Falcons owner Arthur Blank, head coach Dan Quinn and the Atlanta Falcons dedicated Sunday's practice to those who have served and are serving in the United States Military. Take a look at these photos from the day.
A few names immediately come to mind on offense—e.g. Leonard Hankerson and Justin Hardy—but I have to go with Jacob Tamme. According to Jeanna Thomas, Roddy White calls the tight end "Jacob 'I Catch Everything' Tamme," and it's easy to see why. The former Bronco comes down with nearly every ball thrown his way.
Matt Ryan likes what he's seen from Tamme and believes he can be a valuable asset—especially in the red zone.
"Jacob's a confident professional," Ryan said. "He comes in and he understands the game and he's been a highly successful player for a long time, and he's picked up the offense really quick. You love having guys like that on your team."
On defense, Justin Durant is on track to surprise a lot of people. The OLB was quietly productive last year for Dallas until he went down with a groin injury. Now healthy, he could emerge as one of Atlanta's most reliable players. And based on early impressions, Durant, 29, has earned the confidence of linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich and Dan Quinn. He should start right away.
The depth is a lot better—chiefly because of solid FA acquisitions. Durant, Brooks Reed and O'Brien Schofield collectively make Atlanta's defense a lot more formidable. Since Quinn likes to utilize a lot of front-seven options, they'll get plenty of opportunities to contribute.
On the other side of the ball, Tamme and Tony Moeaki figure to drastically improve the tight end corps; Chris Chester is a scheme fit at guard; and Leonard Hankerson, who's familiar with Kyle Shanahan's playbook, has a lot of potential at wide receiver.
It's unlikely any of these guys become stars, but they should be upgrades at their respective positions. Modest improvements across the board can go a long, long way in the NFL.
First off, the schedule is less daunting. Only one road opponent finished over .500 last year, and barring a weather anomaly, the Falcons won't have to play in freezing temperatures during the regular season.
The practice atmosphere should help, too. While Quinn's loud music keeps players energetic, it also makes communication difficult. This, of course, prepares everyone for hostile environments.
Kevin White hasn't made a lot of noise, but he hasn't stuck out in a negative way, either. That in itself is encouraging for a young defensive back.
The fact that White didn't get drafted remains a little surprising. As you may recall, he dazzled at the Senior Bowl, where Mike Mayock compared him to Jason Verrett: a first-round pick in 2013. Scouts say he thrives in man-to-man coverage, so he appears to be a scheme fit—at least on paper. Whether that can translate to the field remains to be seen.
It's too early to know what Tyson Jackson is capable of in the new defense. He absolutely had to lose weight to fit Quinn's style, and by hiring a personal chef and committing himself to an effective workout regimen, he did just that. Jackson definitely looks faster, but the veteran D-lineman also has a lot of competition. It's worth mentioning he's owed a substantial amount of money, so I imagine team brass will do what it can to find a role for him in 2015.