1. Linebacker decisions. The Falcons have some tough decisions to make at the linebacker positions.
Arguably, veteran Paul Worrilow has out-played rookie Deion Jones and veteran Philip Wheeler would be a safer pick to open the regular season at strongside backer than Vic Beasley.
At the weakside spot, it’s probably a toss-between veteran Sean Weatherspoon and rookie De’Vondre Campbell.
The linebackers will be worth watching when the Falcons (2-0) face the Miami Dolphins (1-1) at 8 p.m. Thursday in Orlando.
“The linebacker corps, the two young guys inside Jones and Campbell, they really bring a lot of speed to the position,” defensive coordinator Richard Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. “Much more so than what we were able to have last year. Still, once again, they are very young, but they are doing really, really well.”
They’ve been a part of Falcons coach Dan Quinn developmental program.
“They’ve spent hours and hours of time trying to learn everything,” Smith said.
The Falcons eventually must make a project on the young players. They know what they are getting from the veterans.
“When you have a young player, every play is a learning experience,” Smith said. “When you have veteran players they have already been through it, but I’ve been real pleased with their performance.
“They tackled really well in that first game. You see the length of Campbell. He made some plays on the ball. He got beat on one play last week in man coverage, but overall we’ve been really pleased with his coverage ability and his length. I love his demeanor.”
Worrilow, the team’s leading tackler over the past three seasons, isn’t going down without a fight.
“You’ve got a real good battle going on there,” Smith said. “Because Worrilow has had a really good camp and you’ve got Weatherspoon in there also competing at that position. So, it’s the veteran guys in there with the younger guys.”
Smith likes the depth.
“We’ve got a lot of depth at that position whereas a year ago, we didn’t have as much depth,” Smith said.
Beasley doesn’t appear to be a lock at strongside linebacker anymore.
“Then also you have Wheeler, who is a versatile player,” Smith said. “He’s playing (strongside) linebacker and it’s between him and Beasley on first-and-10.
“He can also backup inside if you need him to. Also, he’s able to help us on third down because he’s got really good blitz mentality to him, which we saw some of that last year. He’s really come through. I like his leadership role that he’s done in terms of him speaking up to the defense and the meetings really well.”
2. Schweizter watch. The interior of the Falcons offensive line is taking a new shape this season.
Ben Garland and rookie Wes Schweizter have come on strong and may push Mike Person, last season’s starting center, off the roster.
The starting spots appear set with Andy Levitre at left guard, Alex Mack at center and Chris Chester at right guard.
Schweitzer played 61 snaps against Cleveland, more than any player on the team. He’s get some extensive action against Miami’s first and second teams.
The Falcons have to make sure he’s solid if he’s going to land the backup swing guard spot. Garland is a center and can also play guard.
“We want to see that match up inside,” Quinn said. “We’re pumped to head down to Orlando and play Miami. It’s a good challenge for us. These preseason games are all different and the match-ups are different so we’re ready to get this thing kicked off again.”
3. Backup corners needed. On the defensive side of the ball, Quinn wants to see some other players match up against NFL (first- or second-team) talent.
“I want to see the linebackers and safeties,” Quinn said. “I want to see (nickel back Brian) Poole matched up. C.J. Goodwin is another one that we’re trying to anxiously await to see what kind of role he can play. I wish there were more quarters to play because we want to take a look at a number of guys.”
4. New York Giants book out. Jerry Barca’s much-anticipated upcoming book Big Blue Wrecking Crew: Smashmouth Football, A Little Bit of Crazy and the ’86 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants was released on Tuesday. This is the 30th anniversary of what many consider to be one of the best teams of the Super Bowl era.
5. Collins developing. Quinn and defensive coordinator, in separate interviews, spoke highly of the play of Jalen Collins, who will receive extensive action over the final two exhibition games before serving his four-game suspension for using performing enhancing drugs.
“He played a lot and got extended time last week and we’ll do that again tomorrow and into the next one knowing that will be his action for the next month,” Quinn said.
Collins played 23 snaps against Cleveland, the most of any defensive player on the team and finished with two tackles.
“Overall, Collins is having a real good champ, too,” Smith said. “He had a really good week of practice. In my mind he’s much improved over a year ago.”
Collins, who was drafted in the second round of the 2015 draft, struggled as a rookie. He was trying to come back from foot surgery and never really got comfortable playing the position.
The Falcons had hoped Collins would land the right cornerback job and then they could move Robert Alford to nickel back to shut down speedy slot receivers. That’s plan is on hold for now.
However, Collins, a big corner at 6-1 and 203 pounds, is still an important figure for the Falcons because of the massive receivers in the division.
6. On the secondary. Smith believes that cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have had good training camps.
“I like what I see out of Goodwin,” Smith said. “It will be nice to see how he plays this week.”
7. Free safety Allen shining. Free safety Ricardo Allen, who’s essentially a second-year safety after converting from cornerback, is much more comfortable in his position.
“Allen has done a really good job at free safety,” Smith said. “He’s much more confident. A year ago, he was trying to learn the position (and was asking himself) do I belong? Right now, he knows he belongs. I like his swagger, demeanor, his leadership.”
8. Nickel back play. Smith is high on Brian Poole, the undrafted rookie from Florida.
“I like his toughness, his personality and his demeanor of the position,” Smith said.
9. Young guns. At some point, the Falcons could be very young on defense.
They could have six rookies or second-year players on the field at some time if you count Allen as a second-year free safety along with Beasley, Jarrett, Jones, Campbell and strong safety Keanu Neal.
“Overall, we’ve got a really young group when you look at it,” Smith said. “Coach Quinn has got these guys playing hard for one another. Overall, there will be some at times during the year, there will be some rookies playing a lot for us.
“I like what I see. It’s a good group.
“It’s a good group. If something happens say there is a veteran guy and a rookie is there pushing him, and if he happens to falter, you’ve got a veteran guy that can step up. The competition is there….We have much more competition there at the positions than we had a year ago.
“Right now, the competition level on this defense is better than it was a year ago and a year from now it’s going to even get better.”
ATLANTA FALCONS DEPTH CHART
WR 11 Julio Jones, 16 Justin Hardy, 14 Eric Weems, 87 Devin Fuller, 18 Jordan Leslie,
6 Corey Washington
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 76 Tom Compton, 66 Laurence Gibson
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 71 Wes Schweitzer, 64 Collin Rahrig, 79 Jordan Walsh
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland
RG 65 Chris Chester, 68 Mike Person, 74o Michael Huey
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 72 Bryce Harris
TE 83 Jacob Tamme, 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 86 D.J. Tialavea, 82 Joshua Perkins,
49 Arthur Lynch
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 19 Aldrick Robinson, 15 Nick Williams, 85 J.D. McKissic, 7 David Glidden
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 13 Sean Renfree, 4 Matt Sims
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 35 Gus Johnson, 20 Brandon Wilds, 30 Cyrus Gray
FB 42 Patrick DiMarco, 39 Will Ratelle
DE 99 Adrian Clayborn, 50 Brooks Reed, 93 Dwight Freeney, 96 Nordly Capi
DT 94 Tyson Jackson, 95 Jonathan Babineaux, 98 Cory Johnson, 75 Brandon Williams
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 92 Joey Mbu
DE 90 Derrick Shelby, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 54 Malliciah Goodman, 49 Efe Obada
LB 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 41 Philip Wheeler, 52 Tyler Starr, 48 Ivan McLennan
LB 55 Paul Worrilow, 45 Deion Jones, 53 LaRoy Reynolds, 46 Dominique Tovell
LB 56 Sean Weatherspoon, 59 De’Vondre Campbell
CB 23 Robert Alford, 32 Jalen Collins, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 39 Jordan Sefon, 38 Ryan White
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 25 Akeem King, 34 Brian Poole, 43 DeMarcus Van Dyke,
33 Devonte Johnson
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Robenson Therezie, 20 Sharrod Neasman
S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 40 Damian Parms, Sergio Brown
K 3 Matt Bryant, 17 Shayne Graham
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 26 Tevin Coleman, 14 Eric Weems, 87 Devin Fuller, 85 J.D. McKissic
PR 14 Eric Weems, 87 Devin Fuller, 85 J.D. McKissic
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher
ICYMI — TRAINING CAMP STORIES
90-MAN ROSTER ANALYSIS — POSITION BY POSITION