As we continue to get closer and closer to mid-July, NFL training camps are just about a month away, and almost all NFL fans love watching training camp battles, and knowing which ones to look out for. Jon Chuckey had those NFL fans, particularly those types of Atlanta Falcons fans, in mind Tuesday night when he gave his top three most important Atlanta Falcons training camp battles this year.
3.) Inside Linebacker
After losing young stud linebacker Foyesade Oluokun to free agency, and Deion Jones’ future with the Falcons seeming to be in limbo, the Atlanta Falcons have a lot of uncertainty at the inside linebacker position, and Jon Chuckery addresses that saying “When you look at the uncertainty with both Deion Jones and the fact that you’ve got all these guys that are competing for a spot, whether it Mykal Walker, Kwiatkoski, Andersen the draft pick, Rashaan Evans. You’ve got a lot of guys that you’re trying to find a couple of starters out of.”
Mykal Walker came on strong towards the end of last year. Walker played in all seventeen games and started in two for the Falcons last year, and ended the 2021 season with seventeen solo tackles, eighteen assisted tackles for thirty five combined tackles, a fumble recovery, and an interception.
Walker could take a big step this season, and really contribute if he’s able to earn a starting role. However, Rashaan Evans is looking to to prove he’s one of the premiere linebackers in the NFL after the Tennessee Titans didn’t resign him after his rookie deal was up, so Evans will be motivated to not only get a starting spot but dominate for the Falcons on a one-year 1.7 million dollar prove it deal.
Evans also played under Dean Pees in Tennessee, so the familiarity with Pees is also an advantage for Evans when it comes to getting a starting spot for the Falcons. The Falcons did draft Troy Andersen with the 58th overall pick, so they obviously like him a lot. However, how much playing time he sees at linebacker this year will have a lot to do with how fast he learns the Dean Pees defense.
Finally, Nick Kwiatkoski was brought in on a one-year one million dollar deal that right now just seems like a depth piece move for the Falcons, but if Kwiatkoski can impress Pees and Smith in training camp then he might find himself in a starting role for the Falcons in 2022.
Matt Hennessy started all seventeen games with the Falcons in 2021, and there is a lot of room for improvement in 2022. Hennessy was one of the worst pass protecting offensive lineman last season, and that may have just opened the door for Drew Dalman to take his job this season.
The other thing going against Matt Hennessy and going for Drew Dalman is that Matt Hennessy was not drafted by this current regime and Drew Dalman was. Jon Chuckery points out this battle could determine Hennessy’s future with the Falcons saying “The Center position is interesting because if Matt Hennessy can’t win that thing, he ain’t gonna be a Falcons very much longer.” However, Jon doesn’t believe Dalman is the answer at Center either saying “They’re two very smart guys who are undersized to play Center in the NFL.” Jon also said “Dalman ain’t the answer, I’m not sure Hennessy is the answer either.”
Jon went on to say “I don’t have a lot of confidence in either guy.”, so it will be an interesting battle to watch during training camp, but Jon doesn’t think it’s a position to be excited about this season.
1.) Right Tackle
Jon believes there are three guys that have a legitimate shot to get the starting right tackle job for the Atlanta Falcons, and those guys are Kaleb McGary, Germain Ifedi, and Jalen Mayfield. Even though Jalen Mayfield started sixteen games at left guard last year the Falcons will give Mayfield a shot at right tackle, which is his natural position.
Also, just like Jon believes the center battle will determine the Matt Hennessy’s future with the Falcons, he also believes that this right tackle position battle will also determine Kaleb McGary’s future with the Atlanta Falcons saying “If McGary doesn’t win the right tackle job, he will not be an Atlanta Falcon this year. He will have played his final game for the Atlanta Falcons last year, he won’t be on the roster.”
Jon believes Jaylen Mayfield and Germain Ifedi don’t have that same pressure saying “If Mayfield doesn’t win the job he’ll be your left guard. If Mayfield wins the right tackle job, then it’ll either be Ifedi, or it’ll be Wilkinson or one of those guys they have on the roster already, or I don’t know I don’t think they’ll kick McGary inside at this point. I think either McGary is your starting right tackle week one or he’s not a Falcon.”
Jon does believe one wild card that could throw a different element into this position battle is if the Falcons do something like they did right before the 2016 Super Bowl season, and sign another offensive lineman like they signed Andy Levitre during opening week of the 2016 season, but otherwise the battle at right tackle will be between former first round pick Kaleb McGary, who the Falcons declined to pick up his fifth year option, second year player Jalen Mayfield who after being forced to learn by fire during his rookie season last year has nowhere to go but up, and journeyman offensive lineman Germain Ifedi who is looking for a home.
Training camp and preseason is always full of fun position battles and this year is no different, and just like every other football fan, Jon is excited to watch it all unfold saying “I think those two battles on the offensive line are going to be fascinating to watch, and I can tell you all preseason long I’m going to be locked in watching all that.”
A lot of futures will be determined this year at Atlanta Falcons training camp, and it will be fun to see how the future unfolds starting mid-July.