The Falcons are off during the down period for the NFL.
Here are five things to know as we count down to the first training camp practice on Monday, July 22:
1. Return game. It’s been a long time since the Falcons returned a kickoff or a punt for a touchdown.
Devin Hester returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown on Sept. 18, 2014, in a, 56-14, rout of Tampa Bay to help the team improve to 2-1 on the season. That was 77 regular-season games ago.
Eric Weems returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown against Tampa Bay on Dec. 4, 2010, in a key late-season 28-24 victory. That was 132 games ago.
2. Enter Coach Kotwica. New special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica has been charged with adding some pop to the Falcons’ return game.
“We’d like to be dynamic and explosive in our return game,” Kotwica told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’ve got a couple of return options that have caught my eye. We’ll see how it all shakes out going forward.”
3. Barner or Green. Last season, Justin Hardy (punts) and Marvin Hall (kickoffs) didn’t strike much fear into the opposition’s coverage units. Hardy didn’t catch punts in the open OTA practices nor during the minicamp. Hall was not re-signed and landed with Chicago.
The Falcons signed veteran running back Kenjon Barner and drafted running back/wide receiver Marcus Green.
Barner, who’s 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, has 37 NFL punt returns for 288 yards (7.8 yards per return) and no touchdowns. He has 31 kickoff returns for 718 yards (23.2 yards per return) and no touchdowns.
4. Special teams units. Kotwica has been studying the back of the roster as he’s looking for some players to step forward for the special teams units.
“This is a good group,” Kotwica said. “I think the energy that (Dan Quinn) is looking for and that we are looking for, they are bringing it every day. That consistency is very, very encouraging. As far as educating and evaluating, the education process continues. We are trying to just throw more stuff on their plates. The good thing is that the men have been able to handle it. We’ve been able to get pretty deep into it to set ourselves up for a good training camp.”
5. Open practices: The Falcons are set to have only eight open practices for training camp, the lowest total of teams in the NFC South, excluding the Saints, who will announce their training camp schedule in July.
The Panthers will have 14 free and open practices for their fans, while the Buccaneers will have 11. The Saints had 10 last season, which was down from the 20 they had in 2010.
Around the league, the Broncos will have 19 open practices, double with the Falcons have even though they are both playing in the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 1.
The Packers, Colts and Vikings will have 16 open practices, Browns, Cowboys, Panthers, Ravens and Steelers have 15, Cardinals and Ravens 14, Chargers 13, Seahawks 12, Giants and Bengals 10, Bears 9, Bills 8 (down from 21 in 2014), Rams seven, Jets five and Eagles will have one.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.