FLOWERY BRANCH — Despite starting and playing almost 90 percent of the snaps at free safety against the Eagles, James Sanders is still listed as the backup on the Falcons “unofficial” depth chart released by the team for the NFC South opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 4:15 p.m. on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Thomas DeCoud is still listed as the starter.
Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said the two are basically in a weekly competition for the starting spot.
“I think we have to keep evaluating new players like the both of them (Sanders and Kelvin Hayden),” VanGorder said. “I think for a safety, his first game against an offense like Philadelphia was a tough chore. Especially with all of the different personnel [groupings] and the calls that we make, but I thought James handled it well.”
Sanders had three tackles and was in coverage on Jason Avant’s 29-yard gain, one of the nine explosive plays the Falcons’ defense yielded.
“We’ll keep the ideal of him and Thomas competing for the free safety position,” VanGorder said. “I think it’s a good situation to have. They’ll both come in here and work hard. We’ll wait until the end of the week, make a decision and go.”
Hayden also started against the Eagles when the Falcons opened the game in their nickel package. He left the game with a hamstring injury. Christopher Owens took over and was strong in relief.
“Kelvin had a good game,” VanGorder said. “There were a couple of situations that were new to him. But he came up with an interception.”
The Falcons gave up 312 yards passing to Jay Culter in Week One and 314 yards to Michael Vick and Mike Kafka. They are hoping that Sanders and Hayden will help improve their pass defense over the long haul.
“Both of those guys are good pros,” VanGorder said. “It’s important to them. They want to win and they are going to help us.”
WR 11 Julio Jones 83 Harry Douglas 14 Eric Weems
LT 72 Sam Baker 74 Will Svitek
LG 63 Justin Blalock
C 62 Todd McClure 61 Joe Hawley 66 Brett Romberg
RG 75 Garrett Reynolds 79 Mike Johnson
RT 77 Tyson Clabo 74 Will Svitek
TE 88 Tony Gonzalez 89 Reggie Kelly 81 Michael Palmer
WR 84 Roddy White 80 Kerry Meier
QB 2 Matt Ryan 8 Chris Redman
RB 33 Michael Turner 44 Jason Snelling 22 Jacquizz Rodgers 35 Antone Smith
FB 34 Ovie Mughelli
RE 55 John Abraham 90 Lawrence Sidbury 98 Cliff Matthews
DT 91 Corey Peters 99 Vance Walker 97 Carlton Powell
DT 95 Jonathan Babineaux 94 Peria Jerry
LE 93 Ray Edwards 71 Kroy Biermann
OLB 56 Sean Weatherspoon 59 Spencer Adkins
MLB 50 Curtis Lofton 52 Akeem Dent
OLB 54 Stephen Nicholas 53 Mike Peterson
RCB 23 Dunta Robinson 21 Chris Owens 26 Kelvin Hayden
LCB 20 Brent Grimes 24 Dominique Franks 29 Darrin Walls
S 25 William Moore 36 James Sanders
S 28 Thomas DeCoud 39 Shann Schillinger
K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 14 Eric Weems 24 Dominique Franks
PR 14 Eric Weems 24 Dominique Franks
LS 82 Joe Zelenka
H 5 Matt Bosher 80 Kerry Meier
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog