With Russell Athletic Training Camp only a few days away, we'll begin the march to camp with "Camp 101," a daily look at what any Falcons fan should know about the team heading into the all-important period before the season. Today, we look at five players that are flying under the radar a bit for the 2012 Falcons. They may not be superstars and they may not impact every single game, but their roles on the roster will be valuable.
5) Antone Smith: After a strong preseason last year, Smith made the final 53-man roster. The Falcons carried five backs last year (one fullback and four running backs) and though Smith wasn't always active on gameday, he made the most of his chances when he was. He didn't get any carries on offense, but he was valuable on special teams, recording seven tackles. Smith also has an outside shot at winning the kick return job. Smith has blazing speed and there's a good chance he'll be able to put that to good use for the Falcons during camp.
4) Kerry Meier: An injury blanked his rookie year in 2010 and Meier didn't have a lot of opportunities to do much on offense last season. With no catches on the year, his most valuable role was on special teams. He's in good health this year, a full season removed from the injury and the rehab and a new and more diverse offensive scheme could make good use of Meier's sure hands and football smarts. As a backup to Atlanta's top three receivers, Meier fills the important job of being ready if an injury occurs at the top. He's what they call "valuable depth". He may only get 30 catches this season, but he'll do a lot of different things for the Falcons.
3) Mike Johnson: Injuries have slowed the 2010 draft pick and it seems that everyone has forgotten the praise the Falcons received for snagging a two-time All American lineman in the third round. Injuries are new to Johnson, the owner of the Alabama record for playing in 54 games and also started in 41 consecutive games. A new voice in offensive line coach Pat Hill may do some good for Johnson. While everyone is talking about the right guard battle looming between a number of different players, Johnson is left out of the discussion. He could also be very valuable as a cross-trained right tackle.
2) Akeem Dent: With the recent news of the injury to Lofa Tatupu, the spotlight on Dent may grow and take him a little beyond under-the-radar status. A competition was expected to take place for the middle linebacker position between Dent and Tatupu. While Tatupu is out, Dent is suddenly Atlanta's best option in the middle. Under Mike Nolan's defensive scheme less emphasis is placed on the middle linebacker, especially on passing downs, but Dent will still be needed to fill a major run-defender role. Additionally, Dent was the team's best special teams tackler last season and if he can do double duty this year, he'll prove himself to be extremely valuable.
1) Lawrence Sidbury: Nolan loves to bring the pressure on the quarterback and he loves to do it in a variety of ways with a variety of players. While John Abraham, Ray Edwards and Kroy Biermann get a lot of the attention at defensive end, Sidbury has quietly been developing since being selected in the fourth round in 2009. Sidbury's four sacks last year in very limited time was tied for second on the Falcons. With much of the focus on the defensive tackle battle and the production of the bigger-named ends, Sidbury is the epitome of the under-the-radar player for the Falcons. A step into the seven- or eight-sack range would not be out of the question for the fourth-year end and that would be very valuable for Atlanta.