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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Linebacker

July 22nd, 2014 No comments

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Joplo Bartu

There are a lot of questions surrounding the Atlanta Falcons linebacker position, with a number of unproven players being asked to contribute larger roles in 2014.

For the Falcons, things took a turn for the worse when linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, the unit’s leader and best player, was injured in June with a torn Achilles. Weatherspoon’s loss has forced the team to look in the others’ directions to compensate.

Much of the void left by Weatherspoon is expected to be filled by middle linebacker Paul Worrilow. Among the three projected starters, Worrilow is the most solidified in his role. As a second-year player, he will have to take on a much larger mantle, becoming the unit’s top playmaker and leader on defense.

While Worrilow possesses the necessary traits for leadership, it remains to be seen if he can perform up to them. Worrilow came out strong last summer as an undrafted free agent to make the team, and this summer will need a similar emergence to lead the team.

Strong-side outside linebacker Kroy Biermann is expected to return from his own Achilles injury to flank Worrilow on the edge. After using Biermann as a bit of a “joker” player in his first season under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan in 2012, the team moved him fully to linebacker last summer. But Biermann was injured too early in the season to know if that transition was successful. Thus, he’ll have to prove himself again this summer.

Beside Worrilow at the other inside position that is expected to replace Weatherspoon is Joplo Bartu. Bartu, a 2013 undrafted free agent like Worrilow, also quickly impressed the coaching staff last summer with his range and athleticism. He quickly carved out a role in the sub-packages due to his coverage potential, and relative to his undrafted status as a rookie, played well in 2013. But there have been recent concerns over whether the coaching staff is ready to place the same amount of trust in him this year.

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Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 22 Kroy Biermann

July 18th, 2014 No comments

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Kroy Biermann

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 22nd-ranked player: outside linebacker Kroy Biermann.

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

Total Score: 53/100

Last year’s rank: 19
Player Grade: 54/100
Teams he is starter: 15 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 26 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +1
Positional Bonus: +4

Despite hardly playing last season, Biermann’s ranking goes largely unchanged. Mainly because while Biermann is by no means a star, he’s a very effective role player that could carve out a starting spot for roughly half the teams in the league, mostly at strong-side linebacker.

Biermann has developed over his tenure in Atlanta, being one of the few, true success stories among their late-round picks selected under general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

Biermann has grown for a situational rusher to a full-fledged starter at strong-side linebacker. While Biermann has no outstanding skill set in his repertoire, under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, he has blossomed in a versatility starter for the team.

If there is any strength to Biermann’s game, it’s likely his run defense which is surprisingly good considering he’s only 260 pounds. Biermann understands how to get leverage, using his smaller frame to get lower than opposing blockers and get stops there.

2014 potentially marks the final season of Biermann in Atlanta. Coming off a torn Achilles tendon, unless he can bounce back to his 2012 level as an asset in Nolan’s defense, he could be hard-pressed to earn a substantial contract from Atlanta in 2015, especially if a young linebacker like Tyler Starr shows growth in his rookie season.

But it could be hard to get rid of Biermann next year, even at age 30. Even if it’s not as a starting outside linebacker for the Falcons, again Biermann adds value as a rotational run-defender and situational pass-rusher. His versatility means that he can play both linebacker and defensive end for the team.

And while he’s never looked like an impact pass-rusher outside maybe the first few weeks of the 2009 season, he does show relatively consistent ability as a complementary rusher. Ideally, Biermann would be the third or fourth guy in a team’s rotation. However in Atlanta, for much of his career he has been counted upon to be the second option.

If other young pass-rushers show enough growth this season, it may lead to the ironic conclusion that when Biermann is finally poised to settle into the role he should have always been in, he will no longer be on the team.

Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Atlanta Falcons 2014 Rookie Scouting Report: Tyler Starr

May 29th, 2014 2 comments
Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

Tyler Starr

A breakdown of Atlanta Falcons’ 2014 NFL Draft seventh-round pick, former South Dakota edge-rusher Tyler Starr.

BIO

Height: 6’4″
Weight: 250
College: South Dakota
40 Time: 4.95 (Combine)
Three-Cone: 6.64 (Combine)

He was born on January 25, 1991 and attended George-Little Rock High School in George, Iowa.

He redshirted his first year at South Dakota, and then sat out the next year due an academic problem where he did not have enough credits. When he finally got on the field as a redshirt sophomore in 2011, he broke out with a 14-sack season while starting 11 games at defensive end. He also had 51 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, one pass breakup, seven forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He would earn first team All-Great West Conference honors that year. During his junior season he moved to outside linebacker where he started 10 of 11 games. He finished the season with 74 tackles, seven for loss, four sacks, two pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick. He would earn second team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors and received one vote as one of 20 Buck Buchanan Award finalists (award given to top defensive player in FCS sub-division). He also earned MVFC honor roll, showing his academics had gotten in good standing. As a senior, he started 11 of 12 games at outside linebacker, recording 71 tackles, 15 for loss, nine sacks, one interception, four pass breakups and four forced fumbles. He placed ninth in voting for Buck Buchanan Award finalists, earned MVFC Defensive Player of the Year honors and was a first team all-conference selection. He was also named second team FCS All-American by the Associated Press. Starr finished his career tied for the school’s all-time lead in sacks with 27.

He participated in the East-West Shrine All-Star game at the end of the year, where he had an impressive week of practice. Known for his aggressive play, he was ejected during a game as a senior for a targeting penalty. He launched himself into Missouri State’s quarterback with the crown of his helmet. He also worked hard to improve his academics over course of his career, but had reputed bouts of immaturity at a young age that led to his struggles to get on the field until his third year at South Dakota.

Had an impressive Combine performance, as his three-cone time was the best posted by a true linebacker since 2006. Possesses 32.5-inch arms and 9.5-inch hands. He had a 32-inch vertical, 9-foot, 8-inch broad jump, and the fourth-fastest short shuttle of 4.15 seconds at the Combine.

2013 GAMES WATCHED

Date
Opponent
TFL
Stop
Sack
Press
Hit
FF
Miss Tkl
Key Blkd
Pen
Pen. Type
Sep-07Kansas012201210N/A
Nov-02Youngstown St.00.51401030N/A
Date
Opponent
Tgt
Rec.
Yds
YAC
TD
UC
YPT
INT
PD
Sep-07Kansas2153002.5001
Nov-02Youngstown St.1140161040.0001

SKILLS
The grading system is based on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.

Speed (6.5) - Starr’s speed looks better on tape than his timed speed. He shows good ability in pursuit and can make plays by chasing down slower backs from the backside. Can collapse the edge quickly to get penetration and make stops in the backfield. Has good speed to run with tight ends down the seam when asked to don so. Clocked a 4.85-second 40 time at his pro day.

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Takeaways from 2014 NFL Draft – May 12, 2014

May 12th, 2014 1 comment
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons 2014 Top Selection: Jake Matthews

Normally I write my weekly takeaways column on Sunday afternoon or evening with the intention of it being posted first thing Monday morning around 8:00 a.m. This week, that was no the case.

That’s partly to blame for the fact that it was Mother Day’s weekend, and instead of doing all the things I normally would have done on a Sunday afternoon/evening to get this weekly column posted, I decided to spend time with my mother, who had driven four hors from Virginia to North Carolina to witness my sister-in-law’s graduation from grad school. In the interest of being a good son, my mother took precedent over this column.

Secondly, I had not watched all of the Atlanta Falcons 2014 draft picks play yet. And the column after the draft is the one devoted to my thoughts on whether I believe the Falcons’ draft was a good one or not.

Because unlike most people, I try to be informed before giving my opinions. If you want to know my take on any of the Falcons undrafted free agents, I don’t have one because I haven’t seen any of them play. Until I do, which will be in the first preseason game, my opinion on them will remain largely non-existent.

I was born in 1983, so I spent a significant portion existing in a world without the internet. That was a world where people couldn’t post their opinions, thoughts or insights with the click of a button on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or in Yahoo! News comments.

Back in those times, the only people that were given a platform to express opinions were people that had earned that right to be called experts in their give fields. There was a filter, and it was one that you had to work hard to break through.

The idea that Courtney Love could be involved in finding a missing plane in that time was laughable at best. Instead of social media, people expressed their opinions to companions and family members in their respective living rooms, kitchen dinner tables or bars.

But that age doesn’t exist anymore, and now people are free to give their opinions with no filter. Today, everything is thrown at the wall, and it’s only a matter of what sticks.

Why am I telling you this? Because one of the things I find fascinating is how everybody, including those least informed, will give their opinions on the draft. Besides watching a YouTube highlight clip and reading a bunch of online scouting reports, most people aren’t informed about most of these players with their own eyes.

It often leads to people have overly optimistic expectations about a particular draft prospect, or overly pessimistic ones. There is no longer a middle ground. And people should know that most things fall into that middle area.

I’m saying all this because I believe it will take time to see how these draft prospects develop. Patience is really the key, and while it won’t stop me from having an opinion today, I’m at least aware of the fact that what my opinion today is relatively meaningless in the big picture. That big picture will be determined by where the Falcons 2014 draft picks are three to five years from now.

What will this column will entail from this point is my best guess on where those players will be at that point. While that guess is an educated one based off informed analysis from watching these guys play a handful of collegiate games, it is still a guess nonetheless.

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Draft Needs: Are Falcons Desperately Seeking an Edge-Rusher?

April 30th, 2014 Comments off
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Massaquoi

If you’re making a case for what is the Atlanta Falcons biggest draft need, it starts and ends with edge pass-rusher.

The lack of a significant pass rush has plagued the team for multiple seasons. The last time the team finished in the top 15 league-wide in sacks was 2008, and the last time they finished in the top 10 was in 2004 when they led the entire league with 48 sacks.

Frankly, the Falcons wasted the talents of John Abraham for the seven years he played in Atlanta as they were never able to surround him with a good enough supporting cast to create a consistently effective pass rush. The Falcons have watched team after team tee off on Matt Ryan over the past few seasons, yet have rarely done the same to opposing quarterbacks. It is long overdue that changes.

Thus, it was disappointing when the team opted to not make any major moves during free agency to improve the pass rush. Instead the team focused their attention on adding run defenders like Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson along with retaining the likes of Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry. While the latter three are solid players, they are simply part of the pass-rush-deficient problem that has plagued the team for multiple years.

So things now turn to the draft where the Falcons must find a way to improve the league’s worst third-down defense.

However that puts a lot of pressure on a rookie pass-rusher to essentially carry the unit, even if said rookie isas gifted as South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.

But any rookie will get help from the likes of Jonathan Massaquoi, Kroy Biermann, Osi Umenyiora and Stansly Maponga. The Falcons are retaining their hybrid scheme, but may play with “more 3-4 flavor” than previously under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

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FalcFans Weekly – March 30, 2014

March 30th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Julio Jones celebrates after a TD

D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that in speaking with Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, the Falcons will not be shifting strictly to a 3-4 defense as many suspected based off their offseason moves. However, the Falcons will instead opt to retain the “multiple” defense that employs both 3-4 and 4-3 looks as they have done consistently under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan since 2012. ESPN’s Vaughn McClure follows up that regardless of a shift in the defensive scheme, improvement on that side of the ball will be a key factor in the team improving upon their 4-12 record from 2013.

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Dave Choate of the Falcoholic was inspired by a conversation that we had this weekend to write this piece: Breaking Down Two Likely 2014 NFL Draft Scenarios For The Falcons

Choate also contributes this one on the unlikelihood that Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson joins the Falcons.

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Daniel Cox of team’s official site highlights some of general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s comments involving the team’s compensatory picks from his radio appearance this past week.

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There is at least one proponent of the Falcons signing former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

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Falcons Opting to Keep Umenyiora and Biermann

March 22nd, 2014 Comments off

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC writes that the Atlanta Falcons plan to keep both defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Kroy Biermann on the team this year with no restructuring of their current contracts.

Both Umenyiora and Biermann are entering the final years of their contracts and coming off disappointing seasons. Despite leading the team with 7.5 sacks, Umenyiora’s performance by some accounts was underwhelming in 2013. Biermann managed to miss most of the season with a torn Achilles suffered in September.

Per Over the Cap, Umenyiora is set to count $4.75 million against the Falcons’ 2014 salary cap, with Biermann coming in at slightly over $4 million. The Falcons could potentially save over $3 million in cap space in both cases if either were released. Earlier rumors indicated that the team had already inquired Umenyiora about cutting his salary, although it never seemed likely that the team would part ways.

Both players could wind up having prominent roles in the Falcons nickel defense this year. Umenyiora finished this past season with a significant decrease in playing time due to playing mainly as part of the nickel sub-package in passing situations. According to Pro Football Focus, a premium website, Umenyiora averaged 21.3 defensive snaps over the final three games of the season after averaging 52.3 over the first 13 games.

Biermann was already a critical piece of the new-look Mike Nolan defense in 2012, serving a variety of roles as a pass-rusher, run-stopper and in coverage. The team had seemingly morphed his role into more of a linebacker last season before his injury.

Categories: News Tags: ,

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 60 “We Just Love Misery”

March 16th, 2014 Comments off

Allen and I are back to recap and review the first week of free agency in the NFL and whether or not the Atlanta Falcons’ moves to bolster the offensive and defensive lines were good or bad. We break down each move and player, indicating what we like about the decisions to bring back Joe Hawley, Jonathan Babineaux and Mike Johnson; as well as discussing the pros and cons of newcomers Jon Asamoah, Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson. During the course of our discussion, I explain the “Hampton-Hoke Fallacy” and the negative ripple effects that can occur when teams overpay for players.

Episode 60: We Just Love Misery [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 19 minutes

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

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

Takeaways from Last Week – March 3, 2014

March 3rd, 2014 1 comment
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Dimitroff addresses the media at the Combine

After hearing general manager Thomas Dimitroff on the Rich Eisen Podcast this past week, I’m thinking that the Atlanta Falcons may not be as intent on upgrading the pass rush as much as they are with other areas of their roster, including their offensive line. Most of their conversation centered on the value of the Combine and how teams assess the things they see or don’t see in Indianapolis in the final evaluations of things.

Here are some interesting excerpts with my commentary. Editor’s Note: Dimitroff’s initial excerpted comments were taken from the middle of his conversation with Eisen, while the latter one was taken from the end. But since they are related, I feel they work together in context.

Eisen: Let’s talk about your Falcons right now. For the lack of a better way to put it, what in the world happened with the Falcons last year?
Dimitroff: Oh wow. 4-12. You think about that, going from 13-3 to 4-12, what an incredible decline. We know that. Someone mentioned that it was an historical decline. I believe there were a number of things that were going on with our season and no one wants to complain about the injuries. Everyone’s dealt with injuries. Interestingly enough we were handling the injuries to a spot and then when Julio went down, we dropped into a pit that we weren’t able to pull ourselves out of. That was unfortunate, that was something that was disheartening to me because I thought our resiliency and our ability to do something like that was much stronger given the five, six, and seven-year talent that we had versus the earlier years when we had first and second-year guys. So that was tough. I’ve also said and I’ve said this publicly, I really believe that it was a mis-assessment and a misevaluation of the readiness of that offensive line to come together for Matt. Because in the end we still have stuff to do on our D-line. But if we’re not protecting the guy spinning the ball, to our point earlier, we’re not going to be a prolific offense and we’re not going to be an elite football team. So we didn’t protect him properly and Matt was not able to step up in the pocket and throw. I thought he did an admirable job dealing with what he had to. He was waylaid many, many times as you know. But he is such a fantastic leader. I’m happy with how he responded.

Eisen: So in reading into your comments about the Falcons…offensive line? I know I don’t want you to show your cards here, because obviously there are many weeks to go before this May draft. Offensive line? Would that be an easy concept to target what you’re looking at in the draft this year?
Dimitroff: You know I looked at many and we have looked at many positions and many opportunities to look at free agency. I’ve always said this, you know that: free agency, look at the draft, see where we can get the best value and the best football player. Again, no mystery that we need to fortify both fronts. That’s going to be important for us. So, you look at O-line, you look at D-line, you look at our linebackers. You can rush the passer as a linebacker as well. You can do certain things that can protect our offensive threat, i.e. Matt Ryan in many ways. But we know as well as anyone if you don’t have stoutness in front of a quarterback and you don’t provide the pocket, you have little chance of being successful in this league.

It’s comments like these that make me think the Falcons using their top draft selection on a pass rusher is anything but a forgone conclusion. It’s very interesting that besides injuries, the first thing that Dimitroff mentioned in response to what went wrong with the Falcons in 2013 was offensive line play.

What that says is that the Falcons may see their pass protection as the bigger priority in regards to upgrading this offseason versus the pass rush. Now, that could manifest in a number of ways. But more than likely, it would appear that the team won’t simply settle on Gabe Carimi as the lone upgrade to the unit this offseason.

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Takeaways from Last Week – February 17, 2014

February 17th, 2014 Comments off

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Fisher’s strong Combine workout benefited him greatly in 2013

This week, the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off in Indianapolis. Next to draft weekend and the first week of free agency, this week represents one of the more pivotal points of the NFL’s offseason.

It’s the first time that all 32 NFL teams are going to be in one place. Sure, all NFL teams sent representatives to Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl in January, but that is primarily for scouts. Not to mention, two teams were busy with their Super Bowl preparations, limiting their ability to have a large presence in Mobile. That is not the case for Indianapolis, where the Combine signals that the beginning of free agency is right around the corner (March 11).

This is where teams can really start to talk shop about potential moves that are forthcoming in the offseason. While trades won’t become official until March 11, teams can start to sniff around about possible moves at the Combine. I’m sure that with the trades that sent Alex Smith to Kansas City last March and the rights to Robert Griffin III to Washington the year before, talks began in earnest or picked up steam during the week of the Combine.

Agents are also putting out feelers for their respective clients that are on the verge of hitting free agency. It’s that sort of furtive tampering that resulted in the NFL adopting the three-day window before the start of the league year that allows teams to openly negotiate with prospective free agents.

It’s also during this period that NFL teams can begin to designate certain free agents as franchise or transition players. That also means that negotiations for players and teams that want to avoid using the franchise or transition tag really pick up in earnest during the week of the Combine.

All in all, it’s a big week for NFL teams with a lot of things that go on behind closed doors that fans like you and me aren’t privy to and can only guess at. But that doesn’t mean that the Combine doesn’t have value to the everyday fan like ourselves.

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