2010 NFL Question Marks: Atlanta Falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA - JULY 30: Chevis Jackson , Dunta Robinson  and Brent Grimes  of the Atlanta Falcons celebrate after a defensive turnover during opening day of training camp on July 30, 2010 at the Falcons Training Complex in Flowery Branch, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the Falcons, who still have some holdover questions from last year in their secondary.

When you look up and down the Falcons’ current depth chart, you don’t see a lot of weaknesses. Their offensive core of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez is outstanding and while their offensive line is comprised of five no-names (save for maybe former first rounder Sam Baker), they’re solid as a collective unit (even underrated to some extent).

Atlanta’s biggest question marks come on the defensive side of the ball, although they’re not as prevalent as some may think. John Abraham saw his sack total drop from 16.5 in 2008 to only 5.5 in 2009, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t effective. He still provided the Falcons with a steady pass rush – he just didn’t get to the quarterback as frequently as he did in ’08.

That said, the Falcons definitely need him to pick up his game if they’re going to make a trip back to the postseason this year. The good news is that he’ll have help in the form of Jonathan Babineaux (the team’s most underrated defensive player and best interior pass-rusher) and Peria Jerry (assuming he’s healthy), as well as two ends in Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury that I firmly believe will turn heads this season. Plus, if former 8th overall pick Jamaal Anderson ever lives up to the potential he displayed during his final year at Arkansas, the Falcons could have the makings of a great defensive line.

At linebacker, third-year player Curtis Lofton is the anchor of the defense. He’s a budding star and will soon be accompanied by versatile 2010 first rounder Sean Weatherspoon, although the former Missouri product will be eased into a starting role. For now, veteran Mike Peterson and the steady Stephen Nicholas will flank Lofton on the outsides.

That leaves the secondary as the team’s biggest question mark heading into the new season. But considering the Falcons broke the bank to bring in former Texan Dunta Robinson, it’s less of a question mark this season than it was in ’09.

Robinson is coming off a down year, but he’ll provide a dramatic upgrade over Chris Houston, who was traded to the Lions in the offseason. Some believe he won’t live up to the massive six-year, $57 million contract he signed in early March of this year and maybe he won’t, but at the very least he brings stability to a secondary that desperately needed it after having a revolving door at the cornerback position last season.

The other starting corner spot is up for grabs, although Brent Grimes flashed a lot of ability towards the end of last year by picking off four passes in the final three games. He’s undersized, but he’s also highly athletic and often turns heads with his playmaking ability. Can he become an every game starter is the question. If he can, then Chris Owens, Chevis Jackson and rookie Dominique Franks (who has received high remarks this offseason) will battle for the nickel and dime spots.

At free safety, the Falcons have an emerging young star in third-year player Thomas DeCoud. He had a breakout year of sorts in ’09 and the team is enamored with his potential.

But the strong safety position is the concern. The general consensus is that the Atlanta coaching staff wasn’t thrilled with Erik Coleman’s play last year and would love it if former second rounder William Moore overtook the starting SS position this season. Moore is a young, heavy hitter, but has been plagued with injuries the last two seasons (which includes his senior year at Missouri) and hasn’t been able to unseat Coleman yet.

Can Robinson rebound and live up to his contract? Can Grimes secure the No. 2 corner role? Will DeCoud’s stock continue to go up or will he suffer a letdown after such a productive ’09 campaign? Can Moore unseat Coleman? Assuming everyone stays relatively healthy on both sides of the ball, there’s little doubt that the Falcons are playoff contenders this season. But can their secondary become a strength or will it be the thing that holds them back in 2010?

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