Archive for July, 2013

Training Camp: Day 6 Report

July 31st, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons will have today off from practice. League rules enacted after the new CBA prohibit teams from practicing after six consecutive days of practice. But here is the buzz emerging from the Falcons on their sixth day of practice from various media outlets:

  • Julio takes on Deion. ‘Nuff said.
  • Rookie offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder has been generating some buzz as he’s worked against the backup defensive line. I should note that Schraeder is a player I pegged to make the Falcons final roster.
  • The Falcons got their first glimpse of the injury bug. Running backs Antone Smith and Bradie Ewing were held out of Tuesday’s practice and are expected to miss between five and ten days with unspecified injuries. Also cornerback Saeed Lee went down with a serious right leg injury and needed to be helped off the field. The nature of the injury also was unspecified and it’s likely more updates will come today or tomorrow.
  • Daniel Cox gives his five observations from Day 6. Among them he notes that tight ends Chase Coffman and Levine Toilolo have heeded the advice from veteran Tony Gonzalez and getting extra work after practice. Gonzalez is noted for his practice routine which includes catching passes before and after practice, and on the veteran’s instruction, Coffman has added that to his repertoire:

    “When Tony was here for the first couple of days he told us to make sure we are getting our catches in when he leaves and get in the extra work we need.”

  • Thomas Dimitroff gave folks on 790thezone an update (via the AJC) about the Falcons salary cap situation. He indicated that the team did not have any current plans to use their cap space to sign a veteran like defensive tackle Richard Seymour, instead opting to use that space in the event of injuries down the road.

Training Camp: Day 5 Report

July 30th, 2013 Comments off

Here are the things that happened on the fifth day of the Atlanta Falcons 2013 training camp:

  • Steven Jackson appears to be saving himself for the regular season as he picks up the Falcons offense. He also thinks highly of his own standing within this generation of running backs.
  • Daniel Cox gives his five things we learned from the fifth day of camp.
  • Mike Smith seems to be putting expectations on Jonathan Massaquoi, Kroy Biermann, and Corey Peters to make strides to help the Falcons pass rush. Malliciah Goodman is getting help from veteran players and taking it slow as he develops his technique and hands.
  • William Moore hasn’t become any less aggressive.

  • Fresh on the field, like many of the other Falcons rookies, Stansly Maponga is going through some struggles early but coaches are working to overcome.


Takeaways from Last Week – July 29

July 29th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Should Stephen Nicholas be worried?

Training camp has begun for the Falcons. And it’s still early, but there have been a few interesting developments.

A lot has been made of the beatings that rookie corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have had at the hands of Julio Jones and Roddy White. It’s somewhat silly, given it’s their first few days in camp. They are going up against arguably two of the ten best receivers in the league (I’d love to meet the person that would argue against it). And they are rookies after all. Frankly, if Patrick Peterson didn’t set the world on fire as a rookie, and he was the best cornerback prospect to come out since Champ Bailey, then why would anybody expect either Trufant or Alford to not suffer through growing pains? The key for them is going to be how much progress they show over the course of camp and the preseason. And then they’ll face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the season opener. And I have no doubt that Sean Payton and Brees are going to very purposefully attack them in that game. And my expectations are that Payton and Brees will get the better of them more than they won’t. But even then, I won’t be upset. In regards to Trufant, Alford, and Robert McClain, it’s less about how good they are in September, but how good they are in January. After all, everyone expects this Falcon team to make the playoffs and make a title run.

It’s hard to tell who is ahead in some of the other position battles that dot the roster. What limited word we’ve heard about the right tackle position, suggests that Mike Johnson is still slightly ahead of Lamar Holmes. But one can’t put too much stock in one observation during one drill. We’ll see how that plays out the rest of summer. In past summers, things usually start to pick up by the second preseason game for offensive line battles so we’ll see how that goes.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the tight end battle plays out with Tony Gonzalez’s prolonged absence from camp. Chase Coffman and Tommy Gallarda appear to be getting much of the first-team reps thus far, with Levine Toilolo working as a reserve. While Toilolo’s roster spot isn’t really in jeopardy, we’ll have to see if he can leapfrog either in the coming days and weeks. As I’ve mentioned before, what sort of summer Toilolo has could have significant impact on how the rest of the roster plays out at that position. If he shines as a blocker, then Gallarda loses a bit of value. If he shines more as a receiver, then Coffman loses a bit of his luster there.

Defensively, there isn’t any direct competitions per se that I’m paying attention to. I’m more curious to see and hear how the Falcons use certain players like Kroy Biermann and Osi Umenyiora, who seem to getting a lot of time playing on their feet thus far. Eventually, I’m curious to see how the competition between Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas plays out for the second linebacker in the nickel. I fully expect Dent to win the job, but I’m curious how it all plays out. I’d like to see Dent win the job handily, that would give me more confidence that things are looking up for the Falcons coverage abilities from the linebacker position. There is some risk that Nicholas winds up a cap casualty at the end of camp. I don’t expect that to happen, but I also didn’t expect the Falcons to cut John Abraham at the beginning of the off-season. The Falcons cap situation currently (projected at roughly $5.7 million in cap space after Ryan’s extension) doesn’t call for the team to really need to purge salary at the end of the summer. As I’ve noted before the Falcons can save $905,000 against the cap by cutting Peria Jerry. Well actually that’s not true, the savings really only becomes $498,000 when you factor in a player like Micanor Regis (2013 cap hit of roughly $407,000) would then take up a roster spot and eat into those savings.

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Training Camp: Day 4 Report

July 29th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons held their first padded practice of training camp on Sunday. Here are some of the main bullet points from observers:

  • Rookie defensive end Stansly Maponga was cleared to return to team drills today, and showcased some athleticism indicating that he appears to be 100% recovered from off-season foot surgery that forced him to sit out OTAs and only get work in individual drills the first few days of camp.

  • Desmond Trufant is getting work at right cornerback as expected, but also working inside in the slot at the nickel spot. Yesterday, Daniel Cox noted Trufant’s growing confidence which seemed to be echoed in the following comments from the young cornerback:

    “I’m a young player. It’s my first camp. I’m going to make some mistakes, but I’ve got to move on. You’ve got to take the hard coaching and never take (anything) personal because they are just trying to get me better.”

  • Check out Daniel Cox’s five daily observations from the fourth day of camp.
  • Here’s the transcript from the post-practice interviews conducted by Mike Smith and Roddy White.
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Ranking the Falcons: No. 1 Matt Ryan

July 28th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Ryan

To hopefully no one’s surprise, quarterback Matt Ryan is the Falcons top-ranked player. Click here to see how this ranking system was devised.

Total Score: 96

Player Grade: 87 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 27 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 27 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +5
Positional Bonus: +5

The main reason why Matt Ryan manages to top Julio Jones as the Falcons top player is because of the position he plays. The extra points he receives in this ranking system by playing quarterback is enough to top the young receiver as the Falcons top player.

Ryan recently got an extension, the size of that contract is indicative of his ranking. Ryan is not the best quarterback in the league, and probably never will be. But he’s just a notch below those that are, and is a player that I consider among the top tier of NFL quarterbacks. What puts Ryan on that tier is the fact that a team can build an offense entirely around him and be successful with that. There are only a handful of quarterbacks in the league that can be tasked with throwing the ball an excessive amount of times every Sunday, and still expect that team to be a playoff team by the end of the season.

That requires a great amount of skill, which Ryan put on full display in 2012. Ryan doesn’t have a strong arm relative to most starting NFL quarterbacks. There are probably only a handful of quarterbacks that have measurably weaker arms than him. But Ryan more than makes up for it with his ability to play the position from the neck up. He’s on par with elite quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in that regard, or perhaps a half-step below. But considering Ryan has played less than half as long as either of them indicates the special quality within Ryan that the Falcons just paid $103 million to retain.

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Ranking the Falcons: Recapping the Top 33

July 28th, 2013 Comments off

In case you missed any of the rankings, you can see how the best 33 players on the Falcons stacked up. I am looking forward to doing this again next summer.

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Training Camp: Day 3 Report

July 27th, 2013 Comments off

Recapping once more what media outlets were discussing from the third day of the Atlanta Falcons 2013 training camp:

  • John Manasso shed a bit more light on the expected absence of tight end Tony Gonzalez, who departed camp today. He’ll be expected back to participate in the final two preseason games (on August 24 and 29 vs. Tennessee and Jacksonville respectively). When he returns prior to that point still remains unknown.
  • Desmond Trufant’s confidence is up. Confidence is a necessary trait for quality corners. Goes along with a short memory, something Trufant is going to have going up against these Falcon receivers.
  • Martel Moore has earned praise from several outlets for his work during the first two days of camp. The latest being from Manasso and Jay Adams.
  • Osi Umenyiora is getting reps as a stand-up pass rusher, although he’s not sure how much he’ll be asked to do that on Sundays. Well if he was to ask John Abraham, the answer would be “a lot.”
  • Looks like a foursome might be emerging that is vying for the punt returner spot. To no surprise, Harry Douglas, Dominique Franks, Robert Alford, and James Rodgers got reps today. Douglas and Franks worked on the unit last season. Alford returned punts while at SE Louisiana. Rodgers split reps with his brother Jacquizz last summer on kickoff returns, but also got reps on punts during his collegiate career at Oregon State.
  • And as usual, Daniel Cox recounts five observations from the third day of camp, an obligatory read.

Ranking the Falcons: No. 2 Julio Jones

July 27th, 2013 Comments off

Julio Jones

The second-best player on the Falcons is wide receiver Julio Jones. Click here to see how this ranking system was devised.

Total Score: 95

Player Grade: 82 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 32 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 28 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +5
Positional Bonus: +3

Jones is a special receiver, justifying why the Falcons opted to leap frog the rest of the league to draft him in the 2011 draft. He likely will take that next step this season to become the Falcons No. 1 receiver. Last year, he was ostensibly the third option of Ryan in the offense evidenced by the number of times Jones converted on third downs: 15 times last year. Tony Gonzalez (22) and Roddy White (25) outpaced him, but he will likely close the gap in 2013. And at the point where Jones surpasses them, he’ll truly be a complete No. 1 receiver. And that point should come in the very near future.

Already Jones is the Falcons’ primary asset for big plays, with a steady mix of vertical throws to him, as well as short throws designed to get him in space to make plays after the catch. Something he excelled at last season, as he alongside Michael Crabtree was the only receiver in the NFL to average 6 or more yards after the catch with at least 75 receptions (per Pro Football Focus).

Jones is the complete package, and thus will draw the majority of the attention from opposing defenses. Gonzalez and White are both very steady receivers, but they are largely possession guys. Evidenced by their third down conversions, they fit the bill more as chain movers, although White made his fair share of big plays last year. Jones being the playmaker will draw more of the coverages because of the fear he instills in defense. But that will lead to continued success by Gonzalez and White, alongside Matt Ryan who will continue to be efficient.

If there is any weakness to Jones, it is the fact that he has yet to stay healthy for an entire season. While he missed no games in 2012, he was limited in roughly a quarter of the Falcons games due to nicks and scrapes. A key to Jones’ ascension in 2013 will be staying healthy for the entire season, something that White has done to great success. Jones has changed up his diet, taking some tips from Gonzalez to potentially impart some of his teammates’ trademark longevity.

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Ranking the Falcons: No. 3 Tony Gonzalez

July 27th, 2013 Comments off
Icon Sports Media, Inc.

Tony Gonzalez

The third-ranked Falcon player is none other than tight end Tony Gonzalez. Click here to see how this ranking system was devised.

Total Score: 90

Player Grade: 82 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 30 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 30 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +0
Positional Bonus: +3

Gonzalez had an uncannily good 2012 season. At age 36, he managed to put together the best season he’s had since joining the Falcons in 2009.

Gonzalez has always shined on third downs and in the redzone. His size, athleticism, hands, and ability to get position against defenders makes him virtually impossible to cover in these “money” situations. He’s ostensibly the NFL’s equivalent of a power forward, who goes down to the low block and posts up defenders.

The big question about Gonzalez going into 2013 is whether or not he can have a repeat of what he did in 2012. He’s well past his peak seasons, as only he and Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe were able to be productive tight ends up to age 35. For most other tight ends, even very good receiving ones, they don’t really make it past age 32. It’s why conventional wisdom suggests that Gonzalez could see a dip in his production due to the belief that at some point his age will catch up to him.

But he should still manage to defy the odds in 2013. Considering that it will be his final season, he’ll be highly motivated to succeed in order to help the Falcons win a title. He also should get plenty of opportunities with Roddy White and Julio Jones lining up on the outside of him to draw coverages away from him. And no one takes care of their body better than he does. It all means that Gonzalez could be in store to even top his production from a year ago and become the first Falcon tight end to ever top 1,000 yards in a season. If he manages to get 1,031 yards this year, he’ll become the team’s all-time receiving yards leader at the position, doing in five seasons what it took Jim Mitchell more than a decade to do in the 70s.

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Ryan Has His Money, Now He Needs More Help

July 27th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan got paid, and deservedly so. While he may not have the accomplishments that put him on par with the other most highly-paid quarterbacks in the league, it certainly doesn’t make him any less deserving of being in that peer group.

And by accomplishments, we’re talking about playoff wins and Super Bowls.

Now that Ryan is being paid handsomely for his services with the Falcons, more scrutiny is going to come towards him even if he doesn’t feel it. Rightly or wrongly, quarterbacks are largely judged by how many playoff wins and Super Bowl rings they have.

I personally believe those things often get overrated when assessing individual quarterbacks. Postseason success is largely billed as reflective of quarterbacks, but it is in fact reflective of the entire team that he plays on. Teams win games, not necessarily quarterbacks. While quarterbacks are the most important aspect of a team, football is not like basketball where you can be a championship contender by having one transcendent player. Just look at Drew Brees in New Orleans, who by the way had zero playoff wins in his first five seasons (one less than Ryan). Brees has helmed the Saints for seven seasons, and three of those seasons the Saints did not finish with a record above .500. Their lack of success in those seasons was largely because of their poor defensive play which ranked among the ten worst teams in the league in all three seasons. Brees will ultimately be enshrined in Canton for his tenure with the Saints, but it’s clear that even a quarterback of his caliber can’t do it all on his own.

And that’s the point I’m getting to with Ryan. While the Falcons have rewarded Ryan with a resplendent contract, they need to get him more help if they hope that he ultimately will have greater postseason success moving forward.

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