When the Falcons open training camp in less than three weeks, one of the key issues they must address is the question of quality depth for the season.
While the battles at right guard, right tackle, right cornerback and nickel linebacker will attract a lot of attention, there are some spots deep on the 53-man roster that are important.
In addition to finding a backup quarterback, the Falcons also need depth behind starting safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore.
Here’s a look at five under-the-radar battles that will determine specials teams’ play and provide backups:
1. Safeties in the hunt: Falcons coach Mike Smith said he’s keeping a close eye on rookie safeties Kemal Ishmael and Zeke Motta.
They could provide depth behind Thomas DeCoud and William Moore and help on special teams, but they’ll have to move past veterans Charles Mitchell and Shann Schillinger.
Safety Troy Sanders, a free agent from Appalachian State, also is on the roster.
“I think the two young safeties that we drafted in the seventh round have shown a lot of skills that we like,” Smith said. “When they get the opportunity to really go out and play, they’re going to be in the mix.”
Chris Hope, a former Pro Bowl player, was a stud on special teams for the Falcons in 2012. He tied linebacker Robert James for the team lead in special-teams tackles with 10. He recently signed with Detroit.
Hope also contributed from scrimmage over the last quarter of the season and in the playoffs.
2. Davis can play if needed: The fourth and fifth wide receiver spots are up for grabs.
In the competition is wide receiver Drew Davis. He signed in 2011 as an undrafted player and has carved out a niche on the roster.
“He had his first touchdown catch against Philadelphia last year, so he’s gotten a taste of what it means to score a touchdown as a wideout,” Smith said. “He’s gotten better. The thing he has improved immensely on is his contribution on special teams.”
Davis, fighting to be the top receiver behind Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas, must continue to play well on special teams.
Kevin Cone, Tim Toone and Marcus Jackson are the major contenders. James Rodgers, Rashad Evans, Darius Johnson and Martel Moore also are on the roster.
3. Banks has a shot: Robert James and Mike Peterson were the fourth and fifth linebackers last season. Peterson got most of the snaps when Sean Weatherspoon missed the Dallas, New Orleans and Arizona games.
If ’Spoon, Stephen Nicholas or Akeem Dent miss some time, James appears to be the next man up.
Brian Banks, who’s trying to make an improbable comeback after being cleared of wrongful charges after spending five years in jail, is in a battle to claim that fifth or sixth linebacker spot.
The other contenders are Pat Schiller, Nick Clancy, Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow.
4. Who holds the clipboard? Sean Renfree and Seth Doege are in a battle for the No. 3 quarterback spot. Unless Dominique Davis falters badly in the preseason, he appears to be the untested No. 2.
Renfree, a seventh-round draft pick from Duke, was held back because of a shoulder injury. Doege was accurate with his short- to medium-range passes.
5. Russell must shine on special teams: Former Georgia State running back Donald Russell could be in a battle for the sixth running back position behind Steven Jackson, Bradie Ewing, Jacquizz Rogers, Jason Snelling and Antone Smith.
Russell will have to shine on special teams in order to convince the Falcons to carry six running backs. His main competitors are Josh Vaughan, Ronnie Wingo, Patrick DiMarco and Devonte Campbell.