FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – With Phase III of Atlanta's offseason workout program underway, this marks the first time the players and Atlanta's coaching staff will take the fields together for 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work.
New wrinkles have been added on both sides of the ball with new coordinators in place as Dirk Koetter has now taken the reigns of the offense and coach Dan Quinn taking over the defense.
The next few weeks of OTAs give players a chance to fine tune their skills and show the progress they've made this offseason. Although the offseason program is critical to the entire team as they gear up for the start of the 2019 season, here are five players who could really benefit from a strong offseason, in no particular order:
There's no denying this is a prove-it year for Beasley, Atlanta's former first-round draft pick heading into his fifth season with the team. The Falcons drafted Beasley to get to the quarterback and he's been inconsistent at times in doing just that. He led the NFL in sacks with 15.5 in 2016 – when the Falcons earned a trip to Super Bowl LI – but since then, he's totaled just 10 sacks in two seasons. He's proven he can be an impact player and the Falcons will certainly need the best version of Beasley in 2019. Quinn believes he can get the best out of the defensive end and said that he plans to take a "hands-on" approach.
The Falcons' offense is at its best when Freeman is performing at a high level and there's no doubt about it. Need proof? Go back to the 2016 season when Freeman rushed for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 54 passes for 462 yards and two touchdowns. Injuries have plagued the running back the last two seasons. Freeman will enter the season completely healthy and the Falcons are expecting a big year from the running back. The Falcons finished with the No. 27 rushing attack in 2018 and getting that part of their game back on track is an emphasis in 2019 and it starts with Freeman.
Atlanta's defense feeds off McKinley's energy and play. The defensive end is coming off an up-and-down 2018 season and, similar to Beasley, Quinn believes McKinley will be better in 2019. In two seasons, McKinley has 13 sacks. Atlanta finished the year with 37 sacks on the year which was 22nd in the league. Quinn will be working closer with the defensive ends this year and with two years under his belt, McKinley could be primed for his best season yet.
Oliver is expected to assume a starting role at cornerback this season. After a rookie year which included some of the "on-the-job" training Quinn often talks about, the belief is that Oliver is ready. He'll start opposite of Desmond Trufant on the outside. The former second-round pick out of Colorado played in 14 games in his rookie season and started two of them. He recorded 23 tackles and made one interception. The hope for Oliver is with a year of experience under his belt, he'll make the necessary jump from Year 1 to Year 2.
Kazee caught the NFL by storm in 2018 when he became the Falcons' starting free safety after Ricardo Allen went down early in the season. He finished the season tied for an NFL-best seven interceptions. Kazee proved why he needs to be on the field for the Falcons. But will he show last year wasn't just a fluke? The Falcons will be featuring Kazee in a different role this year at the nickel cornerback spot. And if we learned one thing last year, regardless of where Kazee lines up, he has a knack for finding the football.