With Atlanta's minicamp coming to a close on Thursday, the season for reflection on what has happened begins for the coaching staff. Falcons head coach Mike Smith said the staff has spent the offseason creating matchups at positions to help them better understand the position battles that will take place in late July when training camp begins.
"We've tried to mix and match all offseason in terms of who is playing with different groups where we think there is going to be a lot of competition," Smith said. "That's something we wanted to get our hands around before we opened up training camp."
One area that will be highly contested is the defensive line. In addition to the defensive line, Smith said the offensive line, two groups that employ the largest number of players, will be the areas on the roster that may experience some of the most turnover and scrutiny.
"The two areas that I think we're going to have the most competition and the biggest battles is going to be on the offensive and defensive line," Smith said on Thursday. "I think we have some depth at both of those positions and it's going to be interesting to evaluate those guys. We've got somewhat of an evaluation process through these OTAs and minicamp, but when we go compete in pads, it's going to be a completely different animal."
With the return of John Abraham at defensive end opposite last year's starter and free-agent acquisition Ray Edwards, the starters at end appear set on paper. Behind them are Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury, holdovers from recent years and players continuing to develop. Biermann in particular offers excellent value as a special teams player as well. Second-year end Cliff Matthews returned to minicamp practice after being held out of OTAs with an injury. Joanthan Massaquoi, a fifth-round pick this season, is also in the mix. College free agent Louis Nzegwu rounds out the potential ends.
Smith said specifically much of the competition on the D-line will come from the defensive tackle position. There are currently six tackles on the roster and the competition will dwindle that number at a position that is rotation intensive.
"I think at the defensive tackle there is going to be competition," Smith said. "Again, when you start talking about the defensive line, you're not talking about the four starters, you're talking about the seven starters. That's more of the competition. I think it's pretty evident who the starters are going to be. I think it's going to be more for the guys that are going to be in the rotation and not necessarily taking as many snaps as the guys that start the game, but they will take significant snaps in the ball game."
Long-time starter Jonathan Babineaux figures to continue his run as a starter. Last year's starter, Corey Peters, has missed all activity this offseason as he rehabs from an injury. Smith has said in recent weeks that he anticipates Peters will be able to return by training camp. The Falcons' 2009 first-round pick, Peria Jerry, has been taking many of the snaps in Peters place this offseason.
Vance Walker, '12 seventh-round pick Travian Robertson and college free agent Micanor Regis round out the competition at tackle.