Falcons training camp position battles to watch

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Falcons training camp is rolling around, and it’s by far the most anticipated year in quite some time.

Arthur Smith has the best roster of his tenure as head coach, and there are a ton of new faces in Flowery Branch. The defense was completely overhauled, and the offense returns most of its starters while adding dynamic weapons in Bijan Robinson and Jonnu Smith.

Most of the team’s cash spent addressed the defense, adding impact players on all three levels in David Onyemata, Calais Campbell, Kaden Elliss, and Jessie Bates III. It’s a talented roster and will provide several interesting position battles, so let’s explore.


Lorenzo Carter is back after a productive 2022 campaign, and Bud Dupree is the new face of the unit. Then, there are youngsters — Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone. At some point, the Falcons would like their draft picks to cement themselves as impact players. Will it be this year?

Carter and Dupree give the Falcons a decently high floor for the position. Dupree hopes a resurgent 2022 will result in another long-term free agent deal, so he’s certainly motivated. Carter isn’t going to put up double-digit sacks but does all of the little things right, especially in the run game. His presence cannot be understated.

Still, the Falcons would love it if its second and third-round picks from 2022 grabbed the starting roles. Ebiketie is the higher-profile selection, so he’s got more pressure, but Malone is still capable of becoming a regular contributor. The Falcons need one or both to break out if they want to reach their full potential as a group.

Nickel Defender

This is the most fierce of all the position battles. Jaylinn Hawkins, Mike Hughes, Dee Alford, and Clark Phillips will all compete to be the first defensive back off the bench. Realistically, there will be multiple personnel groupings. Big nickel will likely see Hawkins, a safety, as the extra defensive back while regular nickel will see one of the corners as the extra defensive back.

Hughes was added in free agency and should provide a solid floor if he comes out of camp as the starter. Alford isn’t as notable among fans, but coaches love him. He might be a darkhorse candidate to be a significant contributor to a much-improved defense. Phillips is a rookie, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s a core special teamer in 2023; still, don’t count out the fiery Utah product.

Left Guard

Everyone expects Matthew Bergeron to win the starting left guard battle, but Matt Hennessy got the first-team reps in offseason training activities.

Bergeron was a career tackle at Syracuse. Though he’s willing to kick inside, nobody should just assume it will be a seamless transition. After all, Falcons fans know better than any a collegiate tackle doesn’t always work out at guard — i.e., Jalen Mayfield. The Falcons certainly hope Bergeron wins the starting job, but Hennessy is the proven commodity.

In 2022, the former Temple center filled in at left guard and had admirable efforts. Hennessy wasn’t a liability, so the floor at left guard is pretty high. However, like the edge unit, the ceiling is tied to the youngsters.

Photographer: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

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