Postcard from camp: Falcons
Under Dirk Koetter, the Falcons will go deep a lot more, specifically to Julio Jones
The team doesn't like how little speedy back Jacquizz Rodgers was used in 2011
The trade for Asante Samuel was vital with the Falcons playing so many top QBs
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Peter King had to say about Falcons camp in Flowery Branch, Ga.., which he visited on Aug. 5. Read all of our postcards here.
At the Falcons' complex in Flowery Branch, Ga., an outpost about 45 minutes northeast of Atlanta with the oversized condos and the oversized beds for the players right on campus. The Falcons had a walkthrough this morning on a quiet Sunday, then followed up with a spirited practice (if you read Monday Morning Quarterback this week, you know what I mean -- Asante Samuel and his new defensive mates were carrying on like 8-year-olds at a summer pool party) late in the afternoon. The final 15 minutes or so of practice were the best, with a mouthy, competitive 11-on-11 competition.
1. Dirk Koetter's going to air it out, I do believe. The Falcons and Jaguars are six hours apart on the interstate, and they had quite a January trade: Mike Mularkey, the Atlanta offensive coordinator, went south to be the Jags' head coach and de facto offensive boss; Koetter, the Jacksonville offense coordinator, went north to be the Falcons' offensive coordinator. I met with Koetter after the morning walkthrough, and he was very careful to pay homage to what the Falcons had done offensively over the past four years of Mularkey's reign, and said he wouldn't be revolutionizing what the Falcons do. They had, after all, won 43 regular season games in the past four years, and Matt Ryan is developing well as a franchise quarterback -- though without postseason success. But the afternoon practice showed me what Koetter's really thinking. The air was filled with deep balls, and Julio Jones caught two of them. A sign of things to come, I think.
2. I see Jacquizz Rodgers having a significantly expanded role. The Falcons were not happy that Rodgers caught only one screen pass last year. I've thought, but no one will confirm it, that Mularkey's job would have been endangered had he not gotten the Jacksonville job. The Falcons want to see Rodgers with a bigger role than his 78 touches for 393 yards -- they view him as a poor man's Darren Sproles -- and so I look for Koetter to get Rodgers more involved. I see more play calls for Rodgers to get in space.
3. With Curtis Lofton gone, coach Mike Smith is looking for Sean Weatherspoon to take over as defensive leader. "It's time,'' Smith said of his third-year outside linebacker, the team's first-round pick in 2010. Judging by his words and actions on the field in the afternoon practice, Weatherspoon is ready. Now we'll see if he's capable of being the leader as well as the good all-around 4-3 linebacker the Falcons began to see last year.
Sam Baker, left tackle. Since arriving in the same draft class and round as Matt Ryan (2008, first), Baker's had an up-and-down, injury-marred four seasons. The reason the Falcons need him to come through with a solid 16-game effort this year is they're going to ask Ryan to throw deeper on occasion, meaning Baker will have to hold his man out longer, and that's been a problem. I sensed some concern while here about how Baker will play, but if he doesn't hold up, it's going to be a factor in Julio Jones' production -- and make no mistake, they want to get Jones the ball downfield much more this year than last.
Asante Samuel, cornerback. Samuel came from Philadelphia in a trade after four years as a good cover corner for the Eagles. He won't be a physical corner, but he'll cover better than Dunta Robinson did last year. And he'll bring an edginess to the secondary that was lacking. Not sure how important that is. But in the practice I saw, I thought he brought Atlanta the kind of defensive swagger it hasn't had since DeAngelo Hall -- and Samuel's a better cover man than Hall was. With Samuel and Brent Grimes bookending the pass defense, Atlanta is far better equipped this year in a division with six games annually against Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Josh Freeman.
In the Falcons' cafeteria, which always serves food with a southern touch, I had the roasted chicken breast with a peach glaze and chunks of Georgia peaches atop the chicken. Tossed salad (romaine) with light ranch, and a G2. Now that's a lunch of champions right there. No bad peaches either -- fresh and delicious. Grade: A-minus.
Six of the first seven games will match Matt Ryan against fellow first-round quarterbacks: Peyton Manning (home, Week 2), Philip Rivers (away, Week 3), Cam Newton (home, Week 4), Robert Griffin III (away, Week 5), Carson Palmer (home, Week 6) and Mike Vick (away, Week 8, after a Week 7 bye). And the final six games come against franchise quarterbacks too. What does it mean? Falcons fans, be glad GM Thomas Dimitroff upgraded the secondary with Samuel.