Earlier, I examined the Atlanta Falcons remaining position battles on the offensive side of the ball, let’s switch gears to the defense.
Unlike the offense, the Falcons have fewer roster spots at stake on defense. While the defensive depth chart may still remain fluid, many of the defensive players at the back-end of the roster are competing for a chance to stick on the practice squad with little hope of making the final roster.
But there are still some battles that are being contested, and the performances of players in the preseason finale tonight against the Jacksonville Jaguars could make a big difference in deciding which players stay, and which players go.
While the team’s top three inside linebackers: Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu and Prince Shembo won’t be feeling any pressure to make the team tonight against Jacksonville, there may be one or two more spots that are wide open. Right now, Tim Dobbins and Pat Angerer are the two likeliest candidates to land those spots, particularly because of their experience. Rookie Yawin Smallwood is also in the mix, but has been unimpressive thus far in three preseason games. He’s likely destined for a practice squad spot unless he puts it all together tonight against the Jaguars.
Angerer has probably outplayed Dobbins by a significant margin, if looking solely at production on the field. But Dobbins is better known by the coaching staff (having played for Mike Nolan previously) and is a bit more of an established presence on special teams. Angerer has also drawn a number of flags, a pet-peeve of head coach Mike Smith. If either player can shine tonight, it’ll likely be the determining factor for what may ultimately be one remaining roster spot.
Edge-rushers Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Massaquoi and Osi Umenyiora have locked up roster spots. And Stansly Maponga appears to have done so as well, given there has been clear separation between him and others on the roster. But nothing is yet finalized and rookies Tyler Starr and Jacques Smith both have legitimate chances to stick on the final squad.
Starr likely will get any edge in the battle between the two given that he is a former draft pick. But in reality, Smith may have outplayed him thus far this summer. But the battle is certainly close enough that their performances tonight against Jacksonville will be a major determining factor in deciding which one sticks. The pair may be competing for one spot given the presences of the four veterans ahead of them. It’s also likely that should one ultimately get cut, he’ll be promised a spot on the practice squad.
It doesn’t appear that the Falcons have settled on a nickel cornerback. Javier Arenas earned the bulk of the work with the starters last week against the Tennessee Titans, after Josh Wilson and Robert McClain split reps in earlier preseason action. While starting corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are likely to sit out the Jaguars game, allowing the Falcons de facto first-team offense tonight to feature Wilson, McClain and Arenas. If any should create clear separation from the rest of the group, he could wind up winning the job.
Also in the roster mix, albeit not for the open nickel spot is rookie Ricardo Allen. He’ll likely stick on the team because of his draft status, but he’ll probably be buried on the depth chart. The remaining question that the team will need to answer is whether they want to keep two or all three of the aforementioned veterans. The team has routinely only kept five cornerbacks on the roster under Mike Smith, but given that right now, one could argue that McClain, Wilson and Arenas have yet to really distinguish themselves from one another, they might wind up keeping all three and carrying six cornerbacks into the regular season.
But again, all that will be sussed out based on their play tonight.