Atlanta Falcons: 4 Players Who Cannot Get Hurt in 2012

Justin BlanchardContributor IIJuly 22, 2012

Atlanta Falcons: 4 Players Who Cannot Get Hurt in 2012

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    The mark of a great team is solid depth.

    That saying has certainly been true for the Atlanta Falcons, whose stable of reserves at key areas has played a big part in the team's success in recent years.

    But no roster is ever perfect, and Atlanta's is no exception.

    While deep at many positions, the Falcons are equally thin at a number of others.

    Here's a look at four Falcons whose injuries would be most detrimental to the team in 2012.

OLB Sean Weatherspoon

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    Keeping Sean Weatherspoon healthy is not only imperative because of his great leadership, but also because his loss would result in a huge drop-off in play.

    The outside linebacker position already looked thin at the beginning of the offseason, and became even thinner with undrafted free agent Matt Hansen's recent knee injury and subsequent release.

    That leaves Spencer Adkins, Robert James, Rico Council, Jerrell Harris, Max Gruder and Pat Schiller as potential backups.

    Adkins, who is entering his fourth year in the league, has been serviceable at best. He started just one of his 24 total appearances, in which he has racked up a collective 15 tackles.

    A late 2008 NFL draft pick, James spent his entire rookie season on IR before making it on the team's practice squad in 2009—a spot he has held for the majority of his career up to this point.

    With four undrafted free agents in Council, Harris, Gruder and Schiller rounding out the depth chart, there may be difficult times ahead if any one of the aforementioned reserves has to step in for Weatherspoon.

DT Corey Peters

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    A third-round pick in the 2010 draft, Corey Peters earned the starting nose tackle job in his rookie season and hasn't looked back since.

    One of the brightest stars on Alanta's defense, the numbers show Peters recorded three sacks and 26 combined tackles last year.

    But they don't tell the whole story: Peters has been a consistent force in run support and effective at disrupting opposing quarterbacks in his two years as a pro.

    Unfortunately, Peters missed all of OTAs and minicamp this offseason with a foot injury, but is expected to be ready when the Falcons kick off training camp on July 26.

    If he isn't, Atlanta certainly hopes he'll be ready by the regular season, especially with fellow starter Jonathan Babineaux declining and just under-performer Peria Jerry, rotational backup Vance Walker and rookie seventh-round draft pick Travian Robertson as potential replacements.

TE Tony Gonzalez

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    Since trading for Tony Gonzalez in 2009, the Falcons have not drafted a tight end.

    And who can blame them? His rookie season aside, Gonzalez has missed only one start in his 15-year career.

    But while he's a future Hall of Famer, Gonzalez is still human, and if he missed one start before, he could miss one again.

    That would leave the Falcons in big trouble.

    To lose Gonzalez would not only take away one of Matt Ryan's preferred targets in the passing game, but also remove one of the league's best pass-blocking tight ends from the field.

    At the moment, third-year pro Michael Palmer looks to have the upper hand as Gonzalez's replacement after serving as his primary backup for the past two years.

    Others looking to take his spot include Lamarck Brown, Adam Nissley, Tommy Gallarda and Aron White, all of whom are 2012 undrafted free agents.

    While one of those four may impress enough in training camp to take Palmer’s spot, chances are their play will remain light-years away from Gonzalez's if he ever gets injured.

QB Matt Ryan

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    There's no question Matt Ryan is the centerpiece of the Atlanta Falcons franchise.

    A borderline elite quarterback as he enters his fifth season in the league, Ryan's play will be a deciding factor in the Falcons' success in 2012.

    Some teams would only see a slight drop-off in abilities from starter to backup, but that is far from the case for the Falcons with Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson as reserves.

    The 35-year-old Redman, who has started just 12 games in his 10-year career, has seen his best years come and go.

    Wilson, a 2009 undrafted free agent, has never seen in-season action after three years as the Falcons' third-string quarterback. Considering his preseason performances, they'd likely prefer to keep it that way.  

    While the loss of a starting quarterback is always a significant setback, the fact remains that a long-term injury to Ryan would likely bring the Falcons' quest for their first playoff win under head coach Mike Smith to a screeching halt in 2012.