The 2012-2013 offseason has seen a huge amount of roster changes for the Atlanta Falcons. Between the youth movement and the ongoing scheme change for both sides of the ball, the Falcons’ roster is going to look very different by kickoff time. At this point in the offseason, the coaching staff have all done a lot of their initial evaluations through OTA’s and mini-camps, but starting on July 25th, the Falcons will start whittling down their roster. The real competition is about to heat up, so in preparation for this, I have compiled a list of the top battles to watch. There are so many areas in which the team could go one way or the other but I am trying to highlight the areas in which the outcome of the competition could affect the team as a whole. For good measure, I have listed them from least to most important starting at 5 and going down to 1. Without further ado, here it is:
5. Brian Banks vs. Pat Schiller- The linebacker position for the 2013 season should be interesting to see. Not interesting as in who is going to start, but interesting as in who will fill-in when needed? Robert James is the perennial backup behind Sean Weatherspoon, Stephen Nicholas, and Akeem Dent, but who is going to fall into that fifth linebacker position? Pat Schiller is the leading candidate. He has been a part of the linebacking corps for a year now and is that guy in the background of D-Block. In any case ,it will be very hard for any new guy to unseat him, but if there is a guy that could push for that spot though, it would be Brian Banks. The story that goes with Banks is incredible, and it would be a weird version of a Cinderella story if he did make the final roster. However, I am inclined to think the team is not going to give him the spot from his background alone. He is going to have to earn it. Good thing for Banks the struggles in his life seem to have made him stronger and more determined.
4. Robert Alford vs. Jacquizz Rodgers and Dominique Franks- Alford has incredible upside and is looking to become the full time kickoff/punt returner. Last year, Jacquizz Rodgers carried the duties of kick returner and Dominique Franks had punt return duties. Alford has been touted as one of the best special teamers in the 2013 draft and should push one of or both of these guys from last year. I expect he may take both jobs and leave Franks and Rodgers to play at their respective positions in rotational roles.
3. Chase Coffman vs. Levine Toilolo- This is will be a tighter race than most people think in my eyes. Coffman was looked at as one of the better TE’s when he came out of college. So far the injuries throughout his career have come at very inopportune times and have ended up getting him shuffled around the league a bit. Toilolo wasn’t looked at like a top-tier tight end coming out of college but he did play behind Zach Ertz, whom he initially beat out of the position until a knee injury sidelined him. Both of these players will be used in a backup role for 2013 but a snap count is more than likely going to instilled on Tony Gonzalez so whoever gets that number two role will see the field. Remember how many snaps Michael Palmer played last year? Whoever wins the #2 job should see the field even more.
2. Kroy Biermann vs. Cliff Matthews- Kroy Biermann has shown that he has the all-around skill to play not only play defensive end and be one of the best special teams players on the roster, but also safety and place kicker. Talk about being a versatile player. Cliff Matthews, on the other hand, has brought on board as a seventh round draft pick in 2011 and has fought his way onto the playing field since. He has become known as a good run stopping defensive end and has been rumored to be willing to flex over to a defensive tackle position if necessary. Both of these players have been serviceable at the least and the training camp battle this year should heat up. Also something to keep in mind is the fact that Biermann has reportedly been cross training to line up as a linebacker. Making this battle even more interesting seeing as how Cliff would then either be the man to call on or the team might decide to bring in fourth round selection Malliciah Goodman and move Matthews over to tackle. However it ends up this is one position battle to keep an eye on.
1. Mike Johnson vs. Lamar Holmes- This is going to be a serious battle. My opinion keeps leaning one way then the other. Johnson is a third round pick in the 2010 draft. He is listed as 6’5” and 312 lbs. on atlantafalcons.com. Lamar Holmes is also a third round pick in the 2012 draft. He is listed as 6’6” 323 lbs. on the same site. Both players are young and capable. Holmes is reported to be the better pass blocker while Johnson is reported to be the better run blocker. Johnson has a little more experience and has tenure in his favor. Holmes has the size going for him though. Both players are seen as hard workers with very high ceilings. Right now I am saying Johnson has the edge because of his experience and the need for a right tackle to be a good run blocker, but ask me again in an hour and I might say the complete opposite. This battle is also for a starting spot on an offensive line that needs its younger players to step up and take the position.
There is plenty of drama to go around this year and these are only some of the battles Flowery Branch will see this year. As a fan I hope the coaching staff makes all the right decisions and this team takes that ever crucial step forward. In any capacity this teams head first dive into going younger is going to make or break this year. The players who have been waiting in the wind for their chance are finally getting to see that chance arrive. Hopefully they will not only show that they can prepare for a game and win training camp battles, but can also keep that competitive streak alive.
The fun (for fans) starts on July 25th at Flowery Branch. Here is a training camp schedule from the Falcons mother site, http://www.atlantafalcons.com/news/article-1/Falcons-Release-2013-Training-Camp-Schedule/22c61e8d-5338-4d93-89e5-1933078a62fe, in case you can drop by in person. Some if not all of the camp is open to the public. From what I hear, the training camp practices are a great place to get autographs, and my jealousy persists because I won’t be able to go.