This isn't a slideshow for NFL headline-skimmers. If you're on the edge of your seat regarding Favre or Vick's destinations, click away from this page.
However, if you're a true Falcons fan, or the sort who celebrates Christmas in July with the arrival of training camps, you may want to read on. With GM Thomas Dimitroff looking like he absorbed everything in his time with the Patriots organization and Mike Smith a proven developer of late-round and undrafted talent (see Adalius Thomas, Bart Scott, and Bobby McCray), Atlanta's projects warrant monitoring.
The fellas you'll see on the following slides are those I feel have good chance or good reason to break out in 2009. Obviously, not all of them will; with veteran acquisitions kept to a minimum this summer ("just" Tony Gonzalez and Mike Peterson), it's practically unavoidable that one of these guys will burst forth from their humble pro beginnings.
The general attitude regarding the Falcons' offensive line is positive. All five starters from last year are returning, and they did a good enough job protecting Matt Ryan.
That said, the general attitude regarding the depth of the offensive line is somewhat less sunny. Poor Ben Wilkerson, actually a center, is one of the few backups at both guard spots; and while we did sign vet Brett Romberg, we waited until the fifth round of the draft to pick up anyone else.
Still, there is Quinn Ojinnaka. As the 139th overall pick out of football "powerhouse" Syracuse back in '06, the big man has done some things to prove himself, like playing in 11, 11, and eight games in his three seasons respectively.
If last year was any indicator, there will be need at some point in the campaign for a personnel shift in the trenches, be it due to an injury (like Baker's in '08) or lack of performance. And Ojinnaka will once again need to play in more than half of Atlanta's games.
Forgive the dated picture, but perhaps that'll give you a sense of how "under-the-radar" this creature of a safety is.
As of today, Eric has lifetime stats that even a toddler could memorize: One game played; that's it. No tackles, interceptions, or sacks, but then again, no birds flipped at the crowd or buckets of popcorn wasted.
Brock hasn't even gotten enough real-game burn for us to tell if he's better suited at free or strong safety (though if held at gunpoint, I like him as a strong safety), but that might just add to his potential.
And one more thing to consider: Unlike at the CB spot, the Dirty Birds have just two true safety backups: the loser of the Moore-DeCoud battle and Jamaal Fudge. Wouldn't hurt to hedge his bet by learning as much as he can from DB coach Alvin Reynolds, though.
It used to be that when I thought of cornerbacks on our roster, I could only picture DeAngelo Hall being rather "unsportsmanlike" with Steve Smith in the first Panthers-Falcons matchup in 2007.
Thankfully, that memory has now largely been suppressed. We've been stockpiling young CBs since Hall was jettisoned, and the future is bright, if a little crowded and confused.
You've got starter Chris Houston, guaranteed to take on a big leadership role on the defense this year; Chevis Jackson, who is quickly proving he can be as good in the pros as he was at LSU; and set-in-stone nickelback Von Hutchins.
Behind them are a host including two rookies and David Irons, but Brent Grimes sticks out for me. His listed height of 5'10" is generous, but he's the sort of (forgive the vagueness) "high-energy" guy who can contribute despite this slight disadvantage. And besides, with his ridiculous vertical, he can make up the four or five inches he gives up and then some.
I mentioned the problem of thinness (not that kind) on the offensive line earlier. More tackles to back up Baker and Clabo, who's still more of a guard, can't hurt; likewise, more quality tackles can only help.
So why am I opening with that when Will Svitek, a former Stanford DE waived by the Chiefs prior to last season, is displayed?
One could say that it's "sad" or a "bad sign" that Svitek appears pretty high on Atlanta's offensive tackle depth chart. The word that comes to my mind, though, is "potential."
Obviously, the men in the offensive line trenches are not cardio champions. They do, however, have to be very skilled with their hands, just like defensive ends. Whether he's mauling, turning, pulling, or spinning, the arm conditioning and hammered-in reflexes of Svitek are going to serve him well.
There's no doubt Ojinnaka, Svitek, or both will see playing time this year, but with the mix of young talent and experienced coaching (offensive line coach Paul Boudreau's been coaching 23 years), I'm comfortable that at least one of the two will prove himself a capable backup.
Spencer has a pretty good setup here in Atlanta. He's a headhunter-type with tremendous athleticism, and he gets to work under defensive genius and linebacker specialist Mike Brown from the start of his career.
Alright, so in terms of a football-specific skill set, Adkins is a work in progress, but that's what "projects" are about. He'll want to spend a lot of time around not only Coach Smith, who (need I remind you) has worked with Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, and Mike Peterson; but also LB coach Glenn Pires, who coached Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas in Miami.
Note that this selection wouldn't be the one to put your money on in terms of immediate results. Adkins will be limited to special teams, most likely, but that suits his all-out pursuit style.
Down the line, though, when he's a key component of the Dirty Bird linebacking corps, I'm entitled to say "I told you so."