- It was a scorcher at practice today, with temperatures north of 90 degrees, and it was clear the Falcons players felt it. The high temperatures may have gotten the better of cornerback Josh Wilson, who had to get his hamstring worked on midway through practice.
- As usual, Jay Adams provides us with five things we learned from practice today. Included are running back Antone Smith’s role with the team, the majesty of wide receiver Julio Jones, the battles in the trenches, and the play of linebackers Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu and Prince Shembo.
- The competition at cornerback seemed to heat up a bit, as Robert McClain was taking first-team reps at nickel cornerback. That should be no surprise given that head coach Mike Smith indicated that McClain, Wilson, and Javier Arenas would all have opportunities this summer. Wilson had worked as the starting nickel the first two days of practice. Desmond Trufant, who has spent the bulk of the first two days of practice at right cornerback, made the switch to the left side today.
- The Falcons cross-trained a few of their blockers today. Guard Harland Gunn took snaps at center, while guard Gabe Carimi got some work at right tackle.
- But the star of today was Jones, who caught a lot of eyeballs as he showed no ill signs from his day off yesterday.
The biggest questions surrounding the Atlanta Falcons running back position are less about who will make the team, but how the team will stack its depth chart.
Steven Jackson returns as the unquestioned incumbent starter at the position. Jackson missed a significant chunk of his first year with the Falcons due to a hamstring injury, but finished the year relatively strong. Jackson rushed for 392 yards in the final seven games, which extrapolates to just shy of 900 for a full 16-game slate.
Although it’s worth noting that low figure likely has a lot to do with the fact that the Falcons rarely had opportunities to run the ball in the second halves of games down the stretch due to getting behind early. Over the final seven games, the team ran the ball on 35.6 percent of first-half plays, but only on 30.6 percent of second-half plays.
Jackson also saw his production dip significantly in those second halves, averaging just 2.4 yards per carry versus 4.8 yards in the first halves of the final seven games.
The team is hopeful that there will be more balance with their running game this year given improvements made along the offensive line as well as on defense which should prevent the team from getting too far behind early.
Behind Jackson may be the most notable competition at the position, which will feature a battle between Jacquizz Rodgers and rookie Devonta Freeman for the right to be the team’s primary third-down back.
Allen and I are back with our friend Steve Cohen to discuss the Atlanta Falcons offseason and the latest happenings in OTAs. We discuss the injuries to Julio Jones, Zeke Motta and Levine Toilolo; what role will Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith have at running back; trade rumors surrounding Oakland Raiders wide receiver Denarius Moore; the Falcons front office’s aggressiveness with making moves at the end of training camp; competition featuring Dwight Lowery vs. Dezmen Southward; whether Desmond Trufant could be used as a shadow corner; recent quarterback contracts around the league and the NBA Finals. The podcast ends with Allen and my live reactions to news of Sean Weatherspoon’s season-ending injury.
Duration: 1 hour, 22 minutes
Steve can be found on twitter: @SteveInBrooklyn
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June is a month filled with organized team activities, as we steadily inch closer to NFL training camps that open up at the end of July.
Let’s take a look at some of the burgeoning roster battles on offense that will become the key storylines come July and August during the Atlanta Falcons training camp.
The main issue for this position is the backup spot behind starter Matt Ryan. Dominique Davis is the front-runner given his experience, but is far from proven. Davis struggled last preseason, but so did his biggest competition in 2013 seventh-round pick Sean Renfree. Renfree has the draft status backing him up, which means the Falcons have a vested interest in developing him. But he’ll need to prove he can stay healthy, something that has been exceedingly difficult for him the past few years, and also improve his play on the field.
Undrafted free agent Jeff Mathews will also be in the mix, possessing good size and a strong arm that could impress enough to be a serious contender for the job. Normally, Mathews would be competing solely for a spot on the practice squad, but there are so many question marks at the position that if he comes out strong this summer, he could potentially win the No. 2 job behind Ryan.
This is a position that if the performances aren’t up to par, the Falcons may look elsewhere for help as they did two years ago by signing Luke McCown before the start of the regular season.
The top of the Falcons depth chart is pretty settled with Steven Jackson as the starter and Jacquizz Rodgers serving as the team’s third-down back. The key issue is whether or not rookie Devonta Freeman can perform well enough to steal significant reps from either player once the regular season begins.
Antone Smith’s special teams ability alone likely will net him a roster spot. Smith has always been productive during the preseason on offense as well, which is why he’s lasted five summers in Atlanta. That leaves the question of whether Josh Vaughan or Jerome Smith can perform well enough to take another spot. The odds are against both as the team is unlikely to carry a fifth back in Vaughan on the roster due to the addition of Freeman, and Smith is likely competing for a practice squad spot even if he has a strong summer.
I am joined by Tom Melton to go in-depth on the Atlanta Falcons’ options in the 2014 NFL Draft. Tom talks up his affinity for players like safety Dion Bailey and defensive tackles Dominique Easley and Aaron Donald. We also talk in-depth about whether trading up for Jadeveon Clowney is a good move and whether or not the Falcons can motivate him to play well. We discuss whether the crop of prospects on the offensive line and pass rusher is really that deep and whether the Falcons can afford to pass on one group in the early rounds. During that conversation we discuss Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr, Jake Matthews, and Greg Robinson’s fits with the team. Taylor Lewan, Jeremiah Attaochu and Demarcus Lawrence are other prospects discussed during the show. We close with talking about the Falcons backup running backs including Jason Snelling’s retirement, Antone Smith’s new role with the team, and whether Jacquizz Rodgers fits. Warning: This episode features some borderline PG-13/explicit content.
Duration: 1 hour, 4 minutes
Aaron is back with me to discuss free agency! Allen gives his long-awaited thoughts on the Falcons cuts made in the month of February, which includes a brief history lesson on the team’s free agent history. Later, we get into a discussion on which positions of need and possible targets the Falcons could target when free agency kicks off. During the course of our debate, we bring up Osi Umenyiora’s possible pay cut, Corey Peters and nose tackles, Robert McClain’s restricted free agent status, T.J. Ward’s ability, Champ Bailey’s value, and what are the differences between Lamarr Houston, Michael Bennett and Michael Johnson. In the end, we discuss how Antone Smith will quickly replace Jason Snelling as the team’s most underutilized player.
Duration: 1 hour, 34 minutes
I was joined by long-time Atlanta Falcons fan and season ticket holder Danny Lanier to discuss whether quarterback Matt Ryan is elite and if he’s not, then what he and/or the team need to do in order for him to take that next step. We discuss the lack of signature moments for Ryan as a pro and Danny questions whether the team needs to refocus its identity around improving the defense by acquiring a trascendent star. I wonder if Ryan is too cerebral and compare the Falcons’ 2013 season to their playoff loss to the New York Giants in 2011. Danny weighs in on his thoughts on the Falcons planned personal seat licenses (PSLs) at the new stadium, as well as whether Ryan could benefit from the departure of Tony Gonzalez. We both give our expectations for the upcoming season at the end of the episode.
Duration: 1 hour, 18 minutes
Danny wrote a pair of articles for the Falcholic which can be found here:
Hands down the honor for most valuable Atlanta Falcons player on special teams goes to punter Matt Bosher. He was the choice made at the midpoint of the year, and had an even stronger second half of the season to solidify this honor.
Bosher showed improvement this year, showing a lot more “touch” with his punts and being able to flip field position at a moment’s notice. His kickoffs also got better, consistently forcing more touchbacks as well as the fact that he led the NFL with three successful onside kicks.
Other potential choices could have been Antone Smith, who was an outstanding gunner on those punts, helping Bosher pin teams back with his blazing speed. But simply Smith didn’t make enough plays over the second half of the season to leap frog Bosher.
Kicker Matt Bryant also had another quietly solid season, showing that he is still more than capable of making kicks at age 38. Also, cornerback Robert McClain deserves credit for he was very good punt returner over the last month of the season. His year returning punts was statistically the best year a Falcon returner has had since 2010.
Allen and I are joined by another Falcoholic contributor, the ever-optimistic Jeanna Thomas, to discuss the Atlanta Falcons last two games of the year against the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers in Weeks 16 and 17. Topics we hit include the battle between Steven Jackson and Donte Whitner, the problems that plague the offensive line, the refusal to play Antone Smith, and the outlook of some young players: Peter Konz, Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford. We also discuss how injury will affect the future of Corey Peters, as well as the possibility that the team’s good intentions sabotaged Tony Gonzalez’s final game. We end the show discussing some of the things we saw around the league in Week 17, as I gloat over Allen about the Eagles win over the Cowboys. We each give our predictions about which teams could emerge in the first round of the playoffs to make a legit run at the Super Bowl in February.
Allen and I are back to discuss the Atlanta Falcons win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 13; discussing some of the positives/negatives we saw in the game, including: Antone Smith, deep passing, Roddy White, Osi Umenyiora and the pass rush, Paul Worrilow and the run defense, as well as the futures of Robert McClain, Thomas DeCoud, and Steven Jackson for the umpteenth time. We then kick over to previewing the Falcons upcoming matchup in Week 13 against the Green Bay Packers, with how each team matches up against one another. We close out with our usual “Around the League” segment discussing some of the more interesting games from Week 13 as well as some of the more promising games coming in Week 14. This episode does contain some minor NSFW language.
Duration: 1 hour, 4 minutes