Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

July 24, 2018 at 1:10 am.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Matt Ryan. Backups — Matt Schaub, Grayson Garrett, Kurt Benkert.

Ryan, who signed a six-year, $150 million contract extension on May 7, is set to enter his 11th season in the NFL. The Falcons know that Ryan is most effective when he can step up in the pocket and deliver the ball. With shaky play from the guard position, Ryan rarely had a firm pocket last season. Ryan was on the move too much. He rushed for 143 yards, the second-highest total of his career. He had 145 yards in the 2014 season. Schaub turn 37 in June.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters — Devonta Freeman, FB Ricky Ortiz. Backups –Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith, Terrence Magee, Justin Crawford, Malik Williams, FB Daniel Marx, FB Luke McNitt.

New running backs coach Bernie Parmalee’s task is to keep the Freeman-Coleman running back combination potent. Freeman suffered two concussions and a knee injury last season. It was the toughest season of his young NFL career. After back-to-back seasons of compiling more than 1,500 all-purpose yards, he had 1,182 last season. Coleman rushed for a career-high 628 yards and five touchdowns last season. He also caught 27 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said he under-utilized the running backs in the passing game last season. The Falcons are looking to replace Derrick Coleman, who was not re-signed, at fullback.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Austin Hooper. Backups — Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert, Alex Gray, Troy Mangen, Jaeden Graham.

Hooper spent part of his offseason working with Ryan. He is hoping to become more consistent. The Falcons parted ways with Levine Toilolo and signed veteran Paulsen to a one-year, $1 million deal to be their blocking tight end. Saubert, a fifth-round pick in 2017 out of Drake, played 30 snaps on offense and 212 on special teams last season.

WIDE RECIEVERS: Starters — Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu. Backups — Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, Reggie Davis, Lamar Jordan, Taj Williams, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Hall, Russell Gage, Christian Blake, Dontez Byrd, Devin Gray.

With Jones, Sanu and Ridley, the Falcons hope to have a talented trio of wide receivers. Jones has had four straight seasons with 1,400 yards receiving of more. Jones, who was coming off foot surgery, had a 59.5-percent catch ratio (148 targets, 88 catches), which was the second-lowest since his rookie season, when he had a 56.8-percent catch ratio. Sanu had a 69.8-percent catch ratio as he hauled in 67 of 96 targets and had 703 yards and tied a career-high with five touchdowns. Ridley will be expected to add some big-plays to the attack. Hardy is a solid fourth receiver.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: LT Jake Matthews, LG Andy Levitre, C Alex Mack, RG Brandon Fusco, RT Ryan Schraeder. Bacups: T Ty Sambrailo, T Austin Pasztor, T Daniel Brunskill, T Matt Gono, G Wes Schweitzer, G Ben Garland, G Sean Harlow, G Jamil Douglas, G Salesi Uhatafe, C J.C. Hassenauer.

Mack, who was voted second-team All-Pro last season, is the anchor of the offensive line. The Falcons are counting on continued growth from Matthews and Schraeder. They are hoping that Levitre, the starting left guard, has recovered from his partially torn triceps injury. The Falcons signed Fusco in free agency. Fusco and Schweitzer both spent time with the first-team line at right guard during the offseason. Right guard was the leaky spot along the line. Garland and Schweitzer combined to surrender 46 total pressures, with Garland also playing 341 snaps in relief of Levitre, who was injured.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LDE Vic Beasley, DT Grady Jarrett, NT Terrell McClain, RDE Takkarist McKinley. Backups – E Brooks Reed, E Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, E Mackendy Cheridor, E Derrick Shelby, E J’Terius Jones, T Deadrin Senat, T Garrison Smith, T Jack Crawford, T Justin Zimmer, T Jon Cunningham.

Beasley will move back to defensive end full time. The Falcons must replace last season’s leading sacker in Adrian Clayborn (9.5 sacks) and defensive tackle Dontari Poe. The Falcons are counting on McKinley to step into Clayborn’s spot at right defensive end. Poe, who signed with Carolina in free agency, will be replaced by Senat and veteran McClain. The super quick Jarrett is an emerging player in the league. The key will be how fast the Falcons can get Senat ready to play in the NFL trenches.

LINEBACKERS: Starters: SLB De’Vondre Campbell, MLB Deion Jones, WLB Duke Riley. Backups — Foyesade Oluokun, Emmanuel Ellerbe, Emmanuel Smith, Kemal Ishmael, Anthony Winbush, Richard Jarvis.

Jones, coming off the first of what should be many trips to the Pro Bowl, returns at middle linebacker and the hard-changing Campbell is set at strong-side linebacker. The Falcons are counting on Riley to step up at the weak-side linebacker position. Kemal Ishmael is the only other experienced linebacker on the roster. Riley, who was taken in the third round of the 2017 draft, opened the season as the starting weak-side linebacker. He missed too many tackles and ended the season as a reserve and special-teams player.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters – RCB Robert Alford, FS Ricardo Allen , SS Keanu Neal, LCB Desmond Trufant. Backups — CB Brian Poole, CB Isaiah Oliver, CB Justin Bethel, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Deante Burton, CB Leon McFadden, CB Chris Lammons, CB Tyson Graham, CB Joseph Putu, S Ron Parker, S Damontae Kazee, S Marcelis Branch, S Jason Hall, S Secdrick Cooper.

Trufant and Alford need to make more plays on the ball. Alford led the team with 20 pass breakups, but had just one interception. Trufant had 12 pass breakups and just two interceptions. The Falcons were down from 22 takeaways to 16 in 2017. Overall, the turnover margin was minus-2, which ranked 19th in the league after being a plus-11 and ranking fourth in 2016. Brian Poole will face challengers at nickel back including promising young safety Damontae Kazee. Oliver will be expected to contribute on special teams. The hard-hitting Neal, who has forced eight fumbles over two seasons, provides the unit with a physical presence. Allen is playing on a restricted free-agent tender, while the Falcons are excited about Kazee, as a potential replacement.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Matt Bryant, P Matt Bosher, LS Josh Harris, KOR Reggie Davis, PR Justin Hardy.

With the kicking and punting operations in good shape with Bryant and Bosher, the Falcons set out to improve their special-teams units over the offseason. The Falcons hope they landed a dynamic coverage duo in Justin Bethel, a three-time Pro Bowler, and Gage.