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Evaluating top position battles to watch during Atlanta Falcons training camp

Deen Worley
Falcons Wire

The Falcons are set to start training camp in the coming days, with rookies already moving in. In what will be Arthur Smith’s second season in charge, Atlanta will try to end its current four-year postseason drought.

You would have to go all the way back to Marion Campbell (1987-1989) as the last Falcons head coach to not make the playoffs in either their first or second seasons. The last two coaches that made the playoffs on their second attempt (Dan Reeves and Dan Quinn) also made the Super Bowl during that same year. Could Smith repeat this in 2022?

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Experts say no, but it will be decided on the field with preseason battles possibly playing a role in how successful the team will be in 2022.

Here are the four biggest position battles to watch throughout training camp.

Edge rusher

May 26, 2022; Flowery Branch, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons linebackers Arnold Ebiketie (47) and Adetokunbo Ogundeji (92) shown on the field at Falcons OTA at the Falcons Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

A battle for edge supremacy is like clockwork for the Falcons. The inability to get after the quarterback has been a thorn in the side of Atlanta for quite some time, and will continue to be until someone steps up. Could that someone be a rookie or second-year player looking to catch fire off the jump, or will a veteran use this opening as an opportunity to revamp their career?

Last year, the Falcons drafted Ade Ogundeji, and added both Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone in this year’s draft. After losing both Dante Fowler and Steven Means, they brought in Lorenzo Carter, who spent his four seasons in the NFL with the Giants. Carter didn’t put up eye-popping numbers in New York, but he could bring a lot of value this season in a new unit with better talent around him.

Inside linebacker

Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mykal Walker intercepts a pass intended for Carolina Panthers running back Ameer Abdullah and returned it for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Once the Falcons let Foye Oluokun walk in free agency, it created major question marks about the team’s linebacking corps. The speculative trade rumors surrounding top linebacker Deion Jones further fuels this uncertainty.

If Jones were to be traded, then the Falcons would have lost 95 percent of their defensive snap totals from a season ago.

RELATED: Falcons' Deion Jones lands on PUP for start of training camp

The obvious replacement would be Mykal Walker, who saw limited playing time last season (17 percent of all defensive snaps). Another option would be newly acquired linebacker Rashaan Evans from the Titans.

In addition to those two veterans, Troy Andersen is another candidate to watch for. Andersen was selected by the Falcons in the second round of this past draft and has already built up some preseason hype.

"We’re looking to put the best guys on the field. If [Andersen’s] one of the best guys in our room, he’ll be out there," Falcons linebackers coach Frank Bush said. "He’s trending up. He’s doing the right things. I can only say good things about him. He’s humble. He’s there to learn every day and never takes anything for granted. He’s starting to show his skill set the more he learns."

Quarterback

Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks Desmond Ridder (4) and Marcus Mariota (1) work during their NFL minicamp football practice Tuesday, June 14, 2022, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

This has to be a very exciting, and weird, time for many Falcons fans who have only ever known Matt Ryan. While Ryan’s time in Atlanta will likely land him in the Hall of Fame someday, it is very refreshing to see the team go in a new direction

After failing to land Deshaun Watson, which forced the Matt Ryan trade, the Falcons brought in free-agent quarterback Marcus Mariota. Could Mariota have found his way to Atlanta regardless?

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Possibly, but the pressing need for a rookie quarterback would’ve been pushed back one more season. However, the Falcons ended up taking a potentially promising player in Desmond Ridder in the third round to push Mariota for the starting job.

The early favorite, and more likely outcome, is Mariota starting the season at quarterback for the Falcons. How long he remains the starter is obviously up to him, but Arthur Smith has shown he isn’t afraid to make the switch if need be.

Just look back at how he benched Mariota for Ryan Tannehill when the two were in Tennessee together.

Running back

Dec 19, 2021; Santa Clara, California, USA;  Atlanta Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson (84) before the start of the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The obvious name that jumps out is Cordarrelle Patterson. However, Patterson will need someone to split time with to be effective. With Mike Davis no longer on the team, which running back will step up and earn that shared role with Patterson?

Damien Williams and Qadree Ollison are the two veterans favorites to find their way into the role, or may even share that shared split between the two of them. While Ollison hasn’t had the best start to his NFL career, he did have some success under Arthur Smith last season.

Additionally, the Falcons could turn to rookie running back Tyler Allgeier from BYU. Steve Wyche even stated that Atlanta does have some high expectations for the rookie, but he will need to show his worth during training camp. Avery Williams also has thrown his hat into the ring as he made the switch from cornerback to running back.