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Camp Battles 2013: Tight End

July 15th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY

Levine Toilolo’s summer could shape tight end group

The Falcons got a huge break when sixteen-year veteran Tony Gonzalez opted not to hang up the cleats for good and give it one more go in Atlanta. Gonzalez entered the 2012 season leaving the door open for a 5% chance that he might return in 2013. The Falcons will get no such sliver of hope for 2014, as he is adamant that this year will be his last in the NFL. But the Falcons hope to take full advantage of the last hurrah of Gonzo by getting him to the Super Bowl.

Gonzalez’s status could potentially earn him a pass for much of training camp, but that won’t be the case. But the Falcons probably will probably minimize how much of a workload he does this summer. That should open up opportunities for his reserves, where all of the competition will come.

The absence of Gonzalez throughout the off-season allowed the team to get a long look at Chase Coffman, who is the incumbent. Coffman is a capable receiver, but has struggled to stick in the pros due to lackluster blocking. For him to retain his spot as the top backup behind Gonzalez, will likely mean that he’ll have to show the Falcons that he is competent as a blocker. If not, then the spot will be ripe for the taking from another.

Tommy Gallarda is in a prime position to take that spot. He is considered the team’s most polished blocker, and prior to suffering a season-ending shoulder injury last November was effective in that role. But he won’t be the only blocker that will be taking reps this summer.

The player the Falcons really want to see emerge as Gonzalez’s top backup will be rookie fourth round pick Levine Toilolo. Toilolo performed primarily as a blocker over the past two seasons at Stanford. He has excellent size and speed that the Falcons will hope to develop in the future. But first and foremost to earn reps in 2013, he’ll need to hit the ground running as a blocker. He possesses good tools and potential there, but he can be inconsistent at times and not as physical as you’d like. Coffman’s chances of making the roster increase if Toilolo proves to be a capable blocker, as the Falcons probably won’t seek to have redundant players with him and Gallarda.

Also in the mix will be Colin Cloherty, a late offseason addition. Cloherty played for Koetter in Jacksonville in 2011. Like Coffman, he’s more of a receiver than blocker, albeit a bit more undersized. He can push Coffman for the potential H-back role. Helping Cloherty is the fact that he proved to be an adept cover man on special teams during his limited opportunities. If he can shine there this summer, that may be a better avenue to making the final 53-man roster than anything he could do offensively.

Andrew Szczerba sits currently as a dark horse, but he was impressive last summer for the Dallas Cowboys. And his size, strength, and potential as a blocker does give him a legitimate opportunity to earn a roster spot. He just seems unlikely at this point to leap frog both Gallarda and Toilolo in that regard to win a spot, but stranger things have happened in Falcons training camps in the past.

A remote possibility also exists that the Falcons aren’t quite done at this position if things don’t break their way by the end of camp. Between the four of them, all of the tight ends not named Tony Gonzalez have combined for just 10 career catches in the NFL. Particularly if Toilolo has a lackluster preseason, the Falcons might explore adding veteran options at the end of summer to shore up the No. 2 spot. What limited snaps the second tight end is likely to get in 2013 will be primarily be as a blocker. And if the Falcons are unhappy with the progress of the young guys, they could seek options elsewhere.

Camp Battles 2013: Wide Receiver

July 14th, 2013 Comments off
 Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

Is 2013 the year Kevin Cone finally emerges?

Like many of the Falcons offensive starting positions, they are locked in at the wide receiver position. Thomas Dimitroff envisioned the possibility of having a No. 1 and No. 1-A receiver when he moved up in the 2011 draft to add Julio Jones to a receiver corps that already had Roddy White. It seems that vision will come true in 2013, as it’s hard to figure which player will be the preferred weapon of Ryan in the regular season. Based off last year, technically the honor of being the top option will probably fall on Jones. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones saw a pass from Ryan once every 4.56 snaps where he ran a route. White on the other hand was slightly less used with a target for ever 4.70 snaps. That gap could widen as the Falcons look to better take advantage of Jones’ elite physical tools.

Behind both starters is Harry Douglas, who in this day and age of a passing league is also technically a starter. Douglas appeared in 58.8% of the Falcons offensive snaps last year (per Pro Football Focus) and will once again resume his duties in the slot. But the Falcons managed to mix Roddy White more in the slot last year, and might continue to expand his role there.

Most of the competition will come in camp at the position behind Douglas at the No. 4 wideout spot. That role primarily will be used on special teams rather than offense. Drew Davis is the incumbent there. Outside some of the Falcons blowouts and games in which Julio Jones was injured, he saw little more than two dozen snaps on offense last year. Davis managed to make the most of what few opportunities he did have, showing good speed and quickness to catch 4 passes and a touchdown last year. Davis flashed good ability as a cover guy on special teams, but was inconsistent at times. The key for him to maintain his current position on the depth chart is to make strides both on offense and special teams. Offensively, refining his route-running should help.

But in reality the competition for the fourth wide receiver spot is fairly wide open. Kevin Cone spent last year as the team’s fifth wideout. Cone had a bit of a disappointing preseason last summer. Among the potential candidates, he may possess the best physical tools due to his size and speed combination. But his hands were inconsistent and he hasn’t quite refined his route-running to a high level. Coming out of an option offense at Georgia Tech in 2011 explains his slow progress somewhat, but 2013 needs to be the year that he puts it all together.

Tim Toone was a late summer addition last year that showcased some ability as a punt returner and speed on offense. He finished the year with the team, although he did not suit up for game. Toone’s best avenue to making the roster will be showing he can be a contributor on special teams, most likely as a punt returner.

Also competing for a shot at the return gig is James Rodgers, the older brother of Jacquizz. Rodgers spent the year on the practice squad. He had a solid summer last year, coming fairly close to locking down one of the return spots. He’s an undersized offensive player, but if he can regain the explosiveness he lost due to an ACL tear in 2010, it should aid him greatly.

Marcus Jackson may be the most polished receiver of the group of last year’s practice squad players. Jackson was able to showcase solid hands last summer and an ability to get open, a necessary trait to be a productive NFL receiver. But the key for him will be to not only continue to make strides offensively, but also show he offers value on special teams. Otherwise, he’s looking at another year on the practice squad.

The Falcons also have three undrafted rookies in the mix in Darius Johnson, Rashad Evans, and Martel Moore. Johnson and Evans are helped by the fact that they have return experience while at SMU and Fresno State, respectively. They will hope to do what Rodgers couldn’t last summer and steal one of those jobs. Both are undersized but possess speed that could be assets on special teams. Moore offers a bit more potential as a wide receiver on offense due to his superior size and capable speed. Like Jackson before him, he’ll likely be pushing for a chance to earn a practice squad spot with a good summer.

Camp Battles 2013: Running Back

July 13th, 2013 Comments off
Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

Antone Smith’s roster spot is vulnerable

The top of the Falcons depth chart at this position is fairly set in stone. Newcomer Steven Jackson will be the feature back and likely get the brunt of the workload in 2013. Behind him will be Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling. How much either player is worked in the lineup will be dependent on Jackson’s early season production as well as their own. Both players are excellent third down options, but Jackson also is adept in that role. But given that the Falcons will likely want to try and save Jackson somewhat for the stretch run in December and January, they could try and mix in both Rodgers and Snelling as reserves here and there.

Lining up next to Jackson is expected to be second-year fullback Bradie Ewing. Ewing went down with an ACL tear in the preseason opener before getting any real action on offense, so he is relatively an unknown commodity. But the Falcons had a lot of confidence in him going into last summer, and it would be a major upset if he didn’t open the season as the starter. If there is any real competition behind him, it likely rests in Patrick DiMarco, who played for the Kansas City Chiefs last season. DiMarco was productive as a late season starter, after injuries forced him into the lineup. The Falcons won’t be afraid to play DiMarco over Ewing if he proves to have the better summer, but it would likely take an extraordinarily good preseason from DiMarco and an unexpectedly lackluster one from Ewing for that to become the case. More than likely DiMarco’s best route to the roster will be showcasing value on special teams.

Traditionally the Falcons have kept five running backs on the roster, with the fifth spot serving primarily as a special teams role. That has been filled by Antone Smith the past three seasons, who has settled in nicely on special teams. His 10 special teams tackles over the past two seasons is third highest among current Falcons behind Akeem Dent (20) and Shann Schillinger (11). Helping Smith potentially retain his grip on the roster spot is the fact that he’s a known commodity. But he’s vulnerable due to the fact that he’ll be counting $662,500 against the Falcons 2013 salary cap. The Falcons could potentially save over $250,000 against their cap by going with one of the young undrafted backs: Ronnie Wingo or Donald Russell.

For both players, not only will they need to showcase potential as ballcarriers and receivers on offense, but they will need to shine on special teams. That will be their best routes to giving Smith a run for his money. If they can showcase immediate value on special teams, the savings the Falcons could garner might be enough to give either a shot on the roster. More than likely, strong preseason performances will lead to spots on the practice squad rather than the final roster for either player.

Special teams ability might give Josh Vaughan the best potential odds among the backs to make the roster over Smith. Vaughan was a productive special teams player for the Carolina Panthers in 2011. The Falcons won’t reap huge savings for opting for Vaughan over Smith (roughly $110,000), but it could be worthwhile if Vaughan shows enough upside on offense. He differentiates himself from Smith by being a more powerful, downhill runner. If he can show value in the passing game, particularly in pass protection, and have a strong preseason then he has a chance to earn a spot.

Undrafted fullback Devonte Campbell was an effective blocking tight end at Maryland last year and too will more than likely be trying to impress his way onto the eight-man practice squad, since he’s a roster longshot.

Camp Battles 2013: Quarterback

July 12th, 2013 Comments off
Phil Sears-US PRESSWIRE

Dominique Davis is the center of attention

Of course, Matt Ryan is in no risk of losing his starting position. Ryan is coming off the best season of his career, and the hope is that he can build upon it. It was a year in which at least through the early running of the year he was considered a league MVP candidate. The only real negative of Ryan’s 2012 campaign was that his play started to diminish in the second half of the season. But even a diminished Ryan is still one of the top quarterbacks in the league. The expectation is that Ryan will receive a new contract extension that will make him one of the highest paid passers in the league before camp starts. If not, it could present a possible distraction as the media may raise questions why negotiations have been so protracted. The Falcons have made no secret about their desire to get Ryan locked up to a long-term deal since the end of the season, and the fact that a deal cannot get done before camp is somewhat troublesome.

But assuming the Falcons can get Ryan signed to a contract, much of the focus at the quarterback position this summer will be on the competition for Ryan’s backup. Dominique Davis is the incumbent, coming off a strong preseason performance during his rookie season last summer. If Davis can build off that, then he’ll be in the driver’s seat to take over as the top backup behind Ryan. Keys for Davis include showing that he has an improved command of the offense and has refined his mechanics and footwork somewhat, areas that despite an outstanding 2012 preseason were areas of weakness.

He’ll be pushed by seventh round pick Sean Renfree. Renfree missed a chunk of the offseason as he was recovering from an injury to his throwing arm that he suffered in Duke’s bowl game last December. Renfree is known for his smarts and toughness, and the key for him this summer will be showing that he’s a quick study when it comes to the offense. Davis has him beat as far as physical tools go, with the superior athleticism and mobility. But if Renfree can prove himself in the film room and then translate that into production on the field, he can potentially push Davis for the No. 2 spot.

Fourth arm Seth Doege is more than likely competing for a potential spot on the practice squad. While he does possess good arm strength and athleticism, the likelihood that he’ll be able to surpass either Davis and Renfree on the depth chart is low.

If Davis or Renfree doesn’t come out and have a strong summer, it will likely result in the Falcons pursuing a veteran backup at the end of camp once cuts are made. The Falcons scooped up Luke McCown at the end of last summer, and he filled the No. 2 spot ahead of Davis in 2012. If the Falcons pursued a veteran, they’d likely target a player with starting experience rather than another developmental backup. The possibility of McCown returning remains a possibility as he is set to compete with Seneca Wallace for the backup spot behind Drew Brees in New Orleans. If cut, he’d obviously be a top option. Other veterans with starting experience that might be on the roster bubble this summer include: David Carr (Giants), Curtis Painter (Giants), John Skelton (Bengals), Dan Orlovsky (Buccaneers), Brady Quinn (Seahawks), and Rex Grossman (Redskins). Trent Edwards, currently a free agent, is also a player that could be a target given that he played under Dirk Koetter for a year in Jacksonville.

Takeaways from Last Week – July 8

July 8th, 2013 Comments off

Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE

Jairus Byrd’s contract situation is worth keeping an eye on

Once again, another week goes by without not much on the NFL or Atlanta Falcons radar. But nonetheless, I will try to give you a thousand words worth considering.

Word came over the weekend that the NFL is considering the possibility that they will not allow collegiate players that were ruled academically ineligible to participate at the annual Scouting Combine.

This seemingly is in response to some of the criticism that the league has received in light of the Aaron Hernandez arrest when it comes to player maturity issues. I’m not going to comment specifically on the pluses and/or minuses of the league’s consideration, as others have already and I don’t have much to add that will be different.

However, the angle I would like to tackle is the angle of cynicism. This move by the league really ruffles my feathers. This illustrates one of the beefs I have with Roger Goodell and the National Football League, in that they are really just a giant corporation.

Understandably so, as they are a multi-billion dollar industry. This is just another example of the league functioning like one. Big corporations like them will often do superficial things like this to potentially address areas where they are criticized. The league probably has no intent to do this, as others have explained it won’t really do anything. But it is good pub in the sense that it shows the public that the league “cares” about this issue. They really don’t, but they can’t just sit and do nothing. So they leak that they are considering this, floating it out there to see how people react, and so no one can criticize them for apathy.

It’s similar to the whole player safety issue. The league doesn’t really care about player safety in my humble opinion. They care more about liability, as the potential lawsuit coming in terms of concussion history could be disastrous for the league’s bottom line.

As I’ve said before if the league was really vested in making this game as safe as possible, then they would be looking into shrinking the size of the regular season rather than expanding it. The league took steps to limit cut blocking this year, but why are any players allowed to block anybody below the waist? If you really cared about player safety, you would put as much emphasis on protecting all players, and not just their heads but their knees and legs as well. Offensive skill position players are considered defenseless, but why not defenders when it comes to 300-pound linemen diving at their legs? How can you really protect yourself from that?

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 31 “Thank God for Jake Delhomme”

July 2nd, 2013 6 comments

This week, Allen and I are once again joined by Tom Melton to discuss some of the upcoming roster and depth chart battles we expect to see in Atlanta Falcons training camp. We break down the battle along the right side of the offensive line as well as what could shake up with the battle for key depth positions at quarterback and tight end … We look at every level of the defense as battles rage at all the position groups. Tom weighs in on how Richard Seymour could help the Falcons … We discuss the depth at linebacker along with what if any of the young players could step up to help the Falcons pass rush … We dive into whether or not this year’s defensive line will live up to some past units and whether Falcon fans have been spoiled by past success up front … It wouldn’t be a Tom Melton episode without some patented Dunta Robinson bashing … We discuss their favorite young punter in the NFL and his name isn’t Matt Bosher … We discuss whether the loss of Tyson Clabo or John Abraham will hurt the team more and then reminisce on some of our favorite Predator moments over the years … Peter Konz’s future is discussed as well as Justin Blalock’s tuba playing … Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers’ values are also discussed. Note: This episode does contain explicit language, so it is NSFW!

Ep. 31: Thank God for Jake Delhomme [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 3 minutes

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

Tom Melton can be found on twitter: @TMeltonScouting, and also writes for his own draft blog and NFL Draft Monsters.

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

2013 Outlook: Chase Coffman

June 28th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Coffman extends for a catch

Chase Coffman is in an interesting position heading into training camp. He has a chance to carve out a significant role on offense if he continues to have a good summer. He’s already gotten extensive reps with the first team during OTAs and minicamps due to the absences of Tony Gonzalez and Levine Toilolo, and taken advantage of it according to head coach Mike Smith. That should benefit him this summer as he seeks to carve out a roster spot.

Coffman won’t be guaranteed a roster spot, but the extra work with the starters this spring and summer should give him a significant leg up. The strength of Coffman’s game lies in his receiving ability. He has excellent hands and a very good catch radius. It was one of the reasons which prompted him to be 28th-ranked player in my 2009 draft preview and allowed him to make a key grab against the Seahawks in the playoffs.

But Coffman has struggled to find a role in the NFL because of his lacking abilities as a blocker. Coffman essentially played wide receiver during his days at Missouri, lining up in the slot and splitting out wide as a tight end. While such a player is en vogue nowadays in the NFL, Coffman simply doesn’t have the ideal speed and burst to be a guy that can really shine in that role in say the way that players like Delanie Walker, Jared Cook, Aaron Hernandez, or Dennis Pitta can.

This creates issue with him separating from coverage. That was the same problem that plagued Michael Palmer when he was in Atlanta. He just wasn’t a player that could reliably beat man coverage, which is necessary to be a consistent producer at the NFL level. Because of Coffman’s excellent hands, body control, and ability to go and get the ball, that is not as big a flaw in his game as it was in Palmer’s. But again, he hasn’t shown himself capable of being the type of player that can consistently do that in order to carve out a key role on offense.

Also hurting Coffman’s potential to produce is simply the fact that he is surrounded by a ton of talent here in Atlanta, namely from the team’s top three receivers in Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez. Not to mention the presence of Harry Douglas and backs like Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers, on any given play Coffman is only likely to be the fifth and final option for Matt Ryan to throw to. At best that probably only allows for 1 or 2 targets to go Coffman’s way most weeks.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 30 “Norv Turner’s Neck Meat”

June 15th, 2013 Comments off

This week, Allen and I are joined by Rashad James to talk about the latest happenings with the Falcons. Those include discussion of changes to the right side of the line and whether it will work in the Falcons favor … Addressing the depth and rotation at defensive end and which players might step up opposite Osi Umenyiora to help the Falcons pass rush … Concern over depth at linebacker and which young players might step up including Pat Schiller and Brian Banks … Falcons depth at safety and whether or not more usage of Mike Nolan’s Big Nickel is on the horizon … Roddy White’s future in Atlanta … Revisiting the Julio Jones trade and other potential options … NFC South Division Race talk … Offseason Grades … Falcons Mount Rushmore … Are the Houston Texans for real?

Ep. 30: Norv Turner’s Neck Meat [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 4 minutes

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

Rashad can be found on twitter: @SaucedUp_Boss

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

OTAs: Day 5 Report

June 6th, 2013 Comments off

Once again, the media had access to today’s practices on the fifth day of the Falcons OTAs. So here’s what we came away with:

Player on the Rise: Pat Schiller

June 1st, 2013 1 comment

Linebacker Pat Schiller was among the Falcons most impressive rookies from last year’s preseason. Schiller was consistently in position when working both versus the run and pass, suggesting that he was deciphering the intricacies of Mike Nolan’s new defense better than many veterans could.

He managed to stick on the Falcons practice squad and would become one of the more memorable aspects of the team’s weekly D-Block video segments, silently taking it all in. He would also be the subject of a good piece in the New York Times, chronicling the beginning of his NFL journey.

While much of the attention will likely fall on fellow linebacker Brian Banks this summer, and understandably so, I think it will be Schiller as the player the organization expects to see make the biggest contributions. Schiller essentially will be expected to replace Mike Peterson. No, not in terms of leadership, as that will be left to veterans like Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon. But Peterson served as the Falcons primary reserve at all three spots last year, garnering reps in goalline situations and earning starts when Weatherspoon was out for a few games during midseason.

The Falcons stress cross-training their players at multiple positions, and while Schiller spent the majority of his reps at middle linebacker last summer, he could easily kick outside to either the weakside or strongside spot. The fact that he was able to show last summer that he was able to get the job done from the neck up means that being position-versatile shouldn’t be a major obstacle going forward.

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