5 Atlanta Falcons Who Will Surprise in Training Camp
Training camp is just a few weeks away.
However, the competition will surely be heated at each position, as it is the nature of the training camp environment.
Here are five players who should stand out in camp at Flowery Branch, as well as in the early preseason games.
Brian Banks, Linebacker
There won't be a better preseason storyline for Falcons fans than the development of Brian Banks.
Banks was signed by the club after being exonerated in a rape case, and, now, he's got a lot to prove.
Before being caught up in unwarranted legal trouble, the stud linebacker was considered one of the best recruits in the country and was on his way to play for the Trojans at Southern California.
In a rare case, we will see a player who hasn't really developed through college ball like every other NFL star.
At 6'2" and 250 pounds, Banks isn't the most athletically built guy in the world, but there's a lot of potential, especially considering how much linebackers struggled against option offenses late in the season.
Mike Johnson, Right Tackle
Right tackle isn't the most glorified position along the offensive line, as if any of the five are glorified at all.
While Sam Baker, who just signed a meaty contract, will protect Matt Ryan's blind side, Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes will finally duke it out for the right to start at the opposite tackle position, formerly manned by longtime starter Tyson Clabo.
Johnson is a third-year pro out of Alabama and is projected to have a slight edge over Holmes for the starting position.
Robert Alford, Cornerback/Returner
You're going to get a good dose of Robert Alford during camp and in the first few preseason games.
Alford, who was drafted in the second round by the Falcons, wasn't the bigger name at his own position in the team's class. Desmond Trufant, who the Falcons traded up to get in the first round, is a physical cornerback who should take over the starting role rather quickly.
But, don't sleep on the ability of Alford. He might be a little bit of an afterthought because of the presence of Robert McClain, who might have been the best nickelback in the league last year, but preseason reps and the potential for punt return duties could make this electric athlete stand out.
Kemal Ishmael, Safety
Thomas DeCoud and William Moore are both Pro Bowl safeties, but one might be a lot safer than the other.
Bare with me.
Yes, DeCoud is a ball hawk, but if his interception numbers begin to drop, he could be in a heap of trouble. DeCoud had a lot of trouble tackling last season, and there's no doubt Thomas Dimitroff wanted some guys who could get opponents on the ground.
The two safety draft picks, Ishmael and Zeke Motta from Notre Dame, will have a chance to show off their hitting abilities in camp.
Reports from Flowery Branch in May claimed Ishmael was growing quickly and impressing team members.
Jonathan Massaquoi, Defensive End
In the 4-3/3-4 hybrid scheme Mike Nolan is slowly transitioning into with his current personnel, Jonathan Massaquoi becomes valuable.
At 6'2" and 270 pounds, Massaquoi is built like an edge-rusher. He's got plenty of strength and feet under him, but his pass rushing moves need more polish.
With John Abraham gone, Atlanta will still need to rely on development opposite of newly-signed veteran Osi Umenyiora.
Expect Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews to be names that come up more often. Kroy Biermann is a very good role player along the defensive line, but Atlanta needs much more development and production. It's time for Massaquoi to step up in his second season.
Mike Foster is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a local sportswriter in Marietta, Ga.
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