Franks struggles lead to nickel concerns

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Dominique Franks

Dominique Franks did not have an impressive outing against the Jacksonville Jaguars last night. While Chris Owens got the start in place of an injured Dunta Robinson at right corner, Franks got his opportunity to work with the first team as the nickel/slot corner. He proceeded to have a night where he was picked on several times.

In re-watching the game this morning, I paid close attention to Franks, tracking how many receptions he gave up in the game. In the end, Franks was targeted 9 times by Jacksonville passers, and they were successful in completing 8 passes against him. Those plays went for a total of 87 yards, with Franks having no pass breakups in coverage. For those unable to do the math, that means Jacksonville passers had a passer rating of 106.9 against Franks. The lone incompletion against Franks came on an overthrow by Blaine Gabbert to Jason Hill along the sideline. Franks also missed two tackles in the open field, which allowed guys like Cecil Shorts and Tiquan Underwood to get significant yards after the catch.

If there is a positive for Franks from last night, he did show some things as a blitzer off the corner. He rushed the quarterback three times. The first time he managed to hit David Garrard, although Garrard still completed a pass. A second time, he was able to jump to deflect a pass leading to an incompletion. A third time, his pressure forced an errant throw by Gabbert.

One of the strengths of Brian Williams, last year’s nickel back, was his ability to be an effective blitzer. Thus far, there doesn’t seem to be a huge dropoff from Williams to Franks. But despite positives there, as well as on special teams where Franks almost blocked Josh Scobee’s third field goal of the night, he still seems to be a work in progress in coverage.

Franks looked to be ahead of Owens in their competition for the open nickel spot after a disappointing preseason for the latter against the Dolphins. Owens did not have a great night against the Jaguars, and gave up receptions of his own in the second half. But for the most part in the first half when he was working with the starters on the outside, he was capable. He broke up a pass, made some stops in run support, and even forced a fumble.

If anything, the nickel corner battle seems to be about even at this point. And next week’s game against the Steelers may be the decisive outing to decide things. But it certainly does not bode well for the Falcons that both candidates for the spot have had their struggles in either preseason game. The Falcons have yet to really solidify their nickel position since the arrival of Mike Smith, leading to the team’s acquisitions of Brian Williams, Tye Hill, and Domonique Foxworth before the starts of the 2009 and 2008 seasons, respectively.

Could the Falcons be scouring the waiver wire or in trade talks to make a move again this summer? At this point, it might be the smart move. I hope Brian Williams has managed to stay in shape through the off-season of inactivity. Because he could be getting a call pretty soon.

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Aaron Freeman
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