By its very nature, every NFL training camp includes various positional battles. This year, however, the competition at Flowery Branch will be especially heated.
The reason is two-fold. For starters, the coaching turnover has forced veterans to once again prove their worth. Those who felt comfortable in the previous regime may not feel the same way now, and based on the perfect attendance at OTAs, the incumbents understand they aren't entitled to their old jobs.
Additionally, this year's roster figures to be substantially deeper than last year's. Free agent acquisitions, coupled with a strong draft class, have injected much-needed talent on both sides of the ball.
Here are six competitions to monitor throughout XFINITY® Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.
The contest between Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman should extend far beyond camp. Each has stated he plans on being the starter, and while they can share the load, something will eventually have to give.
Both appear to be schematic fits, and both have the potential to be effective in the NFL. Freeman displayed flashes of brilliance last year, his first in Atlanta; Coleman rushed for more than 2,000 as a senior at Indiana University.
Julio Jones is undoubtedly the Falcons' top receiver, and Roddy White — despite his age — should remain the No. 2. Beyond this dynamic duo, the WR position is somewhat unclear.
Fourth-round selection Justin Hardy was picked to be a long-term fixture on the Falcons' offense, and he's certainly off to a good start. But, with veteran Leonard Hankerson in the fold, Atlanta may opt to ease Hardy into action. Hankerson thrived in Kyle Shanahan's offense when the two were in Washington; now that they're reunited, the five-year pro has a great opportunity to reignite his career.
All three (known) free safety options are unique in their own right. With seven years of NFL service under his belt, Charles Godfrey has a leg up in terms of experience. He had a number of good seasons in Carolina and seems to be a better fit in Dan Quinn's defense than the one Atlanta employed in 2014. However, Ricardo Allen — a converted cornerback — may have taken an early lead at minicamp, where he received plenty of first-team reps and hauled in a few interceptions.
A strong safety by nature, Kemal Ishmael might also get a look. A tenacious athlete with a strong work ethic, the 5-foot-11 defensive back could be a solid FS if he develops his coverage skills.
Desmond Trufant is cemented as Atlanta's No. 1 corner, but the other starting position isn't set in stone. Three-year vet Robert Alford has a leg up because of his NFL experience; however, rookie Jalen Collins may have the raw skill needed to become a starter right away. Much like the running backs, these two will continue to duke it out long after summer ends.
As coach Wade Harman said during OTAs, the Falcons have no shortage of choices at tight end. Presumably, Jacob Tamme and Tony Moeaki will take on pass-catching roles, though it's unclear who should start over whom. Levine Toililo and Mickey Shuler are also in the mix and could be valuable blockers — especially during rushing downs. Shanahan likes to emphasize tight ends in his offense, so it's likely several will make significant impacts in 2015.
With the departure of long-time Falcon Justin Blalock, the left guard position is suddenly up for grabs. Free agent signing Mike Person — previously with the Rams — will get a look, as will Chris Chester and Harland Gunn, among others. Chester may be a fit based on his experience in the zone blocking scheme. Like Hankerson, he worked with Shanahan in Washington and has the tools to be a reliable lineman in Atlanta's new system.