FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Dan Quinn is entering his third year as coach of the Atlanta Falcons and has been coaching since 1994, when he was a 24-year-old defensive line coach at the College of William & Mary in Virginia.
And when Quinn was asked about the 2017 Falcons, a team that clinched the NFC championship and advanced to the Super Bowl and returns most of its starters, you could see the excitement in his eyes.
"I'm as excited as I've been in a long time," Quinn said. "The nervous excitement, the players – our connection with them. So, a number of these guys have been through two and three years – going into our third year in this program. We have such a connection."
While the Falcons finished short of their ultimate goal in 2016 – losing 34-28 to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI – they are considered by many to have the most complete roster heading into 2017. And it's easy to see why, with the likes of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Vic Beasley, Alex Mack, Devonta Freeman, Grady Jarrett returning and the signing of free agents Dontari Poe and Jack Crawford.
But what really separates this team from others in Quinn's eyes is the environment he and general manager Thomas Dimitroff are building. The ups and downs of 2016 – the bonds formed throughout the season and offseason – is another strength of this team, according to Quinn.
"In this environment, you see guys at their toughest professionally – bloodied and beaten," Quinn said. "And at the highest where it's triumphant and excited, so you know these guys inside and out through blood, sweat, tears, love, disappointment – like, you're connected. This group has a real connection to one another and we can't wait to get rolling."
But Quinn knows there's still plenty of work to do if the Falcons hope to win the NFC South, return to the Super Bowl and win that last game. In fact he agrees with the notion that his roster is complete – right now, at least.
And if there's a specific area Quinn is especially zeroed in on, it's the line of scrimmage.
"I want to make sure that we're always, always, always talking about our line of scrimmage – and that's on both sides of the ball," he said. "It's the way we come off the ball in the run game and our play action. It's the way that we protect. That part on the offensive side is always critical. And then defensively -- the line of scrimmage. Can we get our run defense in accordance to what our standard is? Can we affect the quarterback in a four-man rush?"
"So those two positions – big guys on both sides – the battle they have to do against one another to get ready – that's always in the forefront of my thinking."
The Falcons kick off training camp Thursday. Their first preseason game is Aug. 10 against the Dolphins in Miami. The regular season begins Sept. 10 with a trip to Chicago to face the Bears.