Burning Questions for Atlanta Falcons Training Camp
The Atlanta Falcons were left scratching their head at the end of the 2012 season.
They were just 10 yards away from winning the NFC Championship Game and going to just the second Super Bowl in team history. The Falcons have quite a few questions that will need to be answered this season.
They are about even on both sides of the ball, and training camp will provide these answers. Burning questions about the Falcons that will need to be answered are as follows...
How Will Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter Improve the Offense in Year 2?
The Atlanta Falcons had the seventh-best scoring offense in both 2011 and 2012. However, Dirk Koetter improved the offensive productivity with an additional 1.1 points by adding the screen game to an offense that was completely lacking it.
He also reduced the amount of carries for Michael Turner and allowed the running backs to stay fresh. This season, though, he will have an additional option at running back in Steven Jackson. With Jackson's ability as both a power rusher and receiver, the Falcons could have a unique offense.
In fact, Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez thinks it could be the perfect offense. And he could be right. Hopefully, Koetter can allow the Falcons to truly pick their poison.
Will Matt Ryan Have an Extension Signed Before Training Camp?
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter (paywall), the Falcons are still in talks with Matt Ryan's camp about a new contract.
For comparison, Rodgers' deal averages $22 million per year and $12.5 million guaranteed per year, and Flacco's deal averages $20.1 million per year and $8.67 million guaranteed per year.
The Falcons should be able to get somewhere between both numbers, and it's only a matter of time before the ink is dry and a deal is announced. It may not be before training camp, but they should have something soon.
How Will Steven Jackson Work into the Offense?
After Michael Turner failed to be a legitimate running threat in 2012, the Falcons were unable to close out teams at the end of games in the playoffs despite getting really quick leads early in games.
Insert monster running back Steven Jackson.
He is someone who can give the Falcons a legitimate running threat as a primary back. But more than that, he doesn't have to come out on third downs, and he doesn't tip the Falcons' hand to the defense based on who the personnel on the field is.
The Falcons had Turner on the field for 513 snaps in 2012. Of those 513 snaps, 248 were carries and 15 were plays that he blocked for someone else to carry the ball. That means the Falcons ran over 50 percent of the time with Turner on the field. And when they weren't running, he was blocking 37 percent of the time and his routes weren't exactly crisp when he did run them.
On the flip side of that, Jackson played 733 snaps on offense in St. Louis. On his snaps, the Rams ran the ball just 42 percent of the time. And on top of that, when the Rams did pass the ball with Jackson on the field, he ran a route 81 percent of the time.
The versatility the Falcons get on offense with Steven Jackson will make them truly unstoppable. And all he will have to do is make sure he matches his numbers from last year of around 1,000 yards rushing and 300 receiving. Then the Falcons will be golden.
Will Any of the Receivers Not Named White, Jones or Gonzalez Step Up?
In the passing game, the Falcons have one of the best groups of receivers in the NFL—that is, when you look at just the top three options of Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones and Roddy White. After them, there's Harry Douglas at wide receiver and a bunch of unproven players at both receiver and tight end.
And when you have a ton of unproven players, someone needs to step up and earn a role within the offense to make it the best it can be.
So who is going to step up?
While receivers like Douglas and Drew Davis could be the first people to step up, the Falcons' options at tight end look to be the ones who can make a true impact.
Levine Toilolo and Chase Coffman could be a scary good combination. Combining the 6'8" Toilolo with the 6'6" Coffman on red-zone and third-down sets could truly throw defenses off. But the real question is whether someone will even step up at all.
Will the Offensive Line Improve from Last Season?
After losing Todd McClure to retirement and cutting Tyson Clabo, there are questions as to just how good the Falcons will be on the offensive line.
The left side of the line will be the same as the last five seasons in Sam Baker and Justin Blalock. However, the center and right side of the line will be a completely new configuration.
Between all the competitors from center to right guard, there is one second-round pick (center Peter Konz), two third-round picks (tackles Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes), a fourth-round pick (center/guard Joe Hawley), a fifth-round pick (guard/tackle Garrett Reynolds) and multiple undrafted and street free agents.
The talent is there.
The question is what the final configuration will be and whether it can step up. And it should be a much bigger group than what started in 2012. It should also be a much quicker group than 2012's. But it may not be a better one. At least not initially.
How Will Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan Improve the Defense in Year 2?
After Brian Van Gorder finally lost the faith of the defensive players, he got canned and the Falcons brought in Mike Nolan. Nolan decided that the Falcons had a lot of good personnel but needed to be more diverse in both coverages and alignments.
So in 2013, he will have to continue with the variable-front defenses based around the nickel and big nickel packages that he likes to use.
There should be a much higher blitz percentage for the Falcons in 2013 now that John Abraham won't be the primary pass-rusher. But just how Nolan does improve the defense from a top-five scoring finish is going to be the question. Let's just hope that he can.
Will the Falcons Bring in Richard Seymour?
Richard Seymour still sits unsigned despite rumors that he and the Falcons were negotiating in the early part of June.
The door isn't closed just yet on his possible signing, but the Falcons will want to make sure that they have Matt Ryan's extension and all of the rookie contracts signed.
However, this all boils down to one thing.
If Seymour and the Falcons can agree to the right terms, then Atlanta will have signed a hometown hero to rotate in at defensive tackle. But the team needs to give Seymour the right offer or Seymour needs to come down on his demands for a deal to get done.
Will Brian Banks Make the Roster?
The feel-good story of the NFL year so far has been that Brian Banks was offered a contract by the Atlanta Falcons. However, it leaves one huge question, "Will he make the roster?"
Personally, he would if it was up to me.
He's working his butt off and the Falcons don't exactly have the best reserves at middle linebacker. So he doesn't really have anyone to compete with outside of either Joplo Bartu or Nick Clancy—fellow rookie free agents.
Let's just see how he plays in preseason and training camp, though. If he picks up the defense quickly and handles contact well, the Falcons could have a dangerous athlete to develop for the middle of their defense.
How Will the Rookie Cornerbacks Adjust to the NFL?
After losing Brent Grimes to the Dolphins and cutting Dunta Robinson, the Falcons went out and took Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford in the first two rounds of April's draft.
It should prove to be the wise move long-term. But they will be tested early and often during the season. The abilities that they both showed in the Senior Bowl and at the combine project well to the NFL.
They are also extremely mature compared to other rookies, as they were both leaders on their college defenses. If they can come right in and ball out, the Falcons could have arguably the best cornerback group in the NFL this season.
Will the Return Game Improve in 2013?
In the 2012 season, the Falcons were average in kickoff returns at just 23.7 yards averaged per return, ranking 14th in the NFL. But when it comes to punt returns, their average was just 7.9 yards per return, ranking 25th in the NFL.
Dominique Franks and Jacquizz Rodgers should have much more actual competition this season in the likes of Robert Alford, Rashad Evans and others. But who wins the job should depend on who the best, most consistent returner is.
An improvement in the return game will only help the Falcons improve their points scored. And with that, they will win more games.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats, ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy Spotrac and Rotoworld. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.