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Falcons 2014 Training Camp: Day 4 Report

July 28th, 2014 No comments
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 No comments

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 No comments
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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Takeaways from Last Week – April 21, 2014

April 21st, 2014 2 comments
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Khalil Mack could be a trade target for Falcons

As indicated last week, looming questions surround the Atlanta Falcons and their potential to make a trade in this year’s draft. Most of those questions center around the team’s rumored desire to move up at the top of the first round. But there is also a good possibility that the Falcons decide to maneuver later in the draft.

The Falcons currently hold the sixth and 37th overall picks in the first two rounds of the draft. Frankly, I would be very surprised if we’re looking back on the first two days of the draft come May 10 and see that they retained both of those picks. It seems probable that the Falcons could move out of one or both spots.

First, let’s once again discuss the Falcons draft-day trade scenarios with the former pick in the first round.

The Falcons need a pass-rusher to try improve the league’s worst third-down defense and marginally better pass rush. It would be ludicrous to think the team does not believe that the most pressing need is adding someone that can line up at either outside linebacker or defensive end and put heat on the quarterback.

Much of the speculation centers on the team’s possible desire to move up for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. And I think those rumors have legs. Clowney is clearly the best pass-rusher in this class and from a historical standpoint, matches up with anybody that has come out over the past decade or more. That is an intriguing option for the Falcons, and one that will require careful consideration when we get to the opening night of the draft on May 8.

But the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to believe that trading up for Clowney is unlikely. It’s a definite possibility, but in the end I think it’s going to come down to price tag. If the Falcons can jump up from the sixth overall selection into the top 3 picks of the draft without giving up an arm and a leg, then it’s worthwhile. Last week, I outlined a trade that had the Falcons giving up this year’s first, second and fourth-round picks, along with possibly a second-round pick next year to move up to get Clowney. Whether that meets the definition of an “arm and leg” is up for interpretation, but it’s certainly at least an arm.

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Falcons cut Garrett Reynolds

February 18th, 2014 Comments off

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Garrett Reynolds

The Atlanta Falcons announced earlier this evening that guard Garrett Reynolds was released from the team. Reynolds’ departure was expected given his finishing the 2013 season on the team’s inactive list coupled with the recent signing of Gabe Carimi, who potentially fills the same niche. Per Over the Cap.com, Reynolds’ release frees up nearly $1.4 million in cap space for the Falcons in 2014.

Reynolds started the first nine games of 2013 at right guard, but was benched in Week 11 when the team inserted center Joe Hawley into the lineup and moved Peter Konz from center to right guard. But Konz performed poorly early in that game, and Reynolds finished the game at right guard. He would resume his starting position the following week against the New Orleans Saints, but would not finish that game due to his own struggles. He was reduced to a backup role with hardly any playing time for the next four games, before being inactive in the team’s season finale against the Carolina Panthers.

Reynolds was originally a fifth-round pick by the Falcons out of North Carolina in 2009. He spent his first two seasons as a backup to right guard Harvey Dahl, before getting first crack at replacing him in 2011. But he was benched after making seven starts that year in favor of Hawley, who finished the season as the starter. Reynolds would again resume the starting position in 2012, making six starts before injuries sidelined him for the remainder of the year. He was then replaced by Konz for the rest of the season.

The Falcons have had a revolving door at the right guard position since the departure of Dahl before the 2011 season. That has been partly due to the fact that Reynolds has not shown the consistency to hold the position long-term. However, Reynolds did make steady progress each year. Per the site Pro Football Focus, he graded out better each subsequent year as a starter finishing with a career-best +2.8 grade this year. That grade rated second-best on the Falcons behind left guard Justin Blalock in 2013.

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Falcons Add OL Carimi

February 17th, 2014 Comments off

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Gabe Carimi

The Atlanta Falcons announced the signing of free agent offensive lineman Gabe Carimi today. Carimi was recently released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was traded to the Buccaneers last June after two unsuccessful seasons with the Chicago Bears, where he was coached by new Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice. Per multiple reports, Carimi signed a one-year deal.

Carimi was the Bears’ top selection in the 2011 out of Wisconsin, and according to Michael Holley’s book The War Room, would have been the likeliest target of the Falcons had they not opted instead to trade up for wide receiver Julio Jones. Carimi suffered through an injury-plagued rookie season with the Bears, starting just two games before landing on injured reserve. He returned in 2012 to start the first 10 games at right tackle before poor performances led to his being benched. He would be re-inserted into the starting lineup two weeks later as an injury replacement for right guard Lance Louis, and started three games there where he fared better. He would start one more game at right tackle before the season was done. However, when the Bears fired their coaching staff following 2012, the new regime decided to trade him after making several moves in the offseason to upgrade their offensive line.

This past year for the Buccaneers, he started the first two games of the regular season at left guard as an injury replacement for Carl Nicks. Nicks returned to the lineup for two games before his season was finally over. Instead of putting Carimi back into the lineup as a starter, the Buccaneers decided to shuffle around their offensive line, putting center Jeremy Zuttah at left guard and backup Ted Larsen at center. Eventually, the Bucs settled on Jamon Meredith at left guard, with Carimi serving out the remainder of the 2013 season as a sixth offensive lineman and tight end.

Carimi could potentially help the Falcons at multiple positions, but will likely be asked to play either right guard or right tackle in Atlanta. Click here to read a scouting report on Carimi from 2011.

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