After a busy week of signings, the atmosphere was upbeat as Falcons veterans reported for training camp on Sunday.
The news of new contracts for middle linebacker Deion Jones and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett was well received, while the front office is still working on a new deal for wide receiver Julio Jones, who reported to camp as expected.
“That’s huge,” linebacker DeVondre Campbell said of Deion Jones’ new contract. “I’ve watched all of the work that he’s put in the last two years. It was well deserved. I’m so happy for him.”
Jarrett, who had the team’s franchise tag, signed a four-year, $57 million deal on Monday. Deion Jones reached a four-year, $48 million deal on Wednesday.
“It’s a great buzz, I can tell you that much,” Falcons safety J.J. Wilcox said.
The Falcons are reporting early because they play in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game against the Broncos on Aug. 1 in Canton, Ohio.
“I think everybody is excited,” Campbell said. “It started back in April when we reported for the OTAs, just the energy that everybody was bringing. I think everybody was excited to get back out there and get it started. I’m just excited to see what this year has in store for us.”
The Falcons will try to bounce back from a 7-9 injury-riddled season last year.
One of the key changes has head coach Dan Quinn serving as his own defensive coordinator.
“He’s just a lot more active and present in our meetings,” Campbell said. “He’s running a lot more of our defensive meetings. It’s actually pretty cool, him dropping his knowledge on us daily and just being around the meetings daily.
“(Last year) he would check in every other day, but now he’s there. That’s pretty cool.”
Marquand Manuel was dismissed as the defensive coordinator after last season.
Free safety Ricardo Allen, who’s coming back from his torn left Achilles surgery, noticed changes over the offseason, too.
“(Quinn is) just really been cutting it loose and letting his players play,” said Allen, who should be ready by the start of the season. “He really relied on his players. I like it.”
Quinn taking over the defense made sense to Allen.
“If you have got to win or lose, win or lose on your players’ shoulders,” Allen said. “That’s what we work for. So, if you are going to take some chances, I love it. He’s a guy that says he going to take players not plays.
“If we are going to go for it like that, if we are going to win or lose, put it on us. Let us go for it and he’s been doing that.”
Cornerback Isiah Oliver, who’s set to become a starter, is ready for camp.
“One word, determined,” Oliver said when asked to describe the defense’s mindset. “That’s the one word that comes into my mind. We all felt that we left a lot on the table last year defensively as a unit. We didn’t really rise to the expectations that we had for ourselves. A lot of guys are determined and excited to get started this year to play to what we really are and what we can be.”
The Falcons released starting right cornerback Robert Alford over the offseason to make room for Oliver, a second-year player from Colorado.
He’s looking forward to playing in the Hall of Fame game.
“It’s one of the things the NFL does that’s really cool being able to go out there and play in that game,” Oliver said. “Always having the opportunity to compete against another team is good … from a competition aspect, it’s a good opportunity.”
Reporting to camp hasn’t gotten old for center Alex Mack, who’s set to enter his 11th season.
“You put in work in OTAs to be ready for today,” said Mack, who forgot his favorite pillow. “Now it’s time to be ready for today and get to work. We have to jell as a unit, jell as an offense, jell as a team and try to have a good run.”
Mack wasn’t thinking much about the playbook.
“I forgot my pillow,” Mack said. “I realized that when I got to my car. My sleep is important to me, I (must) figure out a way to get that.”
Mack will see the revamped offensive line up close. The Falcons spent $80.3 million to change the offensive line and drafted to rookies in the first round, in right guard Chris Lindstrom (14th overall) and right tackle Kaleb McGary (29th overall).
“They were great in OTAs,” Mack said. “They showed up every day ready to work and ready to learn. I’m excited to see what they can do with pads on. They have a great attitude and I have high expectations that they are going to be hard workers.”
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