- It was a scorcher at practice today, with temperatures north of 90 degrees, and it was clear the Falcons players felt it. The high temperatures may have gotten the better of cornerback Josh Wilson, who had to get his hamstring worked on midway through practice.
- As usual, Jay Adams provides us with five things we learned from practice today. Included are running back Antone Smith’s role with the team, the majesty of wide receiver Julio Jones, the battles in the trenches, and the play of linebackers Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu and Prince Shembo.
- The competition at cornerback seemed to heat up a bit, as Robert McClain was taking first-team reps at nickel cornerback. That should be no surprise given that head coach Mike Smith indicated that McClain, Wilson, and Javier Arenas would all have opportunities this summer. Wilson had worked as the starting nickel the first two days of practice. Desmond Trufant, who has spent the bulk of the first two days of practice at right cornerback, made the switch to the left side today.
- The Falcons cross-trained a few of their blockers today. Guard Harland Gunn took snaps at center, while guard Gabe Carimi got some work at right tackle.
- But the star of today was Jones, who caught a lot of eyeballs as he showed no ill signs from his day off yesterday.
Veteran newcomer Josh Wilson continued to work as the primary nickel back ahead of incumbent Robert McClain and Javier Arenas. Don’t read too much into yet, however. Smith said all three players should get a chance to be the primary nickel during the exhibition games, so it’s an open competition now. It also makes sense to get Wilson more work because he’s not as familiar with the defense as McClain.
“It’s a competitive situation,” Smith said of the nickel spot. “We’re going to give about three guys the same amount of reps. … It’s tough because 65, 67 percent is going to be your sub and the other 35, 33 are going to be base. Those guys are going to have to show what they can do in a little different situation. It’s not like they’re going out there and getting all the snaps that we’re going to run in our training camp.”
After being one of the better nickel cornerbacks in the league in 2012, McClain is coming off a subpar 2013 campaign. The team signed Wilson and Arenas to push him in the competition, and it appears that the Falcons will let the competition play out over the next several weeks before making a decision.
With the Washington Redskins last season, Wilson served as a starting cornerback outside but moved to the slot when the team utilized their nickel sub-package. In the first four years of his career (2007-10), Wilson served primarily as a nickel cornerback with both the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens. With the Arizona Cardinals, Arenas served primarily as a safety in dime sub-packages. However, prior to his arrival in Arizona last season, Arenas served as the nickel cornerback of the Kansas City Chiefs for three seasons.
The nickel sub-package refers to the defensive alignment that features five defensive backs, typically used in obvious passing situations. The dime refers to an alignment with six defensive backs and is less commonly used.
Let’s take a look at the various tweets, articles, reports, news and rumors that surfaced from the second day of Atlanta Falcons training camp:
- As usual, let’s kick things off with Jay Adam’s five takeaways from Day 2. Adams discusses linebacker Kroy Biermann’s return from injury, the team’s padded practice schedule, wide receiver Bernard Reedy’s potential emergence, the battle for the nickel cornerback spot and Julio Jones’ day off.
- ESPN’s Vaughn McClure expresses his own observations from the day including further elaboration of the battle for nickel cornerback, Reedy, and the play of the Falcons pass-rushers.
- Head over to AtlantaFalcons.com to check out today’s photo gallery from practice The posted picture above shows wide receiver Roddy White and other Falcons players interacting with the crowd as the team underwent its first-ever “Falcons Walk,” kicking off practice with a stroll through the crowd on their way to the practice field.
- The AJC provides video of today’s practice and post-practice interviews with general manager Thomas Dimitroff, head coach Mike Smith and offensive tackle Jake Matthews.
- The Falcons filled the roster spot left open from the waiving of Darius Johnson by signing wide receiver Jabin Sambrano. Sambrano is a former undrafted rookie out of Montana signed by the Indianapolis Colts in 2012. Sambrano was put on injured reserve by the Colts in that summer after suffering a concussion in training camp. He was later released by the Colts and ended the season on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad. He was re-signed by the Colts the following offseason, but was cut at the end of their 2013 camp. He finished last year with the Jacksonville Jaguars on their practice squad before being released in the offseason. He has spent the past few months in Canada with the B.C. Lions before getting another chance in the NFL with the Falcons.
ESPN’s Vaughn McClure provided the most clarity we have to date, indicating that Johnson told people that he had enough with football and planned to begin coaching at his alma mater of Southern Methodist University.
Reports surfaced recently that Johnson had also been arrested in late May on DUI charges in Fulton County, although McClure’s insight seemingly nixes the idea that it was a significant factor in his departure from the Falcons.
If McClure’s report is true, Johnson’s career as a Falcon lasted just one season. He was an undrafted free agent last season, impressed enough during traininng camp to make the team’s practice squad and was elevated from that unit to the active roster when injuries sapped the Falcons of depth. Johnson managed to work his way from the team’s fifth option at wide receiver to their third by year’s end, finishing the season with 22 catches for 210 yards and a touchdown in 10 appearances and two starts.
Johnson’s departure increases the chances that one of the team’s many undrafted rookies could make the roster. Former Toledo product Bernard Reedy was very impressive during OTAs in May and June.
Let’s take a look at the various tweets, articles, reports, news and rumors that surfaced from the first day of Atlanta Falcons training camp:
- AtlantaFalcons.com’s Jay Adams writes five things we learned about the first day of camp.
- Not to be outdone, Jay Clemons for FOX Sports also has five takeaways from the first day of camp.
- ESPN’s Vaughn McClure also has his thoughts and observations from the first day.
- Josh Wilson opened up training camp atop the depth chart at nickel cornerback. Wilson will be competing with three other Falcons for the honors of being the team’s top cornerback off the bench: Robert McClain (the incumbent), Javier Arenas and Ricardo Allen.
- While there appears little doubt that Devin Hester will handle the Falcons return duties this year on both kickoffs and punts, the team is also looking for capable reserves to fill in just in case Hester is out of the equation. Harry Douglas, Wilson, Arenas, Bernard Reedy and Tramaine Thompson took reps in the return game.
- The official site has a series of pictures from Day 1, including the one shown above.
- One of the newest Falcons, linebacker Pat Angerer discusses his return from microfracture surgery on his knee.
- Falcon fans enjoyed everything they saw from wide receiver Julio Jones today. As noted earlier today, Falcon fans shouldn’t expect to see Jones on Saturday given his planned practice schedule for camp.
— Jay Adams (@FalconsJAdams) July 25, 2014
Johnson was an undrafted rookie with the Falcons last year out of Southern Methodist. Johnson impressed during the summer enough to make the practice squad. He was quickly elevated to the roster when injuries hit the team early at wide receiver and managed to work his way up the depth chart to the third wideout by season’s end. In 10 games last year, he caught 22 passes for 210 yards (9.5 avg) and one touchdown.
It’s time for me to be that much reviled “armchair” general manager and predict which 53 players will make it with the Atlanta Falcons this summer.
Last year, in my preliminary prediction before camp, I wound up nailing 44 out of the 53 players that eventually made the Falcons. I think that’s pretty good. Of the nine that didn’t make the cut, two were put on injured reserve (Sean Renfree and Mike Johnson) and one was briefly signed to the practice squad (Phillipkeith Manley). Of the eight players I predicted to make the practice squad, only two did (James Rodgers and Terren Jones).
I also made note of which players I believe are eligible for the practice squad with an asterisk (*).
Staying: Matt Ryan, T.J. Yates
Going: Sean Renfree*, Jeff Mathews*
Put simply, the Falcons traded for Yates for a reason.
Staying: Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Devonta Freeman*, Antone Smith
Going: Josh Vaughan, Jerome Smith*, Patrick DiMarco, Roosevelt Nix*, Maurice Hagens*
I’ll explain the absence of a true fullback along wit the tight ends, but otherwise the four that stick shouldn’t be a surprise.
To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.
Total Score: 97/100
Last year’s rank: 2
Player Grade: 88/100
Teams he is starter: 28 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 32 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +3
Jones’ status as the top player can be simply revealed by looking at his play over his 10 most recent games. In that span, he’s caught 74 passes for 1,022 yards and seven touchdowns. Extrapolated over 16 games that would equal a full season’s total of 118 catches for 1,635 yards and 11 touchdowns. Such a reception total would tie for the 10th most in an NFL season, and his yardage would be the 12th most.
The Falcons offense has morphed into a Jones-centric one. Once upon a time, running back Michael Turner was the driving force of the offense, but now Jones makes it go. Matt Ryan’s passer rating drops 16 points when Jones has not been on the field the past three seasons, something the Falcons felt wholeheartedly last season when Jones missed the final 11 games of the season.
That’s simply because the entire complexity of how teams defend the Falcons changes dependent on whether Jones is in or out of the lineup. Defenses have to respect the deep ball when Jones is on the field, and don’t when he’s not. He dictates coverage as he constantly draws safety help over the top, which has opened up opportunities for Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez underneath, where they work beautifully.
Every other day, Jones will receive a day off from practice, while Biermann will practice two days and then receive time off every third practice. Jones is recovering from a foot injury that sidelined him for the final 11 games of 2013. Biermann missed 14 games after tearing his Achilles tendon in Week 2 of last season.
Smith also indicated that he expects defensive tackle Corey Peters to be removed from the active/Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list quickly. Like Biermann, Peters is also recovering from an Achilles tear that caused him to miss the Falcons 2013 season finale.
Incumbent kicker Matt Bryant, punter Matt Bosher and long snapper Josh Harris return for the third consecutive season. Bryant has been a reliable, clutch kicker over his past five seasons with the Falcons. He’s getting up in age and 2014 might mark his final season in Atlanta, but the Falcons should feel fairly confident that his previous success will continue this year. The team did however bring in a young option in undrafted rookie Sergio Castillo to push him. Castillo is a long shot to unseat Bryant, but can impress the coaching staff enough that he can return on the short list of kickers next year if the team and Bryant part ways.
Bosher is becoming one of the league’s best young punters and won’t face any challengers for his position. Bosher is likely due for a contract extension at the end of the year, and thus his goal this summer will be preparing to put forth his best effort during the season to achieve maximum earning potential.
Harris has had a few lapses over the years, but they appear to become less and less with each passing season. So there’s no reason to expect the Falcons to be disappointed with his performance moving forward.
However, the one big move occurred with the team now having ex-Chicago Bear Devin Hester serve as return specialist. Hester is arguably the best return in NFL history and needs just one more score to sit atop the all-time leader board as far as non-offensive touchdowns go. Hester, 31, is not quite the dynamic threat he was in his prime, he’s still a very effective return threat that commands respect from opposing teams. Many teams still kick away from him because of his potential to take it the distance every time he touches the ball, although it’s not quite the death sentence it once was.