In free agency, the Falcons looked to add some quality veterans to the team.
Their biggest splash was signing guard Brandon Fusco to a three-year, $12.75 million deal. The Falcons also added veterans in cornerback Justin Bethel, safety Ron Parker, defensive tackle Terrell McClain and tight end Logan Paulsen.
With the Falcons set to play their first exhibition game against the New York Jets at 7:30 p.m. Friday at MetLife Stadium, here’s how the veteran newcomers are fitting in:
> Brandon Fusco, right guard. He is competing with Wes Schweitzer for the starting right guard position. The two are alternating reps with the first-team offense.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who preaches competition, wants someone to win the starting spot. Offensive line coach Chris Morgan believed that Schweitzer improved as the 2017 season progressed.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with Brandon in terms of who he is and his style,” Quinn said. “In the true nature for our competition piece, Wes is not just going to hand it over. I want to give each player their chance to compete. That’s our job as coaches.”
Fusco, who started all 16 games with the 49ers last season, is fine having to compete.
“Yeah, it’s what they are about here, competition,” Fusco said. “I’m not mad about that. I’m down for competition and making each other better.
“We haven’t even started the first (exhibition) game, so I don’t want to get out of hand about ones and twos.”
For most of the power positions, Quinn wants to see the players in physical situations in the exhibition games.
“There are some many good evaluation things that you could learn against new scheme and new players,” Quinn said. “The good thing is that we have some really qualified guards inside. Brandon’s toughness and physicality is one thing that stands him apart.”
Fusco is trying to continuity working next to his new mates, but that’s a little harder working with the first and second team offensive lines.
“I’m just trying to get some continuity with everybody, get familiar, hear the different calls and get used to the different blocks,” Fusco said. “It’s been good so far. It’s definitely going to be better.”
> Justin Bethel, cornerback. The former Pro Bowl special-teams player is key to the team's improvement and will be expected to provide some depth in the secondary.
“I’ve been doing a lot of corner and making sure that I learn all of the dime and nickel stuff,” Bethel said. “Right now, I’m just getting the concepts down so that if I get in at any position, I know what I’m supposed to do.”
Bethel intercepted a pass during the Red-White scrimmage Saturday.
> Ron Parker, free safety. Parker has played all over the secondary in his career.
Parker, who signed as a free agent June 25 to a one-year, $915,000 contract, has played cornerback, free safety and strong safety.
“He’s at free safety right now,” Quinn said. “... He’s played corner. He’s played nickel. He’s played free safety, so he’s got real versatility, but at this point, I want to see what is the best fit for him in our defense, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Parker, who will turn 31 this month, entered the NFL in 2011 when he signed as undrafted free agent out of Newberry (S.C.) by the Seahawks.
Parker, who is listed at 6-feet and 206 pounds, has spent time with four NFL teams over his nine-year career, playing in 90 games with 64 starts.
“It’s kind of like starting over when you get to a new organization because everything is new,” Parker said. “You have to figure everything out.”
He started all 16 games for the Chiefs last season. He had two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and 67 tackles.
> Terrell McClain, defensive tackle. He entered the NFL with Carolina as a third-round draft pick and played with Washington last season.
“It’s going a lot smoother than I thought it was going to go,” McClain said. “Being that I’m an older guy, I’ve been around the league. I’ve been in so many training camps, there’s not too much for me to adapt to. I’ve been through every type of system.”
The Falcons must replace defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who left in free agency. In addition to signing McClain, they drafted Deadrin Senat in the third round.
Defensive line coach Bryant Young has been mixing up the tackle combinations.
“I like how they are doing it,” McClain said. “They are trying to see how people rush on the side of different people. They are just not having the same guy out there for every snap. They are mixing it up.”
> Logan Paulsen, tight end. Paulsen, 31, is listed at 6-5 and 264 pounds and has played in 105 games, making 55 starts. He has caught just 82 passes for 816 yards and six touchdowns. He wasn't drafted after playing at UCLA and has been in the NFL since 2010.
He was signed to help block in the run game. With no live tackling, it’s hard to evaluate how his blocking is coming along.
Subscribe to "The Bow Tie Chronicles" podcast with the AJC's D. Orlando Ledbetter on iTunes or on the new AJC sports podcasts page.
About the Author
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC