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Breakdown of Falcons Preseason Week 4 vs. Jaguars

August 29th, 2014 No comments

Richard Dole-USA TODAY Sports

Devonta Freeman

The preseason is over with the Atlanta Falcons prevailing over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the finale. It was an important game to decide a lot of the last remaining roster battles with the opportunity for several Falcons backups to shine.

As usual, I’ll go position-by-position to give my thoughts on which players I thought stood out, and which did not.

Quarterback

What I Saw: T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree alternated the first series. My assumption is that the coaching staff planned to start Yates, but also wanted to give Renfree a look with the starting offensive line. And likely based off which of the two had a better opening series, would determine who would get the remainder of the first-half snaps. Yates looked slightly better on his opening series and proceeded to remain in the game, and looked better thereafter. His touchdown toss to Freddie Martino was a solid pass with a clean pocket. He also looked competent running the two-minute drill at the end of the first half, with most of the problems being because the Falcons pass protection kept breaking down, leading him to have to check it down quite a bit. Yates looked comfortable and decisive for the most part in this game, something he hadn’t appeared like since the preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins. The biggest black mark was when he took a sack in second quarter when he didn’t pull the trigger quick enough when Jake Matthews missed on a cut block. Renfree was fine, but the reality may have been the Falcons were looking for any excuse to keep the veteran Yates over him. I think the team found it with their respective performances.

Conclusion: Yates will likely win the backup job. The deck was stacked in his favor from the get-go with the Falcons trading up for him. He got outplayed by Renfree for a bit this summer, but Renfree never played to a level where he truly ran away with the job. Renfree just never played poorly; giving a consistent, competent effort each week. That just wasn’t enough to truly win the job, although I suspect Renfree will definitely get a shot on the practice squad if he clears waivers.

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Falcons Remaining Position Battles on Offense

August 28th, 2014 No comments

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Renfree

The Atlanta Falcons will play their fourth and final preseason game tonight against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The final preseason game typically marks crunch-time for many of the young players competing for a chance to stick on the final 53-man roster. Starters will be held out, and the Falcons backups will have extended opportunities to prove themselves on the field.

Let’s examine a few of the few remaining key position battles on offense. The performances of respective players at these positions tonight will be the final determining factor in whether they make the Falcons roster this season:

Backup Quarterback

While Sean Renfree has pulled ahead of T.J. Yates, thanks to the latter’s poor preseason play, that doesn’t mean that Renfree has automatically won the job. Renfree is still a relatively green NFL quarterback, and it remains to be seen if the Falcons want to have him as the one player that could make the difference in whether the team makes the playoffs or not, in the event of a Matt Ryan injury. Yates’ struggles could easily be attributed to still having a poor grasp of the offense. And it’s feasible that the coaching staff decide that with more time Yates’ play could improve as the season wears on.

But all that will depend on their play in the final preseason game. It’s likely that both Yates and Renfree will split snaps, each playing an entire half of the game. It should give both ample opportunities to prove their mettle and be the major deciding factor in who stays. If Yates can close the gap on Thursday night against the Jaguars, then it’s conceivable he could win the job. But if the status quo remains, and Renfree outplays Yates, the job goes to the former.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 74 “The 80th Time”

August 19th, 2014 No comments

Allen and I are joined by The Falcoholic, Dave Choate, to discuss the current state of the Atlanta Falcons following their disappointing preseason performance against the Houston Texans. We discuss the Falcons offensive tackle situation and possible solutions in light of Sam Baker’s injury. Our discussion centers around whether the Falcons current options on the roster: Lamar Holmes and Gabe Carimi, can solidify the spot or does the team need more help. We then get into discussion of the returns of Corey Peters and Dwight Lowery; Kroy Biermann’s waning popularity; and roster battles involving Prince Shembo, Tyson Jackson and Malliciah Goodman. Dave departs, allowing Allen and myself to get into our usual around the league discussion.

Episode 74 – The 80th Time [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 5 minutes

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

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

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! For Android users, DoubleTwist is a good app to listen as well. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Falcons 2014 Training Camp: Day 17 Report

August 18th, 2014 No comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Matthews

The Atlanta Falcons finally broke training camp with a morning practice today. Let’s take a look at the various tweets, articles, reports, news and rumors that surfaced from the last day of camp this morning:

ESPN’s Vaughn McClure hits several things in his recap of the day. First among them is the fact that rookie Jake Matthews is moving from right tackle to left tackle, which was reported first by D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC this morning. Matthews played left tackle his final season at Texas A&M after spending three years at right tackle. He was slotted in immediately at right tackle by the Falcons due to the presence of Sam Baker on the left side. But Baker injured his knee in this past Saturday’s preseason action and will miss the entire 2014 season.

Matthews is working through the change, saying this about the adjustment between the two sides:

“Yes, the stagger changes. You go for a long time used to bracing a guy with one leg back. And now you’ve got to flip it around. It’s like almost going from writing with your right hand to your left hand. But I did it in college. I feel pretty comfortable on both sides.”

However, Falcons head coach Mike Smith remain confident:

“I don’t think he’ll blink. We’re not.”

With Matthews moving to the left side, it leaves a void on the right side. That void, for the time being, is expected to be filled by offensive tackle Lamar Holmes. Holmes had been serving as the reserve behind Baker this preseason at left tackle, but the Falcons always envisioned Matthews as a long-term solution on that side of the ball.

However offensive line coach Mike Tice did not express the same degree of confidence in Holmes as Smith did in Matthews.

The team signed free-agent offensive tackle Pat McQuistan earlier today to shore up depth on the right side.

In addition to McQuistan, the Falcons can expect the return of offensive tackle Gabe Carimi to the lineup in next week’s final preseason action against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, August 28. Carimi has experience at right tackle, having played that position under Tice during their shared two seasons with the Chicago Bears from 2011-12.

The Falcons also welcomed back defensive tackle Corey Peters to practice today. Peters has been recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered last December. He had been held out of practice on the training camp version of Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list. Peters had a light workload in his first time back in nearly eight months.

In other news, cornerback Javier Arenas is expected to earn the start at nickel cornerback on Saturday against the Tennessee Titans. Per premium website Pro Football Focus, Arenas has earned the least amount of reps among the trio of corners competing for the nickel cornerback spot. Arenas has played 38 snaps through the first two preseason games, with Josh Wilson (65) and Robert McClain (53) earning the most of any defensive back on the team.

Rookie linebacker Prince Shembo is seeing increased reps with the starters, putting him well on track to leapfrog Joplo Bartu as the starter at weak-side inside linebacker by the regular season opener against the New Orleans Saints on September 7.

Injured linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was on hand to cheer on teammates:

Coach Smith indicated that the Falcons will follow tradition and play their starters for the entirety of the first half, and likely for a series into the second in Saturday’s game against the Titans.

AtlantaFalcons.com’s Jay Adams provides his usual five things from the final day of camp, including notes on Matthews, Holmes, Peters, the nickel cornerback spot and the coaching staff’s emphasis on avoiding penalties.

Atlanta Falcons Takeaways From Last Week – August 18, 2014

August 18th, 2014 No comments
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

2014 is another lost season for Sam Baker

The biggest concern emerging from the Atlanta Falcons 32-7 preseason loss to the Houston Texans on Saturday was the injury to left tackle Sam Baker.

Baker tore his patellar tendon in his right knee and is out for the season. It likely marks the end of Baker’s career as a Falcon.

The team drafted Jake Matthews to be their left tackle of the future and after Baker’s injury, the future is now.

There is a part of me that is glad the Falcons will be able to liberate themselves from Baker’s terrible contract, but at the same time, there is a larger part of me that is distraught that it had to end this way.

While Matthews’ presence made Baker the most expendable of their five projected starters, it does not mean that the Falcons won’t lose something.

That is because the Falcons may be forced to play either Lamar Holmes or Ryan Schraeder in the starting lineup this season. And thus far based off their play in the preseason, neither have shown any strong inclination that they are prepared for such an assignment.

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Falcons 2014 Training Camp: Day 10 Report

August 5th, 2014 No comments
From AtlantaFalcons.com

Ricardo Allen. From AtlantaFalcons.com

Let’s take a look at the various tweets, articles, reports, news and rumors that surfaced from the tenth day of Atlanta Falcons training camp yesterday:

The Falcons gave their official update on the statuses of offensive tackle Terren Jones and defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman this morning. Head coach Mike Smith indicated that Jones was released from the hospital late Sunday and is currently in the league’s concussion protocol after a scary incident Sunday afternoon in which he was carted off the field and taken away via ambulance. Smith also confirmed what various reports indicated in that Hageman did not suffer any break in his hand or wrist, but did not specify the exact nature of whatever hand injury Hageman sustained that forced his exit from practice Sunday.

Clearly, the injury wasn’t that serious as Hageman did participate fully in Monday’s combined practice with the Tennessee Titans.

Jay Adams gives us five takeaways from the day’s work, including Kemal Ishmael’s preparation, Jacquizz Rodgers’ superior pass protection skills and an injury update.

To no one’s surprise, the Falcons and Titans got into it early during practice on special teams, with a fight that involved cornerback Robert McClain. Center Joe Hawley was ejected from practice not long after for fighting and would spend the rest of the day in the locker room. Titans safety Bernard Pollard had choice words for the Falcons during practice. His attitude towards the Falcons seemingly even bothered his own teammate.

Falcons offensive lineman Gabe Carimi also left practice, but his was due to an undisclosed injury he suffered. According to a tweet by FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez early this morning, the team is cautiously optimistic that Carimi only suffered an ankle sprain. How severe that sprain is is not yet known, but it doesn’t sound like Carimi’s season is over. But in the competition for a reserve spot, any missed time will hurt him.

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Falcons 2014 Training Camp: Day 4 Report

July 28th, 2014 Comments off
From AtlantaFalcons.com

Jake Matthews. From AtlantaFalcons.com

Let’s take a look at the various tweets, articles, reports, news and rumors that surfaced from the fourth day of Atlanta Falcons training camp:

The Falcons participated in their first padded practice of training camp today and really got after it. Notably, there were a pair of fights between offensive and defensive linemen.

The first fight occurred when offensive tackle Gabe Carimi and defensive end Stansly Maponga got into it. It then spread to center Joe Hawley and outside linebacker Jacques Smith. Hawley had some choice words for Smith afterwards. The media on hand at practice called it a draw.

The second fight involved offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder and Smith again.

Of course, head coach Mike Smith was less focused on the aggression showed in practice, but the more on technical things like pad level.

But today’s practice also meant a shift in philosophy:

The Falcons ran the Oklahoma drill, which you can see an example of here. D. Orlando Ledbetter breaks it down at the AJC. Fullback Patrick DiMarco was one player that reportedly shined.

The shift in philosophy and atmosphere the Oklahoma drill signifies was not lost on some observers:

Other highlights of the day included the play of defensive tackle Travian Robertson in one-on-one drills. Rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews drew heaps of praise:

And according to Smitty, Matthews is on the fast track along with defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman for increased reps. But Hageman may have been less than dominant at times today.

The punt block drill drew some eyes as well.

Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Interior Offensive Line

July 19th, 2014 Comments off

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Hawley

The Atlanta Falcons finally stabilized the interior of the offensive line this offseason by signing Kansas City guard Jon Asamoah to handle right guard duties. Since the team allowed Harvey Dahl to depart via free agency three seasons ago, there has been a revolving door of one poor player after another stuck at that position.

The addition of Asamoah gives the team an accomplished player that will do well to bolster their pass protection, something that should greatly benefit quarterback Matt Ryan. If there are any issues surrounding Asamoah, it’s the run blocking that is a relatively minor concern.

Asamoah made his bones in Kansas City as a productive starter mainly with his athleticism and ability to block on the move in their zone-blocking scheme. That has not been the style of blocking the Falcons have preferred over the course of the Mike Smith Era, thus raising the question of how much, if any, adapting the Falcons will do for Asamoah.

Opposite Asamoah at left guard, Justin Blalock returns and was the team’s best blocker a year ago. But given the Falcons had one of the league’s worst lines, that might not be saying a lot.

But 2013 was one of Blalock’s better seasons as a Falcon and if he can carry that momentum in 2014, it should give the Falcons the best pair of starting guards that they’ve had in more than a decade. While Blalock has never blossomed into one of the league’s premier guards, he has become relatively consistent with above average to good play each year as he enters his eighth season in the league.

Contrasting with Blalock, there is a lot more uncertainty surrounding Joe Hawley at center. While Hawley played mostly well down the stretch as a replacement for Peter Konz at center, that does not automatically mean that given the opportunity to start every game this year will automatically translate to equal or greater success.

This summer will be an important one for Hawley, as he is getting his first legitimate chance to be the team’s long-term option at center. Initially drafted as the heir apparent to Todd McClure in 2010, Hawley was leap-frogged when the team drafted Konz in 2012.

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Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 32 Gabe Carimi

July 16th, 2014 Comments off
Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Gabe Carimi

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 32nd-ranked player: offensive lineman Gabe Carimi.

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

Total Score: 45/100

Last year’s rank: N/A
Player Grade: 47/100
Teams he is starter: 8 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 23 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +3

Carimi was essentially signed to replace Garrett Reynolds after the latter’s release this offseason. With the hiring of new offensive line coach Mike Tice, who Carimi played under for two seasons with the Chicago Bears, the Falcons are hoping that Carimi can finally live up to the potential he once showed at Wisconsin.

Michael Holley’s book The War Room indicates that the Falcons were poised to select Carimi with their top selection in the 2011 draft had they not made the blockbuster deal to move up for wide receiver Julio Jones.

As a rookie, Carimi immediately was plugged into the Bears’ starting lineup at right tackle but a knee injury ended his rookie season prematurely. His return to the field in 2012 was met with disappointment as he was benched after 11 starts due mainly to poor pass blocking. Injuries would occur as the Bears season wore on and Carimi returned to the lineup once more as a right guard, where he showed a bit more promise.

But with the turnover that occurred with the Bears coaching staff the following year, Carimi was shipped via trade to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Thanks to an injury to starting left guard Carl Nicks to start the season, Carimi got another opportunity to showcase his abilities but failed to take advantage. Even with injuries debilitating Nicks for the rest of the season, Carimi hardly saw any reps outside of garbage time.

So Carimi comes to Atlanta as somewhat a reclamation project, and it may be his last opportunity in the NFL.

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An Early Look at Key Training Camp Battles on Atlanta Falcons Offense

May 31st, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Dominique Davis

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.

Quarterback

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.

Running Back

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.

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