New Falcons assistant Ben Kotwica addresses the team's priorities for 2019 season. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter /AJC)

Falcons’ 2018 unit-by-unit analysis: The special teams

The Falcons were projected to compete for the Super Bowl LIII title in the 2018 season, but injuries robbed the team of key players on defense.

The unit failed to meet expectations, in part, because of injuries to strong safety Keanu Neal (missed 15 games), linebacker Deion Jones (10 games), free safety Ricardo Allen (13 games), defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (two games) and defensive end Takkarist McKinley (one game). 

The reserves were not as talented, and the remaining starters did not step forward to pick up the slack. 

The purge has started, as the Falcons moved on from starting right cornerback Robert Alford, nickel back Brian Poole and defensive end Brooks Reed. The team reportedly wants Poole back at a lower price, but he’ll likely get a substantially better offer on the open market.

Also, defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel was terminated at the end of the season. 

Here’s the 10th and final installment of our unit-by-unit review of the 2018 team. Today, special teams.

Who: Kickers Matt Bryant and Giorgio Tavecchio, Punter Matt Bosher, Long snappers Joe Condo and Josh Harris, kick return Marvin Hall and punt returner Justin Hardy 

Contract/free agent situation: Bryant’s contract will be allowed to expire on March 13. Harris was signed to a contract extension last season so Condo will not likely be re-signed. Hall and Hardy are set to become free agents. 

What they did in season:  Bryant, who will turn 44 in May, said he doesn’t plan to retire. 

The Falcons will get cheaper at the position by keeping Tavecchio, the injury replacement for Bryant last season who kicked field goals of 50 and 56 yards in the team’s 23-20 victory over the Giants.

The move creates $2.8 million in cap space for the Falcons. 

Bryant made 33 of 35 extra points and 20 of 21 field goals. His only miss was on a 53-yard attempt in the swirling winds at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

Bosher averaged 45.5 yards gross per punt and 40.1 net. He placed 22 of 60 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

Justin Bethel led the coverage teams with 14 tackles followed by Kemal Ishmael, who had 11. 

Hall averaged 23.7 yards on kickoff returns and Hardy averaged 7.4 on kickoff returns. 

The Falcons finished the season ranked 19th in the overall special teams ranking compiled by former Dallas Morning News writer Rick Gosselin. 

The rankings combine special-teams ability across 22 categories and boil them down to one number.

Grade: D

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

Monday: Defensive line

Tuesday: Linebackers

Wednesday: Cornerbacks

Thursday: Safeties

Friday:  Special teams

LAST WEEK

Monday: Quarterbacks

Tuesday: Running backs

Wednesday: Offensive line

Thursday: Wide receivers

Friday: Tight ends 

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