The 5 Biggest Storylines Heading into Atlanta Falcons Training Camp
Football is in the air.
The Atlanta Falcons are a week from reporting to training camp at Flowery Branch. With the additions of key veterans and re-signings such as Sam Baker and William Moore, the Falcons are expected to be the top team in the NFC to rival the Seahawks and 49ers.
With (hopefully) a bolstered running game, a fast-flying defense and possibly even a contract year for Matt Ryan, the Falcons will be a fun team to watch not only in the regular season, but during camp and preseason games as well.
Here are the five biggest storylines heading into the new year.
Who Will Start at Right Tackle?
General manager Thomas Dimitroff shocked Falcons fans when he released longtime starter Tyson Clabo in the same offseason that saw center Todd McClure—arguably a Falcons Hall of Famer—retire.
Clabo's termination was mainly a financial move, but it wouldn't have happened unless the coaches had confidence that either Lamar Holmes or Mike Johnson is capable of finally taking over the starting role.
Johnson has been in the fold as a reserve for three seasons and is a product of Nick Saban's football factory in Tuscaloosa.
Holmes is quite the athletic prospect and will create an entertaining competition at the right tackle position.
Is There Anyone Who Can Create a Pass Rush?
When the 2012 season came to an end, many argued the Falcons desperately needed to add some pass rush.
That argument was being made before John Abraham was surprisingly released on the same day Michael Turner and Dunta Robinson were let go, which were both expected moves.
Even with the addition of Osi Umenyiora, the defensive line just lost four sacks. After all, Abraham had 10 last season, while Umenyiora had six.
No, Umenyiora did not play as much, as he was slowly phased into a by-committee role with the rest of the Giants' talented defensive line, but some are questioning how constructive the deal really was. Umenyiora is just two years younger.
Hopefully rookie Malliciah Goodman, aka "Sacksquatch," can work with the youthful Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews to create a pass rush.
Trufant and Alford
Dimitroff surprised everyone when he followed his first-round draft pick, cornerback Desmond Trufant, with, well, another cornerback.
Robert Alford, a versatile and fleet-footed speedster from Southeastern Louisiana, was a wild-card second-round selection in a slot where many were everything but sure the Falcons would take a defensive end.
While Trufant is more of a lockdown, potential franchise cornerback, Alford is an attacking corner who likens to current starter Asante Samuel.
The news on Samuel is that, while he greatly helped the Falcons and made big plays last year, he is still on the back end of his career.
Trufant and Alford could be the starting tandem in Atlanta very soon, which means the development of both of them will be something to watch.
Alford could also push Robert McClain, who was arguably the best nickelback in the NFL last year. Alford is also a potential staple as a punt returner (and don't get me started on the word "kick return," as if that even exists anymore, sans anything Jacoby Jones does).
Trufant and Alford should be exciting to watch in the exhibition games.
Matt Ryan's Money
Matt Ryan still doesn't have a new contract.
Many believed Ryan's contract extension would have happened earlier in the offseason, allowing more time for Dimitroff to possibly wheel and deal with a little bit more cash. An extension would likely feature a subtle reduction of Ryan's 2013 cap hit.
So far there is still nothing in the cards, though it's expected that Ryan will have a new deal before the regular season begins.
The alternative to Ryan signing on would be the less likely scenario where he plays out a contract year. Obviously, the latter scenario would create a lot of buzz around Ryan's play and attempt at a Super Bowl.
We all saw what Joe Flacco leveraged after he played out a contract year in 2012, but Atlanta's general manager probably has had a grasp on just how special Ryan is for quite some time.
Don't expect there to be much drama here.
The story of the 2013 Atlanta Falcons might be billed around the Super Bowl-or-bust scenario that has set itself in the locker room, but there's no doubt the preseason will be exciting for fans simply because of the man wearing the No. 53 jersey.
That jersey will belong to Brian Banks.
Banks, who was once one of the most highly recruited players in the nation and a commit to play with the Trojans at USC, was jailed before he could make it to college when he was accused of rape.
Just over a year ago, Banks was exonerated of those charges and was left aimlessly searching for a way to reboot his once-bright future as a football player.
This summer, Dimitroff signed Banks. Banks will compete with Akeem Dent for playing time as a middle linebacker. Fans' eyes will be glued, even in the second half of the preseason games, to catch a glimpse of Banks' dream possibly coming true.
Mike Foster is a Featured Columnist for B/R and a local sportswriter in northwest Atlanta, Ga. Follow Mike on Twitter!