The Falcons underwent very little personnel turnover this offseason and consequently enter their first preseason game vs. Baltimore with only a few holes. The questions that do exist, however, reside in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
The Falcons boast numerous veteran leaders, including Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White, which should stabilize the offense as it learns under first-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. However, none of those playmakers can operate without a stout offensive line, and there is no bigger question mark than at LT.
1. Can Sam Baker maintain a stranglehold on the position? Coach Mike Smith openly acknowledged that there would be a lot of substitutions and variations to the O-line on Thursday night vs. the Ravens, who are historically one of the best pass-rushing defenses in the league.
“On the offensive line, there’ll be more substitutions,” Smith said. “In the last couple of years, we’ve stayed with the same group for the period they’re in there. We may be moving some guys around.”
Baker was listed as the Falcons’ first-string LT, but Smith has said there’s an open competition across the line. The former first-round pick started the first six games last season before injuring his back and seeing only sparse time.
The Falcons conceded 84 QB hits last year due in large part to the lack of continuity along the front five. Should Baker falter, eight-year veteran Will Svitek is waiting in the wings.
2. What kind of pressure can the defensive line create? DT Corey Peters has missed the majority of preseason practice with a foot injury, and he’ll be out at least two more weeks. Second-string DT Peria Jerry, who recorded 10 tackles all last season, has moved into the top spot on the depth chart. Alongside Jerry will be eight-year veteran Jonathan Babineaux, who recorded a career-low 21 tackles last season.
Furthermore, defensive ends John Abraham and Ray Edwards, although productive, are aging. Together they have 20 years of experience, and Edwards, who signed a five-year, $30 million deal last season, is coming off a 3.5-sack year that was bookended by knee surgeries. In his last two years in Minnesota, Edwards had 16.5 sacks.
“It’s getting there,” Edwards told Orlando Ledbetter. “It’s still a process. I’m only a couple months out of surgery, but it’s getting there.”
3. Can LB Akeem Dent fill departed Lofton’s role? The Falcons are putting an awful lot of pressure on second-year linebacker Akeem Dent. When leading tackler Curtis Lofton left Atlanta for free agency, Sean Weatherspoon (115 tackles, four sacks) assumed the role of defensive signal-caller. But Dent, a third-round draft pick out of Georgia, is needed to play MLB with Weatherspoon on the outside. Dent was a special-teams ace last season, logging 20 tackles in his first year, but is it a good idea to give the MLB job to a second-year player who has never started a game?
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