It's become clear that the Falcons still very much consider themselves to be in "win now" mode. Even after the team jettisoned a number of established veterans this offseason, Atlanta remains poised to do some damage in the regular season and beyond (we hope).
But given that the Falcons cut starters John Abraham, Michael Turner, Dunta Robinson, along with letting Brent Grimes sign with Miami and watching Todd McClure announce his retirement, there are some spots on the roster that need someone to step forward in 2013. Or to rise up, rather (Mr. Jackson insisted).
My five, in no particular order:
DE Osi Umenyiora
Atlanta's most recent free agent signing is perhaps the only established pass-rusher on the roster. And in case the images of Russell Wilson standing in the pocket for ten-plus seconds have escaped your memory, I'm here to remind you of those instances. The Falcons' pass-rush was very hit-or-miss down the stretch. Osi needs to make a lasting impact this season.
CB Desmond Trufant
This one is a no-brainer. The Falcons traded up in the first to grab Trufant, who will attempt to replace Grimes / Robinson at corner, opposite of Asante Samuel. He looks to be a week-one starter, and should be tested early and often. The season opener against the rival Saints could be a real baptism by fire for Trufant.
OT Sam Baker
Baker has pulled quite the Jekyll/Hide transformation throughout his career with the Falcons. As a rookie, he was a promising young prospect who performed reasonably well. Then his play went downhill, partially due to injury. Then in 2012, he was all like "hey guys, I can start in the NFL, promise *wink*" And so Thomas Dimitroff offered Baker a six-year, $41.4 million contract. The pressure's on for him to live up to that contract. But which Baker will we see?
LB Stephen Nicholas
Nicholas was often labeled the scapegoat on defense last season. He had a tough time covering tight ends down the stretch, and he's never been a staunch run-defender at linebacker. Part of this could relate to the sports hernia surgery he underwent this offseason. The Falcons neither drafted nor signed a veteran linebacker, clearly a sign of support for the 30 year-old journeyman, and they look to rely on him just as much in the upcoming season.
OT Lamar Holmes
In a surprising move, the Falcons released veteran right tackle Tyson Clabo to clear up cap space. In doing so, the team all but painted a billboard in Flowery Branch that reads "Lamar Holmes is our starter." His only competition at that spot looks to be Mike Johnson, who has yet to sniff a starting spot since the Alabama product was drafted in the third round. My money is on Holmes to really impress in camp this summer.
Those are my five. Agree? Disagree? Let's hear it, because I'm not ESPN and thus do not tell you what to think.