Breaking Down Atlanta Falcons' Biggest Training Camp Battles

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Breaking Down Atlanta Falcons' Biggest Training Camp Battles
Josh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports
Who will be protecting Matt Ryan's sight side this season?

The Atlanta Falcons have a ton of training camp battles going on this year with the belief that competition will breed success. And they won't be wrong. 

The team has a need to get younger on the entire right side of the offensive line as well as at key spots on the defense. Follow along as we discuss the Falcons' biggest training camp battles—as well as a couple of minor ones.

 

Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

Honorable Mentions

Backup Quarterback

The competition here will be between Dominique Davis and a pair of undrafted rookies—Seth Doege and Sean Renfree—for the two spots behind Matt Ryan. However, it looks like Davis should run away with the primary backup job, and the other two are in a dead heat for a menial clipboard-holding job.

 

Final Wide Receiver Spots

While the top three of Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas are all set, the Falcons still have two spots available at receiver. Competing will be Drew Davis, Kevin Cone, Tim Toone, Marcus Jackson, James Rodgers, Martel Moore, Rashad Evans and Darius Johnson.

Those eight guys will have to compete for a combined two or even three spots. The best two special teams players should and likely will win. However, who those two players are is a complete toss up. At this time, Davis, Cone and Toone look to be the front-runners.

 

Backup Tight End

Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

In a battle of three players for two spots, the Falcons have a couple of different roles that are being decided. The first of which will be a blocking role. That one will be contested between draft pick Levine Toilolo and veteran Tommy Gallarda with Toilolo looking like the better fit as of now.

The second role is the No. 2 and receiving role. That will be contested between former Cincinnati third-round pick Chase Coffman and the aforementioned Toilolo. If Toilolo can earn the role as a blocker, then the idea of having three TE sets that include Tony Gonzalez, Toilolo and Coffman could be extremely helpful in the red-zone offense.

 

Backup Linebackers

When it comes to the most populous training camp battle, it's easily the backup linebackers. There's six guys competing for two, maybe three, spots. The grouping includes 2012 practice-squad member Pat Schiller, 2012 reserve Robert James and undrafted free agents Paul Worrilow, Brian Banks, Nick Clancy and Joplo Bartu.

If they go based off just one position within the defense, it would make the most sense to see Worrilow (weak side), Schiller (strong side) and Banks (middle) as the early favorites. And that would be huge for Banks' redemption.

 

Backup Safeties

As it sits right now, the incumbent top two safeties are Shann Schillinger and Charles Mitchell. Mitchell looks like he is ingrained in the roster. However, Schillinger will be in a dog fight for his job with 2013 draft picks Kemal Ishmael and Zeke Motta. The winner of this one will come down to who fits best on special teams.

 

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Top Five Biggest Battles 

5. Starting Center

One of the top battles coming into the 2013 season looks to be at the center position. Not only is the starting role available, but the backup ones are as well. There are four talented competitors, and they will all have a legitimate shot to compete for the roster spots.

The group is headed up by Peter Konz, a 2012 second-round draft pick out of Wisconsin. He primarily played center in college and started in the 2012 season as a right guard for the final 10 games and the two playoff games.

After Konz is 2010 fourth-round pick Joe Hawley. He's also a possibility for right guard as that's where most of his experience has been at the pro level. He also played a lot of snaps at guard when he was at UNLV. But, the Falcons do like him as a center, and he will be given a legitimate chance to compete.

Who wins the starting center job?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Then there is Matt Smith. Smith played at Kentucky and will be able to push for a spot on the roster should Hawley or Konz win both the right guard and center job. He was signed as an undrafted free agent right after the draft ended.

The biggest wild card here is Jacques McClendon. He was a 2010 fourth-round pick out of Tennessee, and like Hawley, he will compete at both center and right guard. He's going to compete for as high as the starting role at both, but he should be able to win at least a roster spot as a reserve.

The overall battle will be fiery and fierce. But the final result will likely have Konz on top with Hawley as a reserve or starting at guard. McClendon looks like he should also earn a roster spot from this group.

 

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

4. Starting Left Defensive End

This is a spot that shouldn't even be listed. However, Ray Edwards was a complete and total failure for the Falcons as a starter. He lost his job as a starter due to an inability to take coaching.

Kroy Biermann was the starter for most of last season after the Edwards cut. The money saved will be spent more wisely next time. Despite being a king of versatility for the scheme, Biermann may not be the best option for the starting left end due to a lack of pass-rush effectiveness.

Malliciah Goodman is the next most likely option after Biermann. He's potentially the bull-rush specialist that the Falcons thought they had in Ray Edwards. He also has the versatility to play 3-, 5- and 6- techniques on top of the standard 7-technique the left end uses.

Who wins the starting left end job?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Jonathan Massaquoi is another competitor for the spot and fits into the same mold as Biermann. The only difference is that he's more athletic and has better pass-rush potential. He is a Troy product like Osi Umenyiora and could eventually flip to the right side.

Stansly Maponga and Cliff Matthews are the dark horses to win the job. They both can play multiple roles for the Falcons, but should end up as reserves. Maponga and Matthews will be very valueable, but it's unlikely they start.

If there's one who should stand out, it's Goodman. The Clemson Tiger will provide something the Falcons defense only got from Jonathan Babineaux last season—someone who can bull rush a tackle. Babineaux also could play both end and tackle in the multiple fronts. And that's what the role is for the Falcons' starting left end.

 

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3. Starting Right Tackle

By the Falcons cutting Tyson Clabo, they told both of their third-round tackles that they are expected to perform. And they will make sure that they live up to expectations, or they will go find someone else who can.

Lamar Holmes was the Falcons' 2012 third-round pick. He was extremely raw when he was drafted and essentially had a redshirt season in 2012 playing behind Clabo and Sam Baker. He has picked up quite a bit of technical prowess from working with both those players and line coach Pat Hill.

Mike Johnson was the Falcons' 2010 third-round pick. Unlike Holmes, he's always been a more polished prospect. Now, he's getting his first shot at a starting job since competing for the right guard role in 2011—one he eventually lost to Garrett Reynolds.

Who wins the starting right tackle job?

Submit Vote vote to see results

If he loses the right tackle job, there's no question that he should compete at right guard as well. He's got experience in both, and as an Alabama grad and Falcon for the past three years, he understands how to win the job and what can help the team the best.

In the end, Holmes is a better physical talent and is one of the toughest workers. His attitude that no one will beat him for a job will allow him an edge in the battle. The weakness at right guard will also make Johnson more valuable in a spot that's not right tackle.

 

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2. Starting Cornerbacks

After losing both Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson, only Asante Samuel is guaranteed a starting spot for the Falcons defense. The other two starting spots will be fought over by Desmond Trufant, Robert McClain and Robert Alford.

Trufant was the Falcons' 2013 first-round pick. They traded up for him due to his ability in both man and zone coverage. He's a freak athlete with solid tackling ability. And he's also not a head hunter the way Robinson was. His long-term potential is close to Champ Bailey.

Who wins the starting cornerback jobs?

Submit Vote vote to see results

McClain was a seventh-round pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2010. He busted his butt to earn the nickel role once Grimes went down with an Achilles injury. And in the time he played as the nickel, he has earned a reputation as one of the best in the game. He's going to compete for the right corner role, and if he loses, he should still be the nickel.

Alford is a younger, faster version of Samuel and the Falcons' 2013 second-round pick. He's a true playmaker with the long-term potential of an Asante Samuel clone without getting beat deep as much as Samuel has in his career. 

In the end, a combination of Samuel, Trufant and McClain looks like the group that will win the jobs. But Alford will give one hell of a fight to all three of them.

 

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

1. Starting Right Guard

The Falcons haven't had a great right guard since Harvey Dahl left for the St. Louis Rams before the 2011 season. They will have a pair of players who have already tried to win the job combined with a man who spent a year on the practice squad to develop into someone who could get the job.

Garrett Reynolds has won the job in training camp each of the past two seasons only to get benched or get injured at some point in the season. This is going to be his final shot at winning the starting job and should he finally fail, he deserves a job as a reserve.

Who wins the starting right guard job?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Phillipkeith Manley is a big-bodied player very similar to Justin Blalock. He's strong and brutal off the ball and has a bit of a mean streak. However, he was an undrafted player because of how raw he was. As it sits right now, he might be in danger of losing his spot on the team completely as he is competing to win the starting job if he can't get his weight in check.

Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley have already been covered, but these are the two who would be the best fit for the starting role. Johnson and Hawley both played a lot of guard in college and may have their best fits there in the pros. One of these two should win the job in the end.

 

All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats, ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy of Spotrac and Rotoworld. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.

Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.

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