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Falcons 2014 Training Camp: Day 6 Report

August 1st, 2014 No comments
From AtlantaFalcons.com

Prince Shembo. From AtlantaFalcons.com

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

The Falcons got Wednesday off and appeared eager to get back into the action yesterday on Thursday. The team donned pads for the third consecutive practice.

Reid Ferrin gives us five things to take away from Thursday, including coaches praising the likes of linebacker Prince Shembo, cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford and addressing what is the biggest story of the day in that defensive tackle Peria Jerry retired from football. Jerry is the second Falcon player to hang up his cleats this summer.

The AJC provides video of head coach Mike Smith’s post-practice media session, as well as several seconds of live practice.

Julio Jones has received new, custom-made cleats from Under Armour.

Other news to emerge was that the Falcons might not be quite done with adding depth at inside linebacker. According to ESPN’s Vaughn McClure, Nick Barnett is still on the Falcons radar. Barnett worked out for the Falcons in June along with Tim Dobbins and Jonathan Vilma. The Falcons wound up signing Dobbins, but then added Pat Angerer earlier this month to shore up inside linebacker depth.

Speaking of Angerer, there is an update to the injury he suffered on Tuesday. That report also discusses the extent of rookie safety Dezmen Southward’s injury as well. In Southward’s absence, Sean Baker stepped up onto the second unit alongside Kemal Ishmael to man the safety positions.

Report: Falcons In Talks with Free Agent LB Will Witherspoon

July 4th, 2014 Comments off
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Will Witherspoon

Apparently the Atlanta Falcons’ interest in a veteran linebacker was not satisfied with the recent signing of free agent Tim Dobbins, as a report from WHJG, an NBC affiliate in Panama City, Florida, indicates that free agent linebacker Will Witherspoon has been in talks with the Falcons as well as the St. Louis Rams about playing another year of football.

Witherspoon, who will turn 34 in August, is a 13-year NFL veteran that spent last season with the Rams. Originally drafted out of Georgia by the Carolina Panthers in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft, Witherspoon spent four years with the Panthers before his first stint with the Rams (2006-09). He was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2009 season and then signed as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans the following spring. He spent three years with the Titans before re-joining the Rams again last summer.

Witherspoon has started 153 of 189 career appearances, and recorded 26 sacks and 14 interceptions over his 13-year career. Last season with the Rams, he began the season as their starting strongside linebacker while incumbent Jo-lonn Dunbar served out a four-game suspension. Witherspoon started three games with the Rams in 2013, recording 12 tackles and an interception.

It is unknown if the Falcons interest in Witherspoon remains or was concurrent with their interest in Dobbins and veterans Jonathan Vilma and Nick Barnett in June. The team was looking for depth to replace injured linebacker Sean Weatherspoon at the time, and opted to sign Dobbins.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 69 “Legion of Zoom”

June 27th, 2014 Comments off

logoAllen and I are joined by third wheel Rashad James to discuss all the big news from the month of June surrounding the Atlanta Falcons, including the injury to Sean Weatherspoon, pickups of Tim Dobbins and T.J. Yates, and their future appearance on HBO series’ Hard Knocks. Other topics include: Brandon Flowers, Matt Ryan, Harry Douglas, D-Block, NFL Top 100 players, San Diego Chargers fanhood, the best wide receiver duo in the league and the Miami Heat.

Episode 69 – Legion of Zoom [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 9 minutes

Allen covers the Falcons for Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Rashad can be found on twitter with the handle: @100K_Jay.

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! For Android users, DoubleTwist is a good app to listen as well. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Falcons Swap Dent for Yates; Sign LB Tim Dobbins

June 19th, 2014 Comments off
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Yates

The Atlanta Falcons announced late on Wednesday night that they had acquired Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates via trade and signed free agent linebacker Tim Dobbins. The Falcons sent linebacker Akeem Dent to the Texans in exchange for Yates.

On Tuesday, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Texans had made the decision to waive Yates, but the transaction would not become official until today. That would mean that Yates would be open to waivers. Given the Falcons’ poor record in 2013, they had high waiver priority but per a report by Pro Football Talk, the team wanted to be sure they got Yates. Negotiations went later into Wednesday, prompting the Texans to delay their official waiving of Yates and the late announcement of the move.

Yates was a fifth-round pick of the Texans in 2011. He started the final five games of the regular season as a rookie for an injured Matt Schaub and posted a 2-3 record. He also started in the Texans first-round playoff win over the Cincinnati Bengals that year. For the season, Yates finished with 949 yards passing, completing 61.2 percent of 134 pass attempts for three touchdowns and three interceptions. The past two seasons, he has earned limited playing time in seven games, combining to pass for 151 yards, two interceptions and complete 59.4 percent of 32 attempts. Yates had fell down the depth chart, getting passed up by former undrafted rookie quarterback Case Keenum for the starting spot after Schaub’s benching and his own poor play in relief during a Week 6 loss to the St. Louis Rams.

Yates was a prospect that the Falcons showed considerable interest towards in the run-up to the 2011 NFL Draft. As a local kid out of Marietta, Georgia, Yates was a participant in the team’s local pro day that year and the team also conducted a private workout with him following watching him at his pro day. You can click here to read my scouting report on Yates as a 2011 draft prospect. Yates will be expected to push immediately for the backup position behind starter Matt Ryan. It is likely that one of the following three quarterbacks currently on the roster will not make it to training camp next month: Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree, and undrafted rookie Jeff Mathews.

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Tim Dobbins

Dent was a third-round pick by the Falcons in 2011. He played primarily on special teams as a rookie, where he led the team with 17 tackles. Dent stepped into the starting role at middle linebacker in 2012 after the departure of Curtis Lofton via free agency and struggled. He was limited to being a starter in the Falcons’ base defense and finished the year with 61 tackles and a forced fumble while starting 13 games. He began last season in the same role, but was eventually replaced by undrafted rookie Paul Worrilow by midseason. Dent added seven more starts, 46 tackles and 1.5 sacks to his career stat sheet in 2013.

Dent lost favor within the organization, evidenced when the team selected four linebackers on the third and final day of the 2014 NFL Draft. Seventh-round pick Yawin Smallwood was expected to compete with Dent for the reserve spot behind Worrilow. But with recent news that fourth-round pick Prince Shembo would also be making a move inside to bolster depth, it likely hurt Dent’s chances to make the team. However, with the recent injury to Sean Weatherspoon, Dent’s chances of sticking looked to have improved.

Dobbins, 31, has played the past three seasons with the Texans as a reserve inside linebacker in their 3-4 defense. He started six games as an injury replacement in 2012 and recorded 35 tackles, one interception and four passes defended. Dobbins led the Texans with nine tackles on special teams in 2011. Prior to joining the Texans, Dobbins played under current Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan with the Miami Dolphins in 2010. That season, Dobbins also started six games as an injury replacement and had 42 tackles, one sack and a pass defended. Prior to that, he had played four years with the San Diego Chargers before they traded him to the Dolphins in a trade during the 2010 NFL Draft. Dobbins started 10 games over his four-year stint in San Diego, and was a productive special teams performer. He was originally a fifth-round pick of the Chargers in 2006.

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Falcons Sign Southward; Add Kicker Castillo

June 12th, 2014 Comments off
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Dezmen Southward

The Atlanta Falcons announced today the signing of third-round rookie draft pick safety Dezmen Southward and also signed undrafted kicker Sergio Castillo. Southward was the lone member of the Falcons’ 2014 draft class that had yet to be signed. Castillo adds another leg in training camp after the team released undrafted punter Matt Yoklic earlier this week. Along with Yoklic, the team dumped tight end Andrew Szczerba, freeing up some roster space. The team has one spot left on their roster, which may be to sign a free-agent linebacker such as Tim Dobbins, who earlier reports indicated was working out for the team today.

Southward is expected to fill a backup role with the Falcons and is likely destined to be their free safety of the future behind starter Dwight Lowery. Southward has also been getting work as a reserve at strong safety in light of the neck injury to Zeke Motta that has him sidelined during the offseason.

Castillo is an undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M who finished his career as the NCAA’s all-time leader in points scored (437). Castillo won the Fred Mitchell Award, given to the nation’s top kicker outside of FBS play. Castillo is a two-time All-Conference player and two-time Division II All-American honoree. He also finsihed his career as the school’s all-time leader in field goals made (62). Castillo was very accreted throughout his career, connecting on 78.5 percent of his 79 career tries. He also hit on 251 of 255 extra point tries in his career (98.4 percent). As a senior, he had career-highs with 24 field goals made and 149 points scored. He also had 16 career kickoffs with a pair of touchbacks.

As a follow-up to this morning’s report about the Falcons interest in veteran free-agent linebackers, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure reported that the Falcons are working out ex-Houston Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins today. Dobbins has experience playing for Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, having played under him with the Miami Dolphins in 2010. Dobbins entered the league in 2006 and has been primarily a special teams player and reserve with 22 career starts.

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Report: Falcons ‘Looking Hard’ at Linebacker Vilma

June 12th, 2014 Comments off
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Jonathan Vilma

In a series of tweets on Wednesday evening, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport outlined the Atlanta Falcons options and plans for replacing injured linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. According to Rapoport, the Falcons will take a “hard look” at signing veteran linebacker Jonathan Vilma, formerly of the New Orleans Saints as well as considering other options in Pat Angerer and Tim Dobbins. Per Rapoport, the team is not interested in signing veterans James Harrison or London Fletcher.

Weatherspoon suffered a torn Achilles on Tuesday during practice and will miss the entire 2014 season. Weatherspoon’s loss is a significant blow to the Falcons defense as he was one of the team’s defensive leaders.

Vilma is a 10-year veteran in the NFL, first entering the league as a first-round pick of the New York Jets in 2004. Vilma only appeared in one game with the Saints a year ago ago, limited by knee injury. Vilma had an arthroscopic scope on his left knee in August, but did not play for the first eight games of the 2013 season. He played a dozen snaps in the team’s Week 9 game against the Jets before landing on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. Rapoport indicates that the Falcons would bring in Vilma for a visit if they like his medical prognosis from afar. A report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter in late May indicated that Vilma was “healthy and ready” to play this year after his knee issue.

Vilma, 32, played in 11 games in 2012 for the Saints, starting 10 of them at weak-side linebacker. He was again limited by knee injury and a league-mandated suspension due to BountyGate, but managed to recorded 37 tackles, one sack and one interception. Degenerative knee condition has plagued Vilma throughout his career, causing him to exit New York back in 2007 after being limited to just seven games that year. But he had three good years with the Saints from 2008-10 before the knee became a problem again in 2011. Vilma’s left knee has undergone surgery four times since November 2011.

Angerer, 27, himself is facing injury concerns as well, as he finished the 2013 season on injured reserve due to microfracture knee surgery. Angerer was reportedly a few months away from being able to work out for NFL teams per FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez in April.

Angerer also missed time in 2011 due to foot and knee injuries. He was limited last summer by those same foot problems, and then missed the season opener in 2013 due to a concussion. That was followed up by more knee problems, which ended his season in Week 15 with the Indianapolis Colts. Angerer finished with 63 tackles, 0.5 sacks and an interception in 11 games with nine starts. He was originally a second-round pick of the Colts in 2010, starting at both middle linebacker in their 4-3 and inside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme.

Harrison, 36, is coming off a lackluster season in Cincinnati after a very productive career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 15 games with the Bengals, he had 30 tackles, two sacks and an interception playing mostly outside linebacker. Harrison earned five trips to the Pro Bowl during the decade he played for the Steelers (2002-12), tallying 64 sacks in that span.

Fletcher, 39, was second on the Washington Redskins in tackles in 2013 with 111. He also had two sacks last year. Fletcher has had an extensive career in the NFL, playing for the Redskins (since 2007), Buffalo Bills (2002-06) and St. Louis Rams (1998-01). Fletcher is a four-time Pro Bowler that has started 239 consecutive games and appeared in 256 without missing time due to injury. He was originally an undrafted free agent out of John Carroll in 1998 with the Rams, helping them to two Super Bowl appearances.

Per Rapoport, the Falcons are also considering internal options like Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu to replace Weatherspoon, as well as fourth-round pick Prince Shembo, who Rapoport calls “impressive and versatile.” Shembo played primarily defensive end and outside linebacker at Notre Dame, but will be converted to inside linebacker with the Falcons in their hybrid 3-4 scheme.

Falcons Pick Up Tight End Bear Pascoe

May 1st, 2014 Comments off

The Atlanta Falcons announced the signing of unrestricted free agent and former New York Giants tight end Bear Pascoe. News of the Falcons interest in Pascoe broke this morning when it was reported that he was working out for the team. Terms of his contract were undisclosed. Pascoe spent the past five seasons with the Giants as a blocking tight end and fullback. For his career, Pascoe has started 32 games and caught 38 passes for 333 yards and a touchdown.

Pascoe was originally drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the sixth round of the 2009 NFL Draft, after a solid playing career at Fresno State under former Falcons offensive line coach Pat Hill. Pascoe was cut by the 49ers in his first training camp and landed on the Giants practice squad. He was elevated to their active roster by year’s end, catching a single pass in four appearances. He would be released by the Giants the following summer and began the 2010 season on their practice squad. But he was soon elevated to the active roster after early injuries to both fullback Madison Hedgecock and tight end Kevin Boss. He started 11 games in 2010, primarily as a fullback and caught nine passes. In 2011, he would once again start 11 games, splitting his time between fullback and tight end. He finished that year with career-high 12 receptions for 136 yards. He has spent the bulk of the past two years as a blocking tight end, starting a combined nine games and catching 16 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.

Pascoe now becomes the most experienced tight end on the Falcons roster, having appeared in 66 career games. The only other two experienced tight ends on the roster are Levine Toilolo (16 career games) and Mickey Shuler (six games). Pascoe is likely to be expected to be a reserve with Toilolo, or possibly a rookie draft pick assuming the starting spot.

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2014 Falcons Free Agent Tracker

May 1st, 2014 Comments off

Keeping track of all the latest on the Atlanta Falcons free agent activity, interest, signings and cuts. You can view all of the Falcons free agents here.

Coming

TE Bear Pascoe, Giants (Story) (signed 5/1)
CB Josh Wilson, Redskins (Story) (signed 4/8, 1 yr./$920,000)
S Dwight Lowery, Jaguars (Story) (signed 4/8, 1 yr./$760,000)
WR/KR Devin Hester, Bears (Story) (signed 3/20, 3 yrs./$9 million)
CB/KR Javier Arenas, Cardinals (Story) (signed 3/18, 1 yr.)
OG Jon Asamoah, ex-Chiefs (Story) (signed 3/11, 4 yrs./$22.5 million)
DE Tyson Jackson, ex-Chiefs (Story) (signed 3/11, 5 yrs./$25 million)
DT Paul Soliai, ex-Dolphins (Story) (signed 3/11, 5 yrs./$33 million)
OT Gabe Carimi (Story) (signed 2/17, 1 yr.)

Read more…

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Draft Needs: Falcons Looking to Replace Weatherspoon at Linebacker?

May 1st, 2014 Comments off

When you separate their need for a pass-rusher, the Atlanta Falcons appear relatively secure at linebacker. The unit is anchored by Sean Weatherspoon and the team got production from undrafted free agents Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu in 2013, with only room to get better in 2014.

But there may not be as much security as it initially seems. Weatherspoon is coming off an injury-filled season and is entering his contract year where he’ll be set to hit free agency in 2015. Worrilow and Bartu fared well for rookies, but are far from proven at the position.

The team also has Akeem Dent in the mix, adding depth and helping out on special team. But Dent has struggled the past two years when asked to start. And it’s telling in how quickly the Falcons pulled the plug on him as the starting middle linebacker last year in favor of Worrilow, given Dent’s much higher draft status. At this point, the team should only see Dent as an experienced backup in the event of another injury at the position.

The key is Weatherspoon, who is slowly recovering from a knee injury suffered late last year. Spoon also missed a significant portion of 2013 with a foot injury and whether or not he can stay healthy is an unanswered question. He has missed a total of 17 games due to injuries over four seasons with the Falcons. If Spoon comes back in 2014 and has a strong year and avoids injury, it’s likely the Falcons will look to re-sign him to a long-term contract to continue anchoring the defense. But if not, then the team may need to be prepared to move on.

Bartu flashed some things late in the year as a replacement for Spoon but he’s far from a proven commodity. Bartu has good athleticism, but needs to improve in his instincts and awareness for the position. He spent his rookie season primarily playing strong-side linebacker as an injury fill-in for Kroy Biermann, but could move to the weak side if the team is successful in adding an edge pass-rusher in the draft. But at this point Bartu remains a developmental option as opposed to someone that can be penciled in right now as a future starter.

Worrilow had a strong rookie year and showed excellent instincts and awareness given his youth and lack of experience. He will need to continue to get better as a tackler and in coverage to truly take that next step to becoming a trusted starter. But the presence of Dent behind him and the fact that he handled starting duties for an extended period last year should have the Falcons more confident in his future than that of Bartu.

Outside the current four, there are no other true linebackers on the roster. The Falcons will be in the market to add another insurance policy at the position, someone that not only adds depth but also is a potential candidate to be a starter in the near future.

The Falcons need another athletic linebacker that can play on passing downs, since that deficiency led to Dent’s benching as well as the eventual dismissals of Curtis Lofton and Stephen Nicholas.

Given that Spoon is a former first-round pick, any player taken in the middle rounds of the 2014 draft won’t be on the same plane athletically. But the higher said prospect is selected, the better an athlete he’s likely to be.

Any draft pick selected may be relegated mainly to special teams as a rookie, but in the event of Spoon’s departure in 2015, he should offer some potential to compete with Bartu for the vacated starting position. Ideally, Weatherspoon will have a great 2014 and any draft pick selected this year will be used as a capable backup in the event of another injury down the road.

Ultimately the Falcons can’t really control what happens in 2014 in terms of whether Spoon stays healthy, or whether Bartu and Worrilow take those next steps in their NFL development. The goal of adding a linebacker in the middle rounds of the 2014 draft is about giving themselves an insurance policy in case some or none of those things happen.

Draft Needs: More Beef Needed on Falcons Defensive Interior?

April 30th, 2014 1 comment
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Malliciah Goodman

An offseason priority for the Atlanta Falcons was “toughening up” their team, with an emphasis on bulking up on both lines of scrimmage. The team did just that when they opened up free agency by signing defensive tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson.

For many, it signaled that the Falcons were moving to a 3-4 scheme. Why else would would they guarantee $25 million to players that have spent the bulk of their careers playing in that defensive scheme? While Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has coached both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, prior to his arrival in Atlanta he had not coached a defense with a 4-3 as their base scheme in seven years. Nolan’s history signaled a clear preference for the 3-4 defense, and the signings of Soliai and Jackson appeared to be that preference finally coming to fruition in Atlanta after two years of a hybrid unit between the two schemes.

But Falcons head coach Mike Smith was quick to pump the brakes on those expectations, indicating that the team would still be utilizing a hybrid scheme. That makes sense given the team opted to bring back free agents Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry, who all were drafted by the Falcons originally to play in a 4-3 scheme.

Although it’s interesting that between the three of them, they are making less than $5 million in guaranteed money. So if money talks, then the Falcons will be tailoring their defense more towards the strengths of Jackson and Soliai, which should indicate more 3-4 “flavor” than 4-3 in their hybrid unit in 2014.

That should help a player like Malliciah Goodman, who has the ability to play in either scheme, but may project best in a 3-4 at defensive end. Goodman flashed good ability as a run defender as a rookie last year, and has reportedly bulked up considerably this offseason with the mindset of becoming a regular in the team’s base defense.

That development should benefit a player like Babineaux, who was the team’s top pass-rusher a year ago despite having a single sack. Per Moneyball game reviews which focus on All-22, Babineaux led the team with 13 “positive pass rushes,” which are sacks, quarterback hits and pressures combined. Babineaux also played the most of any Falcon defensive lineman last year with 924 snaps according to premium website Pro Football Focus. Only William Moore (1,064 snaps) and Desmond Trufant (1,022) played more on defense. Babineaux’s reps were the fourth-most of any interior defensive lineman in the league in 2013, and frankly way too much for a 32-year old player.

Goodman missed two games due to injury last season, but wound up playing 305 snaps. If he can carve a bigger role in the rotation, particularly on run downs, it will allow the team to streamline Babineaux’s playing time on passing downs. That could potentially cut his snap count in half, and thus keep him fresher for this year and give him a better chance to play out the remainder of what is expected to be his final NFL contract.

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