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Falcons ink three draft picks

July 28th, 2011 Comments off

The Falcons signed three of the draft picks today, with the team announcing that sixth round pick P Matt Bosher, and seventh round picks OG Andrew Jackson and DE Cliff Matthews all came to terms on four-year deals. The team also announced the addition of another undrafted free agent, USC punter Jacob Harfman.

Teams were allowed to start signing their own draft picks Tuesday under the new labor agreement. The Falcons have now inked half of their 2011 draft class, with top picks Julio Jones, Akeem Dent, and Jacquizz Rodgers remaining unsigned.

Bosher is expected to replace free agent Michael Koenen at the punter position. But will get competition from players like Harfman and journeyman Ken Parrish. Jackson adds needed depth on the interior of the Falcons offensive line, with both starters: Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl being free agents. Matthews should compete for a reserve spot on the defensive line, and the team hopes he can bolster their pass rush in the coming seasons.

Harfman (5-9/201) served as USC’s punter and kickoff specialist the past two seasons. In that span, he had 92 punts for an average of 40.4 yards with 29 placed inside the 20-yard line. He also had 9 stops on special teams. He had 143 kickoffs with 25 going for touchbacks in his two seasons with the Trojans. He attempted a 50-yard field goal as a junior, but missed. He came to USC as a transfer student from Mt. San Antonio JC, where he averaged 40 yards on 45 punts with 22 placed inside the 20. He also had 27 touchbacks as a kickoff specialist, and connected on 20 of 26 field goals, and 69 of 75 PAT attempts. As a freshman, he played at Urbana (OH) University, a NAIA school where he was 5 of 11 on field goals and 30 of 34 on PATs.

Camp Battles 2011: Offensive Line

July 13th, 2011 Comments off

Like the running back position, this unit could be heavily influenced by free agency. The Falcons will have to make important decisions on three of their starters: Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl, and Justin Blalock.

Clabo is likely to be a high priority for the team to retain. And if they do so, it will go a long way to solidify their front line and maintain some continuity. It remains to be seen whether the Falcons will prefer to keep either Dahl or Blalock, although it seems likely at least one will remain. Dahl is probably the safer bet since he appears to be a favorite of position coach Paul Boudreau.

Ideally, the Falcons will be able to keep all three players. If they are successful in achieving that goal, then competition during camp at this position won’t be particularly compelling. The most interesting battle will likely then be between Jose Valdez and Will Svitek for the swing tackle position. Valdez’s practice squad eligibility is likely to expire this season, so if the Falcons want to continue to develop him, they will probably need to do so by giving him a regular roster spot.

However, if even one of those free agents depart, it will make things a lot more interesting. If all three depart, it’s likely to be a free-for-all.

The most likely candidate to replace Blalock at left guard is Mike Johnson. He got the majority of reps there last summer, and he’d be the front runner. Johnson didn’t have a great summer a year ago, but the team was high on him when they drafted him in the third round and will give him every opportunity to win the vacant position.

His most likely competition will come in the form of Garrett Reynolds, who is also the primary reserve at right guard behind Dahl. Reynolds also adds the value of playing right tackle as well, although his primary position in inside. His chances of earning a starting job will increase if Dahl is the one that departs, although Johnson would probably be the top candidate there as well for reasons mentioned previously.

If Clabo isn’t kept, then Svitek is likely to be the front runner to replace him and he’ll be pushed by both Reynolds and Valdez. Svitek is the more known commodity and proven run blocker, making him a good fit at right tackle. Valdez is an intriguing dark horse, showcasing his superior athleticism last summer.

Left tackle Sam Baker is unlikely to be pushed in camp, as the Falcons will likely want to retain as much continuity as possible. The same goes for veteran center Todd McClure. Second-year pro Joe Hawley is his heir apparent. Hawley also garnered reps at guard last season, but probably won’t be a serious contender to become a starter there unless Johnson and/or Reynolds struggle.

The Falcons drafted Andrew Jackson to bolster depth and competition. But he’ll be hard-pressed to make his way into the likely to be nine roster spots unless at least two of the Falcons free agents depart. He is most likely to be competing for a practice squad spot, although a solid summer may convince the team to keep ten blockers instead of the typical nine.

Also on the roster is Rob Bruggeman, although he remains a long shot unless there is an injury to one of the centers. The Falcons probably will sign a few undrafted or street free agents to fill out the roster here, with all just being camp bodies competing for a chance to make the practice squad.

Falcons Weekly Round-Up 7/1

July 1st, 2011 Comments off

Recapping news and headlines involving the Falcons from the week of June 26…

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Stephen Nicholas

‘Big’ Chance Nicholas returns

The Florida Times-Union visited Falcons linebacker Stephen Nicholas at his youth football camp last weekend to discuss the possibility of what he might do this season. Nicholas is a prospective free agent. Nicholas indicated that he wants to test the market, but also said there is a “big” chance that he will return to Atlanta. The Falcons tagged Nicholas with a restricted free agent tender, which he did not sign. But if the Collective Bargaining Agreement is made before the start of the 2011 season, then Nicholas due to having four years of experience should become an unrestricted free agent. Nicholas was a regular attendee of the Falcons player-organized “Camp Exile” during the month of June. (Source: Tania Ganguli, Florida Times-Union)

Schillinger at around 85 percent

Writing up some observations from the Falcons player-organized “Camp Exile,” D. Orlando Ledbetter indicates that free safety Shann Schillinger, who is coming off a broken ankle he suffered in the penultimate game of last season is around 85 percent recovered. Schillinger indicated that he is making steady progress daily on his recovery and can participate in football-related drills, including 7-on-7 drills at Camp Exile. He appeared with a notable limp during the final practice. Schillinger is expected to have a bigger role this year on defense, as he will be tasked with replacing veteran Erik Coleman. (Source: D. Orlando Ledbetter, Atlanta-Journal Constitution)

Mularkey excited about the upcoming year

Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey was enjoying some vacationing time in Cherrokee County, North Carolina when the Andrews Journal caught up with him to discuss the upcoming season. Mularkey spoke on his desire to try and keep the Falcons offensive line intact, due to three of the team’s five starter being impending free agents.

We had five fantastic guys last season. They are a special group, and I wish we could keep them together forever. They are one of the most physical offensive lines in the league. If we don’t sign them back up, it will be disappointing … but that is just business in the NFL.

Mularkey also broached the topic of the Falcons incoming rookie class, praising wideout Julio Jones. He also expressed confidence that even without contact with the coaches, those rookies would be getting a lot of help from Matt Ryan during player-organized workouts, calling the team’s fourth-year quarterback a “coach on the field.” (Source: Robert Horne, Andrews Journal)

Falcons ‘not panicked’ about O-line

On the subject of the potential impending shakeup of the Falcons offensive line, Dan Pompei writes that the Falcons wont’ be too worried if they lose multiple starters via free agency. Offensive tackle Tyson Clabo, and guards Harvey Dahl and Justin Blalock are potential free agents. Per Pompei, the team is confident that three of the linemen they have drafted over the past three drafts: Garrett Reynolds, Mike Johnson, and Joe Hawley, can potentially fill the voids left by any of those players. Reynolds has worked primarily as a reserve at right guard behind Dahl, but played right tackle while in college, making him a possible candidate to replace Clabo. Johnson played left guard last season behind Blalock. Hawley has worked primarily as the backup center behind Todd McClure, but has also gotten reps at the guard spots as well. (Source: Dan Pompei, National Football Post)

Jackson working out on his own

Falcons took Fresno State guard Andrew Jackson in the seventh round of this year’s draft. And while he did not attend any of the team’s player-organized workouts since being drafted, or will be attending along with some of his other new teammates at the NFLPA-organized rookie symposium this week, Jackson has been keeping busy. He has been staying in shape and working out at facilities at his alma mater. He also has spent time visiting local high school football camps to talk to the kids about football. (Source: Anthony Barstow, Grass Valley Union)

Dahl vs. Blalock: Who Stays, Who Goes

June 15th, 2011 Comments off
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Harvey Dahl

On Monday, I stated that the team’s first priority when it comes to free agency if and when it begins was re-signing tackle Tyson Clabo. But shortly after, the Falcons are going to be in a situation where they are asked to prioritize one of their guards.

 

Ideally, the Falcons can bring back both left guard Justin Blalock and right guard Harvey Dahl. But they may be put in a situation where they have to push for one to stay, and be willing to let the other walk when it comes to negotiatons.

And there is certainly is a worthwhile debate on either side when deciding which of the two players should be kept first.

PRODUCTION

First, let’s start break down their 2010 seasons statistically. I’ll be using Moneyball for this. Over the course of the entire 2010 season they were about even, winding up with $24 earned for Blalock and $25 for Dahl.

Blalock’s production was fairly consistent throughout the entire season, earning $5, $7, $5.5, and $6.5 in each respective quarter. Dahl’s spiked in the middle of the season, starting with a $4.5 over the first quarter, then $10.5, $10, and finishing with $0 earned in the final quarter of the season. Clearly we can see that Blalock ended the season relatively strong in comparison to Dahl.

Blalock did get better as the year went on. In the first half of the season, he tallied 10 missed blocks and 5 pressures allowed. In the final 8 games, he had only 3.5 missed blocks and no pressures allowed. That dichotomy was not seen with Dahl, as he had 5 missed blocks in each half of the season, and allowed 3 pressures in the first half and 4.5 in the second half of the year.
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Jackson and Matthews face tough hurdles to make team

May 26th, 2011 Comments off
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OG Andrew Jackson

The Falcons used their final two picks of the 2011 draft on a pair of linemen. They took Fresno State guard Andrew Jackson with the initial pick and then closed out their draft class by taking South Carolina defensive end Cliff Matthews.

Both players have the potential to add capable depth to the roster and have talent that could be worth developing down the road, but could find it tough to get over the initial hurdle of just making the team as rookies.

In both cases, they were drafted at positions which are relatively deep for the Falcons. Arguably, the two deepest spots on the entire roster: offensive guard and defensive end. While it’s no secret that the Falcons face questions at both spots, they have done a good job accumulating depth there.

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Falcons draft OL Andrew Jackson

April 30th, 2011 Comments off
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OG Andrew Jackson

The Falcons took Fresno State guard Andrew Jackson with their seventh round pick (210th overall), the first of two they hold in the round.

Jackson missed most of this past season with an ankle injury, but entered the year as a top-rated guard. He dealt with back injuries during his junior year as well. But when Jackson has been healthy, he has been a solid interior player. Played primarily right guard for Fresno State, and gives the Falcons good depth at that position. The team may not be in a position to re-sign both starting guards in Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl, making their need for depth up front a priority. The Falcons tend to prioritize guys with mean streak, and that’s something that Jackson has.

Click here to read a scouting report on Jackson.

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