The Atlanta Falcons Enter The Season: Of Cuts And Hope

The cuts have been chronicled, and the travels and travails of those who fell from grace here in Atlanta have been capably discussed by my armored co-blogger. In simpler language, we're done there.

What I want to focus on today is the guys who survived the bloody weekend, the "final" 53 who probably aren't actually all that final. By the time you see this post, I'll be dreaming of playoff berths and the Falcons might take someone else behind the woodshed in favor of Brian Williams. This, instead, will be a look at those who stand to gain from the cuts and those who are in difficult spots, either because of the team's recent transactions or their particular skillset.

As you might imagine, you can find the bulk of this post after the jump. Just don't sprain your ankle on the way over, alright?

OFFENSE

A Winner Is You: John Parker Wilson, who watched D.J. Shockley give the ball to the defense in a thoughtful and heartful gesture, took copious notes, mixed chemicals in a lab and learned not to throw interceptions or fumble, damnit! I stand by my earlier comments that JPW does not have the physical toolset necessary to really climb up a depth chart, but he plays very careful football and will make an excellent backup as long as he does that. If Redman moves on in a year or two and JPW gets better, he might actually take that spot.

Oh Noes! You Lose: Verron Haynes, who survived the initial roster cuts but isn't going to see very many carries buried behind Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling. Early indications are that he won the job because he's better at pass blocking than Thomas Brown, which would seem to be less relevant for a fourth running back than specials teams value, but Brown is only a call away. The veteran will have to leverage his strong skills and provide value when he does get the rock to fend off the young guy, a tough proposition in such limited playing time.

Winner Winner: Eric Weems, who won the support of the coaching staff by making a few nice grabs and proving he's pretty decent in returns. To be a fifth or even fourth receiver in this league, you must add special teams value, and Weems has fought his way onto this team fiercely. He won't get many chances to catch passes, but if he does well when the ball leaves the tee he's a mortal lock to finish the year with the Falcons. If there are any injuries, I'm reasonably confident the guy can make things happen in the slot.

To Lose, To Suffer: Marty Booker. Even though he's most assuredly ahead of Weems on the depth chart, his chances of surviving the season unscatched aren't nearly as good as his younger counterpart. Booker still has something left as a pass catcher and would be valuable if anybody goes down, but a healthy roster can't carry a guy with negligible special teams value forever in a fourth receiver role. Maybe I'm underestimating the guy and he'll prove to be versatile, but somehow I don't think so.

Winning Ain't Easy: Big ups to Keith Zinger, a man's man if there ever was one. When he didn't make the team after being drafted late in 2008, he went into the Canadian wilderness, slew many bears with his bare hands and made his own shelter out of rocks and discarded Labatt Blue bottles. He emerged a much more complete tight end than the pass-blocking specialist who the Falcons got last year and held on against prototype third tight end Jason Rader. With two very capable pass-catchers in front of him, he won't get much action this year, but he's a promising player who could have an expanded role in the future.

No Rest For The Weary: The offensive line, which absolutely must avoid injuries this year. I like the promise of guys like Will Svitek and Garrett Reynolds, but I wouldn't necessarily bank on them being able to carry the team for a sustained period this year. With a very stout offense that thrives with a little time, the Falcons really can't afford to give up valuable milliseconds that could result in Matt Ryan speculating about the patterns on the Georgia Dome roof. If this line is in great shape, beautiful. If not, it could get ugly.

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS

The Land Of Pass Rushing: Peria Jerry, come on down! You've been selected to single-handedly lead our flagging pass rush in the year ahead! You'll be tutored by John Abraham, one of the finest to ever wear a Falcon uniform, and Jonathan Babineaux, who is p. Your companions on this once-in-a-lifetime trip will be Chauncey Davis and Jamaal Anderson, both fighting for a job with young whippersnappers like Kroy Biermann and Lawrency Sidbury. Does that sound crowded? No worries--none of the defensive tackles behind are being counted on to pass rush, so this enormous task falls squarely on your giant shoulders. Ready to be a hero? I think so!

The Two-Headed Defensive End: Davis and Anderson, who are in the unenviable position of battling with one another and fending off two young players who made a real push this off-season. Anderson is probably stronger against the run and Davis against the pass, but neither has been a standout during their careers thus far, and Anderson in particular is playing for his job this season. Early struggles could lead to extended stays on the bench for one or both, and chances are very good one of them is going to freefall down the depth chart before Week 17.

Hold The Line(backer): To all three starting linebackers, who saw their most substantial competition for minutes disappear with the cuts. With Jamie Winborn gone, in particular, both Stephen Nicholas and Mike Peterson seem ready to get monster minutes. Coy Wire can do some damage in a pinch but likely won't sniff starter minutes without an injury, and Spencer Adkins isn't even a lock to get on the field on defense this season. Curtis Lofton, as we all know, is a dimension-skipping devourer of time and space who has no competition, even from himself.

Cornered: Chris Houston and Brent Grimes, who are going to be looking over their shoulders off the field to an inordinate degree. While Chris Owens and Chevis Jackson fight for roster spots, both these young corners will be clinging to their starting spots while the coaching staff determines what they have in Tye Hill and Brian Williams. Williams could also rob some time from Thomas DeCoud if he isn't careful, so there's a lot of recently drafted or signed guys who have good reason to be skittish. If nobody steps up in the early going, you could be looking at a Hill and Williams tandem by much earlier than mid-season.

Kicker, Punter, Soldier, Spy: Hard to call either Jason Elam or Michael Koenen winners or losers, honestly, because they're both in the same positions they've always been in. What does benefit both is the likely strength of the special teams unit, which with Koenen's laser-guided punts and Elam's boot should have no problem doing some real damage against enemy returns. Of course, it goes without saying that both are as solid as they come...but will they ever find true happiness in such a lonely profession?

So that's a rough rundown, I guess, of how some of the battles shook out and what is still to come. If you've got suggestions on more positions that need to be covered. If not, I'll soak in your praise and adulation any time you're ready.

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