Falcons head coach Mike Smith said during the 2013 offseason that some positions this year will experience the most competition for jobs that he's seen since his rookie season in 2008. Spots like cornerback and on the right side of the offensive line will undergo plenty of scrutiny this camp season, but what else should you look for if you were to visit camp to take in a practice?
Here are five items from around the field to keep your eye on during the 2013 Russell Athletic Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.
5. The Deep Ball: The Falcons showed last season they're committed to the passing game. The offense should have a steady running game this year, but everyone digs the long ball. During camp, watch the 11-on-11 drills for the deep ball. It won't happen on every play, but it's a thing of beauty when you see it. Most notably, watch the connection from Ryan to third-year receiver Julio Jones, who looks ready to take his dominance to the next level.
4. Tony's Final Camp: Tony Gonzalez said there was a small chance that last season wouldn't be his last and it turns out, despite everyone's assumptions, it wasn't. Gonzalez returns for one more final year this season and while he's said this one will in fact be his last, we get the greatness of the future Hall of Famer for one last time. How often Gonzalez is at camp or participates is still unknown, but if you're lucky enough to be at a practice he's participating in, soak it all in.
3. Defensive Ends: There's no tackling at training camp practices, but you can still see what would have been in live game action. Action along the offensive and defensive line is hard to gauge when the players aren't going at full speed, but you will be able to notice when a defensive end gets a jump and is in the backfield for a sure sack. It's exciting to see because you know the end got where he needed to be. Newcomer Osi Umenyiora will be fun to watch during camp on and off the field. On the field, watch as he utilizes a variety of moves to get to the quarterback and off the field watch as he mentors some of the young defensive ends the Falcons are going with this year. Cliff Matthews has bulked up to increase versatility, Jonathan Massaquoi is ready to take a leap in his second year and rookies Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga are interesting projects. Goodman is an athletic freak worth seeing with your own eyes and Maponga, out with an injury during the offseason, is ready to unleash his pass rushing skills for the first time during camp.
2. Steven Jackson Running: The tempo at camp is taken up a notch from the offseason tempo and one of the players that will likely stand out in that tempo is new running back Steven Jackson. At 6-foot-2, Jackson is a bigger back and when you first see him, you'll think he's a linebacker lined up with the wrong position group. Watch closely as he runs with the ball. He runs with his size well and he's fun to watch. His speed is still deceptive and it's not an exaggeration to say he runs like a Clydesdale horse, graceful and full of power. His open field moves aren't full of jukes and twists, but rather more calculated cuts that can embarrass a defender. You'll be watching one of the game's best for the last decade still running at a high level.
1. Alford and Trufant: These two young players will be noticeable on the field because they combine the hungriness of youth with the competitive nature of a vet, influenced no doubt by the veteran Asante Samuel. At cornerback these two rookies, Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant, will run, leap and swat passes away and they do so with flair. Trufant especially has a little entertainment flair in his play and after a big knock down or interception, you'll see for the first time in a Falcons uniform Trufant's brand of celebration. Alford and Trufant are close on and off the field and while they're competing for a starting job at CB, you'll notice their discussions off to the side when not on the field. You may also notice extra coaching on these guys and Smith has already said they're going to get plenty of chances to compete with the team's top players. These are both good signs that the Falcons like their young cornerback pair and when you see them in action, you'll understand why.