FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Dan Quinn has gone back to his past to protect his future with the Atlanta Falcons.
Quinn fired his three coordinators following a disappointing 7-9 finish in 2018. He appointed himself as defensive coordinator. He was a longtime defensive coach, including two years directing Seattle's defense, before being hired as Falcons head coach in 2015.
"It's like putting on your old favorite sweat shirt," said Quinn of his new role.
Clearly, last season's decline was not acceptable after Quinn took the Falcons to the Super Bowl in his second season and back to the playoffs in 2017.
Team owner Arthur Blank has demonstrated his belief in the team's top talent by investing in long-term deals with such players as quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones , running back Devonta Freeman, cornerback Desmond Trufant and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett.
Ryan is 34. Jones is 30. They continued to perform at elite levels in 2018, but the window for this team is closing. There is pressure to win now.
The heat is on Quinn, who is 39-30, including 3-2 in the postseason, through four seasons.
Quinn refused to blame his first losing record on a devastating rash of injuries. Safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, linebacker Deion Jones, Freeman and both starting guards were among those who landed on injured reserve. All who returned are expected to be ready for the start of the regular season.
The defense was improving before losing many of its top playmakers to injuries last year. Quinn is working on multiple looks this year. Julio Jones said he has been impressed by what he has seen from the unit in practice.
"They disguise really, really well," Jones said. "Our depth is amazing throughout the whole defense. I'm looking forward to seeing what the defense is going to do this year. Just stay healthy, and it should be a fun season for us."
Here are some keys for the Falcons in 2019:
Two former Atlanta assistants were brought back when Quinn hired Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator and Mike Mularkey to coach tight ends. Koetter was Tampa Bay's coach the last four years. Mularkey most recently spent two seasons as Titans coach, and also has been the head coach at Buffalo and Jacksonville. Each has coordinated the Falcons' offense with Ryan. Mularkey was Ryan's first offensive coordinator in 2008-11; Koetter directed the Falcons' offense from 2012-14.
Ryan said he knows the Falcons are expected to make the playoffs. "I'm not scared of the expectations or shy away from that or what we're capable of doing," he said. "I think we can do great things as a team ... but how we get there is most important and focusing on how we get there is my message to them."
The Falcons have made a big commitment to providing better protection for Ryan after giving up 42 sacks in 2018. The Falcons signed free-agent guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown and drafted two offensive linemen in the first round: guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary. Carpenter was slowed in camp by a hip flexor injury. McGary is expected to miss a few weeks after having a cardiac ablation, described as a minimally invasive procedure, to correct heart rhythm problems. He has returned to individual drills but is not yet ready for game action.
NEW HELP FOR DQ
Quinn said newly hired special assistant Bob Sutton , Kansas City's defensive coordinator the last six seasons, will be crucial. Sutton was hired to focus on game strategies including clock management, time-out usage, and replay review, helping to free Quinn for his new responsibilities with the defense.
"I've enjoyed doing both roles," Quinn said. "I wouldn't be able to do it if I didn't have all the support from the coaches on offense and having Bob here."
The depth chart at running back behind Freeman is a big question after Tevin Coleman signed with San Francisco. The good news is Freeman has made a strong return after missing 14 games last season with knee and groin injuries.
Even with a healthy Freeman, the Falcons have considered having a more shared role of the backup job. Ito Smith ran for 315 yards and four touchdowns. Brian Hill has looked explosive at times. Kenjon Barner, also competing for a spot on returns, and rookie Qadree Ollison are behind Smith and Hill.