When the first week of the season arrived, the Falcons were trotting out Joplo Bartu as a starting inside linebacker, Robert McClain as the starting nickel back and Steven Jackson as the clear-cut lead dog in the running back rotation. After Sunday, we're seeing that change.
Injuries and ineffectiveness have forced personnel changes, but it's noteworthy that others are coming slowly—painfully slowly—without that impetus. The Falcons had Josh Wilson at the nickel on Sunday, and while he was hardly a revelation there, he made a couple of plays and tackled ugly but well. Prince Shembo has replaced Bartu entirely as the starter and is faring reasonably well for a rookie fourth rounder. Steven Jackson continues to take the bulk of the carries, but week-to-week, his snap count is actually going down as the Falcons carve out a little more room for Devonta Freeman and Jacquizz Rodgers' pass protection.
The Shembo over Bartu change is likely to kickstart Shembo's growth curve, and I think he'll be a fine player. Wilson over McClain may represent some small short-term upgrade. S-Jax is likely gone in 2015 one way or the other, so getting snaps for other players makes a whole lot of sense, however gradually.
The changes we really want to see—Kroy Biermann's snaps going to Jonathan Massaquoi, deploying defenders differently across the front four and, perhaps, juggling the offensive line to get Ryan Schraeder at right tackle—appear to be a ways off, barring a mass firing that will lead to a different coaching staff handling the reins. The changes we are seeing at least give us faint hopes that we'll see the changes we've been clamoring for.
This suggests that the coaching staff is not completely adverse to change, but disagrees strongly with our relative assessments of players like Mass and, say, Corey Peters up front. We'll have to hope either their faith is rewarded starting this next week, or the light bulb comes on regarding the need for bigger change. If the coaching can improve, the best possible players are on the field and those players can manage to ball at a high level, this team's fortunes can't help but look better than they currently do.
What changes would you make?