The Best Rookie Storylines at the Atlanta Falcons Mini Camp
The Atlanta Falcons were already behind the eight ball before the draft because they traded their first and fourth-round picks as part of the deal to move up to No. 6 and draft Julio Jones in 2011. The team has been losing the arms race to NFC rivals like the Giants, Packers, and Saints since Matt Ryan and Michael Turner helped them execute a stunning one-year turnaround in 2008.
GM Thomas Dimitroff focused on retaining potential free agents instead of adding new talent, except for Vinca Manuwai and Lofa Tatupu as a potential stopgaps at positions of need. If the Falcons are going to get big help from players that weren't with the team last year, they will have to come from the rookie class. Which rookie storylines in the team's upcoming mini camp could give us clues to where those contributions could come from?
Where will second-round offensive lineman Peter Konz line up and how quickly can he ascend the depth chart?
The Falcons got the best center in the draft and a player some had rated as a first-round talent in Konz. He suffered a dislocated ankle last year, so the team might have been easing him in during OTAs. He ran with the second team at center and third team at right guard, according to the D. Orlando Ledbetter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Konz wasn't expected to start at center right away because the team re-signed incumbent starter Todd McClure, but Joe Hawley actually got the first-team reps, so that job could be open. The right guard job was assumed to be up for grabs because Garrett Reynolds struggled mightily, but he ran with the first team and Konz was behind Manuwai, who was the second team right guard.
The Falcons deployment of Konz next week could be a major tell of what their intended plans are for him this season.
Will fifth-round fullback Bradie Ewing lead the way for Michael Turner and company?
The Falcons released lead blocker extraordinaire Ovie Mughelli last month, saving over $2 million at the fullback position. They tipped the move by drafting a fullback, Bradie Ewing, in the fifth round. Ewing's forte is lead blocking, just like Mughelli, and he should be able to beat out Mike Cox because he has been working in a pro-style running game at Wisconsin. The Falcons short yardage running game could improve if Ewing is ready to roll.
Can fifth-round DE/OLB Jonathan Massaquoi maintain his junior season weight and win a role in Mike Nolan's new defense?
Some believe the Falcons got a steal in Massaqoui, a standout pass-rusher at Troy in his junior year when he played at 260 pounds. Last year, he played at 275 pounds and went from 13.5 sacks to six sacks. Head coach Mike Smith said they wanted the leaner version of Massaquoi, and that's what Charles Odum of the AP saw in May at the team's rookie mini camp.
The Falcons lack a good complement to John Abraham on passing downs since Ray Edwards struggled last year, and Nolan will likely be mixing in some 3-4 looks. This could open the door for a natural pass-rusher like Massaqoui to steal some snaps from Edwards and Kroy Biermann, who was re-signed in free agency. He could also endanger the roster spot of Cliff Matthews, a 2011 seventh-round pick who had a good preseason, but didn't play in the regular season.
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