FLOWERY BRANCH — As the Falcons are set to enter the fifth season under the current regime, making the roster has become much more difficult for the team’s current and former draft picks.
Through careful drafting and free agent moves, no longer is there a guaranteed roster spot for all of the team’s draft picks. Over the first four drafts under Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith, 29 of 32 draft picks made the team or the practice squad.
Only running back Thomas Brown (sixth rounder in 2008), cornerback Wilrey Fontenot (seventh rounder in 2008) and cornerback William Middleton (fifth rounder in 2009) did not spend any regular-
season time with the team.
But with improved state of the roster, some players from the 2012 draft class will have a tough time making the team over previously drafted players when the Falcons trim the roster from 75 players to 53 by 9 p.m. Friday.
“When you have success and when you draft well, that is going to be part of the conversation every year,” Smith said. “The farther that you get into it, I think in Year One and Year Two, it’s not necessarily that big of a conversation.”
The biggest battle between players drafted by the Falcons is at right guard. Garrett Reynolds, a fifth-round pick in 2009, is trying to hold off a charging Peter Konz, the team’s second-round pick in 2011.
Konz, the 55th player taken overall, played two series with the first-string line against Miami on Friday.
“In my mind, I’m trying to fight for that No. 1 spot, the right guard spot,” Konz said. “As training camp winds down, you start to get less reps and things start to get more solidified. Then you have to get ready for games.”
The Reynolds-Konz battle is going to down to the wire.
“You know that the amount of opportunities you are getting now will decrease in the season,” Konz said. “So you’re trying to do as much as you can to prove to everybody that you can be a main part of this team.”
Konz has picked up things well in the offseason and has played strong. Reynolds, who opened last season as the starter but lost his job to Joe Hawley after seven games, has been solid.
Since Konz received a taste of the first-team action, he wants some more.
“I felt pretty comfortable,” Konz said. “I felt like I could handle my business and be a contributor on the line. There are a few things I need to shore up, but that’s why we practice.”
The Falcons have six safeties and they normally carry four into the season.
Starters Thomas DeCoud and William Moore are locks. Chris Hope was signed to provide a veteran presence and backup both starters.
That leaves Shann Schillinger, a sixth-round pick in 2010, battling with Charles Mitchell, a sixth-round pick in 2012, and Suasei Tuimaunei, a free-agent signee in 2011, battling for the final spot.
Schillinger, who was the third leading tackler on special teams last season with 11, has been slowed by a foot injury.
“I’m getting opportunities to show what I can do,” said Mitchell, who played in the SEC at Mississippi State. “I’m doing a pretty good job. I’m definitely trying to make this team.”
“I’m trying my best on special teams,” Mitchell said. “I’m really trying to focus and lock in on that. I’m trying to be the best special teams player out here.”
Behind defensive ends John Abraham, Kroy Biermann and Ray Edwards, there is a log jam of players drafted by the Falcons. Lawrence Sidbury, a fourth-round pick in 2009, Cliff Matthews, a seventh-round pick in 2011, and Jonathan Massaquoi, a fifth-round pick in 2012, are competing for one or possibly two spots.
Dimitroff and Smith know that the team’s roster is now developed enough that some draft picks, current and former, are no longer automatic locks to make the team.
“When you get into Year Four and Year Five, you’ve done your homework and we feel like we have,” Smith said. “There are going to be some very difficult decisions that we have to make.”
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