Falcons will be in heat of competition to start camp

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The temperature will hit 90 degrees by the time the Atlanta Falcons conclude their first training camp practice Thursday morning, but the competition on the field should be heated from the outset.

Position battles at various key spots such as middle linebacker, right guard, nickel corner and perhaps even at running back -- between the talented tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman -- should highlight the start of coach Dan Quinn's second camp.

"That competition, it goes player to player," Quinn said. "It goes how hard are you wiling to compete against yourself to see how good you can get. We certainly have those battles heading into camp at some spots."

Quinn first mentioned the competition at right guard, where veteran Chris Chester was re-signed late in the process coming off shoulder surgery. Chester, who started all 16 games at the spot last season, was limited during the offseason but is expected to be given the first chance as the starter while competing against rookie Wes Schweitzer, veteran Mike Person and newcomer Tom Compton.

"My shoulder feels great, but I don't anticipate them throwing me in full-go right away," Chester told ESPN.com. "I expected there to be a full competition at right guard. We are deep and have talent at the position."

At middle linebacker, three-time leading tackler Paul Worrilow is trying to hold off rookie Deion Jones, who brings speed the Falcons haven't had at the position. Jones flashed during the offseason and received significant reps with the first team. It wouldn't be a surprise to see that pattern continue because the coaches already have complete faith in Worrilow in terms of knowing the defense.

"At linebacker, we've been pleased with the progress of Jones and [De'Vondre] Campbell," Quinn said of his rookie inside linebackers. "Their going to have a battle on their hands with Worrilow and Spoon [Sean Weatherspoon] and [LaRoy] Reynolds and some of the other guys that are battling. It's a cool time for us.

"This team is really tight. I think you'll see that when you see the guys practicing, how hard they're working for one another. They're pushing each other to see how good our team can get."

The third cornerback behind Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford is undecided, with Jalen Collins set to play a reserve role to start camp. Collins is suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. So now, the Falcons have to prepare either Akeem King, C.J. Goodwin or DeMarcus Van Dyke to fill that third corner spot to start the season. King would appear to have the edge based on time in the system, but Goodwin, a converted receiver, is the most intriguing of the three because of his height, speed, and athleticism. Quinn said he's unsure if Alford will continue to play the nickel slot role he played through the offseason or move back to the outside in nickel situations.

Quinn mentioned the tight end position having more competition with sure-handed veteran Jacob Tamme and promising rookie Austin Hooper. The Falcons also added former Georgia standout Arthur Lynch on Wednesday, a young, solid tight end.

The release of Devin Hester means there will be competition in the return game between Eric Weems, Justin Hardy, Nick Williams, rookie Devin Fuller, and even Coleman. The coaches view Coleman as the ideal kickoff returner with his explosive speed, but Coleman has to prove his fumbling issues are behind him.

Speaking of Coleman, his performance at running back might emerge as the biggest storyline at camp. The coaches love his big-play potential and firmly believe he'll push for significant touches, even with the Pro Bowl pick Freeman coming off a 1,000-yard, 14-touchdown seasons. Fantasy owners are sure to keep a close eye on the completion as well.

"It's the central theme of the program, and that's why I like having competition right at the front, right at the outset," Quinn said. "It's going to be tough. The guys are going to have to earn their spots, and that's exactly what it should be."