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Falcons to add dime to the mix

August 8th, 2013 Comments off
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Dominique Franks

One of the more interesting developments I was hoping to see this year was whether or not the Falcons would incorporate more dime subpackages into their defense. The dime differs from the nickel subpackage due to the fact that it features six defensive backs rather than five. The Falcons made limited use of the dime a year ago, but at least for the preseason appear willing to experiment. Falcons head coach Mike Smith had these comments following Wednesday’s practice:

When you start talking safeties and corners, those are guys that usually contribute on all four special teams. It’ll be fun to watch those guys. I think we’ve got a number of guys that will work and you’ll see play the dime position. Again, this is what the preseason is all about. It’s about evaluating your roster.

The Falcons did make more usage of dime at the end of the regular season last year when injuries hurt their secondary, particularly with William Moore and Chris Owens out of the lineup. In that subpackage, Dominique Franks worked his way on the field, often lining up as a safety on the back-end.

In fact, the dime subpackage might represent Franks best opportunity to retain his hold on a roster spot in 2013. The expectation are that both rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will surpass him on the depth chart at cornerback, leaving him as the fifth corner. The fifth corner is often used as a special teams-only player, particularly when it comes to coverage units. The only reason why Franks was active last season on Sundays was because of his role as the team’s punt returner, but that appears to be very much in jeopardy heading into 2013.

In reality, if the Falcons do use more dime this year, it may mean greater opportunities for the loser of the battle between Trufant and Alford at right cornerback, as the Falcons will likely field four corners and two safeties in the dime.

One of the benefits of dime is potentially to help the Falcons better match up with some of the top-level tight ends they will see this year. It was a strategy the Houston Texans tried to employ to only limited success last year against the New England Patriots in 2012. While it did not work in terms of execution, the idea behind it is sound. Given that the best cover men on a defense are its corners and if a team is going to try and match up man to man against quality receivers and tight ends, it makes sense to maximize the number cornerbacks on the field as opposed to linebackers, who are notably weaker there. Given the fact that all of the Falcons linebackers struggled in coverage in 2012, and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan frankly had to throw the entire kitchen sink at Jimmy Graham to try and contain him last year, it makes sense to find a more permanent solution.

Two offenses the Falcons are set to face in 2013 that make ample use of the two-tight end set are New England and San Francisco. Given New England’s issues however, it doesn’t appear that installing a dime subpackage will need to be a priority heading into the season. But as Smith indicated it makes sense to see how things fare during the preseason where the wins and losses don’t count, and roster evaluation is the priority.

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Quizz expected to handle kickoffs again in 2013

August 8th, 2013 Comments off
Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

Jacquizz Rodgers

When probed about cornerback Robert Alford’s usage on special teams during a post-practice interview Wednesday, Falcons head coach Mike Smith indicated that the Falcons intend to use Jacquizz Rodgers as their primary kickoff returner this year:

We’ve got some competition [at the returner positions] as well. We think Jacquizz Rodgers will be the guy that will probably will return kickoffs during the regular season but we’ve got some other guys we want to take a look at as well.

Although previously speculated that Rodgers could potentially give way to one of the rookies as the team’s kickoff returner, the Falcons appear content for Quizz to continue in that role. With the expectation that his workload on offense will be lightened from a year ago, Rodgers may be in a better position in 2013 to produce there.

I’ve previously discussed the notion that Alford might be the Falcons best alternative option. Quizz’s brother James also was extensively worked on kickoffs last summer and likely should get opportunities again this summer in the preseason. It’s also been mentioned that Dominique Franks will also be in the mix for the kickoff gig. However it will appear the brunt of the competition for the return gigs will come at punt returner, where the Falcons appear to be actively trying to replace Franks, who struggled in that role a year ago.

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Camp Battles 2013: Special Teams

July 23rd, 2013 1 comment

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Alford could man both return spots this year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camp Battles 2013: Cornerback

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

Dominique Franks is on the bubble

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

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

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

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

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 32 “They’re Gonna Run It Up the Middle!”

July 17th, 2013 5 comments

Allen and I are joined this week by Matt Chambers of Grits Blitz blog to discuss the NFC South in depth. We discuss each of the Falcons three NFC South opponents: New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and Carolina and what are our expectations for each team in 2013, and whether or not they will present a significant challenge to the Falcons in their bid for a title this year. Discussions also veer towards the competition at cornerback and whether Dominique Franks should be written off … How much confidence folks should have in the Falcons offensive line, including Sam Baker and Mike Johnson … Matt Bryant and the Falcons kickers of the recent past … What interviewing Michael Vick might be like … Chris Weinke, Pierre Thomas, and a host of other past Falcon killers. WARNING: This episode contains some EXPLICIT language.

Ep. 32: They’re Gonna Run It Up the Middle! [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 11 minutes

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

Matt Chambers can be found on twitter: @FalconsM5, and also writes for Grits Blitz blog.

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

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

OTAs: Day 7 Report

June 12th, 2013 Comments off

The media once again had access to the first of four days of the Falcons third and final offseason team activities. The Falcons will have a mandatory minicamp starting next week on June 18:

  • As mentioned earlier, Desmond Trufant returned to practice today. He and fellow rookie Robert Alford were able to get extra reps due to the excused absence of veteran cornerback Asante Samuel today. Trufant at left corner, Alford at right, and both Robert McClain and Dominique Franks manning the slot. Matt Ryan was impressed with the Falcons top pick.
  • Speaking of Ryan isn’t too concerned over his looming contract status.

    You know what, I leave that to my agents and the front office. Those guys will get that stuff done.

  • Absent at today’s session were Samuel, as mentioned previously, Tony Gonzalez, and Levine Toilolo. Toilolo is expected to join the team tomorrow. Meanwhile, Chase Coffman stepped in for Gonzalez at tight end with the Falcons starters. Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas still look to be on schedule to return for next week’s minicamps.
  • Steven Jackson has improved his diet to try and defeat Father Time. Sounds like his plans are to be a “finisher” for the Falcons with most of his work on the ground coming in the fourth quarter. He’s focused on getting on the same page with Ryan in the passing game for the no-huddle offense earlier in games.
  • Matt Ryan seems to admit the offensive line is a work in progress, but that strides are being made. And it looks like they might be incorporating more tempo which I suggested the other day.

 

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 27 “2013 Draft Recap”

May 11th, 2013 Comments off

On this episode, Allen and I recap the 2013 Draft. We detail what we liked and didn’t like about the Falcons picks, as well as looking around the league at other teams’ picks. You’ll also hear Allen’s insights and recap of his experience at Radio City Music Hall on the opening night of the draft. Dominique Franks’ roster status as well as John Abraham’s chances of returning to the team are also discussed. Robert James earns a new nickname: “Cancer” in this episode, and of course we can’t go an episode without our obligatory Peria Jerry and Ray Edwards bashing.

Ep. 27: 2013 Draft Recap [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 16 minutes

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

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. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

 

Takeaways from Last Week – May 6

May 6th, 2013 Comments off
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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.

Read more…

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 26 “IHateDuntaRobinson.com”

March 30th, 2013 Comments off

On this week’s episode, I am joined by Allen Strk and Tom Melton to recap the Falcons free agent moves as well as look forward to what the team could do in April’s draft. You’ll hear our thoughts on the acquisitions of Osi Umenyiora and Steven Jackson, as well as the team re-signing players like Sam Baker and William Moore. You’ll also hear our opinions on what are the chances that Brent Grimes and John Abraham suit up for the team in 2013. As we venture into the draft, you’ll hear opinions on whether the Falcons should prioritize improving the pass rush or their coverage on the back-end. You’re hear opinions on a couple of first round targets such as Datone Jones, Desmond Trufant, and Johnthan Banks. The conversation then returns back to the Falcons, and whether players like Tyson Clabo, Jonathan Babineaux, and Stephen Nicholas’s days as Falcons might be numbered. We debate whether Peria Jerry or Jamaal Anderson proved to be a better pick. Thoughts about what options the Falcons may have at improving their linebacker and wide receiver play will also be discussed. We pine over the memories of Eric Weems, and shed no tears for the departed Dunta Robinson.

Ep. 26: IHateDuntaRobinson.com [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 14 minutes

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

Tom Melton writes for his own blog at Tom Melton Scouting, as well as NFL Draft Monsters and the newly formed DraftFalcons.com. You can find him on twitter: @TMeltonScouting

 

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. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt