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Mixed Bag for Falcons’ Rookie Draft Picks Not Unexpected

The bag could not have been more mixed for the Atlanta Falcon rookie draft picks making their NFL debut(s) last Thursday. One draftee led the team in tackles. Another was lost for the season with an ACL injury. The team’s first overall selection did little to warrant conversation of either the good or bad variety, at least from those outside the organization.

While the general consensus after the team’s loss to Baltimore was that depth may be more of a concern than was initially thought, it is fair to say that aside from Bradie Ewing and his injury, the rookie draft picks performed pretty much as expected (or maybe even a little better) in their first pro test.

The team’s first overall selection, center Peter Konz, made his NFL debut playing with both the first and second team offenses. One of the biggest training camp surprises thus far for the Falcons has been the consistently solid play of veteran center Todd McClure, so it came as no surprise that Konz saw little time at center early on. Konz played the majority of his early snaps at right guard, a spot at which he has filled in practice. He has also been said to shine in the team’s short yardage drills, and as a result could be an extra lineman or even eligible tight end in goal line sets.

Tony Gonzalez and Michael Palmer are both pass catching tight ends, and there isn’t much of a favorite to be the third guy behind them. Recently signed Chase Coffman has some NFL experience, though Aron White, who lost a fumble on Thursday, is a better athlete. Konz will be expected to be a versatile option on the offensive line going forward and after an uneventful (though certainly not unsuccessful) debut will help his cause by showing off his durability.

Things did not start off so swimmingly for the team’s second and third overall picks however. Nobody had a more disappointing debut than fullback Bradie Ewing, who lasted less than a quarter before tearing his ACL covering a punt. Ewing’s versatility, as is the case with his college teammate Peter Konz, is his best attribute. A fullback who was expected to see time on both offense and special teams, Ewing was unable to show much of anything Thursday. After being placed on the season-long shelf, the Falcons signed veteran Lousaka Polite to compete in Ewing’s absence.

Offensive tackle Lamar Holmes meanwhile has done everything and more so far this summer to warrant the title of “Draft Day Enigma.” After breaking his left foot running shortly after the draft, Holmes was forced to sit out of Atlanta’s OTAs and was only recently cleared for practice. Holmes however did not play Thursday, and is currently third on the team’s depth chart at left tackle.

That’s especially frustrating due to the fact that only four picks after the Falcons took Holmes, the Oakland Raiders took tackle Tony Bergstrom, who by all accounts has looked very good in black and silver this preseason and could be a future starter.

There’s still room for Holmes to improve, obviously, so let’s hope things work out for this Southern Miss product better than they did in Atlanta for the Falcons’ second round draft pick in 1991, also from Hattiesburg.

That was Brett Favre.

Safety Charles Mitchell earned a chance to play more than was perhaps initially expected against Baltimore, thanks to a solid early camp and as an injury to Chris Owens. Mitchell finished with a respectable three tackles and a pass defended. The Ravens did score three touchdowns through the air in the second half however, and while Mitchell wasn’t the primary coverage man for any of them, he is part of a unit that must improve. He’ll continue to battle with veteran Chris Hope for playing time at strong safety, the weaker of the two safety positions for the Falcons.

Finally, a pair of rookie defensive linemen, Jonathan Massaquoi and Travian Robertson, also left handprints on their NFL debuts. Massaquoi, a rookie from Troy State, led all defenders with six solo tackles and two tackles for loss, and added a QB hit. He was joined by Travian Robertson, who provided lesser but still significant pressure against the Ravens. Robertson was part of a group of young linemen that was filling in for the injured Corey Peters and Vance Walker.

Among D-linemen however, it was Massaquoi who stole the show. Even with the injuries Mike Nolan’s defense is fairly adept at rushing the passer, and should be even stronger this year thanks to the emergence of fourth-year pro Lawrence Sidbury, a pre-season breakout candidate. If Massaquoi can show he is capable of stuffing the run, that would be a huge boost for the Falcons. He’s certainly off to a good start, and as a result could be on his way up the depth chart.

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