FLOWERY BRANCH, GA— Falcons head coach Mike Smith had a lot to keep his eyes on as training camp got underway Friday morning. Coming off the franchise's first back-to-back winning seasons, hopes are high among Falcons fans that Smith can make it three in a row.
That's a lot to focus on.
Perhaps one of the biggest keys to reaching those expectations is making very difficult decisions on positions that are up for grabs. With players battling it out for a coveted starting spot at several positions, Smith can't help but notice one of particular importance: the right cornerback spot, opposite of Dunta Robinson.
"I think it's going to be one of the most competitive position battles that we have," Smith said. "Obviously, Dunta will be one starter, but we've got three guys who obviously are going to be competing with Brian Williams, Brent Grimes and Christopher Owens, and then you also have to throw in Chevis Jackson and Dominique Franks. It's going to be a big battle, but you can never have too much depth there in the secondary.
"Those guys know that they're in battles and they're going to come out each and every day to work. We're going to pick, in our judgment, who's going to be the best guy."
Robinson, who was picked up by the Falcons as a free agent in March, is the clear starter on the left side. Being so new to defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's system, Robinson is focusing on the job that he has to do to get ready for the season.
That doesn't mean he isn't interesting in learning who is right side counterpart is going to be.
"That's a great battle. Competition is always a great thing and it always makes guys play even harder," Robinson said. "(All) of those guys are going to battle. (All) of those guys are going to play well, so whichever guy comes out in the end victorious is the one that deserves to play."
With only one practice under their belts, it may be a while before a clear favorite for the position emerges.
That the battle is being so scrutinized has everyone competing for the position focused. Owens, who played in all 16 games last year and started the final six games of the season at the left cornerback position, said his experience from last year has helped prepare him for the intensity of the position battle.
"I love all my teammates, and I'm sure they love me. We're a family," Owens said. "But on the field, it's about a job, it's about winning that battle. Off the field, we're all cool."
The cornerbacks are focused on the big things, like coverage schemes and fully understanding the playbook. But with a battle that could be very close by the end of training camp, Owens said the little things are what is going to matter more.
"They're going to matter a lot," he said. "The fundamentals matter a lot. We've got to be sharp on the fundamentals, because the small things win football games."