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Falcons 2014 Training Camp: Day 4 Report

July 28th, 2014 No comments
From AtlantaFalcons.com

Jake Matthews. From AtlantaFalcons.com

Let’s take a look at the various tweets, articles, reports, news and rumors that surfaced from the fourth day of Atlanta Falcons training camp:

The Falcons participated in their first padded practice of training camp today and really got after it. Notably, there were a pair of fights between offensive and defensive linemen.

The first fight occurred when offensive tackle Gabe Carimi and defensive end Stansly Maponga got into it. It then spread to center Joe Hawley and outside linebacker Jacques Smith. Hawley had some choice words for Smith afterwards. The media on hand at practice called it a draw.

The second fight involved offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder and Smith again.

Of course, head coach Mike Smith was less focused on the aggression showed in practice, but the more on technical things like pad level.

But today’s practice also meant a shift in philosophy:

The Falcons ran the Oklahoma drill, which you can see an example of here. D. Orlando Ledbetter breaks it down at the AJC. Fullback Patrick DiMarco was one player that reportedly shined.

The shift in philosophy and atmosphere the Oklahoma drill signifies was not lost on some observers:

Other highlights of the day included the play of defensive tackle Travian Robertson in one-on-one drills. Rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews drew heaps of praise:

And according to Smitty, Matthews is on the fast track along with defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman for increased reps. But Hageman may have been less than dominant at times today.

The punt block drill drew some eyes as well.

Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 33 Patrick DiMarco

July 16th, 2014 No comments

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick DiMarco

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 33rd-ranked player: fullback Patrick DiMarco.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 44/100

Last year’s rank: N/A
Player Grade: 49/100
Teams he is starter: 8 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 13 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 8 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +2

DiMarco gets ranked over a better overall player like running back Jacquizz Rodgers essentially because the former has at least some potential to start for a quarter of the remaining teams in the league.

DiMarco is essentially a slightly above average lead blocker. While he’s not the most powerful guy out there, he consistently hits his assignments and does enough to create space for his running back.

He’s also a competent special teams player, carving out a role on punt coverage last year for the Falcons. Unfortunately it did not lead to high production as he only recorded a single stop on special teams. But that ability will help him earn a roster spot as he vies to fight off a pair of undrafted rookies for what is likely to be only one roster spot at fullback.

The fullback position will receive less emphasis due to expectations that the Falcons will fully embrace three wide receiver sets as their base offensive attack this year. But there is still going to be a need for someone to lead Steven Jackson and other running backs through the hole on occasion, which should lead to one lead blocker being kept.

The question remains, is whether DiMarco will be tasked with filling that role or someone else. At this point it could go either way, but at least DiMarco is the most known commodity as things stand today. And if push comes to shove that can help earn him one of the last roster spots on the team this summer.

Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Fullback

July 15th, 2014 No comments

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick DiMarco

When the Atlanta Falcons released former draft pick Bradie Ewing this offseason, it signaled that the team’s investment in the fullback position was diminishing.

That could be reflected in the fullback competition this summer, as the team has a trio of players competing for what likely will be only one roster spot.

Patrick DiMarco is the incumbent, filling in for an injured Ewing a year ago and performing well. DiMarco is an effective lead blocker that can also contribute on special teams, meaning that his fate is not exclusively tied to the fullback position.

That’s important, since it’s plausible that the team could opt to do away with the position entirely this year. Reports indicate the Falcons will play more three-wide receiver sets which will likely be at the expense fo the fullback.

They could adopt more two-tight end looks that have players like Bear Pascoe or Jacob Pedersen lining up at H-back instead of the traditional fullback. Pascoe’s played fullback in the past and is good enough that he could be perfectly functional in a pinch.

But because DiMarco also can contribute on special teams, it gives him added value when it comes to earning a roster spot. It may very well prove that during the regular season, whoever plays fullback will see more reps on special teams than he does on offense.

DiMarco will face competition from a pair of undrafted rookies in Roosevelt Nix and Maurice Hagens.

Nix is an interesting case because he played defensive tackle at Kent State, where he was very productive at that position. But his lack of size limited his NFL potential there, and the team hopes to take advantage of his physicality on offense.

Hagens is a big body at the position and could also make waves. It’ll be important for both undrafted rookies to show they can also cut it on special teams.

Ostensibly this position is a wide open competition, with any of the three having decent odds to stick. This is also a position where the Falcons could just as easily seek other options elsewhere when cuts occur later this summer.

DiMarco is the safest bet to make the team, but it’s the most wide open position on the team.

Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

An Early Look at Key Training Camp Battles on Atlanta Falcons Offense

May 31st, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Dominique Davis

June is a month filled with organized team activities, as we steadily inch closer to NFL training camps that open up at the end of July.

Let’s take a look at some of the burgeoning roster battles on offense that will become the key storylines come July and August during the Atlanta Falcons training camp.

Quarterback

The main issue for this position is the backup spot behind starter Matt Ryan. Dominique Davis is the front-runner given his experience, but is far from proven. Davis struggled last preseason, but so did his biggest competition in 2013 seventh-round pick Sean Renfree. Renfree has the draft status backing him up, which means the Falcons have a vested interest in developing him. But he’ll need to prove he can stay healthy, something that has been exceedingly difficult for him the past few years, and also improve his play on the field.

Undrafted free agent Jeff Mathews will also be in the mix, possessing good size and a strong arm that could impress enough to be a serious contender for the job. Normally, Mathews would be competing solely for a spot on the practice squad, but there are so many question marks at the position that if he comes out strong this summer, he could potentially win the No. 2 job behind Ryan.

This is a position that if the performances aren’t up to par, the Falcons may look elsewhere for help as they did two years ago by signing Luke McCown before the start of the regular season.

Running Back

The top of the Falcons depth chart is pretty settled with Steven Jackson as the starter and Jacquizz Rodgers serving as the team’s third-down back. The key issue is whether or not rookie Devonta Freeman can perform well enough to steal significant reps from either player once the regular season begins.

Antone Smith’s special teams ability alone likely will net him a roster spot. Smith has always been productive during the preseason on offense as well, which is why he’s lasted five summers in Atlanta. That leaves the question of whether Josh Vaughan or Jerome Smith can perform well enough to take another spot. The odds are against both as the team is unlikely to carry a fifth back in Vaughan on the roster due to the addition of Freeman, and Smith is likely competing for a practice squad spot even if he has a strong summer.

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Draft Needs: Do the Falcons Need to Draft a Fullback?

April 28th, 2014 Comments off

When the Atlanta Falcons opted to release the oft-injured Bradie Ewing this offseason, it certainly created a void at the fullback position. That void is currently filled by Patrick DiMarco, who was serviceable in the absence of Ewing last season. But is DiMarco capable of filling that void in 2014 and beyond?

The Falcons certainly will add fullbacks to bolster competition in camp, but the question remains whether they will draft one.

I’ve outlined in the past why drafting fullbacks has garnered little value for NFL teams over the years. My research shows that drafting a fullback adds marginal value over signing one as an undrafted free agent.

Could the team afford to wait until after the draft before addressing the position? The research says it would be prudent. But it’s understandable that given so many picks the team would be hard-pressed to not address a vacancy at fullback with one of them.

But whether or not the Falcons feel compelled to add that player could depend on whether they address another position early in the draft: tight end.

The team certainly has a need at tight end, and if they are successful in using a high pick on the position, that player is going to be expected to play quite a bit as a rookie. Thus it would appear the Falcons could transition to using more two tight end sets with a rookie and Levine Toilolo. That transition would deemphasize the fullback’s role in the offense, and thus make it a little less necessary to draft one later.

Categories: Draft Central Tags: , , ,

Why NFL Teams Are Dumb to Draft Fullbacks

April 15th, 2014 Comments off

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The “failure” of Bradie Ewing should be a lesson for the Falcons

It’s been for some time that I’ve held the belief that NFL teams are foolish to use draft picks on fullbacks. That’s largely because it’s a dying position in the NFL and teams are better served trying to draft a player that has a much greater chance of adding value to the roster.

That doesn’t mean that fullbacks lack value, but there is little evidence that teams gain additional value by using a draft pick on the position as opposed to waiting until signing a player in undrafted free agency or off the street.

The Atlanta Falcons have been a good example of this in recent years, utilizing a fifth-round pick on Bradie Ewing in 2012. Ewing was drafted the year after the team was forced to play Mike Cox at the position following a season-ending injury to long-time lead blocker Ovie Mughelli in 2011. Cox performed ably, although he was a far cry from a fully healthy Mughelli. But the Falcons decided that they wanted to utilize a pick on Ewing the following spring, and it did not pay off for them.

Ewing missed his rookie season with an injury, and the team was forced to go with Cox for another year. He did a solid job, but the team decided to part ways with him again to give Ewing another shot. But Ewing had another injury-riddled season in 2013, and the team brought in Patrick DiMarco to replace him. Like Cox, DiMarco filled in ably for the Falcons.

Now the Falcons are potentially in the same position in 2014 to try and address their fullback position in the draft. With ten picks slated for the team in 2014, it would seem the odds are pretty good that one of them will be a lead blocker given that DiMarco is the only player on the roster.

So I’m writing this as a warning to the team. Don’t do it! Don’t draft a fullback!

Read more…

Categories: Draft Central Tags: , , , ,

Team Needs: Fullback Has Diminished Value

January 30th, 2014 Comments off

The role of the fullback in the Atlanta Falcons offense has diminished over the years. But even in that diminished role, there are still unanswered questions that need to be solved in 2014.

Bradie Ewing has had two injury-riddled seasons in his brief NFL career. After missing his entire rookie season in 2012 with a knee injury, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the team’s second game of 2013. Ewing needs to show that he can come back strong and make it through an entire season healthy. If he can, then he’ll answer one of two question marks surrounding him: durability.

The other question centers on just how good a player Ewing can be. He showed some promise this past summer in the preseason before being injured. But in his absence over the past two years, the Falcons have gotten decent production at fullback from Mike Cox in 2012 and again Patrick DiMarco this past season. Ewing, being a fifth round draft choice, needs to prove not only that he can stay healthy but also that he can be an upgrade over either player.

Otherwise, it is indicative of the diminished value this position has taken over the years. As noted previously in discussion of the team’s need at running back, the Falcons may be looking to beef up their ground game in future years. And this season will be pivotal for Ewing to showcase he’s capable of helping them in that regard. If not, then the team will need to start looking elsewhere in 2015.

Because the team is likely going to give Ewing the opportunity to prove he’s capable of filling that niche, it is unlikely that the Falcons will make any major additions to the roster at this position. With DiMarco also still under contract, the team has a viable option in case Ewing struggles or re-injures himself. Outside adding an undrafted free agent or two that can compete in training camp and push DiMarco for the reserve spot, it’s doubtful the Falcons pay serious attention to this position. Also, the presence of Jason Snelling on the roster gives them added depth. However, Snelling’s status may be up in the air for 2014 and thus the Falcons could lose a versatile backup if they choose to make him a cap casualty this spring.

Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Moneyball 2013 – Week 9 Review

November 5th, 2013 Comments off

Upon further review, Matt Ryan was not as bad as I initially thought.

Obviously, he had the three interceptions and those were not good plays for the Falcons. Two of them were definitely his fault. But one of them I can’t get too mad over. The first interception was on Ryan. He stared down Tony Gonzalez, who tried a double move against Luke Kuechly. Kuechly didn’t bite and Ryan threw it right at him. Because Ryan staring down Gonzalez, the safety left Patrick DiMarco wide open down the sideline. The other interception that was obviously Ryan’s fault was the final one where he tried to throw a quick curl to Drew Davis at the end of the game. The corner read the play the whole way and jumped it.

But I don’t really blame Ryan on the second interception. He could have made a better throw, but it was a good read and a nice anticipatory throw where he threw to a spot. The problem was Harry Douglas was a half-step slow in getting to that spot. Sure, there were a lot of blue jerseys in the vicinity of the throw, but really none of them were in a position to make a play on the throw. The fact that Quintin Mikell was able to get his hand on the throw was sheer luck, more the result of a desperation swipe than because he was in position. Looking back on the play, I have little to no doubt that had that been Roddy White or Julio Jones, they would have caught the ball.

But all that said, it doesn’t mean Ryan played well. I thought he was very tentative in the early going of the game, looking for the checkdown a bit too quickly. On the first third down of the game, he checked down to Steven Jackson, when I think he could have converted on a first down to Douglas. On the opening play of the third possession, he didn’t even look downfield for a throw, just immediately decided to throw to Jacquizz Rodgers in the flat (ultimately for a 1-yard gain). He could have potentially had Douglas on that play on a downfield throw. Also, on the 32-yard pass he threw to Douglas in the third quarter, he under threw him on the out-and-up. It could have been a much bigger gain with better ball placement throwing over Douglas’ outside shoulder.

Other than that play and the 16-yard throw Ryan made over the middle to Douglas that turned in a 41-yard gain thanks to his ability after the catch, I didn’t really see the Falcons try to go deep at all. That was very disappointing after the things I saw last week.

I’m sure you’re noticing how on these missed opportunities, the receiver I’m mentioning is Douglas, and not Davis or Darius Johnson. Well, the obvious reason for that is because neither player really got open. I don’t quite understand why those two receivers are getting so many snaps, while Levine Toilolo is in the single digits. I understand that the playbook that Dirk Koetter developed upon his arrival in Atlanta was going to feature a lot more 3-wide receiver sets due to the presences of White, Jones, and Douglas, alongside Gonzalez. But Jones and White are not playing, and the Falcons need to utilize more two tight end sets. Toilolo is poised to be the incumbent to start at tight end next year, and the Falcons need to find out what they have in him. The Falcons have a fairly good idea what they have in Davis and Johnson: special teamers. But even still, they aren’t in a position where they are going to be logging significant reps anytime soon once this season is over. I know Koetter used to utilize a lot of two-tight end sets during his days at Arizona State, so it’s not like it’s a foreign concept to him. Toilolo played 10 snaps on Sunday, after a combined 15 the two previous weeks. It should be noted that in Jacksonville under Koetter, the No. 2 tight end averaged roughly 20 snaps a game. It makes no sense for Toilolo to be spending so much time on the bench as it’s hurting this team both short-term and long-term.

The offensive line played pretty well. Sam Baker had a solid game in his first back in the lineup. He gave up a hurry on the final drive, but otherwise had a solid game. Lamar Holmes gave up his sack and pressure in the fourth quarter, both to Charles Johnson. You have to give both tackles credit for holding up fairly well against Johnson and Greg Hardy. The interior struggled to block Star Lotulelei one-on-one in the run game, but at times neutralized him with double teams.

I have to give Patrick DiMarco credit, he absolutely destroyed Luke Kuechly on the first play of the fourth quarter. It ultimately was only a one-yard gain by Rodgers on the sweep because he cut it up early, and Peter Konz didn’t maintain his block on Colin Cole. But DiMarco knocked Kuechly silly and that is probably going to be the highlight of his season. Reminded me of Ovie Mughelli in his heyday.

I credited Douglas with the illegal formation that was attributed to Holmes. Douglas wasn’t on the line of scrimmage, while Holmes was.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Steven Jackson$0$8$2$0$0$0$10.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$6$0$0$0$6.00
Matt Ryan$6$0$0$0$0$0$6.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$4$0$0-$1$3.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0$3$0-$1$2.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$2$1$0$0-$2$1.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Patrick DiMarco$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Darius Johnson$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Lamar Holmes$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00

Read more…

Falcons sign Gaither and Chaney; promote DiMarco

September 17th, 2013 Comments off
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Omar Gaither

The Falcons announced the signings of free agent linebackers Omar Gaither and Jamar Chaney to the roster today. The team also officially announced the previously reported signing of linebacker Chase Thomas to the practice squad, as he will replace fullback Patrick DiMarco, who was promoted to the active roster.

Gaither and Chaney are both former Philadelphia Eagles, having both played for the team in 2010. After that season, Gaither signed with the Carolina Panthers to help replace Thomas Davis at outside linebacker. In 2012, he was signed mid-season by the Oakland Raiders to replace injured middle linebacker Travis Goethel. Over the course of his career, Gaither has started 44 career games at all three linebacker positions, most of which came during his days in Philadelphia. Originally a fifth round draft pick out of Tennessee for the Eagles in 2006, he started the final five games of his rookie season at weakside linebacker. He moved to middle linebacker in 2007, where he started every game and put up a career-high 102 tackles. In 2008, he moved back to the weakside, starting 10 games. Over the next two seasons, he started a total of five games as a reserve middle linebacker behind Stewart Bradley before Chaney’s emergence late in 2010 helped pushed him out the door. Gaither was cut by the Raiders this past summer. Last season with the Raiders, he totaled 14 tackles in seven appearances at middle linebacker.

Chaney was a seventh round pick by the Eagles in 2010. He started the final two games of his rookie season at middle linebacker as a replacement for Bradley. He started every game the following year, logging 92 tackles and 3 interceptions. He moved to weakside linebacker in 2012, where he started five games, mainly as a replacement for an injured Akeem Jordan. He finished the year with 24 tackles. He was cut by the Eagles this past summer.

Both players add much-needed depth at the linebacker position where weakside starter Sean Weatherspoon was placed on short-term injured reserve earlier today. The team also lost defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann for the year due to a torn Achilles, giving the team only four healthy linebackers on their active roster.

DiMarco will help fill the void left by injured fullback Bradie Ewing, who is also out for the year with a separated shoulder. DiMarco started for the Falcons at fullback in the first two preseason contests this summer in replacement of an injured Ewing.

Biermann, Ewing out for the season

September 16th, 2013 Comments off

Icon Sports Media, Inc.

Kroy Biermann

Falcons head coach Mike Smith announced in his press conference today that defensive end Kroy Biermann and fullback Bradie Ewing will be placed on injured reserve and are out for the year. Biermann suffered a torn Achilles tendon while Ewing separated his left shoulder during the first half of Atlanta’s win over the St. Louis Rams yesterday.

Biermann has served as the team’s starting left defensive end, but has also earned reps at strongside linebacker. His versatility has been a boon to the Falcons defense under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan the past two years. Biermann suffered his injury while pressuring Sam Bradford in yesterday’s game, but had got his foot caught under him when an opponent fell on top of him. Through one and a half games, Biermann had tallied seven tackles, second-most among defensive linemen behind Corey Peters’ eight tackles. It is likely that Jonathan Massaquoi will be asked to fill some of Biermann’s pass rushing duties, although he’s as of yet unproven in terms of his ability to drop in coverage and play linebacker as Biermann has. It will also potentially mean more snaps for linebackers Joplo Bartu and Stephen Nicholas, who currently are the team’s top candidates for the strongside position.

Ewing was a fifth round choice of the Falcons in 2012. He was lost during the opening series of his first preseason action that summer, tearing his ACL and missing that year. He came back this summer and while he missed early work due to an injury, he returned and played well. Ewing suffered his injury at the end of the play after catching a 14 yard pass from Matt Ryan. In his debut against the New Orleans Saints last week, he had a single catch for 15 yards.

It is likely the team will promote practice squad player Patrick DiMarco to the roster and platoon him with Jason Snelling at fullback. Snelling filled in for Ewing after he was lost on the opening series of the Rams game. DiMarco filled in for Ewing this summer while he was out with an injury.