"Go see the coach and bring your playbook" —The Turk
As cuts loom for the 2009 Atlanta Falcons there are still many questions to be answered this preseason.
As the Turk prepares to stalk his prey in the Flowery Branch locker room, the coaches and staff still have two games to narrow the field and finish building a team that is expected to surpass last season's success.
While most of the starting positions are already set in stone, there are a few key battles going on that will come down to the wire, most of which you can find on the defense.
The Falcons offense for 2009 will return all its starters intact and has added future Hall of Fame Tight End Tony Gonzalez to Matt Ryan's arsenal of weapons. Expect Michael Turner to continue bashing through defensive lines and Roddy White stretching the field during the 2009 campaign.
With the exception of third string QB D.J. Shockley possibly playing himself out of a job last week, and a battle for depth at the WR position, the Falcons offense is aligned for a record setting season.
Defensively the Falcons are still trying to fill the holes left by the loss of five starters from last season. Some might believe that losing those five was a good thing but unless a team picks up several solid starters in free agency, that gap is going to be hard to close.
Losses: OLB's Keith Brooking and Michael Boley
Replacements: Mike Peterson, Stephen Nicholas
Peterson comes over from Jacksonville where he served under coach Smith. While not a spring chicken(33 years old), Peterson is an over-achiever who will step right in and lead by example at the OLB spot.
Peterson was the Falcons only free agent acquisition used to fill one of five starting spots.
Nicholas comes in with two years' experience, is strong, hungry, and has shown flashes of brilliance during his time on the field. But he has never had an NFL start.
He has shown enough during preseason to earn the starting spot but still remains a question mark until he performs under real game conditions.
Loss: DT Grady Jackson.
Replacement: Peria Jerry
The loss of Jackson leaves some big shoes to fill, and pants and shirt to boot! Despite being a rookie, Jerry will fill the spot nicely and be a disruptive force in the middle for years to come. While not a seasoned free agent acquisition he was deserving of his first round draft pick position (24).
Losses: Safety Lawyer Milloy and CB Dominique Foxworth
The Falcon secondary is a mystery and these last two preseason games will hopefully yield some solid answers. Competition at both CB and safety is still ongoing with at least one spot at each position still not set in stone.
CB Chris Houston (who just returned to practice this week after a hamstring injury) has sewn up one starting spot but Brent Grimes, Von Hutchins, and Chevis Jackson are all returning vets vying for that other starting slot.
Mix in rookie Chris Owens and the clash for No. 2 CB has become an exciting match up to watch this preseason. Rookie William Middleton is also in the fray but has yet to show he is a worthy competitor for that No. 1 spot.
The safety spot is also a work in progress. Erik Coleman has his spot nailed down but Thomas DeCoud, Eric Brock, Jamaal Fudge, and rookie William Moore are all lobbying on the field to win that last starter spot.
Even CB Von Hutchins has been given some snaps which makes the competition even deeper. Moore has showed some promise but arthroscopic surgery on his knee has him just back at practice as of today.
Lastly, what I feel is the most exciting defensive position to keep an eye on this preseason is defensive end. While John "The Predator" Abraham will continue to give offensive line coaches nightmares, his bookend is another story.
Jamaal Anderson comes into his third season with still more questions than answers.
Breathing down his neck are Chauncy Davis, Kroy Biermann and rookie Lawrence Sidbury. The fight for who starts opposite Abraham is the one I find most interesting and is the one to watch in the remaining two games.
Anderson is being pushed and pushed hard. Biermann has an unrelenting motor despite being a bit light for the position. Davis has the size, speed, and drive to make a real push for the position.
Sidbury, despite being a rookie has shown that he can compete with the big boys and promises to develop into something special.
Expect all the DE's to see significant playing time as Abraham is rotated out to keep him fresh. But who will step up and earn the other starting spot is the one position battle you don't want to miss.
Many of these positions will still be up for grabs come next week as the team prepares for game four. This week we will see the starters in until the third quarter, leaving the final competition for these spots coming down to the wire.
While preseason games are technically meaningless, the competition for starting spots has made this year's games a must watch for die hard Falcon fans.
The Turk is ready. He has his clipboard, his pen, and knows all the hiding places at Falcons HQ. The only thing missing are the names that go on that clipboard.
Once his job is done, I am confident that Dimitroff, Smith, and the rest of the Falcons staff will have compiled the best players, will have built that "Perfect Beast" and will direct this team deep into the playoffs.