Dan Quinn isn’t going to make comparisons to his old team.
Good thing for the guys he’s now coaching.
The Falcons were one of the NFL’s worst defensive teams a year ago, a situation their new head coach is determined to turn around. Quinn came to Atlanta after serving as defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, who have the league’s most-feared unit and reached the last two Super Bowls.
During the early days of training camp, Quinn is pushing to have a defense known for its effort and pursuit to the ball.
But it looks as though he must still deal with a shortage of talent, a reality that may take a few more years to address through the draft and free agency.
“I like the effort that we are going with. I feel the energy we’re bringing,” Quinn said after Tuesday’s practice. “We got a long way to go in terms of our attitude to keep going after the football. I like the drilling that we have done for tackling. (When) we get a chance to evaluate it over the next few preseason games, we will have a better sense of where we are at.”
The Falcons play their first preseason game Friday night, hosting the Tennessee Titans.
Quinn knew he would face a tall task, considering the Falcons gave up more total yards (6,372) and more passing yards (4,478) than any team in the league last season. They ranked 27th in points allowed (26.1 per game) and were in the bottom half (21st) in rushing yards for good measure.
Talk about going from first to worst. In Seattle, Quinn’s defense easily ranked No. 1 in total yards, passing yards and point allowed.
“I’m going to reserve comparing,” Quinn said. “What I can tell you is the aggressiveness, the toughness, the finish, those are the things that I’m looking for, and I feel that speed from the guys.”
The Falcons devoted much of the offseason to beefing up the defense, which had been largely ignored in previous seasons as management focused on building a high-scoring offense that could overcome any deficiencies on the other side of the line.
That philosophy worked in 2012, when the Falcons won the NFC South and came up 10 yards short of reaching the Super Bowl. But the last two seasons were abysmal: a combined record of 10-22, which cost Mike Smith his coaching job.
“When you’re losing, it’s frustrating,” cornerback Desmond Trufant said. “But we’re heading in the right direction and we’re going to turn this thing around.”
Certainly, the defense has become more of a focus.
The Falcons used their top draft pick on Vic Beasley, who will man the “Leo” defensive end position in Quinn’s 4-3 scheme. Lining up on the weak side, the 6-foot-3, 246-pound rookie is being counted on bolster Atlanta’s dismal pass rush. The second-round pick, cornerback Jalen Collins, should also get extensive playing time.
Linebacker was another big concern. Atlanta signed Brooks Reed, Justin Durant and O’Brien Schofield to shore up that position, but the jury’s still out on those moves. Reed has been slowed by hip and groin issues, while Durant battled injuries the last two seasons and has gotten extra time off in workouts, all in hopes of making sure he’s ready to go in Week 1.
In the secondary, Ricardo Allen is making a push for playing time after spending his rookie season on the practice squad.
The Falcons moved him from cornerback to free safety, and he quickly made a good impression on the coaching staff despite a lack of experience at his new position.
“The coaches are starting to believe in me. My teammates believe in me. I believe in myself,” Allen said. I feel like I’ve put in the work, and now I’m going through the process. Anything I can do to get on that field and make my team better, I’m all for it.”
Notes: The Falcons reached a waived-injury settlement with rookie safety Terell Floyd, a college free agent out of Louisville. Quinn said he’s not sure how much time the starters will get in the preseason opener. “I don’t want to give a series or a quarter or a count,” he said. “Some starters need more work than other starters. So it’s not like a blanket assessment.”