The Atlanta Falcons have begun training camp for the 2017 season. Coming off the epic collapse in the Super Bowl against New England, Falcons fans and the NFL world as a whole are interested in seeing how the team will perform in response to last season’s disappointing ending. The Falcons bring back nearly every major contributor from 2016 and added some key players through free agency and the draft during the offseason. While the storyline surrounding this training camp will be endless, here are 3 things to watch as the Falcons go through training camp:
1. Who steps up at right guard?
The Falcons lost their starting right guard in Chris Chester to retirement following the 2016 season. The Falcons chose not to sign a free agent or draft a player at right guard to become Chester’s replacement. Instead, there will be a competition for the right guard spot between Ben Garland and Wes Schweitzer. Garland has been with the Falcons for the past 2 seasons and appeared in all 16 games last season. He was often brought in as an extra blocker in goal line or short yardage situations. Schweitzer was drafted by the Falcons in the 6th round of last year’s NFL draft. Despite not having much NFL experience, he is being considered for the starting right guard job. The Falcons’ offensive line last year played incredibly at times and had impeccable cohesion among the starters. No matter who steps up and starts at right guard this season, the offensive line is one of the most critical position groups that will be key to the Falcons’ success. Alex Mack will again lead the offensive line in 2017 and it will be interesting to see how the group performs early in the season as the new right guard gets acclimated to the offense.
2. How does the young defense look?
The Falcons are incredibly young on defense in some areas. But the young players the team has on that side of the ball are blessed with immense talent. While the defense had its lapses in 2016, the unit as a whole made massive strides toward improvement and development late last season and in the playoffs. The Falcons bring back nearly every major defensive contributor from last year and also added Jack Crawford and Dontari Poe in free agency to provide the defense with more depth and experience. The team also added Takk McKinley from UCLA to provide young depth to the defensive line as well. Combine those facts with Desmond Trufant’s return from injury and it’s easy to see why many expect Atlanta’s defense to show significant improvement over last year. Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, Jalen Collins, Brian Poole, and De’Vondre Campbell are just some of the young contributors from last year who will be counted on to take that next step in their development to help the Falcons’ defense reach an elite level. If the young defense improves this season, the Falcons could very well be in line for another deep playoff run.
3. Revenge on the mind?
Falcons fans are eager to see what kind of attitude the team plays with in 2017 following the loss in the Super Bowl. While some are wary that the team might experience a Super Bowl hangover, others believe this team has revenge on its mind. In a video posted on the Atlanta Falcons’ team Facebook page on July 27, head coach Dan Quinn addressed the team and laid out the 4 goals he wants the team to accomplish this season: 1) be the most attacking team in football; 2) be the most poised team in football; 3) lead the league in turnover differential; and 4) win the NFC South again. Those are high expectations from a high-energy coach. Setting goals like that shows that the Falcons will enter the 2017 season with a very focused, goal-oriented mindset ultimately aimed at redeeming themselves for how last season ended. The team arguably has a more talented roster in 2017 than in 2016 and the team feels like it has something to prove. The overall attitude and mindset of the Falcons throughout the 2017 season will be very interesting to watch. With so much pressure to seek revenge for last year’s Super Bowl loss, this team’s mental toughness will be tested in a way that some players may have never experienced before. Time will tell if the Brotherhood will answer the call in 2017 and do what all Falcons fans expect it to do: #RiseUp.