LAST YEAR: Led NFL in scoring, made improbable jump from 8-8 finish in 2015 to Super Bowl before blowing 28-3 second-half lead against Patriots. Collapse left Falcons still seeking first NFL championship. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, whose play-calling chemistry with QB Matt Ryan was crucial to big season, left to become San Francisco’s coach. Steve Sarkasian was hired as offensive coordinator and Marquand Manuel was promoted to defensive coordinator.
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IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DT Dontari Poe, DE Jack Crawford, FB Derrick Coleman, WR Andre Roberts, rookie DE Takkarist McKinley, Sarkasian.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DT Jonathan Babineaux, OG Chris Chester, FB Patrick DiMarco, TE Jacob Tamme, LB Paul Worrilow, DE Dwight Freeney, WR Eric Weems, SS Dashon Goldson, LB Philip Wheeler.
CAMP NEEDS: Team hopes first-round pick McKinley has recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. Uncertainty about McKinley’s status grew when he missed minicamp due to NFL rule that forced him to complete academic year at UCLA, where he continued rehabilitation. Manuel must work key newcomers, including Poe, Crawford and McKinley, into defensive mix. CB Desmond Trufant will be watched closely in return from season-ending pectoral injury. Sarkasian must install his tweaks to offense that doesn’t need drastic changes. Finding replacement starter for Chester is priority.
EXPECTATIONS: Anything short of return to playoffs would be big disappointment. Coach Dan Quinn used upbeat demeanor to pump up team’s spirits in offseason after devastating Super Bowl loss. Improved depth and experience on young defense should help. Opening new $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium adds excitement. Best reason to expect team to again challenge for first title is high-scoring attack led by Ryan, WR Julio Jones and RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
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