 sacks in 2016. With an improved pass rush, it is fair to assume that Beasley will not be required to carry as much of a load as he did last season, but there is still reason to be excited about this season. Beasley will spend part of the off season training with NFL sack artist Von Miller. While some fans might have trepidation with Beasley training with a rival (if you can call the Broncos a rival) the idea of Beasley picking the brain of the leagues best pass rusher is extremely tantalizing. Beasley has also spent the off season bulking up. One of the few complaints about the former Clemson star is his lack of size, which led to him splitting time between Defensive end and linebacker. While he has bulked up, he has kept his intentions on not getting above 250 pounds. We will have to wait and see how these changes affect his game.
On the opposite side sits Takk McKinley. Falcons fans were introduced to McKinley in explosive fashion with his emotion filled speech following getting drafted 26th overall by the Falcons. The elite pass rushing prospect out of UCLA is coming off of a labrum injury, but should be good to go by the start of the season. McKinley was drafted to take some of the burden off of Beasley, but they should still work well together. McKinley, like Beasley, is a quick explosive pass rusher, and with the help from interior lineman like Super Bowl breakout star Grady Jarett as well as new addition Dontari Poe, they should take the pressure off of the Falcons secondary.
Okay, so technically this is not a single player to look out for, but it is important nonetheless. With the surprise retirement of Chris Chester following the Super Bowl loss, the Falcons need to fill the gap to solidify their offensive line once again. Matt Ryan excelled last year in no small part to the reliability of the guys in front of him. While Chester did well for the Falcons over the past few years, he is by no means replaceable. The three main people battling for the spot are veteran Ben Garland, second year guard Wes Schweitzer, and rookie Sean Harlow. Schweitzer was taken last year with the Falcons six round pick out of San Jose State, while Harlow is a fourth round pick out of Oregon state. While the advantage goes to Garland and Schweitzer, Harlow is seen as a very intelligent pass protector who just needs to refine his size and skill. The move from tackle to guard should help Harlow, as will being between star linemen Alex Mack and Ryan Schraeder. How Harlow performs in training camp will go a long way to determining his place in the Falcons squad.
You don’t usually need to watch a reigning league MVP coming off of the best season in a career littered with quality seasons. The two main things to watch from Ryan are the lingering effects of the Super Bowl loss and his interactions with new Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian. While Ryan put up an impressive performance in the Super Bowl, ultimately some of the blame fell on him rightly or wrongly. While the loss was devastating, we shouldn’t expect it to effect the Falcons in the same way it would others due to the culture built by coach Quinn. The main focus should be on Ryan’s relationship with Sarkisian. Much of Ryan’s success was due to his understanding of the offensive skill built by former OC Kyle Shanahan, and with his departure, Ryan will have to deal with a new Coordinator. From what we’ve seen and heard from players so far, the relationship between Sark and Ryan is going well, but we will only be able to tell once they step on the field.
Other Players To Watch
De’vondre Campbell is switching from weak side to strong side linebacker, Julio Jones is recovering from his foot surgery, Dontari Poe is acclimating to a new team.
Falcons Training Camp Gets Started in July
All Stats Via Pro Football Reference