FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons have started their offseason conditioning program with some must-see TV.
“We’re looking at film from last year, figuring out how we can get better,” linebacker Deion Jones said on Tuesday. “We’re off to a good start.”
There is plenty to self-scout after the Falcons fell short in 2017. Yes, they won six of their last eight to finish the regular season at 10-6, advanced to the playoffs and knocked off the Los Angeles Rams in a road wild-card game.
But Atlanta’s shortcomings, particularly on offense, were on full display the following week. The defending NFC champion Falcons were favored to win at Philadelphia, only to go scoreless in the second half and lose when the Eagles recognized Atlanta’s formation in the final minute and stopped Julio Jones from catching a fourth-down touchdown pass.
“It was a tough way to lose, but it’s the past and right now we’re focused on the 2018 season,” receiver Mohamed Sanu said. “You’ve just got to lick your wounds and get back working.”
With the start of volunteer workouts this week, the Falcons have several moving parts to sort out.
The team wants to sign quarterback Matt Ryan to a new contract, and both sides seem to be moving in that direction. Running back Devonta Freeman is rehabbing a right knee injury and was seen on the field Tuesday doing side work. Free safety Ricardo Allen has reported despite not yet having signed a tender as a restricted free agent.
Atlanta, with limited salary cap space, stayed relatively quiet in free agency, choosing instead to retain some of its own players in Allen, kicker Matt Bryant, defensive end Derrick Shelby, safety Kemal Ishmael and offensive lineman Ben Garland.
The Falcons kept left guard Andy Levitre by restructuring his contract and added a starting right guard when Brandon Fusco left San Francisco to sign a three-year deal.
Cornerback Justin Bethel and tight end Logan Paulsen were brought aboard on one-year contracts to provide depth.
The biggest needs in the upcoming draft — Atlanta has the 26th overall pick and spots in every round but the fifth — are at defensive tackle and receiver.
Dontari Poe left in free agency, so the Falcons need a defensive tackle to pair with Grady Jarrett. Taylor Gabriel also departed, creating an open spot at receiver behind Jones, Sanu and Justin Hardy.
But for Sanu and Deion Jones, this week is all about “the little things” as the Falcons focus on details in the film room, in the weight room and on the field.
Sanu credited Hardy, three seasons his junior, with providing a new teaching point.
“It’s a debate ongoing between me and him, but I say he does (have better hands) because of how he attacks the ball with no fear at all times,” Sanu said. “I’ve learned a lot from him. I would say before this I never attacked the ball that way.”
Jones, the undisputed leader on defense, was selected to his first Pro Bowl last season, thanks in part to a spectacular play to preserve a win over New Orleans. But entering his third year Jones gives props to position coach Jeff Ulbrich for pushing him to be more vocal.
“I’ve never been an outspoken guy when it comes to leadership,” Jones said. “I like to lead by example. I don’t like to get up in people’s face or nothing, but sometimes it takes that from a leader. Getting out of that comfort zone really helped me because I have to live up to that, too.”