Falcons 2020 training camp: Five burning questions

The 2020 football season is officially underway with players reporting for testing this week.

Over the next two weeks, players will participate in strength and conditioning workouts, virtual meetings and on-field work before putting the pads on in mid-August.

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With the offseason in the books, here's a look at five burning questions to be answered during the Falcons AT&T Training Camp:

1. How is the secondary gelling?

In order for Atlanta's defense to be better this season, the play in the secondary must improve. The Falcons struggles against the pass were more than evident through the first eight games when the unit ranked No. 31 in the league in points allowed per game.

Through the first half of the season, the Falcons allowed a league-worst 65.6 passing yards per game when opposing quarterbacks released the ball in two seconds or less, according to the AJC's Jason Butt, formerly of the The Athletic.

While the number dropped to 56.8 over the final eight games of the season, the Falcons ranked 30th in the NFL in this category.

The play of cornerbacks Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield improved when defensive coordinator Raheem Morris took the reins following the bye week in 2019. Safety Damontae Kazee moved back to free safety and recorded three interceptions.

After starting the season 1-7, the Falcons returned from the bye week as a much better team. Starting with an impressive road win over the New Orleans Saints on Nov.10, the Falcons went 6-2 to finish the season. Some consider Atlanta's win over the Saints and San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 15 as the biggest wins under Quinn's tenure.

In order to help address this area of the defense, the Falcons selected former Clemson star cornerback A.J. Terrell with the No. 16 overall pick in this year's draft. He's expected to play a big role in Morris's defense.

The Falcons are also counting on former first-round pick Keanu Neal to be healthy and ready to make an impact when the season begins. Neal tore his ACL in the first game of Atlanta's 2018 season against the Philadelphia Eagles and missed the entire season.

After an offseason spent rehabbing, Neal was primed for a comeback year. Three games into the 2019 season, Neal suffered an Achilles injury and was sidelined for the remainder of the year.

Neal is heading into the final year of his current deal with the Falcons.

2. What's Todd Gurley's workload expected to look like?

When the Falcons signed Gurley to a one-year contract worth a reported $6 million in March, what his workload will look immediately came into question.

Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter believes when healthy his new running back is one of the best in the NFL. How many touches he'll give Gurley per game remains to be determined.

The questions began to arise after he saw a decrease in carries in his final season with the Los Angeles Rams. Gurley rushed for 857 yards on 223 carries in 2019. In 2018, Gurley rushed for 1,251 yards on 256 carries, down 23 carries from the 2017 season.

Gurley remains optimistic and is ready for a fresh start with the Falcons.

"I'm super excited," Gurley said. "Just a fresh start for me, to go back to Georgia. To be able to come back and do that, I'm just super excited. I'm like [at a] loss of words."

The 2017 NFL Offensive Player of the Year appears to be ready to go saying he's never "worked out this much" in his life.

3. Who will win the starting job at left guard?

One of the few holes the Falcons have in their starting lineup is at left guard. The competition for the job is between the following players (in no specific order): Matt Hennessy, Jamon Brown, James Carpenter and Matt Gono.

Hennessy has a legitimate chance to be the starter despite a lack of experience at the position. The Falcons drafted the former Temple center in the third round of April's draft with the expectation he'll play guard before moving to center.

"To play the style we like, you better have enough work on the line of scrimmage," Quinn said after drafting Hennessy. "To bring Matt in here, especially where we had him regarded, certainly seemed like the best fit for us and we're really pumped to have him here."

4. What does the pass rush duo of Dante Fowler and Takk McKinley look like?

It's go-time for Takk McKinley and Dante Fowler. The Falcons ranked No. 29 in the league in sacks in 2019 with 28 on the year and are counting on those two edge rushers to be better this season.

McKinley, 24, hasn't lived up to the expectations set for him when the Falcons drafted the defensive end in 2017. He's recorded 16.5 sacks in three seasons and the Falcons need more from him, plain and simple.

The Falcons declined to pick up McKinley's fifth-year option in late April and are taking a wait-and-see approach with him in terms of his future in Atlanta.

Given the expectations for McKinley this year, he was selected as one of the top-10 breakout candidates for the upcoming season. This list was compiled by AtlantaFalcons.com writers Matt Tabeek, Will McFadden and Kelsey Conway.

Fowler was signed in free agency in hopes to boost Atlanta's pass rush after he recorded 11.5 sacks in the 2019 season with the Rams.

5. Are the Falcons looking to add more veteran players to the roster?

The Falcons have a history for adding a few veteran players to their roster during training camp. General manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn are constantly evaluating their roster and based off previous years, it's likely they'll add new players in the next month.

The Falcons reportedly agreed to terms Darqueze Dennard on Thursday in hopes to add another veteran player to the cornerback group.

One position group to keep an eye on when looking for where the Falcons could add is defensive end. Looking at the depth at this position group in particular, it would make sense.

The Atlanta Falcons have arrived for 2020 AT&T Training Camp.

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