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Training Camp: Day 11 Report

August 7th, 2013 Comments off

Yesterday the Falcons held the second of two joint practice sessions with the Cincinnati Bengals in preparation for Thursday night’s preseason opener against the team in the Georgia Dome. Here are the buzz generated from yesterday’s camp session:

The notable news from yesterday was the injury to tackle Mike Johnson at the start of practice as he suffered a dislocated ankle and broken left leg, likely ending his season. The Falcons began working Lamar Holmes and then Ryan Schraeder into the lineup.

Grits Blitz points out that two observers in CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco and FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez were praising of Schraeder, who has impressed nearly all observers thus far in camp.

Fox Sports’ John Manasso discusses some of the concerns facing the Falcons front now that Johnson is injured. While D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC discusses some of the potential options on the free agent market that the Falcons could face, as well as giving up an update on the team’s cap space.

Despite news that wide receiver Julio Jones will miss the preseason opener, it does appear that the injury he has is a minor one as he was still working during practice yesterday.

The time table of Sean Weatherspoon’s return from injury isn’t quite know, but he’s likely to be out a couple of weeks per Mike Smith via Jay Adams. Weatherspoon suffered a badly dislocated finger on Monday and was held out of Tuesday’s practices. Editor’s Note: It should be noted that during his tenure as Falcons head coach Smith has consistently underestimated the time tables for players’ returns. So a couple of weeks could easily translate into Spoon missing the entire preseason if that trend continues.

Training Camp: Day 10 Report

August 6th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons will have another joint practice session today with the Cincinnati Bengals, this time in shells. Here are the media reports from Day 10 of the Falcons practice:

  • The big news from Monday was reports of injuries to linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and wide receiver Julio Jones. Per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, Weatherspoon suffered a badly dislocated finger on his left hand. He left practice early, and might be held out of the Falcons preseason opener. Jones got limited reps in Monday’s practice for precautionary reasons. La Canfora also discusses Brian Banks and the Falcons young corners in his write-up of the Falcons.
  • Daniel Cox’s five observations from Monday include discussion of Lamar Holmes getting reps with the first team and Desmond Trufant’s progress through the course of camp.
  • The team’s official site also has a transcript from Mike Smith’s post-practice interview.
  • The AJC has the team’s first official depth chart.
  • Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer has some notes from the Bengals perspective but which also include highlighting a few individual performances from Falcons.

D. Orlando Ledbetter also tweeted some takes on the matchups between the two teams in the trenches:

 

Training Camp Stock Report Week 1

August 3rd, 2013 Comments off

It’s been over a week since Falcons began training camp on July 25, and it’s time to look at which players have distinguished themselves (and those that have not) with our weekly stock report. Expect the next one to be up after the Falcons Thursday night matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals next week.

Stock Up

 

Chase Coffman/Levine Toilolo

Coffman has been taking full advantage of the absence of Tony Gonzalez from the Falcons lineup, catching everything that comes his way. Toilolo is also making good ground as well, and it seems like the Falcons will no longer be hurting for depth at tight end as they have been in past seasons.

Martel Moore

Moore got off to a fast start in camp, working the corners on the roster that aren’t named Asante Samuel. The competition for the fourth and fifth receiver spots are fairly wide open. Moore has shown he can make plays on offense, but perhaps the secret to his making the final roster will be if he can showcase his prowess on special teams.

Ryan Schraeder

Schraeder has generated quite a bit of buzz working with the reserve offensive line units. He’s a player that could manage to make the roster as the ninth offensive lineman and backup to left tackle Sam Baker.

Peter Konz

By all accounts, Konz has had a solid camp, quieting any concerns whether or not the Falcons would see a precipitous dropoff this year at center due to the retirement of Todd McClure.

Cliff Matthews/Malliciah Goodman

Both Matthews and Goodman are off to good starts to camp. Both are expected to be in the mix to play defensive end when the Falcons want to add size to the lineup. Both players are hitting the scales around 280 pounds, and should be in the mix to spell Jonathan Babineaux when the Falcons go to their 3-man fronts at left defensive end. They will also likely be asked to play inside in 4-man fronts to add some quickness inside. Any concerns over whether either player would be able to carve out a significant role in the rotation seem to be evaporated given their start.

Joplo Bartu

Bartu’s name is generating a bit more buzz in recent days. His athleticism and speed have been drawing rave reviews. Bartu has a chance to win a backup outside linebacker position, particularly as a backup to Stephen Nicholas on the strongside.

Stock Down

 

Lamar Holmes

It’s been fairly quiet on the Lamar Holmes front. He is expected to be pushing Mike Johnson for the starting right tackle spot in one of the few starting positions that was truly open to competition, but there hasn’t been much buzz surrounding Holmes. While there hasn’t been a ton of buzz surrounding Johnson either, it does seem like he clearly has the lead. If Holmes doesn’t step up in the coming weeks, this competition could be over before it even really began.

Desmond Trufant

It’s probably not fair to put Trufant on this list. He had a rocky beginning to camp, but by all accounts has improved significantly as camp has progressed. He’ll have plenty of time to get his stock back up the rest of the way, so by no means should anybody be in panic mode. But Trufant is/was expected to win the starting right cornerback position, and the simple truth is that if the season began today, it would be a question of whether he would be in that role.

Training Camp: Day 8 Report

August 3rd, 2013 Comments off

Last night, the Falcons participated in their annual Friday Night Lights, a scrimmage in front of fans in Gainesville, Georgia. Over 14,000 fans showed up, setting a new attendance record for the event. In the end, the scrimmage resulted in a tie 14-14 between offense and defense. The Falcons will have Saturday off, and return to work tomorrow. Next week they will have combined practices with the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday and Tuesday gearing up for their Thursday Night preseason opener in the Georgia Dome.

Jay Adams also gives his thoughts on the 5 players that stood out the most in his eyes.

Here are some of the highlight plays of the event from Adams as well:

The players also really appreciated the fans:

 

Training Camp: Day 7 Report

August 2nd, 2013 Comments off

A minor discrepancy in how the count Wednesday’s off day. It was in fact the seventh day since camp opened, causing the AJC to consider Thursday to be the eighth day. However the team’s official site counts Thursday as the seventh day, skipping Wednesday altogether. For these recaps, we’ll be going with the “official” numbering of AtlantaFalcons.com.

So here is all the media buzz from Thursday, Day 7 of Falcons training camp:

  • The Falcons announced a pair of roster moves on Thursday, waiving-injured cornerback Saeed Lee, who suffered a serious knee injury on Tuesday. The team picked up cornerback Jordan Mabin in his place. Lee underwent surgery on Wednesday for his knee injury, although it was not ACL surgery per John Manasso. If he clears waivers, he will wind up on injured reserve for the Falcons. Mabin was an undrafted free agent out of Northwestern last year with the Baltimore Ravens. He spent time on the Ravens practice squad before finishing the season on the practice squad of the Cleveland Browns. He also spent time on the practice squad of the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL last October. He was re-signed by Montreal this past March before joining the Falcons.
  • Joe Hawley was working with the first team at right guard.
  • I suggested before that whoever lines up as the second-string left tackle would have a good shot at making the roster. Well in certain drills on Thursday, Ryan Schraeder, who is already having a standout camp according to some observers, was working there across from Lamar Holmes at right tackle.
  • Malliciah Goodman has been generating some buzz with his work among the reserves.
  • Jason Snelling was in the mix to return punts with the same foursome from before. James Rodgers is among that foursome, but will also be in the mix to return kickoffs. Harry Douglas might only be considered a last resort however as a punt returner. The AJC has a quick interview with Douglas.
  • Osi Umenyiora’s role as a stand-up linebacker may be limited with his primary value there to help defend the read-option. The Falcons will see plenty of that this year with matchups against Carolina, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington again this season. Also the potential of E.J. Manuel to run that with the Buffalo Bills could also be in play in 2013.
  • Daniel Cox has his five observations from Day 7, including more insight into the competition for the returner jobs, Robert Alford’s fashion, Desmond Trufant’s work in the slot, and unsung performances by rookies Ronnie Wingo and Brandon Thurmond.

 

Camp Battles 2013: Special Teams

July 23rd, 2013 1 comment

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Alford could man both return spots this year

The Falcons brought in a pair of undrafted specialists in Jeremy Shelley and Sean Sellwood to push kicker Matt Bryant and punter Matt Bosher, respectively. Both are longshots and unless Bryant or Bosher get hurt really don’t stand much of a chance to make the roster.

Instead both will be competing in the hopes that it may impress another NFL team that could pick them up at the end of the summer off waivers. If either of them offer much potential for the Falcons it’s Shelley. Matt Bryant is signed through the 2014 season, but is already 38 years old. He’s been highly productive for the Falcons since joining the team late in 2009, but age eventually always catches up. Jason Elam was also solid for the Falcons until he turned 39 that same season, and his inconsistency prompted the team replace him with Bryant. So in reality if Shelley can have an impressive summer, he could be on speed dial in case there is any dropoff from Bryant in the near future. Shelley was one of the more accurate kickers in college football the past few years while at Alabama, specializing on short field goals. He’ll have to prove that he has NFL-caliber leg strength however.

Like Bosher, Sellwood possesses a big leg, but really is just insurance. Bosher struggled throughout his rookie season in 2011, but emerged as one of the top young punters with a much more consistent 2012 season. Sellwood really is only around in case Bosher regresses, which isn’t likely.

Long snapper Josh Harris had a bit of a rocky rookie season, but the Falcons didn’t bring in any direct competition for him. Assuming he doesn’t regress this summer, he should be a lock to retain his spot.

The big battle at this position group will be for the returner positions. Jacquizz Rodgers returned kickoffs last year, while Dominique Franks managed punts. Rodgers was effective at times in his role, but Franks was not. More than likely the Falcons would prefer another young player to emerge at either spot. However, the likelihood that Rodgers has a decreased role on offense due to the presence of Steven Jackson, means that he may better handle return duties. But in reality, he’s probably only going to open the season as the kickoff returner if no one else emerges.

The best candidate may be second round pick Robert Alford. While Alford primarily returned punts in college, his skillset may be better suited to returning kicks due to his excellent straight-line speed. In a perfect world, Alford will take over at both spots and give the Falcons a big play element that has been missing since the heyday of Allen Rossum. He’ll be competing with a number of other potential candidates.

Tim Toone, while not a big play threat as a punt returner, showed last summer that he can be somewhat reliable when it comes to consistently getting yardage. That is a valuable trait in that role and lacking that ability was one of the biggest reasons why Franks struggled last year. Undrafted rookies Rashad Evans and Darius Johnson both offer explosive speed and return experience from college. James Rodgers, Jacquizz’s brother nearly won a spot last summer and if he can improve upon that he is a prime candidate to win one of the spots.

Antone Smith and Harry Douglas also might be in the mix as they have return experience, but really are only options of last resort if no one else emerges.

Camp Battles 2013: Safety

July 22nd, 2013 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Charles Mitchell must fend off several promising youngsters

Starters Thomas DeCoud and William Moore are both coming off Pro Bowl years. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan certainly had a positive effect on both of them as they proved to be one of the most opportunitic pair of safeties in the league. Neither player is expected to be challenged this summer and instead will be focusing upon building towards an even better 2013 season.

But the backup spots behind them are potentially wide open as the Falcons hope one of their young safeties emerge as positive depth. The fact that Moore has been injured nearly every year since joining the team in 2009 makes it important that the Falcons are comfortable and confident with their depth. Last June, the Falcons added veteran Chris Hope because of their discomfort and it remains a possibility that they could seek another veteran at the end of this summer if a young player doesn’t emerge.

The best candidate to emerge is second-year safety Charles Mitchell. Mitchell is in a prime position to become the team’s top backup at the position. He worked last summer at both safety spots. A good run defender that possesses decent range to make plays in coverage, Mitchell is a solid candidate to fill in in the event of an injury to either starter. If there is any negative in regards to Mitchell, it’s the fact that he made minimal contributions on special teams last year. That will need to change given the fact that the team doesn’t often substitute in reserve safeties as they do reserve corners in their subpackages. Thus to merit being active every Sunday, a backup safety needs to make contributions on special teams.

He’ll be pushed by Shann Schillinger and a pair of rookie draft picks in Kemal Ishmael and Zeke Motta. Schillinger missed all of the 2012 season with an injury, but prior to it he was one of the team’s top special teams players. While Schillinger doesn’t offer a ton of upside to be a regular on defense, his special teams ability means he can be active every Sunday and be a contributor. His biggest competition will likely come from Ishmael, who also plays the free safety position. Ishmael was a very active run defender during his days at Central Florida, which is expected to translate into high special teams value.

Zeke Motta will be pushing Mitchell as the reserve strong safety. While Motta doesn’t quite offer the same value defensively that Mitchell does, again if he can showcase more value on special teams he could potentially leap frog him on the depth chart. While there are few star safeties hailing from Notre Dame over the past decade, nearly all have managed to stick on special teams in the NFL, with David Bruton (Broncos), Tom Zbikowski (Bears), and Sergio Brown (Colts) being current standouts.

Because of the presence of so many former draft picks, it’s possible the Falcons will opt to keep five safeties. But the team could potentially hide Motta and/or Ishmael on their practice squad as well. Undrafted rookie Troy Sanders is a longshot even for the practice squad because of the presence of all the former draft picks.

Camp Battles 2013: Cornerback

July 21st, 2013 Comments off
Alan Maglaque-US PRESSWIRE

Dominique Franks is on the bubble

This is the only position on defense that likely will feature a position battle for a starting spot. While Asante Samuel is locked in at the left cornerback position, the right cornerback position is relatively wide open. The team dumped veterans Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson in the off-season, replacing them with rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, their top two picks in 2013. Trufant is expected to win the job because of his higher draft status and the fact that he has NFL bloodlines (two older brothers already in the NFL). But Alford could give him a run for his money. Incumbent nickel corner Robert McClain also could be in the mix for the spot. Regardless, the Falcons won’t be afraid to start either Alford or McClain over Trufant if need be. This is indeed a spot where the best candidate will win the job.

But more than likely, it’s Trufant’s job to lose. He’ll likely man the right cornerback position, which he has throughout the off-season when he’s been available. Alford is considered Samuel’s top backup on the left side, a role he played primarily at Southeastern Louisiana. McClain should remain the team’s nickel guy and man the slot, a role he was surprisingly adept at last season. McClain was a player that was one of the last players to make the team, but was able to turn it into an excellent season once Grimes went down with an Achilles tear. The Falcons hope he can pick up where he left off last season.

His emergence has pushed Dominique Franks to the fringe, and now he’s on the roster bubble. Franks showed potential in 2011 as a nickel corner, but struggled for reps a year ago even after the injury to Grimes. Franks’ ability to make the team is limited by the fact that his value on special teams is minimal. Franks’ struggles as a punt returner are well-documented, but also hurting his case is the fact that he has made almost no contributions in coverage in three seasons. McClain’s ability to contribute there was a key reason why he was able to pass him on the depth chart last summer and during the regular season. Franks’ best hope of making the roster then rests on his ability to be a regular contributor on defense. The presence of two rookie corners limits that, especially given the fact that Alford is also considered a prime candidate to win one of the return jobs, and his speed (potentially the fastest player on the defense) also projects well to finding a role on coverage units. Late last year the Falcons employed more dime looks in their subpackages, with Franks filling a role there. That potentially remains his best odds of making the roster, although again he’ll have to outplay Alford who also would be a candidate for that role.

Special teams ability is likely what will earn potential roster spots for the remainder of the position group. Peyton Thompson spent last year on the team’s practice squad and could propel that into a roster spot this year as the fifth corner. Terrence Johnson is also in the mix due to his experience playing in the nickel for the Indianapolis Colts in 2011. Saeed Lee is an undrafted rookie that was able to earn a contract after being brought in for a tryout. All three have a legit chance to earn the fifth and likely final cornerback spot due to special teams being the primary motivator for that spot. But if any of them emerge as capable defenders it will certainly be a significant factor in who makes the team. That’s why Thompson and Johnson are the likeliest candidates, given their experience over Lee.

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.

Camp Battles 2013: Defensive End

July 18th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Jonathan Massaquoi’s growth could make a difference in 2013

The Falcons appear to be set with their two starters at the defensive end position. Free agent pickup Osi Umenyiora will draw the tall order of replacing one of the team’s all-time best in John Abraham at right defensive end. Kroy Biermann will once again fill in as the team’s left defensive end.

But the rest of the position will feature heavy competition as a number of young players compete not for starting spots, but for placement and reps in the team’s rotation.

The likeliest candidate to serve as the team’s third defensive end will be Jonathan Massaquoi, who enters his second season with the team. He played very little on defense last year, with most of his play coming on special teams. He was very effective there and coupled with his upside as a pass rusher, he’s in no danger to be cut. But the Falcons will look for him to have a good summer as he is the candidate most likely to figure into the Falcons nickel subpackage if/when Umenyiora and Biermann aren’t on the field. The multiple fronts presented by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could easily feature all three, especially given Biermann’s ability to drop into coverage like a linebacker.

Another player that is assured of making the final roster is 2013 fourth round pick Malliciah Goodman. Goodman’s best shot at earning playing time will more than likely come on run downs in the team’s base package as they look to get more size on the field. While Biermann is a consistent run defender, Umenyiora is not, and it’s likely that Massaquoi won’t be asked to play a major part in that role. Goodman possesses good physical tools to develop long-term into an effective pass rusher, but probably his best chance of earning lots of initial playing time will be proving himself as a run defender.

The past three seasons the Falcons have opted to keep at least five defensive ends on the roster, although last year that number was six until the November release of Ray Edwards. That probably will be the case again with Cliff Matthews and Stansly Maponga rounding out the depth chart. If the Falcons only opt for five on the roster, Matthews is the likelier candidate. Given his ability to help as a run defender, high motor, and value on special teams he has a leg up on Maponga, who missed most of the offseason coming off a leg injury. While Maponga offers better long-term value down the road as a pass rusher, he’s unlikely to offer immediate value to the rotation. If the Falcons do opt to keep six ends on the roster, Maponga will likely be the last and is primed to spend most of the year on the team’s inactive list each Sunday. Not unless he can showcase special teams prowess along the same lines of Matthews and Massaquoi a year ago, and show he’s 100% recovered from his injury. While Maponga isn’t guaranteed to make the team’s 53-man roster, he’s almost certainly a lock to be carried on the team’s practice squad at a minimum.

Two other players that the Falcons will bring to camp but are longshots to make the roster are undrafted rookies Cam Henderson and Brandon Thurmond. Henderson has a solid frame (6-4/260) with good arm length (over 34 inches) that passes the eyeball test when it comes to NFL defensive ends. Thurmond is shorter, squatter player with short arms but had excellent production while at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Between the two, it really doesn’t matter who looks better in a uniform, it will come down to any production they can produce on the field. If either player can impress with a strong preseason, the Falcons might opt to carry a seventh defensive end on their practice squad.