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Motta, Peters’ Training Camp Statuses Unknown

June 20th, 2014 Comments off
David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Zeke Motta

Vaughn McClure of ESPN reported this morning that the statuses of Atlanta Falcons safety Zeke Motta and defensive tackle Corey Peters are unknown as of yet for next month’s training camp. Both players are coming off serious injuries suffered last December at the end of the 2013 season.

Motta suffered a fractured neck in the Falcons’ Week 14 loss to the Green Bay Packers. He had offseason surgery on the injury, but his recovery has been delayed longer than initially expected. Per McClure, Motta will have a follow-up appointment in July that will determine whether or not he’ll return not just for training camp, but also for the year. It’s clear that Motta’s neck injury is a career-threatening one.

Peters on the other hand suffered a torn Achilles tendon against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16 last year. Per Falcons head coach Mike Smith, Peters is ahead of schedule in his recovery. But he is still is at risk for missing a large portion of training camp and/or the preseason as he continues to recover from the injury. McClure indicates there is a possibility that Peters could be placed on the team’s Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list at the start of not only training camp but also the regular season.

McClure notes of two distinct designations that could await Peters. If at the outset of training camp, which begins on July 25, Peters is placed on active/PUP list, he will be eligible to return to practice during camp at his earliest allowance. But if he is placed on the reserve/PUP, then he will be forced to miss the first six weeks of the regular season, but will have a chance to return to practice and the active roster within a month afterwards.

McClure also notes that wide receiver Julio Jones is expected to be a full participant in training camp, despite missing all of the team’s offseason practices. Jones indicated earlier this month that his target date for return is the regular season-opener against the New Orleans Saints, indicating doubt that his usage in camp and the preseason may be extremely limited.

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Falcons Announce 2014 Training Camp Schedule

June 20th, 2014 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Dimitroff (left) and Mike Smith watch a practice

The Atlanta Falcons announced their upcoming schedule for next month’s training camp which kicks off on Friday, July 25 in Flowery Branch, Georgia. The team will break camp on August 12, a few days before traveling to Houston for their second preseason matchup against the Texans.

The team will conduct a large number of practices that will be open to the public most afternoons, including an initial week which will be capped off by their annual “Friday Night Lights” event, sponsored by Kia Motors and will be held at Archer High School in Lawrenceville.

The team will hold joint practices with the Tennessee Titans on Monday, August 4. After breaking camp on the 12th, they will hold joint practices with the Texans in Houston on August 13 and 14 leading up to their preseason game on August 16.

Training camp will have another added feature this year as it will be chronicled by the HBO and NFL Films documentary series, Hard Knocks.

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Falcons Waive Dominique Davis

June 19th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Dominique Davis

The Atlanta Falcons announced today that they have waived quarterback Dominique Davis from the roster. Davis was pushed out in the wake of the team’s decision to acquire T.J. Yates via trade yesterday. The team was not going to carry more than four quarterbacks into training camp and with the team wrapping up their mandatory minicamp today, it marked the end of their organized team activities schedule until camp opens at the end of July.

Davis was originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of East Carolina in 2012, and had a strong summer to make veterans Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson expendable. Davis sat behind Matt Ryan and Luke McCown that season at quarterback, before being elevated last season to the top spot behind Ryan. Davis garned limited playing time during the 2013 season, and suffered an injury when subbing for Ryan during garbage time in a blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 11. Davis completed five of seven pass attempts for 34 yards in limited duty in 2013.

Davis’ departure leaves Yates, former 2013 seventh-round pick Sean Renfree, and 2014 undrafted rookie free agent Jeff Mathews competing for what may become one roster spot behind quarterback Matt Ryan. Yates is likely the front-runner, however recent reports suggest that the competition is very much an open one.

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Falcons Swap Dent for Yates; Sign LB Tim Dobbins

June 19th, 2014 Comments off
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Yates

The Atlanta Falcons announced late on Wednesday night that they had acquired Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates via trade and signed free agent linebacker Tim Dobbins. The Falcons sent linebacker Akeem Dent to the Texans in exchange for Yates.

On Tuesday, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Texans had made the decision to waive Yates, but the transaction would not become official until today. That would mean that Yates would be open to waivers. Given the Falcons’ poor record in 2013, they had high waiver priority but per a report by Pro Football Talk, the team wanted to be sure they got Yates. Negotiations went later into Wednesday, prompting the Texans to delay their official waiving of Yates and the late announcement of the move.

Yates was a fifth-round pick of the Texans in 2011. He started the final five games of the regular season as a rookie for an injured Matt Schaub and posted a 2-3 record. He also started in the Texans first-round playoff win over the Cincinnati Bengals that year. For the season, Yates finished with 949 yards passing, completing 61.2 percent of 134 pass attempts for three touchdowns and three interceptions. The past two seasons, he has earned limited playing time in seven games, combining to pass for 151 yards, two interceptions and complete 59.4 percent of 32 attempts. Yates had fell down the depth chart, getting passed up by former undrafted rookie quarterback Case Keenum for the starting spot after Schaub’s benching and his own poor play in relief during a Week 6 loss to the St. Louis Rams.

Yates was a prospect that the Falcons showed considerable interest towards in the run-up to the 2011 NFL Draft. As a local kid out of Marietta, Georgia, Yates was a participant in the team’s local pro day that year and the team also conducted a private workout with him following watching him at his pro day. You can click here to read my scouting report on Yates as a 2011 draft prospect. Yates will be expected to push immediately for the backup position behind starter Matt Ryan. It is likely that one of the following three quarterbacks currently on the roster will not make it to training camp next month: Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree, and undrafted rookie Jeff Mathews.

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Tim Dobbins

Dent was a third-round pick by the Falcons in 2011. He played primarily on special teams as a rookie, where he led the team with 17 tackles. Dent stepped into the starting role at middle linebacker in 2012 after the departure of Curtis Lofton via free agency and struggled. He was limited to being a starter in the Falcons’ base defense and finished the year with 61 tackles and a forced fumble while starting 13 games. He began last season in the same role, but was eventually replaced by undrafted rookie Paul Worrilow by midseason. Dent added seven more starts, 46 tackles and 1.5 sacks to his career stat sheet in 2013.

Dent lost favor within the organization, evidenced when the team selected four linebackers on the third and final day of the 2014 NFL Draft. Seventh-round pick Yawin Smallwood was expected to compete with Dent for the reserve spot behind Worrilow. But with recent news that fourth-round pick Prince Shembo would also be making a move inside to bolster depth, it likely hurt Dent’s chances to make the team. However, with the recent injury to Sean Weatherspoon, Dent’s chances of sticking looked to have improved.

Dobbins, 31, has played the past three seasons with the Texans as a reserve inside linebacker in their 3-4 defense. He started six games as an injury replacement in 2012 and recorded 35 tackles, one interception and four passes defended. Dobbins led the Texans with nine tackles on special teams in 2011. Prior to joining the Texans, Dobbins played under current Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan with the Miami Dolphins in 2010. That season, Dobbins also started six games as an injury replacement and had 42 tackles, one sack and a pass defended. Prior to that, he had played four years with the San Diego Chargers before they traded him to the Dolphins in a trade during the 2010 NFL Draft. Dobbins started 10 games over his four-year stint in San Diego, and was a productive special teams performer. He was originally a fifth-round pick of the Chargers in 2006.

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Falcons to be Featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks This Summer

June 12th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Dimitroff and Arthur Blank celebrate

The Atlanta Falcons announced today that the team will be featured on HBO and NFL Film’s documentary series, “Hard Knocks,” this summer. The show is set to premiere on August 5, 2014 at 10 p.m. Eastern. The team will be featured in five hour-long episodes every Tuesday night.

Rumors surrounding the team’s interest in being featured on the show have persisted for years. Prior to the 2012 season, the team was considered the favorite in league circles to be featured. Instead, the Miami Dolphins were the featured team. The Cincinnati Bengals hosted the series last summer. During the lockout in 2011, GM Thomas Dimitroff indicated that the team was open to the idea, but again had no immediate plans to be featured on the show.

The NFL instituted new rules this past October, nicknamed the “Hard Knocks Rules,” which would require one team per year to be featured on the documentary series. One rule was that it would still allow for volunteers, but one would be ultimately appointed if one wasn’t found. Another that would have seemingly eliminated the Falcons was the reprieve teams would get if they’ve made the playoffs in either of the past two seasons. Presumably that indicates the Falcons volunteered.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank had the following to say about the news:

“We are excited about the opportunity to give our fans a behind the scenes look at what it takes to prepare an NFL team for the rigors of a 16-game regular season and beyond. This marks the first time that our franchise will be featured on HARD KNOCKS and we look forward to showcasing our great players and coaches to football fans all across America.”

Falcons Sign Southward; Add Kicker Castillo

June 12th, 2014 Comments off
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Dezmen Southward

The Atlanta Falcons announced today the signing of third-round rookie draft pick safety Dezmen Southward and also signed undrafted kicker Sergio Castillo. Southward was the lone member of the Falcons’ 2014 draft class that had yet to be signed. Castillo adds another leg in training camp after the team released undrafted punter Matt Yoklic earlier this week. Along with Yoklic, the team dumped tight end Andrew Szczerba, freeing up some roster space. The team has one spot left on their roster, which may be to sign a free-agent linebacker such as Tim Dobbins, who earlier reports indicated was working out for the team today.

Southward is expected to fill a backup role with the Falcons and is likely destined to be their free safety of the future behind starter Dwight Lowery. Southward has also been getting work as a reserve at strong safety in light of the neck injury to Zeke Motta that has him sidelined during the offseason.

Castillo is an undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M who finished his career as the NCAA’s all-time leader in points scored (437). Castillo won the Fred Mitchell Award, given to the nation’s top kicker outside of FBS play. Castillo is a two-time All-Conference player and two-time Division II All-American honoree. He also finsihed his career as the school’s all-time leader in field goals made (62). Castillo was very accreted throughout his career, connecting on 78.5 percent of his 79 career tries. He also hit on 251 of 255 extra point tries in his career (98.4 percent). As a senior, he had career-highs with 24 field goals made and 149 points scored. He also had 16 career kickoffs with a pair of touchbacks.

As a follow-up to this morning’s report about the Falcons interest in veteran free-agent linebackers, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure reported that the Falcons are working out ex-Houston Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins today. Dobbins has experience playing for Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, having played under him with the Miami Dolphins in 2010. Dobbins entered the league in 2006 and has been primarily a special teams player and reserve with 22 career starts.

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Report: Falcons ‘Looking Hard’ at Linebacker Vilma

June 12th, 2014 Comments off
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Jonathan Vilma

In a series of tweets on Wednesday evening, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport outlined the Atlanta Falcons options and plans for replacing injured linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. According to Rapoport, the Falcons will take a “hard look” at signing veteran linebacker Jonathan Vilma, formerly of the New Orleans Saints as well as considering other options in Pat Angerer and Tim Dobbins. Per Rapoport, the team is not interested in signing veterans James Harrison or London Fletcher.

Weatherspoon suffered a torn Achilles on Tuesday during practice and will miss the entire 2014 season. Weatherspoon’s loss is a significant blow to the Falcons defense as he was one of the team’s defensive leaders.

Vilma is a 10-year veteran in the NFL, first entering the league as a first-round pick of the New York Jets in 2004. Vilma only appeared in one game with the Saints a year ago ago, limited by knee injury. Vilma had an arthroscopic scope on his left knee in August, but did not play for the first eight games of the 2013 season. He played a dozen snaps in the team’s Week 9 game against the Jets before landing on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. Rapoport indicates that the Falcons would bring in Vilma for a visit if they like his medical prognosis from afar. A report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter in late May indicated that Vilma was “healthy and ready” to play this year after his knee issue.

Vilma, 32, played in 11 games in 2012 for the Saints, starting 10 of them at weak-side linebacker. He was again limited by knee injury and a league-mandated suspension due to BountyGate, but managed to recorded 37 tackles, one sack and one interception. Degenerative knee condition has plagued Vilma throughout his career, causing him to exit New York back in 2007 after being limited to just seven games that year. But he had three good years with the Saints from 2008-10 before the knee became a problem again in 2011. Vilma’s left knee has undergone surgery four times since November 2011.

Angerer, 27, himself is facing injury concerns as well, as he finished the 2013 season on injured reserve due to microfracture knee surgery. Angerer was reportedly a few months away from being able to work out for NFL teams per FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez in April.

Angerer also missed time in 2011 due to foot and knee injuries. He was limited last summer by those same foot problems, and then missed the season opener in 2013 due to a concussion. That was followed up by more knee problems, which ended his season in Week 15 with the Indianapolis Colts. Angerer finished with 63 tackles, 0.5 sacks and an interception in 11 games with nine starts. He was originally a second-round pick of the Colts in 2010, starting at both middle linebacker in their 4-3 and inside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme.

Harrison, 36, is coming off a lackluster season in Cincinnati after a very productive career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 15 games with the Bengals, he had 30 tackles, two sacks and an interception playing mostly outside linebacker. Harrison earned five trips to the Pro Bowl during the decade he played for the Steelers (2002-12), tallying 64 sacks in that span.

Fletcher, 39, was second on the Washington Redskins in tackles in 2013 with 111. He also had two sacks last year. Fletcher has had an extensive career in the NFL, playing for the Redskins (since 2007), Buffalo Bills (2002-06) and St. Louis Rams (1998-01). Fletcher is a four-time Pro Bowler that has started 239 consecutive games and appeared in 256 without missing time due to injury. He was originally an undrafted free agent out of John Carroll in 1998 with the Rams, helping them to two Super Bowl appearances.

Per Rapoport, the Falcons are also considering internal options like Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu to replace Weatherspoon, as well as fourth-round pick Prince Shembo, who Rapoport calls “impressive and versatile.” Shembo played primarily defensive end and outside linebacker at Notre Dame, but will be converted to inside linebacker with the Falcons in their hybrid 3-4 scheme.

Weatherspoon Ruptures Achilles, Out for 2014 Season

June 10th, 2014 Comments off
Icon Sports Media, Inc.

Sean Weatherspoon

Today the Atlanta Falcons announced that linebacker Sean Weatherspoon ruptured his Achilles tendon and is expected to miss the entire 2014 season. Weatherspoon suffered the injury while running with the team’s training staff earlier today. Weatherspoon was in the process of rehabbing a knee injury that ended his 2013 season, having opted against offseason knee surgery to repair the injury. Weatherspoon also missed time in 2013 with a foot injury, which landed him on the teams’ short-term injured reserve for half the season.

Weatherspoon, nicknamed “Spoon,” is the team’s most vocal leader on defense and with the departure of Stephen Nicholas, was on the verge of becoming the “old man” of the linebacker group at the age 26. Spoon’s absence is a substantial blow to the position group as well as the defense as a whole.

In his absence, Joplo Bartu is likely to fill in as the team’s weak-side linebacker in their 4-3 sets, as well as inside when the team employs 3-4 looks. During Spoon’s early-season absence in 2013, Paul Worrilow filled in at that position but will be expected to start at middle linebacker in both sets this year. Spoon’s injury will open up opportunities for rookies like Marquis Spruill, Yawin Smallwood, and Prince Shembo, who is getting more looks at inside linebacker than outside. The injury also increases the chances that Akeem Dent, a bubble player, could stick on the team given the lack of experienced depth. The Falcons may seek to add veteran help to bolster the position given the relative youth and inexperience of the current players on the roster.

While the team is currently ruling out Spoon to play in 2014, it may be possible that he could return late in the season. San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree suffered an Achilles tear last season in late May and returned to the 49ers at the start of December, roughly missing six full months. In 2012, Baltimore Ravens pass-rusher Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles in early May and returned to the field in late October, again roughly a six-month absence. Such a prognosis would indicate that the earliest Spoon could return is mid-December, but given the fact that he was already not fully recovered from a knee injury likely throws such optimism out the window. Both Crabtree and Suggs were completely healthy at the time of their injuries.

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Falcons Sign Fourth-Round Pick Freeman

May 22nd, 2014 Comments off

The Atlanta Falcons announced earlier today that 2014 fourth-round running back Devonta Freeman has agreed to terms on his rookie deal. Terms of his contract were undisclosed, but as per league rules it is a four-year deal. Freeman is the second to last of the team’s nine draft picks to sign, leaving just their third-round selection, safety Dezmen Southward, as the only remaining unsigned rookie.

Freeman comes from Florida State and is expected to compete for a backup role at running back behind Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers. As a senior, Freeman was the first FSU running back since Warrick Dunn in 1996 to rush for over 1,000 yards.

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Falcon Sign Rookies Matthews and Hageman to Contracts

May 21st, 2014 Comments off

The Atlanta Falcons announced today that they agreed to terms with the top two selections in the 2014 NFL Draft: offensive tackle Jake Matthews and defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman. Earlier this month, Matthews and Hageman were selected in the first and second rounds of the draft, respectively. Both agreed to undisclosed four-year deals, although because Matthews is a first-round selection, the Falcons have an option for a fifth year on the deal.

Matthews was the sixth overall selection out of Texas A&M and is expected to immediately start at right tackle. Hageman was the 37th selection out of Minnesota and is expected to push for time in the team’s defensive line rotation. He’s expected to play defensive end, but will also add depth at tackle.

Today’s signings leave third-round safety Dezmen Southward and fourth-round running back Devonta Freeman as the only unsigned members of the team’s nine-player draft class. Five of the team’s other selections signed over the weekend.

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