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Question of the Week: What is the biggest question facing the Falcons defense in 2024? 

The Falcons have a new defensive coordinator in Jimmy Lake, which raises some questions about a new-look defense next season.  

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons defense made positive strides last season, yet there's still more progress that can be made.

In 2022, the Falcons were ranked No. 23 in points allowed and No. 27 in yards allowed among the NFL. In 2023, those rankings went up to 18th and 11th, respectively. A top-10 marker would be the next step in those overall categories.

That prompts the latest Question of the Week: What is the biggest question facing the Falcons defense in 2024? The Falcons editorial staff of Terrin Waack and Amna Subhan answer below. Tori McElhaney is on vacation and therefore sitting this one out.

Atlanta Falcons inside linebacker Troy Andersen #44 during OTAs at Atlanta Falcons Training Facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

WAACK: How are the Falcons going to roll out their inside linebackers? That position group is stacked with talent.

Kaden Elliss is a proven starter, doing so since he came to Atlanta in 2023. Nate Landman proved himself as one last season, too, as he filled in the role full-time from Week 4 on. Troy Andersen was poised to continue proving himself last year, but a season-ending injury in Week 3 derailed those plans.

Now, in 2024, all three are back – and healthy. That's great for the Falcons. But there is a caveat that makes it interesting.

Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake has said Atlanta will run a base 3-4 defense, which normally features two inside linebackers.

Well, head coach Raheem Morris has also said there's a possibility that rule is scratched and all three are sent out onto the field at the same time.

"You get creative," Morris said. "You get innovative."

Teases like that pique my interest. My question here is more out of curiosity than concern.

Because it gets even better when you remember a certain someone the Falcons drafted: inside linebacker JD Bertrand. He was their fifth-round pick back in April. General manager Terry Fontenot was very excited about Bertrand, calling him "a smart, instinctive football player."

The Falcons then also have Milo Eifler and Donavan Mutin to consider.

There is so much depth in this position room.

You can read more about that "awesome problem" the Falcons have when it comes to inside linebacker group here.

Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dee Alford #20 during offseason workouts at Atlanta Falcons Training Facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Monday, May 6, 2024. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

SUBHAN: There has been a lot of quarterback talk at the front end of this offseason, but cornerback will be a continual question until it's answered next season. Who will start opposite A.J. Terrell?

So far, the Falcons are closely evaluating what they have in the room already after not selecting a defensive back in the 2024 NFL Draft and signing just a few veteran guys early in free agency. Secondary coach Justin Hood and assistant head coach/defense Jerry Gray do believe in the options available to them, though.

"We got a lot of young guys that are out competing for that spot," Gray said. "That's what we try to tell them, 'Look, there is nothing in pen, your job is to go out and compete every day and let us make a decision on what you can do who's going to be the next guys sitting next to A.J."

Through offseason open practices, we've seen Mike Hughes get some reps alongside Terrell. Then, when Terrell did not participate in workouts two weeks ago, Clark Phillips III stepped up.

Phillips also stepped up at the end of last season, starting five games to finish his rookie year, so it's not a surprise to see him getting first-team opportunities again in the present. Head coach Raheem Morris said he really likes what Phillips has displayed this offseason, especially since the cornerback recently had a pick-six during non-contact scrimmage.

"You love the nature of the human, he's just built for football and you can just tell," Morris said. "I'm sure he goes to the grocery store thinking about football. He's got a little bit of alien to him in that way. That's what I love about that young man."

So, there are options, and the Falcons will continue to look at them as we draw closer to training camp. I'm very curious as to who will get those starting reps with Terrell next week during mandatory minicamp if everyone is present and accounted for.

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