By Tyler McMullen @Direct_Snap on July 21, 2014
The Atlanta Falcons are coming off a forgettable 2013 season in which the team was marred by injuries to key players and downright awful football along the offensive and defensive lines. Atlanta went out this offseason with one thing in mind -- get stronger and more stout up front -- and they did just that along with adding a few other key pieces on offense and defense. Here are 10 reasons why Falcons fans should be excited for the 2014 season.
Atlanta spent a second-round pick on one of the draft's biggest "boom or bust" prospects in Hageman. The former Minnesota defensive tackle may make the shift to defensive end in Atlanta's hybrid 3-4 scheme this season and could be in line to make an immediate impact as a rookie. Hageman has some attitude problems and needs to develop more as a player, but he could be an impact defensive lineman in 2-3 years.
Ryan now has another season under his belt and will look to lead his team back into postseason play in 2014 after coming up short in 2013. Ryan did have a decent season in 2013, but fans and media members are looking for the former Boston College QB to take his play to the next level and become one of the NFL's elite signal callers. Ryan certainly has the tools to do so; he just needs to focus on taking care of the football.
Hester was one of the NFL's most underrated offseason acquisitions, and I believe he will add another dimension to Atlanta's football team. Hester is one of the league's most feared return specialists and can instantly flip field position in the blink of an eye. He is a weapon that can be used in multiple ways, and I would not be surprised if Atlanta attempted to use his speed on offense a few times per game this season.
Jackson had a disappointing 2013 season for Atlanta after coming over from the St. Louis Rams. He was known as one of the league's best in-between-the-tackles runners and could pick up extra yardage due to his strong legs. Jackson seemed to struggle last season behind a beat up offensive line, not to mention the veteran tailback just looked worn-out. Hopefully he is healthy and ready to go in 2014.
Atlanta signed two key free agents along the defensive line this offseason in former Miami Dolphin DT Paul Soliai and former Kansas City Chief DT/DE Tyson Jackson, both of whom fit perfectly in Atlanta's new 3-4 scheme. Soliai will likely slide inside to play NT, where he has starred for Miami for a few seasons before, and Jackson will likely play one of the team's DE positions along their 3-man front. Look for a stout defensive line this year.
One of the biggest storylines to follow during training camp this offseason will be the return of the league's second-best receiver in WR Julio Jones. Jones missed the majority of the 2013 season, and his absence was felt as the offense did not fire right without him. Jones is clearly the team's top player and will make a huge offensive impact this season for the team. Look for Jones to assert himself as one of the league's best playmakers.
Atlanta added two new starters to their offensive line this offseason with former Kansas City Chiefs OG Jon Asamoah and first-round pick OT Jake Matthews. Asamoah will instantly slide in and play either left or right guard, while Matthews will likely play the right tackle position in year one as Sam Baker returns as the team's left tackle in 2014. Asamoah and Matthews should help solidify Atlanta's offensive line for QB Matt Ryan.
With Jones returning to action, fans will get to see something they missed last season with Jones and White playing at a high level together. White played well last season but struggled early on in the year. It wasn't until the final few weeks of the season when White finally looked like himself again. Jones and White are arguably one of the NFL's top receiving duos and will look to enter that conversation once again in 2014.
Desmond Trufant played incredibly well during his rookie season, but for some reason his play went unnoticed as many turned their attention to the play of players such as Tyrann Mathieu or Kiko Alonso. Trufant was arguably one of the NFL's top corners in 2013 and will look to enter the elite category in 2014. He does not have Asante Samuel to lean on any longer and will have to become the alpha-male of the Atlanta secondary.
Ryan and Jones have been one of the league's top QB-WR duos ever since the two hooked up just a few short seasons ago. Jones has since emerged as one of the league's top receiving threats, and Ryan has been teetering on the elite level for a few seasons now. Ryan and Jones will look to take their relationship to a whole new level in 2014, especially without TE Tony Gonzalez in town. Both players could be in line for career seasons in 2014.
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