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Running back. Offensive line. Safety: The Falcons positions battles to watch in training camp - The Athletic


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by Tori McElhaney

 

Atlanta Falcons players report to training camp Tuesday. So it’s time to take a look at seven key position battles. From a brand new secondary to a continued unknown saga at left guard, let’s dive into the decisions facing the coaches before Week 1.

Running back

Early prediction: Mike Davis

The question for this position isn’t really “Who will be the starter?” It’s more like “What will his workload be?” That’s what training camp may entail for Davis, who is getting his first true taste of being the lead back going into the start of a season. Cordarrelle Patterson probably won’t have a traditional running back look to him. While Qadree Ollison isn’t quite ready to lead in the way Davis could considering his experience. So, that leaves Davis as the best bet as the starter. That leaves this question: “How many carries is he likely to average?” That is a mystery at this point.

Left guard

Early prediction: Josh Andrews

The Falcons brought in Andrews on a cap-friendly, one-year deal. He is the most experienced option available and has the track record to be able to pick up new coach Arthur Smith’s scheme quickly. But that starting spot isn’t set in stone quite yet. There’s still a chance someone like rookie Jalen Mayfield could emerge if the Falcons are set on trying to set him up as a guard. But the vision for Mayfield isn’t quite clear yet. Because of that, all signs point to Andrews for the time being.

Center

Early prediction: Matt Hennessy 

The Falcons did take Drew Dalman in the fourth round of this year’s draft. However, it would be unexpected if Dalman (or even Andrews, who has taken snaps at center previously) wins the starting job at center. Coaches said in June that Hennessy has done everything asked of him and is coming along well in his second year in the league. He has a new scheme to learn like everyone else, but he’s grown more comfortable in abilities at center. There will be a competition, which will be good for the young center, but Hennessy should slide into the spot he was drafted to take over.

Right tackle

Early prediction: Kaleb McGary

Perhaps this isn’t a battle on anyone’s radar. Or perhaps it won’t even pan out to be one. But it’s interesting to consider: What if Mayfield wasn’t brought in to compete for the starting left guard spot but to push McGary at tackle? It makes sense. Tackle is where Mayfield is most comfortable, and McGary hasn’t had anyone behind him these last two years to really push him. Sure Matt Gono has been a nice depth piece, but his health is a question mark. If the Falcons need to push McGary, Mayfield is best suited to do so.

Outside linebacker/Defensive end

Early prediction: Dante Fowler, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

Speaking of question marks, this position group’s storyline is a big one. Perhaps the biggest. Fowler has to step up, but he didn’t fall far enough in 2020 to warrant someone else starting over him if he’s healthy. If Tuioti-Mariner continues flashing the way he did towards the end of last season, he could fit well in new coordinator Dean Pees’ scheme with Steven Means playing a more rotational role. However, one must not forget that the Falcons need more depth here. Picking up a free agent in the next few weeks may be beneficial. If that happens, it would shake up this competition and maybe help a Falcons pass rush that has lacked production in recent years.

Cornerback (opposite AJ Terrell) 

Early prediction: Fabian Moreau

No one is questioning Terrell’s spot. He earned it in his rookie year, and the expectation for Terrell only rises. But who plays opposite him? And, further more, who plays inside when the scheme calls for it? Coaches have those decisions to make over the course of the next few weeks. Perhaps Isaiah Oliver moves inside permanently. Maybe Moreau cashes in on that one-year deal and becomes the starter outside to stockpile his individual tape before the cap goes up in 2022. Or maybe it’s neither, and it’s a combination of Kendall Sheffield, Tyler Hall, Darren Hall, etc. Regardless, it’s a spot (or spots, depending on how you look at it) very much up for grabs.

Safety

Early prediction: Erik Harris, Duron Harmon

Jaylinn Hawkins’ role will expand and Richie Grant will learn on the fly in his rookie year, but they’re both still a bit too inexperienced to be given the reins of the secondary just yet. This is why Harris and Harmon are in Atlanta: to buy the Falcons time to fully rebuild the safety position after parting ways with multi-year starters this offseason. They’re on one-year deals, and they’re likely the starters come Week 1. But they, too, still need to earn it. If Hawkins and Grant are the future of this position group, they’ll want that future to start as soon as possible. So, there’s no telling exactly what this rotation will look like in a month. Will the experienced vets win out? Will the young guys make a mark early? Or will it be a big combination of all of them?

 

 

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3 minutes ago, thanat0s said:

With the exit of the previous regime and it's nauseating coddling of guys, this pre-season should be a fun watch. We'll get actual competition as opposed to talking about competition only to have the same old guys starting. 

 

Oooohhhhhhhh.  You mean compete for positions and make a depth chart versus make a depth chart and compete for positions.  OK.  That could work.

I honestly think Quinn could not evaluate players.  First, he looked for Seattle clones.  When that did not work, he seemed to just flounder.  I don't think he could look at the competition and determine who the winners were.  In his defense, (no pun intended), I think he and Dimitroff had a contentious relationship.  I have no real evidence except for the subtle signals that were evident from time to time.  They both seemed to be struggling for more control. 

The most competent people I have known do not fight for control.  They study people around them and try to understand how to maximize everyone's talent.  They have a certain persona about them.  I think I see that in Arthur Smith.  It would be very interesting to spend a little time around Smith to get a better take on this.  For now, I believe.

Pre-season should be fun.

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21 minutes ago, NorthGaBoy said:

Oooohhhhhhhh.  You mean compete for positions and make a depth chart versus make a depth chart and compete for positions.  OK.  That could work.

I honestly think Quinn could not evaluate players.  First, he looked for Seattle clones.  When that did not work, he seemed to just flounder.  I don't think he could look at the competition and determine who the winners were.  In his defense, (no pun intended), I think he and Dimitroff had a contentious relationship.  I have no real evidence except for the subtle signals that were evident from time to time.  They both seemed to be struggling for more control. 

The most competent people I have known do not fight for control.  They study people around them and try to understand how to maximize everyone's talent.  They have a certain persona about them.  I think I see that in Arthur Smith.  It would be very interesting to spend a little time around Smith to get a better take on this.  For now, I believe.

Pre-season should be fun.

Artie sure seems to come from that second group you mentioned!

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38 minutes ago, red falcon said:

Man i want grant to hit the field right away. Take your lumps and learn. You can watch tap and take reps all you want, live gm and experience is uge.

If he was a qb on the other hand, your line could get you killed and the position is extremely difficult. Sit em.  

I'm guessing they'll find ways to rotate he and Hawkins in as much as possible when it won't compromise the defense too much.  

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23 hours ago, NorthGaBoy said:

They study people around them and try to understand how to maximize everyone's talent.  

Agreed. Natural leaders don't force square pegs into round holes. If pegs are players and holes are schemes, I get the feeling Smith and Pees are both probably inclined to take inventory of their pegs before they start drilling holes. TF's job is to find the pegs that allow the staff to optimize the hole pattern over time. 

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6 hours ago, thanat0s said:

With the exit of the previous regime and it's nauseating coddling of guys, this pre-season should be a fun watch. We'll get actual competition as opposed to talking about competition only to have the same old guys starting. 

 

thanat0s, I hate to say it, I don't think there was much choice in starting positions......the "same old guys" were our best players day in and day out.  That says more with the personnel than the decision makers on the starting/53.  We didn't have the horses to play Quinn's version of his defense.  Cover 3 (no true free safety with range and instincts), underneath speed to tackle at the point of attack, and all predicated on having a solid pass rush, (sigh).

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