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Camp Battles 2013: Cornerback

July 21st, 2013 Comments off
Alan Maglaque-US PRESSWIRE

Dominique Franks is on the bubble

This is the only position on defense that likely will feature a position battle for a starting spot. While Asante Samuel is locked in at the left cornerback position, the right cornerback position is relatively wide open. The team dumped veterans Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson in the off-season, replacing them with rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, their top two picks in 2013. Trufant is expected to win the job because of his higher draft status and the fact that he has NFL bloodlines (two older brothers already in the NFL). But Alford could give him a run for his money. Incumbent nickel corner Robert McClain also could be in the mix for the spot. Regardless, the Falcons won’t be afraid to start either Alford or McClain over Trufant if need be. This is indeed a spot where the best candidate will win the job.

But more than likely, it’s Trufant’s job to lose. He’ll likely man the right cornerback position, which he has throughout the off-season when he’s been available. Alford is considered Samuel’s top backup on the left side, a role he played primarily at Southeastern Louisiana. McClain should remain the team’s nickel guy and man the slot, a role he was surprisingly adept at last season. McClain was a player that was one of the last players to make the team, but was able to turn it into an excellent season once Grimes went down with an Achilles tear. The Falcons hope he can pick up where he left off last season.

His emergence has pushed Dominique Franks to the fringe, and now he’s on the roster bubble. Franks showed potential in 2011 as a nickel corner, but struggled for reps a year ago even after the injury to Grimes. Franks’ ability to make the team is limited by the fact that his value on special teams is minimal. Franks’ struggles as a punt returner are well-documented, but also hurting his case is the fact that he has made almost no contributions in coverage in three seasons. McClain’s ability to contribute there was a key reason why he was able to pass him on the depth chart last summer and during the regular season. Franks’ best hope of making the roster then rests on his ability to be a regular contributor on defense. The presence of two rookie corners limits that, especially given the fact that Alford is also considered a prime candidate to win one of the return jobs, and his speed (potentially the fastest player on the defense) also projects well to finding a role on coverage units. Late last year the Falcons employed more dime looks in their subpackages, with Franks filling a role there. That potentially remains his best odds of making the roster, although again he’ll have to outplay Alford who also would be a candidate for that role.

Special teams ability is likely what will earn potential roster spots for the remainder of the position group. Peyton Thompson spent last year on the team’s practice squad and could propel that into a roster spot this year as the fifth corner. Terrence Johnson is also in the mix due to his experience playing in the nickel for the Indianapolis Colts in 2011. Saeed Lee is an undrafted rookie that was able to earn a contract after being brought in for a tryout. All three have a legit chance to earn the fifth and likely final cornerback spot due to special teams being the primary motivator for that spot. But if any of them emerge as capable defenders it will certainly be a significant factor in who makes the team. That’s why Thompson and Johnson are the likeliest candidates, given their experience over Lee.

Opposing Camp Primer: Washington Redskins

July 20th, 2013 Comments off
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

RG3 may be the biggest story in the league this summer

It’s time to look at the Washington Redskins, the Falcons twelfth opponent in 2013, and what things to watch in their camp. The Redskins camp will be in a new place this year, as the team moves to Richmond, Virginia to hold it’s summer session.

The Redskins off-season, training camp, and frankly their 2013 season really centers around one player: quarterback Robert Griffin III. All eyes will be focused on Griffin this summer to monitor his recovery from a knee injury he suffered in the playoffs last year.

There appears to be near universal praise for Griffin’s recovery and the expectation that he will suit up for the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. But recently questions have been raised on how the Redskins may opt to bring him long, which may be slow and steady this summer akin to Vikings running back Adrian Peterson last summer. Peterson did not play in the preseason, and as a cautionary measure Griffin’s work this summer may also be very limited.

In Griffin’s absence, the Redskins won’t be too concerned with their backup quarterbacks as they have a lot of confidence in Kirk Cousins and Rex Grossman to get the job done.

The other big concern on offense will be at wide receiver, where top wideout Pierre Garcon is recovering from injuries. He had minor shoulder surgery following the year, but opted not to have surgery on his toe that caused him to miss a third of the 2012 season.  There are questions whether or not the toe will hold up in 2013. His return down the stretch was a key reason why the Redskins won their final seven games of 2012 to make the playoffs.

Opposite him, the competition will be centered on trying to find another playmaker. Josh Morgan is expected to start with Santana Moss serving as their primary slot receiver. But the team would love to see one of the young players in Leonard Hankerson or Aldrick Robinson step up. Robinson has explosive vertical potential that could surpass Moss and has had a good offseason thus far. The team did bring in veterans in Donte Stallworth and Devery Henderson to compete, but both players appear to be shells of their former selves.

Tight end is also a concern as Fred Davis has been limited in his recovery from Achilles tear. The team got solid production from backup blocking tight end Logan Paulsen last year, but Davis’ recovery will be a key to success in 2013. He was pacing the team in receptions and yards prior to his injury in Week 7 last year.

Up front, the only battle will be at right tackle where Tyler Polumbus is coming off a poor 2012 campaign. But the team is confident that Polumbus will improve with a full off-season of work at the position. They brought in veterans Jeremy Trueblood and Tony Pashos to push him.

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Camp Battles 2013: Linebacker

July 20th, 2013 1 comment
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Banks will be the center of attention this summer

The Falcons are set in regards of their three starters at the linebacker position. Stephen Nicholas, Akeem Dent, and Sean Weatherspoon all return to man the strongside, middle, and weakside linebacker spots, respectively.

The battle that could occur however among them is to see who lines up beside Weatherspoon in the team’s nickel subpackage. Nicholas filled the spot in 2012, but Dent is expected to man the job in 2013 after Nicholas had an unimpressive season in coverage. To put in bluntly, Dent’s inability to take the gig this summer would be nothing short of an abject failure on his part given his superior athleticism and youth.

The bigger questions that will come at linebacker will be which players fill depth roles. The Falcons carried five linebackers on their roster last year. They can get away with that since several of their defensive ends such as Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi also double as outside linebackers in several of their packages.

Robert James is the lone candidate that actually made the roster last year, spending his year working on special teams where he was effective. Last season actually marked the first time that James actually made the Falcons opening day roster after being a fifth round pick in 2008. He has spent most of his previous years off and on the practice squad. The Falcons clearly have managed to keep James around for a reason, meaning he still stands a good chance to be back in 2013. He flashed good speed and range last summer, in what was certainly his most impressive preseason. But his ability to stick may depend less on his own play, but more on whether other candidates emerge.

That includes Pat Schiller, who had a strong preseason a year ago to make the team’s practice squad. Schiller has a good head on his shoulders and offers potential to add depth at all three linebacker spots if need be. If he can showcase that he’s a capable special teams player, then he stands a very good shot at making the final 53.

But much of the attention will be focused on Brian Banks, the player with the remarkable comeback story that had him falsely imprisoned for years after being one of the top high school linebackers in the nation years ago. Banks will be competing for a reserve middle linebacker spot. If Banks makes the team it likely won’t be because he’s expected to impact on defense, but because of his potential value on special teams. There is no doubt that Banks is a project given the fact that he never played college football, but he certainly would be a feel-good story for the franchise which frankly gives him an edge if the competition is close.

The other linebacker options include three undrafted rookies in Joplo Bartu, Nick Clancy, and Paul Worrilow. Bartu played defensive end in college, while Clancy hails from the Boston College pipeline that has put a few linebackers in the league the past few years. Worrilow is an athletic specimen from Delaware. All three have decent odds of making the roster if they can impress on special teams, but more than likely they will be practice squad candidates.

Due to the lack of established depth, linebacker remains a position the Falcons could potentially address at the end of camp when cuts are made. More than likely the Falcons will be looking for a player that can provide the same value that Mike Peterson did a year ago, which is to be able to add depth at multiple positions as well as contribute on special teams. Among the players currently on the roster, Schiller offers the best potential to fill that role, but if he doesn’t step up and inspire confidence in the team they could look elsewhere.

Opposing Camp Primer: Green Bay Packers

July 19th, 2013 Comments off
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Marshall Newhouse will be tested this summer with a switch in positions

Like the Falcons, the Green Bay Packers are in Super Bowl or bust mode. They want to get back to the championship level with a pair of disappointing losses in the playoffs the past two years to San Francisco and New York since their Super Bowl win in 2010.

The Packers offense is one of the most prolific in the league, but there are ways they can get better. One of the key things will be adding more balance to the offense, by establishing the running game.

The team used a pair of draft picks on Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin to bolster their rushing attack. The Packers are bringing both rookies along slowly, with incumbents Alex Green and James Starks taking most of the first team reps during the off-season. Neither Green nor Starks are locks to make the team, and the team is optimistic that via an open competition this summer that someone can emerge for the gig. Also in the mix is DuJuan Harris, who had his moments down the stretch last season. But he’s probably more of a third down back rather than a lead one. Green dealt with injuries last year, and Starks has been a non-factor since shining in their run to the Super Bowl two years ago. So much so that he was briefly on the trade block this off-season. The Packers would really love the powerful Lacy and Franklin to emerge. Lacy has the size and power to be more of a workhorse, but Franklin is quick and explosive and shined in a zone-blocking scheme during his college days. They might employ a committee system early in the season, hoping that if someone doesn’t emerge in camp that over the course of the year the cream will rise to the top.

Helping the Packers reestablish the ground game will also be some revamping of their offensive line. Or perhaps better put, a shuffling of their offensive line. They are essentially flipping their line, with right guard Josh Sitton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga flipping to the left side. Bulaga is coming off a hip injury, and they hope he does a better job protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blindside than Marshall Newhouse the past two years. Newhouse will move to right tackle and will be pushed by Don Barclay, Derek Sherrod, and rookie David Bakhtiari. Barclay had his moments down the stretch replacing the injured Bulaga on the right side. Sherrod has been a disappointment since being drafted with their top pick in 2011. Right tackle is the only spot up front that will feature competition given that Evan Dietrich-Smith and T.J. Lang are settled in at center and right guard, respectively.

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Opposing Camp Primer: Buffalo Bills

July 18th, 2013 Comments off
Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE

Jairus Byrd is one of many question marks entering Bills camp

The Buffalo Bills have a new head coach in former Syracuse head man Doug Marrone. Marrone also was the offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints for the first three years of Sean Payton’s tenure there. And he hopes to end the Bills’ league-leading playoff drought by building a dynamic offense similar to what he helped design in New Orleans.

In order to that, he’ll have to start with the quarterback position. The Bills will feature an open competition between veteran Kevin Kolb and first round pick E.J. Manuel. Kolb received the majority of reps during OTAs, but the team did dump Tarvaris Jackson in June, which clears the way for Manuel to win the job. While it’s possible that Marrone could opt for the veteran in Kolb to start the season, by the time the Bills face the Falcons in Week 13, it seems likely that Manuel will be the starter.

One reason for that is the lack of durability that Kolb has shown in the past. Injuries cost him starting jobs in both previous stints in Philadelphia and Arizona. Injuries and inconsistency. Kolb simply doesn’t have the upside that Manuel possesess, with his superior size, arm strength, and athleticism drawing comparisons to Cam Newton during the lead-up to this past April’s draft.

Not to mention that of the fifteen first round quarterbacks selected since 2008, only two of them were not the starters by Week 8 of their rookie seasons (Tim Tebow and Jake Locker). So even if Manuel doesn’t win the job during camp, odds are that he’ll get his opportunity in 2013, assuming history repeats itself in regards to Kolb’s ability to maintain a hold on the starting spot.

Bills training camp will also feature an open competition at the wide receiver position, where a number of young receivers will be competing to be the complement to Stevie Johnson. Second round pick Robert Woods is expected to win the starting job, due to his polished ability. But T.J. Graham has had a strong off-season and has bulked up to add to his already excellent vertical speed. And regardless of who wins the matchup, Marrone’s offense likely will feature a number of three wide receiver spots. Also competing at the spot will be rookies Marquise Goodwin and Da’Rick Rogers. Rogers may be the most talented of the group, but he’ll be on a short leash given his off-field baggage.

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Camp Battles 2013: Defensive End

July 18th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Jonathan Massaquoi’s growth could make a difference in 2013

The Falcons appear to be set with their two starters at the defensive end position. Free agent pickup Osi Umenyiora will draw the tall order of replacing one of the team’s all-time best in John Abraham at right defensive end. Kroy Biermann will once again fill in as the team’s left defensive end.

But the rest of the position will feature heavy competition as a number of young players compete not for starting spots, but for placement and reps in the team’s rotation.

The likeliest candidate to serve as the team’s third defensive end will be Jonathan Massaquoi, who enters his second season with the team. He played very little on defense last year, with most of his play coming on special teams. He was very effective there and coupled with his upside as a pass rusher, he’s in no danger to be cut. But the Falcons will look for him to have a good summer as he is the candidate most likely to figure into the Falcons nickel subpackage if/when Umenyiora and Biermann aren’t on the field. The multiple fronts presented by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could easily feature all three, especially given Biermann’s ability to drop into coverage like a linebacker.

Another player that is assured of making the final roster is 2013 fourth round pick Malliciah Goodman. Goodman’s best shot at earning playing time will more than likely come on run downs in the team’s base package as they look to get more size on the field. While Biermann is a consistent run defender, Umenyiora is not, and it’s likely that Massaquoi won’t be asked to play a major part in that role. Goodman possesses good physical tools to develop long-term into an effective pass rusher, but probably his best chance of earning lots of initial playing time will be proving himself as a run defender.

The past three seasons the Falcons have opted to keep at least five defensive ends on the roster, although last year that number was six until the November release of Ray Edwards. That probably will be the case again with Cliff Matthews and Stansly Maponga rounding out the depth chart. If the Falcons only opt for five on the roster, Matthews is the likelier candidate. Given his ability to help as a run defender, high motor, and value on special teams he has a leg up on Maponga, who missed most of the offseason coming off a leg injury. While Maponga offers better long-term value down the road as a pass rusher, he’s unlikely to offer immediate value to the rotation. If the Falcons do opt to keep six ends on the roster, Maponga will likely be the last and is primed to spend most of the year on the team’s inactive list each Sunday. Not unless he can showcase special teams prowess along the same lines of Matthews and Massaquoi a year ago, and show he’s 100% recovered from his injury. While Maponga isn’t guaranteed to make the team’s 53-man roster, he’s almost certainly a lock to be carried on the team’s practice squad at a minimum.

Two other players that the Falcons will bring to camp but are longshots to make the roster are undrafted rookies Cam Henderson and Brandon Thurmond. Henderson has a solid frame (6-4/260) with good arm length (over 34 inches) that passes the eyeball test when it comes to NFL defensive ends. Thurmond is shorter, squatter player with short arms but had excellent production while at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Between the two, it really doesn’t matter who looks better in a uniform, it will come down to any production they can produce on the field. If either player can impress with a strong preseason, the Falcons might opt to carry a seventh defensive end on their practice squad.

Opposing Camp Primer: Seattle Seahawks

July 17th, 2013 1 comment
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Ex-Vikings star Percy Harvin joins the Seahawks

Last January, expectations were that the ascending Seattle Seahawks would come into the Georgia Dome and take down the favored Falcons. And they nearly did, except for giving up a last minute play to tight end Tony Gonzalez that set up Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal. The Seahawks will get their chance to avenge their defeat in 2013, facing the Falcons in Week 10 of the upcoming season. Considering the Seahawks were considered by some to be a Super Bowl favorite in the NFC last year, they don’t enter 2013 with very many questions that need to be answered in training camp.

Only a pair of starting offensive positions appears to be open for real competition, that being either guard spot where the team has featured a revolving door of starters over the past year. The incumbents are James Carpenter on the left and John Moffitt on the right. They will be pushed presumably by Paul McQuistan and J.R. Sweezy, respectively.

Carpenter is coming off a knee injury that limited him to only seven games in 2012, and also limited him during the off-season. McQuistan finished the 2012 season as the starter and was serviceable in that role. That gives them insurance in case Carpenter can’t prove to be durable again this year. The Seahawks really like Carpenter’s upside after making him their top pick in 2011 but he has yet to really play at a high level. They hope that this is the year he finally does, and it begins with a strong training camp and remaining healthy.

The other guard spot is fairly wide open with both Moffitt and Sweezy earning first team reps in the off-season. Moffitt was a third round pick in the same class that netted Carpenter. But Sweezy emerged as a rookie last summer to win the starting right guard spot after converting from defensive tackle. But he got worked over by Darnell Dockett in the season opener and quickly lost his job. Head coach Pete Carroll is known for placing a high value on competition, so the best man will certainly win regardless of draft position. But Moffitt should have the edge given his experience at the position.

Carroll believes in competing and unlike most teams it’s not all talk. Sweezy and quarterback Russell Wilson last summer proved that the best man will win the gig. But assuming that certain veterans don’t come in and have a disappointing preseason, they should win and/or keep their respective jobs.

Thus, much of the focus this summer will be integrating incoming wide receiver Percy Harvin into the offense. There has been talk of Harvin having a similar role in Seattle as he did in Minnesota, which was primarily a slot receiver, but also would line him up in the backfield and across the field to create matchup problems for defense.

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Camp Battles 2013: Interior Offensive Line

July 17th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Garrett Reynolds and Peter Konz get reps together

Certainly one position along the interior of the offensive line is set in stone, and that is the left guard position where Justin Blalock is expected to start his seventh consecutive year at the position.

More than likely another position will be won by 2012 second round pick Peter Konz. He is expected to start at center after spending the latter half of his rookie season playing right guard. Konz struggled in that role, serving as the weakest link among the team’s starting five. But he finished the year with solid efforts in both playoff games, suggesting that improvements were made.

His presence at the pivot likely pushes Joe Hawley out of the mix to start. Hawley was initally drafted in 2010 as the heir apparent to long-time Falcon center Todd McClure, who retired this past offseason. But with Konz’s selection at the top of last year’s draft, it led to Hawley likely being viewed more as a backup after a rocky year as the starting right guard in 2011.

Hawley could again push for time at right guard however where Garrett Reynolds is the current incumbent. Reynolds has started at right guard each of the past two seasons on opening day, but poor play in 2011 led to his being benched in favor of Hawley. And last year, injuries led to the insertion of Konz into the starting lineup. Reynolds hopes that in 2012 he can not only win the starting job again, but also retain it throughout the remainder of the season. Reynolds showed improvement in 2012 after a disappointingly brief 2011 campaign. While Reynolds is probably ideally a backup, he showed last year that he can be an effective starter if need be.

Another player that could possibly mix into the battle here is tackle Mike Johnson, who many including myself feel is a more natural fit at guard than tackle. But he’s competing with Lamar Holmes for the starting spot at right tackle, and it’s doubtful that at this point he’ll get a long look inside.

The Falcons will likely try and keep at least eight offensive linemen, which will include the five currently projected starters, the loser of the right tackle battle between Johnson and Holmes, and Hawley. The eighth spot will most likely go to another interior player, someone that can play guard.

The incumbent would be considered Phillipkeith Manley, who surprised many with a strong summer last year as an undrafted rookie and made the Falcons final 53. There have been rumors of his weight ballooning this off-season, which if true could open the door for other players to take his spot. The top candidate would then likely be Jacques McClendon, who spent last year on the team’s practice squad. McClendon has added to his value by getting off-season work at center as well. Both guards have good size and strength that is a much more natural fit to fill as a reserve there than the undersized Hawley.

Also in the mix will be fellow practice squad player Harland Gunn. Gunn has experience both at guard and center from his days with the Dallas Cowboys last summer. Undrafted center Matt Smith and guard Theo Goins will also be in the mix, but both players are longshots to make the final roster. Instead, both are more likely to make the practice squad if they prove to play well this summer.

Opposing Camp Primer: Carolina Panthers

July 16th, 2013 Comments off
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Pressure is on OC Mike Shula to get more out of Newton

After breaking down the Falcons first seven opponents including a pair of division rivals, it’s time to look at the last NFC South opponent in the Carolina Panthers to see what battles are raging this summer in camp.

With a few exceptions on the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers look to feature essentially the same starting lineup from 2012 to 2013. Their focus will be on individual players and units improving, and head coach Ron Rivera and his staff finding a way to inspire those players to new heights this summer.

Like the Buccaneers, much of the focus will center on quarterback Cam Newton. Newton has flashed the ability to be a potent weapon at the quarterback position, leading the team in rushing last year with their ample use of the read-option. But offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski took the top gig with the Cleveland Browns and will be replaced by former quarterbacks coach Mike Shula. Shula intends to keep the read-option as a potent addendum to the offense, but may not feature it as much as Chudzinski. The Panthers moved away from the read-option to a more conventional rushing attack down the stretch, and it appeared to pay dividends. Shula also intends to employ a simplified, more up-tempo attack to try and match wits with offenses like the Saints and Falcons.

DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, once considered to be among the league’s top pair of running backs hope that this lesser emphasis on Newton’s running will propel them back to being among the league’s top rushing group. They are joined by fullback Mike Tolbert and rookie speedster Kenjon Barner this year to provide more talent at the position. With a more traditional rushing attack, the Panthers should be able to get their ground game back on track and then focus their passing attack on what Newton does best: attack down the field via play-action.

Helping him do that is Steve Smith, still one of the league’s elite receivers. Greg Olsen emerged with a career year in 2012 as one of the league’s premier vertical tight ends as well. The Panthers however need to see someone else step up. Brandon LaFell is their top option, as he’s flashed the ability to make plays down the field. But he needs to be more consistent this season, and that starts in training camp. He’ll be joined by speedsters in Ted Ginn, David Gettis, Domenik Hixon, Armanti Edwards, Joe Adams, and Kealoha Pilares. Most of those players have had far greater impact on special teams than offense over the years, but if one can emerge as a viable fourth option to stretch the field it will round out what could be a potent play-action based attack in Carolina.

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Camp Battles 2013: Offensive Tackle

July 16th, 2013 Comments off
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Mike Johnson has his best shot at starting this summer

One of the few major battles that is expected to occur in the starting lineup this summer will come at right tackle. All offseason long, the Falcons have worked fourth-year man Mike Johnson as the starting right tackle. He’ll be pushed by second-year Lamar Holmes for the starting position.

Over the past few years with the few battles that have occurred along the offensive line, the player that starts camp as the starter has ended camp as the starter. It will be interesting to see if that remains the case again this year. When the Falcons released long-time incumbent Tyson Clabo, the expectation was that Holmes would be the top candidate to replace him. But the Falcons started OTAs with Johnson atop the depth chart.

Holmes is the stronger of the pair and the more athletic, but Johnson is a bit more polished. Holmes was considered a long-term project by myself when he was drafted a year ago, a player that likely needed more than a year before he could be asked to start effectively. His long-term value is clearly better than Johnson’s going forward, who many feel is a better and more natural fit inside at guard. Johnson was originally drafted as insurance at the guard position in 2010 when both Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl were entering their contract years.

Meanwhile, Holmes was insurance last year in case Sam Baker continued to struggle at left tackle. Baker came out and had arguably his best season in 2012, remaining healthy and being the Falcons most consistent blocker up front. Baker answered many of the questions about his ability with a strong effort against Aldon Smith in the NFC Championship game, earning himself a brand new, expensive market-value contract.

Baker won’t be looking over his shoulder at the competition this summer. Instead all of the focus will be who will win the starting right tackle position. The loser will likely serve as the team’s swing tackle. But the possibility that Holmes wins the job, could mean that Johnson could be moved inside to guard where he could compete for the starting job at right guard. But more than likely that will be Garrett Reynolds’ job to lose, and unless he struggles this summer he’s in prime position to open the season for the third year in the row atop the depth chart.

Another key battle will likely occur for the backup position behind Baker, where undrafted rookies Terren Jones and Ryan Schraeder are potentially competing for a roster spot. Given that Johnson is a more adept option at right tackle as opposed to being a player that can ideally play either spot, if Holmes wins the starting job, it increases the odds that the Falcons keep one of the young tackles to fill out their depth chart. The Falcons probably only have to keep eight blockers up front, but traditionally carry nine of the roster. The five starters, the loser of the Holmes-Johnson battle, center Joe Hawley, and one of the reserve guards make eight. That leaves the ninth possible position likely to be one of the tackles. Both Jones and Schraeder offer good size and run blocking ability. The Falcons will hope that one emerges amidst the battle to offer himself as a potential long-term developmental backup along the same veins that Jose Valdez was in Atlanta years ago.

Third-string right tackle Alec Savoie will also be in the mix as a strong summer likely could earn him a backup spot as well. The Falcons likely will feature all three rookies working with the second team unit, and probably try and cross-train them to play on either side of the line. Whichever of the three opens the preseason working with the second unit across from Holmes will be a strong indicator at which has the best odds of making the roster as the ninth lineman.