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Falcons training camp battles: The fight of the reserve linebackers

Kemal Ishmael will have to battle Jermaine Grace and Tre’ Crawford for a spot on the roster.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

When the Falcons enter the 2019 season, the linebacker position has some locks to be on the roster. Guys like Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell are not going anywhere. Foye Oluokon is a potential starter while Duke Riley is a mid-rounder in his third year. These four guys are near roster locks, leaving little space for any other linebackers. One of those final spots will be fought over by the guys wer’re about to take a look at. As we saw last year, the team is just one injury away from needing to call on one of these guys to step in.

The Challengers

Kemal Ishmael, 28 entering his 7th season with Atlanta

Kemal has carved out a nice career for himself since being drafted in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL draft. While he’s played mostly at safety, he’s been lined up more at linebacker in recent seasons. He’s a solid veteran who contributes on special teams and is a good spot-starter when you need him. At this point, we know what kind of player Ishmael is. There’s not much upside to the veteran, but he’s reliable and consistent and there’s tremendous value in that.

Jermaine Grace, 25 entering his 3rd season with Atlanta

Grace jumped out to Falcons fans in the 2017 off-season. His performance in camp and in the pre-season was enough to land him a spot on the 53-man roster. He would ultimately be waived November 2017 and picked up by the Colts. Last year, he spent time in Seattle and Indianapolis before Atlanta brought him back in October when they added him to the practice squad. He’s a bit undersized but showed some great athleticism and instincts when he was here last. It’s clear the time likes his potential, it’s just a matter of whether he’ll realize it.

Tre’ Crawford, entering his first season with Atlanta

Here’s another training camp name to keep an eye on, because he could push the two guys above. Crawford has already made a positive impression during the early part of the off-season. At 6’3” and 225 pounds, he better fits the mold of an NFL linebacker and his senior season at UAB showed he can rack up the important stats. His pro-day numbers were impressive too, with a 42 inch vertical and a 4.61 40-yard dash. He’s an intriguing prospect who has already impressed. If he can keep it up, he could be a sleeper to make the 53-man roster.

And the winner is...

The young guys are fun to watch and exciting to talk about, but Ishmael is a steady presence who knows how to contribute both on defense and special teams. For now, he gets the nod, but keep an eye on Crawford. If he can continue to show out in camp and the preseason, he may change the outcome of this prediction.