- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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Examining the Atlanta Falcons' roster:
The Falcons are counting on Ryan to play like an elite quarterback with a full complement of receivers and better protection. They feel like they upgraded the backup quarterback position by trading for Yates, the former Houston Texan who has a playoff win under his belt.
RUNNING BACKS (5)
Jackson, who just turned 31, still has a good year left in him if he remains healthy. He looks rejuvenated. Freeman, a rookie fourth-round pick, will get a chance to push for touches and has been impressive to start training camp. Rodgers can't be forgotten because of his elusiveness. Smith is a valuable special-teamer, as is Josh Vaughan, who could sneak in.
Jones looked good during his first practice since last year's season-ending foot fracture while White came to camp with a new four-year contract extension in hand. Coach Mike Smith said he'll have a decision to keep five or six receivers, and Davis (foot surgery) might not be ready to start the regular season. Roby has value on special teams as a gunner. Undrafted rookie Bernard Reedy still has a serious chance.
TIGHT ENDS (2)
No one is expecting another Tony Gonzalez out of this group, but the Falcons do expect Toilolo to make significant strides this season. Pascoe will be kept for his blocking.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
The Falcons believe they have a solid starting five after signing the veteran Asamoah to play right guard and drafting the rookie Matthews in the first round to play right tackle. Both have looked the part at the start of camp. Baker also looks healthy coming off major left knee injury. Lamar Holmes has showed some fight at the start of camp but remains on the bubble.
DEFENSIVE LINE (7)
As long as Soliai and Jackson do their jobs up front in the 3-4 in terms of stuffing the run and freeing up the linebackers to make plays, they'll be well worth the combined $25 million guaranteed despite not playing every down. Hageman, the second-round draft pick, is a mad man on the field and could find himself up front with Soliai and Jackson sooner than later. Peters is the wild card in the rotation depending on his health coming off an Achilles tear. Umenyiora, who has slimmed down and improved his speed, definitely has a spot as a designated pass-rusher.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)
The Falcons are counting on Massaquoi to be a consistent pass-rusher. Biermann looks healthy coming off an Achilles tear but the Falcons have him on a schedule of two days on, one day off. Starr, a seventh-round draft pick, hasn't really stood out to start training camp like he did during rookie minicamp.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
The group will sorely miss Sean Weatherspoon (Achilles), who was lost for the season. Worrilow can tackle while Bartu can cover. The coaches are really counting on the fourth-round draft pick Shembo to step in and have an immediate impact. The late addition of Angerer could really pay off, provided he's healthy.
Trufant and Alford could make up one of the best cornerback tandems in the league in the future if Alford continues to mature. Trufant is there already. The high-powered, multi-receiver offenses around the league only increased the need for solid cornerbacks, and the Falcons have a battle for the third corner with McClain, Wilson and Javier Arenas, with Arenas likely the odd man out.
Moore has to take on more of a leadership role with his buddy Weatherspoon done for the season. Newcomer Lowery could be an upgrade over Thomas DeCoud at free safety provided the offseason was indicative of Lowery's ability. Zeke Motta (neck surgery) won't play this season.
Bosher is one of the best in the league, and Bryant is consistent. They just need to keep it going.