I did a mock 53-man roster right before minicamp in May. We're now a week into training camp, and the team still hasn't posted an official depth chart, so I figured this would be a great time to revisit the list.
Here's the updated projection:
It's still too early to project John Parker Wilson as a keeper, but it's a possibility. He's had a good camp. So far he has shown more consistent accuracy than Shockley and a better arm than Redman. Both Shockley and Redman are in the final years of their contracts, and Redman is carrying a $2.5 million base salary.
Verron Haynes is also having a good camp and will make the competition interesting. The Falcons carried only four backs on the roster for the entire 2008 season, since Jason Snelling did double-duty as the #2 fullback and #3 running back. Verron Haynes also plays both roles.
I suspect that the team will keep at least five runners this year, and the roles that Norwood, Brown, Snelling and Haynes play on special teams might make a strong argument to keep all six.
Aaron Kelly had a good first week of camp and will still have chances to impress the coaches in preseason. Likewise, Chandler Williams will have his chances - including returning punts and kickoffs. But the Falcons signed not one but two veteran free agents to replace Harry Douglas, so unless the team keeps six wideouts, they will both have a major uphill battle to crack the roster. Ditto for Troy Bergeron and Eric Weems. The other undrafted receivers (Darren Mougey, Bradon Godfrey, and Dicky Lyons) have already been released.
I'm not making any changes here yet, but I suspect that Keith Zinger might be in the hunt for one of the backup TE spots. He has shown amazing improvement from last preseason to camp this year. But I'll wait until the second preseason game before dropping either Hartsock or Peelle in favor of Zinger or Jason Raider.
With the pre-minicamp list, I said it was way too early even to think about naming the backups. There are still some battles to be won, and it's not certain the team will even keep ten linemen. (Last season the Falcons started with nine but finished with ten.)
If they keep just nine, Ben Wilkerson is likely the odd man out. He has progressed nicely as a backup center and guard, but Brett Romberg has more experience and has even won a starting job while playing under line coach Paul Boudreau. Quinn Ojinnaka can play all five positions on the line and has experience at left tackle (and has performed well when needed).
Mike Butterworth is in the hunt for a backup guard spot as well, but he'd be a long shot - especially if there are only nine linemen. There are also three undrafted linemen in camp, but they have had so few reps in 2practice that they are likely competing for one or two practice squad jobs.
Not much of a story here. The only other specialist in camp is rookie long snapper Robert Shiver. But next season could be interesting, as the team elected to tender Koenen for one year with the franchise tag rather than resign him to a long term deal.
I'm projecting nine defensive linemen, though the performances of the other DTs will make a strong argument for keeping ten. (That's unusual, but the Falcons use such frequent rotations that it would make sense to use an extra at-large roster spot on the defensive line. The team did have ten defensive linemen for a short time last season.)
At this point, the significant candidates for an extra DT spot are Jason Jefferson and Thomas Johnson. You might remember Jefferson from last year, but he's had a much better preseason this year. I'm not quite ready to buy into his improvement, so I'm waiting for the exhibition games to see how he does in full contact action before saving him a roster spot.
Johnson is one of the surprises of camp. He was brought in under a futures contract in January. He played in 13 games in 2005-2006, was out of football in 2007, went to camp with the Jets last season and is in camp with us this year. That's not a particularly impressive resume, but the story is he's progressing very well with line coach Ray Hamilton.
The numbers game says that if there are 10 offensive linemen or 6 wide receivers, the extra roster spot will likely come from the linebacker corps. That would put the squeeze on young prospects Spencer Adkins and Robert James, who are already in heated competition with Edmond Miles and Tony Gilbert for those backup linebacker jobs.
Last time around, I projected that Von Hutchins and David Irons would be the cornerbacks who didn't make it. Irons wasn't cleared for full contact before the start of camp, so he was released with an injury settlement. The wild card is Hutchins.
He was brought in to add experience to the CB group last year, since Chris Houston (11 games) was the only corner on the roster at the time that had ever started a single game in the NFL. But now the CB group is crowded, and Houston, Jackson and Grimes have more experience behind them.
But Hutchins was also a safety with the Houston Texans before signing with Atlanta, and the Falcons could use some experience in the safety corps. So this time around, I'm putting him in as a backup safety and knocking out Jamaal Fudge, Antoine Harris, and Eric Brock.
A key for all of the fringe players is that they'll be competing for at-large roster spots. The extra wide receivers aren't just competing with the other WR prospects and the receivers ahead of them on the depth chart. They're also competing with the borderline linebackers, defensive backs, etc, trying to convince the coaches that a sixth WR would be a better way to use a roster spot than a 10th offensive lineman, 7th linebacker, etc.
And that will make the final roster cuts very, very interesting.
Also note that the team still might not be finished acquiring players from outside the organization. Domonique Foxworth, Jason Jefferson, and Jamaal Fudge all came aboard AFTER the roster cuts but before the first game. It's likely that the Falcons will make a few moves again this season after seeing who gets squeezed out elsewhere.