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Archive for May, 2008

Shockley healthy, Weiner not

May 29th, 2008 Comments off

Steve Wyche of the AJC reports that quarterback D.J. Shockley has been medically cleared to participate in all football-related team activities. Shockley suffered a torn ACL during last summer and missed all of the regular season, and has been limited thus far throughout most of the off-season.

Wyche also reports that offensive tackle Todd Weiner is still sidelined as he is recovering from knee surgery. Weiner missed 8 games last season due to injuries to both knees and underwent surgery on both. According to Wyche, Weiner indicated his hope that he would be doing some light jogging at this point in the off-season, but is not. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff expects Weiner to be healthy by the start of training camp at the end of July.

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Onus now on Redman

May 24th, 2008 Comments off

Well since I incorrectly predicted a holdout for Matt Ryan, I’ll try to make up for it with another not so insightful prediction, that Ryan will be the starter once the season opens.

With his contract being signed so quickly, we can all see the context clues being left by this front office and coaching staff, it’s just a matter are we going to choose to continue to ignore them at this point.

And at this point, it’s really not whether Ryan is ready or not. It’s really about whether Chris Redman can showcase enough of his ability to make the coaching staff think he isn’t just another guy. And if Redman is for real, then he’ll be up to the task. And by for real, I mean whether he’s a playoff-caliber quarterback on par with players like Chad Pennington and Marc Bulger because that’s exactly what he’s going to have to be in order to keep Ryan out of the lineup. If the inevitable training camp battle comes down to anything close to a tie, Ryan will definitely receive the benefit of the doubt.

I know many Falcon fans are high on Redman, but don’t count me as one of them. From my count, he was only productive in 4 of the 17 quarters he played last year. That amounts to about 4 complete games over the course of a 16-game season. The Falcons offense, while more productive on the scoreboard was seemingly just as prone to stagnation under Redman as it was under his predecessors, evidence by the 13 quarters are pretty much non-activity. Can Redman be the next Kurt Warner/Derek Anderson? Yes, he certainly is capable of that. But that doesn’t mean he will do that. Being capable and being able to accomplish something don’t always mesh.

But don’t get me wrong. Just because I’m not filled with confidence about Redman, doesn’t mean I’m rooting against him. Frankly, I’ll be rooting heavily for him, because I don’t think starting Ryan right off the bat will make him any better, or this team any better. One of the reasons why I graded Ryan so highly is because I think he’s capable of dealing with the pressure of being a rookie starter. But just because he has that capability, doesn’t mean he should be put under that what I would call undue pressure.

My mindset is that if by midseason (just like a year ago), the Falcons are almost certainly out of playoff contention, then by all means plug Ryan in. But until that point, I don’t think you should be asking a rookie quarterback to try to put you into the playoffs. And again, while I’m not super high on Redman, I think at least he has that capability and potential, something I cannot fathom for Ryan this year. So I’d rather give Redman the chance to prove me wrong.

And while it’s not impossible for a rookie quarterback to lead a team to the playoffs, it’s highly improbable. Frankly, I think it’s doubtful for any quarterback, whether a rookie or a 10-yr. veteran to accomplish that with only three months of prep time. And while I realize that it’s probably highly unlikely that this team would make the playoffs this year anyway whether it’s Ryan or Redman starting, that doesn’t mean it should not be the goal. To me, starting Ryan off the bat is a blatant indicator by this coaching staff that they have no intention of competing for the playoffs in the next year or two. That they are more interested in developing Ryan than winning football games. And I don’t like that mentality. And I also don’t believe that if Ryan starts the next 32 games will make him into a significantly better quarterback come 2010 than it would if he had only started a tenth that amount in the same time frame.

Because if you believe that, then you also should believe that Carson Palmer would be a better quarterback now if had started every game in 2003 or that Joey Harrington would be a worse quarterback now than he currently is if he hadn’t started a game in 2002. Or that we would have probably went to the Super Bowl in 2004 had Chris Chandler not been around to keep Vick on the bench in 2001. And I’d call you downright crazy if you actually believed any of the above.

As I see it, the best way to develop a young quarterback is to sit him. Let him watch, learn the offense, and only play him when he has a complete grasp of the offense and thus is ready to be a leader on the field. In my opinion, this method of development helps quarterbacks much more than throwing them to the wolves right off the bat.

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Void in leadership breeds opportunity

May 21st, 2008 Comments off

One of the main reasons why Chris Long, Glenn Dorsey, and Matt Ryan were the top three players on my draft board was due to their superior leadership skills and potential, in my own estimation. I believed all three more so than any of the other “elite” prospects would relish the opportunity to come to this franchise and immediately take on the mantle as a locker room and on-field leader. They did so in college, so why not in the pros?

And while I fully expect Ryan to be able to take the reins of this franchise in the coming years, he’s going to need some help at least in the time being. And the primary players I’m looking at are Roddy White and Michael Boley. With only John Abraham’s name probably being thrown into the conversation, there’s no doubt that White and Boley were by far our best players last season. And now both will have to accept leadership positions with this team. Alge Crumpler, Rod Coleman, Vick, and Dunn are gone, and Milloy, Brooking, Abraham, and Horn seem like they will follow in the very near future. So now it’s time for a “changing of the guard” so to speak in terms of the locker room leadership.

White showed immaturity last year with his “Free Mike Vick” episode. I think at the time it was a little bit overblown, but frankly that type of situation cannot happen again. Boley’s off-field run-in with the law certainly is not ideal, but now it affords him even more incentive to make up for it this season and show that was an aberration.

Another player I’m going to key on as well is Jonathan Babineaux. Only in his fourth year, Babs is an “old man” relatively speaking since only six players (Brooking, Finneran, Forney, Jenkins, McClure, and Weiner) have been on the team longer than him. And I wouldn’t argue against anyone that stated all six of those players won’t be back with the team next season. Babineaux along with Boley are afforded opportunities in their contract years to really make an impact and instill the notion that they can be Falcons for a long time with how they play and compose themselves in the locker room this season. Frankly, Dimitroff has already shown he’s not shy about cutting those he feels are dead weight. And unless he thinks a player is a very valuable commodity on the field and/or in the locker room, he’s not going to bend over backwards to keep them (see the Falcons 2008 Off-season).

The basic difference between greatness and mediocrity could be explained in that greatness is begotten from people making the most of the opportunities given to them. Think about it this way: the basic difference between being a future Hall of Famer and a “never was” is making the most of one’s opportunity. In 2001, Drew Bledsoe goes down due to a freak injury and a nobody named Tom Brady steps in and leads that team to a Super Bowl. In 2003, Michael Vick goes down due to a freak injury and nobody named Doug Johnson remains a nobody. The simple difference is Brady made the most of his opportunity, while Johnson did not.

My hope is that we’ll be seeing that so-called “changing of the culture” here in Atlanta this season as more players will be making the most of the opportunities given them this year, namely the players mentioned above.

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Ryan inks multi-year deal

May 20th, 2008 1 comment

The Falcons announced the signing of top draft pick Matt Ryan today. Ryan is the second first round pick to sign, following No. 1 overall selection Jake Long’s agreement the week prior to the draft.

The move is a bit of a surprise considering that Ryan’s agent Tom Condon is notorious for having high profile holdouts when it comes to top quarterback clients.

UPDATE: Reportedly, Ryan’s deal is a six-year contract worth $72 million in total with $34.5 million guaranteed. The guaranteed money exceeds the reported terms of Long’s deal which included $30 million guaranteed.

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Falcons make roster moves after minicamp

May 20th, 2008 Comments off

The Falcons signed three players on Monday, all of whom had tried out with the team over the previous weekend during their three-day minicamp. The team also announced it had released two players: linebacker Earl Everett and safety Nick Turnbull. The three players signed were safeties Eric Brock and Jamal Lewis along with wide receiver Tony Gonzalez.

Both Brock and Lewis were undrafted free agents this past spring. Gonzalez went undrafted last year, but was unsigned until now since leaving Boston College.

Turnbull was signed on April 29 after being released by the Cincinnati Bengals. It marks the fourth time the Falcons have released him since 2006. Everett spent much of last season on the Falcons practice squad.

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CBA Opt Out

May 20th, 2008 1 comment

The owners unanimously voted to opt out of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement that gives 59 percent of the total football revenues to the players. This wasn’t unexpected, as the rookie salaries have gotten out of hand. I also believe the owners want to ensure that they have more options when players do things off the field that limit their availability to the team. With the Vick fiasco and Goodell coming down hard on the players, the owners are looking for assurances that they are not on the hook when players mess up.

I believe that there will not be a lockout, as the union isn’t as strong as it once was, and there are several teams in debt that cannot afford to miss out on TV/gameday revenues. I would expect that they will do away with the franchise tag in exchange for a rookie pay scale, similar to the NBA’s with new rules governing signing bonuses for players that get into legal problems or are otherwise unable to play(as with the tragic Sean Taylor killing). I don’t see the 59% moving up or down, just distributed more heavily to veterans.

I guess I am the eternal optimist, but I don’t see this ending badly for the fans, and there are some easy ways to make this a win-win for the current players and owners.

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Ryan is worth the risk

May 16th, 2008 3 comments

I was reading a blog by Mike Florio (of ProFootballTalk.com) posted on The Sporting News, that made mention of the Falcons making the seventh worst move of the off-season by drafting Matt Ryan over Glenn Dorsey.

I won’t dispute whether Dorsey was the better pick/player, but I disagree wholeheartedly with the notion that the gulf between the two is so significant that it makes taking Dorsey a “safe” pick and Ryan a risky one.

The key point of contention I have with Florio’s entry is this part:

So Atlanta took a huge risk by selecting Matt Ryan. As history tells us, the odds of success when taking a quarterback that high are the equivalent of flipping a coin.

Everything might work out for the Falcons. But the chances of that happening would have been better if they had taken Dorsey at No. 3 and a quarterback in Round 2.

I don’t dispute that success rates of first round quarterbacks is about around 50-50 in terms of developing into quality NFL players.

But in looking at first round defensive tackles, it doesn’t seem like their success rate is any better. Then factor in that second round quarterbacks have a success rate of around 30-70.

I understand that missing on a first round quarterback can do a lot more damage to your team than a first round defensive tackle and/or second round quarterback. But that seems “soft” to me: drafting under the mindset of minimizing destruction as opposed to maximizing construction. That operates under the idea of maintaining the status quo, which is the last thing any Falcon fan should want.

And either way, according to Peter King, had the Falcons taken Dorsey at No. 3, they would have settled on Chad Henne in the second round. And if that’s true, then I have no misgivings whatsoever about choosing Ryan instead of Dorsey. Because the way I see it, the gap in ability between Ryan and Henne is so significant, that it’s worth the risk.

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Falcons work out eight at minicamp

May 12th, 2008 Comments off

The Falcons had eight additional players working out with the team over the weekend that were not signed to contracts. Among them were Hawaii wideout C.J. Hawthorne and Auburn safety Eric Brock, which previous reports falsely indicated had signed with the team. All of these players are vying for chances to be officially signed by the team and brought to training camp in July.

Also among them are wide receivers A.J. Bryant (Georgia), Tony Gonzalez (Boston College), and Gerald Landry (Southern), running back Chad Hall (Air Force), safety Jamal Lewis (Georgia Tech), and defensive tackle Eric Butler (Washburn).

Bryant started 1 year for the Bulldogs, his junior season where he had 14 catches for 251 yards (17.9 avg). For his career, he had 22 catches for 393 yards (17.9 avg) and 2 touchdowns. He only played in 5 games this past year due to a knee injury and had no catches.

Landry caught 158 career passes at Southern, for 2,030 yards (12.8 avg) and 20 touchdowns. He earned 2nd team All-SWAC honors each of the past two years.

Gonzalez finished his BC career a year ago with 89 career catches for 1,186 yards (13.3 avg) and 12 touchdowns. He started alongside current Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan for two seasons.

Hall led Air Force in both rushing and receiving this past year, and ranked 3rd in the nation with 2,584 all-purpose yards. He had 1,478 rushing yards and 50 receptions, and scored 16 total touchdowns this year.

Lewis was a two-year starter for Georgia Tech at strong safety, earning first team All-ACC honors as a junior. For his career, he had 171 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 4 interceptions, and 9 pass breakups.

Butler had 47 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks this past year in his only year at Washburn. Previously, he played at Kansas in 2005 where he had 12 tackles and 2 sacks. He sat out the 2006 season due to an extended legal battle with the NCAA over eligibility.

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Horn wants trade

May 12th, 2008 Comments off

Steve Wyche of the AJC reports that Falcons wide receiver Joe Horn desires the team to trade him. According to Wyche, Horn wants to be moved due to his desire for increased playing time.

“I want to win a Super Bowl and I want to win a Super Bowl here in Atlanta, but I don’t think I can help this team win a Super Bowl sitting on the bench, waiting for third down… They’re going with the younger guys and I don’t have a problem with that, if that’s the course they’ve chosen. I want to have an opportunity to play with a team that needs a veteran to play and contribute and who helps the young guys… When I came here last year I was promised I’d be on the field and it turned out I was a just-in-case guy with the situation that went on. So far this year, it seems like that’s the case again.”

– Joe Horn

Per Wyche, Horn indicated he would remain professional as long as he remained with the Falcons, but would prefer a more expansive role than that as a mentor to the young guys. Horn signed with the Falcons last off-season to a four-year contract. He is slated to earn a base salary of $2.5 million this year. Previous reports have indicated that Horn was already possibly on the bubble as far as the roster goes. It is unknown if this new revelation changes his status with the team. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff indicated however that the team forsees a future for Horn on the team.

Earlier this off-season, the Falcons traded disgruntled cornerback DeAngelo Hall after public comments indicating he no longer wanted to play for the team. The team also released running back Warrick Dunn after he asked for it as well.

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Roster limit could hurt Falcons

May 10th, 2008 3 comments

Don Banks discussed the ramifications of the 80-man roster limit in this most recent article on SI.com. It’s a good read, and while it may seem rather trivial to the casual fan, it does have perhaps significant ramifications for all teams and the Falcons in particular.

By my current count, the Falcons have 91 players on their roster, which includes their 11 draft picks. So that means, that for each draft pick that is signed, the Falcons will have to release a player currently on the team. Obviously, that’s 11 current players on this roster that won’t have opportunities to compete for jobs, thus watering down competition during the summer, and weakening potential depth. It also means that the Falcons may stall negotiations with their rookies a bit until they can get good long looks at everybody currently on the roster.

Obviously, we know of many of the undrafted stars that have come into the league over the past several years: Tony Romo, Willie Parker, Jeff Saturday, Antonio Gates, Kurt Warner, Rod Smith, etc. It’s possible that one of the 11 players the Falcons are forced to release between now and late July could be one of those guys.

Banks also rights about how inexperienced coaches might have difficulty managing the roster, particularly when it comes to injuries that inevitably occur during training camp. Obviously, that has real world resonance for us, since Mike Smith is a first-time head coach. Also it means that the Falcons may be cutting good players this summer simply because they are hurt. In past years, being injured and missing one or two weeks of practice was an obstacle, but one that could be overcome. Now, it may not be.

My expectation in looking over the roster is that the 11 guys that will be inevitably dumped will be from the offensive and defensive lines, as well as the secondary. Those are the three areas I think most Falcon fans would agree represent are the bigger question marks on the team and where competition is really needed to filter out the good from bad.

Hopefully all goes well. And while the tough decisions that will need to be made in July and August won’t necessarily doom the Falcons season, it certainly can cause quite a bit of subtle damage.

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