Competition. How many times have we heard Arthur Smith say that word over the course of this offseason?
Maybe a billion.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
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The Falcons head coach is setting a tone for this summer's training camp, stating, in no uncertain terms, that roles must be earned on a team in transition. There aren't many locks on the depth chart, leaving key positions open to a gauntlet throw.
We'll see incumbents and challengers go at it during this summer, fighting for significant roles, whether they're in the starting lineup or not. And, yes, that'll include quarterback for the first time since Matt Ryan was drafted back in 2008.
All that leads to our question of the week: which position battle are you most excited to see?
That can include starting jobs or rotational roles, mind you. Since I focused on the offensive line in a previous roundtable – P.S. it's Scott writing this witty-as-heck introduction. Hi Tori!!! (hand-waving emoji) -- this time I'll head to the other side of the ball and zero in on…
Scott: Edge Rushers
The Falcons hit a hard reset on this position group, and for good reason. They only had 18 sacks last year and had a tough time even doing the basic things right. The baseline requirements for this gig: set a proper edge in run defense and don't let the quarterback escape the pocket. That proved to be a struggle in 2021. On top of that, the Falcons only had 18 sacks. That's less that TJ Watt had on his own. In two words: not great.
That's why Dante Fowler and Steven Means weren't retained, and why the Falcons drafted not one, but two, edge rushers this year. They also signed 26-year-old University of Georgia product Lorenzo Carter, who will have a real opportunity to start and play significant snaps. He's my breakout candidate on this roster, someone who could thrive in Dean Pees' scheme.
Who plays opposite him could be a collaboration. I know folks are penciling second-round pick Arnold Ebiketie for a three-down role, but I'd pump the brakes a bit on that. He still needs to prove himself this summer, and will receive a stiff challenge from Ade Ogundeji. Tori brought this up on our latest podcast: outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said last year that Ogundeji could be a bell cow for this defense. That's certainly a possibility given Ogundeji's frame and athleticism. The Notre Dame product could be a factor in 2022 as a regular off the edge. He and Ebiketie will go at it no doubt, but let's not discount DeAngelo Malone.
The third-round pick could be a sub-package pass rusher, using his speed and relentless energy to get after the quarterback on passing downs. We'll find out this summer just how ready he is, and how this position group shakes out.
Tori: Offensive line
Look. I know. I know. This probably isn't the position group you wanted me to talk about. BUT HERE I AM. Talking about it, because without the offensive line secured no one - and I do mean no one - can operate at optimal level in this offense.
Is it possible the same five linemen we saw last year are the ones we will see together again come Week 1 of the season? Yes. It is possible. But I want to see the process to get there, because I want to see this group fight for their spots.
I think we all know Chris Lindstrom and Jake Matthews' spots are secure. You don't extend them if they're not. However, everyone else? Let's see some competition.
Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman will be the competitors of the center position. Though we can't tell hardly anything about the line of scrimmage through minicamp, we could see that Hennessy and Dalman were heavily rotated at the position throughout 11-on-11 portions of practices. One could assume this will continue to happen in training camp.
As for Kaleb McGary and Jalen Mayfield, the Falcons will do their due diligence to push them as well. The organization brought in Elijah Wilkinson and Germain Ifedi during one of the first free agency waves. Those two didn't come to Atlanta to play backup roles. They're former starters in and of their own right, having experience at both the tackle and guard position.
Then, there's unknown future signees that the Falcons could bring in as cut downs happen across the league when training camp gets underway. Arthur Smith has said the Falcons plan to add reinforcements to both lines of scrimmage. Who do they have their eyes on? And how much can they push for a starting job?
There are a lot of moving parts that I, for one, am interested in seeing settle.
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