Training Camp Tour: Does Atlanta have the talent to sit in cover-3?
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Walking into the beautiful Falcons facilities early Tuesday morning in Flowery Branch, Ga., we were greeted not with the crunk music that Atlanta is so famous for, but rather a heavy dose of West Coast and G-funk rap from the mid to late 1990s. While the music was a surprise, the Falcons practice was not. The defense ran cover-3 while the offense repped receiver screens and stretch zone runs.
[More: Miss a moment of training camp? Catch up on the entire tour here.]
Do the Falcons have the talent necessary to sit in cover-3?
Thomas Dimitroff knew the Falcons needed to add more talent to Dan Quinn’s defense when he picked two linebackers and a safety in the first four rounds of April’s draft. Now they’re being forced to contribute right away. We’ve seen the Jaguars—and now the Falcons—implement Seattle’s famous press cover-3 scheme, running a 3-shell more than any other team in the NFL, without being able to replicate Seattle’s success. The takeaway? The magic formula for winning in the NFL is spelled T-A-L-E-N-T.
That’s what they think they have in rookies Deion Jones (LSU), De’Vondre Campbell (Minnesota), and Keanu Neal (Florida), who were all in the starting lineup when the Falcons subbed into their nickel package Tuesday. Unfortunately PFF’s grades on that trio in college did not agree. All graded out poorly a season ago and received low draft grades after our evaluation. All are plus athletes, though. Usually a combination like that translates into a project, and that’s not what the Falcons need this season.
Who catches balls besides Julio Jones?
Last season it was Devonta Freeman, but pumping targets to a running back was more an effect of receivers not getting open than anything else. The Falcons signed WR Mohamed Sanu from Cincinnati in free agency and added tight end Austin Hooper from Stanford in the third round of the draft. On Tuesday, Hooper provided the biggest reaction from the crowd when a deep crosser clanged off his hands right in front of the end zone after traveling 50 or so yards downfield. That unfortunately, was what he was also know for in college; Hooper has the speed and athleticism to get open up the seam and make some freaky catches, but will all too often drops the easy ones (five drops on 39 catchable passes last year). If he can prove that that won’t be a recurring issues, he should have no problem winning the starting TE job.
Defensive line on road to Improvement
For a handful of years now, the Falcons have taken a “see what sticks” approach to revamping their defensive line, adding player after player that did little to excite. After drafting Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett last year, though, they might finally be onto something. Jarrett earned the second-highest grade of any defensive tackle with under 300 snaps last season, while Beasley had the highest pass-rushing grade of any rookie defender. With those guys inevitably taking a step forward in year two—along with the free-agent additions of Dwight Freeney and Derrick Shelby—the Falcons defensive line will be better in 2016.