ATLANTA -- Nine-year veteran defensive end Brady Smith, who has averaged 14.6 starts and 5.8 sacks in five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, will likely miss all of camp -- and could be sidelined early in the regular season as well -- after undergoing neck surgery.
Specialists in Rochester, N.Y., performed a nerve root decompression procedure over the weekend to relieve persistent pain that Smith had experienced in his neck. Recovery time for the surgery is six to 12 weeks. So, in the worst-case scenario, the Falcons' starting right end could miss the first month of the season.
The neck injury is not considered career-threatening but, with the surgery coming just before training camp, the Falcons face a potentially serious situation. Confirmation of Smith's surgery comes in the wake of the arrest of defensive tackle Rod Coleman, who was charged with disorderly conduct in an alleged incident early Friday morning.
The team's premier interior defensive lineman, and one of the league's top pass-rushing tackles, Coleman could come under the purview of the NFL personal conduct policy if he is convicted or pleads guilty to a lesser charge.
Losing Smith, who started all 16 regular-season games and both playoff contests in 2004, further thins a position that was already regarded as not particularly deep. The starter at left end, Patrick Kerney, is a Pro Bowl-caliber player but, beyond him and Smith, Atlanta has mostly young and untested players.
None of the six other defensive ends on the Falcons' training camp roster has ever started a regular-season game. In fact, the half-dozen ends have an aggregate eight appearances, and three have never played in a regular-season contest.
Second-year veteran Khaleed Vaughn, a former free agent who will now go to camp as the starter at right end, appeared in just four games in 2004 and registered three tackles and no sacks.
One insurance policy for the Falcons might be nine-year veteran Brandon Mitchell, signed as an unrestricted free agent this spring. The journeyman lineman has displayed some versatility in his career and, of his 45 starts, some have come at end. The Falcons said when they added Mitchell that he might log some snaps at end. Second-round pick Jonathan Babineaux of Iowa, chosen to play tackle principally, could possibly take some snaps at end, if needed.
Smith, 32, has been a durable and productive player since signing with Atlanta as a free agent in 2000, after spending the first four seasons of his career with New Orleans. The former Colorado State star, a third-round choice of the Saints in 1996, had 46 tackles, six sacks, three forced fumbles and two recoveries in 2004. For his career, Smith, who has played in 138 games, has 386 tackles and 42 sacks.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.