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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.

Falcons Needs: Wide Receiver

February 1st, 2013 Comments off

The quarterback, running back, and fullback positions have already been discussed, making it time to move on to the second to last of the offensive skill positions: wide receiver. It would be a tough argument to suggest that the Falcons don’t feature the league’s premier pair of wide receivers in Julio Jones and Roddy White. Both players are coming off spectacular 2012 seasons and both are under contract at least through the 2014 season. So it’s conceivable that the Falcons can boast the premier duo for at least two more seasons.

But the Falcons depth at wide receiver is questionable and may need to be addressed. The team re-signed Harry Douglas last off-season to a four-year deal. While Douglas is a capable reserve that will make plays from time to time, he’s not the caliber of receiver that is a consistent option from week to week. Douglas fills his particularly niche ably, but he doesn’t really possess a skillset that extends outside the niche. That niche consists mainly of a slot receiver that does his best work on the short and intermediate routes. When Douglas is asked to go vertical or play on the outside, he essentially becomes a fairly middling option for the team. It would behoove the Falcons to find a player that is complementary to Douglas that does fit that outside/vertical mold. Such a player could allow the Falcons to make more use of either Jones or White in the slot, something that has proven effective over the past two years. And in the event of an injury to either starter it would still give the team a good explosive option downfield that will prevent the team from resorting to the dink and dunk style that has limited them in the past. Not to mention the likely departure of Tony Gonzalez also means that the Falcons may have to rely on multiple options to fill that void.

The Falcons could opt to find this player in free agency or the draft. Neither avenue seems to be a better option than the other. Free agency probably will cost a bit more, but you certainly are getting a more proven commodity that can contribute immediately. If the Falcons opt to draft someone, the value there is the potential that cheaper player can potentially develop into a starter in 2015 or beyond. Roddy White will be 33 when his contract expires at the end of 2014, and typically receivers of his caliber can produce as starters up to around age 35 or 36. So while he may still have something left in the tank, by 2015 one can expect to see diminishing returns. Thus it behooves the Falcons that if possible, they can start to groom his eventual replacement sooner rather than later. Another benefit of signing a free agent is the potential that player could challenge or surpass Douglas on the depth chart and thus represent a clear and immediate upgrade to the spot. On the other hand with a rookie, you run the risk that the player makes little to no contribution in his first year, and the possibility that he never does.

Kevin Cone, Drew Davis, and Kerry Meier all will also be in camp next summer as all three are signed through 2013. All three players have flashed ability to provide depth for the team, but not to a degree that suggests any are ready to be significant options in the Falcons passing game next year. All three players’ primary value to the Falcons is on special teams, but again due to the potential departure of Gonzalez, there is room for guys to start contributing offensively. Cone possesses a skillset that probably best fits what the Falcons might be looking for in a fourth option due to his size and vertical speed, but he has struggled with consistency and catching the ball in his short time in Atlanta. Davis possesses good quickness suggesting his potential may lie in the slot, but he is still unpolished. Meier is a big target with good hands, but has marginal speed and quickness to suggest he poses much of a threat to NFL defenses. James Rodgers, Tim Toone, and Marcus Jackson will also be in camp next year. And while they have developmental potential, the Falcons probably can’t expect to get anything more out of them that they didn’t get out of Cone, Davis, or Meier this past year.

Now, I doubt this position will be a high priority for the Falcons. They may not consider it a need at all. They certainly did not a year ago. Last year, they brought 11 receivers to training camp, and currently 9 wideouts are under contract for the team. They may just bet that between the half dozen guys not named Sharod, Harold, and Quintorris, competition will be enough to get more from this position group. Personally, I’m not sure if that’s a good bet.

Smitty makes right call in ‘playing to win’

December 25th, 2012 Comments off

Jay Adams of Atlanta Falcons.com wrote on Sunday about Falcons head coach Mike Smith’s comments following Saturday night’s win against the Detroit Lions. In those comments, Smith talked about the Falcons intention to “play to win” in their Week 17 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Smith said:

“We’re going to play the game to win. That’s how we’re going to approach it. It’s an important game because it’s a division game. All games, I think, are important. In terms of the importance of it, does it have no bearing? It really does, because we want to win every time we go out and play.”

The Falcons have already locked up the NFC’s top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and thus the result of next Sunday’s season finale is relatively meaningless. Leading many to think the Falcons should rest their starters in order to keep them healthy for their upcoming playoff game in two weeks. The Falcons receive a first-round bye, giving them an extra week of rest. That two-week lay-off certainly will be beneficial to get some players healthy, such as safety William Moore who has missed the past three games with a hamstring injury. It also should give players like wideout Roddy White, who has had a lingering knee injury in recent weeks, a greater chance to get closer to 100% health before the playoffs.

While Smith’s comments don’t mean that some key players could still wind up sitting out or playing limited reps, it does mean that the Falcons won’t be treating this as nothing more than a preseason game. The Falcons will be smart to reduce the reps of some key players, and give some of the younger guys more opportunities to show their skills. For example, White has played over 90% of the team’s offensive snaps most weeks. Even with a bum knee, he played in 50 of the team’s 57 snaps against the Lions (88%) per Pro Football Focus. That won’t be necessary this week. The Falcons should be a bit more willing to rotate Drew Davis into the lineup and maybe White only needs to play 35 or so snaps. That certainly would give the Falcons an opportunity to win the game, but also lower the risk that White aggravates that knee injury.

In 2010, when the Falcons similarly had a first round bye and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, they squared off against the Carolina Panthers in the season finale. The Falcons built a 31-3 lead before pulling many of the starters at the outset of the fourth quarter. It seems likely that will be the goal for the Falcons this week. Unfortunately, the Falcons won’t be facing 2-13 Panthers team led by Jimmy Clausen this year. Instead they will be facing a 6-9 Buccaneers team that is coached by Greg Schiano. A year ago the Falcons faced a 4-11 Buccaneers team that had quit on then-coach Raheem Morris, resulting in 45-24 beatdown. That likely won’t be the case with Schiano, who wants his players to blitz on kneel-downs because he believes going all-out for four quarters.

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Moneyball 2012 – Week 8 Review

October 31st, 2012 Comments off

Initially from watching the game live, I was very impressed with the Falcons performance. Upon review, I still came away impressed but cannot dismiss that the Eagles did not play well in this game. Most of the positives come on the offensive side of the ball.

Matt Ryan had a strong game. The running game had its moments and you could certainly argue this was the most complete game the offense has played this year. Turner had one of his better performances and Quizz also ran what might be the best game of his career. The blocking was just OK in this game. Relative to recent games, the pass protection held up well. There were some holes in this game, but It was inconsistent. But probably less inconsistent than it has normally been this year.

Sam Baker usually gets destroyed by Trent Cole so only giving up two pressures is relatively a strong performance for him. Clabo continued to have his issues, but had his share of moments as a run blocker. Watching live, I thought Konz played well. Upon further review, I might hold off on that. He did have his moments particularly as a run blocker, but there were two many missed blocks and he had some struggles in pass protection. He had 2 hurries and a pressure on plays that we’re wiped out by penalties. I think he definitely flashed his potential in this game, but still needs to work out the kinks. Reynolds at this point might be more consistent/reliable, but I don’t think he has the upside of Konz, particularly in the ground game. It seemed that Konz had many of his issues trying to block linebackers in the run game, and also struggled versus stunts.

Speaking of blocking, my hat goes off to DJ Davis and Roddy White for their efforts there. Davis had an impressive debut, standing out as a blocker. Both of his catches came when he was wide open thanks to Eagle defenders focusing on the Falcons’ other playmakers, but he did make a nice catch on the TD since it was not a particularly well-thrown ball. Roddy has been an underwhelming blocker so far this year, as I’ve noticed several times this year where he misses an assignment that could have potentially sprung a runner for a big gain. But that was not the case on Sunday.

Julio was very impressive, as his two big plays were a welcome addition to the offense. He absolutely roasted Nnamdi on the touchdown, and if not for an excellent tackle by Kurt Coleman, could have potentially scored on the 37-yard screen pass. The Eagles really had a hard time defending the Falcons screens as well as the shovel passes to Snelling, which essentially doubled as running plays.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$15$3$0$0$0$0$18.00
Julio Jones$0$1$10$0$0-$1$10.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$7$1$0$0$0$8.00
Michael Turner$0$7$1$0$0-$1$7.00
D.J. Davis$0$0$4$2$0$0$6.00
Roddy White$0$0$3$2$0$0$5.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Jason Snelling$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$2$0-$1$1.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0-$2$0$0-$2.00

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Falcons streak past Eagles

October 28th, 2012 1 comment
Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Jones runs by defenders for TD

The Falcons extend their record to 7-0 with a 30-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Falcons built an early lead, and pretty much were on cruise control for most of the day as the Eagles struggled to find a rhythm and made a lot of mental errors. Mike Smith pushes his post-bye record to 4-1, and gets revenge for his lone loss suffered against the Eagles in 2008. This win also snaps the Eagles post-bye win streak of 13 games under Andy Reid. Mike Smith has now won 50 games with the Falcons, making him the winningest coach in franchise history, passing Dan Reeves (1997-2003) with 49 wins.

Matt Ryan had another brilliant performance, completing 22 of 29 passes for 262 yards and 3 touchdowns. On the ground, Jacquizz Rodgers led rushers with 60 yards on 8 carries, including a 43-yard run late in the game. Michael Turner added 58 yards on 24 carries. Julio Jones and Rodgers tied for the team lead with 5 receptions each. Jones had 123 yards and a score, while Rodgers contributed 20 yards in the passing game. Roddy White (3 catches, 38 yards), Tony Gonzalez (3 catches, 29 yards), and Jason Snelling (3 catches, 16 yards, 1 touchdown) also made contributions. D.J. Davis caught his first two passes of his NFL career for 30 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown to start the game for the Falcons. Matt Bryant connected on 3 field goal tries of 43, 29, and 30 yards. Matt Bosher was forced to punt only once, not coming until the fourth quarter which went for 52 yards. He had another punt attempt blocked. Rodgers returned a pair of kickoffs for a total of 30 yards, while Dominique Franks had a single punt return for 11 yards.

Defensively, the Falcons limited the Eagles to only 256 yards of total offense and were able to get to Michael Vick 3 times. Thomas DeCoud led defenders with 9 tackles, and he also recorded one of those sacks. John Abraham (3 tackles, 1 sack); Kroy Biermann (7 tackles, 1 sack); Robert McClain (6 tackles); William Moore (3 tackles, 1 forced fumble); Stephen Nicholas (5 tackles); Chris Owens (2 tackles); Dunta Robinson (2 tackles); and Sean Weatherspoon (6 tackles) all had noteworthy games.

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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.

Falcons cut 19 to get down to the roster

August 31st, 2012 Comments off
Alan Maglaque-US PRESSWIRE

Dominique Franks, among surprise cuts

The Falcons announced the cuts made today to get their roster down to 53 players. The team released 22 players including running back Dimitri Nance; fullback Mike Cox; wide receivers D.J. Davis, Marcus Jackson, and James Rodgers; offensive linemen Bryce Harris and Tyler Horn; defensive tackles Conrad Obi and Micanor Regis; linebackers Spencer Adkins, Rico Council, Jerrell Harris, and Pat Schiller; cornerbacks Dominique Franks, Marty Markett, and Peyton Thompson; safety Suaesi Tuimaunei; and long snapper Joe Zelenka.  The team also reached injury settlements with tight end LaMark Brown and guard Andrew Jackson, while waiving-injured wide receiver Kerry Meier, and placing safety Shann Schillinger on injured reserve.

Among the cuts, notable ones include Cox, Adkins, Franks, and Zelenka played with the team last season. Cox lost the battle to fullback Lousaka Polite, who was signed three weeks ago for the battle for the starting fullback position. Cox joined the team last October after the injury to Ovie Mughelli. Adkins was a sixth round pick of the Falcons in 2009 that had his best season a year ago, starting 1 game and recording 5 tackles as a reserve linebacker. Franks started 4 games last year at cornerback as a replacement for Brent Grimes, and was considered a front-runner for taking over the punt return duties this year. Franks was originally a fifth round pick in 2010. Zelenka has been the Falcons since 2009, but lost the long snapping job to undrafted rookie Josh Harris.

With these moves, several players made the Falcons roster for the first time. Five of the team’s six draft picks made the final roster, with the sixth player: Bradie Ewing already on injured reserve. Harris joined quarterback Dominique Davis and guard Phillip Manley as one of three undrafted free agents that made the team. Quarterback Luke McCown, signed earlier this week is also a newcomer to the roster. Wide receivers Kevin Cone and Tim Toone also made the team as reserves. Cone spent last year on the Falcons practice squad, but Toone was added earlier this month in camp. Alongside Cone, tight end Tommy Gallarda was able to elevate himself from a practice squad spot last year to a full roster position this year. Free agent pickups in cornerback Asante Samuel, safety Chris Hope, and cornerback Robert McClain are also first time Falcons.

Falcons add eight for next year

January 9th, 2012 Comments off

The team announced the signing of six players off their practice squad to future contracts today. Those players include wide receiver Drew “D.J.” Davis, tight ends Tommy Gallarda and Ryan Winterswyk, offensive tackle Kyle Jolly, and safeties Matt Hansen and Suaesi Tuimaunei. That follows up two moves the team made last week with signing a pair of long snappers: Corey Adams and Scott Albritton.

Davis, Winterswyk, Hansen, and Tuimaunei were all undrafted free agents signed with the team this summer. Davis spent the entire year on the team’s practice squad. Winterswyk was added in November after the team released him with an injury settlement at the end of training camp. Tuimaunei was added in October, and Hansen just before the final week of the season. Gallarda was an undrafted free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and was picked up by the Falcons on their practice squad in September. He was cut at the end of November, but then re-signed to the practice squad prior to the final game of the season.

Adams was an undrafted free agent out of Kansas State that signed with the Dallas Cowboys this past summer, before being cut at the end of camp. Albritton was an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State for the Houston Texans this past summer, but was cut at the end of camp. He spent two days on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster after Week 1, but was released before he could play in a game.

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