The Falcons returned to training camp on Wednesday with a slew of new players. The entire roster has been stripped as Terry Fontenot rids the team’s cap sheet of the bloated contracts inherited from the former regime. 70 players played at least one game in 2021 with the Falcons, and 37 are no longer with the club.
“It’s a completely different team,” Arthur Smith said. “I do feel like there is more competition and depth.”
It was just one day without pads, but fans are getting the gist of what this new team will look like. For starters, Falcons quarterback coach Charles London told members of the media following Wednesday’s practice that Marcus Mariota is ahead of Desmond Ridder on the depth chart.
Everything that happens this early in training camp should always be taken with a grain of salt, but this seems to be a definitive statement on the team’s direction at the position. Desmond Ridder has done nothing but impress the coaching staff and over-perform expectations throughout the offseason, but his lack of experience in Arthur Smith’s system has him behind the eight-ball compared to Mariota.
Quarterback isn’t the only position battle to watch throughout camp, though. Arthur Smith eluded to the offensive line going through a complete makeover with three starting jobs up for grabs. Matt Hennessy, Kaleb McGary, and Jalen Mayfield are the linemen battling for their starting spots, and the coaching staff made a minor change right off the rip, switching out Hennessy for Drew Dalman with the starting five. Again, this is only the first day of camp, so fans shouldn’t overreact. A lot will change before the start of the season.
There is a constant rotation of players as coaches tweak lineups, but there was some semblance of a starting defense. Piecing together multiple reports suggests the starting defense could look something like Grady Jarrett, Anthony Rush and Ta’Quon Graham on the defensive line; Lorenzo Carter and Arnold Ebiketie on the edge; Rashaan Evans and Mykal Walker at off-ball linebacker; Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins on the backend; Casey Hayward and A.J. Terrell on the perimeter with Mike Ford spending a lot of time in the slot.
Ford is probably only getting those first-team reps because Isaiah Oliver is still rehabbing his ACL, but that would be close to what most people expect the starting 11 for Dean Pees to look like. Ade Ogundeji will likely get some starts over Ebiketie at the beginning of the year, while Mykal Walker is stepping in for the injured Deion Jones, whose status with the team remains unclear. However, Arthur Smith did provide an update after Wednesday’s practice, suggesting Jones will be on the roster come Week 1.