Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Alford’

Falcons to add dime to the mix

August 8th, 2013 Comments off
Icon SMI

Dominique Franks

One of the more interesting developments I was hoping to see this year was whether or not the Falcons would incorporate more dime subpackages into their defense. The dime differs from the nickel subpackage due to the fact that it features six defensive backs rather than five. The Falcons made limited use of the dime a year ago, but at least for the preseason appear willing to experiment. Falcons head coach Mike Smith had these comments following Wednesday’s practice:

When you start talking safeties and corners, those are guys that usually contribute on all four special teams. It’ll be fun to watch those guys. I think we’ve got a number of guys that will work and you’ll see play the dime position. Again, this is what the preseason is all about. It’s about evaluating your roster.

The Falcons did make more usage of dime at the end of the regular season last year when injuries hurt their secondary, particularly with William Moore and Chris Owens out of the lineup. In that subpackage, Dominique Franks worked his way on the field, often lining up as a safety on the back-end.

In fact, the dime subpackage might represent Franks best opportunity to retain his hold on a roster spot in 2013. The expectation are that both rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will surpass him on the depth chart at cornerback, leaving him as the fifth corner. The fifth corner is often used as a special teams-only player, particularly when it comes to coverage units. The only reason why Franks was active last season on Sundays was because of his role as the team’s punt returner, but that appears to be very much in jeopardy heading into 2013.

In reality, if the Falcons do use more dime this year, it may mean greater opportunities for the loser of the battle between Trufant and Alford at right cornerback, as the Falcons will likely field four corners and two safeties in the dime.

One of the benefits of dime is potentially to help the Falcons better match up with some of the top-level tight ends they will see this year. It was a strategy the Houston Texans tried to employ to only limited success last year against the New England Patriots in 2012. While it did not work in terms of execution, the idea behind it is sound. Given that the best cover men on a defense are its corners and if a team is going to try and match up man to man against quality receivers and tight ends, it makes sense to maximize the number cornerbacks on the field as opposed to linebackers, who are notably weaker there. Given the fact that all of the Falcons linebackers struggled in coverage in 2012, and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan frankly had to throw the entire kitchen sink at Jimmy Graham to try and contain him last year, it makes sense to find a more permanent solution.

Two offenses the Falcons are set to face in 2013 that make ample use of the two-tight end set are New England and San Francisco. Given New England’s issues however, it doesn’t appear that installing a dime subpackage will need to be a priority heading into the season. But as Smith indicated it makes sense to see how things fare during the preseason where the wins and losses don’t count, and roster evaluation is the priority.

Categories: News Tags: , , ,

Quizz expected to handle kickoffs again in 2013

August 8th, 2013 Comments off
Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

Jacquizz Rodgers

When probed about cornerback Robert Alford’s usage on special teams during a post-practice interview Wednesday, Falcons head coach Mike Smith indicated that the Falcons intend to use Jacquizz Rodgers as their primary kickoff returner this year:

We’ve got some competition [at the returner positions] as well. We think Jacquizz Rodgers will be the guy that will probably will return kickoffs during the regular season but we’ve got some other guys we want to take a look at as well.

Although previously speculated that Rodgers could potentially give way to one of the rookies as the team’s kickoff returner, the Falcons appear content for Quizz to continue in that role. With the expectation that his workload on offense will be lightened from a year ago, Rodgers may be in a better position in 2013 to produce there.

I’ve previously discussed the notion that Alford might be the Falcons best alternative option. Quizz’s brother James also was extensively worked on kickoffs last summer and likely should get opportunities again this summer in the preseason. It’s also been mentioned that Dominique Franks will also be in the mix for the kickoff gig. However it will appear the brunt of the competition for the return gigs will come at punt returner, where the Falcons appear to be actively trying to replace Franks, who struggled in that role a year ago.

Categories: News Tags: , ,

Takeaways from Last Week – August 5

August 5th, 2013 Comments off
David Kohl-US PRESSWIRE

Carlos Dunlap

Today the Falcons begin their joint practice sessions with the Cincinnati Bengals as they prepare for their preseason opener against them on Thursday night. Two days of practice, which all of the players look forward to because it’s nice to hit someone that is not your teammate. One of the more interesting developments that could come from this session will be if any fights occur. I could be mistaken but generally speaking it seems like the number of training camp fights is a lot lower with Mike Smith than previous regimes.

One of the drawbacks for these two days of joint practices will be the absence of Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have both taken their fair share of lumps from Roddy White and Julio Jones through the first week-plus of training camp, and it would be nice to see them go against another top wideout. Green injured his knee last week, and is expected to be held out by the Bengals for this first week of preseason if not the next week. He is by far their primary offensive weapon, and they don’t want to risk further injury to him.

If there was another matchup that I’d be curious to see is how right tackles Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes handle standout Bengals left defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Dunlap is one of the premier situational pass rushers in the league. So much so that he just earned a $40 million contract, despite the fact that he’s only technically started two games in three seasons in Cincinnati. We won’t know how much work either party will see in Thursday’s game, so how they fare in practice against a premier pass rusher like Dunlap could determine a lot about how much confidence the team has in either player. It’s probably too late for the Falcons to try and make a move in free agency to bolster the position if they don’t like what they see this week. But it could go a long way to determining just how the Falcons handle their protections this year. Most NFL teams tend to roll their protections to the left side in order to protect the blindside of the quarterback, with the Falcons being among those teams. But given all the question marks that the Falcons could have on the right side with a pair of unproven starters in Garrett Reynolds at right guard, and either Johnson or Holmes at tackle, the Falcons might have to do the opposite. Given the Falcons have invested nearly $80 million in the left side of their offensive line, it would only make sense then that they should feel comfortable enough with them to put them more on an island.

Another fascinating development will be getting to see these joint practices and the upcoming preseason game portrayed on HBO’s series Hard Knocks. The cameras are enveloping Bengals training camp for the second time in the series’ history. The Falcons have indicated that they are interested in the show in the past, but have said that the timing wasn’t right. Personally, I believe the Falcons want to be on Hard Knocks. Arthur Blank very much strikes me as the type of owner that would be very open to the idea of millions of viewers seeing the greatness that is the organization he’s built in Atlanta. But they also don’t want to deal with the potential for distractions it creates. I think they are waiting until after they win a title before we’ll see the NFL Films crew descend upon Flowery Branch. But until then, we’ll just have to settle for the taste we’ll likely receive in the second episode, which will air next Tuesday.

Read more…

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.

Read more…

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.

Training Camp: Day 2 Report

July 27th, 2013 Comments off

Here’s the buzz and news that emerged on the second day of Falcons camp. Once again, hat tip to the AJC for providing a transcript of some of the post-practice interviews.

    • The Falcons added Syracuse wide receiver Marcus Sales to the roster. Sales tried out with the Falcons following the draft, but went unsigned as an undrafted free agent. Sales finished his career at Syracuse strong, with career highs of 64 catches, 882 yards (13.8 avg), and 8 touchdowns.
    • The Falcons also named another addition to their training camp roster.
    • Brian Banks clearly appreciated the magnitude of the moment and situation he has earned for himself during his first practice with the team on Thursday.
    • Knox Bardeen indicated that rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford looked a little green during their first day. It seems their struggles continued on Day 2, as they continue to take their lumps against one of the NFL’s premier receiving duos in Roddy White and Julio Jones.

    • Daniel Cox of Atlanta Falcons.com gives five excellent observations from the second day of camp, including Steven Jackson’s usage in the passing game, Drew Davis and Kevin Cone’s progress at wide receiver in their third seasons with the team, Trufant and Alford’s abilities to have short memories when it comes to getting beat in coverage, Kroy Biermann’s continued usage as a “joker” in Mike Nolan’s defense, and Chase Coffman’s ability to benefit from Tony Gonzalez’s absence.
    • Matt Ryan doesn’t mind that Gonzalez will being getting time off from camp due to the strong rapport the pair have built over the past four seasons. Ryan spent some time with Gonzalez in Southern Cali to strengthen their bonds this off-season. And Ryan likes the opportunity it presents him to get some of the other tight ends involved, echoing Cox’s sentiments about Coffman.
    • Ryan also feels that Peter Konz is off to a good start in his transition to center, where he is more comfortable. Given the switch over to Konz at center, left guard Justin Blalock is taking on more of a leadership role with the offensive line as they tried to build continuity given the departure of 13-year veteran Todd McClure.

Camp Battles 2013: Special Teams

July 23rd, 2013 1 comment

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Alford could man both return spots this year

The Falcons brought in a pair of undrafted specialists in Jeremy Shelley and Sean Sellwood to push kicker Matt Bryant and punter Matt Bosher, respectively. Both are longshots and unless Bryant or Bosher get hurt really don’t stand much of a chance to make the roster.

Instead both will be competing in the hopes that it may impress another NFL team that could pick them up at the end of the summer off waivers. If either of them offer much potential for the Falcons it’s Shelley. Matt Bryant is signed through the 2014 season, but is already 38 years old. He’s been highly productive for the Falcons since joining the team late in 2009, but age eventually always catches up. Jason Elam was also solid for the Falcons until he turned 39 that same season, and his inconsistency prompted the team replace him with Bryant. So in reality if Shelley can have an impressive summer, he could be on speed dial in case there is any dropoff from Bryant in the near future. Shelley was one of the more accurate kickers in college football the past few years while at Alabama, specializing on short field goals. He’ll have to prove that he has NFL-caliber leg strength however.

Like Bosher, Sellwood possesses a big leg, but really is just insurance. Bosher struggled throughout his rookie season in 2011, but emerged as one of the top young punters with a much more consistent 2012 season. Sellwood really is only around in case Bosher regresses, which isn’t likely.

Long snapper Josh Harris had a bit of a rocky rookie season, but the Falcons didn’t bring in any direct competition for him. Assuming he doesn’t regress this summer, he should be a lock to retain his spot.

The big battle at this position group will be for the returner positions. Jacquizz Rodgers returned kickoffs last year, while Dominique Franks managed punts. Rodgers was effective at times in his role, but Franks was not. More than likely the Falcons would prefer another young player to emerge at either spot. However, the likelihood that Rodgers has a decreased role on offense due to the presence of Steven Jackson, means that he may better handle return duties. But in reality, he’s probably only going to open the season as the kickoff returner if no one else emerges.

The best candidate may be second round pick Robert Alford. While Alford primarily returned punts in college, his skillset may be better suited to returning kicks due to his excellent straight-line speed. In a perfect world, Alford will take over at both spots and give the Falcons a big play element that has been missing since the heyday of Allen Rossum. He’ll be competing with a number of other potential candidates.

Tim Toone, while not a big play threat as a punt returner, showed last summer that he can be somewhat reliable when it comes to consistently getting yardage. That is a valuable trait in that role and lacking that ability was one of the biggest reasons why Franks struggled last year. Undrafted rookies Rashad Evans and Darius Johnson both offer explosive speed and return experience from college. James Rodgers, Jacquizz’s brother nearly won a spot last summer and if he can improve upon that he is a prime candidate to win one of the spots.

Antone Smith and Harry Douglas also might be in the mix as they have return experience, but really are only options of last resort if no one else emerges.

Camp Battles 2013: Cornerback

July 21st, 2013 Comments off
Alan Maglaque-US PRESSWIRE

Dominique Franks is on the bubble

This is the only position on defense that likely will feature a position battle for a starting spot. While Asante Samuel is locked in at the left cornerback position, the right cornerback position is relatively wide open. The team dumped veterans Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson in the off-season, replacing them with rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, their top two picks in 2013. Trufant is expected to win the job because of his higher draft status and the fact that he has NFL bloodlines (two older brothers already in the NFL). But Alford could give him a run for his money. Incumbent nickel corner Robert McClain also could be in the mix for the spot. Regardless, the Falcons won’t be afraid to start either Alford or McClain over Trufant if need be. This is indeed a spot where the best candidate will win the job.

But more than likely, it’s Trufant’s job to lose. He’ll likely man the right cornerback position, which he has throughout the off-season when he’s been available. Alford is considered Samuel’s top backup on the left side, a role he played primarily at Southeastern Louisiana. McClain should remain the team’s nickel guy and man the slot, a role he was surprisingly adept at last season. McClain was a player that was one of the last players to make the team, but was able to turn it into an excellent season once Grimes went down with an Achilles tear. The Falcons hope he can pick up where he left off last season.

His emergence has pushed Dominique Franks to the fringe, and now he’s on the roster bubble. Franks showed potential in 2011 as a nickel corner, but struggled for reps a year ago even after the injury to Grimes. Franks’ ability to make the team is limited by the fact that his value on special teams is minimal. Franks’ struggles as a punt returner are well-documented, but also hurting his case is the fact that he has made almost no contributions in coverage in three seasons. McClain’s ability to contribute there was a key reason why he was able to pass him on the depth chart last summer and during the regular season. Franks’ best hope of making the roster then rests on his ability to be a regular contributor on defense. The presence of two rookie corners limits that, especially given the fact that Alford is also considered a prime candidate to win one of the return jobs, and his speed (potentially the fastest player on the defense) also projects well to finding a role on coverage units. Late last year the Falcons employed more dime looks in their subpackages, with Franks filling a role there. That potentially remains his best odds of making the roster, although again he’ll have to outplay Alford who also would be a candidate for that role.

Special teams ability is likely what will earn potential roster spots for the remainder of the position group. Peyton Thompson spent last year on the team’s practice squad and could propel that into a roster spot this year as the fifth corner. Terrence Johnson is also in the mix due to his experience playing in the nickel for the Indianapolis Colts in 2011. Saeed Lee is an undrafted rookie that was able to earn a contract after being brought in for a tryout. All three have a legit chance to earn the fifth and likely final cornerback spot due to special teams being the primary motivator for that spot. But if any of them emerge as capable defenders it will certainly be a significant factor in who makes the team. That’s why Thompson and Johnson are the likeliest candidates, given their experience over Lee.

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 32 “They’re Gonna Run It Up the Middle!”

July 17th, 2013 5 comments

Allen and I are joined this week by Matt Chambers of Grits Blitz blog to discuss the NFC South in depth. We discuss each of the Falcons three NFC South opponents: New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and Carolina and what are our expectations for each team in 2013, and whether or not they will present a significant challenge to the Falcons in their bid for a title this year. Discussions also veer towards the competition at cornerback and whether Dominique Franks should be written off … How much confidence folks should have in the Falcons offensive line, including Sam Baker and Mike Johnson … Matt Bryant and the Falcons kickers of the recent past … What interviewing Michael Vick might be like … Chris Weinke, Pierre Thomas, and a host of other past Falcon killers. WARNING: This episode contains some EXPLICIT language.

Ep. 32: They’re Gonna Run It Up the Middle! [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 11 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Matt Chambers can be found on twitter: @FalconsM5, and also writes for Grits Blitz blog.

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

Ranking the Falcons: No. 24 Robert Alford

July 16th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Alford

Falcons rookie corner Robert Alford comes in ranked 24th on the team. You can click here to find out the scoring system that led to his ranking.

Total Score: 48

Player Grade: 50 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 7 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 1 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 24 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +4

Although Alford has yet to play a snap with the Falcons, his relatively high grade is due to the sheer number of young, untested cornerbacks elsewhere in the league. He could start potentially on as many as seven teams, all of which go into 2013 with untested and unproven young corners that Alford is arguably more talented than.

Alford is blessed with good athleticism and speed, and will be competing for reps at the starting right cornerbac spot in Atlanta. However the more likely scenario is that he settles in as the team’s fourth quarterback, a spot vacated by Chris Owens who is now in Cleveland competing for a starting spot. That is one of the teams that Alford could potentially start for from Day One. In Atlanta, Owens primarily served on special teams this past year, where he was an effective gunner. When injuries mounted at the cornerback position, particularly late in the year with Asante Samuel’s shoulder injury, Owens got more reps in the lineup as the nickel back. Alford likely will be expected to play the same role, as he’s listed as Samuel’s primary backup at left cornerback on the team’s depth chart. Alford has been working on the outside and inside, although he probably won’t see too many reps at the latter unless Robert McClain goes down with an injury.

Like Owens, Alford’s primary value in 2013 may come on special teams. Not only does Alford have the potential to contribute as a gunner on coverage units, he also may win the Falcons return duties as well. Alford shined as a punt returner in college, but his skillset might be ideally suited to returning kickoffs as well. He nearly scored a touchdown in the Senior Bowl on a kickoff no thanks to current teammate Desmond Trufant. His long speed is something the Falcons haven’t seen on returns since the heyday of Allen Rossum. If Alford shows that ball security is not an issue, then he is certainly the front runner to man either spot this season heading into camp.

Categories: Features Tags: ,