- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Panthers, Buccaneers and Saints have completed their minicamps.
The Atlanta Falcons are next. They’ll hold their minicamp Tuesday through Thursday and then break until the start of training camp. It’s kind of fitting that the Falcons chose to do their minicamp the latest of the four in the NFC South. This offseason, the Falcons elected to take a different path than the Panthers and Bucs. And the Falcons certainly didn’t have to deal with any of the things the Saints had thrown at them.
Atlanta has had -- by far -- the quietest and calmest offseason in the NFC South. The Falcons chose to re-sign most of their own free agents and not pursue any big names from the outside. They didn’t have a first-round draft pick and their only major move was trading for cornerback Asante Samuel. There is a school of thought within the Falcons that they already had a pretty good roster and the additions of coordinators Mike Nolan and Dirk Koetter could be all that’s needed for this team to start winning postseason games.
But that doesn’t mean the Falcons are completely sitting still. There might not be much drama, but the Falcons have some things that have to be settled between now and the start of the regular season. Let’s take a look at a few hot spots.
The offensive line: This was a problem area last year, as the Falcons weren’t able to protect quarterback Matt Ryan well enough to allow him to successfully throw a lot of deep balls. The Falcons know that has to change and they used their second-round draft pick on guard/center Peter Konz and a third-round choice on tackle Lamar Holmes. Konz is very much in the mix for a starting job immediately. Holmes won’t be fully healthy until training camp, but it’s not all that realistic to expect a third-round choice to start immediately at tackle because Tyson Clabo is set on the right side and the Falcons don’t want a rookie trying to protect Ryan’s blind side to open the season. The Falcons seem ready to give Sam Baker another chance at left tackle. They believe injuries held him back last year and that he’s healthy now.
If not, the Falcons might have to turn back to Will Svitek, who took Baker’s job last season. Aside from Clabo, guard Justin Blalock is the only certain starter on the offensive line. The Falcons have been working Konz at guard and he likely will stay there because he’s taller (6-foot-5) than the prototype center. If Konz shows he’s ready to start, the Falcons will let Joe Hawley compete with veteran center Todd McClure. Although McClure’s been the line’s leader for a long time, he’s nearing the end of his career and the Falcons would like to get younger on the line.
The pass rush: Veteran defensive end John Abraham still produced 9.5 sacks last season and the Falcons are betting he can have another similar season. But they need more than Abraham. Ray Edwards, Kroy Biermann, Lawrence Sidbury and Jonathan Massaquoi are being watched closely and there is hope that one, or several, of them can impact the pass rush. But I think Nolan is going to have to get creative and bring some blitzes to really have much of a chance at disrupting passing games.
Jacquizz Rodgers: The Falcons repeatedly have said they plan to limit Michael Turner's carries. They also have said they want to get Rodgers, a second-year pro, more involved in the offense. Rodgers needs to use minicamp, training camp and the preseason to show he’s ready for an increased role. Koetter also will have to be creative in carving out that role. Turner’s a power back and Rodgers is a speed back. The previous offense didn’t have a lot of things designed for speed backs. But Koetter fared pretty well with Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville, so I’m sure he’s got some new twists for Rodgers.