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Falcons Weekly Round-Up 5/27

May 27th, 2011 Comments off

Recapping some of the headlines and news involving the Falcons from the week of May 22…

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WR Julio Jones

Jones returns to practice field

Falcons top wide receiver Julio Jones joined his teammates in player-organized workouts on Tuesday. Jones has been cleared by doctors to resume activities, although he is not quite running full speed. Jones had surgery to repair the broken foot following his impressive Combine performance in February. Initial reports had him at about an eight-week rehabilitation period before he could get back on the field. (Source: The Associated Press)

No Hard Knocks for Falcons

Falcons head coach Mike Smith nixed any plans for the Falcons to be on HBO’s show Hard Knocks this season. The Emmy-winning show has depicted NFL teams in past years during their training camps. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said a week ago in a radio interview that the Falcons were open to the idea of being on the show. Smith’s comments indicate that the Falcons could remain open to doing the show in 2012 or beyond. (Source: Scott Hanson, NFL Network)

Falcons cut office pay

The Falcons have begun to cut the pay of lower-level office employees as a measure to cut expenditures during the current lockout. Several other NFL teams have begun to furlough non-football staff. (Source: Jeff Schulz, AJC)

NOchocinco in Atlanta

A team source that says rumors of Cincinnati Bengal wide receiver Chad Ochocinco signing with the Falcons this year “ain’t happenin’.” D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reported last week that a move to get Ochocinco made sense due to his relationship with new Falcons quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski, who formerly was the Bengals offensive coordinator for ten seasons. Pasquarelli reports that the relationship of Bratkowski and Ochocinco isn’t as close as previously suggested. (Source: Len Pasquarelli, FOX Sports)

Jackson and Matthews face tough hurdles to make team

May 26th, 2011 Comments off
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OG Andrew Jackson

The Falcons used their final two picks of the 2011 draft on a pair of linemen. They took Fresno State guard Andrew Jackson with the initial pick and then closed out their draft class by taking South Carolina defensive end Cliff Matthews.

Both players have the potential to add capable depth to the roster and have talent that could be worth developing down the road, but could find it tough to get over the initial hurdle of just making the team as rookies.

In both cases, they were drafted at positions which are relatively deep for the Falcons. Arguably, the two deepest spots on the entire roster: offensive guard and defensive end. While it’s no secret that the Falcons face questions at both spots, they have done a good job accumulating depth there.

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This year critical for Meier’s NFL future

May 25th, 2011 Comments off
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WR Kerry Meier

When Harry Douglas tore his ACL on the fifth day of 2009′s training camp, it was not a career-defining injury. Meaning that it would probably not mean the difference between Douglas making a living catching footballs or bagging groceries.

Douglas, as a third round pick the year before, was coming off a solid rookie year in which he had worked his way up the depth chart from fourth to third option and made an impact in the latter half of the season on special teams. It all meant he was poised to grow into a viable role player for the Falcons. His injury would be a hindrance to his growth, but his potential would earn him future opportunities with the Falcons and other NFL teams alike.

On the other hand, for Falcons 2010 fifth round pick Kerry Meier, that may not be the case. His ACL injury suffered at the end of his rookie training camp last summer could potentially be career-defining. It might be the difference between Meier potentially playing several years in the NFL versus never suiting up for a single game.

Meier does not have a high draft status or a productive rookie campaign to buoy his chances of making this year’s roster like Douglas did coming off injury a year ago. There is no proven value on special teams to make him proven depth either. And bluntly, Meier does not have Douglas’s skill and athleticism that makes his upside and potential obviously worth developing. Even if there was another NFL team that liked Meier coming out of Kansas a year ago, they would have only viewed him as a sixth round value at best, which is not exactly the caliber of player that there is a mad scramble to claim in the event the Falcons let him go.

Meier possesses good size and steady hands, but the biggest question mark about him coming into the league was whether or not he had the speed, quickness, and burst to be able to use those traits effectively. Regardless of how big and strong you are, and how much your hands resemble velcro, if you cannot separate from cornerbacks at this level then the quarterback will not throw you the ball, and then those traits are meaningless.

And Meier’s injury directly impacts those question marks about him, and makes him an even bigger question mark. ACL tears sap explosiveness, speed, and the ability to cut, traits and skills that are essential when it comes to running routes and separating from defenders.

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Lockout might hurt and help Wilson

May 24th, 2011 Comments off
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John Parker Wilson

John Parker Wilson’s name has pinged the radar of Falcons fans twice this off-season. The first was when he became the face of Verizon Wireless’ “Know it Forward” anti-sexual assault campaign. The second was when his name was mentioned in articles discussing the team’s player-organized workouts due to his ability to help his ex-Crimson Tide teammate Julio Jones get acclimated to the Falcons offense.

That’s exactly two more times than anything we’ve seen to date from Wilson.

Wilson was arguably the top prospect among a 2009 class of undrafted quarterbacks that have managed to make some minor waves since. In New England, Brian Hoyer has carved out a niche as the No. 2 behind Tom Brady. Chase Daniel is carrying the clipboard behind Drew Brees in New Orleans. Graham Harrell is expected to push Matt Flynn behind Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay this summer. And Hunter Cantwell has an opportunity to compete for the No. 2 spot behind Joe Flacco in Baltimore this season.

All five players have arguably done as much to date as any of the eight non-first round quarterbacks drafted ahead of them (the most notable of which is the Colts’ Curtis Painter).

Wilson will face a similar challenge this summer to what Chase Daniel faced a year ago with the Saints. Daniel faced direct competition against veteran Patrick Ramsey for who would claim the No. 2 spot behind Brees. Daniel won.

It’s unlikely that the competition that Wilson faces with veteran Chris Redman will result in a zero sum in which one stays and the other goes. But there is that potential, if Wilson can put together a strong summer.

The ability to do so will be dependent on if the league and players can come to an agreement which will not shorten training camp and the preseason. Wilson will likely need all four games to put up enough of a body of work for the Falcons brass to place that much trust in him.

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One Reason Why the Falcons Should Pass on Asomugha

May 24th, 2011 Comments off
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Nnamdi Asomugha: Too Pricey for Atlanta?

That one reason is none other than Brent Grimes. Or probably more accurately, money.

As I mentioned back in a topic I broached all the way back in February (I know seems like eons ago), Brent Grimes is ripe for a big contract extension. In that article, I discussed potential parameters of what the deal might be.

If you haven’t read it or don’t recall, I’ll briefly summarize. Basically Grimes play has been solid enough that he deserves a nice pay day. But that pay day has likely been postponed by the labor crisis. The Falcons shouldn’t be committing huge dollars to anyone until they know for sure how to safety navigate future financial waters. And because of several other Falcon players being up for free agency at the end of 2011, it behooves the Falcons to get Grimes’ deal done as soon as possible so that they still have the option of using their franchise tag instead of using it on Grimes, who of the prospective free agent crop the Falcons possess is the most likely to deserve it.

And because of the money paid to Grimes, the Falcons shouldn’t probably get into bed with Asomugha. Not that Asomugha isn’t a great player that could help out the Falcons. But he’s going to make a ridiculous amount of money on the open market.

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Schillinger could follow in DeCoud’s footsteps

May 23rd, 2011 Comments off
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S Shann Schillinger

Shann Schillinger was the Falcon’s final choice in their 2010 draft class, taken in the sixth round out of Montana. Schillinger wound up playing in fifteen games this year, missing the season finale after breaking his ankle in the Falcons Monday Night loss against the Saints in Week 16.

For the year, Schillinger took a grand total of 3 snaps on regular defense, which came in the garbage minutes in a blowout win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2. He recorded no tackles on defense, but did get 8 stops on special teams, including 2 stops on kickoff coverage that earned him a little by via Moneyball.

Overall, it was a pretty non-descript season for the rookie safety, who turned 25 on Sunday. But Schillinger could be in a position to make a bigger impact with the team in 2011. Since fracturing his ankle, the team let go of veteran safety Erik Coleman and did not take a safety in the draft, as some expected them to do. That means that Schillinger will enter this summer as the team’s top backup at safety. A vital position considering how injury-prone safeties are at this level.

It’s probable that the team’s hope for Schillinger’s future is one of the reasons they chose not to bring back Coleman for the final year of his contract. Schillinger won’t be pushing either of the starter’s but he could be taking a page from starting free safety Thomas DeCoud.

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Bosher’s Impact in Atlanta

May 22nd, 2011 Comments off
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P Matt Bosher

The Falcons special teams was a major strength throughout most of last season. Kicker Matt Bryant was a pleasant surprise with his clutch shots throughout theyear, hitting three game-winners and going a perfect 13 of 13 at home for the Falcons. Return specialist Eric Weems went to the Pro Bowl, thanks in large part to a pair of touchdowns each on a punt and kickoff, ranking in the Top 5 in both categories in average yards per return (the only player in the league to accomplish that), and his team-leading 16 stops on special teams.

The one player that was not so great was punter Michael Koenen, who had his struggles early in the season. He managed to finish the year strong, but it was probably enough inconsistency to cause the Falcons to pass on re-signing him long-term.

That seems to be the impetus to why the Falcons used a sixth round pick on Matt Bosher in last month’s draft. Bosher both kicked and punted at the University of Miami, but was a better punter there. He also kicked off, something he did with some efficiency during his senior season. That latter ability is likely what attracted the Falcons to him and caused them to draft him over a more highly-rated punter in Florida’s Chas Henry. Henry, although had a big leg, he was much less proven as a kickoff specialist.

Both Koenen and Bryant are going to be free agents, and won’t be affected by the labor issues since both have more than six years of experience. Based off their 2010 play, it makes sense that the team is more willing to keep Bryant despite him turning 36 next week and Koenen still being a very spry 28.

But if Bosher takes over as the team’s punter and kickoff specialist, how good can he be right off the bat?

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What Did the Falcons See in Akeem Dent?

May 17th, 2011 Comments off
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LB Akeem Dent

While much of the post-draft debate has centered on whether the Julio Jones trade-up was a good move or not, the biggest question mark of the Falcons 2011 draft class is arguably the next player they took off the board: Georgia linebacker Akeem Dent.

There is very little question of Jones’ skills. The only question there is whether the Falcons gave up too much to acquire those skills and only time will tell. But one wonders whether Dent has the skills that merited the Falcons taking him with a late third round pick.

My initial reaction was that Dent was not worth that high a pick, particularly for a 4-3 team like the Falcons. Dent fits best as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. That is the best scheme and role where he can maximize his skills at the NFL level. Playing in a 4-3 is not likely to maximize his skillset, which leaves questions of what the Falcons saw in Dent that many others, including myself did not see.

So I went back and watched some more tape on Dent to see if I could figure it out. Here is what I saw…

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Post-Draft Roster Analysis Part 2 – The Defense and Special Teams

May 1st, 2011 Comments off

Having reviewed the offensive side of the ball, this blog will look at the defense and special teams.

Defensive Ends:  John Abraham, Kroy Biermann, Jamaal Anderson, Chauncey Davis, Lawrence Sidbury, Emmanuel Stephens and Cliff Matthews

Lots of if’s among this group.  Abraham is getting older and enters the last year of his contract.  Biermann shows potential and needs to take the next step in his development to solidify his spot.  Beyond that, Anderson has underachieved and may be in his last year with the team.  Davis provides a solid rotational backup but is only signed through 2012.  Sidbury has yet to really crack the rotation and get anything more than spot duty.  This is the season that he’ll need to show something in order to stay a part of this group.  Stevens is a practice squad/camp body type player at this point.  The late round addition of Matthews will inject some youth and competition into the group.  Biggest rumor is that the Falcons will make a serious run at Ray Edwards.  If that’s the case, then I’d look for Biermann to move to the right side and replace Abraham in 2012 while working Sidbury and Matthews into the rotation.  I do not expect Anderson or Davis to make a significant impact or stay in the near future.

Defensive Tackles: Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry, Corey Peters, Vance Walker and Trey Lewis

Babineaux is as solid as they come but does turn 30 this season.  Jerry must improve and play at the level he was drafted to play.  He should be fully back from his injury this season and will show whether or not he’s part of the solution or not.  Peters played quite a bit for a rookie and should continue to develop.  Vance Walker is good rotational run stopper and should stay on board for quite some time.  Lewis hasn’t regained his promising form prior to being injured and I question whether he will at this point.  It’s my opinion that the key to our pass rush lies with the progression of Jerry and Peters not allowing opposing QB’s to step up and escape by scrambling or throwing.

Outside Linebackers:  Stephen Nicholas, Mike Peterson, Sean Weatherspoon, Spencer Adkins, Coy Wire and Robert James

Nicholas may or may not return depending on free agency rules and demand.  Peterson is not only at the end of his career but is also a free agent and may not return.  If he does, it will likely only be for another season.  Weatherspoon will be expected to step up and start this season and produce.  Wire is a dependable backup in run support.  Adkins has plenty of athletic ability and upside but seems relegated to special teams as does James.  Newly drafted Akeem Dent may figure into this picture in some way although I’m not sold that he has the speed or ability to drop into coverage to play on the outside.

Middle Linebackers:  Curtis Lofton, Akeem Dent and Bear Woods

Lofton is entering the last year of his contract and underwent double knee surgery.  Regardless of what level of surgery it is, it’s a red flag.  Lofton is very good against the run and has shown improvement against the pass.  The question now is longevity.  I’ve penciled in Dent as his primary backup but not sure that he really fits in the middle.  Time will tell on what Dent becomes and what his role will be.   While Woods has all the heart in the world,  I’m not sure he has a place on the squad at this point.  This is a position that seems to warrant attention in the next couple of seasons one way or the other.

Cornerbacks:  Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes, Christopher Owens, Dominique Franks and Brian Williams

Robinson and Grimes are the no-brainer outside corners.  What remains to be seen is who will be the nickelback.  Considering that the Falcons were in nickel defense more than 50% of the time last season, the nickel has to be looked upon as a starter.  As of now, Owens and Franks will most likely battle for that spot with a veteran brought in to compete as well.  I don’t look for Williams to return as he is a free agent and at the tail end of his career.  A bit puzzling that a corner wasn’t added in the draft but this could be a situation where there is heavy free agent action and 2 or 3 veterans signed to compete.

Safeties:  Thomas DeCoud, William Moore, Shan Shillinger, Rafael Priest and Rafael Bush

As long as Moore stays healthy and pays his traffic tickets, the Falcons should be fine at safety for a long time to come.  Shillinger provides adequate depth and very good special teams skills.  Priest and Bush will most likely compete for a single reserve safety spot.

Kickers and Punters:  Matt Bryant, Michael Koenen, Ken Parrish and Matt Bosher

Bryant and Koenen are ticketed for free agency.  I believe Bryant will re-sign while Koenen is allowed to seek employment elsewhere.  With a pick spent on Bosher, he’ll very likely be the next punter while Parrish serves as a camp body.

Most of the work for the Falcons in free agency will hinge on whether or not they feel the defensive end position is headed in the right direction and how many corners they want to bring in.  As was the case on the offensive side of the ball, a lot will be determined by what the team does with its own free agents.  I look for a defensive end, two corners and possibly a linebacker to be brought on board.

 

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Post-draft Roster Analysis–The Offense

May 1st, 2011 Comments off

The 2011 Draft is in the books and it’s time to take a look at the roster and get primed for free agency and the future.

Quarterbacks:  Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, J.P. Wilson

I was actually a little surprised that we didn’t add a QB in the late rounds but the QB talent in the draft was very thin and overrated in my opinion.  With Ryan, the Falcons obviously have their starter in place and have no pressing need at the position.  While Redman is a more than competent backup, he’ll be 34 years old this summer and signed through 2012, which will probably be his last contract with the Falcons.  Wilson enters his third season and is the heir apparent to Redman.  However, in order for that to happen, Redman will have to be let go and the financial commitment be made to Wilson.  A lot of that will depend on the free agency rules that end up in the new CBA but this would have to happen sooner than later which is why I expected to see another developmental QB added.  Maybe I was a year early.

Running Backs:  Michael Turner, Jason Snelling, Gartrell Johnson, Antone Smith, Jaquizz Rodgers, Jerious Norwood and Ovie Mughelli

Turner is signed for 3 more seasons and it’s hard to envision him going beyond that with the team.  Snelling is the obvious successor in the power role but is entering the free agency years of his career and will command more money.  There will be opportunities to either pay the price for Snelling now or trade him for value.  I don’t see much of a future for either Johnson or Smith at this point with the addition of Rodgers.  With the fifth round selection of Rodgers, we’ve added our new change of pace back which immediately ends Norwood’s stay in Atlanta as he enters free agency.  Looking forward, expect the team to draft a big back in the next draft or two to either compensate for Snelling leaving or Turner being cut in favor of Snelling.  As for Mughelli, he’s here until 2012 and I could actually see the fullback position being phased out by then and instead going with a two back set of a power back and a speed back or single back/empty backfield formations as this seems to be the way the team and offenses in general are moving.

Tight Ends:  Tony Gonzalez, Michael Palmer, Justin Peele, Robby Agnone and Marquez Branson

Gonzalez is back for 2011 and will most likely call it a career after this upcoming season, if not, 2012 is almost certain to be his last season.  After scouring reports, I have found nothing  pertaining to the Falcons tabbing Palmer as the future replacement for Gonzalez.  While Palmer has a similar body type, he’s not as fast or athletic as Gonzalez and is probably the backup solution.  Peele is more of a blocker and is getting up in age.  Agnone and Branson are not long term solutions and probably no more than camp bodies or practice squad players.  I really thought that a future tight end would be selected in the draft but that didn’t happen.  What is certain is that a tight end will almost certainly be drafted in 2012 or obtained in free agency.

Wide Receivers:  Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas, Eric Weems, Kerry Meier, Julio Jones, Andy Strickland, Brandyn Harvey and Tim Buckley

Roddy White is the obvious star of the group but will turn 30 this year and is signed through 2014.  The drafting of Julio Jones not only adds speed to the #2 receiver spot but also gives us the next #1 when Roddy is done.  Jenkins is signed through 2012 and provides a sizeable option in the slot if he returns.  There are rumors that he will be traded or cut in the offseason.  Douglas is facing a pivotal year being that he will be 2 years removed from a knee injury and is expected to achieve the potential seen in his rookie season.  Weems is the consummate returner and also expected to contribute more in the receiving game.  Meier is coming off a knee injury and will likely only see time in 4 or 5 wide sets this season.  He is largely seen as the replacement for Finneran and as a slot receiver.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Falcons add another receiver via the draft in 2012.

Offensive Tackles:  Sam Baker, Tyson Clabo, Will Svitek and Garrett Reynolds

I still don’t feel that Baker is a true left tackle but the team must feel comfortable enough with him at the position to proceed without change.  Clabo is set to enter free agency this offseason and will most likely be re-signed by the team.  Svitek is a competent backup to either tackle position and is signed through 2012.  The team is high on Reynolds (either at right tackle or at guard) and is signed through 2012.  His future will largely be determined by what happens in free agency this offseason and could very well end up being the starting right guard.

Guards:  Justin Blalock, Harvey Dahl, Mike Johnson, Jose Valdez and Andrew Jackson

Blalock and Dahl are both set to be free agents and one of the two will surely be elsewhere in 2011 although depending on what happens with the CBA, it’s possible that both could find their way back onto the roster depending on free agency rules.  Johnson is the future of one of the guard positions and probably sooner than later.  Valdez is an intriguing developmental prospect that the team is high on and could eventually be a factor.  Newly added Andrew Jackson is another developmental prospect for the future.  Right now, the biggest question facing the Falcons is whether Blalock and Dahl return.  It’s hard for me to imagine both being retained or being allowed to leave and again, I have to caveat that with “depending on what happens with free agency rules.”

Centers:  Todd McClure, Joe Hawley and Rob Bruggeman

This is McClure’s last year under contract and it’s hard for me to see him playing beyond that.  Hawley is the heir at center and appears ready for the job.  Bruggeman is a developmental prospect.  I don’t expect a lot of movement at this position going forward but you could see a late draft pick added in 2012 as a backup to Hawley.

 

In summary, the Falcons offense is largely set with only the free agency questions at guard and tackle to answer for 2011.  Going forward, expect another developmental QB, power RB, a bona fide replacement for Gonzalez, WR for depth and o-line depth to be added in the next two drafts.

 

Next blog:  The Defense and Special Teams

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