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Murphy: Falcons minicamp the next stage in moving past Super Bowl loss
Atlanta made strides during the offseason with draft, re-signing players
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Atlanta Falcons' Brian Hill runs the ball during the team's rookie minicamp May 12 in Flowery Branch. - photo by David Goldman

The mandatory minicamps for the Atlanta Falcons are the next step in scrubbing away the bitter taste of the Super Bowl meltdown four months ago. These non-contact sessions, starting today, will essentially be an extension of the offseason training activities that wrapped up June 9.

Dropping the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots was painful for everyone involved. Atlanta’s players were left to wonder what might have been, and fans were left sulking after the team’s best chance at winning its first championship slipped right through the Falcons’ fingers in Houston.

These summer gatherings under the hot sun in Flowery Branch are the next step in the healing process.

There’s no glaring focal points during the final stage of non-contact drills, which will be open to fans Wednesday. This week is all about getting on the field as a team and minimizing any risk of injury, which is mandated by the NFL Players Association, that tackling and blocking could produce.

The future looks quite bright for Atlanta, no matter what the naysayers bring up. The Falcons still have the most talented roster in the league, which should remain one of the best in the NFL for the next few seasons. Matt Ryan is the league’s best quarterback and will be with the Falcons almost certainly the remainder of his career.

But with new coordinators on both sides of the ball, it’s hard to say if a Super Bowl championship is in the cards for the Falcons.

Atlanta’s nucleus is intact from the 2016 NFC Championship season, with the biggest addition being defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who inked a one-year, $8 million contract March 16 — another great piece to go on a young and talented defensive front.

All players were required to report to Flowery Branch on Monday for physicals, so it will be obvious early who was diligent with offseason conditioning, even though contact practice doesn’t start until training camp commences at the end of July.

Everything is coming together nicely for Atlanta as it has only six weeks remaining until training camp opens in south Hall. Atlanta has its two starting cornerbacks — Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford — locked in to five-year deals that will cost the franchise close to $100 million for the pair — a lot of money, but necessary in a league where you have to stop the passing game to be a contender.

The draft class has already been in Flowery Branch working out during rookie sessions then offseason drills. First-round draft pick Takk McKinley is still a long way from being fully healed from offseason shoulder surgery. It’s still up in the air whether he’ll go on the six-week PUP (physically unable to perform) list to open the 2017 season.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn continues to mold a defense predicated on speed and agility over bulk, which was obvious with the selection of the agile defensive end McKinley and third-round pick Duke Riley, a linebacker out of LSU.

Running back Devonta Freeman has one year remaining on his rookie contract, which will play him just shy of $2 million this season. If he doesn’t get a new contract after this season, he’ll become one of the biggest-name free agents in the league after combining for 1,871 yards rushing and receiving in 2016.

Freeman has already made it clear he expects to be compensated like the highest-paid running backs, which this year is Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell at $12 million. Atlanta is very deep in the running game. The Falcons still have Tevin Coleman and in the fifth round drafted Brian Hill, who could also get on the field in a blocking role.

The position battles for Atlanta are minimal heading into 2017. And even those, like right guard on the offensive line, will have to wait until training camp for coaches to get a real gauge of who will start when the season opens against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 10.

Right now, everyone is more focused on turning the page to what the Falcons hope will finally bring a Super Bowl title to Atlanta. Missing out on a championship after squandering a 25-point lead should be in the past after what has been a strong offseason for the Falcons.

Bill Murphy is sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at bmurphy@gainesvilletimes.com or @Bill_Murphy313 on Twitter.

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