As Seattle’s defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn helped lead Seattle to two straight Super Bowls, including one championship. Quinn opens his first training camp as Falcons coach on Friday trying to overhaul Atlanta’s woeful unit.
The Falcons allowed the most total yards and yards passing and tied for 30th in sacks in 2014, when they finished 6-10 for their second straight losing record.
A strong edge rusher, Vic Beasley of Clemson, was Quinn’s first draft pick. More defensive help came with the second-round pick, cornerback Jalen Collins, and such veteran additions as linebackers Justin Durant, Brooks Reed and O’Brien Schofield and defensive end Adrian Clayborn.
Quinn raised some eyebrows during minicamp and offseason work with his up-tempo pace in practice. Training camp will drive home the point that the offseason changes are permanent.
“Now that message begins that hey, we’re just getting started in terms of the mindset of how we’re going to go about things,” Quinn said.
The foundation of the offense returns with quarterback Matt Ryan and receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. A position to watch in training camp will be running back, where second-year player Devonta Freeman and rookie Tevin Coleman will compete for the starting job. Tight end also should be competitive, with veterans Jacob Tamme and Tony Moeaki joining Levine Toilolo.
Quinn, who has music blaring from start to finish in his practices, said he hopes his players “have the most fun they’ve ever had playing football.” He then added it’ll take “a lot of hard work to do that.”
Quinn brought in Kyle Shanahan to guide the offense. Shanahan was Cleveland’s offensive coordinator last year after four seasons directing the Washington Redskins’ offense.
Here are some story lines to watch as Quinn’s first training camp opens:
LEO THE FALCON: Quinn’s 4-3 defense employs a “Leo” defensive end who lines up on the weak side. The Leo’s primary responsibility is rushing the passer, and Beasley (6-foot-3, 235) will play the position.
Beasley has convinced his new coach he has the skills to play the role manned by Cliff Avril in the Seattle defense.
“Not only does he have inside quickness, he has lateral quickness, too,” Quinn said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman (6-6, 318) and defensive back Ricardo Allen had quiet rookie seasons but could be in position to emerge this year. Hageman impressed coaches with his conditioning in his offseason work after positing 17 tackles with one sack last season. Allen, a fifth-round pick, landed on the practice squad as a rookie, but could push Charles Godfrey at free safety.
KEY ADDITIONS: Chris Chester, who started all 64 of Washington’s games over the last four years, is the favorite to replace left guard Justin Blalock, who was released. Chester’s familiarity with Shanahan’s scheme should be important for other linemen, especially left tackle Jake Matthews.
Similarly, Schofield comes from Seattle as an expert in Quinn’s defense.
FREEMAN’S HEAD START: When drafted in the third round from Indiana, Coleman vowed he would start as a rookie.
With the release of Steven Jackson, Freeman is Atlanta’s leading returning rusher. Freeman has earned compliments from Quinn as a runner and receiver in the offseason.
Freeman (5-8, 206) surprised Quinn with his sharp pass routes.
“He can really run routes and he’s going to be a guy we feature in a lot of ways,” Quinn said.
Freeman says he never stopped working in the offseason as he is determined to win the starting job.
“This has always been my dream,” Freeman said. “I never had a dream to come to the NFL and play second to no man.”
Jacquizz Rodgers, who was Jackson’s backup, signed with the Bears.
JULIO SOARS: Jones, who set career highs with 104 catches for 1,593 yards last year, is entering the final year on his contract. He could be in line for the type of contact recently signed by Demaryius Thomas in Denver and Dez Bryant in Dallas.
Jones had a serious foot injury in 2013 and the Falcons, who have the option of a franchise tag in 2016, could be hesitant to commit to a big extension before the season.