Falcons training camp opens on Thursday and there are numerous position battles that will ultimately shake out throughout camp.
Three position battles to keep an eye on:
1. Position: Left Tackle.
The story: This position wasn’t supposed to be an issue since Atlanta traded up in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft to take 6-5, 312-pound Sam Baker, left tackle out of USC. Unfortunately, Baker’s back didn’t hold up last season and he ultimately lost his starting job to eight-year veteran Will Svitek. Baker’s low point came when he got beat in the Dec. 11 game vs. Carolina and ultimately cost his team a safety, according to Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Baker’s in the last year of his rookie contract and it appears the Falcons will give him one more opportunity to snag the job, as he did in 2009 and 2010. Not only will Baker have Svitek nipping at his heels, but the Falcons spent a third round pick on tackle Lamar Holmes out of Southern Mississippi, who’ll undoubtedly be gunning for Baker’s job.
2. Position: Right Guard.
The story: Reynolds began last season as the starter before losing his position to Joe Hawley, a third-year guard out of UNLV. To make matters more complicated, LT Sam Baker even saw time at RG after losing his starting job to Will Svitek. Manuwai, 32, was signed as a free agent although he didn’t play last season due to a severe ankle injury. Rookie Peter Konz is expected to make a strong bid for the position. The Falcons clearly have high hopes for the Wisconsin product as they used the 55th pick in the NFL draft on him. Training camp will be a vital time for the O-line to mesh under former Fresno State coach Pat Hill.
3. Position: Kick Returner.
The story: Former Pro-Bowler Eric Weems, who averaged 25.6 yards per return, left the Falcons in free agency leaving a rash of inexperienced kick returners to fill the void. Wide receiver Harry Douglas appears to have the upper hand in the battle as he made a few spot appearances in 2008 and performed admirably. “He has a pretty good chance to be our punt returner,” special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong said to Daniel Cox of the Falcons’ website. In 19 attempts in 2008, Douglas amassed 226 yards and had one touchdown. His primary competition will come from Franks, who returned five punts for an average of 16.6 yards in the 2011 preseason. Rodgers saw some time at kick returner last season and returned three kicks for an average of 21 yards per return.
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