12 things we learned about the Falcons this offseason

A dejected Matt Ryan walks off the field as the confetti flys falling to the Patriots 34-28 in the Super Bowl on Sunday Feb. 5, 2017, in Houston. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
A dejected Matt Ryan walks off the field as the confetti flys falling to the Patriots 34-28 in the Super Bowl on Sunday Feb. 5, 2017, in Houston. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Shortly after releasing the team for the summer, Falcons coach Dan Quinn and team officials went to Washington, D.C. to visit to various military related places.

It was a busy and compacted offseason for the Falcons, who reached the Super Bowl for just the second time in franchise history.

After suffering the most devastating loss in the history of the game, losing 34-28 after building a 28-3 lead, Quinn went right to work the next day.

While the Falcons are set to report for training camp July 26, here’s a look back at 12 things we learned about the team over the offseason:

1. Replacing Kyle Shanahan. The night after the Super Bowl, Quinn made the necessary calls to fill the vacant offensive coordinator position. The team knew Kyle Shanahan hand landed a sweetheart six-year deal to coach the San Francisco 49ers. Alabama consultant Steve Sarkisian operates the same scheme and had visited Quinn and the Falcons during training camp. "It all came pretty quickly," Sarkisian said. The former head coach at Washington and USC, was hired on Feb. 9. Sarkisian, who has a pending wrongful termination lawsuit against USC, talked directly with Quinn about his alcoholism addiction and his recovery program. Quinn felt comfortable enough to hire Sarkisian, who has not been in the NFL since he was the quarterbacks coach at Oakland in 2004.

2. Rounding out the staff. Former defensive coordinator Richard Smith and defensive line coach Bryan Cox were not retained. Quinn promoted defensive backs coach Marquand Manuel to defensive coordinator, hired Bryant Young as the defensive line coach and promoted Doug Mallory to defensive backs coach Feb. 10. Quinn also added former Georgia High School coaching legend Jess Simpson to the staff as a defensive assistant. Simpson led Buford High to seven state championships and three state runner-up finishes in his 12 years as their head coach.

3. Falcons go to the combine. Quinn spoke at the NFL scouting combine and answered a lot of questions about the team's collapse in the Super Bowl on March 1. "You've got to own it," Quinn said. "We'll be stronger for it." He also informed the media that defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux would not be resigned. Quinn also acknowledged, for the first time, that he took over calling the defensive plays during the Kansas City game, which signaled the end of Smith's tenure with the team.

4. Falcons make free-agency moves. The Falcons took a tactical and financially prudent approach to free agency. They let some salary go and replaced the players with what they believe were upgrades. The main signing was picking up defensive tackle Dontari Poe for an $8 million incentive-laden deal. The Falcons added defensive end Jack Crawford, wide receiver/returner Andre Roberts to replace former Pro Bowler Eric Weems and fullback Derrick Coleman to replace former Pro Bowler Patrick DiMarco.

5. Falcons go to the owner's meeting. Quinn met with the media at the NFL Owner's meeting in Arizona on March 29. He received more questions about the Super Bowl collapse, but also revealed that he spoke with Golden State coach Steve Kerr and Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona. Both had to deal with devastating losses after their teams blew 3-1 leads in the NBA Finals and World Series.

6. NFC champs return to work. The Falcons held another players-only camp — Camp Brotherhood — in Miami. That was followed by the opening of the strength-and-conditioning program April 17.

7. The draft. The Falcons pulled off a trade with Seattle to land UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley with the 26th pick in the NFL draft April 27. The Falcons gave up a third-round and a seventh-round pick to move up from the 31st spot to the 26th spot to draft McKinley, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound defensive end. "We're excited about having him on board," general manger Thomas Dimitroff said.

In an interview with former Falcon Deion Sanders, McKinley gave an impassioned speech about his late grandmother and his promise to make it to the NFL before dropping an f-bomb on live television. He was not fined by the league. The Falcons hope to use him opposite of outside linebacker Vic Beasley, who led the league with 15.5 sacks last season.

“We are excited to add another guy to our defense who has the run and hit factor in full effect,” Quinn said. McKinley had shoulder surgery, but the Falcons are optimistic that he’ll be ready for training camp.

The Falcons also drafted linebacker Duke Riley (third round, LSU), offensive guard Sean Harlow (fourth round, Oregon State), cornerback Damontae Kazee (fifth round, San Diego State), running back Brian Hill (fifth round, Wyoming) and tight end Eric Saubert (fifth round, Drake).

8. Julio and Migos. Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, who had offseason foot surgery, shot a video with the rap group Migos.He was also active on Instagram and Twitter about his offseason travels. Jones said he was following his normal routine, but he just didn't do much social media in the past.

9. Rookie minicamp. The Falcons held their rookie minicamp May 11-13. "We had an awesome on-field camp," Quinn said. "… So, man we are excited to get everybody kind of acclimated. They (the rookies) got a taste of what the culture can be like, a taste of the practice tempo that we want to (practice at.)"

10. Sarkisian discusses addiction. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jeff Schultz, who has written about addiction and speaks to groups about the subject, had a frank discussion with Sarkisian on the subject on June 7."I'd be naive to think I could shy away from the subject," Sarkisian said. "I didn't have the choice whether to keep it private or not, so I just accepted it. And in the end, I thought, maybe I can help somebody else, somebody else who was high-profile."

11. OTA penalty paid. Quinn and Dimitroff went to New York to meet with league officials to discuss the excessive contact rules for OTAs in February. The Falcons, after film review of their sessions from last season, were penalized and lost three OTA sessions. The Falcons opened their first OTA practice May 30. "We changed a little bit of the format of practice," Quinn said. "We thought we threw a great offseason program, but then in October we found out it was a little more than (what the league would approve of.) It was disappointing to hear. Thomas and myself went to New York and said, 'OK, here's our tape. Help educate us.' Then I went back and helped to educate the team."

12. Mandatory minicamp. The Falcons had perfect attendance for the mandatory minicamp, which was held June 13-15. Cornerback Desmond Trufant (pectoral surgery), defensive end Derrick Shelby (Achilles surgery) and linebacker/safety Kemal Ishamel (shoulder) returned to some of the drills. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn (biceps surgery), wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (lower leg strain) and Jones (foot surgery) were held out. Roberts suffered a back injury and missed the last two days of the minicamp.

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