Falcons hoping for big return on big investment in offense
By Charles Odum
AP Sports Writer
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Ricardo Allen began listing the weapons on the Atlanta Falcons’ offense and shook his head.
Wide receivers Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Quarterback Matt Ryan.
The safety said facing those playmakers is like a bad dream he must revisit every practice. But Allen also smiled because that’s good news for Atlanta’s 2018 outlook.
“Oh, man, you’ve got Julio, you’ve got Sanu, you’ve got Ridley on the field at the same time and you’ve got those running backs,” Allen said Saturday. “Who do you match up against? Who do you put your best players on? It’s like a matchup nightmare.”
The front office has taken action to make those playmakers happy — and safe.
Ryan has a new five-year, $150 million contract extension. Jones was given an adjustment to his five-year, $71.5 million contract and a promise the deal will be renegotiated after the season. Left tackle Jake Matthews agreed to five-year, $75 million extension on Friday, and the team’s top offseason acquisition was right guard Brandon Fusco, adding more stability to the offensive line.
Ridley, a wide receiver from Alabama, was the team’s first-round draft pick.
Ryan is 33. Jones is 29. Coleman can be a free agent after the season. The Falcons are attempting to seize this opportunity to take full advantage of this offense — most of the unit led the league in scoring two years ago.
“To go up against it every day, I personally don’t think any other offense that has this many weapons from sideline to sideline to give us that much pressure,” Allen said. “Then you’ve got Matty Ice out there putting the ball anywhere he can. It’s a hard matchup and every day is a challenge and that’s a good thing.”
The Falcons led the league with 33.8 points a game in their 2016 Super Bowl season with former coordinator Kyle Shanahan, now San Francisco’s coach, in charge of the offense. In Steve Sarkasian’s 2017 debut as offensive coordinator, Atlanta fell back to 15th in scoring, at 22.1 points per game.
Center Alex Mack says the Falcons are starting faster in their second year with Sarkasian.
“I just see it as a way to start fast and build,” Mack said Saturday. “As an offense in training camp, you can start at a more advanced point than you started the year before, so you can get into the details and work on the little things and be really on the same page.”
The Falcons opened training camp with Freeman and Jones at full health.
Jones played every game but dealt with a long list of injuries last season. Freeman missed two games with his second concussion of the year, including one last preseason, and also was slowed by a knee injury at the end of the season.
“It is awesome to see Free back, feeling like himself,” coach Dan Quinn said. “His aggressive nature always comes out and he’s off to a great start.”
Quinn said the familiarity that comes with the offense’s second season with Sarkasian is crucial.
“I think anytime you’re around guys for more than a year, he has such a clear vision of what guys can do,” Quinn said. “As small as that may sound to you, it’s a big deal.”
NOTES: DE Takkarist McKinley left practice with an apparent right shoulder injury. He has had surgeries on both shoulders the last two years. Quinn said Saturday’s injury is not believed to be serious. … The Falcons have sold all 60,000 tickets, at $5 each, for their practice at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday. It will be the team’s first practice in pads.