Starting on Tuesday the Atlanta Falcons will begin their three day mini-camp. They are the last team in the NFC South to hold their workouts, with the Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers all completing their camps over the last two weeks. On the surface it's easy to write off these camps as meaningless, but with the new CBA they mark the first time teams have been able to hold mandatory off-season activities this year.
The Falcons aren't an organization who need to make wide sweeping changes. They were close enough in 2011 that only a few tweaks are needed, but in an off-season of upheaval there are some questions entering this season, and we may start to get some of those answered on Tuesday.
What will happen at cornerback?
Atlanta pushed their chips to the center of the table when they made the splashy trade to bring in CB Asante Samuel from the Philadelphia Eagles. They got stunning value for one of the most productive corners in the NFL, but now they face a similar problem to what the Eagles dealt with in 2011- a glut of talent at one position.
Conventional wisdom put Samuel on the field with Dunta Robinson, but there have been recent murmurs that Brent Grimes may, in fact, be starting across from Asante. We'll get a much better sense for this over the mini-camp, and into training camp.
Can the veteran hold off the rook at center?
Todd McClure has been reliable as the day is long, but with the fortune to land the best center in the 2012 draft in Peter Konz we'll get to see how that interior offensive line will shape up. Typically you'd easily hand the job to McClure, but with new OC Dirk Koetter there isn't a lot of allegiance to the old guard. If there's time for a change at C it would be now.
Will Jaquizz Rodgers get a bigger role?
One of the hardest things for teams is extending the life of a running back. More often than not it's far too tempting to go for broke and continue to rely on the workhorse, rather than rotate in a new player to take some of the load. In limited carrier Jaquizz Rodgers has looked like the kind of player who deserves a bigger role, but the temptation to rely on Michael Turner has been great. Here again, Koetter will play a large role after leaving a Jacksonville team that ran everything through Maurice Jones-Drew. This mini-camp will be a great way to see if Rodgers will get more touches in 2012.
Who will step up across from Abraham?
John Abraham is still playing at an extremely high level for his age, as shown by his 9.5 sacks in 2011. However, he does need some help on the other side. Thus far the Ray Edwards experiment hasn't gone to plan, prompting some to already label Edwards as a decent pass rusher, who benefited greatly from the stellar play of Jared Allen. Kroy Beirmann, Lawrence Sidbury and rookie Jonathan Massaquoi are all looking for chances, and we'll see if they get any 1st team reps this week if Edwards fails to impress.
A fresh look at Julio Jones
While not really a question, one area that I can't wait to see is the 2012 version of WR Julio Jones. By his own admission he was still struggling with injury last year, and despite this managed to put up one of the best seasons by a rookie WR in recent memory. It's too early to expect he'll challenge Roddy White as the featured pass-catcher, but with a full off-season to work with Matt Ryan we may finally get to see his potential.