Falcons Training Camp Preview: Offensive Position Battles

With training camp now underway and the roster finally beginning to take shape, the Falcons can really focus towards evaluating their players and preparing for the 2011 season. Offseason priority No. 1, keeping Tyson Clabo a Falcon, has been accomplished, and the team even went out and signed Ray Edwards. A few moves have still yet to be made, but the roster shouldn't change too drastically

As for the team that's now in training camp, almost every starting job on the offensive side of the ball has already been locked up. Given that six of those starters were Pro-Bowlers in 2010, you won't see me complaining. However, as far as backups and players fighting to make the roster are concerned, the doors are still wide open.

So without further ado, here are some offensive camp battles to keep your eye on in the coming weeks:

STARTING RIGHT GUARD
Candidates: Mike Johnson, Joe Hawley, Jose Valdez

With reports that Harvey Dahl has signed with the Rams being released earlier today, the Falcons have a couple of in-house options that are ready to take over as full-time starters. Hawley, though most likely McClure's eventual replacement, has experience at guard. The practice-squader Valdez should also contend, though is likely too raw to be a full-time starter at this point.

The clear favorite of the group is Johnson, taken in the third round of last year's draft. Johnson was part of a fantastic O-line at Alabama that blocked Mark Ingram to a Heisman and propelled the team to championship. He was probably capable of starting last year, and so should be more than prepared to step in once the season begins.

BACKUP QUARTERBACK
Candidates: John Parker Wilson, Adam Froman

With Froman being signed as a UDFA, there will be some competition for the third-string QB spot in training camp. As I've said before, Froman will definitely push Wilson for his job as backup. Though he isn't a very polished QB and doesn't come from a very pro-oriented offense, he has the physical tools (6'4, 220 lbs) and mental capacity to be an effective game manager in the NFL.

As for Wilson, he is similar to Froman in that both are good decision-makers who aren't prone to turning the ball over. He's got good short-range accuracy and has experience winning on the big stage. However, the big knock on Wilson is his arm strength- he simply is not a threat in the downfield passing game at all. While Froman has his issues, those are coachable. You can't really coach arm strength.

BACKUP RUNNINGBACK
Candidates: Gartrell Johnson, Antone Smith, Philip Sylvester

This battle depends entirely on whether the Falcons can retain Jason Snelling or not. If he walks, then there will be a few backs competing for the spot behind Jacquizz Rodgers on the depth chart. Johnson and Smith were both on the roster last season, and have some limited NFL experience.

Sylvester is similar to both in that he is small, fast, and thrives when he gets to the edge. However, injuries have been a big concern throughout his football career. He also will not be much of a pass-catching threat nor effective as a pass blocker.

Johnson, while he has the most experience, didn't exactly take advantage of the opportunities he was given last season. Smith, though he lost a few of his chances due to injury, probably has the best shot because of his athleticism and pure speed on the field.

BACKUP TIGHT END
Candidates: Michael Palmer, Ryan Winterswyk, Robbie Agnone, Marquez Branson

Palmer and Winterswyk will really be the two main candidates for this job. Palmer spent 2010 on the Falcons roster as the third-string TE and will likely enter camp as the favorite to keep his job. His good showing at the player-only practices certainly couldn't have hurt.

However, Winterswyk is interesting in that he is a converted DE- the Falcons plan to have him line up at tight end during training camp. Though he would be undersized as a lineman, his big 6'4, 263 lb-frame, 30-in. vertical and overall athleticism could make him an effective NFL tight end. Still, he is a project and Palmer likely holds the edge for now.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic.

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