Coming into this summer, the Falcons' starting set of linebackers seemed fairly obvious. Brooks Reed and Justin Durant were going to man the outside, Paul Worrilow was going to park himself in the middle for the third consecutive year, and that the options for reserves were pretty clear.
Now, though? It's not quite so clear.
That begins with Allen Bradford, the 26-year-old who spent the 2014 season with the Seahawks and got in just one game. We've only seen one week in training camp, so it would be irresponsible of me to tell you that Bradford has a clear path to a starting job. He has, however, run with the starters multiple times already, drawn notice from William Moore, and has a certain level of familiarity with what Dan Quinn likes to do on defense. I wasn't even counting on him to grab a roster spot, and all of a sudden it looks like he'll legitimately compete for a role. Here's Moore, responding to a question specifically about Brooks Reed and Justin Durant.
"You gotta mention Bradford in that, also...Coach Quinn knew what he was doing when he brought (these new players) in here."
Worrilow has drawn a ton of praise from the coaching staff and appears to be in terrific shape, so Bradford's chances of knocking him out of a starting gig are slim, and he's not getting on ahead of Justin Durant or Brooks Reed. Yet Bradford's strong performance to this point indicates he may be in line for a legitimate job...though it's also true that Marquis Spruill and others are drawing significant snaps over the middle. The Falcons more or less were down to street free agents and young players who weren't entirely ready for the spotlight in their backup roles the last two season, so this is nice.
The other major question mark comes on the strong side, where the steady veteran Reed was the presumptive starter. Thus far in training camp, he's been a little limited as he battles flare-ups of the same hip/groin injury that was nagging him earlier in the spring. If this continues, it's going to give the Falcons a reason to consider a veteran insurance policy, or at least keep an extra linebacker around to cover for Reed and Durant, who has struggled with injury the last couple of years.
It's still possible—perhaps even likely—that the three most-used linebackers will be Reed, Durant and Worrilow, and that the reserves will shake out according to what most of us thought. It's just not as much of a fait accompli as I think we all believed a month ago, and Bradford and Spruill could have a lot to do with that.