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5 questions remain as Falcons' offseason work comes to an end

The Falcons finished their offseason program last week and won’t return to the facility until late July for training camp.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons are essentially on summer break for the next month.

The team held its final offseason practice exactly a week ago and won't return to the facility until late July for training camp. An official report-back date has yet to be announced. The Falcons' first preseason game, though, is already on the books: an Aug. 9 road matchup against the Miami Dolphins.

With the dead period upon us, and preseason games still on the distant horizon, five questions about the team linger.

1. Will quarterback Kirk Cousins remain full-go when contact is allowed?

It is no secret the Falcons' biggest free-agent signing came with a disclaimer: Cousins is returning from a torn Achilles tendon sustained in Week 8 of the 2023 season. He has expressed confidence that he'll be full-go by training camp since his arrival in Atlanta in March. That sentiment didn't change throughout the offseason program.

Cousins' participation in all aspects of the Falcons' offseason program is promising. Apparently, when Cousins was still with the Minnesota Vikings, he was told even organized team activities were debatable.

"The second half of the season, the conversation was: What will OTAs look like?" Cousins said. "The answer I got back was, 'We won't put you in the practice reps. It's just not worth it. If it's a walk-through, maybe. But the practice reps, you don't need to be in there.'

"I was planning on basically getting my first practice rep late July."

Atlanta didn't hold Cousins back in OTAs. The veteran quarterback said he did everything, and Falcons head coach Raheem Morris backed him up on that claim. What will be interesting, though, is whether that remains the case in training camp. Like all quarterbacks, Cousins will be safe in his non-contact jersey, but everything else is business as usual. No more holding back.

Contact could easily happen in preseason games, though. Even for Cousins.

"I would love to get in and play if we can," Cousins said. "We'll have to see as we get there where we are. But it would be great to get out there and kind of have that full dress rehearsal."

2. Who will be the other starting cornerback opposite A.J. Terrell?

A shock from the Falcons' 2024 NFL Draft, at least to the public, was the team's decision not to select a cornerback despite it appearing as an obvious need. Morris and anyone involved in the decision-making process who spoke on the matter weren't concerned. In fact, they were confident with the options they had already in the building.

The existing options may have narrowed down to Mike Hughes and Clark Phillips III, who shared the starting reps alongside Terrell during offseason workouts. However, with camp still to come, nothing is guaranteed.

"There's no coasting," Falcons secondary coach Justin Hood said. "You become a starter in the NFL. So what? Who cares? The goal is to still go win football games. Our guys know that."

Hughes and Phillips should understand that better than anyone. Phillips became the Falcons' second starting cornerback in Week 13 last season, replacing Jeff Okudah. Hughes, meanwhile, did something similar with Dee Alford at the nickel back position.

The other likely options are veterans Kevin King and Antonio Hamilton Sr., both of whom the Falcons signed in free agency. King is a former second-round pick who started 42 games for the Green Bay Packers in five seasons, but he has dealt with injuries in recent seasons. Hamilton enters his ninth year fresh off a breakout season in which he emerged as a starter for the Arizona Cardinals. Then, there are newer additions like rookies Trey Vaval and Jayden Price who could make their names known during training camp.

"It's been fun," Falcons secondary coach Justin Hood said. "We have a bunch of guys in that room that understand exactly where they are in regards to the process."

3. What will defensive tackle Grady Jarrett's workload look like?

The heart and soul of the Falcons' defense should be back on the field come training camp. Jarrett has been absent since Week 8 of 2023 after tearing his Achilles tendon. He had to undergo surgery and remained on injured reserve throughout the remainder of the season.

Jarrett did not partake in any of the Falcons' offseason activities while still having to rehab elsewhere with trainers. That shouldn't be the case for preseason, though. He should be with his teammates and ideally uninhibited.

"That's my goal," Jarrett said. "Obviously, with training camp, it's always a ramp-up period. Mine may look a little different. But for the bulk of it, my goal is to have most of my reps getting in and not too much special treatment to the side."

Missing nine-plus games was abnormal for the Falcons' 2015 draft pick. In his eight seasons prior to 2023, Jarrett sat out only three games – one as a rookie, two in 2018.

His absence was felt on the interior of the defensive line, particularly in run support. The Falcons allowed 95.3 rushing yards per game prior to Week 8 before allowing 134.2 rushing yards per game from Week 8 on. Jarrett said he was injured on the second play of that Week 8 game, so that one falls under the without-Jarrett category for simplicity's sake.

"I feel confident going out on the field and just putting myself in a position to be ready to compete in training camp," Jarrett said. "(I will) make sure I'm in good shape going into Game 1. But I'm feeling good, man."

4. How will running back Bijan Robinson be utilized in his second season?

This question has technically already been answered, as Morris made his plan for Robinson clear during minicamp. Now, it’s more so seeing it in action.

"In as simple of a form as you can possibly make it," Morris said, "it's 'get the ball to Bijan as much as you can in as many ideal situations that you possibly can.'"

Robinson's usage during his debut season was a hot topic. People debated whether it was enough. Regardless, his 214 carries for 976 yards and four touchdowns still made him the top-rushing rookie in 2023. Robinson also caught 58 passes for an additional 487 yards – which were fourth-most among all running backs – and four more touchdowns. All told, Robinson's 272 touches ranked 12th among NFL players last season, and he finished 10th with 1,463 total yards from scrimmage.

While Robinson ran the ball more than caught it, he expects the scale to tip even more in favor of the former this time around.

"I'm going to be more of a runner, that does everything else like not as much," Robinson said. "… It's run first, like what I did in college, and then still having that access to go to receiver and still having that access to do creative things out the backfield."

A comparison made was to San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey, the only player with more than 2,000 total yards from scrimmage last year. Morris supported that notion.

With a new Falcons offense under construction, thanks to the addition of Cousins and coordinator Zac Robinson, there very well may be a new-look Robinson in 2024.

"For him, he's so talented," Morris said. "You don't want to limit the things that he can do, but you also don't want to water it down so much that he's not doing anything that he can do great."

5. What will the new kickoff format look like in a game setting?

Doesn't matter which side of the ball the Falcons end up on for their opening kickoff of the 2024 season, the play itself is going to look unlike any other from the past. The NFL has completely revamped its kickoff rules. Teams can practice the format all they want. But until there is live action, uncertainty will surround the concept.

"I think it's going to change a lot because it's bringing the play back to life," Falcons special teams coordinator Marquice Williams said. "There's going to be over 600 more plays in the NFL, which is going to accumulate more yards, which is going to equal more points."

The kicker is still set to kick the ball from the 35-yard line. What's different is where everyone else lines up – on the opposite side of the 50-yard line.

The rest of the kicking team will be at the receiving team's 40-yard line. Apart from a max of two returners, the remaining nine members of the return team will start in the setup zone – between the 30- and 35-yard line.

No one besides the kicker, who must remain on his side of the 50-yard line, and returners can move until the ball is either touched or hits the ground.

There are many more nuances to the new rule – such as different touchback situations – that only reinforce how much of a game changer it's going to be.

"It's going to create so much more value for our players, it's going to create a lot of opportunities for players, not just our players but players around the NFL, and it's going to create more points in the game," Williams said. "So, it's going to be fun."

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