Updating the Atlanta Falcons' Key Position Battles Halfway Through Training Camp
So here we are, halfway through training camp for the Atlanta Falcons, and the key battles have started to truly take shape.
There are some obvious leaders, but there are also some situations where it won't matter who "wins" the job.
As I previously wrote before camp started, the five biggest camp battles were going to be at center, right guard, right tackle, starting left defensive end and starting cornerbacks. However, something completely unexpected happened and another battle was added at strong-side linebacker.
So follow along as we explore who is winning the six biggest battles for the Atlanta Falcons this preseason.
Peter Konz vs. Joe Hawley
Peter Konz was the Falcons' 2012 second-round selection. In Atlanta's 34-10 loss to the Bengals to open the preseason played like he was up against the Cincinnati's first-team defense. Meanwhile, Joe Hawley played like a guy who should be with the first team against the second-teamers.
The issue here isn't if Hawley is better than Konz. Both players are extremely talented and deserve to have a spot in the starting lineup. The issue here is that Konz is better at center than Hawley, who should move to guard.
If head coach Mike Smith does give Hawley a shot at guard, Jacques McClendon looked like a player who could back up at center or guard as well. When you have three solid quality centers, but don't have one quality right guard, you move a center to right guard to see if he can take on the role.
Konz has won the job. It wasn't even really a battle, so let's get Hawley and McClendon into the competition at right guard in order that they can have a chance to start.
Projected Winner: Peter Konz
Who should win: Peter Konz
Garrett Reynolds vs. Harland Gunn/Phillipkeith Manley
Garrett Reynolds looks like he is being handed the job again this year. That's a complete shame. The Falcons need to move Joe Hawley or Jacques McClendon over to right guard to give them a true shot at the starting lineup.
Reynolds looked terrible against the Cincinnati Bengals' starting lineup and was mediocre at best in the six games he started in the 2012 season. The Falcons would be wise to actually throw some competition his way to either make him better or make the team better.
Projected Winner: Garrett Reynolds
Who should win: Joe Hawley should slide from center
Mike Johnson vs. Lamar Holmes
Mike Johnson was doing a good job before the first preseason game, but an injured ankle led to him being placed on injured reserve to end his season according to AtlantaFalcons.com. Because of that, Lamar Holmes will win the starting job by default.
Honestly, that is the best thing that could happen. Holmes looked good against the Bengals and only allowed one pressure of the quarterback in his 25 pass-blocks. He also registered a positive run-blocking grade for his 14 snaps where he was a road grader.
Projected Winner: Lamar Holmes by default
Who should win: Lamar Holmes because of injury to Johnson
Left Defensive End
Kroy Biermann vs. Jonathan Massaquo/Cliff Matthews/Malliciah Goodman
Because of the situation at strong-side linebacker, Kroy Biermann won't win the left defensive end battle. However, he could win it easily and deserves to be a starter in Mike Nolan's defense somewhere.
Cliff Matthews is an option who has been solid in training camp and in the first preseason game, but won't be anything more than a backup.
Malliciah Goodman looked very good in his debut for Atlanta. His run defense was excellent, but his pass-rushing only led to one play where he got in front of the quarterback's face.
The real bright spot is Jonathan Massaquoi. In 18 pass rushes against the Bengals, he had one sack, one quarterback hit and two quarterback pressures. He also registered a positive grade in run defense and should be a long-term option as a starter, even if he doesn't win the starting job this year.
Projected Winner: Jonathan Massaquoi because of Biermann moving to linebacker
Who should win: Jonathan Massaquoi
Kroy Biermann vs. Stephen Nicholas
This is the crazy move that was alluded to earlier.
No one expected this to be a legitimate battle. Nonetheless, 2008 fifth-round pick Kroy Biermann is battling 2007 fourth-round pick Stephen Nicholas for a starting spot at strong-side linebacker, according to John Manasso of Fox Sports South.
Unfortunately for Nicholas, the coverage ability and pass-rush ability of Biermann should vault him ahead. Add in his ability to play three downs and be used all over the field, and Biermann has a huge edge over the Falcons' longtime strong-side starter.
Nicholas is a talented player, but with his salary and his inability to cover a tight end effectively, the Falcons would be better off letting him go and spending the money on better depth at defensive tackle or even adding another offensive guard.
Projected Winner: Kroy Biermann
Who should win: Kroy Biermann
Asante Samuel vs. Desmond Trufant/Robert McClain/Robert Alford
Asante Samuel is who we thought he was. He's a top-tier corner with great coverage ability and ball skills who will occasionally get burned deep. Nothing has changed there this year.
Desmond Trufant had a small lapse against the Bengals' on a play-action pass that was incomplete and got trucked twice by Jermaine Gresham, who has 70 pounds on him. However, he's shown enough that the coaches still want him to start and they will leave him as a starter unless someone else can prove better.
Robert McClain is a true nickelback. He's looking better than he did in the 2012 season when he proved to the NFL that he's one of the top nickel corners. He's going to arguably be the best nickel corner in the NFL this year and could have a breakout season on defense.
Robert Alford is an aggressive, talented corner, but the biggest concern about him right now is how much he might get flagged. His aggressive nature, combined with his penchant to get to the ball just a split second too early, will be why he's on the outside looking in this season.
In the end, it doesn't really matter who is the winner. The Falcons need to figure out a way to keep their cornerbacks fresh by rotating all of these guys. When you have four talented players, you have to take advantage of them in whatever way you can.
Projected Winners: Desmond Trufant at right corner, Asante Samuel at left corner and Robert McClain in the nickel.
Who should win: Figure out a way to play all four an equal amount because they are all looking like they deserve to see playing time.
All stats 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 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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