Falcons set to start season: Strategy

Falcons set to start season: Strategy

FLOWERY BRANCH - Strategy and personnel going into Atlanta's game with the Eagles.

SLB Demorrio Williams beat out Ike Reese for the starting job at strongside linebacker. This means the depth chart never changed from the start of training camp, but the Falcons backed up their promise to allow Reese to compete for a starting job. Using Reese a spare part on defense is better because he is a demon on special teams, and now he will have fresher legs.

Don't be surprised if WLB Michael Boley plays his way onto the field soon. Nobody thought Williams would do more than play special teams last year, but his forward and horizontal speed were impossible to ignore. Boley, however, is bigger and faster. The Falcons list him behind Keith Brooking on the weak side, but it's realistic that Boley could earn some snaps in nickel situations, just as Williams did in 2004.

The Falcons can't afford to let MLB Ed Hartwell become a weak link in coverage if McNabb passes on first and second down, which Philadelphia likes to do with RB Brian Westbrook. This could become an area the Eagles exploit because Hartwell's strength is stopping the run and filling the middle, not dropping into coverage.

Rookie Chauncey Davis will take snaps 10-15 snaps at defensive end when Brady Smith needs a rest and Patrick Kerney switches to the other side. Davis had a solid preseason, but he's never played against a talent like Eagles RT Jon Runyan.

Jonathan Babineaux, another rookie, could get as many as 15 snaps as he plays in a defensive tackle rotation with second-year veteran Antwan Lake. Babineaux backs up pass-rushing extraordinaire Rod Coleman.

There's a big question mark regarding the durability of SS Keion Carpenter, who hasn't played a full season as a starter since 2002. He has undergone major surgery in both his back and knee, so he needs to provide physical skills that are equivalent to the mental makeup that makes him so valuable.

Undrafted rookie Michael Koenen, who led the NFL in preseason with a 43.1 net punting average, might resemble a butterfly at kickoff. The former Western Washington standout is a long way from college, literally and figuratively. He needs a strong start to keep doubt from creeping in.

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