Position battles worth watching in training camp
FALCONS THE MOST EXTENSIVE COVERAGE
Jamon Brown, signed in free agency to a three-year deal after stints with the Rams and Giants, will be battling to start at right guard.
PHOTOS BY CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM
After an impressive rookie season was shortened by knee surgery, Ito Smith returns to face competition for the lead backup running back spot.
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D. Orlando Ledbetter
dledbetter@ajc.com

FLOWERY BRANCH — With training camp set to open Monday, most of the Falcons’ key positions are set.

However, the team will concentrate on fixing its offensive line and improving depth in case there is another rash of injuries like last season.

The Falcons went 7-9 in 2018 as they couldn’t overcome the loss of starters who missed a total of 80 games.


“We are starting off with a clean slate,” linebacker Deion Jones said. “Trying to forget (last season) pretty much and build on what we have now.

We have a lot to prove coming back off injury. I would say there is a chip on our shoulder, and we can’t wait to get back into it.”

Here’s a look at five training camp battles to watch:

Backup running back

With Tevin Coleman now with the 49ers, the Falcons have a hole at backup running back behind Devonta Freeman.

Ito Smith, Brian Hill, rookie Qadree Ollison and Tony Brooks-James will battle to become the top backup.

Smith was in the midst of an impressive rookie season before he needed knee surgery.

“He’s now looking to stack his second year of top of his first,” running backs coach Dave Brock said. “Plenty of room for growth.”

Hill ran strong when he finally received an opportunity.

The Falcons like Ollison’s power running style and have been impressed with Brooks- James’ speed.

“(Ollison) has played in this style offense,” Brock said.

“He’s run a lot of these runs. I think he’s a really good runner. He certainly is a big physical player.”

Right guard The Falcons drafted Chris Lindstrom with the 14th overall pick of the 2019 draft.

Lindstrom, 6 feet 4 and 310 pounds, was an All-ACC selection at Boston College. He was the second-rated guard in the draft behind Oklahoma’s Cody Ford (6-4, 329), who went in the second round (38th overall) to the Bills.

The Falcons had Lindstrom, who’ll have to beat out veteran guard Jamon Brown, rated higher.

Brown, who’s been with the Rams and Giants, was signed in free agency to a three-year, $18.75 million deal, which included a $5.5 million signing bonus.

Lindstrom, who scored 29 on the Wonderlic, is projected to be a solid NFL starter. Lindstrom’s father, Chris, played defensive end for four teams from 1983-87. His uncle, Dave Lindstrom, also played in the NFL.

Brown, 26, has played in 50 games and made 38 starts.

“We are so excited,” offensive line coach Chris Morgan said. “We are fired up to see what we can become. ... We got new competition in the room.”

Right tackle

Ty Sambrailo finished last season as the starter after Ryan Schraeder’s play dipped.

He was re-signed to a threeyear contract extension that’s worth $14.25 million with escalator clauses that could push it up to $18 million, according to NFLPA documents. He received a $3 million signing bonus.

The Falcons doubled down on the position by drafting Kaleb McGary, who’s 6-7 and 317 pounds, with the 31st overall pick out of Washington.

He was the third-rated tackle in the draft behind Washington State’s Andre Dillard and Florida’s Jawaan Taylor.

Dillard went 22nd to the Eagles, while Taylor went four picks after McGary (35th) to Jacksonville. Also, Houston drafted Alabama State’s Tytus Howard 23rd overall.

McGary was the winner of the 2018 Morris Trophy as the top offensive lineman in the Pac-12 Conference as voted on by opposing players.

Lindstrom and McGary are strong contenders for the starting lineup.

“They’ll be ready to compete right from the get-go,”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.

Fullback Ricky Ortiz was the fullback last season, but the Falcons signed veteran tight end Luke Stocker in free agency.

Ortiz played in 12 games and made nine starts. He played 139 offensive snaps (13.1%) and did not distinguish himself as a lead blocker.

He caught three passes for 11 yards.

Stocker played some fullback in Tennessee. Also, tight end Jaeden Graham played some fullback in the offseason.

Kickoff/punt returner

The Falcons signed veteran running back Kenjon Barner and drafted running back/ wide receiver Marcus Green.

Barner, who’s 5-9 and 195 pounds, has 37 career NFL punt returns for 288 yards (7.8 yards per return) and no touchdowns. He has 31 kickoff returns for 718 yards (23.2 yards per return) and no touchdowns.

Green, who had a hamstring injury for much of the offseason, tied for the FBS lead with four kickoff return touchdowns and returned a punt for a touchdown.

Justin Hardy, last season’s punt returner, did not catch punts over the offseason. Last season’s kickoff returner, Marvin Hall, was not re-signed.