We recently had the opportunity to speak to Davey "Crockett" Choate of The Falcoholic, which I highly recommend you peruse at your convenience. Here are five questions and Davey's answers.
1. There were a lot of rumors that the Jets would end up with Dan Quinn as their head coach, but weren’t willing to wait. What has been your initial impression of Quinn, and how would you rate the offseason for the Falcons?
Quinn's been everything Falcons fans wanted. He's saying all the right things, increasing the practice tempo and installing a faster, more aggressive defensive scheme that everyone loves thus far. We really have no idea what this team will look like when the season rolls around, but he's winning the PR battle.
The offseason is probably somewhere around a 7 or 8 on a 10 point scale. The Falcons desperately needed to improve their defense, and they hired a defensive mind, added promising rookie Vic Beasley, and upgraded with free agent additions like Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed and Justin Durant. They're not going to be a great team just yet, more than likely, but they managed to address a majority of their needs in one offseason, and I'm pretty enthused about that.
2. There were a lot of Jets fans that were interested in drafting Vic Beasley and Justin Hardy this past year. How have they looked thus far in camp?
Both have looked great. Beasley is as quick and deadly as advertised, and despite getting just one drive's worth of snaps against the Titans, he managed to get in the backfield and help out against the run, which was arguably his greatest weakness coming out of college. I don't know what to expect for his sack total, but he looks impactful already.
Hardy's going to be the #3 receiver at best, but he's looking sure-handed, and the route-running I was hoping to see from him is already there. He's a pretty polished product and I think he'll have a good rapport with Matt Ryan sooner rather than later, even if I don't expect him to put up big numbers in year one.
3. The Falcons defense has had its issues the past few years, arguably hitting a low when Smith had one of his best games against them two years ago. Who on the defense should Jets fans be watching out for, and how has Quinn transformed the defense at this point?
The big names are Beasley, defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, end Malliciah Goodman, and cornerbacks Robert Alford and Kevin White. Hageman looks like a beast in his second year in the league, Goodman is a potentially dominant force against the run at end, and the electric Alford and promising young White are both carving out roles on this defense, so they'll have plenty of snaps. Ricardo Allen, who is converting from cornerback and looks like the starting free safety, is another name to know.
Overall, Quinn's just tried to shore up the weakest positions on the team. Reed and Durant are huge upgrades over what the team was trotting out at linebacker a year ago, Clayborn and O'Brien Schofield add a little pass rushing punch to what had been a pitiful attack, and rookie Jalen Collins is a long-term fit as a rangy, physical press cornerback, even if he's struggling now. This defense can be average or a little bit better in 2015, I think, and that's a major step forward.
4. What is the best unit on the team, and what is the worst?
The receiving corps is the best unit, without questions. Julio Jones is dominant, Roddy White and Leonard Hankerson are both effective options, Hardy looks good, and Devin Hester is a fast, useful fifth receiver. This the most stacked the corps has been for many, many years, at least on paper.
The offensive line still looks like the worst. Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder look like decent or better bookend tackles, but Joe Hawley is coming off a major injury at center and may not be 100% this year, and the guard spots are manned by veteran Chris Chester and largely unproven left guard James Stone. One or two injuries or a badly scuffling starter and the line's going to be an active liability for the third year in a row.
5. Predictions for the game, and your season?
I've got the Falcons winning narrowly, something like 24-20. The starters should be able to score early, even against that defense, and the first team defense looks much more aggressive. It thins out after there, though, and T.J. Yates is a turnover waiting to happen as the backup quarterback.
For the season, I'm feeling optimistic. Something like 10-6 and 9-7 if they can prey on the rest of the NFC South, and if the team stays reasonably healthy. I think they'll get bounced out early if they make it to the playoffs, but that'd be one encouraging season for us.