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Quinn puts his imprint on Falcons roster

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — After the firing of head coach Mike Smith, the Atlanta Falcons front office was restructured with his successor Dan Quinn receiving the final authority over the roster.

The retooled roster, with new offensive and defensive schemes, is set to open the season against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football at the Georgia Dome.

The Falcons are projected to have four new starters on offense and six on the defense, which ranked last in the league in 2014.

That’s a 45.4 percent turnover from the starting lineup that took the field in Game 16 with a chance to win the NFC South last season.

Both guards, Justin Blalock and Jon Asamoah, were replaced by Chris Chester and Andy Levitre. Tight end Levine Toilolo has been replaced by Jacob Tamme and running back Jacquizz Rodgers will be replaced by Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman.

On the defensive side of the ball, tackle Jonathan Babineaux, defensive end Malliciah Goodman, linebacker Joplo Bartu and safety Kemal Ishmael are all now reserves.

Cornerback Robert McClain and safety Dwight Lowery were not re-signed.

“I was impressed by the approach all offseason, camp and the preseason,” Quinn said. “I like the group we have put together after a very competitive camp, and I am looking forward to us hitting the field this week to prepare for Week 1.”

Owner Arthur Blank is looking forward to the season and has some high expectations for his new coach and a franchise that is trying to rebound from two losing seasons.

“We’re not about rebuilding and building,” Blank said. “We’re about winning, and we’re about winning now.”

Running back Antone Smith, a stalwart on special teams, was one of the surprise cuts, as the Falcons reached an injury settlement with him.

In addition to Smith, the Falcons released linebacker Derek Akunne, outside linebacker Tyler Starr, tackle Pierce Burton, cornerback Akeem King, Eric Lefeld, linebacker Stansly Maponga, nose tackle Joey Mbu and wide receiver Carlton Mitchell.

The Falcons waived injured offensive lineman Adam Replogle, running back Jerome Smith and tight end D.J. Tialavea. Atlanta also placed Asamoah, fullback Collin Mooney and cornerback Travis Howard on injured reserve.

The Falcons reached an injury settlement with tight end Tony Moeaki (ankle). The Falcons released quarterbacks T.J. Yates and Rex Grossman on Friday along with safety Sean Baker, linebacker Terrell Manning, tackle Jake Rodgers, guard Jared Smith, cornerback Kevin White and defensive end Cliff Matthews.

The Levitre move was designed to help replace Blalock and stabilize the left guard position.

The Falcons gave the Titans a sixth-round pick in 2016 and a conditional pick in a future year in exchange for Levitre, who has made 96 starts in the NFL.

“Both coach Quinn and I have been very open about always looking for ways to improve our roster, and we felt this move did exactly that,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “Andy is a proven player in this league, and we feel like he will be a good fit for our offensive line.”

After Steven Jackson, Rodgers and Antone Smith carried most of the load at running back last season, the Falcons have completely revamped the position.

Jackson and Rodgers were not re-signed and the Falcons reached an injury settlement with Smith.

The Falcons elected to keep running backs Devonta Freeman (fourth-round pick in 2014), Tevin Coleman (third-round pick 2015) and Terron Ward (undrafted rookie free agent 2015).

With the release of Yates and Grossman, the Falcons are prepared to enter the season with quarterback Sean Renfree, who hasn’t played in a regular-season game, as the backup to two-time Pro Bowler Matt Ryan.

Ryan has proved to be durable. He hasn’t missed a game since the 2009 season. His streak of 87 starts in a row is the fifth longest among active quarterbacks, despite playing under severe duress the last two seasons.

–The Falcons were so high on defensive back Dezmen Southward last season that they selected him with a third-round pick and felt he would be the team’s free safety. But with Quinn liking bigger cornerbacks, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Southward was moved to cornerback. He struggled during the exhibition season, but did enough on specials teams to make the team.

Notes: Running back Terron Ward, an undrafted rookie from Oregon State and brother of Denver Broncos standout safety T.J. Ward, shined during the preseason and made the roster. He took advantage of the extra playing time he received with running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman missing time because of hamstring injuries. … Strong safety Robenson Therezie, an undrafted rookie free agent from Auburn, made the roster with his hard-hitting style of play. … Linebacker Brooks Reed had surgery to repair a lingering groin injury. He could miss up to six weeks. … Left tackle Jake Matthews (back) did not play in the preseason finale.


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