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3 Burning Questions for the Atlanta Falcons Heading into Training Camp
Yahoo! Contributor Network
By Darryl L. Jones | Yahoo! Contributor Network – 8 hours ago
COMMENTARY | The Atlanta Falcons finished the 2012 season 11-yards shy of a trip to the Super Bowl. After coming so close last season, as well as enjoying the longest sustained success in franchise history while under the Mike Smith/Thomas Dimitroff regime, expectations in Atlanta are at an all-time high.
Wide receiver Roddy White even went so far as referring to this season as "Super Bowl or bust".
With that being said there are still quite a few questions about this team heading into training camp next month (July 25 - August 11).
Let's examine them.
Where will the pass rush come from in 2013?
The Falcons struggled to rush the passer in 2012, totaling only 29 sacks as a team--good for 28th in the NFL. Adding to that problem is the fact that their top pass rusher, John Abraham, was released this offseason. Abraham has been responsible for 35 percent of the team's sacks over the past five seasons, and many of the rest of the team's sacks were due to the double teams Abraham demanded.
To help soften the blow of losing Abraham, the team went out and signed former New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora. Umenyiora's veteran presence has already resonated with the team throughout mini-camp and OTAs. Since he arrived in Atlanta, Osi has been the first player to show up to the facility each day, and his work ethic on and off the field has rubbed off on the younger, more inexperienced defensive ends on the roster.
Among those young defensive ends competing for playing time are third-round pick Malliciah Goodman, and last year's fifth-round pick, Johnathan Massaquoi. Umenyiora said of the two, "They're maturing very, very fast. Malliciah is a good player. Massaquoi is very good also. These are going to be tremendous football players in this league."
Atlanta also hopes to get some production out of this year's fifth-round pick, Stansly Maponga, who has missed most of OTAs and mini-camp while rehabbing from foot surgery in March.
Utility-defender Kroy Biermann also looks to play a role at defensive end (as well as linebacker). Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan likes to use Kroy in a myriad of ways in his "amoeba" defense, in order to take full advantage of his unique athleticism.
Prediction: The leadership of Osi, young talent at defensive end and Mike Nolan having another year under his belt will yield better pass-rushing results in 2013.
Who will start along the right side of the offensive line?
This offseason the Falcons parted ways with their starting right tackle of the last seven years, Tyson Clabo. Like Abraham, the release of Clabo came as a shock to most Falcons fans. This unexpected salary cap casualty leaves a gaping hole at right tackle.
Another long-time Falcon, center Todd McClure, decided to retire after 13 seasons. McClure holds the franchise-record for most consecutive starts with 148.
Last year's second-round pick, Peter Konz, who started at right guard in 2012, will move back to his natural position at center to replace McClure. This move leaves another hole on the offensive line at right guard.
With two spots to fill and no new free-agent acquisitions or draft picks, offensive line coach Pat Hill has his work cut out for him.
Many thought that last year's third-round pick, Lamar Holmes, had the inside track at right tackle. However, throughout mini-camp, fourth-year man Mike Johnson was running with the first team at RT. The more experienced Johnson has been pushing Holmes so far this offseason. Though, when the pads come on in training camp the bigger more physical Holmes should be able to win the job.
At right guard it appears Garrett Reynolds, last year's Week 1 starter, has the best shot of winning the job. His experience far outweighs that of Phillipkeith Manley. However, don't rule out the possibility of Mike Johnson sliding inside to guard if he loses the battle with Holmes at tackle. Johnson came into the NFL as a guard, and has trained at both spots extensively.
Prediction: Lamar Holmes and Garrett Reynolds will line up on the right side of the Offensive line in Week 1.
Will the Matt Ryan extension ever get done?
This question may seem a bit silly, but this "inevitable" $100 million contract extension has been talked about for three months now.
Ryan's agent, Tom Condon, is regarded as the NFL's most powerful agent. His clients include the Manning brothers, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford and Tony Romo.
What could the hold-up be?
Any agent that can get Tony Romo a $100 million dollar deal has to be quite the powerful persuader.
In any event, this deal will undoubtedly get done. As a result the Falcons should get some immediate cap relief. That cap space is something that can be very useful in the event that contract talks with Richard Seymour ramp up again--which would help to answer question number one.
Prediction: Matt Ryan deal gets done before training camp.
Darryl L. Jones is an authority on Atlanta sports. He has lived in Atlanta his entire life, and has followed the Falcons his entire life. He is also the Atlanta Sports Examiner for Examiner.com.