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Takeaways from Week 2

September 16th, 2013 Comments off

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Jackson must break loose this season

The Falcons came into Week Two very beat up with six starters questionable for the game. And they emerged from their Week Two win over the St. Louis Rams even more beat up, losing four more players to various injuries. Defensive end Cliff Matthews (neck) and cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh) re-aggravated their injuries and were forced to exit the game. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon had been limited all week with a knee injury, but didn’t play in the second half against St. Louis after injuring his foot. Defensive end Kroy Biermann went down with an ankle injury while running back Steven Jackson (thigh) and fullback Bradie Ewing (shoulder) exited on the Falcons’ opening drive with their respective injuries.

That doesn’t include injuries to starting offensive tackle Sam Baker (knee), defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (knee), and wide receiver Roddy White (ankle) that caused them each to struggle on Sunday.

The risk of injuries was a major factor in whether the Falcons could repeat their previous success this season. The team has been relatively injury-free in the Mike Smith era, but it seems like things are finally catching up to the team. Having an early bye week may prove very beneficial for the team.

One of the positives that the injuries are creating is that it is giving some young players some opportunities to play. Linebacker Joplo Bartu stepped up in the absence of Weatherspoon, subbing in on the nickel sub-package in the second half rather than Stephen Nicholas. Nicholas held that role last year, but has fallen hard on the Falcons’ depth chart. Akeem Dent has taken the everydown role at middle linebacker opposite Sean Weatherspoon. Bartu is now earning reps on passing downs. And the Falcons appear to be unwilling to pull Kroy Biermann off the field, as he’s been getting work at strongside linebacker. Nicholas did play a few snaps today on defense, but barely. I was happy when the team opted to keep him, but if I knew that they were going to avoid using him this much, then perhaps the team was better served cutting him, saving the $2 million against the cap, and going with a veteran to play special teams.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 38 “How Much Money Did They Pay Baker?”

September 12th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I recap our thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Including our thoughts on the Falcons promising young corners … The play of the front four including how Osi Umenyiora stacks up against John Abraham … Akeem Dent’s coverage abilities … The play of tackles Lamar Holmes and Sam Baker and if/when a change could be made up front … Steven Jackson’s performance in his first game as a Falcon … Harry Douglas’ Ascension to Stardom … Later we switch our attention to the Falcons Week 2 matchup against the St. Louis Rams which include: What Matchup issues Chris Long and Robert Quinn might present to the Falcons OL … How crowd noise can benefit the Falcons at home … Cortland Finnegan and a young Rams secondary’s ability to match up against the Falcons receivers … The Falcons pass rush and how it might affect the game … Whether Asante Samuel is needed to help bottle up the explosive Rams receivers … At the end, we re-hash their opinions on other Week 1 performances including their observations from both Monday Night Football games, as well as Lavonte David, Pittsburgh Steelers, etc.

Ep. 38: How Much Money Did They Pay Baker? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. 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

Moneyball 2013 – Week 1 Review

September 11th, 2013 Comments off

This was your classic Falcons-Saints game where the Saints proved victorious. The Falcons had numerous opportunities to steal the win, but they didn’t take advantage of enough of them.

The Falcons couldn’t move the ball against the Saints as the game progressed mainly because of their woes in pass protection. From my count, the Falcons gave up pressures or hurries on 8 of their 12 third/fourth down attempts, which shows you why it is not surprising that they only converted 3 of them. Thus why most of their drives after the first quarter were stalled.

Lamar Holmes had a really bad game. And the only reason his earnings aren’t lower than they are, is because I don’t subtract points for pressures and hurries given up. I probably should, but I don’t because otherwise our offensive linemen would be in the negative almost every week. Cameron Jordan just worked over Holmes, as I counted 3 hurries and 2 pressures from Jordan alone when working against Holmes. The one time it wasn’t Jordan that beat Holmes on a pressure, it came off a stunt from Tyrunn Walker, where Holmes couldn’t get outside quick enough after releasing Jordan inside to Reynolds.

Sam Baker also had one of his weaker games. I did notice early in the game (maybe the second series?) Baker got his leg rolled up from behind and was slow to get up. Did the affect him the rest of the game? Perhaps, and it’s interesting that he sat out Wednesday’s practice with a knee ailment.

Maybe that is an excuse for his shoddy play. Twice Baker got beat when the Falcons were inside the 5-yard line. The first time came in the 1st quarter, when Galette beat him on 3rd down forcing Ryan to throw it away and the team to settle for a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown. The second time came when he gave up a hurry to Curtis Lofton at the end of the game on Ryan’s lob to Gonzalez. I only considered it a hurry rather than pressure because Ryan did seem to hold onto the ball a bit too long waiting for Gonzalez to get open.

Speaking of Ryan, I thought he had a good game. But at the very end on the last two plays where first Steven Jackson and then Gonzalez couldn’t reel in the game-winning touchdown, he seemed to lock on both guys early on. Jackson definitely should have caught his pass. Gonzalez should have too, given that he is the G.O.A.T., but at least in his case he has the excuse that Kenny Vaccaro tipped it just before it hit his hands. Given that Ryan was running for his life most of the game, he probably deserves MVP honors for the game.

The running game was mostly non-effective. Not due to Jackson, who on several plays made something out of nothing. But the Falcons couldn’t consistently create push and open holes. They might want to mix in some more stretch plays, as it seemed that early on some of their early success occurred when guys were blocking on the move.

Roddy White clearly was not fully healthy and was a decoy for most of the game. Harry Douglas stepped up and filled in ably. Jones played well, the only negative being that fumble he had which was one of several plays that really turned the Falcons’ fortunes. The holding call on Baker that negated a 3rd down conversion to Douglas at midfield was another killer.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
ST
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$15$2$0$0$0-$1$16.00
Steven Jackson$0$7$3$0$0$0$10.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$6$0$0$0$6.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$5$0$0$0$5.00
Julio Jones$0$0$5$0$0-$2$3.00
Bradie Ewing$0$0$2$1$0$0$3.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Antone Smith$0$0$0$0$2$0$2.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Levine Toilolo$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Roddy White$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Lamar Holmes$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0-$1$0-$1-$2.00

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Saints Swarm Ryan and Falcons in Opener

September 8th, 2013 Comments off
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan gets sacked by Parys Haralson

The Falcons dropped a tough divisional loss to the New Orleans Saints 23-17 in their 2013 NFL season opener. The Falcons had an opportunity to take the lead with a score in the final minutes, but Falcons receivers could not reel in Matt Ryan’s passes to win it.

Matt Ryan led the team, completing 25 of 38 passes for 304 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. Ryan saw significant pressure as he was sacked three times and hit six times. Steven Jackson had an impressive debut with 77 yards on the ground on 11 carries, including a 50-yard run. Julio Jones led receivers with 7 catches for 76 yards and a touchdown. Tony Gonzalez had the Falcons other score, finishing the game with 3 catches for 36 yards. Harry Douglas (4 catches, 93 yards) and Jackson (5 catches, 45 yards) also had standout performances. Roddy White, who was injured, was limited with just 2 catches for 19 yards. The Falcons offensively got off to a good start, taking an early 10-0 lead over the Saints, but the Falcons couldn’t sustain it. They did have 367 total yards and converted only 3 of 11 third downs. Matt Bryant connected on his lone field goal attempt from 23 yards out. Matt Bosher had six punts for an average of 46.8 yards, with 2 placed inside the 20-yard line. Harry Douglas returned a pair of punts for 21 yards.

Defensively, the Falcons got off to a good start, keeping the Saints scoreless through the first quarter. Asante Samuel was a gameday scratch, and the team was forced to start Robert McClain at left cornerback, and promote Robert Alford to nickel back. Akeem Dent led the Falcons defense with 11 tackles, including 2 for loss. Alford (1 tackle, 1 interception, 2 passes defended), Kroy Biermann (5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss), Thomas DeCoud (7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss), Peria Jerry (1 tackle, 1 sack), McClain (10 tackles, 1 pass defended), William Moore (8 tackles), Corey Peters (6 tackles, 1 sack), Desmond Trufant (5 tackles), and Sean Weatherspoon (7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss) had notable games. The Saints put up 419 total yards and converted 6 of 13 third downs (46%).

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Five Falcons to Watch Sunday vs. Saints

September 6th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Trufant may draw plenty of attention from Saints offense in his NFL debut

Keep an eye on these Falcon players on Sunday, as good (or bad) performances from them should be critical to whether the Falcons win in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints.

LB Akeem Dent – Dent will likely draw several assignments on Jimmy Graham. No easy task in his debut in the Falcons nickel subpackage, as he’s expected to replace Stephen Nicholas as the team’s full-time linebacker next to Sean Weatherspoon, who will likely have his hands full trying to deal with the speedy Darren Sproles. The Falcons have also talked about mixing in Joplo Bartu in their dime subpackage this year, so it will be interesting to see if or how that plays into Sunday’s gameplan.

TE Tony Gonzalez – The Saints inside linebackers aren’t known for their great coverage ability, nor are their safeties. Gonzalez has had big games in the past against the Saints, including a 11-catch, 2-touchdown performance in last year’s road loss. If the Falcons can get Gonzalez going and moving those chains by working the middle of that Saints’ defense, it could mean great things for their offense.

RB Steven Jackson – The Falcons struggled running the ball in short yardage in their loss to the Saints last season. One of the keys to success for the Falcons will be not getting into a shootout, and if the Falcons can control the game on the ground and tempo, then it will be a good indicator for success. They will try to establish Jackson early in the game to help set up manageable third down situations for Matt Ryan and the passing attack.

CB Desmond Trufant – Due to the Falcons focus in coverage on Graham and slot receiver Marques Colston in the middle of the field, Trufant may find himself on an island throughout the game. That will include instances where he’s left alone against Colston, Lance Moore, and others such as Kenny Stills, Nick Toon, and/or Robert Meachem if the Saints choose to play him on Sunday. Expect Drew Brees and Sean Payton to try and exploit the green rookie in his first NFL regular season start.

DE Osi Umenyiora – If the Falcons gameplan against the Saints last time was any indicator, Osi will get plenty of opportunities to rush the quarterback. He’ll be facing primarily Charles Brown, who is relatively green as he’ll be making his ninth start for the Saints, but his first at left tackle. Osi traditionally has taken advantage of weaker tackles, and it will be an important matchup for the Falcons defense to try and exploit.

How the Falcons Scheme for Jimmy Graham

September 4th, 2013 Comments off
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Jimmy Graham drags Stephen Nicholas

One of the things that stood out in the Falcons two matchups against the New Orleans Saints last year was how different the two games were in regards to Saints tight end Jimmy Graham’s performances. In the first contest, a loss for the Falcons in the SuperDome, Graham was the best player on the field for the Saints passing attack, finishing with a team-leading 146 yards on 7 catches. He scored a pair of touchdowns and also caught a 46-yard pass that set up what proved to be the Saints’ game-sealing field goal. But in the second game, where the Falcons won in the Georgia Dome, Graham was marginalized. He caught only a single pass in the first half, and was held out of the endzone on a total of 4 catches for 59 yards. Those numbers are even made more impressive by the fact that over the course of the second game, Drew Brees dropped back to pass 18 more times, thus giving Graham much more opportunity to pad his stats. In the first game, Brees targeted Graham on roughly a quarter of his dropbacks (8 targets, 33 dropbacks), but that was more than halved in the second game (6 targets, 51 dropbacks).

What changed? A variety of factors could be considered for why the Falcons were much more effective at covering Graham the second time around. Part of it was venue. While Graham’s numbers home versus away the past two seasons as a starter are similar, with only minor variations in receptions and yards, he has managed to catch nearly twice as many touchdown passes at home (13) than he does on the road (7). The Falcons also got a lot more pressure on Drew Brees in the second game, which had him rattled from his five interceptions. When you’re throwing it so much to the other team, it’s hard to complete passes to your top target. But the biggest takeaway I had was how Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan changed his approach for dealing with Graham.

There’s no doubt that Graham is the centerpiece of the Saints passing attack. While Marques Colston is technically their No. 1 receiver, Graham is such a difficult matchup problem due to his speed, size, and athleticism that defenses must focus the majority of their attention on him or else fear getting burned. If Nolan wasn’t aware of this fact prior to the Falcons first matchup against the Saints last year, he certainly became acquainted with that notion during the game. The Falcons appeared in the second contest to have a much more concerted effort to contain Graham.

Nolan mixed up his looks with how he dealt with Graham. The Falcons rolled a lot of their coverages to Graham in the middle of the field, with both safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore not being far from Graham on most snaps. DeCoud drew a number of one-on-one assignments against Graham in the first half of the game. In the second half, the Falcons switched it up by putting linebacker Stephen Nicholas on him more often than not. But either safety wasn’t far.

This sort of blanket coverage put other Falcon defenders in tougher situations as they couldn’t consistently rely on safety help. Asante Samuel left that game early with an injury, and was replaced by Chris Owens. Owens had one of his best performances in that game. Robert McClain was often matched up against Marques Colston in the slot, and handled him effectively. Sean Weatherspoon was tasked with trying to deal with the explosive Darren Sproles for much of the game, and had his share of struggles there.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 34 “Everything Bengals”

August 10th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are joined once again by Matt Chambers to recap the Falcons preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. We each give our thoughts on some of the things we liked and did not like about the game. You’ll hear our thoughts on the rumors of Steven Jackson’s demise…How Garrett Reynolds, Lamar Holmes looked and how it could affect the offensive line play in 2013…Paul Worrilow vs. Akeem Dent…The pass rush and whether some of the young defensive linemen are ready to step up…Robert McClain, Desmond Trufant, and Robert Alford and how they looked against the Bengals…The greatness of Dane Sanzenbacher…Brian Banks and what are his chances of making the roster…Dominique Davis’ performance and how the backup QB position may play out…The greatness of Jason Snelling…Whether Chase Coffman is for real…What to look forward to in upcoming preseason games, including next week’s matchup against the Baltimore Ravens.

Ep. 34: Everything Bengals [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 6 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Matt Chambers can be found on twitter: @FalconsM5, and also writes for Grits Blitz blog.

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

Five Falcons to Watch Tonight vs. Bengals

August 8th, 2013 Comments off
Phil Sears-US PRESSWIRE

Dominique Davis

You might have thought I cheated by putting six Falcon players, but I didn’t. I have five Falcons and one Bengal. And watching that one Bengal will allow you to watch multiple Falcon players. But these are a handful of Falcons that I think certainly deserve to draw a lot of eyeballs in tonight’s preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

QB Dominique Davis

Matt Ryan may only see a series or two in the preseason opener if anything, which should give Davis a lot of work with the starters. While he won’t have Julio Jones or Tony Gonzalez to throw to, he should get plenty of time with players like Harry Douglas and Chase Coffman, as well as many of the Falcons starters up front, a considerable uptick from what he was predominantly working with last preseason as the fourth string quarterback to start off. If Davis picks up where he left off last summer, he’s well on his way to locking down the No. 2 spot behind Matt Ryan.

OT Lamar Holmes/Ryan Schraeder

Holmes will get the start at right tackle. I would not be surprised to see Holmes get the brunt of the work in the first half and give way to Schraeder at some point in the second or third quarter. I also would not be surprised for the Falcons to pull the plug fairly early on Sam Baker at left tackle, and give Schraeder reps on the left side in the first half, so the possibility that they can evaluate both Schraeder and Holmes at the same time. The Bengals front line is a formidable unit, and with ends like Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, all of the Falcons tackles will have their backs against the wall. Luckily for them, it’s doubtful that they will see either starter for extended reps.

MLB Brian Banks

Tonight’s game will mark Banks’ first real football action in a decade since he was falsely incarcerated as a top high school prospect. Banks has received plenty of work in recent months with the Falcons, but ostensibly when he hits the field he will be even rawer than your typical rookie due to all the time and learning lost. While the expectation won’t be that Banks will be a monster his first game in, it will be important for him to try and limit the mental errors he makes. And if he can make a couple of plays here and there, particularly against the run, that will be a bonus.

CB Desmond Trufant

I suspect Trufant will get the start at right corner. It’s a shame that Bengals wideout A.J. Green will be out of the lineup since Trufant would get an opportunity to test himself against one of the league’s best. Or at least another opportunity, since he gets two of those opportunities every day in practice going against Jones and Roddy White. Instead he should get plenty of work against the Bengals new de facto No. 1 receiver in the absence of Green which is Mohamed Sanu. Well, he was likely to see a lot of Sanu regardless, since he is the receiver that typically lines up against the right side. Sanu isn’t the fastest receiver, but he’s got good size and athleticism which allows him to make plays on the ball even when you have him blanketed. That should be a good first test for Trufant as he prepares to get ready for Marques Colston and Lance Moore in Week 1.

TE Tyler Eifert

I mention Eifert because he’s likely to get extended reps in his first preseason action. The 6’6″ 250 first round pick has had a strong camp and will be a difficult matchup for the Falcons starting linebackers, let alone the backups. With Sean Weatherspoon out of the lineup, it will be a good opportunity for Akeem Dent to showcase any abilities he possesses in coverage. And certainly if any of the reserves fare well if/when matched up on an island against Eifert, it could greatly benefit their chances of making the Falcons final roster. Essentially you’re watching Eifert to see which Falcon defender is covering him on that given play.

Camp Battles 2013: Linebacker

July 20th, 2013 1 comment
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Banks will be the center of attention this summer

The Falcons are set in regards of their three starters at the linebacker position. Stephen Nicholas, Akeem Dent, and Sean Weatherspoon all return to man the strongside, middle, and weakside linebacker spots, respectively.

The battle that could occur however among them is to see who lines up beside Weatherspoon in the team’s nickel subpackage. Nicholas filled the spot in 2012, but Dent is expected to man the job in 2013 after Nicholas had an unimpressive season in coverage. To put in bluntly, Dent’s inability to take the gig this summer would be nothing short of an abject failure on his part given his superior athleticism and youth.

The bigger questions that will come at linebacker will be which players fill depth roles. The Falcons carried five linebackers on their roster last year. They can get away with that since several of their defensive ends such as Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi also double as outside linebackers in several of their packages.

Robert James is the lone candidate that actually made the roster last year, spending his year working on special teams where he was effective. Last season actually marked the first time that James actually made the Falcons opening day roster after being a fifth round pick in 2008. He has spent most of his previous years off and on the practice squad. The Falcons clearly have managed to keep James around for a reason, meaning he still stands a good chance to be back in 2013. He flashed good speed and range last summer, in what was certainly his most impressive preseason. But his ability to stick may depend less on his own play, but more on whether other candidates emerge.

That includes Pat Schiller, who had a strong preseason a year ago to make the team’s practice squad. Schiller has a good head on his shoulders and offers potential to add depth at all three linebacker spots if need be. If he can showcase that he’s a capable special teams player, then he stands a very good shot at making the final 53.

But much of the attention will be focused on Brian Banks, the player with the remarkable comeback story that had him falsely imprisoned for years after being one of the top high school linebackers in the nation years ago. Banks will be competing for a reserve middle linebacker spot. If Banks makes the team it likely won’t be because he’s expected to impact on defense, but because of his potential value on special teams. There is no doubt that Banks is a project given the fact that he never played college football, but he certainly would be a feel-good story for the franchise which frankly gives him an edge if the competition is close.

The other linebacker options include three undrafted rookies in Joplo Bartu, Nick Clancy, and Paul Worrilow. Bartu played defensive end in college, while Clancy hails from the Boston College pipeline that has put a few linebackers in the league the past few years. Worrilow is an athletic specimen from Delaware. All three have decent odds of making the roster if they can impress on special teams, but more than likely they will be practice squad candidates.

Due to the lack of established depth, linebacker remains a position the Falcons could potentially address at the end of camp when cuts are made. More than likely the Falcons will be looking for a player that can provide the same value that Mike Peterson did a year ago, which is to be able to add depth at multiple positions as well as contribute on special teams. Among the players currently on the roster, Schiller offers the best potential to fill that role, but if he doesn’t step up and inspire confidence in the team they could look elsewhere.

Ranking the Falcons: No. 29 Akeem Dent

July 13th, 2013 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

Akeem Dent

To see how this scoring system was devised, you can click here. The 29th-ranked Falcon player is middle linebacker Akeem Dent.

Total Score: 43

Player Grade: 52 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 6 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 16 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +3

Full disclosure, I wasn’t a fan of the selection of Dent in the third round back in 2011. While, I was disappointed with what the Falcons gave up in the Julio Jones trade that year, I at least knew that Jones was a great NFL prospect and my favorite wide receiver prospect since Larry Fitzgerald came out seven years before. In the case of Dent, I wasn’t convinced that he was more than a late round prospect that was a career backup. Taking him in the third round seemed like the most grievous of Dimitroff’s mid-round reaches. His play in 2012 did not inspire with much confidence that my initial assessment of him was wrong.

Dent is a player that I’m expecting to improve this year, but I’m just not sure by how much. I believe much of his struggles in 2012 came from his lack of experience and the fact that he was playing too much on his heels. He was thinking too much rather than simply reacting, something that comes with experience.

So it seems odd to say but 2013 might be a make or break season for Dent. I don’t expect him to come out and become one of the league’s best linebacker, but he does need to make significant improvement. Otherwise the Falcons are going to be in a position next off-season where they might have to look at replacing him as their middle linebacker. I’ve spoken before about the possibility that Dent could potentially move to strongside linebacker in 2014 as a potential replacement for Nicholas, who will be 31 and count $4 million against the 2014 salary cap.

Dent’s ranking is largely due to the fact that a number of NFL teams are also going with young and unproven players at middle linebacker, e.g. Denver and Buffalo, and the same for some 3-4 teams such as the New York Jets, Cleveland, and Houston. But without a significant improvement this year, Dent would rank as a quality backup for the majority of NFL teams similar to players such as Dan Connor, Tim Dobbins, and Chase Blackburn. Those are players that have started games in this league (combined 85 since 2005), but very few teams have counted on them year after year to be starters. Instead, they are seen more as journeyman stopgaps. Dobbins had already joined his third team by his sixth season, and Connor just joined his third this past off-season in now his sixth season. Without significant improvement from Dent this year, his career path could easily go down that road.

But going well for Dent is his youth and the fact that even if that is all his career amounts to be, then like those players he can still make a nice NFL career and potentially play 8-10 years and be a solid contributor.

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