The Falcons starting lineup is not set. Far from it, in fact.
It won't be for some time, with openings unfilled during AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp. We'll see frontrunners emerge the farther into the summer we go, with some uncertain spots locking up over time.
We've seen some movement already. Some position battles expected after the offseason program have already lost their drama. Others will emerge over this early span, and we'll chronicle them all during this weekly series on Falcons position battles. We'll add and subtract battles from the board, and update status of those ongoing.
Let's get to it. Here are the top five, all for starting gigs this time, you should keep tabs on as we go through camp.
Fabian Moreau vs. Kendall Sheffield vs. Isaiah Oliver vs. Darren Hall
A.J. Terrell is going to start at one outside cornerback spot. You already know that. The other gig opposite him isn't nearly as certain at this point, though Fabian Moreau has been a first-teamer over the first two camp practices. He should be considered a frontrunner to start, though Kendall Sheffield will certainly push to overtake him.
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Then there's the issue at this spot. Who moves to the slot in sub packages? If Moreau does that, who steps outside? Or if Moreau starts and stay near a sideline? Isaiah Oliver has experience playing in both spots but has struggled in the pros. Darren Hall's an unknown we'll have to keep an eye on here.
There's a lot left to sort out at cornerback and more practice observation should give us a clearer picture of who will earn important roles.
Kaleb McGary vs. Jalen Mayfield
This one wasn't really on the radar during the offseason program. Back then, Kaleb McGary seemed like a slam dunk to start at the position he has manned since being drafted No. 31 overall in 2019. An injury has allowed rookie Jalen Mayfield to play there a bunch, dating back to the offseason program. He has been the first-team right tackle during the early stages of camp with McGary on the physically unable to perform list.
Head coach Arthur Smith said McGary could come off PUP relatively soon, and it will be interesting to see how the first-team reps break down once the incumbent returns. McGary has shown flashes of solid play but has been somewhat inconsistent his first two NFL seasons. Mayfield is a tough, versatile player who was a tackle at Michigan but could play inside or outside in the pros. He'll get a real shot at right tackle and could give McGary a real run at the starting job.
Matt Hennessy vs. Drew Dalman
Matt Hennessy is a frontrunner here. He was drafted last year as a hopeful successor to Alex Mack, one of the best there is and who is now a 49er. Chris Lindstrom said Friday that Hennessy has improved significantly since his rookie year. He took most first-team reps during the offseason program but starting quarterback Matt Ryan has taken snaps from Hennessy and Drew Dalman.
Dalman was also drafted a year later by the regime currently evaluating these competitions, so that might help the Stanford alum. It seems Dalman has an uphill battle to catch Hennessy right away, all while learning a new scheme at a demanding position in his first NFL season. That might be tough to overcome, but it will be interesting to see how wins this over the long run and becomes a permanent answer.
Dante Fowler vs. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner vs. Steven Means
There are three players here likely manning two spots. At least most of the time, depending on Dean Pees' schematics. Dante Fowler seems like an obvious starter here considering the former No. 3 overall pick had one season with 11.5 sacks and another with eight. He struggled last year, and Smith said Thursday Fowler knows he has to earn a role.
Steven Means can play outside from Fowler's spot and has done so with the Florida alum on the COVID-19 list. Brandon Copeland as worked some going forward early in camp. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner has been working from the opposite edge, though it's uncertain exactly how things will shake out once Fowler gets back. It seems he'll have every shot to earn a major role once he returns healthy, but it won't be handed to him.
Erik Harris vs. Duron Harmon vs. Richie Grant vs. Jaylinn Hawkins
Erik Harris and Duron Harmon seem to be clear-cut starters at this incredibly early stage. It would take a significant push, in combination with some unexpected struggles from the favorites, to change things up to start the season. Richie Grant's a respected second-round pick who could force the coaching staff's hand regarding his role. He's pretty darn good and could prove to be a real asset if he ascends as a pro. Hawkins got some experience in 2020 and could be a factor again this year.
Harris and Harmon can bring some calm to the group, and maybe some turnovers as well. Those guys are going to be hard to unseat to start the year, but the younger players could get more involved over time as the Falcons try to find the right combination on defense.
Linebacker Deion Jones has a fresh look on the field as he's traded his blue visor in for gold. Here are the best images from Day 2 of AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.
2021 AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp: Dirty Birds Open Practice
WHEN: August 7th
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Stadium
TIME: 2:00 PM ET
The 2021 AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp: Dirty Birds Open Practice entertainment, including cheerleaders, drumline and Atlanta Falcons Legends, will kick-off when gates open and fans are encouraged to arrive early to enjoy Mercedes-Benz Stadium's award-winning food & beverage experience offering fan-first prices.
Tickets for the open practice at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be $5 each and all proceeds will go to the Emory Healthcare's research and discovery programs.
Due to the current NFL protocols around COVID-19, there will not be opportunities for player autographs.
Stay tuned here for more information!