Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:
One thing I’m certain of: You’re going to see a ton of second-year running back Jacquizz Rodgers. The Falcons have tried to go lightly on starter Michael Turner in recent preseasons because they knew he’d be carrying a heavy load in the regular season. You’ll see even more efforts in that direction this year because the Falcons have been very clear that they want to limit Turner’s workload in 2012. He still will be the starter and will get the bulk of the carries.
But coordinator Dirk Koetter is bringing in a new offensive scheme and Rodgers has a chance to be an important part of that. Turner is a power runner and never has been much of a factor as a receiver out of the backfield. Rodgers has all the tools to be a real threat as a receiver and the Falcons want to get him involved and create a new wrinkle in their offense. But the Falcons are hoping Rodgers can be more of a third-down back. He’s not the same type of runner as Turner, but there is hope he can make an impact as a runner. The Falcons really are serious about limiting Turner’s workload. Jason Snelling has been a dependable backup and still will have a role. But Snelling is a power runner like Turner. Rodgers has a chance to bring a whole new element to the offense and that’s what a team that’s trying to get over a big hurdle (winning a playoff game) is looking for.
One thing that might happen: One thing that coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff haven’t been shy about doing in the past is making some significant moves later in the preseason. In recent years, they’ve realized they’ve had a lack of depth in the secondary and that’s why you’ve seen guys like Kelvin Hayden and James Sanders join the team just before the start of the regular season. I don’t think the secondary will be the area the Falcons address this offseason.
I think the defensive line could be the targeted spot. The Falcons are hoping that Ray Edwards, Kroy Biermann or Lawrence Sidbury can give them another pass-rusher to go with John Abraham. They also are hoping that defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux can bounce back from a subpar season and Peria Jerry somehow can reach the potential the Falcons saw before he was injured early in his rookie season. But if none of those things happen, the Falcons won’t hesitate to comb the waiver wire or make a trade for a veteran defensive lineman (or two). This is too important of a year for this team to sit still if the coaches aren’t seeing some signs of hope on the defensive line in training camp.
One thing we won’t see: It doesn’t sound like there will be the flat-out competition many expected between second-year pro Akeem Dent and veteran Lofa Tatupu for the starting job at middle linebacker. Tatupu suffered a pectoral injury last week and won’t be ready for the start of training camp. The extent of his injury is unclear and it’s at least possible that another serious injury could force a player who sat out last season to decide to retire. Tatupu would have been a short-term solution at best. Dent is the guy the Falcons want in the middle for the long term. The Falcons only want him to be a two-down player for now, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to find another veteran to push him for the starting job, although some depth could be added. The Falcons might as well give Dent all the first-team snaps in training camp and get him ready to be the starter right from the beginning of the season.