Falcons Team Report
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Strategy and Personnel
Sean Weatherspoon, Stephen Nicholas and Akeem Dent were the Falcons' starting linebackers last season. Michael Peterson and Robert James were the reserves.
Weatherspoon and Nicholas had trouble covering tight ends in the playoffs against Seattle and San Francisco.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o is a run stuffer, but had seven interceptions last season for the Fighting Irish and the Falcons plan to interview him extensively at the NFL Scouting Combine, general manager Thomas Dimitroff said Friday.
Te'o, the player who was involved in an intricate internet dating hoax, is considered one of the top inside linebackers in the draft and likely will not be available when the Falcons pick with the 30th overall selection.
"What I'll say about the Manti Te'o situation is that it's about us and our responsibility as team builders to break down the situation and determine what truly is the truth," Dimitroff said. "Let's do our research on him. Let's not all over-react and start throwing darts at him."
Te'o is scheduled to speak to the media on Saturday. He will be heavily scrutinized like Ohio State's Maurice Clarett, Florida's Tim Tebow and Auburn's Cam Newton were when they spoke at the Combine.
"In this situation, this player is a good football player," Dimitroff said. "He'll potentially have a long future in this business. It's up to us to determine what is right for us as a team."
Dimitroff has given his instructions on how to conduct the interview.
"I discussed this with our guys," Dimitroff said. "He'll be interviewed by someone from our team. We have a massive congregation here. We have our scouts and our coaches here. We'll get an opportunity to talk with him and break down the situation. ...It's up to us to drill down and get to the specifics."
The Falcons will not request his phone records.
"I think that would be out of the ordinary," Dimitroff said.
In addition to improving their pass defense, the Falcons will likely head in a different direction at running back.
The Falcons are discussing running back Michael Turner's status. Those decisions are forthcoming and owner Arthur Blank is involved.
The Falcons can save $6.9 million by releasing Turner and could make the move before free agency starts on March 12.
"Guys, this time of the year, there are tough decisions that have to be made," coach Mike Smith said. "We are recalibrating our roster as we speak, going through that process. Michael is under contract right now.
"We'll continue to go through that process in terms of how we are going to recalibrate it. Myself, Mr. Blank and Thomas have had numerous discussions."
Cornerback Brent Grimes is still recovering from his Achilles heel injury and could be headed for free agency.
If the Falcons don't use the franchise tag on him again, he could get more money on the open market.
"I'm not going to talk about the franchise tag in terms of what we may do there," Smith said.
Grimes, who was underpaid earlier in his career, received the franchise tag last season and was paid more than $10 million.
Under Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, the team has taken on a couple of medical risks in the past.
They selected defensive tackle Peria Jerry in the first round with the 24th overall pick in 2009. He had an extensive injury history at Mississippi.
In 2011, when they were looking for support in the secondary, they signed cornerback Kelvin Hayden, who had a neck injury and wasn't medically cleared by several teams.
"When you start talking about medical issues. … you get a risk-reward scenario, and every team is different with how they assign risk versus reward," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said.
Late in the second round, the Falcons will likely be confronted with a dilemma: Pull South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore's card off the draft board or pass?
Lattimore, who tore three ligaments and suffered a dislocated right knee against Tennessee on Oct. 27 at Williams Brice Stadium, rushed for a school-record 41 touchdowns and 2,677 yards over his abbreviated college career.
In the Falcons' new offensive attack under Dirk Koetter, catching the ball out of the backfield is key. Lattimore had 74 catches for 767 yards (10.3 per catch) and three touchdowns.
His recovery period was stated at 12 to 15 months. It was noted by South Carolina's team doctor that he didn't suffer any nerve damage or broken bones.
Several members of the Atlanta City Council, which now holds the fate of a proposed $1 billion Falcons stadium in its hands, said Wednesday they want some projects and concessions included in the funding deal before they give their support.
In a three-hour work session at City Hall on Wednesday, several city lawmakers signaled they want the stadium project to help fund a batch of community needs, from new infrastructure to a beefed-up MARTA station.
Wednesday's meeting was a sign of how complicated the process could get as the deliberations move into City Hall and run headlong into city politics.
At times, the session - scheduled so the City Council could question state officials and Falcons executives - detoured into local schools, MARTA ridership, tailgating, traffic, minority construction work, jobs and affordable housing.
City Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr., who represents the stadium district, called for at least 30 percent participation by minority-owned firms in stadium contracts - a request that was echoed by other members of the council.
"We can't undo history, but what we can do in a very deliberate way … is create balance and level that playing field," Young said, adding that he wanted the project to use the city's First Source jobs program, which is designed to help low-income workers or those without college degrees find jobs.
Rich McKay, president and chief executive of the Falcons, said there will be an "equal opportunity employment commitment" at every stage of the project. He said the team needs a better understanding of how the city's programs work before making firm commitments.
"These types of programs are going to be as critical to us as they are to you," McKay told the City Council. "We will make it a priority."
Quote To Note:
"If it would be possible, if you could extend the amount of time that you have in the interview process. That's probably one of the biggest things. Fifteen minutes goes fast in the interviews that the head coaches and the people that can have the one-on-one interviews. If we could have a little bit more time, maybe cut the numbers down and allow us more time to spend with each player."
—Falcons coach Mike Smith on what he would do to improve the NFL Scouting Combine
Strategy and Personnel
The Falcons will complete their due diligence on their targeted players, with an emphasis on tight ends, linebackers, defensive ends and running backs for free agency and the draft. Also, the Falcons heavily scouted the offensive linemen at the Senior Bowl.
Defensive end: John Abraham was injured in a meaningless regular-season finale. He was ineffective in the playoffs and the lack of a pass rush was exposed. The team almost has to bring Abraham back because no other player on the roster has shown the ability to rush the passer. Don't be surprised if they kick the tires on Dwight Freeney, who's 33 and could provide them with another designated pass rusher. There may not be much help available in the first round, where the Falcons are set to pick 30th. Sam Montgomery, the defensive end from LSU, is a guy that could be available. Florida State's Cornellius "Tank" Carradine and Texas' Alex Okafor are other defensive ends to track in the draft.
With tight end Tony Gonzalez contemplating retirement, the Falcons will heavily scout Stanford's Zach Ertz, Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert and San Diego State's Gavin Escoba, the top three tight ends available in the draft. All three have shown that they are capable pass catchers as flex tight ends. Tennessee's Jared Cook would be the top free-agent target if the Titans do not slap the franchise tag on him. While the team remains hopeful that Gonzalez will return, they still need to upgrade the position moving forward. Also, look for the Falcons to continue reclaiming Chase Coffman as a pass-catching threat. He made some clutch catches down the stretch and in the playoffs.
The Falcons want a running back with pass-catching ability. Clemson's Andre Ellington and North Carolina's Giovani Bernard seem to best fit their scheme. Notre Dame's Cierre Wood could also be a second-day pick as teams have been able to find running backs throughout the draft. Last season, several teams found quality running backs throughout the draft. Baltimore drafted Bernard Pierce (532 yards) in the third round. Also Robert Turbin (Seattle, fourth round, 354 yards), Vick Ballard (Indianapolis, fifth, 814 yards), Alfred Morris (Washington, sixth, 1,613), Bryce Brown (Philadelphia, seventh, 564) and Daryl Richardson (St. Louis, seventh, 475 yards) all were drafted in 2012.
Look for Peter Konz, who started nine games as a rookie, to slide over to center if Todd McClure retires. That would leave a hole at right guard. Garrett Reynolds opened the season as a starter and is returning from back surgery. Philipkeith Manley is a player that the Falcons developed last season and may be ready to give him shot. Brandon Moore is a potential free-agent target if the Falcons want a veteran to help secure the interior of the passing pocket.
In the playoffs, while trying to stop read-option offenses, the Falcons had trouble with containing tight ends in the pass defense. Some of the top linebackers and possible targets in the draft include LSU's Kevin Minter, North Carolina's Kevin Reddick and Kansas State's Arthur Brown.
QB Matt Ryan has fully recovered from the sprained left AC shoulder joint he suffered against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 20. After the game, Falcons coach Mike Smith said that Ryan's recovery was expected to be three to four weeks and that Ryan would have played had the Falcons advanced to Super Bowl XLVII. No surgery was required.
Unrestricted Free Agents
LT Sam Baker turned in his strongest season as he was injury free. The Falcons want to have him back.
FB Mike Cox came on strong, but will have to compete with Bradie Ewing for the lead role.
TE Tony Gonzalez possibly could return after leading the team with 93 catches and amassing 930 yards. The team has made it known that they want Gonzalez to return. He is making his decision.
CB Brent Grimes will have to prove he's recovered from his Achilles injury. The Falcons must decide to match if he receives a lucrative free-agency offer. The discovery of Robert McClain helped to stabilize the depth at cornerback.
S Chris Hope was a valuable reserve and on special teams. He played in the playoffs in some three-safety alignments.
C Todd McClure turned in another solid season, but could finally be ready to retire.
QB Luke McCown knew the offense and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter from their time in Jacksonville. Dominique Davis could be ready to unseat him as the No. 2 quarterback.
SS William Moore went to the Pro Bowl, but missed four games with a hamstring injury. The team wants to re-sign him, but likely won't break the bank.
CB Christopher Owens has been a solid contributor on special teams. He played extensively as the nickel back and finished his rookie season as a starter.
LB Mike Peterson was a good insurance policy last season. He likely has played his last snaps in the league.
RG Garrett Reynolds was the starter before suffering a season-ending back injury. He could provide some experience and depth as they try to upgrade the position.
DE Lawrence Sidbury has played sparingly despite showing some pass-rush ability. His inability to play on special teams hurt his development.
OT Will Svitek was a key reserve in 2011. The team drafted at his position last season.
DT Vance Walker has been a stable and productive member of the defensive tackle rotation. His steady and dependable play is valued by the team.
Restricted Free Agents
TE Michael Palmer (entered NFL as undrafted free agent) is a solid blocker and deceptive route-runner.
RB Antone Smith (entered NFL as undrafted free agent) contributed on special teams and provided depth in the backfield.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents:
Starter—Matt Ryan. Backups - Luke McCown (UFA), Dominique Davis
Ryan flourished in the passing attack installed by new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and was selected for his second Pro Bowl. He completed 68.6 percent of his passes and remained a force late in games. McCown was not needed. Davis was dazzling in the preseason.
Starters - Michael Turner, FB Mike Cox (UFA). Backups - Jacquizz Rodgers, FB Jason Snelling, Antone Smith.
Turner's carries were cut as the team moved to a committee approach with him and Rodgers. They both were effective in the team's screen attack. Snelling's versatility is a plus while Smith continues to contribute on special teams.
Starter - Tony Gonzalez (UFA). Backups - Chase Coffman, Michael Palmer, Tommy Gallarda, Adam Nissley.
Gonzalez continued to shine in his 16th season in the league. At 36, he still could run away from linebackers and get some yards after the catch. He'll leave a major void in the offense if he retires as expected. Coffman flashed his pass-catching ability in the playoffs. Palmer is a solid blocker. Nissley (knee) and Gallarda (shoulder) finished the season on injured reserve.
Starters - Roddy White, Julio Jones. Backups - Harry Douglas, Drew Davis, Kevin Cone, Kerry Meier, Tim Toone.
White and Jones developed into perhaps the most dynamic duo in the league. They both can get deep and don't mind working the underneath routes. Douglas is a steady performer. Davis made some contributions. Toone helped with game preparations, but has some speed. Meier and Cone finished the season on injured reserve
Starters - LT Sam Baker (UFA), LG Justin Blalock C Todd McClure (UFA), RG Peter Konz, RT Tyson Clabo. Backups - OG Mike Johnson, G/C Joe Hawley, T Lamar Holmes, G Harland Gunn, G Phillipkeith Manley, G Garrett Reynolds (UFA, back), OT Will Svitek (UFA, torn triceps).
Under new line coach Pat Hill, the unit fared much better in pass protection, but wasn't able to create many holes for the running game. Road graders like Holmes, Manley and Gunn are waiting in the wings. Konz was solid and appears to have a bright future. Baker had a bounce-back season after reshaping his body. Blalock is an agile guard and sturdy protector. McClure may be ready to retire. Reynolds and Svitek ended the season on injured reserve.
Starters - RDE John Abraham, DT Corey Peters, DT Jonathan Babineaux, DE Kroy Biermann. Backups - DE Jonathan Massaquoi, DE Lawrence Sidbury (UFA), DE Cliff Matthews, DT Travian Robertson, DT Vance Walker (UFA).
Abraham had 10 sacks and showed the ability to still get around the edge. Biermann was used in a variety of ways under Nolan, but never mounted much of a pass rush. Babineaux continued to use his quickness and power to be disruptive. Peters was just solid after coming back from a stress fracture that caused him to miss the first six games of the season. Jerry did some good things as a penetrator. Massaquoi moved ahead of Sidbury as one of the edge rushing ends. Walker had a strong season and will be a free agent. Robertson was solid in limited duty.
Starters - WLB Sean Weatherspoon, MLB Akeem Dent, SLB Stephen Nicholas. Backups - WLB Robert James, MLB Mike Peterson (UFA).
Dent was on the spot to replace Curtis Lofton. As the season progresses, he become more and more comfortable and started playing more instinctively. Weatherspoon missed too many tackles in the run game and Nicholas was a liability in pass coverage. James helped on special teams and Peterson has seen his better days.
Starters - LCB Asante Samuel, SS William Moore (UFA), FS Thomas DeCoud, RCB Dunta Robinson. Backups—CB Robert McClain, CB Christopher Owens (UFA), CB Dominique Franks, CB Brent Grimes (UFA), S Charles Mitchell, S Chris Hope (UFA), S Shann Schillinger.
McClain was a major find as he helped to settle down the nickel position. Samuel provided an instant impact and didn't cost the team while going on too many gambling missions. Robinson had his best season in Atlanta and continues to play as a hard-hittng dynamo. DeCoud and Moore combined for 10 interceptions, but DeCoud missed too many tackles (21). Hope helped on special teams and made four starts late in the season. Mitchell helped on special teams and showed his hard-hitting style. Grimes (Achilles) and Schillinger (ankle) finished the season on injured reserve.
K Matt Bryant, P Matt Bosher, KOR Jacquizz Rodgers, PR Harry Douglas, PR Dominique Franks, LS Josh Harris.
Bryant continued to be clutch and Bosher had a solid season. Rodgers was solid on kickoff returns, but didn't exude the fearlessness of former returner Eric Weems. Franks was too cautious as the punt returner as was Douglas late in the season. Harris had a strong season after making the team as an undrafted rookie free agent.
"what if there were no hypothetical situations?"