Ryan and I recap our thoughts on the preseason finale against the Ravens. We also go in-depth on the team’s final cuts and the shape of the 53-man roster. Ryan shares how much confidence he has with Joe Hawley starting in the regular season opener against the Bears, which leads to more in-depth breakdown of what we expect to see in that game. Our conversation eventually ventures into discussion of whether the Falcons are a legit Super Bowl contender, fried chicken joints, and we get a little nostalgic over some past Falcon games and teams.
The Falcons announced seventeen cuts today as they work their way to the league-mandated 53-man roster by 6 pm tomorrow. Most prominent among those moves were the team’s decision to cut veterans defensive end Chauncey Davis and linebacker Coy Wire.
The other players cut were: TE Marquez Branson, FB Lucas Cox, OC Paul Fenaroli, S Matt Hansen, WR Brandyn Harvey, RB Gartrell Johnson, DT Trey Lewis, DE Tom McCarthy, CB Kamaal McIlwain, OC Ryan McMahon, CB Rafael Priest, DT Kiante Tripp, S Suaesi Tuimaunei, and LB Bear Woods. The team reached an injury settlement with WR Andy Strickland as well.
The Falcons will still need to make ten more moves before Saturday’s deadline.
Davis was the longest-tenured Falcon among those players cut. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, and served as a valuable role player, appearing in every game since then. Over six seasons with the team, Davis started 26 games, recorded 174 tackles, 10 sacks, scored 2 touchdowns, blocked 2 field goals, and recovered 10 fumbles. Davis was due a base salary of $3.75 million this year, which likely played heavily in the team’s decision to cut him as they also have to get under the $120 million salary cap.
Wire joined the Falcons in 2008 after six years with the Buffalo Bills where he played both safety and linebacker. As a full-time linebacker for the Falcons, he added valuable depth at all three positions and performed well on special teams. He started 4 games in 2008 and had 19 tackles that year. He also combined for 32 tackles on special teams in the past three years.
The NFL instituted a new rule that teams will be allowed to activate 46 players on gamedays instead of the traditional 45 players. As such, I think through two preseason contests the Falcons have pretty much found 46 players that assuming there are no injuries to them, are virtual locks to make this year’s roster. That leaves 7 remaining spots that are still in contention that will have to be earned through these final two preseason games.
Here is my list of 46 that are locks to make the roster. These are guys that I feel will not be cut before the season starts. If they aren’t on the final roster it will be because they are on the injured reserve or some other reserve list. Here are the offensive players:
QB – Ryan, Redman, Wilson
RB – Turner, Mughelli, Snelling, Rodgers,
WR – Jones, White, Douglas, Meier, Weems
TE – Gonzalez, Palmer
OT – Baker, Clabo, Svitek
OG – Blalock, Reynolds, Johnson
OC – McClure, Hawley
Now for the defense:
These are some of the names and positions you should keep your eye on during the Falcons preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins tonight:
WR Julio Jones
It is no doubt that all eyes will be on Jones tonight. With Ray Edwards being held out, he is by far the biggest new addition to the Falcons lineup. He has been tearing it up in camp so far by all accounts, and fans should be eager to see if that early success translates to the field tonight. Jones will get first team reps, but it will be interesting if the Falcons pull the plug on him with the rest of the first team members early in the game, or get him some more minutes and work with the second unit.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
The other big name from this year’s rookie class, figures to get some extensive reps on the ground. Rodgers should get some touches in the first half of the game, and fans should be eager to see his quickness and explosion as a runner and hopefully in the passing game. If the Falcons are re-incorporating the screen pass back into their offense, it would be an opportune time to break it out tonight.
TE Michael Palmer
Palmer has a chance to move up the depth chart if he can have another strong performance this summer. A big key for Palmer will be how much progress he’s made as a blocker if he hopes to supplant Justin Peelle as the top reserve to Tony Gonzalez.
Back in May, I speculated that the Falcons pair of seventh round picks Andrew Jackson and Cliff Matthews might face long odds to make the roster. But it seems from early scuttlebutt in camp, that prediction was off the mark. Both players have earned praise from head coach Mike Smith who said of them “[they] might be two of the best-looking guys in the draft class.”
The departure of Harvey Dahl certainly has helped Jackson’s odds of making the roster. The Falcons have typically kept nine offensive linemen on the roster during the regular season. The five starters are obviously locks. Whomever loses the right guard battle between Garrett Reynolds and Mike Johnson also will be a lock. The team will probably also keep reserves Joe Hawley and Will Svitek as well. That leaves just one remaining position, which Jackson probably faces the toughest competition from tackle Jose Valdez. But if both players impress this summer, then it could mean the Falcons opt to keep ten blockers.
Matthews is in the mix at defensive end. The Falcons have kept five defensive ends the past two seasons, and it seems that his early play likely will prompt the Falcons to do so again. John Abraham, Ray Edwards, and Kroy Biermann are locks at the position. If Matthews fills the fifth spot, then that would mean that Lawrence Sidbury and Chauncey Davis are competing for a single roster spot. The fact that both Abraham and Biermann are entering contract years, probably gives a small edge to Sidbury and Matthews due to their youth and developmental potential. If Matthews does land the fifth spot, he’ll likely be relegated to special teams duty this year if anything. As a rookie, Sidbury performed in that role. But last year as the team’s fifth end, he hardly saw the field.
The Falcons carried ten defensive linemen on the roster last year, although it’s unlikely they will carry that many this year. With Peria Jerry seemingly making a healthy return, and Jonathan Babineaux not facing a one-game suspension, carrying a fifth defensive tackle probably is not in the cards. But still the Falcons could have nine defensive linemen on the roster, which is one more than most NFL teams typically carry.
Carrying extra linemen on either side of the ball could potentially affect other roster positions because it means you cannot as many there. It could prompt the team to carry one less running back, wide receiver, linebacker, or defensive back than normal. So the early positives on Jackson and Matthews could turn out to be negatives for other young guys on the roster trying to earn a spot.
As with some other positions, free agency could offer a significant shake up to this unit if the Falcons pursue a veteran free agent on the open market. But recent reports put a damper on that possibility.
If the Falcons do spend money to go out and get a top-notch free agent such as Charles Johnson or Ray Edwards, then you can pencil in that player to be the starting left end. If not, then Kroy Biermann should be expected back for another year. While Biermann disappointed many with his less than stellar production last year (only 3 sacks), one gets the feeling that the Falcons brass aren’t as down on him as many in the fan base. John Abraham is locked in at right end.
Regardless of whether the Falcons make moves in free agency, the bulk of the competition on the outside will involve several players fighting for depth spots.
If the Falcons do nothing in free agency, it probably makes the odds that Jamaal Anderson returns for fifth season in Atlanta much higher. Anderson is Biermann’s top backup at left end, and his prowess in defending the run helps depth and keeps Biermann fresher. If the Falcons were to add a free agent, it would make it tougher to bring Anderson back unless they moved Biermann primarily to the right side behind Abraham.
Behind Abraham, the team will likely have a three-way competition for who is his top backup. The incumbent is Chauncey Davis, who fills a similar niche as Anderson. But it is becoming increasingly redundant to have both players on the roster, and any addition made in free agency would likely push one of them off the roster. Davis probably has the least firm footing between the two.
Pushing Davis will be Lawrence Sidbury and rookie Cliff Matthews. Matthews is probably on the outside looking in. His small stature (257 pounds) and undeveloped technique would make him a longshot to beat out either Davis or Sidbury for a roster spot. In recent seasons, the Falcons have carried five defensive ends on the regular season roster, and being that fifth guy might be Matthews best chances to make the team. But more than likely, as has been the case the past two seasons, that player will be inactive most weeks and required to play special teams when he does suit up, making him more of a body than a contributor in 2011.
That leaves Sidbury possibly out of the mix. After a promising preseason last summer, Sidbury proceeded to ride the pine almost the entire 2010 season, souring many on whether or not the Falcons are optimistic about his future. Sidbury offers more pass rush potential than Davis, but he needs to prove that he can also add value on run downs if he expects to unseat an established player like Davis.
More than likely, Davis and Sidbury will be competing for one roster spot, while Matthews may land the fifth spot dependent on how strong a summer he has. Otherwise, he could be headed to the practice squad. Any addition in free agency, will make it that much harder for Davis or Sidbury to remain.
Inside, the Falcons also will have their share of competition. Like Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux is not going anywhere. But the team is likely to have an open competition for the starting spot beside him. The incumbent is second-year pro Corey Peters, but he should be pushed by third-year man Peria Jerry. The team likely would prefer Jerry to be the starter to confirm his higher draft status, but Peters certainly isn’t expected to roll over and give up his job without a fight.
Jerry is going to have to show the coaching staff that his knee is 100% and remain healthy throughout the summer. Jerry offers greater pass rush potential than Peters due to superior power and quickness, but has had limited opportunities to display his run-stopping abilities in the past. That will be an important element to that competition. Peters struggled throughout most of his rookie season but came on towards the end of the year. If he picks up where he left off, he’ll be difficult to unseat since he represents a potentially better option to play on those first and second downs against the run.
Also on the roster will be Vance Walker and Trey Lewis. Thomas Johnson is a free agent and probably not expected to return. Walker is the likelier of the pair to make the roster. Lewis started the season opener due to a suspended Jonathan Babineaux a year ago, but then never suited up after that point. His 316 pounds make him the heaviest defender on the team, he has struggled to defend the run in recent seasons. That is something of a strength of Walker, who has been a valuable run stuffer over the past two seasons. But it should be noted that Lewis did seem to outperform Walker during last summer’s camp. So Walker is going to need to have a stronger summer than he did a year ago, despite having a much better body of work during the regular season.
Also on the roster is end Emmanuel Stephens, who flashed quickness off the edge last summer. He still should be a candidate for the practice squad, although if the Falcons put Matthews there it will be tougher. But another strong summer and he’ll definitely be in the mix. If the Falcons don’t add a veteran free agent at this position, they still should opt to fill out their depth chart with some undrafted rookies to bolster competition at either end or tackle, particularly the latter.
The Falcons closed out their 2011 draft class by taking South Carolina defensive end Cliff Matthews with their second seventh round pick (230th overall).
Matthews was a productive player at South Carolina, before injuries limited him as a junior and senior. He combined for 91 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, and 12.5 sacks the past year. He began his career as a top-rated prep prospect and linebacker. He has drawn some comparisons to a poor man’s John Abraham, who also hails from USC.
Matthews potentially can upgrade the Falcons pass rushing rotation and could press Lawrence Sidbury and Chauncey Davis immediately for duty.
Click here to read a scouting report on Matthews.
The defensive line is arguably one of the deepest positions on the team’s roster in terms of experience. Largely due to the fact that the team employs a heavy rotation on most Sundays last season.
The return of Peria Jerry could cause a minor shakeup here. His injury last season caused the team to start using Jamaal Anderson more as an interior player. But if he has a healthy return, then Anderson’s versatility is less valued. Couple that with the possibility that Anderson could lose his starting left end spot to Kroy Biermann this summer via competition, and his hold on a roster spot is tenuous.
We do know that John Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux, Kroy Biermann, and Peria Jerry seem to be locks to make the roster. But the guys that fill the remaining four or five slots remains to be seen. Lawrence Sidbury and Corey Peters are likely to be two of those players. How strong a summer Sidbury has could go a long way to how much success the team’s pass rush has in 2010. Peters’ status as a draft pick gives him good odds to making the final roster. But he’s not a lock since Thomas Johnson, Vance Walker, and Dan Klecko may also be breathing down his neck. Of that group, Walker probably stands the best chance to earn the top reserve defensive tackle spot. His play improved as last season wore on coupled with his youth gives him the best long-term potential of any backup tackle besides Peters.
Chauncey Davis is a steady performer on running downs, but the team may find it hard to justify keeping him around if Anderson is kept, and Sidbury improves. But his value as a run defender could become more pronounced if Biermann and Sidbury don’t show enough improvement in that area to be every down players.
Trey Lewis will also be in the mix inside. But he struggled throughout the 2009 season, and unless he has a major resurgence and shows the skill and potential he flashed in 2007, he seems like a roster long shot. Rajon Henley and Emmanuel Stephens are undrafted ends who can earn a practice squad position if they can show some burst and speed off the edge as pass rushers.
Unlike the offensive line, the defensive line is fairly unsettled as far as the starting lineup. Jonathan Babineaux and John Abraham can be assured of retaining their starting spots, but the other two positions are up for grabs.
At left end, Chauncey Davis and Jamaal Anderson will compete. But this is Anderson’s job to lose. The team is fairly confident that Davis can handle the starting job if need be. He outplayed Anderson last year, despite coming off the bench. This summer may mark the last chance Anderson has to prove his worth. If he doesn’t impress, might find himself in a new city by the end of August.
At nose tackle, Trey Lewis and rookie Peria Jerry are expected to be the primary competitors. It seems the Falcons would prefer for Lewis to win the gig, and Jerry to serve as the backup tackle at both interior spots, but the coaches like Jerry enough that they would feel fairly comfortable starting him right away. Lewis was solid for the first half of 2007 before an injury sidelined him and he missed all of last year as well. So this summer will be really the first chance the coaches get a look at him outside OTAs and some film study. So they definitely aren’t married to him as far as the starting spot goes.
The competition for the backup behind Abraham should also be fairly intense between Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury. The winner of that battle could get a lot of reps on passing downs, subbing for Abraham as well as working opposite him since the team likes to move both Anderson and Davis inside to rush the passer. It’s likely that both players will be retained, since the team is looking to develop more speed off the edge.
Also in the mix inside is Jason Jefferson, Thomas Johnson, Tywain Myles, and Vance Walker. All four are likely competing for probably only one roster spot in the tackle rotation. Jefferson is the most experienced, but Walker is a draft pick, giving him a small boost. Myles and Johnson however offer a bit more beef. But because the team can move either Davis or Anderson inside on passing downs, there isn’t a strong need for a fourth tackle if none of the players steps up.
If I was to make a predict today, I would lean more towards the team keeping five ends and three tackles with Davis and Jerry winning the starting gigs by summer’s end.
Steve Wyche of NFL.com reports that defensive end Chauncey Davis re-signed with the Falcons. Davis, a free agent that is expected to compete for the starting job this year signed a four-year deal worth $14 million, with $8 million paid over the first two seasons.
The Falcons had planned to visit with Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Montgomery today, but per the AJC, that visit was cancelled once the team re-upped with Davis.
Davis started 1 of 16 games last year, finishing with 38 tackles, 4 sacks, and 3 fumble recoveries. He could supplant 2007 first round pick Jamaal Anderson as the starter. Anderson had another disappointing year, starting 15 games, but wound up with 27 tackles and 2 sacks. In order to make room for Davis, the Falcons have tinkered with the idea of moving Anderson to defensive tackle on a more permanent basis.