NFL Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons: 5 Players With the Most to Lose During Training Camp

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Atlanta Falcons: 5 Players With the Most to Lose During Training Camp

Daniel Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons are kicking off their NFL Training Camp today in Flowery Branch to prepare for the most important season in the history of the franchise. That’s right -- the most important season ever. So no pressure, right?

The memories of a play away and about 10 yards last season along with a daunting schedule awaits a Falcons squad that believes it has everything it takes to finally get to and win a Super Bowl this season.

But believe this Falcons fan (and Atlanta sports homer in general) when he says that everyone around Atlanta is popping a Xanax and getting a little extra therapy to get them through the next month. Does the organization believe it has a team that can win it all? Without a doubt, yes. But is the team comfortable with its depth at every position? Maybe, maybe not. That is what training camp is for, after all.

There is definitely a sense of excitement like never before as players arrived on Wednesday. It is clear they believe they have all the tools it will take from the coaching staff to the players. It’s even clearer they have drank the Kool-Aide that Mike Smtih has been serving for the past few seasons.

But there are a few players who have a lot to lose over the next 30 days. Whether it be in performance or, more importantly, injury, there are some Falcons who cannot afford to have anything go wrong not only for their personal career but for the team as a whole.

Injuries are always something every NFL squad worries about during training camp. Even the NFLPA and Roger Goodell agree this is one of the biggest concerns for the betterment of the game. And with the Falcons primed and hungry to get to New York in February, it is the top concern in the minds of fans, players, coaches and management as everyone hits the field this morning.

But who are the five Falcons with the most to lose? It is pretty clear who they are and here is why...

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No. 5 - Kroy Biermann

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Kroy Biermann is an interesting man with the Atlanta Falcons.

He is not and will never be a Ray Lewis, but Biermann can be a beast with the right players around him. And the Falcons have a lot more talent around Biermann this season than they did last. Plus, when you add another year for the Mike Nolan system to sink in, Biermann is primed to make a run at his first Pro Bowl.

You can laugh if you want, but Biermann one-on-one will be a tough matchup for any offensive lineman. He has to make it through camp without any injuries, though. If he does, the Falcons’ defense could be one of the best in the NFL in 2013.

But if the unthinkable happens with an injury, it will be devastating for what this rising star and even more disturbing for the Falcons' title run.

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No. 4 - Jacquizz Rodgers

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One of the key reasons the Atlanta Falcons got to where they were in 2012 was directly related to the legs and speed of Jacquizz Rodgers. He quickly became a fan favorite and was a back that Matt Ryan trusted on every play.

But with the arrival of Stephen Jackson and the continued development of Jason Snelling what will be Rodgers’ role for 2013? Will he be a third down back? Will he see more special teams opportunities?

Jackson is one of the old-school special backs that can play every down. He is from the mold of an Emmitt Smith era when one workhorse running back was the only man in the backfield you needed.

Rodgers has the opportunity to make this Atlanta team one of the deepest in the league, but he has to stay healthy during camp and he has to embrace his role. He has to understand that the 10 or so plays each game with his name on it have to be the greatest 10 plays of his entire life.

If he can do that, all will be well.

But if he gets injured or doesn’t accept the fact he will see the ball less this season during camp, then Rodgers could be another in the long list of backup running backs to find an early exit from the NFL.

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No. 3 - Desmond Trufant

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Most fans believe the fate of the season rests in the hands and feet of rookie Desmond Trufant. In fact, there hasn’t been this much buzz about a member of the secondary for the Atlanta Falcons since Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan were playing baseball and football back in the 1990s.

And as the hours and days ticked away without Trufant's contract being finalized, fans and sports radio personalities in Atlanta were losing their minds. But thankfully Trufant signed and will be on the field today learning the ins and outs of Mike Nolan’s system, a scheme that is perfectly suited for his talents.

And that is exactly why he is on this list.

What if Trufant can’t handle the pressure placed on him as a rookie? What if he can’t gel with the veterans on the squad? What if he loses confidence? And, worse yet, what happens if he gets injured?

Everyone in Atlanta hopes and prays this kid gets a chance to shine. But Trufant and the Falcons both have a lot to lose if things do not go according to plan.

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No. 2 - Matt Ryan

Daniel Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, Matt Ryan has a lot to lose during camp for two reasons.

One, if the Atlanta Falcons have any shot at a Super Bowl Ryan has to be healthy and strong. The team simply cannot afford any strains or issues coming out of the preseason for its franchise quarterback.

Two, Ryan is in the final year of his contract and a major injury would be devastating to his bank account, retirement and overall career. Ryan and management have said all the right things in regards to getting a new long-term deal done that will pretty much keep him a Falcon for his career. It's refreshing for Ryan to show his leadership with him being all about his team and the organization. He has said repeatedly that he will not sit out because he is currently under contract. But you know the worse-case scenario is on his and his agent’s mind constantly.

Let’s hope that long-term deal gets done and this guy is not writing a column in a few weeks saying he told you so.

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No. 1 - Stephen Jackson

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And the Atlanta Falcons player with the most to lose during camp and the preseason is the newest running back, Stephen Jackson.

There is not a player in the NFL with more to gain and prove in 2013 than Jackson. Heading into this season, the star back has played a total of five nationally featured games in his entire career. Yes, five. If all goes well, Jackson will tie that mark in one year as the Falcons play the signature game of the week five times in 2013.

So in other words, Jackson can make a case to move his name up big time on the list of some of the greatest running backs to play the game if he stays healthy, which is easier said than done considering health has been a bit of an issue with Jackson in his career. But you have to root for the guy to put up a monster season as he has the perfect motivation to help bring a Super Bowl trophy to Atlanta and put a ring on his finger to highlight his career.

Plus he is the guy the Falcons desperately needed to move the chains on third and short and to run the clock to help keep the defense off the field in the fourth quarter. Atlanta has a lot of weapons on offense, but the most important and the man with the most to lose, without a doubt, is Jackson.


M Shannon Smallwood is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the US Basketball Writers Association.

Follow him @woodysmalls.