With the addition of Tony Gonzales the Falcons are stacked on offense. Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, Tony G, Jerious Norwood, Michael Jenkins and Ovie Mughalli are their main weapons. Outside of seeing who will secure the #3 and #4 Wide Receiver spots the offense is pretty much sewn up. The defensive side of the football is the exact opposite as some jobs are wide open and others have rookies and young players looking to lock up starting positions. Here is a look at the main things I will be watching during tomorrow’s game against the Lions:
Chris Houston is locked in at one corner but there are a bunch of guys who legitimately could see playing time at corner this year. Small but feisty Brent Grimes right now is leading to start at the other corner spot. He’s only 5’10 but everyone keeps saying how he is the most athletic guy on the entire team. The other contenders are Von Hutchins (veteran who was hurt all last year and will probably play a lot of nickel), Chevis Jackson (2nd year man out of LSU who came on strong towards the end of last year), William Middleton (5’9” rookie out of Furman), and Christopher Owens (rookie out of San Jose State). CB is definitely a position of weakness on the team but there are a lot of guys jockeying for playing time so there is a chance that one or two of these guys can step up and play a solid CB along side Chris Houston. Grimes and Jackson saw the field last year and know the system so that will only help them in their quest to hold off the rookies.
Lawyer Milloy was not brought back after some lackluster play against Arizona in the playoffs and Erik Coleman has been moved from Free Safety over to Strong Safety to take his spot. The Free Safety spot was expected to be a battle between 2nd Round Pick William Moore and 2nd year player Thomas DeCoud (3rd Round Pick out of California last year). Moore got hurt in practice and he is going to be out for around 3-4 weeks which paves the way for DeCoud to take the starting job. I will have a keen eye on what he does in this game and in the pre-season. Veterans Antonie Harris and Jamaal Fudge could also see action here but I would really prefer they stay on Special Teams.
Keith Brooking has moved on (much like Lawyer, Brooking had a memorably poor game against Arizona in the playoffs last year) and Michael Boley fell out of favor with the new regime and has been exiled to New York. I think the LB corps are going to be better this year than they were last year. We have Curtis Lofton in the middle in his 2nd year and we added veterans Mike Peterson and Jamie Winborn to play Weakside Linebacker. The guy that’s really going to make or break this LB unit is Stephen Nicholas. Nicholas is a 3rd year player out of South Florida that is looking to break out this year. He hasn’t played much but he has all the physical tools and seems like he could really be a play-maker with Lofton and Peterson playing beside him. Coy Wire will be challenging Nicholas for the starting job. Wire beat out Boley for the starting job towards the end of the year last year and he provides a solid stop gap if Nicholas doesn’t develop as quickly as I hope he does.
John Abraham is one of the best rushers in the league and the new regime doesn’t have him out on the field every play and it’s actually helped him be more productive. On the other side of Abraham we have the tandem of Jamaal Anderson and Chauncey Davis. Anderson is a borderline bust from the Petrino era. This is his make it or break it year. If Anderson can’t make a difference I am comfortable with Davis and I think Davis will push for the starters spot during the pre-season. Kroy Biermann is a 2nd year player that showed a lot of promise last year as a quick down hill rusher and rookie Lawrence Sidbury of Richmond will also look to get some playing time when Abraham is not on the field.
Number One draft pick Peria Jerry will be replacing BIG Grady Jackson and I’m really looking forward to seeing him play. I also want to see what the depth is like at this position. Jonathon Babineaux is a very underrated player but outside of him there aren’t a lot of proven guys on the line.
That’s a rundown of what I am most interested in watching when the Falcons take the field against the Lions in the first pre-season game of the year. Of course I’m looking forward to Matty Ice lofting TD passes to Tony G but the offense looks stacked and the defense has gotten a lot younger but also a lot faster and I’m eager to see how it plays out on the field. With Harry Douglas’s injury it will also be interesting to see who is tabbed as the Punt Returner and as always I will be cheering for former UGA players DJ Shockley and Thomas Brown as they look to make the team and move up the depth chart.