The start of Atlanta Falcons training camp always brings a swarm of fans to Flowery Branch and high expectations as another season is mere weeks from beginning.
This season, it’s much bigger.
The first sounds of pads popping and sweat flying fiercely from water-soaked uniforms Thursday will be just the sign Falcons fans needed to know that the Super Bowl meltdown against the Patriots in Houston is now a thing of the past.
Talent will be in abundance with the returning NFC Champions. Atlanta has the NFL’s most talented quarterback in Matt Ryan — yes, a better skill set than soon-to-be 40-year-old Tom Brady from New England. The better half of the running back tandem, Devonta Freeman, could possibly have a new contract finalized by the time the team reports to Flowery Branch on Wednesday.
That’s another big sign that Atlanta management is serious about keeping this unit intact, as much as possible.
If college performance is a good indictor of pro success, Atlanta fans will likely be thrilled with first-round selection Takk McKinley, who is still nursing a shoulder from offseason surgery.
Later-round picks like linebacker Duke Riley, offensive guard Sean Harlow, corner back Damontae Kazee and running back Brian Hill will all have ample opportunities to show they belong on the field when the season opens Sept. 10 against the Bears in Chicago.
All the frustration of squandering a four-touchdown lead to the Patriots in the Super Bowl is still very real. It has not ceased serving as the biggest conversation tossed around by Atlanta’s pro sports fans, more than the surprisingly-competitive Atlanta Braves and consistently-talented Atlanta Hawks.
The buzz about the Falcons has not ceased during the offseason, despite the immediate imprint the Atlanta United soccer franchise has made on the city’s sports landscape.
During this offseason, Falcons coach Dan Quinn did a remarkable job of walking the tightrope between pointing out the flaws of that disastrous second half in the Super Bowl, which kept Atlanta from winning its first championship, and looking ahead to 2017.
Just a couple years into his tenure as coach, Quinn has already earned the full trust of general manager Thomas Dimitroff and, most importantly, Atlanta owner Arthur Blank.
Quinn’s fingerprint is already visible with the Falcons roster in Year 3 for the former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator. Atlanta built a defense with a concentration of fast and athletic players who can get after the quarterback and lock down wide receivers.
Atlanta has put a premium on keeping two of the top corners in the league in Flowery Branch with Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, both of whom are on the front end of lucrative new contracts. Their job is clear: Limit the damage in the same division as top quarterbacks in Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston, Carolina’s Cam Newton and New Orleans’ Drew Brees.
The convergence of talent, young and old, for the Falcons have this program in very good position to get back to the Super Bowl, and maybe, just maybe, win it all. I mean, Tom Brady can’t play forever.
Or can he?
These first few days of training camp will be a little more crowded than normal before it thins out when children have to head back to class. Fans have been waiting for almost six months to have the Falcons back in the swing of things at training camp in south Hall.
Falcons players are even more enthused about getting past the final questions about dropping the Super Bowl, until they make it back to the big game again.
This is an exciting time to be around Flowery Branch. Everyone wants to see some of the action.
Bill Murphy is sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org