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Camp Battles 2011: Linebackers

July 15th, 2011 Comments off

The Falcons first must address their free agent situation at this position, because it will have impact on the starting lineup. Both Stephen Nicholas and Mike Peterson are going to hit the open market, and probably that only one will return. The odds probably point to Peterson simply because Nicholas is likelier to get more interest on the open market. If the Falcons had their druthers, Nicholas is probably the better option since he’s younger and adds more value on third downs in coverage and as a pass rusher. But the Falcons also like the veteran leadership that Peterson provides due to the youth they have at the position. Peterson can also play more than one position.

Regardless of the Falcons free agency situation, two of the three starters are set in stone. They will be middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon at one of the outside spots. Depending on which free agent returns will determine which of the two spots Weatherspoon starts at. But Lofton and Weatherspoon will certainly be the Falcons two everydown linebackers playing both in their base set as well as their nickel formation.

If Nicholas is the one that returns, then it’s likely that Weatherspoon moves to his more natural weakside position after playing the strongside as a rookie. If Peterson comes back, then Weatherspoon will stay at the same position. If neither player returns, and that is a possibility, then Weatherspoon will likely replace Peterson on the weakside, and open up an opportunity for rookie Akeem Dent on the strongside.

The Falcons drafted Dent in the third round likely to be an insurance policy in case the team can’t retain Nicholas. The likeliest scenario has Dent being groomed for a year before replacing Peterson next season. Such a plan would then allow Weatherspoon to move to the weakside in 2012, while keeping the seat warm this year. But if neither free agent return, it’s possible that the Falcons thrust Dent into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.

In camp, Dent will likely be worked at multiple positions if not all three, similar to how the team worked both Lofton and Weatherspoon in their rookie camps.

Also with a fairly secure roster spot is veteran Coy Wire. He adds value on special teams, and can perform on nickel downs. His versatility to play all three spots makes him valuable depth for the team.

The Falcons are likely only to keep six linebackers as they did a year ago, to free up a roster spot elsewhere. The versatility of players like Weatherspoon, Wire, and Dent to play multiple positions allows the team to keep one less linebacker than normal. With those three, Lofton, and one of the free agents likely to form five of the spots, it leaves players like Spencer Adkins, Robert James, and Bear Woods likely competing for a single spot.

Adkins probably has the best odds because of his athleticism and proven ability on special teams (9 tackles in two seasons). James has managed to hang on despite only playing in a single game in three seasons with the club, and unless he can make significant strides this summer it’s hard to see him lasting a fourth year. Woods is a potential darkhorse, dependent on how much improvement he’s made from a year ago on regular defense. But he remains eligible for the practice squad which is his likeliest destination if he can’t unseat Adkins.

The chances that trio makes the roster will be reduced if the Falcons manage to keep both free agents. The Falcons may also add bodies via undrafted free agency, although any of those guys will likely only be competing for a practice squad spot.

Camp Battles ’10: Linebacker

July 23rd, 2010 Comments off
Sean Weatherspoon

Sean Weatherspoon

The brunt of the camp conflict at this position will come from Falcons top pick Sean Weatherspoon.

The Falcons drafted Weatherspoon to be an upgrade in speed and coverage abilities on defense. Thus far, they have cross-trained him at both outside spots, but it remains to be seen which position he will primarily play at this summer.

It would seem that strongside linebacker Stephen Nicholas is the likeliest of the starting trio to lose his spot in the starting lineup. Nicholas is a capable blitzer and able run defender, but is a liability in coverage. But at the same time, throughout last year weakside linebacker Mike Peterson also struggled in coverage. Peterson got off to a fast start last season but his played tailed off after the first month. One presumes that Weatherspoon is considered the long-term option to replace Peterson, so it would make sense if the Falcons tried to have him push there immediately, rather than facing the potential of shuffling the linebackers down the road.

There is also the possibility that Weatherspoon could become the starting weakside linebacker, and the team move Peterson to the strongside. But regardless of how the team shuffles the linebacker position, it must start with Weatherspoon having a strong summer. But his draft status gives him a leg up in competition. The Falcons haven’t had a first round pick not start the season opener under MIke Smith and Thomas Dimitroff.

Curtis Lofton is locked in the middle, and the team will be looking to see him make some improvements in coverage this summer.

Coy Wire may lose his status as the top reserve to either Weatherspoon, or whichever incumbent starter is benched. But he still has a firm grasp on a roster spot. He can play all three positions and is a valuable special teams performer.

Because of the versatility of Wire, Weatherspoon, and Peterson, the Falcons presumably can get away with keeping six linebackers on the roster. But normally 4-3 teams keep seven. So that means that there should be two more roster positions left available. The front runner for one of those spots would appear to be Spencer Adkins. Adkins only appeared in five games last year, but the team is looking to see him make further strides this summer. Also in the mix is Robert James, but due to a four-game suspension to open the regular season, he’ll have to have a really strong showing this summer for the team to keep him on. That looming suspension opens greater opportunities for undrafted rookies like Weston Johnson and Bear Woods. Both players will have to shine on special teams, as well as make some impact plays defensively in the preseason.

Camp Battles: Linebackers

July 9th, 2009 Comments off

Curtis Lofton is a fixture in the middle, and it’s pretty much a sure bet that Mike Peterson will be a starter at one of the outside spots, most likely being the weak side. There will be some competition between Stephen Nicholas and Coy Wire for the strong side position.

Nicholas is the more likely of the two to win the job, as the coaching staff wants to develop him. Wire is undersized, but performed well as a reserve off the bench last year, particularly towards the end of the season. But it remains to be seen if he has the needed size and strength to hold up for 16 games as a starter at linebacker. Nicholas presents much greater upside, and it’s really his job to lose. Wire is a much better coming off the bench in nickel situations.

The other spots will be settled via camp competition. Right now, Tony Gilbert is the incumbent backup middle linebacker behind Lofton. He’ll most likely be pushed by undrafted rookie Rashad Bobino out of Texas. Gilbert was inactive for all sixteen games last year, but due to his experience and familiarity with the coaches makes him a relatively sure bet to beat Bobino.

On the outside, the two most likely candidates to fill the reserve spots will be rookie Spencer Adkins and second-year player Robert James. James missed all of last year with injury. Both players are most likely to work on on special teams. But James has good speed, and Adkins showed nice pass rush potential at Miami last year as a situational player. That likely leaves Edmond Miles on the outside looking in along with Bobino, most likely aiming for spots on the practice squad.

Rookie contracts approved

July 2nd, 2009 Comments off

Updating a previous report, Scout.com reports that the three rookie contracts that were disapproved by the league have now been approved. The contracts of third round pick Chris Owens, fifth round pick Garrett Reynolds, and sixth round pick Spencer Adkins had to be re-done. Pro Football Talk reported previously that the reason for the league’s disapproving of the contracts was due to language oversight involving incentives.

According to the NFLPA website, all three players signed four-year contracts with base salaries of: $310,000 (2009); $395,000 (2010); $480,000 (2011); and $565,000 (2012).  Owens received a signing bonus of $688,000, while Reynolds got around $180,000. It is unknown how much of a signing bonus Adkins got. But as the 176th overall pick, he likely got a sum around $115,000 considering that the 178th overall pick (Seahawks quarterback Mike Teel) signed for $114,000.

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NFL disapproves of three rookie contracts

June 25th, 2009 1 comment

Scout.com reports that the contracts signed by three of the Falcons recent draft picks have been disapproved by the league. The specifics of what exactly in the contracts was disapproved is unknown, but according to the report they were all minor and all should be fixed and up to league standards by early next week.

The three contracts disapproved were offensvie tackle Garrett Reynolds, cornerback Chris Owens, and linebacker Spencer Adkins. Per Scout.com, all three players signed four-year deals. Reynolds received a signing bonus of just over $180,000 while Owens got $688,000 in bonus money. All three players signed their deals within the last ten days.

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Falcons sign Adkins

June 22nd, 2009 Comments off

The team announced the signing of sixth round linebacker Spencer Adkins today. He becomes the fifth draft pick to sign with the team, following the signings of Chris Owens and Garrett Reynolds last week.

Adkins is expected to add depth for the team at linebacker, having played both inside and outside linebacker at Miami during his collegiate career. The team only has three remaining unsigned rookies: first rounder Peria Jerry, second rounder William Moore, and fourth rounder Lawrence Sidbury.

Terms of Adkins’ contract were not announced, but it is expected to be a four-year deal like the others signed by the team’s draft picks.

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Falcons add Adkins

April 26th, 2009 Comments off

The Falcons continue their goals of shoring up depth on the defensive side of the ball by taking Miami (FL) linebacker Spencer Adkins in the sixth round (176th overall).

At 5’11″ 246, he showed good speed (clocked at 4.62 in the 40) and was a productive role player for Miami over the years. He showed pass rush potential as a senior with 20 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks. Adkins played both inside and outside linebacker for the Hurricanes, making him a versatile backup that can fill in a number of depth positions on the Falcons roster. The team currently only has six linebackers on the roster and Adkins can also potentially help on special teams.

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