With training camp just four days away, there are a lot of storylines in progress. Position battles will be heated with a new head coach at the helm. Three players on the team need to perform beyond expectations in order to satisfy not just the coaches and fans, but themselves. I hope all players representing the Falcons organization perform well, but this will not be the case. The harsh reality is that many players who have worked their whole careers to be in this position do in fact get cut. I’m not going to break down the players always talked about, such as the rookies. These three players need to raise eyebrows during training camp.
1. Malliciah Goodman
Goodman is not on the verge of being cut, so don’t label him into that category. Being the fourth-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft for the Falcons, Goodman has not had a great start to his career. Last year, he played at defensive tackle, but was moved this offseason back to defensive end, which he played in college. The Falcons front office knew Goodman would be a development project, as they did not expect him to be a game-changer quickly. With the defensive end position thin, Goodman will likely see a lot of playing time this upcoming year.
Former coaches Mike Smith and Mike Nolan seemed to love moving players around. They were all about versatility, but Quinn and Richard Smith want players to develop at the positions they have always played. With Goodman being counted on to make a difference to an Atlanta defensive line that has been less than impressive, he will need to be a player that many coaches and fans talk about. If Goodman does not have a solid training camp, it won’t kill me, but I’ll definitely worry about the pass-rush once again.
2. Marquis Spruill
I was very high on this player when the Falcons drafted him in fifth-round in the 2014 NFL Draft. I was all in for him and could see him challenging Paul Worrilow at middle linebacker. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in a practice that sidelined him for the year. He bulked up his weight, as he is around 240 pounds, compared to weighing 220 pounds last season. Atlanta traded up for Spruill in the fifth-round, so obviously they saw something in him that other teams did not.
Coming off an ACL injury is tough for anyone. The mental trauma of the injury is something that Spruill will have to clear his mind of. Paul Worrilow is the likely starter at middle linebacker, but the team needs some depth at the position. I think if Spruill can show out in training camp, he will likely back up Worrilow. Look for Spruill to compete with players such as Tyler Starr and Joplo Bartu, as all of these players are looking to make the 53-man roster.
3. Dezmen Southward
The 6’2” second-year player will be switching from safety to cornerback this upcoming season. Being the fourth selection in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, many Falcons had their heads scratching with this selection. I’m not dissing the guy, but Atlanta had other positions of need to fill at the time. It came around to bite them in their rear end last season, as the Falcons defense was awful last season. Add in the fact that Southward mainly saw action on special teams in 2014 did not help his case as a defensive starter. He also has dealt with an injury that has delayed his progress this offseason.
I’m not writing off Southward, but he will be competing against players such as Jalen Collins, Robert Alford, and Philip Adams at cornerback. Having a 6’2” frame is something I believe the coaches will like, as having a tall and physical cornerback is something that NFL coaches have started to grown accustomed to. Southward is going to need to have not just a good training camp, but a camp where he will be one of the best players on defense. He has some strong competition, and if he does not impress, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t make the 53-man roster.