The Atlanta Falcons kick off preseason play against the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday evening at the Georgia Dome.
Throughout the offseason, the Falcons have had to deal with a number of injuries and departures that have left question marks at various positions.
With that said, let’s take a look at the Falcons’ biggest areas of concern heading into the preseason.
For years, Atlanta possessed one of the best offensive lines in all of football. Now, however, many Falcons fans are left asking a frightening question: “How will the team protect Matt Ryan?”
Todd McClure—who spent his entire 13-year career up front for the Falcons—retired, leaving a hole in the depth chart at center.
Soon after McClure hung up his cleats, the Falcons released starting right tackle Tyson Clabo.
Making matters worse, Mike Johnson—Atlanta’s projected starting right tackle—suffered a dislocated left ankle and fractured tibia during Tuesday’s practice, per AtlantaFalcons.com writer Jay Adams:
Tough news for everyone as Mike Johnson is slated to have surgery for a dislocated ankle and fractured tibia. Get well soon, Mike. #aftc13— Jay Adams (@FalconsJAdams) August 7, 2013
Certainly, the pressure will be on Lamar Holmes and mainstays Justin Blalock and Sam Baker to protect Atlanta’s $103.75 million-dollar man, Matt Ryan.
The Falcons have to get consistent performances from their linebackers in order to have any shot at repeating last season’s success.
Last season, the Falcons allowed 123.2 rushing yards a game. Likewise, opponents continually found holes in the defense, averaging 4.8 yards per rush.
Stephen Nicholas, Akeem Dent and Sean Weatherspoon will have to do a better job wrapping up the ball carrier early.
With Weatherspoon out indefinitely due to a dislocated finger, the time is now for one of the Falcons’ many linebackers to show that they can help remedy the problem.
With Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes gone, the Falcons lack a true press coverage cornerback on defense.
The Falcons will miss the aforementioned players’ ability to force wide receivers into plays that result in minimal yardage with their ability to tackle in the open field.
Adding on, Asante Samuel has long had a problem wrapping up ball carriers and one should expect that to continue going forward.
Although rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are unquestionably talented, their inexperience will show when slotted against the premier wide receivers that exist in the NFC South.
It will be interesting to see how the corners perform throughout the preseason and the rest of training camp.