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Roster Analysis: Atlanta Falcons

The SportsXchange

Here is a close look at the Atlanta Falcons as they head into their season opener against the New Orleans Saints Sunday, 1 p.m. ET.

UNIT BY UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Matt Ryan. Backup - Dominique Davis.

Ryan signed a hefty $103.75 million contract extension after guiding the Falcons to the NFC championship game last season. His 56 wins are the most by any quarterback in his first five seasons in NFL history. He will be backed up by untested Dominique Davis.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Steven Jackson. Backups - Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling, Antone Smith and Josh Vaughan.

Jackson, formerly of the St. Louis Rams, is a better fit for the offense because he is a better pass catcher than Michael Turner, who lost his cutback ability. Jackson was highly productive with the Rams, rushing for 10,135 yards and 56 touchdowns since 2004. He also has caught 407 passes for 3,324 yards and eight touchdowns. Ewing showed that he could lead block in the exhibition season. Rodgers and Snelling will back up Jackson and Smith and Vaughan will expected to contribute on special teams.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Tony Gonzalez. Backups - Chase Coffman and Levine Toilolo.

The team celebrated when future Hall of Fameer Gonzalez announced he was coming back for a final and 17th season. With teams concerned about the Falcons outside speed, Gonzalez was free to work underneath. Coffman flashed great hands in a limited role last season. Toilolo is expected to be a red zone threat.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Stareters - Roddy White and Julio Jones. Backups - Harry Douglas, Drew Davis and Kevin Cone.

With Jones and White on the field together, defensive coordinators must chose which player to double. The move to send five picks to Cleveland in order to move up 21 spots to draft Jones in 2011 is looking like a steal. White, who may be slowed by a ankle injury, played at a Pro Bowl level last season. Gonzalez-White-Jones combined for 264 catches for 3,479 yards and 25 touchdowns. Ryan is also comfortable with Douglas while Davis and Cone are solid reserves.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Sam Baker, LG Justin Blalock, C Peter Konz, RG Garrett Reynolds and RT Lamar Holmes. Backups - T Ryan Schraeder, T Terren Jones, C/G Joe Hawley, G Harlan Gunn.

The line has been revamped. Konz will take over at center for Todd McClure, who retired. Holmes won the right tackle by default after Mike Johnson went down with a season-ending ankle injury. Konz started 10 games last season at right guard. Baker and Justin Blalock are the leaders now. Reynolds, who was also re-signed, opened as the starter the last two seasons. In 2011 he lost the job and in 2012 he suffering a back injury that required surgery. Hawley is the top interior backup while Schraeder is the top tackle reserve.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - RDE Osi Umenyiora, DT Jonathan Babineaux, NT Corey Peters, LDE Kroy Biermann. Backups - DT Peria Jerry, DT Travian Robertson, DT/DE Cliff Matthews, DE Jonathan Massaquoi, DE Stansly Maponga.

Umenyiora, who won two Super Bowl rings with the Giants, was signed to replace John Abraham, who was not re-signed. Umenyiora has played in 10 playoff games and has registered 5.5 sacks in those games. Babineaux, one of the most underrated defensive tackles in the league, had 8.5 tackles for loss. Peters is trying to bounce back from a down year. Massaquoi will be the first end off the bench followed by rookies Goodman and Maponga. Biermann will be used in some linebacker duties.

LINEBACKERS: WLB - Sean Weatherspoon, MLB - Akeem Dent, SLB - Stephen Nicholas. Backups - Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow.

Weatherspoon, Dent and Nicholas will get a chance to continue to grow together. The unit struggled in the playoffs against the run and with their coverage of tight ends. Bartu and Worrilow were undrafted rookies who made the final roster. Weatherspoon, a former first round pick, had 114 total tackles with three sacks and an interception. He started to take on more of a leadership role and made strides, but came up short of a Pro Bowl level.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Desmond Trufant, FS Thomas DeCoud, SS William Moore, LCB Asante Samuel, Nickel Robert McClain. Backups - CB Robert Alford and Dominique Franks.

Trufant was drafted to take over for Dunta Robinson, who was released. The young corner will learn at the feet of Samuel. Moore and DeCoud went to the Pro Bowl last season as alternates. McClain played well as the nickel back and will have to hold off Alford. Franks played some nickel back and was the primary punt returner. Motta and Ishmael will help on special teams.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Matt Bryant, P Matt Bosher, LS Josh Harris, KOR Jacquizz Rodgers, PR Harry Douglass or Robert Alford.

Alford was a dazzling punt returner in college and could provide a boost to the return game. Rodgers was solid as the kickoff returner, but rarely got past the first wave of tacklers. Bosher broke his own franchise-record for net punting average (40.7) and set a franchise-record for most touchbacks in a single season (45). Bryant, who's been slowed by a back injury, set a franchise-record for most points in a single season with 138.
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