- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:
One thing I'm certain of: You're going to see a ton of second-year running back Jacquizz Rodgers. The Falcons have tried to go lightly on starter Michael Turner in recent preseasons because they knew he would be carrying a heavy load in the regular season. You'll see even more effort in that direction this year because the Falcons have been clear that they want to limit Turner's workload in 2012. He still will be the starter and will get the bulk of the carries.
Coordinator Dirk Koetter is bringing in a new offensive scheme, and Rodgers has a chance to be an important part of that. Turner is a power runner and never has been much of a factor as a receiver out of the backfield. Rodgers has the tools to be a threat as a receiver, and the Falcons want to get him involved and create a new wrinkle in their offense.
But the Falcons are hoping Rodgers can be more of a third-down back. He is not the same type of runner as Turner, but there is hope Rodgers can make an impact. The Falcons are serious about limiting Turner's workload. Jason Snelling has been a dependable backup and still will have a role, but he is a power runner like Turner. Rodgers has a chance to bring a new element to the offense, and that's what a team trying to get over a big hurdle -- winning a playoff game -- is looking for.
One thing that might happen: Coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff haven't been shy about is making some significant moves later in the preseason. In recent years, they have realized they have had a lack of depth in the secondary, which is why guys such as Kelvin Hayden and James Sanders joined the team just before the start of the regular season.
I don't think the secondary will be the area the Falcons address this offseason. Instead, the defensive line could be the targeted spot. The Falcons hope that Ray Edwards, Kroy Biermann or Lawrence Sidbury can give them another pass-rusher to go with John Abraham. They also are hoping that defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux can bounce back from a subpar season and that Peria Jerry can reach the potential the Falcons saw before he was injured early in his rookie season. If none of those things happen, the Falcons won't hesitate to comb the waiver wire or make a trade for a veteran defensive lineman (or two). This is too important of a season for this team to sit still if the coaches aren't seeing signs of hope on the defensive line in training camp.
One thing we won't see: It doesn't sound as if there will be the flat-out competition many expected between second-year pro Akeem Dent and veteran Lofa Tatupu for the starting job at middle linebacker. Tatupu suffered a pectoral injury last week and won't be ready for the start of training camp. The extent of his injury is unclear, and it's possible that another serious injury could force Tatupu, who sat out last season, to retire. He would have been a short-term solution at best anyway.
Dent is the guy the Falcons want in the middle for the long term. The Falcons want him to be a two-down player for now, so it doesn't make a lot of sense to find another veteran to push him for the starting job, although some depth could be added. The Falcons should give Dent all the first-team snaps in training camp and get him ready to be the starter.