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Roster Talk: Five Falcons on the Bubble

July 24th, 2014 Comments off
Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Darius Johnson

After examining the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons roster, that still leaves 50 players that did not get such in-depth looks. Most of those top 40 players will wind up making the Falcons 53-man roster this year, leaving little more than a dozen roster spots for the remaining 50.

Let’s examine several of the players “on the bubble” that may struggle to make the cut. All five of the following players have been counted among contributors in the past, but may not be any longer. In examining each, I’ll break down what exactly are their best avenues of making the team.

Darius Johnson, Wide Receiver

Johnson played well last year considering he was an undrafted rookie, leapfrogging both Drew Davis and Kevin Cone on the depth chart, two third-year veterans. But that won’t earn him lingering credit if he doesn’t perform up to task this summer.

He’ll face steady competition from a group of young, explosive receivers like Bernard Reedy. What hurts Johnson is that he won’t be able to help himself much on special teams. Given his smaller stature, he’s not shown that he’s very effective when asked to cover punts and kicks.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Defensive End

July 20th, 2014 Comments off

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Tyson Jackson

The Atlanta Falcons are undergoing a revamp of their defensive fronts this year, and it will begin with the defensive end position.

Under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons have employed a multiple defense, which means it is not strictly a 4-3, nor is it a 3-4 scheme. It’s a hybrid between the two and for the most part over the two years that Nolan has been in Atlanta, it could be most accurately termed a 4-3 scheme with 3-4 principles.

But things might change in 2014 as the Falcons may flip it, opting for a 3-4 scheme with 4-3 principles instead. That change is signaled by the team’s expensive additions up front this offseason, including defensive end Tyson Jackson.

Jackson spent the past five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs playing in a 3-4 scheme, and is the second-highest paid defensive lineman on the roster behind only nose tackle Paul Soliai. Given that level of investment and the fact that Jackson has little experience playing in a 4-3, it does appear that at least for the team’s base packages, the Falcons will feature a lot more three-man fronts.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 57 “Who Stays, Who Goes?”

February 4th, 2014 Comments off

This week, Allen has a snow day and I ask Dave Choate of The Falcoholic to fill in. We discuss several Atlanta Falcons players that are on the bubble, as we decide which players we think stay or go this offseason. Among the players discussed are Steven Jackson, Harry Douglas, Osi Umenyiora, Jonathan Babineaux, Asante Samuel and Thomas DeCoud. Afterwards, I give my thoughts on the Falcons cap room, while Dave weighs in on the recent induction of Claude Humphrey into the Hall of Fame and whether it will open opportunities for other past Falcon greats. We finish off the episode by discussing Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seattle Seahawks blueprint and potential dynasty, free agent pass rushers that are on the Falcons radar, and whether trading up for Jadeveon Clowney is worthwhile with Khalil Mack possibly available.

Episode 57: Who Stays, Who Goes? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 7 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Dave writes for 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! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Team Needs: Defensive Tackle A Priority Due to Injuries and Free Agency

February 4th, 2014 1 comment

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Babineaux

The potential is high for turnover at defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons this offseason. Mainly because the team has all three of its primary players headed towards free agency.

It is likely that the Falcons will be able to retain at least one of the guys, with Corey Peters topping the list. Peters suffered a torn Achilles tendon at the end of the season, and while that might put the start of his 2014 in jeopardy, it probably enhances the chances that the Falcons re-sign him. The injury will likely eliminate a number of potential suitors in free agency and thus allow the Falcons to bring him back at a more modest salary than previously expected. Peters had a strong 2013 campaign prior to his injury, standing out as a run defender and occasionally as a pass rusher. He really found a home as the team’s nose tackle in their hybrid defensive scheme, due to his ability to hold leverage at the point of attack. While his injury may limit his effectiveness in 2014, there is good reason to believe that the 25-year old Peters still has plenty of good years ahead of him.

The player that is likely to be next on that priority is Jonathan Babineaux, although there could be complications in his return, namely salary. At 32 years of age, Babineaux is nearing the end. And similar to the situation with John Abraham a few years ago, the Falcons don’t want to be in a position to overpay a player that may only have one or two more years of solid production left. But everything suggests that the Falcons are definitely open to re-signing Babineaux, and the only potential sticking point is compensation. Babineaux once again seemed to defy time by having a solid, but unspectacular 2013 season. He is still the team’s best interior pass rusher due to his disruptive capabilities. There is good reason to believe that with a reduced role, his production should stay steady if not improve. Babineaux simply was forced to play too many snaps in 2013 and his ideal role would be a situational player with half the workload.

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Baker, Jackson Out vs. Dolphins

September 20th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced their injury report for Sunday’s road matchup against the Miami Dolphins today. On it, offensive tackle Sam Baker was listed as out with knee and foot injuries after a week of not practicing. Running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) is also out, although his absence was known earlier this week.

Baker will likely be replaced at left tackle by starting right tackle Lamar Holmes. In Holmes’ stead, Jeremy Trueblood will be elevated to the starting lineup at right tackle. Holmes was Baker’s primary backup at left tackle as a rookie in 2012, but moved to right tackle this year after the departure of Tyson Clabo. Holmes has struggled thus far at right tackle this year, as Baker has at left tackle. The Holmes-Trueblood combination was inserted for the final three snaps of the Falcons’ win over the St. Louis Rams last week.

Questionable on the team’s injury report are wide receiver Julio Jones (knee), defensive tackle Cliff Matthews (neck), cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh), and wide receiver Roddy White (ankle). Both Jones and Matthews were limited in all three days of practice this week with their respective injuries. Samuel sat out Wednesday and Thursday practices, but was limited on Friday. White missed practice on Wednesday, but was limited the remaining two days.

Jones was questionable a week ago, but still managed to match career-highs of 11 catches and 182 yards against the Rams. Matthews also was limited last week by his neck injury and exited the game early after re-aggravating the injury on special teams, but later returned against the Rams. Samuel missed the season opener against the Saints with his thigh injury, and was pulled early against the Rams. In his absence, Robert McClain and Robert Alford have been working at left cornerback. Roddy White has been limited in both of the Falcons’ first two games, with the bulk of snaps opposite Jones being performed by Harry Douglas.

Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux missed Friday practice with a non-injury related absence. Linebacker Akeem Dent fully participated today after after being limited the two previous days with a shoulder injury. Similarly, center Peter Konz was limited two days with a knee injury before fully participating today. All three of them were listed as probable on the team’s injury report.

For the Dolphins, cornerback Dimitri Patterson (groin) and nose tackle Paul Soliai (knee) were declared out this week on their injury report. Safety Chris Clemons (hamstring), quarterback Pat Devlin (ankle), linebacker Koa Misi (knee), center Mike Pouncey (ankle), and wide receiver Mike Wallace (groin) were declared questionable. Notably, quarterback Ryan Tannehill (right shoulder) was listed as probable after being limited early in the week, but fully participating on Friday.

Six Falcons Starters Questionable vs. Rams

September 14th, 2013 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Jones (left), Roddy White

Yesterday, the Falcons released their injury report for Sunday’s matchup against the St. Louis Rams, the team’s home opener. On it, six Falcons starters were listed as questionable including: defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (knee), offensive tackle Sam Baker (knee), wide receiver Julio Jones (knee), cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh), linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (knee), and wide receiver Roddy White (ankle). All six were limited in Friday’s practice. For Babineaux, Baker, and White, that was the only practice they participated in all week long. Jones missed Wednesday’s practice, but was limited on Thursday and Friday. While Samuel and Weatherspoon were limited throughout the week.

White and Samuel’s injuries stem from the preseason, while the others were suffered in the Falcons’ Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Earlier this week, Falcons head coach Mike Smith indicated that White is expected to play this Sunday after spending the season opener in a limited role and mainly as a decoy. That led to increased reps for wide receiver Harry Douglas. With Jones also limited, the Falcons may count more on fourth wide receiver Drew Davis this week as well.

Samuel missed the season opener, and the team had Robert McClain start in his place. Rookie cornerback Robert Alford was promoted into McClain’s vacated nickel cornerback spot.

Babineaux is the team’s starter at right defensive tackle, which leads to him also getting work at defensive end in the multiple fronts employed by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. His primary backup is Travian Robertson, who was inactive last week. Although if he’s unable to go it will likely fall upon Malliciah Goodman and Cliff Matthews for increased reps. They combined for only 14 snaps last week against the Saints (per Pro Football Focus). Peria Jerry would like get the start.

In the case of Baker, the Falcons have been getting newly signed tackle Jeremy Trueblood up to speed in preparation for the possibility that he starts this weekend. Trueblood was signed over a week ago and could make his debut at right tackle. That could potentially slide starting right tackle Lamar Holmes over to left tackle, the position he played as a rookie and while in college at Southern Miss. It could also mean playing time for undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder, who is the team’s primary backup at that position.

Weatherspoon’s injury could lead to increased reps from Joplo Bartu or Paul Worrilow. Both are undrafted rookies and played solely on special teams in their NFL debuts last week. If Weatherspoon was to miss the game, Stephen Nicholas would likely be start at weakside linebacker, as he did in the preseason when Weatherspoon was limited by a finger injury. That would likely lead the Falcons to utilize defensive end Kroy Biermann more as a strongside linebacker than defensive end. Nicholas did not play a single defensive snap last week due to the Falcons ability to play Biermann as well as their reliance on the nickel subpackage.

Also listed on the Falcons’ injury report as probable were safety Thomas DeCoud (knee), Jerry (knee), and Matthews (neck). All three players were limited in practice on Wednesday, but fully participated in both Thursday and Friday practices.

Notable injuries for the Rams include: tight end Cory Harkey (probable/knee), defensive end Chris Long (questionable/hip), cornerback Quinton Pointer (out/thigh), running back Daryl Richardson (probable/foot), and safety Darian Stewart (doubtful/thigh).

Mike Smith: Roddy Will Play on Sunday

September 11th, 2013 Comments off
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Roddy White

The Falcons announced their injury report for Wednesday, which included wide receiver Roddy White who did not practice due to the high ankle sprain he suffered in the preseason. Jay Adams of AtlantaFalcons.com quotes Falcons head coach Mike Smith:

We kept Roddy out and, again, he’s the guy that played for us (last) week and we anticipate that he’ll play this coming week.

The Falcons will face the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, coming fresh off their Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

When White initially went down with his injury in the Falcons’ second preseason contest against the Baltimore Ravens, it was expected that White would be ready to play in the season opener against the Saints. He did play on Sunday, but was limited to 37 snaps (per Pro Football Focus). Per White, he was supposed to play only 10-15 snaps against the Saints. Initially labeled a low-ankle sprain, on Sunday it was revealed that the injury was in fact the more severe high ankle sprain.

White was limited to just two catches for 19 yards with limited mobility and burst. Since being a first round pick for the Falcons in 2005, White has never missed a game, now having logged 129 consecutive games played with the Falcons.

The Falcons worked out a trio of free agent wide receivers yesterday in Courtney Roby, Mohamed Massaquoi, and Lavelle Hawkins according to Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post. Likely in preparation for the possibility that White may sit out the game.

Roby, 30, is a former Saint that played primarily as a special teams player and kickoff returner since 2008. During that span, he only caught a pair of passes for 15 yards. He was cut at the end of camp by the Saints.

Massaquoi, 26, was a second round pick with the Cleveland Browns in 2009 out of the University of Georgia. He signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this past off-season, but was released midway through camp. He spent little more than a week with the New York Jets before being released a second time. Over four disappointing seasons with the Browns, he started 43 games and caught 118 passes for 1,745 yards (14.8 avg) and 7 touchdowns. He is cousins with current Falcons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi.

Hawkins, 27, is a former fourth round pick with the Tennessee Titans in 2008 out of California. He had several lackluster seasons. Most of his production came in 2011, where he finished fourth on the team with 47 receptions for 470 yards (10.0 avg) and a touchdown. Like Massaquoi, he has already been cut a couple of times this past year. He was initially released by the Titans in May, before spending the next three months with the New England Patriots before getting purged at the start of training camp. He was picked up by the San Francisco 49ers and was productive during the preseason with 7 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown, but was cut at the end of camp thanks to some mental breakdowns in their preseason finale.

Also listed on the Falcons’ injury report were defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, offensive tackle Sam Baker, and wide receiver Julio Jones as not having participated on Wednesday due to various kneel ailments. Safety Thomas DeCoud, defensive tackle Peria Jerry, and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon were also limited on Wednesday due to knee injuries. Defensive end Cliff Matthews (neck) and cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh) were also limited. Samuel was inactive on Sunday due to his lingering thigh injury suffered during the summer.

Reactions from Falcons-Jaguars

August 30th, 2013 Comments off

Another thorough and extremely long post of reactions from last night’s game. I’ll give some more firm Conclusions: now that we have all four preseason games to evaluate. I’ll focus mainly on what the backups did and whether or not they managed to earn roster spots.

Quarterback

What I Saw:: Davis once again was very inconsistent. He made some poor decisions, some poor reads, and some poor throws. He struggled throwing accurate balls downfield. He had a few really nice throws that were on the money. But in general, he makes his receivers work much harder than they should because of his inaccuracy. When the 2-minute drill kicked off at the end of the half, he was throwing on time and in a rhythm on the throws that the ball came out quickly. But when he gets time in the pocket a few plays later, he struggled making those throws. I think part of that is because of his footwork/mechanics. When he can just make his drop and then throw off his back foot, he’s fine. But when you force him to have to get his feet under him and/or reset them, he messes up causing some errant throws and balls to sail. I felt sorry for him at the end of the game, you could tell he didn’t want to come back into the game. The pass protection just was subpar at the end of the game with the third stringers in the game. Sean Renfree only got a bit of work before he got injured, suffering some sort of injury to his throwing arm as he landed wrong while trying to throw the ball away. I hate to say it but that injury might wind up being fortunate for the Falcons, as it might force them to bring in another backup that can potentially push/overtake Davis on the depth chart down the road. It’s obviously not good for Renfree, who suffered a major injury to his throwing arm at the end of December. If this is another major one, it will be two major ones in 8 months and puts his NFL future in jeopardy.

Conclusions: Davis has talent, but he needs at least another year of refining before he’s a legit No. 2 quarterback in the NFL. He’s just too inaccurate and stares down his reads too much (almost threw 3 picks because of it). You see the flashes which you like and thus why he still has developmental potential. But the Falcons coaching staff will have to work extra hard to make him effective if he ever gets into a real game this season. Renfree even without the injury is just a project that the team was hoping could carry the clipboard for a year, and maybe in 2014 as he’s more comfortable in the system could start to show some promise. His injury might throw a wrench into that plan. He just did not look good this summer in limited action even before the injury.

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Five Falcons to Watch Tonight vs. Jaguars

August 29th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Dominique Davis

We head into the final preseason game tonight against the Jacksonville Jaguars with several players under the spotlight to showcase improvement and/or skill for their last bid to make the Falcons roster.

QB Dominique Davis

While it’s possible that the Falcons will use the finale vs. Jacksonville as an opportunity to give third string quarterback Sean Renfree some more reps, Davis however needs as many reps as possible. Davis has been largely mediocre through the first three preseason games in his bid to be declared Matt Ryan’s top backup. And while it seems like the Falcons are poised to enter the season with Davis in that role regardless, the possibility still remains that the Falcons could seek additional help off the waiver wire. That possibility increases if Davis does not fare well tonight against Jacksonville. Davis has struggled with his accuracy when throwing downfield. He’s completed just 40% of the 15 passes he’s thrown 10 or more yards (per Pro Football Focus), including a pair of interceptions. That is simply not good enough. Now in the sake of fairness, Davis hasn’t been blessed with great wide receiver talent to throw to during the preseason and the play of his offensive line hasn’t been stellar either. But most of Davis’ struggles are his own. He’s struggled at times with his footwork and mechanics, leading to errant throws. He’s also made his fair share of questionable decisions. If Davis can close out the preseason with a strong performance, it will provide a lot more confidence that he is deserving of the job of being Ryan’s primary backup, rather than just being the best among a bunch of poor candidates.

OT Ryan Schraeder

Schraeder has probably solidified his spot on the roster, thanks in part to a good training camp coupled with the injury to Mike Johnson. Schraeder hasn’t been bad in the preseason, but I wouldn’t exactly qualify him as being good either. Schraeder may get the start tonight at left tackle, and may see the majority of his reps come from that side of the line. He’s fared a bit better there than he has at right tackle when working in relief of starter Lamar Holmes. Tonight gives him the opportunity to solidify his status as the team’s swing tackle. While the coaching staff likes Schraeder, and deservedly so, he still appears that he might be at least a year or two away from really being ready to carve out a significant role in the lineup. Meaning the Falcons might need to sign a veteran off the waiver wire to fill in as the top backup at tackle. A strong performance against the Jaguars could change that.

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Reactions to Falcons-Titans

August 25th, 2013 Comments off

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Not sure Mike Smith will find a lot to like upon review

One of the more interesting takeaways I had from this Tennessee game may be the fact that Mike Smith refused to use any of his timeouts at the end of the game. The Titans got the ball back with less than four minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the Falcons had all three timeouts. By not using those timeouts, Smith let 93 seconds bleed off the clock between plays to get down to the two-minute warning. The possibility existed that had he used those timeouts and the defense had made a stop on third down, he could have gotten another possession to evaluate his young players on offense. But he chose not to.

It’s hard to try and infer what that means. It would seem that he was a little bit disgusted with the Falcons play on the evening (I don’t blame him) and just wanted to get out of Nashville as soon as possible. But I do feel for the young offensive players who may find themselves unemployed over the next 48 hours without getting that last opportunity to showcase their skill.

Here are my positional thoughts on the performances in the game:

Quarterback

What I Saw: I thought Ryan handled himself fairly well given all the pressure he saw. He seemed lock into Julio Jones for the most part, and it’s not hard to see why. Jones was open quite a bit working against Alterraun Verner for much of the night. There was a couple of poor throws by Ryan, but given that the Falcons play-calling was fairly vanilla, he didn’t have Roddy White, and the pass protection broke down consistently on third down, there’s really not a lot he can do. Dominique Davis continues to frustrate me. He has talent and he made a couple of good throws and reads in this game. But he continues to be very erratic with his accuracy on downfield throws. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be too worried about it. Davis has shown more than enough ability to merit being kept on this roster as a developmental backup. But he has not yet shown anywhere close to the ability I expect in a No. 2 quarterback. Now part of that may be because I hold backup quarterbacks to a slightly higher standard than most. And it’s clear to me that standard is much higher than the Falcons have given the likelihood that Davis will enter the season as Ryan’s top backup. As a method of comparison, only 2 of Ryan’s 8 incompletions were the results of poor throws. For Davis, 5 of his 7 incompletions were because of his own inaccuracy.

Conclusions?: It’s going to be interesting to see how the Falcons divide reps next week against Jacksonville. Traditionally the Falcons let one quarterback handle the entire game, with Davis being the likeliest candidate. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons try to mix Renfree into the game to get him some extra work, or will they be content to let him hold a clipboard this year. If I was to wager, I would expect Davis to play the entire game, since he is the guy that needs the most amount of work.

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