We are, mercifully, just over a week away from Falcons training camp. This is the time when position battles truly begin, and when some of them are settled. It is a glorious time.
This is a golden age for position battles, because Dan Quinn is a brand new head coach with his own ideas of how this roster should be shaped, and because there are plenty of new additions to what had been a fairly static roster the last two years.
With that in mind, let us review the top position battles once more ahead of training camp.
1) Free safety
Ricardo Allen vs. Charles Godfrey
In a short time, Allen has gone from uncertain fit at cornerback to the potential starter at free safety, which is a pretty remarkable rise. He still has to hold off Godfrey over the next couple of months, so it's not a given, but remarkable still.
Allen is a physical, athletic player making a position switch, and given that Earl Thomas thrived in Dan Quinn's defense as a shorter (5'10') safety whose coverage chops and physicality carried the day, Allen can thrive here if he's good enough to do so. He's not likely to be even half the player Thomas is, given that Earl Thomas is one of the best safeties in the NFL, but there's real upside here.
Godfrey is a steady veteran presence signed to a one-year deal. In the past, he was a quality safety for Carolina, but injury basically wiped out two seasons for him, as he was a shell of himself a year ago. If he's back to form, he has the coverage ability and solid all-around game to be an asset, but he's nobody's idea of an exciting option for Atlanta. Stability is nice for a new head coach inheriting a lackluster defense, though.
Keep an eye out for a third party here. The Falcons could still sign someone—that interest in free agent safeties was real—and that would complicate the picture. For now, though, I expect Allen to seize the gig.
2) Tight end
Jacob Tamme vs. Tony Moeaki vs. Levine Toilolo
This is one where we all believe we know the answer already, which will make any potential complications interesting to behold.
Tamme has a long track record of being a perfectly capable receiving option, an average if uninspiring blocker and useful veteran to have around, and given the shambles this position was in just one year ago, that's likely going to be enough for him to win the job. He should have a fine season if he wins out as a slow-footed but sure-handed receiving option for Matt Ryan.
Moeaki has been absolutely ruined by injury, but there was a time when he was one of the most intriguing young tight ends in the NFL. He's still quick, has excellent hands and easily the most upside as a pass catcher on the roster, but he's a bit one dimensional and that injury specter is always hanging over his head. If he's legitimately healthy, he'll contribute.
Then there's Toilolo, who was a major disappointment a year ago. He has terrific height and he's a willing blocker, but he was subpar as both a receiver and a blocking option in 2014, and that means he's heading into this year with a ton to prove. I'm hopeful he can step up and contribute, but I'm tempering my expectations after last year.
With the question marks associated with Moeaki and Toilolo, Tamme is the obvious choice here, but both players have the ability to give Tamme a real run for his money. We'll see it they manage that.
3) Running back
Tevin Coleman vs. Devonta Freeman
Antone Smith is locked in as the team's third back and designated speedy threat, which leaves rookie Coleman and second year Freeman to duke it out for the starting job. This should be a great one.
Coleman faces questions regarding his sickle cell trait, which can lead to fatigue, and whether he's got more to his game than speed and a little brute strength. For the record, I think the concerns with Coleman are overblown, and that he's going to be a terrific player for Atlanta. In a one-cut blocking scheme like Atlanta is installing, Coleman's very real speed and agility are going to allow him to break some huge runs, and once he gets his blocking and receiving up to snuff, he has the chance to be one of the league's better backs.
Freeman is already well-rounded, which works in his favor. He's a capable blocker, sure-handed out of the backfield and a fine runner with no standout aspects to his game. If the Falcons want a starter who can do a bit of everything, Freeman delivers, and he's certainly got room to grow further in his second season. Don't sleep on his chances of winning this competition.
I ultimately expect Coleman to be the starter in name, but given that these two players bring very different skill sets to the table, they'll both carve out roles. It's nice not to be debating the fates of rapidly aging backs this year.
4) Defensive tackle
Ra'Shede Hageman vs. Jonathan Babineaux vs. Grady Jarrett
We'll all assume that Paul Soliai is locked in as a two-down nose tackle, and that Tyson Jackson will have some kind of role if he makes this team, but not starter's snaps. That leaves three guysduking it out for starter's snaps.
Hageman is the most intriguing. He's in his second season after the Falcons essentially drafted him as a project, and he looks leaner, more motivated and fearsome as hell. There's very few players on this defense with the kind of game-changing ability every team covets, and if he can deliver on that promise, he will deserve all the snaps they can give him.
Babineaux remains underrated as a pass rusher, and he's always been solid in every aspect of his game. Age is going to slowly erode his skills, but he's still incredibly useful, and if he gets the nod it won't be because of his veteran status.
Jarrett was considered one of the steals of the draft, and it's obvious that he'll be taking over for Babs over the long haul. In year one, he's likely going to rotate in on a limited basis, but there's always the chance that he impresses enough to carve out a larger role. I'd consider this one pretty wide open, in other words, with Hageman and Babineaux the obvious frontrunners.
What position battles do you want to watch?