FLOWERY BRANCH -- Every team in the NFL, including the Falcons, has question marks entering a new season.
The Falcons' lead question relates to its pass defense, which ranked 28th in the league last season. When they take the field against the Kansas City Chiefs at 8 p.m. Friday at the Georgia Dome, we'll start to get answers to several questions.
Here's a look at five big ones for the Falcons:
1. Has the secondary improved? One of the aftershocks from last season is that the Falcons are extremely cautious with injuries. Cornerback Dunta Robinson has a tight hamstring, which generally is considered a mild injury, but the Falcons have shut him down. He told Pat Kirwan of nfl.com and Sirius NFL Radio that he could play, but the team wants him to rest another week. So, with the $57 million man not likely to play until the third exhibition game, the Falcons will start Brent Grimes and Christopher Owens, the same two young corners who finished last season as the starters. Robinson has staked his claim to the right side, so look for Grimes to get a shot on the left, where he struggled at times last season. Owens started on the left side last season, but likely will open on the right against the Chiefs. "It will be a test for them," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "[Kansas City's] Matt Cassel is a very effective quarterback."
2. Can you stir the defense with a Spoon? Rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, the 19th player taken in the draft, will start at weakside linebacker for Mike Peterson, who started all 16 games last season. Peterson is out with a calf injury. In the offseason, the Falcons trained Weatherspoon at both outside linebacker positions. He made an instant impact at training camp with his striking ability and speed. He's expected to help the nickel defense because he has the ability to play pass coverage. He'll make mistakes, but that's what the exhibition season is for.
3. What will the Jenkins effect be? With starting wide receiver Michael Jenkins out with a shoulder injury, the Falcons will have a good opportunity to evaluate their depth at the position. Veteran Brian Finneran likely will draw the start, with Eric Weems lining up as the No. 3 receiver. Rookie Kerry Meier, who has impressed in training camp, will hit the field pretty early. The reserves will get a lot of action, and two to watch are Ryan Wolfe and Brandyn Harvey. They have looked good in practice catching passes when they know they couldn't get hit. Let's see how they do in tackle football.
4. Who's going to make an impression? Reserves often have to make an impression on special teams in exhibition games. There are several players who will get that opportunity, but one to watch is Shann Schillinger, the team's sixth-round draft pick from Montana. He will get a chance to make an early impression because safeties William Moore and Matt Giordano will not play. Schillinger, who likely will make the team as a special-teams player, will see plenty of action after Erik Coleman and Thomas DeCoud retire for the evening. Schillinger has picked up the defense quickly and will make calls in his first NFL game.
5. How will backup quarterback Chris Redman perform? Last season, Redman was pressed into service after starter Matt Ryan was injured. In 2008, he didn't play a down. He has to treat the exhibition games with a sense of urgency because when the season starts, he won't get many practice repetitions, but will have to stay prepared. "In the season, you treat every game like you're a starter," Redman said. "In the preseason, you know you are going to play. I think it's vital for us to go out there, play and have a good showing."
About the Author