7 Falcons’ training camp position battles

The Falcons will have several position battles during training camp and coach Dan Quinn said he is looking forward to them.

“That competition, if you go player-to-player, it shows how hard you are willing to compete against yourself,” Quinn said on Tuesday. “We certainly (have) battles heading into camp at some spots.”

Here’s a look at seven positions in flux heading into camp with the first workout coming Thursday:

1. Who’s at right guard? Chris Chester held the spot last season, although the Falcons tried to sign a possible replacement in free agency, guard J.R. Sweezy, but were out-bid by Tampa Bay. Later in the offseason, they re-signed Chester. Mike Person, who started at center last season, is the chief competitor.

Chester, 33, played on all offensive snaps (1,140) last season and played 60 snaps on special teams.

He is the Falcons’ most-seasoned lineman (153 NFL games, 127 starts).

2. Who’s at tight end? Jacob Tamme, who’s headed into his eighth season, had his second-most productive season in 2015. Tamme caught 59 passes on 81 targets. In 2010, while playing for Indianapolis, he caught 67 passes on 93 targets in his busiest year.

He will have to hold off a challenge from third-round pick Austin Hooper, who is anticipated to eventually inherit the position. The team will also have tight ends Levine Toilolo, D.J. Tialavea and Joshua Perkins in camp.

Toilolo, who caught seven passes on just 12 targets last season, is primarily a blocking tight end. Over his career, Toilolo has 49 catches on 81 targets (60.4 percent).

“At tight end, there is a lot of competition there,” Quinn said.

3. Replacing Hester. The Falcons released veteran returner Devin Hester on Tuesday.

While Eric Weems handled most return duties last season, running back Tevin Coleman is the leading candidate to replace Hester as the kickoff returner. Quinn said Nick Williams, second-year pro Justin Hardy and rookie Devin Fuller were also punt-return candidates.

Weems became the primary returner when Hester missed 11 games due to injury. He averaged 11.6 yards on 19 punt returns with a long of 41 yards and 26.9 yards on 15 kick returns with a long return of 50.

Williams returned nine kickoffs while with the Redskins in 2013 and averaged 20.9 yards with a long of 29. He also had one punt return, a fair catch that he fumbled.

4. Pass rush candidates. Quinn insists the pass rush will be improved. The Falcons had the fewest sacks (19) in the NFL last year.

“It’s a great time, man,” Quinn said. “It’s the central theme of the program and it’s why I like having competition right at the front, right at the outset. It’s going to be tough. Guys have to earn their spot.”

5. Who’s at middle linebacker? Paul Worrilow is the incumbent, but the Falcons drafted the speedy Deion Jones from LSU in the second round. Worrilow has a better understanding of the defense in his second year in this scheme.

“He’s so conscientious, he just wants to do everything right,” linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich said.

6. Who’s at strong safety? Rookie Keanu Neal, the 17th player taken in the draft, is expected to win this position. But with veteran safeties Charles Godfrey and Kemal Ishmael also on the roster, the Falcons don’t have to rush him before he’s ready.

“You’d like to play the guy who deserves to play,” defensive pass game coordinator Jerome Henderson said. “If that’s Keanu, then that’s Keanu.”

Neal spent some time working out with Seattle All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor over the offseason.

7. Who’s the backup quarterback? The Falcons appear set with Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub. While the team may elect not to carry three quarterbacks, they’ll at least need a third arm on the practice squad and that battle is between Sean Renfree and Matt Simms.

“This is (Simms’) first real chance at our system and he has to make the most of every opportunity that he gets on the field,” quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur said. “It’s going to be a competitive situation.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X