Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Poll: Is Falcons' biggest concern D-line, O-line, running back?


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I've posted a column on MyAJC.com on the Falcons' running game and their decision to rely on second-year pro Devonta Freeman and rookie Tevin Coleman. You can read the column by clicking here.

I believe the Falcons can win nine or 10 games this season, based partly on the fact that they're in a weak division. But they have significant areas of concern. Here are six, in the order I consider the most important. You can comment below and vote for what you believe is the No. 1 concern:

1. Defensive line/pass rush: Coach Dan Quinn started out as a defensive line coach and the pass rush is such a focus in this training camp that: 1) He spends more time with that group than any other; 2) Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, the career sacks leader, has watched practices the last two days and shared his thoughts with coaches. So those are two positives. The lack of an obvious sack man is concerning. The team is depending heavily on rookie Vic Beasley, second-year lineman Ra'Shede Hageman and SIGNIFICANT (I felt the need to use all CAPS) improvement from Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai.

2. Offensive line: It probably has been the most talked about area in the last few seasons. Health has been a major problem. Left tackle Jake Matthews, more than anybody else, needs to play 16 games. I believe the line overall will be better and the zone blocking scheme will work for this group, even if it won't rank as one of the stronger lines in the league.

3. Running backs: The decision to cut Steven Jackson was expected. The question is whether the follow-up strategy to go with Freeman, Coleman and Antone Smith will work out. The Falcons think this will work. I'm not sure how much they really believe that or whether they just don't feel the need to prioritize the position compared to other areas on the team.

4. Secondary: Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford and strong safety William Moore are fine. The danger zone is at free safety and nickel. Ricardo Allen likely will win the safety job. The Falcons finished last in pass defense a year ago, but that was party the result of injuries and the absence of a pass rush.

5. Linebackers: Newcomers include Brooks Reed, Justin Durant and O'Brien Schofield. The fact there has been so much change should tell you something.

6. Third receiver/tight end: The Falcons lost Tony Gonzalez to retirement last year and No. 3 receiver Harry Douglas to free agency. Having Julio Jones and Roddy White puts them ahead of most teams in receiving corps but a significant third option is needed and I'm not sure Devin Hester qualifies. No. 1 on the tight end depth chart: veteran Jacob Tamme, who has played for Indianapolis and Denver but had only 14 catches last year with the Broncos.

Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith, left, who has the NFL career record for quarterback sacks, works with Falcons defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins during an NFL football team practice in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com)


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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.