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Updated: July 26, 2022 @ 6:44 am
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Several major concerns surround the Atlanta Falcons as veterans report Tuesday for the opening of training camp for the 2022 season.
First and foremost is who will start at quarterback after the team moved on from 14-year starter Matt Ryan. Will it be veteran Marcus Mariota, the former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 2 overall pick in 2015 who was signed as a free agent in March?
Will it be rookie Desmond Ridder, a third-round pick in April’s NFL draft with loads of potential but no experience?
The eventual starter will play behind another major concern for the team: the offensive line. The unit allowed 40 sacks last season, while the rushing attack ranked 31st in the 32-team NFL.
Offensive line competition will be highly scrutinized as right tackle Kaleb McGary, center Matt Hennessy and left guard Jalen Mayfield compete to hang onto their starting jobs. Left tackle Jake Matthews and right guard Chris Lindstrom are entrenched and will be difficult to unseat.
The team signed veterans Germain Ifedi and Elijah Wilkinson, drafted former Georgia guard Justin Shaffer and signed undrafted rookie prospects Tyler Vrabel and Leroy Watson.
The team is also facing rebuilding jobs at receiver and running back. Rookie wide receiver Drake London was selected with the eighth overall pick in the draft and will be expected to contribute immediately with Calvin Ridley suspended indefinitely for gambling.
“He can be very good,” Falcons wide receiver coach T.J. Yates said. “Mainly because of his versatility. He can go inside, and he can go outside. He’s got great ball skills. He’s got good size.”
The Falcons also acquired wide receiver Bryan Edwards in a trade with the Raiders.
“He comes from a very similar system,” Yates said. “So, mentally it’s been a quick pickup for him, which has been good and refreshing. He’s big, he’s strong.”
Cordarrelle Patterson was the team’s leading rusher last season, but they also signed Damien Williams and drafted Tyler Allgeier. Qadree Ollison was retained, and they want to see if Caleb Huntley can run the ball.
Huntley was signed as an undrafted player out of Ball State last season and was on the practice squad. Huntley is 5-foot-10 and 229 pounds and had 576 carries for 2,902 yards (5.0 avg.) and 21 touchdowns in 33 games for the Cardinals.
Defensively, the Falcons wanted to improve their coverage and their pass rush.
Veteran cornerback Casey Hayward, who played at Perry and Vanderbilt, and outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter, who played at Norcross High and Georgia, were the key free-agent signees. Hayward should stabilize right cornerback, while Carter is a good fit for the 3-4 at outside linebacker.
The Falcons want to improve their interior pass rush and get some pressure from Carter, Ade Ogundeji and possibly second-round pick Arnold Ebiketie, who calls himself Dr. Pass Rush.
Carter has 14.5 career sacks.
“It’s good to have the veteran in the group that has been down some of these roads before,” outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “Football is really easy for him.”
Ogundeji played 527 defensive snaps (48%) as a rookie. He had 33 tackles and a sack.
Ebiketie led Penn State with 9.5 sacks last season.
“He’s twitchy and explosive,” Monachino said. “He’s got strength and length.”
The linebacker group is seeking to replace Foye Oluokun, who led the league in tackles last season. Deion Jones, who played alongside of Oluokun in the 3-4 last season, will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.
The Falcons won’t have much time to address their concerns as the 2022 season rapidly approaches. Here are some key dates for the team:
— July 26: First training camp practice
— July 28: First camp practice open to public
— Aug. 12: Exhibition opener at Detroit
— Aug. 18-19: Joint practices vs. Jets in New Jersey
— Aug. 24-25: Joint practices vs. Jaguars in Flowery Branch
— Sept. 11: Season opener vs. Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
©2022 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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