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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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OTAs: Day 1 Report

May 29th, 2013 Comments off

Technically it’s the second day, but this is the first day that media have been covering things.

  • So the biggest news from the day is that Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez were absent from these these voluntary workouts. So was Desmond Trufant, who is finishing school at the University of Washington. But he’s apparently putting in the extra work by contacting coaches via Skype. Levine Toilolo is also finishing up his schoolwork at Stanford.
  • As reported earlier, linebackers Sean Weatherspoon (knee), Stephen Nicholas (sports hernia), and rookie end Stansly Maponga (foot/ankle) were held out of practices today due to their recoveries from off-season surgeries.
  • The Falcons opened with a brand new starting 5 on their offensive line: LT Sam Baker, LG Justin Blalock, C Peter Konz, RG Garrett Reynolds, and RT Mike Johnson. Lamar Holmes is expected to be in the mix with Johnson at right tackle.
  • The Falcons cut UDFA Deon Goggins. Goggins played DT at Syracuse, but was being converted to fullback in Atlanta.

Takeaways from Last Week – May 6

May 6th, 2013 Comments off
Icon SMI

John Abraham

This weekend the Falcons conducted their first rookie mini-cap. Forty-eight players participated, including 24 undrafted free agents that signed contracts with the team and 17 that did not and are only in Flowery Branch for a tryout. There’s also the six 2012 rookies that were carried on last year’s practice squad and Brian Banks.

It’s going to be interesting to see if any of the tryout players earn a spot. I expect at least one will. Last season, three players were signed following their tryout. I have not seen really any of them, but I did like a bit of what I saw of Marcus Sales in a few Syracuse games I watched.

The site has grown fairly quiet since the draft, and I apologize. I have been traveling heavily for my job, and just don’t spend as much time maintaining the site on the road. That travel should end after this upcoming week, and I fully intend on making up for it. I still am going to post scouting reports on the six remaining Falcons draft picks. You can also expect several new podcast episodes in the coming weeks, hopefully to stem the “doldrums” that exist in the NFL calendar between the draft and the openings of training camps.

I also intend to write several articles looking at many of the up and coming young players on the Falcons roster, as well as veteran players that could play key roles in 2013.

As for the remainder of this column, I will in fact use it to give some of my own takeaways and commentary on many of last week’s NFL events and revelations.

The Jaguars reportedly used advanced statistics to help them with their decision to select an offensive tackle with their top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. I think it’s a promising revelation for the league going forward. Advanced statistics are relatively in their infancy as far as the NFL is concerned in comparison to baseball (which is approaching middle age) and basketball (adolescence). But as the years progress and the techniques evolve, I think we’ll see advanced stats become more commonplace on the professional football landscape. Maybe we will reach a point, where we could effectively calculate the “PER” of a left guard. PER refers to Player Efficiency Rating, which is supposedly the all-in-one stat for basketball.

I don’t think advanced stats will ever reach the point they do in baseball and basketball. Football features 11 players, and it’s very difficult to calculate how each one of those players relate to one another. It’s much easier to calculate the efficiency of units rather than individuals.

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Takeaways From Last Week – 2013 NFL Draft

April 29th, 2013 2 comments
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Manti Te’o: “Star” of the Draft

The 2013 NFL Draft was held this past weekend, and as usual it was an intriguing affair. I told my brother, who did not watch one minute of the draft mainly because his wife detests football, that this year’s draft was much like recent NBA Drafts meaning that in future years the 2013 draft class won’t be particularly memorable with its star appeal. Not to say this draft won’t produce good or even great NFL players, because every draft does, at least everyone that I can recall. But as we often heard over the weekend, this was a draft in which the linemen were front and center. Try as they might, ESPN and NFL Network did their best to insert as much “star appeal” as possible by spending as much time as possible talking about this quarterback class and Manti Te’o.

The media desperately wanted to talk about those players, but ultimately I think the quarterbacks and Te’o will be largely forgotten in the NFL. Ultimately the best you’re going to hope from the group of quarterbacks drafted this year is that they produce a Matt Schaub or David Garrard-caliber passer. They may be competent to good starter, but the only time they’ll be really discussed by the media by and large is to talk about how they aren’t great.

Also, it’s not that I doubt Te’o will be a good NFL player, it’s just that his infamous catfishing incident may ultimately eclipse his NFL career. I think Te’o probably winds up playing a decade in the NFL, most of it as a starter. But I think he winds up being comparable to players like Curtis Lofton or Lofa Tatupu, capable starters that their respective team likes, but are rarely mentioned among the best in the league.

I know it’s unrealistic to think that I could turn on league’s flagship channel or the Worldwide Leader in Sports, and expect them to spend hours talking about the greatness of Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Dion Jordan, or any of the players at “blue collar” positions. But there were really good players in this draft and none them played quarterback or middle linebacker for Notre Dame, but you wouldn’t know that from watching the television coverage as they never went more than fifteen minutes without mentioning one of those lesser players.

My final comments on the draft before I start to discuss the Falcons picks specifically is that I do think it’s interesting that quarterbacks did not get pushed up the board. I talked about that in an earlier column this off-season. And at that time, it was difficult to fathom that there wouldn’t be any Top 10 selections at the quarterback position. I compared it to the 2011 class, where a number of lesser prospects went high in the draft and ultimately none of those teams are better for it. I still think the passers did get pushed up the board, but not as far as they normally do. So I tip my hat to NFL teams for not reaching too far on subpar passers. We’ll see if this trend continues next April.

But onto the Falcons…

I liked the Falcons draft. It’s not very sexy, nor is it one that I think people will look back and say made a huge impact on the team. But it’s a solid group of players. I think moreso than in recent drafts, the Falcons seemed more intent on looking at players that had higher ceilings. I think a hallmark of some of the Falcons post-2008 drafts has been targetting players with high floors, but relatively low ceilings. I think the opposite happened this year.

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Douglas out, Peters activated

October 26th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons announced their weekly injury report earlier today, upon which wide receiver Harry Douglas was declared out for this weekend’s upcoming contest against the Philadelphia Eagles. Douglas missed the entire week of practice after injuring his left knee and ankle during the team’s Week 6 win over the Oakland Raiders. D.J. Davis has thus far received the majority of snaps as the team’s fourth wide receiver so far this season, but the team may also get Kevin Cone into the mix.

The team also announced that defensive tackle Corey Peters was activated from the NFI to the 53-man active roster today, making him eligible to play this Sunday against the Eagles. Peters returned to practice on Monday, after missing the previous four months due to a foot injury. To make room for Peters on the roster, the team cut cornerback Terrence Johnson.

Also on the Falcons’ injury report was guard Garrett Reynolds (back) as questionable, and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (groin), tight end Michael Palmer (shoulder), and running back Antone Smith (hamstring) as probable. Palmer and Smith are expected to make their returns to the lineup. Palmer was injured early in the Falcons Week 3 win over the San Diego Chargers, and Smith has been in and out of the lineup over the past month with his hamstring injury. Babineaux has been nursing his groin injury since the Chargers game. Reynolds’ back injury has caused him to be limited in the past two weeks of practices going back prior to the Raider game. Babineaux and Palmer both were limited during Wednesday and Thursday practices, but fully participated in practice today. Smith was a full participant today as well, but was limited on Thursday and missed Wednesday’s practice. Reynolds was limited in all three days of practice this week.

Falcon Players to Watch Tonight vs. Jaguars

August 30th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons are expected to give some of the starters some work tonight. The new CBA and league-mandated rules limiting contact in practices likely is the main cause of this. Guys just aren’t getting as many reps as before to get ready for the regular season. The fourth preseason game used to be one where none of the starters played except perhaps a series or so. But nowadays, you can expect teams to give their starters a couple of series if not a full quarter of play. The Jaguars are planning on playing their starters for the entire first quarter. I would not expect the Falcons to do the same, but I do think we’ll see many of them get work.

My hope for Mike Smith is certain “essential” players will be rested. Matt Ryan doesn’t need to play tonight, along with a few others of our key offensive playmakers. We’ll see how he plays it.

QB Dominique Davis – Part of me wants some of the offensive starters to get reps tonight, but with Davis lining up under center. I believe the Falcons will give Davis most if not all of the snaps under center tonight. Davis has worked almost exclusively with the third string performers on offense, and allowing him to work with several of the players higher on the depth chart will be an excellent gauge as to whether he’s ready to be the team’s No. 2 quarterback this year. This is the main reason to keep an eye on Davis tonight. He has played well throughout the preseason. But another strong performance with some of the second team players could be enough to catapult him into the role of primary backup. It’s possible with a strong enough performance, that Davis can inspire enough confidence that this team doesn’t even keep Luke McCown.

RB Dimitri Nance – Nance needs a strong performance tonight to stick on this roster. He has run well this summer, but he’s working behind Antone Smith on the depth chart. Smith is the superior special teams player and has also had a strong summer. But Nance is not only fighting for his hopes of making the Falcons roster, but a strong performance tonight certainly could get him looks from other teams.

FB Lousaka Polite – It’ll be interesting to see how the Falcons handle their fullback rotation giving questions on how much the starters will play. Polite has seen increased reps with the starters since joining the team, and if he can showcase his trademark power tonight and help the runners have a big night, he could take the job from Mike Cox.

WR Kevin Cone/D.J. Davis – If the Falcons choose to sit both Roddy White and Julio Jones, that could mean that Cone and/or Davis could be elevated to the starting positions potentially depending on the health and availability of Kerry Meier. Among the group of wide receivers competing for the fifth spot on the depth chart, these two are the two most prominent. That fifth spot will more than likely go to the player the team likes the most on special teams (likely Davis), but a strong offensive showing from Cone could also force them to shift their thinking.

OG Peter Konz – The battle at right guard is not complete, and I believe the Falcons are really hoping for a strong outing by Konz in order to make the final decision easier for them. I think they want Konz to have the job, but he’s not going to be given that opportunity, he has to earn it. A good game against the Jaguars could be what does it.

OT Lamar Holmes – It will be Holmes second outing, and it’s possible if not probable that he could be asked to play every snap. I think Holmes is still working himself back into playing shape due to all the missed time this off-season, and those extended reps could do a lot to help him. It would be smart of the Falcons to also try and get him some reps at right tackle as well, since he’s likely to be the team’s swing tackle this year.

DT Micanor Regis – I think Regis is on the outside looking in as far as a roster spot goes, but I think has done more than enough to land a practice squad role with the Falcons. But another strong outing could make the Falcons decision that much harder. Ultimately it could lead to them keeping five defensive tackles, or possibly cutting a veteran like Vance Walker.

LB Akeem Dent – If any of the Falcons projected 22 starters needs reps, none of them need them moreso than Dent. Dent has had his ups and downs this summer, and needs to have a few more ups tonight against Jacksonville. Of the 11 projected starters on the defense, Dent is the only one where questions remain to exactly what the team has in him. Getting him more work in the nickel subpackage should also benefit his prep for the regular season. It might not even be about Dent having a good game, it’s probably just more about getting him as many reps as possible to get him ready.

S Chris Hope/Shann Schillinger/Charles Mitchell – All three players are potentially on the roster bubble, since according to my calculations, I’m not sure the Falcons can afford to keep five safeties this year. I think Mitchell is probably the safest of the trio, but Hope and Schillinger could be competing directly for a single roster spot. If any one or two of them emerge tonight, it could be what solidifies their hold on the team.

Reynolds vs. Konz: Who Should Start?

August 27th, 2012 Comments off
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Garrett Reynolds

In watching the preseason action so far this summer, I think the Falcons could potentially have a dilemma on their hand. Well, dilemma may be an overly strong word for the situation. They have a ‘situation’ in which they have two potential viable options to start this season at right guard.

Garrett Reynolds has gotten most of the first-team reps at right guard throughout the off-season, training camp, and in the preseason games. Peter Konz, the team’s top draft pick has worked with the second units and done well. Reynolds struggled last year at the start of the season, and the team was forced to pull the plug on him. But due to his work ethic and toughness, he was able to regroup this off-season and earn the brunt of the work. Konz has been playing catch-up since joining the Falcons. After spending three seasons exclusively at center during his collegiate days in Madison, Wisconsin, he basically had to learn the guard position. Konz has made solid progress so far and has made the battle for the starting spot pretty close.

Reynolds has shown improvement from a year ago, but he still shows the same flaws that he showed when he was struggling as the starter. He’s just too tall. And that’s no fault of Reynolds, but playing inside at center or guard is all about leverage, and the low man wins. And being 6-7 and 5/8ths works to any guard’s detriment. It’s rare to see a guard of that size be effective long-term in the NFL. Essentially, to overcome that abundance of height, your technique has to be darn near perfect. And thus far this summer in the preseason games, I’m not ready to say Reynolds is there. Better than last year? Yes. But quite where he should be? Nope. This is most apparent in pass protection, where Reynolds has to be better about bending his knees and using his hands to get low to deal with the quality defensive tackles he’ll see this year. Konz has done well in pass protection. While only a few inches shorter than Reynolds at 6-5, Konz appears a bit more comfortable in pass protection. His days as a center gives him the upper hand as far as being able to use his hands better and staying in front of the dumpier defensive tackles.

But the one thing that Reynolds has going over Konz is it appears that the former is the superior run blocker. Konz was a solid run blocker at Wisconsin for a center, but just hasn’t quite developed the power necessary to really push defenders off the ball. Reynolds has shown that he’s a bit better there at creating that necessary space for a back like Michael Turner as a straight-ahead run blocker. But where Konz does seem to be a bit better than Reynolds is at pulling and blocking on the move. If the Falcons are intent on using more zone runs up front this year, that might negate some of what Reynolds brings to the table.

The Falcons could go either way. Reynolds is arguably the safer choice because that is who Clabo and McClure have worked most with, and thus theoretically the potential for continuity issues coming up being less. But if the Falcons do opt to go with Reynolds, the presence of Konz plus his 2011 performance probably does mean that the leash could be very short headed into the season.

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Falcons need to make a move for a backup QB

August 17th, 2012 3 comments
Mike Carter-US PRESSWIRE

Colt McCoy

Despite the promising and strong showing of Dominique Davis in last night’s preseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Falcons backup quarterback position has emerged as a problem position so far this summer. Chris Redman has struggled mightily and John Parker Wilson has been largely a non-factor. While Davis has made his name and I believe has performed well enough in the preseason to merit this team keeping him as the third quarterback on the depth chart, he’s not quite ready to fill the role as Matt Ryan’s primary backup.

Davis is still a bit too raw. There are too many missed throws or reads for him to be trusted to fill in and keep the Falcons playoff hopes alive in the event of a Ryan injury. But Davis has shown enough upside that with more development, one could envision him down the road as Ryan’s primary backup. But in the meantime, the Falcons are in a position where it’s imperative they make a move.

Redman’s regression over the past two seasons has been stark. While he looked good in some of his spot starts in 2009 for an injured Ryan, it was the last time that has been the case. Without any reps in 2010, Redman got some opportunities late last season. But in the season finale against the Buccaneers, Redman  played about half the game and looked very rusty. That seemed odd given that he had gotten extensive reps in each of the past two games prior to that to shake off any rust. It was the first sign that things were not looking optimistic.

The big names being discussed as possible trade bait are Colt McCoy and Tarvaris Jackson. While both would be definite upgrades over Redman, if I had to choose between one of them, I would think McCoy would be the better move for the Falcons. Mainly because Davis brings many of the same traits to the field that Jackson does, as well as the fact that Jackson has never taken an NFL snap in a game where Darrell Bevell was not calling plays for him. And it remains a question mark whether he can adapt to a non-Bevell-coached West Coast system. With McCoy having been coached by both Brian Daboll and Pat Shurmur, the hope is at least that he would be better able to adapt to a brand new system. It’s ideal to have a backup quarterback that believes he has a future as a starter. That has been one of the biggest knocks against Redman, who from his lacking desire to test himself on the open market in free agency, indicates that he has really no desire to start for an NFL team. Someone that envisions themselves starting will at least put in the work during the week to try and improve and will do their best to take advantage of any opportunity that comes along. That hasn’t happened with Redman for some time. And with a player like McCoy, that should change.

If the Falcons were to make a move for a player like McCoy, they would likely need to part ways with a late round pick. Because reports indicate there is a lot of interest in McCoy, it might drive up the price slightly. A fifth round pick might need to be moved to acquire his services. It’s not ideal, but I’d certainly happily forfeit next year’s fifth round pick to prevent Chris Redman from stepping on the field in a Falcon uniform again.

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Falcon Players to Watch Tonight vs. Bengals

August 16th, 2012 Comments off

Looking at several Falcon players that are in prime position in tonight’s preseason matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals to stand out and make a big push to make this Falcons team come September.

  • WR Kevin Cone – While the offensive production of Cone and the other receivers is what is easiest to pay attention to, the key for Cone making the Falcons roster will be his performance on special teams. With D.J. Davis already putting some nice highlights there last week, it’s time for Cone to step up and start to make some key contributions. Otherwise regardless of his offensive potential, he won’t be a Falcon in 2012.
  • WR Kerry Meier – Meier was highlighted last week, and will be so again. Against the Ravens, he played with the first unit taking over the third wide receiver spot for Harry Douglas and did not notch any production. With Douglas returning to the lineup, he’ll likely be pushed to the second units where he can start to make an impact on offense. While Meier’s roster spot is pretty much locked up, he needs to start producing on offense to verify that the Falcons depth is not weak at this position.
  • DE Cliff Matthews – Matthews had a nice performance last week against the Ravens, and will need another solid to strong one tonight. He’s in a battle with Jonathan Massaquoi for the fifth defensive end spot. If push comes to shove, it’s likely that Matthews will be the odd man out if the team is forced to choose only one of the pair. But both players have performed well enough to think the Falcons might try and keep six ends. But that will only become a possibility if Matthews continues to play well.
  • DT Micanor Regis – While Travian Robertson’s play was highlighted from last week’s preseason opener, Regis also made some things happen against the Ravens. Regis has the sort of bulk and presence in the middle to play the nose in a three-man front. While it seems doubtful that he’ll win an outright roster spot, continuing to play well this summer likely can lock up a practice squad spot for him. But his roster chances are enhanced if Vance Walker sits out once more tonight.
  • LB Mike PetersonHe will get the start tonight for an injured Akeem Dent. Few have ever questioned Peterson’s ability to defend the run, and if Dent cannot show he’s significantly better in pass coverage, then it’s possible the team could lean towards the veteran Peterson as the starting middle linebacker. But he’ll need to stand out against the Bengals for that possibility to occur.
  • CB Dominique Franks – It won’t really be Franks coverage abilities that will be worth monitoring, but his return skills. With the team electing not to use Douglas on returns, Franks has a perfect opportunity to solidify his hold on the position. Another productive night could be the nail in the coffin for that competition.
  • S Shann Schillinger – Charles Mitchell made a bit of a name for himself last week on defense, and it’s time for Schillinger to step up his game a little. While Schillinger has proven himself to be one of the team’s best special teams players, he needs to showcase that he does offer some upside on regular defense to really solidify his roster prospects.