The defending NFC champion Falcons are set to wrap up their offseason program with a three-day minicamp that runs Tuesday through Thursday.
The Wednesday practice, which starts at 2:05 p.m., will be open to the public.
This will be the final time the coaching staff gets an up-close look at the 90-man roster before the team reconvenes for training camp in late July.
Here are five major issues the Falcons will consider while evaluating the mandatory minicamp:
1. There’s depth at cornerback. With the return of Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant to practice during the OTAs from pectoral surgery, the Falcons, after years of development, have some depth at the cornerback position.
Trufant is headed back to left cornerback, but will the Falcons leave Jalen Collins at right cornerback and move Robert Alford inside to play nickel back? Brian Poole is at nickel back, too. Rookie Damontee Kazee is working at safety, but projects as a nickel candidate.
“You can’t have enough cover corners, cover guys in this league, the way people are throwing the ball around the yard nowadays,” said Jerome Henderson, the defensive passing-game coordinator. “When you look at us specifically, how many passes we saw to runs as a defense last year, people were trying to drop back and throw it a bunch on us. So, you can’t have enough cover guys.”
Falcons defensive backs coach Doug Mallory was elated with the return of Trufant.
“It’s great to get him back,” Mallory said. “Even when Desmond was hurt last year, he was in on every single meeting. Even though he was hurt, we didn’t lose his leadership. He was there every day.”
Trufant signed a six-year, $68.75 million contract extension this offseason.
With Trufant out, Alford and Collins improved their play last season.
“It was kind of a blessing in disguise that other guys stepped up when (Trufant) went down,” Mallory said. “If you look at Robert Alford and the level of his play and the level of his game went up. Jalen Collins was able to come in and give us some good and productive play last year.”
2. Rebuilt defensive line. After outside linebacker/defensive end Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks with 15.5 last season, he’s preparing for teams to adjust their protections to stop him.
“I’m going to accept the attention,” Beasley said. “I know that other elite pass rushers around the league like Khalil (Mack) and Von (Miller), they get a lot of attention just like that. I know that we have a great line, and we have people that we have put into the puzzle and, you know, I think they are going to execute very well.”
Receiving the extra attention is a sign of respect and an acknowledgement of Beasley’s All-Pro status.
“I was definitely expecting it as I progressed as a player and became a better player over the course of my career,” said Beasley, who plans to play at between 240 and 245 pounds. “I knew that I would start getting more attention like the elite pass rushers in this league. It comes with the success.”
Defensive line coach Bryant Young wants to create a balanced pass rush that will make teams pay for over-compensating for Beasley.
“You always have protections where they can either (identify) the (middle linebacker) or slide to a certain guy,” Young said. “I think when you have guys that are able to put pressure on different areas of the line, you can’t slide the protection all of the time to one guy. We are hoping to have some balance there and we understand that may be happening sometimes when they are sliding to a guy.”
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett broke loose for a three-sack game in the Super Bowl, matching his regular-season total of three sacks.
The Falcons hope that defensive tackle Dontari Poe can push the interior of the pocket. They also drafted defensive end Takkarrist McKinley, who’s recovering from shoulder surgery, and are getting back Adrian Clayborn from pectoral surgery.
A pass-rushing line of Beasley, Jarrett, Poe and McKinley or Clayborn looks dynamite on paper. Poe, a two-time Pro Bowler, has only 13 sacks over 78 NFL games. He had a career-high six sacks in 2014.
3. Battle at right guard. For those keeping track of meaningless OTA reps, it appeared that Ben Garland, during the two open sessions, received slightly more reps than Wes Schweitzer with the first-team unit.
Garland and Schweitzer are battling to replace Chris Chester at right guard. The competition will rage on into training camp.
“It’s been really good,” offensive line coach Chris Morgan said. “The guys have all came back with an unbelievable mindset. They are really going after it. Everybody is focused. The competition is really cool.”
4. Finding a fullback. Derrick Coleman, 26, is the replacement for Patrick DiMarco at fullback. The Falcons also have Tyler Renew on the roster.
Coleman, who’s deaf, lost most of his hearing before turning 3 years old. He’s a master lip-reader and plays with hearing aids. He gets hand signals from his teammates, primarily the quarterback.
“With Derrick, first of all I commend him for getting this far in life as he’s gotten and for being as successful as he’s been with the disability,” offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said. “You’d never once know that would be something that would hold him back.”
Coleman played at UCLA and was undrafted. He signed with Minnesota in 2012. He played with Seattle from 2012-14. He was a member of the Super Bowl XLVIII title team.
The Falcons used the fullback on 31 percent of their plays last season.
“We did a lot with our fullback, with (DiMarco) a year ago,” Sarkisian said. “We’ll continue to do that with Derrick. We motion him. We move him all over the field. We align him and we ask him to do a lot of different things in the run game.”
5. Undrafted players to watch. Wide receiver Deante Burton (Kansas State), linebacker Jermaine Grace (Miami) and linebacker Darius English (South Carolina and McEachern High) were impressive over the rookie minicamp and have been in OTAs, too.
“It’s a really good group,” special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong said of the rookies. “I’m very happy for them.”
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