Crunch time for Atlanta's Anderson

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. –- It seems every year at this time, the question repeats itself: Will this be the year Atlanta defensive end Jamaal Anderson plays up to his potential?

It’s been a valid question in the past and there is even more of a sense of urgency now. Anderson was taken with the eighth overall pick in the 2007 draft, but he’s never come anywhere close to living up to the hype that followed him out of college.

I think it’s safe to say Anderson never will become the pass rusher people thought he could be. But he still may have a role on this team. I talked with coach Mike Smith about Anderson on Friday and he said the Falcons plan to try to maximize Anderson’s versatility. The Falcons want to use him at defensive end and defensive tackle and make him part of a rotation of six or seven defensive linemen who will shuffle in and out of the lineup.

“His plan doesn’t change from what we did last year,’’ Smith said. “In our base package, he’s going to play left defensive end and compete with Chauncey Davis for that spot. On sub downs, we feel he can be more productive as an inside rusher. He’ll be playing defensive tackle in the sub downs. We feel like there are probably seven guys we’d like to roll through week in and week out. We just feel the rotation of the defensive line is going to be very important for us to have what we need."

That’s a good move and it could create a nice niche for Anderson, who bulked up a bit to try to become more of a force inside. But I’m looking at Atlanta’s depth chart and it’s obvious Anderson needs a good training camp to claim that role. The Falcons have Abraham and Davis and they also think Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury can develop as pass rushers. That’s four defensive ends right there. At defensive tackle, the Falcons have Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry is coming back from missing most of his rookie season with an injury and veterans like Thomas Johnson, Trey Lewis and Vance Walker also are in the mix.

If Anderson can step up a little, he’ll have a shot because there still is some untapped talent there. But I can also see a scenario where, if he struggles in camp and some other guys step forward, Anderson could be a candidate for release.