An Early Look at Key Training Camp Battles on Atlanta Falcons Offense
June is a month filled with organized team activities, as we steadily inch closer to NFL training camps that open up at the end of July.
Let’s take a look at some of the burgeoning roster battles on offense that will become the key storylines come July and August during the Atlanta Falcons training camp.
The main issue for this position is the backup spot behind starter Matt Ryan. Dominique Davis is the front-runner given his experience, but is far from proven. Davis struggled last preseason, but so did his biggest competition in 2013 seventh-round pick Sean Renfree. Renfree has the draft status backing him up, which means the Falcons have a vested interest in developing him. But he’ll need to prove he can stay healthy, something that has been exceedingly difficult for him the past few years, and also improve his play on the field.
Undrafted free agent Jeff Mathews will also be in the mix, possessing good size and a strong arm that could impress enough to be a serious contender for the job. Normally, Mathews would be competing solely for a spot on the practice squad, but there are so many question marks at the position that if he comes out strong this summer, he could potentially win the No. 2 job behind Ryan.
This is a position that if the performances aren’t up to par, the Falcons may look elsewhere for help as they did two years ago by signing Luke McCown before the start of the regular season.
The top of the Falcons depth chart is pretty settled with Steven Jackson as the starter and Jacquizz Rodgers serving as the team’s third-down back. The key issue is whether or not rookie Devonta Freeman can perform well enough to steal significant reps from either player once the regular season begins.
Antone Smith’s special teams ability alone likely will net him a roster spot. Smith has always been productive during the preseason on offense as well, which is why he’s lasted five summers in Atlanta. That leaves the question of whether Josh Vaughan or Jerome Smith can perform well enough to take another spot. The odds are against both as the team is unlikely to carry a fifth back in Vaughan on the roster due to the addition of Freeman, and Smith is likely competing for a practice squad spot even if he has a strong summer.
It’s a fairly open competition at this position, with the best man likely winning just one spot on the roster. Patrick DiMarco is the incumbent and it’s his job to lose, but if undrafted free agents Roosevelt Nix and Maurice Hagens perform well, then the Falcons won’t hesitate to go with either of them.
This is another position that could prompt the Falcons to look for veteran help at the end of the summer if the competition does not go according to plan.
The Falcons are pretty settled with Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester making the roster and sitting atop the depth chart. The questions center around whether the Falcons will choose to keep five or six wide receivers, and who will win those spots.
Darius Johnson and Drew Davis are the front-runners for both of those spots given their experience, but neither is a lock to make the roster. Johnson is the better receiver, while Davis is a solid special teams player. They’ll be pushed by undrafted rookies Geraldo Boldewijn, Bernard Reedy, Julian Jones, Tramaine Thompson and Freddie Martino, along with first-year speedster Dominique Croom.
The key for any of those six will be their abilities to shine on special teams. Even with a strong on-field performance, they are most likely to share the same fate as Johnson, who began the 2013 season on the Falcons’ practice squad before injuries forced him to be elevated to the active roster.
Levine Toilolo is expected to be the starter, but he’ll have to prove himself in training camp with solid blocking and building a rapport with quarterback Matt Ryan. Besides Toilolo, nobody else is a sure bet to make the team.
Bear Pascoe’s experience and blocking ability make him a likely choice to be kept, but he’ll have to perform well in camp to stick on the roster. Mickey Shuler is the lone other player with NFL experience, having played 120 snaps with the Miami Dolphins in 2010. He, along with Adam Szczerba and undrafted rookies Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak will also be fighting for jobs as the possible third option.
If the Falcons aren’t satisfied with the competition, this is another position where the team could look to address their depth by hitting the end of training camp waiver wire hard.
While the Falcons may act like 2014 top selection Jake Matthews is competing for his starting job, the only obstacle that will prevent him from winning it is injuries. He and Sam Baker are locked in at right and left tackle, respectively.
The brunt of the competition will come for the backup positions with Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder likely competing for who will be the team’s swing tackle. Both players are likely to make the final roster given they have both shown enough promise to be potential starters down the road. Terren Jones is the only other true tackle on the roster, and without significant improvement from last summer, he’s likely at best looking at another year on the practice squad.
Once again, the starting positions are pretty locked in with newcomer Jon Asamoah joining long-time starter Justin Blalock at right and left guard, respectively.
The main competition will be for the backup spots where unlike tackle, it’s a much more open competition. It’s possible that Mike Johnson, Gabe Carimi, and Harland Gunn are all competing for just one, maybe two roster spots. Johnson likely has the leg up given he’s a more known commodity by the front office, but Carimi is familiar with offensive line coach Mike Tice, and Gunn also performed well down the stretch last season. The positive for all three is that they each can play multiple positions, making them all good candidates for reserve spots.
The team has converted defensive tackle Adam Replogle to the position to bolster competition. While a longshot to make the roster, a strong summer and Replogle could be a good bet for the practice squad.
Joe Hawley and Peter Konz are expected to compete for the job, but it’s really Hawley’s competition to lose. Both both players are relatively secure in making the team’s final roster.
The only real question at the position is whether or not undrafted rookie James Stone performs well enough to steal a roster position from one of the more experienced guards mentioned above. It’s an unlikely scenario, with Stone instead likely landing on the practice squad given a strong summer.
I will take a look at the defensive camp battles in a later post.