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Archive for February, 2014

Team Needs: Falcons Could Upgrade Special Teams in Return Game

February 9th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Bosher (left) and Bryant celebrate a win

The Atlanta Falcons special teams was perhaps the only aspect of their team that consistently played at a high level in 2013. Thus there won’t be any imperative drive to try to make substantial changes this offseason.

Matt Bryant, at age 38, showed he is still kicking strong. He is entering the final year of his contract and thus the only major concern for the Falcons is thinking about his eventual replacement in 2015 and beyond. It’s doubtful that the Falcons will try to replace Bryant this year since he’s been so effective in clutch situations as well as whenever he’s kicking inside the Georgia Dome. He’s made 21 of his last 22 field goal attempts kicking at home.

But the team should at least give a long look to a young kicker in training camp just to plan ahead to 2015 when it’s possible that Bryant could decide to hang it up. The Falcons tried this strategy over a decade ago when they carried Jake Arians on the practice squad in Morten Andersen’s final season in 2000. Arians was eventually beat out by Jay Feely the following summer for the kicking job, but the strategy is still a relatively sound one. The Falcons need to start prepping for the future and that begins this offseason.

The Falcons don’t have to do such preparation at punter as Matt Bosher is blossoming into one of the better young punters in the NFL. Bosher continues to make strides both as the team’s kickoff specialist and as a punter. His big leg proved an asset several times last year when the team struggled to move the ball offensively, to help flip field position and give the Falcons’ struggling defense a fighting chance. The only real issue moving forward with Bosher is when the Falcons plan to start talking contract extension. 2014 also represents the final year on his contract, and there’s little doubt the team at some point in the next 12 months will lock him up for a lucrative long-term deal.

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Team Needs: Falcons Will Decide DeCoud’s Future at Safety

February 8th, 2014 Comments off

The safety position for the Atlanta Falcons is potentially in flux this offseason as the team has a decision to make in determining whether or not to keep starting free safety Thomas DeCoud.

That decision will need to be made by March 15, as that is the day in which $2.25 million of his $4.2 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed. If that day comes to fruition, the team will lock in DeCoud for one more season as the starter and hope he bounces back to the form he showed in 2012 when he made the Pro Bowl with a team-leading six interceptions. But it doesn’t seem likely given that in the majority of his five seasons as the team’s starting free safety, DeCoud has rarely risen above mediocrity. And he’s also coming off a 2013 campaign that was by far the worst of his career. Instead, the Falcons could opt to cut ties with DeCoud and free up $3 million in cap space for 2014 (per Over The Cap).

Factoring into that decision will likely be the Falcons’ determination on whether they can find a better replacement this offseason. As it currently sits, the team is unlikely to find that upgrade already on the roster. Rookie Zeke Motta replaced an injured DeCoud for two games this past year and struggled. He looked a step slow in coverage, a no-no for any potential starter at free safety. Fellow 2013 draft pick Kemal Ishmael appeared in only a handful of games solely on a special teams, a role he may be ideally suited for. But it’s unlikely the team would give a serious nod to an untested player like him.

Thus if the Falcons are going to find an upgrade, it will have to be either in free agency or the draft. There should be plenty of options in free agency with some promising younger players as well as older veterans that could solidify the position. Given the Falcons are likely to go young at cornerback, it might be smart to add a more experienced hand at safety. But the team could easily decide that the youth trend should continue on the back-end of the secondary as well and look for a draft pick to try and solidify the position long-term.

Team Needs: Falcons Need Size and Experienced Depth at Cornerback

February 7th, 2014 1 comment

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Alford (23) and Desmond Trufant (21)

The recent release of Asante Samuel has created a hole at cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons when there wasn’t one before. That hole should be filled with a veteran corner that can upgrade the unit with some much-needed size.

As the team sits today, only two cornerbacks are under contract: Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, both entering their second seasons. Well, technically Jordan Mabin and Saeed Lee are both also under contract, although neither are expected to figure significantly into the team’s plans in 2014. Mabin and Lee probably can only be expected to compete for the fifth cornerback spot, indicating that the Falcons will need to add at least two more cornerbacks this offseason.

One of those spots almost certainly will go to impending restricted free agent Robert McClain. McClain is a valuable reserve due to his ability to play in the slot, as well as the fact that he played well as a punt returner late last season. McClain also is the team’s most accomplished cornerback in terms of run support, an area where both Trufant and Alford were inconsistent during their rookie seasons.

But in terms of pass coverage, Trufant certainly was far from inconsistent. By year’s end, his play had become the steadiest of anybody on the defensive roster. Alford had his fair share of ups and downs, but showed enough promise that the team is confident that he can enter 2014 penciled in as Samuel’s replacement in the starting lineup.

The Falcons might opt to keep Dominique Franks, an unrestricted free agent, as the fourth cornerback. However, the team should be able to find a better option than Franks this offseason. While Franks has shown the ability to play in the dime sub package in the past, he would be an inferior option to McClain in such a role, and also is a very limited contributor on special teams. Franks has flashed ability in the past as a reserve on defense, showing the capability that he is at least competent there. That makes his primary value only worthwhile in the event of an injury to one of the starters, where he’d likely be promoted to the nickel role.

Such an injury is likely given the Falcons history, as the team has not had two corners start all 16 games in the same season since Ray Buchanan and Ashley Ambrose did in 2001. If that trend continues, then it’s imperative the team attempt to upgrade their depth in 2014.

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Falcons Add OL Coach Harman to Staff

February 7th, 2014 Comments off

Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Atlanta Falcons have hired Wade Harman, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, to their coaching staff as the assistant offensive line coach. At the end of the 2013 regular season the Falcons fired both offensive line coaches in Pat Hill and Paul Dunn, and hired Mike Tice to coach the unit.

Harman previously served as the Ravens tight end coach for the past 15 years, being an original hire of former Ravens head coach Brian Billick in 1999 alongside current Falcons head coach Mike Smith. During his tenure in Baltimore, Harman coached the likes of Shannon Sharpe, Todd Heap, and Dennis Pitta. Prior to joining the Ravens, Harman worked with Tice as a coaching assistant coach with the Minnesota Vikings (1997-98). Before his stint in Minnesota, Harman was an assistant coach on the college level for a decade. He got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant with his alma mater Utah State in 1987. Harman played linebacker at Utah State after starting his college playing career at Drake.

Categories: News Tags: ,

Team Needs: Falcons Need More Athletes at Linebacker

February 6th, 2014 1 comment

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Joplo Bartu

The adversity the Atlanta Falcons faced at linebacker in 2013 should benefit the team in 2014.

The team was without stalwarts Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon for much of last season. Nicholas dealt with injuries in training camp, and ultimately lost his job as the team looked at younger, more athletic options in Joplo Bartu at strong-side linebacker position. Weatherspoon missed most of the regular season with an injury, and it thrust Paul Worrilow into the limelight after a promising summer.

Both undrafted rookies, Bartu and Worrilow, got a wealth of experience playing significant roles with the team in 2013. So much so that it is very likely that both will open up this offseason in starting roles with Bartu manning the strong side and Worrilow starting in the middle as Weatherspoon resumes his duties at weak-side linebacker.

Now Nicholas has since been released, and the team is searching to upgrade their depth at linebacker. Particularly in Bartu, the Falcons finally got another “plus” athlete on the roster besides Weatherspoon, and needs to continue that trend into 2014. Nicholas could once be described that, but time and age really started to catch up to him in 2012 where he was continually abused by opposing tight ends. Despite the upgrade in terms of athleticism from Bartu, the Falcons still struggled to check opposing tight ends in 2013. But one hope is that with a year’s worth of experience under his belt, there will be improvement from Bartu moving forward.

Worrilow was so good as Weatherspoon’s replacement at weak-side linebacker that he eventually replaced Akeem Dent as the team’s starting middle linebacker roughly a third of the way through the season. While Dent did show improvement after a lackluster 2012 season, his limited speed, range, and coverage ability just proved to be too much of a liability. While not the world’s greatest athlete himself, Worrilow proved an upgrade in those areas. But more importantly, he was a far more instinctual defender in his first season in Atlanta than Dent had showed in three years. But Dent is expected to return and help out on special teams, an area where he’s excelled at in the past, and add depth in the middle.

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Falcons Release Nicholas and Samuel

February 5th, 2014 Comments off
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Stephen Nicholas

Alex Marvez of FOX Sports cites sources that the Atlanta Falcons have released linebacker Stephen Nicholas and cornerback Asante Samuel today. Marvez’s report was subsequently confirmed by the team. NFL teams were allowed to begin releasing players starting this past Monday, and the release of veterans such as Nicholas and Samuel had long been expected. Nicholas was on the roster bubble since last summer’s training camp, while Samuel’s exit seemed inevitable once the team opted to bench him at the end of the 2013 season.

Per figures at OverTheCap.com, the combined release of both players frees up over $6 million in cap space for the Falcons. Nicholas was set to count $4 million against the Falcons’ 2014 cap, and frees up $2 million in cap savings. Samuel was set to count nearly $5 million against the 2014 cap, and his release frees up roughly $4.2 million.

Nicholas first joined the Falcons as a fourth-round draft pick in 2007. He was a reserve with the team his first two seasons before assuming the starting strong-side linebacker position in 2009. He would maintain that grip on the starting position through the 2012 season, before losing it this past year. For his career, Nicholas appeared in 101 games, starting 50 of them. He also recorded 329 tackles, 8 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 5 forced fumbles over the course of his Falcon career.

Samuel was traded to the Falcons from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012 in exchange of a seventh-round draft pick. Samuel started 25 games over the course of two seasons with the Falcons, missing some time due to injury. During that span, he recorded 66 tackles, 6 interceptions and 22 pass deflections. Samuel came to the Falcons after playing four seasons with the Eagles and five seasons with the New England Patriots. Originally a fourth-round pick by the Patriots in 2003, Samuel would earn four Pro Bowl trips and two Super Bowl titles over the course of his 11-year career. His 51 career interceptions currently rank fourth among active NFL players on the all-time list. For his career, Samuel also has 437 tackles, 145 pass deflections, and six pick-sixes.

Categories: News Tags: , , ,

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 57 “Who Stays, Who Goes?”

February 4th, 2014 Comments off

This week, Allen has a snow day and I ask Dave Choate of The Falcoholic to fill in. We discuss several Atlanta Falcons players that are on the bubble, as we decide which players we think stay or go this offseason. Among the players discussed are Steven Jackson, Harry Douglas, Osi Umenyiora, Jonathan Babineaux, Asante Samuel and Thomas DeCoud. Afterwards, I give my thoughts on the Falcons cap room, while Dave weighs in on the recent induction of Claude Humphrey into the Hall of Fame and whether it will open opportunities for other past Falcon greats. We finish off the episode by discussing Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seattle Seahawks blueprint and potential dynasty, free agent pass rushers that are on the Falcons radar, and whether trading up for Jadeveon Clowney is worthwhile with Khalil Mack possibly available.

Episode 57: Who Stays, Who Goes? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 7 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Dave writes for The Falcoholic and can be found on twitter: @TheFalcoholic.

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Team Needs: Defensive Tackle A Priority Due to Injuries and Free Agency

February 4th, 2014 1 comment

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Babineaux

The potential is high for turnover at defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons this offseason. Mainly because the team has all three of its primary players headed towards free agency.

It is likely that the Falcons will be able to retain at least one of the guys, with Corey Peters topping the list. Peters suffered a torn Achilles tendon at the end of the season, and while that might put the start of his 2014 in jeopardy, it probably enhances the chances that the Falcons re-sign him. The injury will likely eliminate a number of potential suitors in free agency and thus allow the Falcons to bring him back at a more modest salary than previously expected. Peters had a strong 2013 campaign prior to his injury, standing out as a run defender and occasionally as a pass rusher. He really found a home as the team’s nose tackle in their hybrid defensive scheme, due to his ability to hold leverage at the point of attack. While his injury may limit his effectiveness in 2014, there is good reason to believe that the 25-year old Peters still has plenty of good years ahead of him.

The player that is likely to be next on that priority is Jonathan Babineaux, although there could be complications in his return, namely salary. At 32 years of age, Babineaux is nearing the end. And similar to the situation with John Abraham a few years ago, the Falcons don’t want to be in a position to overpay a player that may only have one or two more years of solid production left. But everything suggests that the Falcons are definitely open to re-signing Babineaux, and the only potential sticking point is compensation. Babineaux once again seemed to defy time by having a solid, but unspectacular 2013 season. He is still the team’s best interior pass rusher due to his disruptive capabilities. There is good reason to believe that with a reduced role, his production should stay steady if not improve. Babineaux simply was forced to play too many snaps in 2013 and his ideal role would be a situational player with half the workload.

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Team Needs: Searching for the Next John Abraham at Defensive End

February 4th, 2014 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Massaquoi

The pass rush of the Atlanta Falcons has been a problem area for a number of years.

Expectations were reasonably high that the Falcons could potentially upgrade their pass rush with the switch from defensive end John Abraham to Osi Umenyiora last year. Unfortunately, Umenyiora’s production wasn’t in the same ballpark as Abraham from the previous year. Falcon fans had to watch as Abraham put together a Pro Bowl season with the Arizona Cardinals, while the Falcons finished second-to-last in the NFL in sacks.

Upgrading that pass rush will likely be one of the team’s biggest priorities this offseason, alongside their needs on the offensive line. While the Falcons could opt to release Umenyiora due to the disappointing 2013 he had, it’s more than likely that they’ll retain him and move him into a situational role similar to what he had with the New York Giants prior to his arrival in Atlanta.

One reason to release Umenyiora is due to the presence of Jonathan Massaquoi, who midway through the year arguably started to play at a level on par with Umenyiora. Massaquoi wasn’t ready for the starting role that was thrust upon him last year due to the injury to Kroy Biermann, but as a situational player he could be a solid fit, and a much cheaper and younger one than Umenyiora. Of the young defensive ends on the roster, Massaquoi possesses the most upside and the teaching that new defensive line coach Bryan Cox could provide, could help bring that out of him in 2014.

Biermann is another player that the Falcons can count on to bolster their pass rush in 2013. He is coming off a torn Achilles that sidelined him for practically the entire season. While never a great pass rusher, his production as a pass rusher in previous years was pretty consistent and frankly, any little bit will help the Falcons.

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2014 First Round Mock Draft

February 3rd, 2014 Comments off

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Could Jake Matthews be Atlanta’s target?

Last offseason, I didn’t do nearly as much draft-related homework as I had done in past years, and thus the amount of draft-related content generated by the site was down. I only produced three mock drafts, and the first one didn’t get published until March.

This year, I plan on changing those things as I intend to dive head-first into the draft this offseason in what will be a pivotal one for the Atlanta Falcons. And thus, this change starts with my very first mock draft of the year.

Now, like anybody that understands the draft process should already know, doing a mock draft before free agency is essentially a shot in the dark. Mock drafts are highly inaccurate to begin with, but projections made before March are even more so. Teams will address key needs in free agency, thus eliminating the possibility that they draft a player at that position. In a lot of these instances in this pre-free agency mock, I’ll be guessing at what teams might do that could affect the draft and will make note of some possible scenarios that could play out.

Let’s get started. Underclassmen are denoted by an asterisk (*).

1. Houston Texans – QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville*
John McClain is arguably the most respected NFL beat writer in the country, and when he says the Texans will take a quarterback, then the Texans will take a quarterback. Frankly, Texans fans would riot and destroy the city of Houston if they opened up the 2014 season with Matt Schaub as their quarterback. So the only question is which of the quarterbacks the Texans will take. Ultimately, I think it’s going to be Bridgewater. Despite recent reports to the contrary, he’s the most complete passer in this class. I suspect that he won’t be a slam dunk selection, similar to last year’s No. 1 overall pick where we really didn’t know until the day of the draft that Eric Fisher would be the top selection. Thus, there will be plenty of drama that unfolds over the next three months.

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Categories: Draft Central Tags: ,