The Falcons began OTAs yesterday, but as media is allowed to attend today, we'll get more concrete reports about how everyone is faring. In anticipation of that, it's time to talk position battles.
The Falcons have several positions more or less locked down,
#1: Outside Linebacker
It's impossible to break this down any further. As Murf noted yesterday, Weatherspoon has to be viewed as the early favorite for starting weak-side outside linebacker, though he could still kick inside at times. Beyond that, there are far more question marks than easy answers.
Is Kroy Biermann healthy? Can the rookies beat out guys like Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow? Will Worrilow or Bartu be considered for inside linebacker instead? Will Jonathan Massaquoi stand up and rush the passer outside, and will he have real competition for a starting gig on the strong side? These are all questions that need to be answered in the months ahead, obviously, but you shouldn't expect even those answers to be very cut and dry. Everyone's going to play.
Right now, I'd view 'Spoon, Biermann, Stansley Maponga, Mass, Bartu, Osi Umenyiora, Prince Shembo, Tyler Starr and perhaps Marquis Spruill as contenders for snaps outside, which is a crazy logjam even when you don't consider that the Falcons have UDFAs who will be competing for spots. There will be multiple cuts in this group.
#2: Inside Linebacker
Linebacker is really unsettled, eh? The Falcons have fewer options here, at least on paper, but the competition will be all the more fierce because there's not a standout player in the group.
Paul Worrilow, Yawin Smallwood, Akeem Dent, Marquis Spruill and perhaps Bartu should be involved in the competition. As many of you have noted while throwing bricks through my office window, Worrilow has to be considered a favorite for one spot, and it's probably too early to rule out Akeem Dent. I do think Spruill and Smallwood will push hard for roster spots, if not significant roles.
It's fair to argue that this is going to be one of the team's great weaknesses, so we'll be looking hard for signs that one or more of these players will step up.
#3: Free Safety
I'm not overly concerned about Dezmen Southward's deal not being done to this point. There's no sign of acrimony in the form of leaks from his agent or the team, and I haven't detected a whiff that this is going to draft out much longer. He'll be competing early.
The question is whether he'll win. The Falcons will trot out Dwight Lowery, Sean Baker, Kemal Ishmael and (if he's healthy) Zeke Motta, but only Southward and Lowery are serious contenders for the gig in 2014. Lowery has the experience and a track record of competent safety play in the NFL, while Southward is the kid with a ton of athletic ability and promise, but a lot of bumpy edges to his game.
My money's on Lowery at the moment, but I bet Southward will make it interesting.
#4: Running Back
No, Devonta Freeman probably isn't going to beat out Steven Jackson, but he and Jacquizz Rodgers should be duking it out for the right to back up S-Jax. Freeman's the early favorite, but Rodgers has real value for the passing game and will be looking to put up some numbers with his rookie contract expiring heading into 2015.
The biggest question for Freeman will be whether he can block. Rodgers, despite his height, is a fearsome blocker and pass catcher, so that's an early advantage. There's little question Freeman's going to be the better runner, however, at least in my mind.
#5: Left Tackle
This might seem like an odd choice, given that the Falcons have already declared that Sam Baker is their LT and BFF and such. Yet I have to believe Jake Matthews is getting an honest shot, at the very least, and that's a position battle I want to see. Even if the outcome feels fated.
Share your top battles in the comments. Consider this your open thread for today's OTAs, as well.