The Atlanta Falcons have made a number of significant changes to the franchise this offseason, which has led to some big developments for the Dirty Birds.
The changes come at a time when the Falcons are attempting to stay competitive in a suddenly deep NFC Conference. A year ago Atlanta finished with a 10-6 record and a second-place finish in the NFC South but were embarrassed in the Wild Card round of the playoffs by the New York Giants.
The offense last season was stellar in Atlanta, with the only noticeable weakness coming in the running game. Defensively the unit gave up too many passing yards and failed to put enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
This offseason the Falcons have adequately addressed the majority of the team's weaknesses in the hopes of advancing well past the Wild Card round.
Here are Atlanta's six biggest developments so far this offseason.
The offense of the Atlanta Falcons had become a bit stagnant as of late, which is why they went out and added a new offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter.
Koetter's stint before joining the Falcons this offseason was his magnificent work at the same position with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Koetter focuses on a few things that will allow the Falcons offense evolve into one of the better units in the league.
For one, Koetter made something out of nothing with quarterback David Garrard, which is great news for a guy like Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Koetter beautifully managed a backfield of Fred Tay;or and Maurice Jones-Drew, which bodes well for Falcons backs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers. Finally, Koetter focuses heavily on screen passes, which will allow Rodgers to see more touches next season.
Finally, the offense under Koetter will reportedly focus more on a no-huddle, vertical passing attack, which will allow receivers such as Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas to flourish.
Koetter's past work is an exact model of what was missing in Atlanta until now. He has been working with all the players in training camp, and the Falcons' offensive unit could be one of the best in the NFL next season as a result.
The Atlanta Falcons only notched 33 sacks last year and allowed 236 passing yards per game. That will change with the addition of new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
Nolan's most recent stint came as the defensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins in 2010, where he upgraded the team's pass-rushing ability significantly.
A boost to the pass rush is certainly in order for the Falcons. Veteran pass-rusher John Abraham returns next season and will of course rack up big numbers, but no one else stepped up last season in terms of putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Nolan's system he is currently implementing should allow players such as Ray Edwards to see a much-needed boost in production.
A talented secondary is now at Nolan's disposal as well thanks to the addition of Asante Samuel, and Nolan will have the unit ready to play at a high level from day one.
The Atlanta Falcons were unable to bring back last year's starting middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, who signed a five-year, $33 million deal with the New Orleans Saints.
To replace the departed Lofton the Falcons signed Lofa Tatupu, who will now compete with 2011 third-round selection Akeem Dent for the starting job.
Losing a player like Lofton is a huge detriment to the improvement of the unit as a whole. Last season he racked up 147 tackles, one sack and two interceptions.
Still, the ensuing training camp battle between Tatupu and Dent will potentially bring out the best in both players. The likely outcome could be a rotational gig between the two, but together they could make up for most of Lofton's lost production.
After giving up an inordinate amount of yards through the air last season, the Atlanta Falcons promptly decided to acquire disgruntled Philadelphia Eagles' cornerback Asante Samuel in exchange for a 2012 seventh-round pick.
Samuel joins a talented group of corners with names such as Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson. Under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan Grimes and Samuel will match up with various receivers each week depending on the matchup, while Robinson will step back into the nickel corner role.
The slot corner role is something Robinson has requested repeatedly in the past, citing his experience in the position from his time with the Houston Texans. Nolan has quickly made the change thanks to realization that all three corners will likely be on the field at the same time the majority of the time thanks to the pass-happy NFL.
The Atlanta secondary was talented before but is even more so now thanks to the addition of Samuel. And thanks to a smart decision by a new coordinator and secondary members playing to their strengths, the Falcons could quietly have one of the better secondaries in the NFL in 2012.
Peter Konz out of Wisconsin was one of the more versatile offensive linemen entering the 2012 NFL draft, but he fell to the second round due to medical concerns.
Despite these concerns, the Atlanta Falcons scooped up Konz with the No. 55 overall selection, and the decision could pay dividends for years to come.
Konz is slated as the starting right guard for the Falcons right now, a clear upgrade over the starter from a year ago. The Falcons are reportedly grooming Konz to be the center of the future.
The addition of Konz is important because he upgrades the entire unit and provides more consistency in the protection of franchise quarterback Matt Ryan. He is also a mauler in the run game, which is great not only for normal running plays but for the now increased reliance on screen passes in 2012.
The Atlanta Falcons have been toying with reducing the number of carries running back Michael Turner receives in 2012, which makes sense because he has been a workhorse for so long.
One school of thought would be that reducing Turner's carries could be a bad idea. He only notched 301 rushing attempts last year. His best season in the NFL came in 2008 when he received 376 rushes, which he turned into 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Conversely, reducing Turner's role is smart because it allows backs such as Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling to receive more carries. Turner is also a non-factor in the passing game, something both Rodgers and Snelling are consistent at.
With the Falcons offense moving to more of a passing attack, it only makes sense that Turner's role on the team will continue to be phased out. The beneficiaries of this natural evolution are the hybrid backs on the roster that can change the complexion of a game on one touch.