ATLANTA — Dan Quinn has brought new energy to the Atlanta Falcons.
From the thumping music that blares throughout practices to the frenetic enthusiasm of the team’s new coach, it’s clear that Quinn is putting his own stamp on the Falcons.
Whether than translates into more wins is still a big question mark.
Atlanta remains a major work in progress after going 10-22 the past two seasons, a slump that cost Mike Smith his job, even though he was the winningest coach in franchise history.
Enter Quinn, who had been in charge of the league’s most fearsome defense in Seattle.
He’s looking to bring the same sort of swagger to the Falcons.
“I can’t wait for us to demonstrate our toughness, our finish, our attitude,” Quinn said.
The quarterback position is in good hands with Matt Ryan, and the Falcons have one of the league’s most dominant receivers in Julio Jones.
Beyond that, all sorts of troubling issues.
The offensive line was so shaky the Falcons felt compelled to make a last-minute trade for guard Andy Levitre, who had lost his starting job in Tennessee. The battle for the backup quarterback job was a mess, the Falcons even taking a look at Rex Grossman before cutting him after less than two weeks on the roster.
The running game is largely a mystery after Devonta Freeman and rookie Tevin Coleman were slowed by injuries during the preseason. The defense was one of the worst in the league a year ago, giving up more passing yards and total yards than any other team.
“It’s a work in progress,” cornerback Desmond Trufant said. “But I like where we’re going.”
At least the Falcons have geography working in their favor. The NFC South was downright pathetic a year ago, giving the Falcons a chance to actually make the playoffs going into the final game of the season. Alas, they were blown out at home by the Carolina Panthers and finished 6-10.
Here are some things to watch for in Quinn’s debut season:
SIGNED AND SEALED: Jones should be a happy camper after agreeing to a new five-year, $71.25 million contract, which includes more than $47 million in guaranteed money. He is coming off the best season of his career, catching 104 passes for 1,593 yards and six touchdowns. Now that his future in Atlanta is secure, Jones could be poised for an even better season — especially since receiver appears to be one of the strongest positions on the team. Roddy White, newcomer Leonard Hankerson and others can take some of the heat off Jones.
QUESTIONABLE LINE: New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has installed a new zone-blocking scheme, but the line struggled against strong defensive fronts during the preseason. Left tackle Jake Matthews had a tough rookie year, and the rest of the line — center Joe Hawley, guards Mike Person and Chris Chester, right tackle Ryan Schraeder — is hardly an imposing unit. As soon as Levitre gets up to speed, he could be playing a major role.
RUNNING WOES: The Falcons cut ties with aging Steven Jackson, hoping Freeman and Coleman can revitalize the position with their youth. Freeman, a second-year player, didn’t play at all during the preseason because of a lingering hamstring injury. Coleman, a third-round pick out of Indiana, was also bothered by a sore hamstring, though he did turn in a promising performance in the final exhibition game with eight carries for 56 yards.
PRESSURING THE QB: DE Vic Beasley, the team’s first-round pick, will play the “Leo” position in Quinn’s 4-3 defense, lining up on the weak side and charged mainly with getting to the quarterback. Another newcomer, Adrian Clayborn, could also help bolster the pass rush. The Falcons had a mere 22 sacks in 2014; only one team had fewer.
DEFENSIVE MAKEOVER: Beasley and Clayborn aren’t the only new faces on that side of the line. Justin Durant, Brooks Reed and O’Brien Schofield have given the linebacking group a much different look. Ricardo Allen impressed the coaching staff after converting from cornerback to free safety. Tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, a second-round pick in 2014, is expected to make a much bigger contribution on the interior line.