Duke Riley vs. Himself
Foye Oluokun asserted himself well enough in his rookie season to effectively supplant second-year linebacker Duke Riley on the field. Oluokun enters camp as the Falcons’ presumptive weakside linebacker, so while there’s a bit of intrigue with Riley still lurking, I’d say you could pencil him in as a starter.
That brings us to Duke Riley, whose main battle in camp will be against himself and his skillset. It’s a make-or-break year, and it will be up to Riley to prove to Dan Quinn that he’s grown and can compete at an NFL level. The former third-rounder has been a colossal letdown thus far, and if he hopes to stick around he’s going to need to put some big plays on tape to show that he even belongs in the conversation.
My biggest hope for camp is the same as it is year-to-year: That everyone emerges healthy, and the Falcons’ rookie class gives reason to be excited for 2019. - Carter Breazeale
Where does Damontae Kazee end up?
Since Kazee emerged in a big way in 2018 after the injury to Ricardo Allen, the presumption going into the 2019 season was that Kazee would slide over to be the obvious replacement for Brian Poole at nickel corner. I’m not so sure that we can make that assumption. The injury to Ricardo Allen is a tricky one that has ended many NFL careers. His recovery is a huge question mark that could dramatically impact where Kazee plays in 2019. There’s also a presumption that Isaiah Oliver will be the starter opposite of Desmond Trufant. That may also not be a certainty. Kazee could feasibly slot into one of three positions this year, and it will depend largely on how healthy Ricardo is and whether Oliver is ready to play full time. - David Walker
Offensive Line battles at Right Tackle and Left Guard
3/5ths of the offensive line is already figured out with Jaka Matthews, Alex Mack, and Chris Lindstrom holding down the left tackle, center, and right guard positions, respectively. I’m excited to see the battle between free agent signings Jamon Brown and James Carpenter in the battle for left guard, and between first round selection Kaleb McGary and veteran Ty Sambrailo at right tackle.
This feels like a do or die season for Dan Quinn at the helm, so I fully expect the best players to win the jobs, without an eye looking toward the future. I’d expect Carpenter and McGary to win those battles, with Brown and Sambrailo providing excellent depth, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it didn’t play out that way. These are the two main position battles of interest to me. - Adnan Ikic
The health of the safeties
For me, the key is absolutely how healthy Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal are, and how healthy they figure to be when the season rolls around. With the defense trying to recover from a bad, bad year and Dan Quinn taking over, the two starters here are critical to the effort and need to be healthy for everything to hum the way it needs to. If they’re not and the Falcons need to dip into their depth during those early, difficult weeks, things are going to get difficult.
Beyond that, I’m looking for the usual joys of training camp: Watching guys we know little about separate from the pack, seeing if perennial “they might finally turn a corner!” candidates like Eric Saubert and Duke Riley show up, and just seeing something approximating football on a field again. Ah, football. - Dave Choate
Is Takk McKinley ready to be a star?
The future of the Atlanta Falcons pass rush for now rests partially in Takkarist McKinley’s hands. The 2017 first-round pass rusher came on strong in his first season and in the start of his second season before fading down the stretch with the rest of the defense to close out 2018. The team simply cannot afford to have this happen again, particularly when McKinley has shown such potential and power in his game.
Training camp will be the first time we really get a look at him as he heads into his pivotal third year, when most pass rushers find themselves and begin to build toward their primes. He’s got all the drive, ability and nastiness you want from an edge. The team has just got see him put it all together on a consistent basis. Seeing how he starts his camp and how far his growth has taken him will be our first sign as to where all of this pass rush business is going. Obviously, we’ll be watching Vic Beasley, too, and are curious how rookie edge John Cominsky will look. - Cory Woodroof
Schaub vs. Benkert
Just to be different, I’m going to go with the legendary Matthew Rutledge Schaub versus the young-gun Kurt Benkert. This season will be Matt Ryan’s 12th, and the Atlanta Falcons haven’t attempted to seriously develop anyone behind him. Aside from possibly Sean Renfree, Kurt Benkert has been the closest the Falcons have come to grooming a young quarterback. Benkert has a good arm, decent mobility and could make the backup quarterback job not as concrete as many expect. Due to his experience, Schaub will still likely be the backup in 2019, but we’ve seen crazier things happen. - Evan Birchfield