Biggest post-draft questions still to be answered by the Atlanta Falcons:
Who is on guard? The Falcons still need to figure out which player will step in as the starting right guard following Chris Chester's retirement. It's unlikely to be fourth-round draft pick Sean Harlow out of Oregon State, although not out of the question. Harlow started all 37 of his college games at tackle, with 23 on the left side and 14 on the right. He said he practiced some at guard, but that's not nearly enough experience at the position. The Falcons will give him a look at both guard spots as well as some snaps at center. So the starting right guard seems likely to come down to returning players Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland. Schweitzer, a former tackle who struggled with the move into the interior as a rookie last season, was inactive for all 16 games in 2017. But it's easy to tell the coaches like Schweitzer's progress heading into his second season. “We're excited about where Wes is headed,” Quinn said. “... He is an all-day [player] here trying to find the one thing to do better. I use the term, 'set it off.' Wes Schweitzer this year has set it off in terms of having the offseason of his life. He's battle for it in every way. I have a sense that Sean is made of the same things. That's what everybody has reported to us.” Schweitzer is working on getting stronger and improving his pass protection. Garland, with the most game experience, is no slouch at all, but his value extends beyond offense. He played his most productive snaps at defensive tackle last season while also serving as the backup to Pro Bowl center Alex Mack.
How will nickel and dime packages shake out? New defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, formerly the secondary coach, has plenty of new toys. He has the established corners in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, with Trufant coming back from pectoral surgery. He has a true leader in Ricardo Allen at free safety and a hard hitter in Keanu Neal at strong safety. He has a solid nickelback, Brian Poole, playing with a chip on his shoulder after being undrafted. And Manuel has some quality depth with Jalen Collins, C.J. Goodwin, and now fifth-round draft pick Damontae Kazee, a ball hawk who also can tackle. Now it's about putting everyone in the best position to succeed. Both Alford and Trufant can move inside in the nickel, and Collins is more of an outside guy after shining in a starting role because of Trufant's absence. The Falcons need depth behind Allen, and now have it with Poole getting a free safety audition and the rookie Kazee. In a crunch, the Falcons also could move Kemal Ishmael from linebacker back to strong safety. It's actually a good problem for the Falcons to have after lacking quality depth at corner in recent years.
Can Brian Hill be productive behind established backs? Two-time Pro Bowl selection Devonta Freeman is the primary running back, the guy who is expected to get the most touches, and the one likely to secure a new lucrative contract before the start of the season. But it will be interesting to see how the Falcons incorporate fifth-round pick Brian Hill, a highly productive back from Wyoming, into the mix behind Freeman and speedster Tevin Coleman. Immediately after being drafted, Hill told Atlanta reporters that the Falcons just “got the best running back in the draft in the fifth round.” You've got to like his confidence, but Hill also said he didn't expect to be drafted by Atlanta because they already have two great running backs. Said general manager Thomas Dimitroff of Hill: “He's an angry runner. He's fun to watch him.” Quinn wants to see if on third down, Hill can step in and do some of the protection work asked of the fullback last season. “He's got the size and strength to do it,” Quinn said of Hill. “We won't really know on that until you get to training camp. You can imagine it's way easier to pass block without pads.”