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Roster Battles on Offense Take Shape Ahead of Thursday Night Opener

The Atlanta Falcons have released their preseason week 1 depth chart, and while several spots remain up for grabs on offense, Head coach Mike Smith didn’t provide too many surprises.

The most unsettled region of the Falcons’ roster is by all accounts the offensive line. Such has been the case for the past couple preseasons, as veterans Todd McClure and Sam Baker continue to show they deserve starting spots, at least for right now. The 35 year old McClure has his hands firmly around the starting center job after signing a one year deal this summer, but will need to play like the leader he’s been heralded as so far in training camp.

McClure’s onetime heir-apparent, Joe Hawley, has played all over the line since entering the league, but that’s only because McClure has refused to relinquish his job. As a result Hawley gives offensive line coach Pat Hill the versatility required in a reserve center, especially given the fact that there’s yet another true center in town poised to take over for McClure. That would be Peter Konz, who the Falcons took as the 55th overall pick in this year’s draft. The interior offensive line is quite a log jam, which is a good thing seeing as all McClure, Hawley and Konz should all make the 53-man roster.

Branching out to the tackle and guard spots, Sam Baker is listed ahead of Will Svitek at left tackle largely because he is finally healthy, and deserves another chance to show he’s a capable starter. Baker missed four games last season and didn’t start after week six. If one of the two is in jeopardy of failing to make the roster however, it’s probably Baker. Svitek is more than ready to start if/when needed, and rookie draft pick Lamar Holmes (91st overall pick) provides depth.

Also in the picture is 6’6 tackle Bryce Harris, who was brought in as an undrafted free agent out of Fresno State. Harris and Pat Hill know one another from Hill’s (very successful) days in Fresno, so if the Falcons keep an extra tackles around either on the active roster or practice squad it’s likely to be Harris. Harris plays much the same style as Garrett Reynolds, yet another mammoth (6’7) lineman who projects to make the squad.

A minor surprise came at fullback, where Mike Cox was listed ahead of rookie Bradie Ewing.

While Ewing is not in any danger of missing out on making the roster, (why waste a draft pick on a fullback who isn’t guaranteed a roster spot?) it would seem that for now, Cox is in a better position to contribute to the running game. Cox has worked with all four halfbacks who remain on the roster from last year (Turner, Snelling, Smith and Nance) and is more of a power blocker. I pointed out a couple months ago that it’s quite possible the Falcons will keep two fullbacks around, however, despite the fact that only five or six teams carried multiple fullbacks in 2011.

If Atlanta keeps both Cox and Ewing, things will likely look like they did for the Arizona Cardinals last year. In Glendale, Reagan Maui’a (comparable to Cox, 1 touch last season) was utilized strictly as a blocker, while rookie Anthony Sherman (comparable to Ewing, 9 touches last season) contributed more to the short/intermediate passing game. This is something to keep an eye on given how dependent Atlanta would like to be on Michael Turner.

The Falcons play the Baltimore Ravens Thursday night at the Georgia Dome, so expect to have more of an idea about the makeup of this year’s squad Friday morning.

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