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Falcons Have Open Competition For Nickel Cornerback

July 27th, 2014 No comments

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Wilson

Following yesterday’s second practice of training camp, Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith elaborated on the team’s competition for the nickel cornerback spot. Through the first two days of practices, free-agent signee Josh Wilson has worked primarily with the first team at the position. However, Smith indicated that Wilson, incumbent Robert McClain and newcomer Javier Arenas will get equal work at the position. ESPN’s Vaughn McClure writes:

Veteran newcomer Josh Wilson continued to work as the primary nickel back ahead of incumbent Robert McClain and Javier Arenas. Don’t read too much into yet, however. Smith said all three players should get a chance to be the primary nickel during the exhibition games, so it’s an open competition now. It also makes sense to get Wilson more work because he’s not as familiar with the defense as McClain.

“It’s a competitive situation,” Smith said of the nickel spot. “We’re going to give about three guys the same amount of reps. … It’s tough because 65, 67 percent is going to be your sub and the other 35, 33 are going to be base. Those guys are going to have to show what they can do in a little different situation. It’s not like they’re going out there and getting all the snaps that we’re going to run in our training camp.”

After being one of the better nickel cornerbacks in the league in 2012, McClain is coming off a subpar 2013 campaign. The team signed Wilson and Arenas to push him in the competition, and it appears that the Falcons will let the competition play out over the next several weeks before making a decision.

With the Washington Redskins last season, Wilson served as a starting cornerback outside but moved to the slot when the team utilized their nickel sub-package. In the first four years of his career (2007-10), Wilson served primarily as a nickel cornerback with both the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens. With the Arizona Cardinals, Arenas served primarily as a safety in dime sub-packages. However, prior to his arrival in Arizona last season, Arenas served as the nickel cornerback of the Kansas City Chiefs for three seasons.

The nickel sub-package refers to the defensive alignment that features five defensive backs, typically used in obvious passing situations. The dime refers to an alignment with six defensive backs and is less commonly used.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Special Teams

July 25th, 2014 No comments

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Hester

The Atlanta Falcons special teams unit won’t appear much different than it has the past two seasons with the same group of specialists at kicker, punter and long snapper. But there is one big addition in the return game that could make a significant difference.

Incumbent kicker Matt Bryant, punter Matt Bosher and long snapper Josh Harris return for the third consecutive season. Bryant has been a reliable, clutch kicker over his past five seasons with the Falcons. He’s getting up in age and 2014 might mark his final season in Atlanta, but the Falcons should feel fairly confident that his previous success will continue this year. The team did however bring in a young option in undrafted rookie Sergio Castillo to push him. Castillo is a long shot to unseat Bryant, but can impress the coaching staff enough that he can return on the short list of kickers next year if the team and Bryant part ways.

Bosher is becoming one of the league’s best young punters and won’t face any challengers for his position. Bosher is likely due for a contract extension at the end of the year, and thus his goal this summer will be preparing to put forth his best effort during the season to achieve maximum earning potential.

Harris has had a few lapses over the years, but they appear to become less and less with each passing season. So there’s no reason to expect the Falcons to be disappointed with his performance moving forward.

However, the one big move occurred with the team now having ex-Chicago Bear Devin Hester serve as return specialist. Hester is arguably the best return in NFL history and needs just one more score to sit atop the all-time leader board as far as non-offensive touchdowns go. Hester, 31, is not quite the dynamic threat he was in his prime, he’s still a very effective return threat that commands respect from opposing teams. Many teams still kick away from him because of his potential to take it the distance every time he touches the ball, although it’s not quite the death sentence it once was.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Cornerback

July 23rd, 2014 No comments
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Alford (left) and Desmond Trufant

The Atlanta Falcons seem pretty secure as far as their starting cornerbacks go heading into the 2014 season, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of questions surrounding the position.

The first questions do center on their starters and how effective they’ll be now that the team lacks a true safety net at the position. A year ago, the team had long-time veteran Asante Samuel in that role. Now Samuel is gone and the team will be reliant upon starters Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford to rise to the occasion.

There is less question on whether Trufant can accomplish that task. Trufant is coming off a very promising rookie season where his play particularly down the stretch has many considering him one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Trufant regularly displayed his ball skills and disruptive capabilities at the cornerback position, breaking up or intercepting a pass in 13 out of 16 games last season including nine consecutive games to open the season.

If there is any concern, it’s the fear against a sophomore slump for Trufant. Such slumps can be precarious because they typically are not caused by a significant downturn in play, but by the much higher expectations placed on a player after a successful rookie season. There’s no doubt that expectations are high for Trufant this year, and his play in camp will likely determine whether or not he’s set to meet them.

Opposite him will be Alford, who has a few more questions to answer. Alford supplanted Samuel down the stretch last year thanks to the team’s abysmal record leading the coaching staff to install a youth movement on defense. Alford had his fair share of bright spots, but also several head-scratching ones. A talented athlete, Alford still needs to refine the technical aspects of playing the cornerback position. He certainly has the talent to impact this year, particularly if he can balance some of his inevitable mistakes with big plays.

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Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 36 Javier Arenas

July 15th, 2014 No comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Javier Arenas

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 39th-ranked player: cornerback Javier Arenas.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 43/100

Last year’s rank: N/A
Player Grade: 48/100
Teams he is starter: 0 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 24 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +4

Arenas is another addition made this offseason to help improve the back-end depth of the Falcons roster. However, he can only do that if he manages to make the team.

Arenas will have an opportunity to win the team’s nickel cornerback spot, pushing incumbent Robert McClain while also competing with veteran Josh Wilson. Arenas was primarily the Kansas City Chiefs’ nickel cornerback over his three seasons there, but also earned some reps starting outside in the second half of the 2012 season due to the benching of Stanford Routt. He was capable in both roles, but with the change in coaching staff in 2013, he was miscast in the new Chiefs defense which preferred more physical corners.

Arenas was then traded to the Arizona Cardinals, where he served primarily in dime sub-packages, playing both as a slot corner as well as a free safety in centerfield. That versatility should help Arenas in his bid to the make the Falcons roster in 2014.

Arenas’ chances of sticking are also bolstered by his ability to perform on special teams. While the Falcons have a proven returner in Devin Hester, Arenas gives them a very good insurance policy in the event of an injury. While a very productive returner in college, Arenas has been unable to translate that into great success in the NFL, but he’s at least competent in the kicking game. He’s also shown that’s capable in coverage and likely will get an opportunity to cover kickoffs for the Falcons this season.

But ultimately Arenas’ ability to stick on the Falcons will depend on his abilities in coverage. It’s another area where he’s shown competence, and if McClain and/or Wilson struggle, Arenas is more than capable of filling in for the Falcons.

The biggest knock on Arenas is his lack of size limits his potential. He’s essentially a career backup type, but one that can add value as depth. He’s probably ideally suited to be the Falcons’ fourth cornerback rather than their third, and given his relative youth and special teams ability, it seems likely that he will earn that spot this summer.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 62 “What’s Gonna Happen with the Pass Rush?”

March 31st, 2014 Comments off

Allen and I are back to discuss some of the most intriguing moves made in free agency by the other 31 NFL teams not named the Atlanta Falcons. But before we dive deep into DeSean Jackson’s future and the horror that is the Oakland Raiders offseason, we invited the Falcoholic Dave Choate to share his thoughts on the Falcons offseason moves. Dave and I discuss whether the Falcons pass rush will be improved with the moves so far, as well as what the Falcons can do in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft to fix that problem. We also invite Macon-area Falcon fan Dylan Hoyt to describe an interesting week that saw him embroiled with a controversy on Twitter involving wide receiver Roddy White.

Episode 62: What’s Gonna Happen with the Pass Rush? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 54 minutes

Allen covers the Falcons for Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Dave writes for The Falcoholic and can be found on twitter: @TheFalcoholic.

Dylan can be found on twitter: @DHoyt77

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

Robert McClain Re-Signs With Falcons

March 29th, 2014 Comments off

Aaron Wilson of National Football Post reports that the Atlanta Falcons have re-signed cornerback Robert McClain, who was a restricted free agent. The team tendered him at the original level, meaning he signed a one-year deal worth $1.431 million.

As an original tender restricted free agent, McClain was eligible to sign an offer sheet with opposing teams with the Falcons retaining “right of first refusal.” That means that the Falcons would have seven days to match any potential offer made to McClain by another team. If not, then the Falcons would receive compensation in the form of the original round in which McClain was drafted. Since McClain was a seventh-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2010, he would net the Falcons a seventh-round pick in 2014.

By signing his tender, McClain is no longer on the market to be signed to an offer sheet and will remain a Falcon in 2014.

After the 2014 season, McClain will then become an unrestricted free agent where he would be free to sign with any team. McClain first joined the Falcons in 2012 and played very well as the team’s nickel cornerback that year. His production and play fell off a bit in 2013, although he remains the incumbent nickel cornerback. He will likely compete with incoming free agent signee Javier Arenas for that role.

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Takeaways from Last Week – March 24, 2014

March 24th, 2014 Comments off
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Hester is an Intriguing Addition in Atlanta

If I’m being honest, I like the idea of Devin Hester in an Atlanta Falcons uniform moreso than the reality.

The idea of Hester donning the black and red is giving the Falcons a legitimate playmaker on special teams, something it has lacked since the heyday of Allen Rossum nearly a decade ago. Yes, Eric Weems was my guy but his abilities as a returner was analogous to a chain-moving wide receiver as opposed to an explosive playmaker.

Hester is not quite as explosive on kickoffs as he is on punts. But anything he can contribute in the former area will be an upgrade over what the Falcons have featured the past few years. Between Weems and Jacquizz Rodgers, the Falcons have just two kickoff returns of 40 or more yards the past three seasons. Hester has nine such big-play returns in that span.

But it’s really the punts where Hester is going to impact. Partially because there’s the potential that a new rule change could further marginalize kickoffs, but also because the Falcons have had a dearth of playmaking ability on punt returns.

Weems had a single punt return of 40 or more yards in both 2010 and 2011. Those represent the only two such big punt returns since Rossum left the team after 2006. That year also coincides with the start of Hester’s NFL career with the Chicago Bears, and he’s had 19 such 40-plus yard punt returns over the past eight seasons. He’s had 11 over the past four years.

The only real issue is that the Falcons are catching Hester on the downward slope of his career. He was able to see his production rebound last year in 2013 by concentrating fully on his duties as a returner as opposed to also moonlighting as a wide receiver. But he’s a far cry from the player that he was just a few years back when he had a combined five punt return touchdowns over the 2010-11 seasons.

But as I’ve illustrated, he still represents a clear upgrade over what the Falcons have featured in recent years.

The other aspect of the idea of Hester that I like is his potential impact on offense. He’s probably not going to be a major element of the Falcons passing attack, but I do think he does represent a potential upgrade over Harry Douglas as the team’s third option.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 61 “You Know They’re Gonna Draft Another Fullback Right?”

March 24th, 2014 Comments off

Allen and I are joined by FalcFans forum member Ryan Lounsbury, to talk about the Falcons offseason moves. Ryan has a bit more positive outlook on the additions of Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson to the roster than us. We give our takes on the Falcons’ latest moves of signing Javier Arenas and Devin Hester, re-signing Peria Jerry and cutting Bradie Ewing. We discuss Scott Pioli’s takeover of the front office, whether overpaying for free agents is a necessary evil of the offseason, if the Falcons’ interest in another free agent blocker means they lack an overall vision for the future, if the team should trade up for Jadeveon Clowney, Taylor Lewan’s fit in Atlanta and the recent news made involving DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick and Matt Schaub.

Episode 61: You Know They’re Gonna Draft Another Fullback Right? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 21 minutes

Allen covers the Falcons for Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Ryan can be found on twitter: @RyanLounsbury

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

Falcons Add Kick Returner Arenas

March 18th, 2014 Comments off

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Atlanta Falcons have signed Arizona Cardinals cornerback and return specialist Javier Arenas to a one-year deal.

Arenas is the third addition made by the Falcons this offseason that was formerly drafted by new assistant GM Scott Pioli during his tenure in Kansas City. Arenas was selected with the second-round pick in 2010 that the Falcons traded to the Chiefs in 2009 in exchange for tight end Tony Gonzalez.

In three years with the Chiefs, Arenas played primarily as the team’s nickel/slot cornerback. He started 12 of 47 games, recording 146 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions, and 22 pass deflections in that span. During that time, he served as the team’s punt and kickoff returner too. He averaged 9.8 yards per return on 105 punt returns. He averaged 21.1 yards on 51 kickoff returns. He failed to score a touchdown during his time in Kansas City.

He was traded to the Arizona Cardinals last year in exchange for fullback Anthony Sherman. He finished with 12 tackles and a sack in 16 games as a reserve cornerback. He did not return punts, but returned 23 kickoffs for an average of 21.4 yards.

Arenas was a prolific returner during his time at Alabama, averaging 14 yards per punt return and scoring seven times during his four-year career there. He is the SEC’s all-time leader in punt returns (125), punt return yards (1,752) and punt return touchdowns (7). He earned All-American and All-SEC honors as a senior.

The Falcons had been looking at return specialists over the weekend, with Trindon Holliday visiting on Friday, while Devin Hester visited the team earlier today. Arenas has the potential to replace Robert McClain and Harry Douglas on punt returns, along with Jacquizz Rodgers on kickoff returns.

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