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Spoon doubtful to play against Ravens

August 12th, 2013 Comments off

Via the team’s official twitter, Falcons head coach Mike Smith indicated that linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is unlikely to play in the team’s second preseason matchup against the Baltimore Ravens this Thursday. Other reports from Smith indicated that wide receiver Julio Jones is likely to suit up for the first time this preseason after missing the team’s preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals last Thursday. Spoon suffered an open dislocation on his finger last week, an injury that required stitches and is expected to be held out until the wound fully heals. Jones missed last week’s game due to tightness in his hamstring that left him limited in team practices, but he fully participated in yesterday’s practice for the first time in a week.

No word on whether other recently injured players such as linebacker Robert James, fullback Bradie Ewing, and running back Antone Smith will suit up on Thursday evening. Both Ewing and Smith were initially expected to miss 5 to 10 days of practice when they first went down with injuries on July 30. James suffered his injury during the Bengals game after limited work. All three players missed Saturday’s practice.

Training Camp: Day 6 Report

July 31st, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons will have today off from practice. League rules enacted after the new CBA prohibit teams from practicing after six consecutive days of practice. But here is the buzz emerging from the Falcons on their sixth day of practice from various media outlets:

  • Julio takes on Deion. ‘Nuff said.
  • Rookie offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder has been generating some buzz as he’s worked against the backup defensive line. I should note that Schraeder is a player I pegged to make the Falcons final roster.
  • The Falcons got their first glimpse of the injury bug. Running backs Antone Smith and Bradie Ewing were held out of Tuesday’s practice and are expected to miss between five and ten days with unspecified injuries. Also cornerback Saeed Lee went down with a serious right leg injury and needed to be helped off the field. The nature of the injury also was unspecified and it’s likely more updates will come today or tomorrow.
  • Daniel Cox gives his five observations from Day 6. Among them he notes that tight ends Chase Coffman and Levine Toilolo have heeded the advice from veteran Tony Gonzalez and getting extra work after practice. Gonzalez is noted for his practice routine which includes catching passes before and after practice, and on the veteran’s instruction, Coffman has added that to his repertoire:

    “When Tony was here for the first couple of days he told us to make sure we are getting our catches in when he leaves and get in the extra work we need.”

  • Thomas Dimitroff gave folks on 790thezone an update (via the AJC) about the Falcons salary cap situation. He indicated that the team did not have any current plans to use their cap space to sign a veteran like defensive tackle Richard Seymour, instead opting to use that space in the event of injuries down the road.

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.

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Camp Battles 2013: Running Back

July 13th, 2013 Comments off
Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

Antone Smith’s roster spot is vulnerable

The top of the Falcons depth chart at this position is fairly set in stone. Newcomer Steven Jackson will be the feature back and likely get the brunt of the workload in 2013. Behind him will be Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling. How much either player is worked in the lineup will be dependent on Jackson’s early season production as well as their own. Both players are excellent third down options, but Jackson also is adept in that role. But given that the Falcons will likely want to try and save Jackson somewhat for the stretch run in December and January, they could try and mix in both Rodgers and Snelling as reserves here and there.

Lining up next to Jackson is expected to be second-year fullback Bradie Ewing. Ewing went down with an ACL tear in the preseason opener before getting any real action on offense, so he is relatively an unknown commodity. But the Falcons had a lot of confidence in him going into last summer, and it would be a major upset if he didn’t open the season as the starter. If there is any real competition behind him, it likely rests in Patrick DiMarco, who played for the Kansas City Chiefs last season. DiMarco was productive as a late season starter, after injuries forced him into the lineup. The Falcons won’t be afraid to play DiMarco over Ewing if he proves to have the better summer, but it would likely take an extraordinarily good preseason from DiMarco and an unexpectedly lackluster one from Ewing for that to become the case. More than likely DiMarco’s best route to the roster will be showcasing value on special teams.

Traditionally the Falcons have kept five running backs on the roster, with the fifth spot serving primarily as a special teams role. That has been filled by Antone Smith the past three seasons, who has settled in nicely on special teams. His 10 special teams tackles over the past two seasons is third highest among current Falcons behind Akeem Dent (20) and Shann Schillinger (11). Helping Smith potentially retain his grip on the roster spot is the fact that he’s a known commodity. But he’s vulnerable due to the fact that he’ll be counting $662,500 against the Falcons 2013 salary cap. The Falcons could potentially save over $250,000 against their cap by going with one of the young undrafted backs: Ronnie Wingo or Donald Russell.

For both players, not only will they need to showcase potential as ballcarriers and receivers on offense, but they will need to shine on special teams. That will be their best routes to giving Smith a run for his money. If they can showcase immediate value on special teams, the savings the Falcons could garner might be enough to give either a shot on the roster. More than likely, strong preseason performances will lead to spots on the practice squad rather than the final roster for either player.

Special teams ability might give Josh Vaughan the best potential odds among the backs to make the roster over Smith. Vaughan was a productive special teams player for the Carolina Panthers in 2011. The Falcons won’t reap huge savings for opting for Vaughan over Smith (roughly $110,000), but it could be worthwhile if Vaughan shows enough upside on offense. He differentiates himself from Smith by being a more powerful, downhill runner. If he can show value in the passing game, particularly in pass protection, and have a strong preseason then he has a chance to earn a spot.

Undrafted fullback Devonte Campbell was an effective blocking tight end at Maryland last year and too will more than likely be trying to impress his way onto the eight-man practice squad, since he’s a roster longshot.

Falcons re-sign Antone Smith

March 5th, 2013 Comments off

Impending restricted free agent running back Antone Smith re-signed with the Atlanta Falcons today, signing a two-year contract with the team. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but both years were likely for league minimum base salaries. If the first year of Smith’s new deal is for the league minimum of $630,000 for fourth-year veterans, that is nearly $700,000 less than the RFA tender of $1.323 million, saving them some money for the start of free agency next week.

Smith first joined the Falcons during the 2009 season after being an undrafted free agent with the Detroit Lions. He was initially signed to the practice squad, and was re-signed to a future deal after the season. He made the team in 2010, and has added value primarily on special teams. Smith has played 35 games over the past three seasons, with only a single carry for -3 yards in 2009. But he has totaled 12 special teams tackles in that span, including 4 in 2012.

The Falcons other potential restricted free agent is Michael Palmer. Because he was an undrafted free agent, if Palmer is tendered at the lowest $1.323 million level, the Falcons would receive no compensation if he was to sign with another team. If the Falcons cannot work out a deal with Palmer between now and the start of free agency on March 12, then they will likely tender him at the $2.023 million level. Then the team will receive a second round pick if Palmer was to sign with another team.

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Don’t Expect a Falcon Off-season Spending Spree

February 5th, 2013 1 comment
Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

Is John Abraham in danger of being cut?

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC posted the upcoming 2013 salaries for every player under contract, confirming his earlier report that the Falcons salary cap space will be tight. The Falcons are expected to be slightly less than $2 million under next year’s projected $120.6 million salary cap. The Falcons have about $120.2 million collectively due to the top 51 players on their off-season roster, and get to carry over an addition $1.3 million from last season to squeeze in at around $1.7 million under the projected 2013 salary cap.

The salary cap in 2012 was in fact $120.6 million, but there is no expectation for a significant increase for 2013. The Falcons will need to clear some cap space in order to tender a pair of restricted free agents in tight end Michael Palmer and running back Antone Smith. Based on the projected restricted free agent tenders for this year, the Falcons will have to commit to each a minimum tender of $1.323 million if they intend to keep either. That represents the original round tender. Since both Palmer and Smith were undrafted rookies, tendering them at that level would mean that the Falcons would receive no compensation if they were to sign offers with other teams. The Falcons could then have the option of tendering the pair at the second round level, worth $2.023 million. That way, the Falcons would receive a second round pick if either free agent was to sign elsewhere. Cornerback Robert McClain is not a restricted free agent, as Ledbetter’s contract information confirms he is under contract for 2013.

Given the current projections, the Falcons only have enough cap space to tender one of the two. In order to clear more space, the Falcons could renegotiate the contracts of several veteran players, and possibly release a few.

One candidate for release is running back Michael Turner, who per Ledbetter, would create $4.4 million in cap space if released. Defensive end John Abraham is also a potential candidate for release, who Ledbetter indicates could free up $6 million in next year’s cap space. Scott Carasik of Bleacher Report indicates that the Falcons could also save at least $6 million against the 2013 by releasing cornerback Dunta Robinson.

The Falcons are also expected to sign Matt Ryan to a long-term extension this off-season. Ryan carries the team’s biggest cap hit of 2013 at $12 million. That number could reduced as part of a lower first-year salary on a new multi-year deal. Last year, the five-year $100 million contract signed by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was able to lower his 2012 cap hit by roughly $6 million. Brees and Ryan are represented by the same agent, Tom Condon.

Other highly-paid veterans that might be asked to re-work their deals are wide receiver Roddy White ($9.125 million 2013 cap hit); guard Justin Blalock ($7.66 million); tackle Tyson Clabo ($6.05 million); cornerback Asante Samuel ($5.7 million); defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux ($5.2 million) and Peria Jerry ($2.01 million); linebacker Stephen Nicholas ($3.5 million); and kicker Matt Bryant ($2.9625 million).

While these moves could potentially create a significant amount of space for the Falcons, much of that opened space will be used to retain the team’s own free agents. The Falcons are expected to re-sign offensive tackle Sam Baker to a long-term deal, and also will be looking to keep safety William Moore. The team may be forced to place the franchise tag on Moore if they cannot work out a long-term deal before the end of February. The franchise tender for safeties is expected to be around $6.8 million. Based off contracts signed by free agent tackles Eric Winston, Demetress Bell, and Jared Gaither last spring, a multi-year contract with Baker could average between $5 and $7 million annually. Per contract information provided by Spotrac.com, their first-year cap hits for that trio’s respective deals averaged about $3 million.

Factoring in tenders for Palmer and Smith, it suggests that the Falcons will need to create roughly $12 million in cap space just to retain those four free agents. Other players that become unrestricted free agents this off-season include: tight end Tony Gonzalez, cornerback Brent Grimes, center Todd McClure, fullback Mike Cox, cornerback Chris Owens, defensive tackle Vance Walker, offensive tackle Will Svitek, guard Garrett Reynolds, quarterback Luke McCown, linebacker Mike Peterson, and defensive Lawrence Sidbury.

Falcons Needs: Running Back

January 31st, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Turner

After highlighting the Falcons needs at the quarterback position, it’s time to move onto running back. It seems likely that the Falcons will cut Michael Turner in the off-season, a move that will come a year later than it should have. That will make running back one of the more immediate needs of the team.

Turner will leave a significant hole on the Falcons roster, as the lead back he was able to get about 250 touches this past year, even with a purposefully reduced workload. One of the issues that faced Turner in 2012 was the fact that his legs looked very worn and old. And thus it’s likely that the Falcons will opt for a runner with fresh legs. That leads one to believe the Falcons will opt for a draft pick instead of a free agent signing to fill Turner’s shoes.

While Jacquizz Rodgers flashed ability, the Falcons probably should not expect Rodgers to step up and be that lead back. Last season, Rodgers had 5 games in which he carried the ball 10 or more times. In those games, he rushed for a combined 202 yards on 51 carries with 1 touchdown. That’s good for nearly 4 yards per carry (3.96). But 65 of those yards came on two big runs: his 45-yard run against the Seahawks in the playoffs, and a 20-yard run against the Bucs in Week 12. Excluding those two runs, he was averaging about 2.80 yards on 49 carries. That’s not a figure that suggests Rodgers possesses the ability to be consistent if/when his workload doubles as the lead back.

Jason Snelling has shown himself to be a functional starter in the absence of Turner in past years. He looked relatively sharp when he was able to get a significant workload last year, but was rarely used until the final month of the season. Again, the Falcons can’t assume that either he or Rodgers will be able to step in and produce with an increased workload. The simple truth is that while both players flashed ability from time to time, their flashes were no less sporadic than Turner’s throughout the 2012 season.

Instead, the Falcons need to look for another back to at least split the workload with Rodgers and Snelling, if not surpass them as the lead rusher. The problem with signing free agents is that their window for production is much smaller because most are near the end of their primes, which ranges from about age 27 to 28 for NFL running backs.

One of the primary skills that the Falcons new running back should have is the ability to produce on third down. That was an area of weakness with Turner, and the Falcons should want their new runner to offer equal if not more value there than Rodgers and Snelling. Another area that the new back should excel in is his ability to generate explosive plays on the ground. During Turner’s early days in Atlanta, his explosiveness was a big key to his success and the offense’s success. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Falcons want a pure speed back, as they should be looking for someone that has the physicality to run effectively between the tackles and be able to take the pounding of getting 15-20 carries each week for a full season. All of those requirements likely lend itself to the Falcons drafting a back in the earlier rounds come April. The key is for the Falcons to have three largely interchangeable backs when it comes to their offensive attack, which will again primarily be a pass-first unit. But through at least competition, the goal will be that one player emerges as the go-to option that can be successful on early downs and help take pressure off the passing game on third downs and in the redzone.

Antone Smith is also a restricted free agent that will likely be retained due to his prowess on special teams.

Douglas out, Peters activated

October 26th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons announced their weekly injury report earlier today, upon which wide receiver Harry Douglas was declared out for this weekend’s upcoming contest against the Philadelphia Eagles. Douglas missed the entire week of practice after injuring his left knee and ankle during the team’s Week 6 win over the Oakland Raiders. D.J. Davis has thus far received the majority of snaps as the team’s fourth wide receiver so far this season, but the team may also get Kevin Cone into the mix.

The team also announced that defensive tackle Corey Peters was activated from the NFI to the 53-man active roster today, making him eligible to play this Sunday against the Eagles. Peters returned to practice on Monday, after missing the previous four months due to a foot injury. To make room for Peters on the roster, the team cut cornerback Terrence Johnson.

Also on the Falcons’ injury report was guard Garrett Reynolds (back) as questionable, and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (groin), tight end Michael Palmer (shoulder), and running back Antone Smith (hamstring) as probable. Palmer and Smith are expected to make their returns to the lineup. Palmer was injured early in the Falcons Week 3 win over the San Diego Chargers, and Smith has been in and out of the lineup over the past month with his hamstring injury. Babineaux has been nursing his groin injury since the Chargers game. Reynolds’ back injury has caused him to be limited in the past two weeks of practices going back prior to the Raider game. Babineaux and Palmer both were limited during Wednesday and Thursday practices, but fully participated in practice today. Smith was a full participant today as well, but was limited on Thursday and missed Wednesday’s practice. Reynolds was limited in all three days of practice this week.

Palmer and Smith to miss Raider game

October 12th, 2012 Comments off

Today, the Falcons announced their injury report for this weekend’s home game against the Oakland Raiders. Tight end Michael Palmer (shoulder) and running back Antone Smith (hamstring) were both declared out for the game, as neither player practiced this week. Palmer will miss his third consecutive game after suffering his shoulder injury in the first quarter of the team’s Week 3 win over the San Diego Chargers. Smith missed two games due to his hamstring injury in Weeks 3 and 4, but returned to practice last week and suited up for the Week 5 matchup against the Redskins. But he reaggravated the injury and will also miss his third game of the 2012 season due to injury.

Also on the injury report were defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (groin) and linebacker Stephen Nicholas (ankle) as questionable. Babineaux was limited in all practices this week. Nicholas was limited in Thursday and Friday practices after missing Wednesday. Nicholas suffered his injury late against the Redskins last weekend. He was replaced by Mike Peterson in the lineup. However middle linebacker Akeem Dent took over his role in the team’s nickel defense. If Babineaux does not suit up or has his role reduced, it will likely result in Vance Walker getting a start and/or Travian Robertson seeing increased reps. Robertson has been active for every game thus far this season, but has only garnered playing time late in the team’s Week 3 blowout of the Chargers.

Players that appeared on the injury report but were listed as probable for the Raider game include: wide receivers Kevin Cone (knee) and D.J. Davis (knee); defensive tackle Peria Jerry (thigh), center Todd McClure (pectoral), safety William Moore (hip), guard Garrett Reynolds (back), and cornerback Dunta Robinson (shoulder). All seven players fully participated in Friday’s practice. Cone, Davis, and Robinson also were full participants on Thursday.

Falcons Announce Week 5 Injury Report

October 5th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons announced their injury report for this weekend’s upcoming game against the Washington Redskins. Tight end Michael Palmer will miss his second consecutive game with a shoulder injury, as he was listed as out. Center Todd McClure, safety William Moore, and fullback Lousaka Polite were all listed as questionable. Both McClure and Moore were limited in practice all week long with pectroal and hip injuries, respectively. Polite missed both Wednesday and Thursday practices with a hamstring injury, but was upgraded on Friday and participated on a limited basis.

Also on the Falcons injury report were defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (groin), wide receiver Julio Jones (hand), linebacker Stephen Nicholas (thigh), cornerback Chris Owens (concussion), and running back Antone Smith (hamstring), all listed as probable. All five players were full go in Friday’s practice. Babineaux and Smith were limited on both Wednesday and Thursday, while Nicholas and Owens were only limited in Wednesday’s practice.

For the Redskins, safety Brandon Meriweather (knee) and cornerback Cedric Griffin (hamstring) are out this Sunday. Running back Evan Royster (knee) is questionable. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon (foot), tackle Trent Williams (knee), returner Brandon Banks (hip), and cornerback DeAngelo Hall (flu) were listed as probable.