Without All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons concluded their Organized Team Activities (OTAs) Thursday.
“We were moving guys around to different spots trying to find that versatility,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Receivers who can play more than one spot. (Defensive backs) who can play more than one spot. That’s what we were looking for. I was encouraged by that.”
The Falcons also worked on the new kickoff rules, getting more yards after the catch and several other situational scenarios.
Here are 10 things we learned during the OTAs:
1. Sarkisian-Knapp collaborative:. Former Falcons offensive coordinator Greg Knapp returned to the team as the quarterbacks coach and current offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said he plans to lean on longtime NFL assistant to help with game plans and in-game decision making and adjustments.
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Knapp, 54, was the Falcons offensive coordinator from 2004-06. He helped the Falcons get to the NFC title game with Michael Vick at quarterback after the 2004 regular season.
He has also coached Steve Young in San Francisco and Peyton Manning in Denver with other stops in Oakland, Seattle and Houston.
He coached with Quinn in San Francisco (2001-03) and Seattle (2009). He was Manning’s position coach when the Broncos won Super Bowl 50.
2. Injury report: Falcons wide receiver/defensive back Russell Gage, a sixth-round (194th overall) draft pick, had a ‘tweak’ and was working off to the side with trainers during the final week of OTAs. Normally, a tweak is described with a hamstring injury. He’s expected back for mini-camp, according to Quinn.
Also, defensive back Leon McFadden (stomach flu), safety Quincy Mauger (knee), left guard Andy Levitre (arm), right guard Wes Schweitzer (undisclosed) and defensive end Takkarrist McKinley (shoulder) were working off to the side with the training staff this week.
Levitre and McKinley are projected starters and figure to be ready for training camp in late July.
3. Leaders on defense: Quinn said linebacker Deion Jones and strong safety Keanu Neal, who are entering their third year in the league, are developing “powerful” leadership skills.
Quinn noted that both have made presentations to the defensive group because they now have a full understanding of the defense.
4. Trufant’s plan: The Falcons have asked cornerback Desmond Trufant to make more plays on the ball. But the offseason rules don’t allow for contact so that will come later.
“Could you know what you work on so hard that you could teach it,” Quinn said. “He’s really fit, looking strong and ready.”
Trufant has 60 pass breakups, but only nine interceptions over 72 regular-season games. The Falcons want to turn some of those breakups into interceptions.
5. Return game: Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong is looking at Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, Isaiah Oliver, Ito Smith and Calvin Ridley to return punts and kickoffs. He’s said that getting Ridley, the team’s first-round pick, is a longshot.
6. Jarrett’s tutorials: Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who played 267 defensive snaps (25.4 percent) as a rookie back in 2015, is helping to get rookie Deadrin Senat ready for the season.
Jarrett was a fifth-round pick and Senat was taken in the third round.
“I’m working with Deadrin really closely, trying to get him ready for the year. ... As far as me just growing as my career grows, I’m just trying to make other people better as well,” Jarrett said.
Senat is coming along.
“He’s a tough and competitive guy,” Jarrett said. “I’m excited to see him grow as a player. I know it’s a process as it was for me.”
7. Fusco at right guard: Brandon Fusco, who was signed in free agency, worked with the first-team offensive line.
Wes Schweitzer, last season’s starter, was working with the reserves before suffering an undisclosed injury in the final week.
8. Matthews studying: Left tackle Jake Matthews is also trying to get a deeper understanding of the offense.
“Just trying to get into the playbook that much more to get an understanding of not just what you’re doing but what everyone’s job is,” Matthews said. “Once you get to that level, you can settle things down and it will make you play much faster and confident player.”
9. More touches for running backs: Devonta Freeman’s receptions went down from 54 to 36 last season. Tevin Coleman’s receptions went down from 31 to 27.
Sarkisian believes he has to utilize both backs better in the passing game.
“They didn’t get enough touches, catching the ball out of the backfield,” Sarkisian said. “We have to find those opportunities for them.”
Coleman is ready for more action.
“They want to use me more,” Coleman said. “Line me up out wide and stuff like that. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
10. Ridley reunion: Sarkisian was reunited with Ridley, the former Alabama wide receiver. Sarkisian was on Nick Saban’s staff during the 2016 season.
“I was fortunate to be with Calvin for a year at Alabama,” Sarkisian said. “I think from the naked eye, when you watch the TV copies of games, he’s a dynamic play-maker. You can see that. He can catch the deep ball. He’s athletic. He can run.”
Ridley, as advertised, ran crisp routes and got open deep during the three open OTA sessions.
“There is still a lot of work to do, still a lot of room to grow,” Sarksian said. “He’s come a long way in a short amount of time.”
Ridley remains unsigned, but the team is expecting to reach a deal soon with Atlanta-based super agent Pat Dye Jr.