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Friday, July 18, 2014
Atlanta Falcons' projected roster

By Vaughn McClure

Examining the Atlanta Falcons' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
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. If the Falcons indeed go with just two quarterbacks, as expected, look for undrafted rookie Jeff Matthews to be on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

Jackson, who turns 31 on July 22, still has a good year left in him if he remains healthy. He showed signs of his old self last season after enduring an early season hamstring injury. Freeman, a rookie fourth-round pick, will get a chance to push for touches. Rodgers still should have a role, somewhere, while Smith is valuable on special teams.

RECEIVERS (5)

The Falcons are counting on Jones and White to be healthy. If Davis (foot surgery) is the same after starting training camp on the physically unable to perform list, he should be a nice backup. Bernard Reedy, the undrafted rookie from Toledo, might make it hard not to keep a sixth receiver if he continues to impress like he did this offseason.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

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 but don't discount the possibility of Shuler.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)

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. Uncertainty remains about Baker at left tackle coming off a major knee injury. If he can't finish the whole season, then Matthews would have to move over to left tackle. Yes, I left Lamar Holmes off the roster. Undrafted rookie center James Stone could stick on the practice squad.

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 all the snaps. Hageman, the second-round draft pick from Minnesota, is an intriguing prospect. Peters could be the wild card depending on his health coming off an Achilles tear. I think Umenyiora still has a place as a designated pass-rusher, but we'll see.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)

The Falcons are counting on Massaquoi to be a consistent pass-rusher. He definitely has developed a little more nastiness. Just ask Sam Baker. Biermann looks healthy coming off an Achilles tear. Starr, a seventh-round draft pick, showed good signs during rookie minicamp but has to do the same against the big boys in training camp.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)

The group will sorely miss Sean Weatherspoon (Achilles), who was lost for the season. Worrilow showed the ability to tackle last season as an undrafted rookie but still has strides to make. The coaches are really counting on the fourth-round draft pick Shembo to step in and have an immediate impact.

CORNERBACKS (6)

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 Arenas. All three should stick.

SAFETIES (4)

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. There is no guarantee Zeke Motta (neck surgery) will play this season, so he's off the list.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Bosher is one of the best in the league, and Bryant is consistent. They just need to keep it going.