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2015 Falcons Training Camp: Injuries, Excellence Impact Five Position Battles


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Dave Choate

The Falcoholic

http://www.thefalcoholic.com/2015/8/8/9106219/updating-five-key-falcons-roster-battles

Throughout the summer, we talked about some of the top approaching position battles. Predictably, the list we compiled in June is looking a little defunct now, and so it's time to explore this roster with fresh, training camp-conditioned eyes.

The tenor of some of these competitions has changed. It's not Hankerson versus Hardy for the #3 anymore, not after Hankerson has excelled and has gotten some buzz as the possible #2 wide receiver in Atlanta. Right tackle is a competition in name only. And injuries are threatening to turn what should be a tightly

Let's catch up on five position battles that matter.

1) Free safety

I envisioned this one taking the form of the favored veteran Charles Godfrey fighting tooth and nail against Ricardo Allen, who came relatively out of nowhere to contend for the job after spending his rookie season as a cornerback. Instead, Allen has apparently dominated this one thus far.

It's too early to call any battle, but Allen's been running with the first team and impressing in nearly every facet of his game, so he'd have to faceplant between now and the end of the month to lose any real ground. Godfrey, if healthy, is at least one rock solid insurance policy.

Projected Winner: Ricardo Allen

2) Running Back

I've had Tevin Coleman by a hair owing to his fit in the new blocking scheme, his status as a third round pick of the new regime, and my expectation that Freeman would settle quite nicely into a third down role ideally suited to his pass catching and blocking talents. This one's now hopelessly muddled, however.

It started when Freeman got off to a fast start at camp, a start he's sustained thus far. That's drawn heavy praise from Kyle Shanahan, as it should, and Coleman's hamstring injury threatens to limit him for anywhere from two weeks to a month. With Devonta Freeman also suffering a mild hamstring injury, however, both of these players may be getting healthy just in time for the start of the season, which means naming a starter might be more difficult than anticipated. It's likely to come down to a question of readiness and the best fit for the offense, but it's borderline impossible to call this one, so I'll go with my original prediction.

Also, Terron Ward may muscle his way onto the roster, particularly if these injuries linger. He, Jerome Smith, and Antone Smith are the only three healthy backs on the team right now.

Projected Winner: Tevin Coleman

3) Cornerback

This is another case where injury and rust have made the competition lackluster. Robert Alford has looked very good, leveraging his natural physical ability and third year of experience into a solid camp. Jalen Collins is coming off an injury that largely kept him out of OTAs, and he's showing all the inexperience and lack of readiness you'd expect from a slightly raw rookie who is getting up to speed. Collins' length and physicality play best on the outside, but he's not going to be there if he's scuffling, and he is now.

Collins' role in the defense isn't clear if he's not a starter, and it's possible he'll be a pure reserve to start. If things continue apace, Alford is going to win the job opposite Desmond Trufant by a landslide. Collins is still intriguing long-term, so don't fret.

Projected Winner: Robert Alford

4) Right Tackle

This competition is over. Lamar Holmes came to camp looking motivated and slimmer, but his broken foot has obliterated any chance of him trying to steal the job away from Ryan Schraeder. Jake Long came and went without a contract. Tyler Polumbus is...well, no. No.

Schraeder was the presumptive favorite all along after a strong 2014 season, but now he effectively has no competition for the gig. So long as he stays healthy, he should man the right side all year long.

Projected Winner: Ryan Schraeder

5) Defensive tackle

Paul Soliai seems like the logical choice to clog the middle on early downs, with Jonathan Babineaux being mighty useful in replacing him on third downs. With Babs and promising rookie Grady Jarrett lurking, though, giving the spot next to Soliai to Ra'Shede Hageman outright wouldn't seem wise.

I'm just about prepared to do so, though, and if Hageman strings together a couple of nice efforts in preseason games, I'll really be ready. He's looking stronger and meaner despite losing weight in the offseason, and a properly motivated Hageman is a player that deserves to start on a defense that prizes athleticism and physicality.

The sheer amount of rotation Dan Quinn is likely to do on his front four makes the designation a little less meaningful, but this is probably the year Babs transitions to a (still useful) part-time role. Jarrett will step in by 2016 or 2017.

Projected Winner: Ra'Shede Hageman

Your thoughts on position battles thus far?

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I still maintain, as I have since the draft, that Freeman will be our #1 RB come game 1. Other than this, I do agree with all of his other points.

This really sucks having our RBs out of camp as we employ the new ZBS. These guys need to work on their timing and it really sets our offense back coming out of the gate. Fortunately with the easy schedule we should be able to endure the patchy start of the running game ovee the first few games until our #1 and #2 RBs acclimated to the timing of the ZBS.

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The timing of the injuries was both good and bad. Bad for obvious reasons, but good because now we will have a significant number of reps by which to judge Ward and see if Antone can be anything other than a situational back.

We have a ton of things to see in the exhibition season, none more important than whether the O-line can open holes for the backs and whether the backs can quickly see the hole and make the cut to get through it and into the second level. Personally, I have concerns about Antone going off guard as opposed to bouncing outside for positive yards, but we will soon see if he can.

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I still maintain, as I have since the draft, that Freeman will be our #1 RB come game 1. Other than this, I do agree with all of his other points.

This really sucks having our RBs out of camp as we employ the new ZBS. These guys need to work on their timing and it really sets our offense back coming out of the gate. Fortunately with the easy schedule we should be able to endure the patchy start of the running game ovee the first few games until our #1 and #2 RBs acclimated to the timing of the ZBS.

Not necessarily every runningback we have understands the concept of what their job is so having Coleman and Freeman out right now for sprains is good they will be good by week three of preseason. This is a great time for the Oline to sync together...So by week three the starters will all be healthy and ready to ball this is a good time for the next man up to get better and get ready for when their number is called

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Ward can't stop fumbling & Tone is a perfect situational weapon, not an every down back... so I think Freeman gets the bulk of the workload once he's healthy. He's got a little more experience & Quinn seems to like his attitude a bunch... showing signs of leadership, etc.

I know he had some down moments the past two seasons, but I'm stoked to see Alford blossoming into the kind of player I knew he could be. He's been a player I liked from day one (I even mocked him to us in my first & only mock draft) & if he continues to grow, will give us an outstanding pair of CBs. It also means they don't have to throw Collins into the fire. They can be a little more patient getting him up to speed. If he pans out as well, that unit is gonna be heII for opposing QBs.

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Not necessarily every runningback we have understands the concept of what their job is so having Coleman and Freeman out right now for sprains is good they will be good by week three of preseason. This is a great time for the Oline to sync together...So by week three the starters will all be healthy and ready to ball this is a good time for the next man up to get better and get ready for when their number is called

Keep in mind, when I was talking about timing, I was talking about the running backs hitting the appropriate hole at exactly the right moment, exploding through it just as it is opening up. In the ZBS, its critical the running back show patience until the hole opens, and shoot through it immediately once they see it. This is why I think its going to hurt our 2 main running backs not getting the chance to develop timing in unison with the OL opening holes.

I think what we will see early in the season is many fans blaming the OL for terrible run blocking, when the real problem is the running backs dont have their timing down yet. It should just take a few games before they all get on same page but now it will be regular seaosn games as opposed to preseason games.

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Keep in mind, when I was talking about timing, I was talking about the running backs hitting the appropriate hole at exactly the right moment, exploding through it just as it is opening up. In the ZBS, its critical the running back show patience until the hole opens, and shoot through it immediately once they see it. This is why I think its going to hurt our 2 main running backs not getting the chance to develop timing in unison with the OL opening holes.

I think what we will see early in the season is many fans blaming the OL for terrible run blocking, when the real problem is the running backs dont have their timing down yet. It should just take a few games before they all get on same page but now it will be regular seaosn games as opposed to preseason games.

Right right I understand what you mean you have a point... IMO by week three we know who the starters will be so they can get some connectivity going I believe they will figure it out.

What if this is the plan. To not namea starting back and it switches every week depending on who we play. J/s

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The timing of the injuries was both good and bad. Bad for obvious reasons, but good because now we will have a significant number of reps by which to judge Ward and see if Antone can be anything other than a situational back.

We have a ton of things to see in the exhibition season, none more important than whether the O-line can open holes for the backs and whether the backs can quickly see the hole and make the cut to get through it and into the second level. Personally, I have concerns about Antone going off guard as opposed to bouncing outside for positive yards, but we will soon see if he can.

I actually just spoke to this, but I think Antone will be able to find a crease and use his speed between the tackles as well as outside in the ZBS. Nobody had holes to run through between the tackles last year. Antone can be more than a situational back due to the run blocking change. He may still be situational in the sense that one guy is used to wear on a D, one is used to keep them on their toes, and one is used to gash them when they are gassed..

Edited by Ryan_2.0_WCO
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Dave's love for Coleman is hilarious. Even though Coleman hasn't shown any signs of overtaking Freeman and he admitting they both will be out until maybe week 1, he still picks Coleman to be the week 1 starter.

I hear you, but I do think his favoring Coleman as our eventual starter (mid-year maybe) has merit. I love him too.

Edited by Vandy
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