Changes to Come on Special Teams:With the release of Devin Hester, the Falcons will be looking for internal solutions at kick/punt returner. According to head coach Dan Quinn, Eric Weems, Justin Hardy, Devin Fuller and Nick Williams will get chances to return punts; Tevin Coleman returned kickoffs during the summer and will get more opportunities there during camp and preseason. Coleman brings unique explosiveness and "long speed," as Quinn says. The second-year running back has pushed for an expanded role this offseason with the makeup needed to provide value as a returner.
Competitions Aplenty: Beyond special teams, there will be plenty of important competitions worth monitoring. Some of the battles highlighted by Quinn will take place at right guard, tight end, nickel, inside linebacker and pass-rusher.
"It's such an important time for us," Quinn said. "We have a healthy, competitive, tough and strong roster. And we're going to have to earn those spots. It's going to be a lot of battling, a lot of competition that will take place. It's that time of year."
Focus to Remain on the Ball: Last season, Atlanta finished near the bottom of the league in turnover margin, and to contend for a playoff spot in 2016, coaches, and players understand they have to improve in that area, Quinn said. Accordingly, the ball has been a big part of the offseason program and will continue to be an emphasis at training camp.
"We've got to make sure the turnover ratio comes to life for us," Quinn said. "We're going to be about the ball, and it has to be both ways in terms of the offense taking care of it and defensively, the way and attitude and style that we go after it. Adding speed to our team certainly helps that, but you have to play fast, too."
Preseason Vital for Neal's Development: Expectations are understandably high for Keanu Neal, who will be contending for the strong safety spot as a rookie. Quinn has been pleased with the first-rounder's development thus far and hopes to see a lot of progress in the coming months.
"He did a nice job of eliminating the mental errors that oftentimes accompany a rookie," Quinn said. "So, the time and effort that he's spent putting into learning the system was significant. As we're going through — practices, preseason games — it's an important time for him to gain experience in the system.
"He has a number of guys around him who have played (a lot of) ball who can talk and communicate with him to help him grow. Ultimately, it's up to him to see how far he grows. The intensity, the attitude, the toughness — I know that's there. So how quickly can he assimilate to the new plays, the new schemes that go along with playing an opponent? That happens in a preseason game. … The preseason games will be an important time for (Neal)."
Free Agents Being Considered: The Falcons presently have three spots open on the 90-man roster. Atlanta has not ruled out bringing back O'Brien Schofield, who, per Quinn, has had a terrific offseason. Thirty-six-year-old Dwight Freeney, a seven-time Pro Bowler, is still being considered, as well.