The Atlanta Falcons will conclude their offseason group sessions this week with mandatory minicamp Tuesday through Thursday.
So far, the mood around the team has been upbeat, with the infectious enthusiasm brought by new coach Dan Quinn.
Here are three storylines to watch during the three days of minicamp:
Business as usual for Julio Jones: Although Jones has not yet been rewarded with a long-term contract extension, the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver with one year left on his contract hasn't staged any type of public protest. And unlike Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys, Jones seems highly unlikely to take such defiant measures heading into mandatory minicamp. The Falcons should reward their best player by making him one of the highest-paid receivers in the league, if not the highest. (Detroit's Calvin Johnson currently tops all receivers at $16.2 million per year.) General manager Thomas Dimitroff told an audience of season-ticket holders and Jones himself that a lucrative deal is around the block. Well, no point in giving Jones the run-around. Owner Arthur Blank, head coach Dan Quinn and Dimitroff all have expressed a desire to keep Jones in the fold for the long haul. Plus Dimitroff said he has no lingering concerns about the foot fracture Jones suffered two seasons ago. Jones publicly vowed to improve on last year's franchise-record performance, and that should give the Falcons even more incentive to get the deal done soon.
Free safety battle heating up: Quinn threw some folks for a loop recently when he declared how impressive second-year player Ricardo Allen has been at free safety. Allen, a converted cornerback, wasn't a player expected to contribute much after getting released following training camp, then spending most of last season on the practice squad. Allen diligently worked on improving his technique daily after practice, so his desire was more than evident. The 5-foot-9, 196-pound Allen isn't the most intimidating figure on the back end, but if he can make up for it with speed, athleticism and intelligent play, he'll have a legitimate shot. Veteran Charles Godfrey, has the most experience but has not generated much buzz this offseason. And although Kemal Ishmael led the Falcons with four interceptions last season, he is better suited as a hard-hitting, in-the-box safety than a guy roaming the back with range. No matter what happens at free safety, the Falcons need strong safety William Moore to be a stabilizing force once he fully recovers from major shoulder surgery.
Offensive line still a work in progress: The likely starting offensive line for Week 1 has yet to work together as a complete unit this offseason. It was a positive sign to see players such as left tackle Jake Matthews (Lisfranc) and center Joe Hawley (ACL/MCL) back on the field for organized team activities, but neither player participated in full-team drills. They will follow the same protocol during mandatory minicamp, meaning guys such as Lamar Holmes and James Stone will remain with the first-team offense. It's not the ideal scenario for a unit getting used to a new outside-zone block scheme implemented by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Health is the No. 1 factor to watch, with starting right guard Jon Asamaoh (ankle) recently added to the list of walking wounded. The Falcons brought in some veteran bodies for competition, but they are highly unlikely to invest in a high-dollar player such as recently released All-Pro guard Evan Mathis. How much success will the Falcons have with newcomer Chris Chester, who played in Shanahan's scheme previously and is capable of playing both guard spots or center? Does former starting left tackle Sam Baker, coming off major knee surgery, even have a place on the team with a cap value of $7.3 million this season? Lots of questions. Let's see if minicamp provides any more answers.