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Will five rookies crack starting lineup for Falcons at camp?


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Will five rookies crack starting lineup for Falcons at camp?

Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons open training camp on July 28 at their home facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Here’s a closer look at the Falcons' camp, which wraps up on Aug. 16:

Top storyline: Rookies could make a significant impact for the Falcons this season, particularly on defense, so it will be worth monitoring how they progress throughout camp. First-round draft pick Keanu Neal already has shown more speed than anticipated while settling in at strong safety. Will Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell, the second- and fourth-round selections, join Neal in the starting lineup as the inside linebackers? Campbell sure looks the part at weakside linebacker with his length and speed, but it's early and we have to see how he performs in pads. His instincts are a big question mark. Jones' closing speed is off the charts, which is an element the Falcons sorely need from their linebackers. On offense, sixth-round pick Wes Schweitzer has a legitimate chance to compete at right guard against Chris Chester, Mike Person and Tom Compton. The wild card is third-round pick Austin Hooper, a tight end out of Stanford. He is behind schedule after missing a lot of the offseason work while still in school. Once he gets up to speed, he's expected to be a red-zone threat. A starting role for Hooper will depend on the formation.

If Matt Ryan doesn’t make good decisions: If Ryan turns the ball over, he could be in for another long season. Ryan had 21 turnovers last season (16 interceptions, five fumbles lost), including four interceptions in the red zone and two inside the 10-yard line. Ryan knows he didn't play his best last season, and he also admitted to being overwhelmed by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's new scheme. But Ryan contends he is better suited going into his second year in the offense. He needs to take advantage of having a three-time Pro Bowl center in front of him now in Alex Mack, who should anchor the offensive line. Ryan's strength continues to be as a pocket passer, so we'll see if Mack helps alleviate some of the pressure and allows Ryan to fire out of the pocket. And when you have a receiver as dynamic as Julio Jones, life should be a lot easier. Plus Ryan has even more weapons to target this season outside of Jones, so there are no excuses.

Player who will have fans buzzing: Mohamed Sanu is extremely motivated to show critics what he can do as the No. 2 receiver behind Jones. People have questioned why Sanu was paid almost $7 million per year after not even having a touchdown reception with the Bengals last season. Well, Sanu is a big, physical receiver who can dominate one-on-one matchups. That should make life easier on Jones and help get Sanu some valuable touches. Sanu had some problems with drops at one point during his career with Cincinnati, but he believes those days are in the past. He'll have some tough shoes to fill with Roddy White, the franchise's all-time leading receiver, no longer in the fold after being released. Sanu's best NFL season in 2014 included 56 catches for 790 yards and five touchdowns, including a 76-yarder.

Position battle worth watching: Although Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman is coming off a 1,000-yard, 14-touchdown Pro Bowl season, Tevin Coleman is sure to push for more touches every day. If nothing else, it will make for a pretty potent running back tandem if Freeman plays at the same high level he did a year ago and if Coleman can resolve his fumbling issues. The aspect the coaches love the most about Coleman is his ability to take it the distance with his blazing speed. They drafted him because he's a home run threat. If Coleman continues to improve catching the ball out of the backfield, what a weapon he would become. And Freeman's always going to run with passion, guaranteed. Now they both have to stay healthy. Remember, both were slowed by hamstring injuries last preseason.

That rookie should start: It's going to be a close call with Jones, who brings speed the Falcons sorely need at the linebacker position. But with playing middle linebacker comes the big responsibility of relaying the plays and getting everyone on the same page. That's a tall task for a rookie, and incumbent Paul Worrilow knows every aspect of the defense and is a cerebral player. Folks will lobby for Jones because of Worrilow's athletic limitations, but the most likely scenario is Worrilow starting in the base defense and Jones in the nickel, with Jones usually on the field in third-down passing situations for his coverage ability. So, essentially, Jones will get significant reps even if he doesn't start.

Veteran whose job is in jeopardy: Keep an eye on Andy Levitre at left guard. He struggled miserably last season and got pushed around way too often. (Just see the film against Kawann Short and Carolina.) Levitre led the team with 11 penalties for 95 yards, with 37 yards nullified as a result of those penalties. He was called for holding five times and had four false starts. The Falcons certainly hope having Mack at center will help compensate for inadequate play at the guard spots, but Levitre has to put it on himself to play better. If not, then maybe the Falcons have to look harder at the rookie Schweitzer, who worked at both guard spots during the offseason and showed signs of promise.

Rush to judgment: Vic Beasley Jr. was the first to say he didn't have the type of rookie season he anticipated, although Beasley did finish with a franchise rookie-record four sacks. The Falcons insist moving Beasley from defensive end to Sam linebacker won't take away from his main responsibility of rushing the passer. He'll be a rush end in nickel situations, as the coaches are working tirelessly to help Beasley improve his hand usage. Beasley had two legitimate excuses for not playing at a higher level as a rookie with his mind cluttered by his ill father (who eventually passed away) and his body dealing with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Beasley, who didn't need surgery, said he's healthy now. And he is at peace with his father's death, which should help his focus. The Falcons need Beasley to be dominant, not just good. That's why they made him the eighth overall pick in 2015. But Beasley needs Adrian Clayborn, Derrick Shelby, Grady Jarrett or someone else to have success to free up the blocking schemes.

 

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" sixth-round pick Wes Schweitzer has a legitimate chance to compete at right guard against Chris Chester, Mike Person and Tom Compton."

and then...

"Keep an eye on Andy Levitre at left guard"

We have one rookie guard taking on every guard on the team? I don't understand the disappointment in Levitre. Sure, he could have played better, but look at who was to his right every game. It's the easy hole to attack knowing the RB is likely to be helping the right side of the line because Matthews has the left side anchored.

I'm holding out my opinion of Levitre till about mid-season this year...

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Levitre played better than Vaughn is giving him credit for but the some of the penalties. Between his 3rd down goofiness, the drops (yes Roddy), Matts stuff and Tevins fumbles we did the reverse of our playoff season where we won a slew of games by a couple of points. 

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Levitre did not play bad last year, on top of him coming here a week before our 1st game and switching from a MBS to a ZBS. I am cool with Levitre at LG. Chester was hot and cold last year and isn't getting any younger 

Looking forward to Freemam/Coleman pushing each other.. I think Tevin is going to surprise people this year and take over as our primary back with Freeman being COP back/3rd downs

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10 minutes ago, Dirtybird56 said:

Levitre did not play bad last year, on top of him coming here a week before our 1st game and switching from a MBS to a ZBS. I am cool with Levitre at LG. Chester was hot and cold last year and isn't getting any younger 

Looking forward to Freemam/Coleman pushing each other.. I think Tevin is going to surprise people this year and take over as our primary back with Freeman being COP back/3rd downs

He was OK at times, flat out awful at others. I'm willing to give him this season to evaluate him since he was thrown into the fire right before the season started.

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I think Jones and Campbell end up starting before the season is over, possibly before our bye week. I don't get the issue with Campbell's instincts, especially since he was comfortable enough to be calling out coverages and things earlier in the offseason.

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17 hours ago, OC said:

I think Jones and Campbell end up starting before the season is over, possibly before our bye week. I don't get the issue with Campbell's instincts, especially since he was comfortable enough to be calling out coverages and things earlier in the offseason.

From what I've read, Campbell's so-called lack of instincts applies only to the running game, where he is a bit  hesitant at times. However, Campbell is said to be very good and highly instinctive in pass coverage.

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