The Falcons did very little to address the defensive end pass rush in the offseason, instead stating a belief that the push they'll get from the interior with potential Pro Bowler Jonathan Babineaux and the '09 first-rounder Peria Jerry will be substantial.
Corey Peters was added in the draft for depth purposes and he'll be expected to come into camp to compete for a major rotational position.
Thomas Johnson returns to the Falcons after a surprising season in a starting role in 2009.
Another rookie from the '09 class, Vance Walker, and utility player Dan Klecko round out the training camp competition at defensive tackle.
With such emphasis placed on the position, the battles in camp should be compelling and AtlantaFalcons.com reviews the players involved:
Jonathan Babineaux 6th season
Who:A second-round pick in 2005, Babineaux has progressed into one of the better defensive tackles in the league. His six sacks in 2009 led the team and in his career he has 14, increasing his totals each season. Strong against the run as well as rushing the quarterback, Babineaux' consistent and steady play last season made up for lesser performances by other parts of the defense.
Why:Babineaux provides a push up the middle that is strongly needed as the defensive ends opposite Vic Beasley Jr. continue to develop. He had 25 QB pressures last season and a more consistent pass rush from the edge will mean someone is bringing down the quarterback if Babineaux produces numbers like that in 2010.
How:A leader on the line, the coaching staff will expect Babineaux to mentor some of the younger tackles in the rotation. At 28 he's in his prime and could take the next step towards Pro Bowl honors this season.
Peria Jerry 2nd season
Who:Last year's first-round pick suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2. Through two games, Jerry was beginning to show the push up the middle that he was brought to Atlanta to generate. In Week 1 he had two QB hits and in 29 snaps in Week 2's contest he generated one QB pressure. A standout performer at Ole Miss, Jerry's expected to be healthy for 2010.
Why:When healthy and paired with Babineaux, Jerry can improve the Falcons' pass rush from the middle. With Babineaux emerging and Abraham performing at a Pro Bowl level, Jerry can expect one-on-ones which allows him to utilize his quickness to knife through the middle and make plays in the backfield.
How:The Falcons won't rush Jerry back, but they need him in the lineup. He'll need to show his health is back to normal and he learned more than just how to rehab in his rookie season.
Vance Walker 2nd season
Who:A stellar junior season in 2007 at Georgia Tech earned Walker First-Team All-ACC and Third-Team All American honors, but his senior season numbers took a hit. He was still a First-Team All-ACC selection, but his draft stock lowered, allowing Atlanta to take him in the seventh round. As a part of the line rotation in his rookie season, he appeared in 10 games with one start.
Why:Based on college production, Walker shows he's got some potential to be a valuable member of the rotation in his career. Last season he showed an ability to collapse the pocket, totaling six QB pressures.
How:The competition at defensive tackle is strong, but with Walker having a season under his belt his chances are good to earn a roster spot. He'll need to show that he can take what he learned in 2009 and take a step forward.
Thomas Johnson 3rd season
Who:Signed in January 2009, Johnson showed to be one of the true finds by GM Thomas Dimitroff last season. Forced into a starting role, he finished with two sacks on the season, the first in his journey of a career.
Why:Johnson held his own last season in his 10 starts. He's a battler that has continued to focus on a career in football after being in and out of the game since 2005. His hunger to be a part of the team is one of his best assets.
How:The 6'2", 305-pound tackle will put his experience last season to good use. The competition level has been raised and Johnson will need to show the coaching staff the desire that got him to this point. But desire won't be enough; he'll also need to show more consistent play over the course of the preseason, especially against the run.
Corey Peters Rookie
Who:A smart, promising rookie the Falcons selected in 2010 in the third round, Peters was a three-year starter at Kentucky. As a senior he earned Second-Team All-SEC honors
Why:At 6'3", 300 pounds, Peters is big enough to consume blockers inside, but also quick enough to hit holes and get the quarterback moving in the pocket. A high draft pick, he's expected to enter camp ready to earn a spot in the rotation.
How:His intelligence will be put to the test. The coaching staff will expect him to have the playbook down when camp begins. If he can do that, he has the talent to rotate in as a rookie. He wasn't brought to Atlanta to be a starter right away, but provide depth at a position that requires a lot of it. He'll just need to be steady and continue to improve over the course of training camp.
Trey Lewis 3rd season
Who:Drafted in the sixth round in 2007, Lewis' career has been up and down. A promising rookie season ended early and he didn't return to the field until last season. He played in eight games in 2009, including one start.
Why:Lewis showed an ability as a rookie to be in a lot of places and do a lot of things. If fully recovered from injuries, he can continue to be a utility type on the line.
How:The 6'3", 323-pound tackle will need to first show all the health issues are in the past. He's been around the team a while and if he can put that experience to good use, he could be a surprising player in training camp. He's got a lot of competition, but he's shown he has talent, more than enough for a bottom-of-the-rotation player.
Dan Klecko 6th season
Who:One of the more interesting players on Atlanta's roster. Klecko was drafted by the Patriots in 2003 in the fourth round as a tackle. In his time there he also served as a linebacker, on special teams, and as a blocking fullback. The last two seasons he spent with the Eagles as a fullback and tackle. He was released in September and Atlanta added him in January.
Why:A player who can play a lot of positions and contribute in a lot of ways is a valuable one. Klecko is that type of player. A player like the 5'11", 275-pound former Temple star opens up roster spots for more players. Filling three roles with one body can be advantageous and a player with Klecko's pedigree can also be a valuable leader.
How:Klecko will need to be able to play his multiple positions well because he's got significant competition at all of them. His contributions on special teams and leadership will also be critical.