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Bair Mail: State of Falcons running backs, preseason predictions, plus Dante Fowler and Dean Pees impact

All your questions get answers in this pre-game mailbag


Welcome, everyone, to Bair Mail.

At this point in the mailbag I typically rant or rave about something that grinds my gears whether it's Falcons-related or not.

Not this time.

We're running this edition like an Arthur Smith practice. To borrow from Grady Jarrett, "there ain't no fluff."

[Editor's note: That's still the best quote of camp and will get used often in this space. Get hyped.]

We're mere hours away from Friday's preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans, so let's waste no time. I promised to answer many, many questions in Friday's mailbag, so let's get cracking.

Kyler Collins from Lake Wales, Fla.

Hey Scott!! I just wanted to say you have done an incredible job so far here with the Falcons, and I can't wait to read your opinions throughout the upcoming season. But, going into my questions here, who has stood out for you in camp so far and who are you looking for to make their presence felt in the game on Friday against the Titans?

Bair: Appreciate the kind words, Kyler. Can't wait to chronicle what should be a fascinating season. I'll answer both questions at once, if I may. I really like Javian Hawkins. The undrafted runner offers a great change of pace to the bigger backs on the Falcons roster, with good burst, agility and elusiveness. He needs to start producing against the Titans to keep up with Caleb Huntley, another undrafted rookie pushing for a roster spot.


Now we can address player I've liked this camp: Doubt he'll play on Friday, but Olamide Zaccheaus is always open. That's both and art and a science. He's fun to watch.

No way he plays on Friday, but Deion Jones is an ath-a-lete. Same with A.J. Terrell. There are several others, but I'm trying to be quick today. These Falcons have some quality building blocks for the present and future, though it sure seems like they need more depth and talent throughout the lineup.

Charlie C. from Boulder, Colo.

Scott, welcome to Atlanta! With Arthur Smith emphasizing competition in training camp along the offensive line and running back group, how do you see the competition shaking out for the running backs, especially with Qadree Ollison dealing [wearing a non-contact jersey] lately in practice?

Bair: Thanks for the question, Charlie. I'm interested to see how the running back group shakes out, though I don't think Qadree Ollison's current health will be a factor. He should be back before long. I anticipate Mike Davis being the featured back, with Cordarrelle Patterson used in creative ways. Ollison is likely Davis' true back up and has looked good thus far thanks to his offseason training. Fullback Keith Smith's also in the mix here. Will they keep a fifth running back on the roster? I would say so. My bet's on Hawkins, for reasons stated above, though Huntley will have something to say about that.

Jelani Reid from Atlanta

What up, Bair. My question is this: do you think that the starters will get significant reps during the preseason? It may be needed to get the cohesiveness we need going into the season. RISE UP.

Bair: What up, Jelani. Hope all is well. I wouldn't expect to see many major regular-season contributors suit up in this preseason affair. We don't know how rookie head coach Arthur Smith will handle these preseason games, especially with only three on the slate. He hasn't stated exactly how he'll navigate them, but I'd bet he aims at preserving health. That might mean a short dress rehearsal for the starters at some point. Next week in Miami doesn't seem like it, with joint practices just before it. The third and final contest versus Cleveland could be the one, especially with two weeks before the regular season starts. Even if it does happen, can't imagine the first unit will be on the field long.

Joel Foreman from Columbus, Ga.

Do you think the Falcons will suffer, again, with problems on the O line?

Bair: All coaches say they want competition during training camp, and I believe them when they do. I still think that, if you put Arthur Smith in an interrogation room and forced him to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, he'd rather have five established starters entering the summer. Cohesiveness is key up front, a facts he knows considering he was an offensive lineman.

The Falcons don't have that right now, with relative uncertainty at right tackle and left guard. That could get straightened out as early as next week, however, leaving plenty of time to get in sync. The other problem is, who's a sure thing outside Jake Matthews and Chris Lindstrom? Matt Hennessy must prove himself. Kaleb McGary and Josh Andrews do, too, if they in fact round out the starting five as I expect. Will the Falcons have O-line issues again? To answer your question directly: time will tell on that [offensive] front, but it's certainly possible.

Jerry Blash from Hinesville, Ga

I used to read this column when it was Straight from the Beek. It was a great column. This one….. meh. Maybe it will get better. No offense.

Bair: No offense taken, Jerry. I liked Straight from the Beek a great deal as well. Appreciate you checking out Bair Mail. Keep coming back. I'll eventually turn that "meh" into a "YAY!!!" I'm a charmer, after all. Just ask anyone (except my wife).

JC Daniel from Savannah, Ga.

Scott, Any feel on whether Dante Fowler will be a big-time player this year? He can help this team more than any one player. If he steps up, I can see us 10-7, 9-8. Following Beasley, he was a major flop last year. If he flops again, we are mediocre at best with another long season.

Bair: I'm with you, JC, in think Dante Fowler's a key cog. The Falcons desperately need a rebound year from the edge rusher, for him to find the form that earned 11.5 sacks with the Rams in 2019. He's immensely talented, with the physical tools possessed by nobody else on this depth chart. Smith has said several times, however, that he must earn a role.

That role could be as a three-down edge presence. He could end up a sub package specialist, which might ultimately be the right call. That would keep him fresher to do what he does best – get after the quarterback. The Falcons edge rushers might not be an intimidating bunch, but Fowler creating regular havoc would change things for everyone on the defensive front. Lining him up next to Jarrett could form a particularly dangerous tandem making life hard on opposing offensive. That's something the Falcons defense needs while searching for better.

The Atlanta Falcons have a preseason game this week! Take a look at the best images from the last 2021 AT&T Training Camp practice before gameday.

Michael S. from Calgary

Hello once again! Question for you: do you think the talent level on the defense has improved since the last few years, or are we just banking on certain players [Fowler, Davidson et al.] to have much better years than before combined with a new system being run by Dean Pees?

Bair: Interesting question phrasing, Michael. I like it. Do I think the defensive talent level has improved over last year? To answer that question directly: Just a little bit. That said, I think they defense could be a lot better. Why? They have veteran leadership at safety. Fabian Moreau is steadier. The linebacker corps should be stout thanks to talent, continuity and complementary play. The front looks pretty much the same. And I, and others, have written that Dean Pees is the biggest defensive addition this past offseason. That's a scientific fact. His scheme should elevate everyone's game. And while it contains creative blitzes and uses multiple fronts, players say it's user friendly. That's a good combination.

Call for questions

That was a fun one, everybody. Let's do this again on Monday morning. In order to do that, I need you to fill up the mailbag with great questions, especially after Friday's preseason game. Ask way by using this link.

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