Youngsters will play alot for Atlanta

Unless the Falcons make roster moves between now and the beginning of the regular season, they're going to have several young players in key roles on a defense that has undergone renovation since the spring of 2004.

DeAngelo Hall is back at left cornerback, Chad Lavalais is taking over at nose tackle, and Demorrio Williams will compete for the strong-side linebacker spot. They're all second-year pros, Hall having started nine games as a rookie, Lavalais five.

And beyond the fact that rookie linebackers Jordan Beck and Michael Boley might be in key backup spots while playing special teams, rookie defensive linemen Jonathan Babineaux, Chauncey Davis and Darrell Shropshire will get chances to earn serious playing time.

The only veteran defensive lineman signed by the Falcons was Brandon Mitchell, the former Seahawk. Yet former starting nose tackle Ed Jasper and key reserve Travis Hall were cut, and right end Brady Smith will turn 32 next month.

"The thing that stands out about all three of them is athleticism; the quickness, agility and balance they have," said defensive line coach Bill Johnson. "One of our goals was to get faster on defense ... I think we've done that on the line for sure."

Shropshire is bigger than Atlanta defensive linemen usually get. He's about 6-feet-2, and 301 pounds, but the seventh-round draft choice moves pretty well, and figures to work against Mitchell and Antwan Lake for the four defensive tackle spot, behind Lavalais, Rod Coleman and Babineaux, a second-rounder.

"We'll always lean toward the athlete, the guy who gets his hat in the crack, can get up-field, the guy who can chase down the line of scrimmage," said team president/general manager Rich McKay.

Davis, a fourth-round draft choice, is an early favorite to end up the No. 3 defensive end, although that's subject to roster moves or the unexpected emergence of a lightly-heralded player already on the roster. Recommended Stories

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