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Scouting Report: Asante Samuel

August 27th, 2012 1 comment
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Asante’s ‘G Stance’

Last week, I started things with scouting Sean Weatherspoon. Now it’s time to look at the Falcons only major pre-draft off-season addition still with the team: Asante Samuel, and what skills he brings to the table in 2012.

Pros: Samuel is an instinctual cover corner with good ball skills, awareness, and excellent anticipation. Does a good job challenging throws when he’s in position, and makes quarterbacks have to work to complete passes against him. Will jump slants and outs, able to make the big play. Does a solid job working in both man and zone coverage. Plays balanced and has good hips to match up man to man. He’s comfortable playing in space. Hard to beat deep due to his ability to play deep zones. Does a nice job covering crossing routes as well. Does his best work when he’s allowed to play off coverage, which allows him to keep things in front and read the quarterback.

Cons: Is lacking and lazy in run support. Is a poor tackler with bad technique, as he tends to duck his head and rarely wraps up. Relies too much on chopping legs of defender in open field, which is effective at times but very inconsistent. Doesn’t work to get off blocks, and tends to shy away from run support assignments, letting the other 10 guys on the field do most of the work. Too often gives up too much cushion when working in off coverage. Can be attacked on the deep posts for those reasons. Will get caught looking in the backfield at times, and give up the easy completion. Can get burned due to his gambling ways, biting on double moves. At times will leave his safety out to dry because he’ll bite on the underneath pattern and leave his safety on an island deep. Can be effective in press, but not good when asked to try and jam receivers at the line.

2012 Outlook: Samuel is a ball-hawk that has earned a strong reputation over the years for his ability to create turnovers and make the big play. While he’s not always the most disciplined corner, that reputation has allowed him to get away with things that lesser corners probably could not. This means he’s a “field-tilter” because opposing quarterbacks tend to shy away from him, and effectively takes his man out of the play, allowing his teammates to channel things to the opposite field. His struggles in run support are well-known and well-documented, but the Falcons are hoping that limiting his exposure there by playing him in the nickel will streamline his production.

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Camp Battles 2012: Secondary

July 19th, 2012 Comments off
Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

Dunta Robinson

One of the most interesting battles that will come in training camp this summer will occur in the secondary, as the Falcons look to shuffle their depth at cornerback.

With the addition of Asante Samuel joining Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes, the Falcons are now three-deep at the cornerback position, and intend to take full advantage of that this season. The nickel package is expected to often be utilized as the Falcons base package with the intent of getting the best 11 defenders on the field at the same time.

But what needs to occur first in camp, is which of the three players will emerge as the two everydown players. Two of the players will play virtually every snap on defense, with the third nickel corner subbing in on passing situations. That third corner will play the majority of snaps on defense overall, but it won’t be every snap. Last year when Grimes was healthy, he and Robinson averaged about 63 snaps per game as starters, while the nickel corner was on the field (a combo of Kelvin Hayden, Dominique Franks, and Chris Owens) for about 36 snaps per game. The latter number is likely to increase, potentially to as high as 45-50 snaps per game.

Robinson and Grimes are the incumbents, and as such got most of the first team reps during the off-season. That means that Samuel will be coming off the bench as the nickel corner. If that remains the case into the season, then in those nickel situations Samuel will play on the outside across from Grimes with Robinson moving inside to the slot corner spot. This is arguably the best usage of the three players since among the three Samuel is the weakest in run support and thus limiting his first and second down reps could streamline his usage. But at the same time, Samuel is also the best playmaker of the group, and thus it would make sense to maximize that ability by putting him on the field as much as possible. Robinson on the other hand is the least likely to make plays in coverage, and while his strength has historically been run support, that was an area where he struggled throughout the 2011 season. He’ll need to show the coaching staff this summer that 2011 was an aberration, and his former toughness against the run has returned.

Franks, Owens, and Darrin Walls will be competing for the opportunity to be the first player off the bench in the event of an injury. Franks is the most likely of the group to win the job. He had his share of moments last year as an injury replacement for Grimes down the stretch. While Franks is not well-suited to playing in the slot, he does have a solid skillset that can make him a potentially effective starter on the outside. And given the looming contract issues that both Robinson and Grimes face in the future, the team may want to groom Franks as a potential replacement come 2013.

The addition of Samuel to the roster means that the Falcons could be parting ways with either Owens or Walls. Walls shined last summer but in the face of minimal competition due to the fact that he was competing with other undrafted free agents. He won’t have such a luxury this year, as he’ll likely be going directly up against Owens for the fifth and likely final cornerback slot. Owens has struggled throughout the years when lined up in the slot, but when he’s been an outside corner as a rookie and late last year, he has been a solid reserve. That experience and versatility coupled with Owens being one of the team’s better producers on special teams should give him an edge to win the job. But it’s no slam dunk. Owens is entering the final year of his contract, and while Walls is probably never going to be a better player than Owens in the long run, the fact that Walls is two years younger and cheaper could give him a slight edge in the competition. The key for Walls is showing that he can also be a very good special teams player. The positive for Walls is that he remains eligible for the practice squad, so it’s possible they could keep both.

There will be added competition at cornerback this summer. The team picked up Robert McClain in the off-season as well as adding undrafted free agents Marty Markett and Peyton Thompson. McClain was a solid special teams player as a rookie in 2010 with the Panthers. And Markett is a track guy from South Carolina that could potentially be an excellent gunner. Thompson has solid cover skills and the sort of toughness that could also make him a capable special teams player. Because of their potential to impact on special teams, all three players have a legit chance of making the roster.

At safety, the starters are settled with Thomas DeCoud at free safety and William Moore at strong safety. The team made a good decision to upgrade their depth by signing veteran Chris Hope. Hope will be the primary backup at strong safety, but he also posseses the experience to fit nicely as the team’s top backup at free safety as well. All three players have firm holds on their roster spots.

The key competition at safety will come for who wins the fourth safety spot. Shann Schillinger will compete with rookie draft pick Charles Mitchell, along with undrafted rookies Chad Faulcon and former practice squad player Suaesi Tuimaunei. Schillinger is one of the team’s top special teams players, which gives him an edge in the competition. But the team likes Mitchell and his skillset should also translate well to producing on special teams. Mitchell is not a great cover guy, but is an ace run defender despite being undersized. Schillinger has not shown a lot on defense the past two summers but he’s a free safety while Mitchell is a pure strong safety. And since Hope is primarily a strong safety, that also gives Schillinger the potential nod. The Falcons may opt to keep five safeties particularly if Schillinger manages to win the job, but Mitchell may also be destined for the practice squad at least early in the year. As for Faulcon and Tuimaunei, they are likely competing for practice squad spots, but will be hard-pressed to do so especially if the Falcons manage to keep five safeties. Their best chances will be impacting on special teams.

Why Brent Grimes Didn’t Get a Long-Term Deal

July 17th, 2012 1 comment
Andrew Weber- US PRESSWIRE

Brent Grimes

The Monday, July 16 deadline for when franchise players could get long-term deals done passed without Falcons corner Brent Grimes getting one. That outcome was not a surprise given how little movement and noise had been made in recent weeks.

The Falcons appear to be in a position to play wait and see with Grimes. The team picked up Asante Samuel this off-season, and the team is trying to get a return on their substantial investment in Dunta Robinson this year by moving him inside in nickel situations. Essentially, if Grimes has a good season then he’ll likely land the long-term deal he seeks next off-season. But the Falcons want to be sure that they are not committing another huge deal to a player that does not deserve it. Because while the Falcons brass won’t admit it, they aren’t too thrilled about the Robinson deal they gave out two years ago.

Robinson received $57 million over six years, and nearly $25 million in guaranteed money. That was and remains roughly market value for a top No. 1 corner. Unfortunately, Robinson has been anything but that caliber of player. On the other hand, Grimes has been. You would be hard-pressed to find a corner outside Darrelle Revis and Samuel that has collectively played better the past two seasons than Grimes. Yet the Falcons appear to be reluctant to make such a big investment unless they deem that player to be essential. And right or wrong, it’s clear that this team doesn’t view Grimes as an essential piece.

And from a certain perspective that is understandable, now that the team has added Samuel and decided to move Robinson inside to the slot. If Samuel continues to play at a high level, and there is a significant uptick in Robinson’s play so that he appears to solidify a nickel spot that has been a major weakness for this defense for three years running, then committing $50 million or more to Grimes isn’t the smartest financial decision. Especially when you have players like Dominique Franks and Chris Owens on the roster. While they are not nearly the players that Grimes is, the Falcons only have to commit roughly $1.9 million to the pair over the next two seasons. Had the Falcons given Grimes the exact same contract as Cortland Finnegan received from the Rams this off-season (5 yrs., $50 million), that figure would be around $24 million. So while you may only be getting one half of the player, you’re getting him for one-twelfth the price.

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Deadline approaches for long-term deal for Grimes

July 9th, 2012 Comments off
Icon SMI

Brent Grimes

On July 16, the deadline for teams to sign their franchise players to long-term deals comes and goes. Which means that a week remains for the Falcons to lock up Brent Grimes to a long-term deal. If not, then Grimes will play out his one-year franchise tender in the hopes that a long-term deal will come after the 2012 season. A week ago, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports indicated the odds that Grimes receives a long-term deal from the Falcons as “fair.” La Canfora indicated that due to the money already invested in fellow corners Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel, the Falcons may opt to take a wait and see approach to see how the 2012 season plays out between the three before handing out big dollars to Grimes.

Grimes already signed his tender in April, so there won’t be the threat of any holdout if the July 16 deadline comes and passes without a new deal. But the price tag for the Falcons will likely only increase if a deal isn’t struck sooner rather than later. Grimes will then become a free agent following the 2012 season and if the Falcons choose to tag him again, his tender will increase by 20% from the current $10.262 million to around $12.3 million in 2013. Next year, the Falcons most prominent free agents include Tony Gonzalez, William Moore, Vince Manuwai, and Todd McClure, thus making Grimes again the likeliest candidate for a tag.

Little word has been publicly noted about what type of deal Grimes is looking for. It’s likely a deal that approaches or exceeds $50 million in total value. Already this off-season, three free agents have received deals that exceeded that mark: Lardarius Webb (six years, $52.7 million), Cortland Finnegan (five years, $50 million), and Brandon Carr (five years, $50.1 million). It’s likely that Finnegan’s and Carr’s deals will be used to scaffold any potential deal for Grimes since they include the most guaranteed money ($24 and $25.5 million, respectively) and payouts over the first three years (both receive $33 million).

The Falcons gave out $22.5 million in guaranteed money to Robinson back in 2010 as part of a six-year, $57 million deal. They restructured his deal this past off-season, which makes his entire 2012 base salary of $5 million guaranteed, and $3 million of his $8 million base salary next year guaranteed if he’s on the roster on the fifth day of the league year starting in early March. Essentially it puts the Falcons in a position where they could part ways with Robinson or Grimes after this season depending on who proves to be the more valuable commodity in 2012. Robinson is a year older, but also serves the more valuable role as slot corner. For Samuel, his new three-year, $18.5 million deal only includes about $4.375 million in guaranteed money, but he has escalators in the deal tied to performance. Samuel and Grimes have similar games, both being undersized but highly instinctual ball-hawks. So if the Falcons opt to let Grimes play out his one-year deal and walk next year, they have a replacement already in Samuel. If they opt to part ways with Robinson, then it would require the team to get a new slot corner (although Dominique Franks is a possibility). But either way, the odds don’t appear to be greatly favoring the long-term viability of the triple threat of Grimes, Robinson, and Samuel at cornerback here in Atlanta.

Next year, the competition for new contracts for corners could heat up. Along with Grimes, potentially Tracy Porter (Broncos), Aqib Talib (Buccaneers), Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer (Chargers), Mike Jenkins (Cowboys), Sean Smith (Dolphins), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Eagles), Chris Houston (Lions), Jabari Greer (Saints), and Jason McCourty (Titans) will hit the open market. Jets corner Darrelle Revis is also looking for a new deal that doesn’t seem likely to come before the 2012 season starts, but could be done afterwards which could raise the price tag of Grimes.

For now, with what is estimated to be under $3 million in 2012 cap space, the Falcons don’t need to get Grimes signed to a long-term deal and lower his 2012 cap hit. But it certainly would help and allow the team to carry over whatever savings they reap this year into next year’s salary cap. So it would certainly benefit to create as much salary cap space as possible this year to benefit them next year.

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2015 Falcons: Secondary

June 20th, 2012 Comments off
F. Medina-US PRESSWIRE

William Moore

The Falcons secondary has undergone notable changes in the years leading up to 2015.

One of the few names still around is Brent Grimes, who received a long-term extension following another strong 2012 season. In 2015, Grimes at age 32 is not as spry as he once was but has been a consistent force and leader in the Falcons secondary over the years. The Falcons bid farewell to both Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel but the Falcons have replaced them with players that they are optimistic can have similar value.

Starting opposite Grimes is former New York Jet Kyle Wilson. Instead of re-signing a 34-year old Samuel in 2015, the team opted for the 28-year old Wilson. In the years since 2011, Wilson developed into one of the league’s best slot corners with the Jets, and hoping to get sustained production from that spot the Falcons snatched him up in free agency.

Adding depth behind Grimes and Wilson are Dominique Franks and Jordan Poyer. The same off-season when the team parted ways with Robinson, they gave Franks an extension to serve as the No. 3 corner. In nickel situations, Wilson kicks inside and Franks enters on the outside. But the team is optimistic that their 2013 draftee out of Oregon State, Poyer, will push Franks for that role. The team fell in love with Poyer, a former third round pick, due to his intensity, toughness, playmaking ability, and return skills. Poyer has spent most of his time during his first two years with the Falcons returning punts. But now that he is entering his third season with the team, they are hopeful he can make major strides defensively to push Franks and give the Falcons four quality corners. Also on the roster is Darrin Walls, who has carved out a nice niche as one of the team’s top special teams cover men.

At safety, the unit is still anchored by William Moore on the strongside. Moore got an extension following the 2012 season. And while he is not considered an elite safety, he is valued as one of the top enforcers in the league. His hard-hitting ways have earned him quite the reputation on the back-end of the field.

The team picked up free safety Nickoe Whitley out of Mississippi State in the second round of the 2014 draft. Whitley sat behind Thomas DeCoud for his rookie season, but the team cut DeCoud due to their belief that Whitley is poised for a breakout season in his second year. Whitley’s aggressiveness mirrors that of Moore, but his ball skills and potential as a centerfielder gives him more upside at free safety.

The team still has managed to retain Charles Mitchell as a reserve. Moore’s hard-hitting has cost him a few games over the years due to injuries, and while Mitchell has never developed into that much of a cover guy, he has filled in ably in run support for the short periods that Moore has missed.

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2012 Key Player: Asante Samuel

June 3rd, 2012 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

Asante Samuel

The Falcons biggest off-season addition is cornerback Asante Samuel. The Falcons got Samuel at a bargain and potential steal if he performs up to his abilities, making him one of the key players for 2012.

Samuel’s impact and ability to perform with this team this year will work in heavy conjunction with previously mentioned Dunta Robinson. Samuel is expected to play on the outside while Robinson moves to the slot in nickel situations. That gives the Falcons a potentially potent trio of corners along with Brent Grimes also working into the unit. If all three players can perform up to their talent level, the Falcons could potentially field the league’s three best corners giving them a clear edge when it comes to lining up against the potent spread passing attacks that are numerous in the league today.

Samuel is considered one of the league’s premier corners. And while the Falcons have gotten excellent production from Brent Grimes the past two years, Samuel’s play has been at a higher level. Samuel is essentially a better version of Grimes. Like Grimes, he doesn’t have great size, and is not the most physical player. He has been criticized in the past for being too reluctant to contribute in run support. But where Samuel more than makes up for it is his ability to make plays on the pass and help tilt the field defensively.

According to Pro Football Focus, over the past two seasons Samuel has only allowed 47.1% completions on passes targeted against him, a mark that is sixth among corners. Grimes is not far behind with a completion rate of 48.6%, a mark ranked eighth in the league. But unlike Grimes, Samuel has been one of the least targeted corners in that span, only ranking behind Nnamdi Asomugha in terms of how many times he is thrown at per snap in coverage. Quarterbacks tend to avoid Samuel because they fear his playmaking ability.

Samuel has twice led the league in interceptions over the past six seasons, and has the most total interceptions in the league in that span, with a total of 39, an average of over six per season. Samuel likes to bait quarterbacks into throwing his way, then break on the ball to either pick it off or break up the pass. As mentioned before, most quarterbacks have learned the lesson and tend to avoid Samuel altogether. That trend is expected to continue in Atlanta, which will open more opportunities for a player like Grimes to get more action on the opposite side of the field. Grimes went from one of the league’s most targeted players in the league in 2010 to one of its least in 2011, mainly because passers feared his playmaking skills (5 picks in 2010) too. With Samuel doing his thing, it should give Grimes more opportunities to make big plays.

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2012 Key Player: Dunta Robinson

June 1st, 2012 Comments off
Icon Sports Media, Inc.

Dunta Robinson

Robinson’s performance in 2012 will be counted on as being one of the Falcons’ keys for success. Like his defensive counterpart Ray Edwards, Robinson’s 2011 season was disappointing. Robinson did have his positive moments, but too often last year they seemed to be weighed down by negative ones.

With the team’s addition of Asante Samuel, expectations are high for the Falcons secondary this year. With that addition and the team placing the franchise tag on Brent Grimes, Robinson is largely a forgotten man in the defensive backfield. Robinson is expected to move inside in nickel situations, a role he played with the Houston Texans prior to coming to Atlanta. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will be looking to take advantage of having three skilled starting corners on the field to potentially give the Falcons a stronger pass defense.

But much of that rests on exactly how well Robinson plays on the inside. The Falcons nickel corner spot has been a problem area for the team throughout Mike Smith’s tenure. In 2008, Chevis Jackson played the role fairly well. But in 2009, he took a major step back and the team was forced to sign and plug in Brian Williams. Williams got hurt early on, and Jackson resumed his mediocrity for the remainder of the season. In 2010, the team signed Robinson and hoped that Chris Owens’ move inside would fix the problem. That did not prove to be the case, and the team inserted Williams once again, who was middling. Last summer, Owens and now Dominique Franks vied for the position. But both struggled in camp, and the team then signed Kelvin Hayden. Hayden was an improvement, but still was nothing special in the role. He then went down with injury midway through the season, and the team was forced to turn to Franks, who also looked miscast in the role.

If Robinson can step up and give the team strong production in the slot, then it will be a huge boost to the Falcons defense. Over the years, the Falcons have struggled to cover the middle of the field due to coverage issues at nickel corner, linebacker, and safety. If Robinson can pull his weight, that’s one less issue the Falcons will have to try and solve.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 16 “Chocolate and Vanilla”

May 20th, 2012 Comments off

Ryan and I give our thoughts on the Falcons State of the Franchise address from this past week including debating what may come of the Falcons new stadium, and the buzz it could create among the fanbase and whether or not it matters all that much. We also discuss what changes they can realistically expect with new coordinators, and what level of influence does Mike Smith have on those chances. We discuss Jason Snelling and his potential role with the team as well. Later, we talk about the NBA playoffs, including quite a bit on Ryan’s beloved Indiana Pacers against the Miami Heat. We also talk about wrestling, boxing, and MMA. Ryan professes his love for the women of TNA, while I stick by the old standby in Kim Kardashian. The topic without a doubt turns to stalkers and Vince McMahon’s profound philosophical insights before it’s all said and done.

Ep. 16: Chocolate and Vanilla [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 20 minutes

 

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop Ryan an e-mail at: ryan-valdez@live.com. Don’t forget to drop by every week to hear our live broadcast at: justin.tv/didziojo

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

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 15 “Ryan Hates the Avengers”

May 16th, 2012 Comments off

Recorded on May 7, Ryan and I are back to talk some Falcons including the impact of some of the Falcons newly acquired rookies and free agents, as well as Brent Grimes contract status. But mainly it’s our time to discuss some non-football topics including NBA playoffs, professional wrestling, and Ryan’s thoughts on The Avengers. There are some movie spoilers for the nine of you out there that have yet to see the movie, so if you want to avoid getting spoiled, skip ahead to about the 16-minute mark of the podcast. Hope you enjoy it and we’ll be back with some more Falcon-centric episodes in the near future.

Ep. 15: Ryan Hates the Avengers [Download]

Duration: 55 minutes

 

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop Ryan an e-mail at: ryan-valdez@live.com. Don’t forget to drop by every week to hear our live broadcast at: justin.tv/didziojo

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

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Grimes signs tender while Falcons talk trade

April 24th, 2012 Comments off

The team announced today that cornerback Brent Grimes signed his one-year franchise tender today. Grimes will now have the $10.281 million salary he is slated to receive this year fully guaranteed as a result.

Grimes is coming off two rock-solid seasons, including a Pro Bowl appearance following 2010. He was plagued by a knee injury late this past season, causing him to miss 4 games. The team placed the franchise tag on Grimes just prior to the start of free agency in March when long-term contract talks broke down.

The news of Grimes signing the tender is interesting given that news broke this morning per FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer that the Falcons had entered trade talks with the Philadelphia Eagles over cornerback Asante Samuel. Samuel, who turned 31 in January, is expected to be dealt prior to this Thursday’s draft according to reports. The Eagles made big acquisitions for cornerbacks last summer in acquiring Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and rumors have been rampant ever since that Samuel was on his way out. Samuel is due $21.5 million over the next two seasons he is under contract, but it is likely a deal for him won’t be struck until he reduces that number. Samuel is still widely considered one of the top corners in the league. He has collected 19 interceptions in the past three seasons, and 39 in the past six seasons, both being the highest in the league in their respective spans. He has a career total of 45 of nine seasons, the last four with the Eagles after five with the New England Patriots where he collected two Super Bowl rings.

How Grimes re-signing impacts any potential trade discussions is unknown. It’s possible their negotiations with the Eagles was meant to be leverage to get Grimes to sign on the dotted line, and now potential trade discussions are dead. Or it’s possible that a Samuel trade is still on the table.

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