With a new coach, this year's training camp promises to be an intense one, with plenty of veterans who had guaranteed spots finding themselves on shakier ground in 2015. I wanted to highlight five players who really need effective camps and preseasons to stick around and have an impact.
I'm drilling in a little deeper than the usual suspects, which include oft-discussed players like Tevin Coleman, Ra'Shede Hageman and Jalen Collins. These are players who are effectively competing for top backup roles, if not their roster spots, and are worthy of being highlighted because of how critical training camp will be to their chances of sticking around. I will acknowledge my bias upfront and say that I'm rooting for more than one of these guys, as well.
1) Marquis Spruill
In many ways, Spruill was the perfect player for the Mike Smith and Keith Armstrong-led Falcons. He profiled as a speedy, talented reserve linebacker with a little bit of upside, as well as a core special teamer. I was pretty bullish on his potential, which made that ACL tear all the more devastating.
Now in 2015, Spruill is a fifth round pick recovering from a major injury, one with a new head coach in place. That's tough sledding, and even with Keith Armstrong likely going to bat for him on the special teams front, Spruill will need to prove he can do more than the likes of Tyler Starr, Joplo Bartu and Allen Bradford to have a role, or potentially even stick around. Let's hope he can.
2) Dezmen Southward
Southward's had a rough go of it thus far. The third round pick played sparingly in 2014, watched the arrival of a new coaching staff, was switched to cornerback and suffered an injury that may hinder his progress.
Southward is still a plus athlete with youth, and his size alone makes him an intriguing prospect for Dan Quinn and Raheem Morris to work with. To carve out any kind of real role in 2015, though, he needs to get healthy fast and blow away some pretty good competition, including veteran Phillip Adams, Robert Alford and Jalen Collins. That seems unlikely, at best, which means Southward may be fighting just to hang around.
3) Collin Mooney
Patrick DiMarco is a fine fullback, but he's not a former military man who was one of college football's most intriguing power backs. Mooney has a story that's easy to root for, yes, but his short yardage bulling ability makes him a potentially interesting complement to a running back corps that currently includes a super speedy gadget back, a speedy rookie and a well-rounded second year player.
It goes without saying that DiMarco and Mooney are on more equal footing under the new regime than they would be if Smith's staff was still here, and it feels like he has the potential to win a spot. It'll take a fine camp to knock off DiMarco, though, because the latter has worked with most of the offense for the last two seasons and has a comfort level.
4) Lamar Holmes
This one almost feels cruel to include, but it's no less relevant. Holmes was already going to need to turn his improved physique into better play to prove he deserved a role even in a thin corps of tackles, and with a broken leg, he'll need a swift recovery and an impressive showing in his limited opportunities to do so.
It's going to be a very limited window, more than likely, if Holmes is even able to return for training camp and preseason at all. I'm hopeful he can, because with only Tyler Polumbus and Jake Rodgers in his way, he should be able to land a role and provide some veteran security behind Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder, the presumptive starters.
5) Bernard Reedy
Speedy was one of the darlings of minicamp and training camp a year ago, arriving as an exciting young receiver on a team with exactly one (Julio Jones) before that. It was a minor disappointment when he didn't make the final roster, and he never really received a chance to contribute in 2014. He finds himself scrapping for a spot at receiver after the team added Leonard Hankerson and Justin Hardy, however.
Reedy's return ability and wheels make him an interesting, cost-effective alternative to Devin Hester, and his best shot likely lies in pushing Hester or Eric Weems off the roster. He'll need (gasp) a strong camp to accomplish that, however.
Who are you watching on the bubble?