Training camp goals
1. Settle the open competitions along the offensive line, particularly at right guard and left tackle. Garrett Reynolds opened last season as the starter. He was replaced in the lineup by Joe Hawley. Those two will face competition from free-agent signee Vince Manuwai and rookie second-round pick Peter Konz. Also, Mike Johnson, if he can stay healthy, will also get a shot. Konz has picked up the offense and should be ready to compete for a starting spot. Konz worked at right guard and center during the offseason. Konz has also been a quick study in the film room. The Falcons want to firm up the interior of the passing pocket to keep the pressure out of Matt Ryan's face. There will also be a battle at left tackle where Sam Baker will seek to reclaim his starting spot from Will Svitek.
2. Implement defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's 4-3, hybrid 3-4 scheme. With the addition of Asante Samuel, the Falcons now have three quality cornerbacks. Samuel wants to play on the left side, but was used on the right during the offseason with Brent Grimes staying on the left. Dunta Robinson, last season's starter on the right, went inside in the nickel to cover receivers in the slot.
Free safety Chris Hope was also added to provide depth behind William Moore and Thomas DeCoud. The better coverage should allow Nolan to implement his 3-4 blitzing schemes on third downs, giving the secondary more chances to play man-to-man.
[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Coach Mike Smith on Falcons' playoff woes]
On the hot seat
Left tackle Sam Baker is trying to bounce back from an injury-riddled season and is in the last year of his contract. Baker had a second back surgery to repair a disc early last season and was relatively useless when he came back, losing his starting job to Svitek. The Falcons are banking on Baker returning to form. Svitek is viewed as a depth guy. There are high hopes for third-round pick Lamar Holmes, but he has missed OTAs and minicamps with a broken toe. Holmes appears better suited for right tackle.
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