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Hard Knocks Episode 2 Recap – Big Balls

August 13th, 2014 2 comments

Hard KnocksAs I did a week ago, I’m here for you folks that either missed last night’s episode of Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons, or those that saw it and just want to read my take on it.

The second episode opened showing the team’s release of fullback Roosevelt Nix and players’ reactions to it. That was followed up by showing general manager Thomas Dimitroff riding his bike with Lance Armstrong. At least as far as I’m concerned, while TD’s bike-riding may be interesting to outsiders, it may be the dullest aspect of his personality. How and why people find a 47-year old man riding a bike and palling around with Lance Armstrong to compelling television is beyond me.

But anyway, the show then began to showcase several of the Falcons 2014 draft class, including Ra’Shede Hageman getting some tough love and hard-coaching from Bryan Cox. We got to see the Falcons work against the Tennessee Titans in their scrimmage from last week and were privy to the mixed messages that Mike Smith seems to be sending to the team about fighting. Although in this instance, it seemed more clear that Smith was okay with his players fighting other team’s players versus teammates.

We got to see how some of the rookies spent their off days from camp practice. Hageman and Marquis Spruill swam with a giant whale shark at the aquarium, while Ricardo Allen and his girlfriend went zip-lining. We also were witness to Spruill’s unfortunate knee injury from last week. Aside from Spruill’s injury, I enjoyed these parts the most since we got to see the rookies as human beings blowing off a little steam away from the practice field.

The show closed showing some of the highlights from the Falcons preseason win over the Miami Dolphins last week. Bryan Cox closed out the show in fine fashion with a cigar smoke-laden conversation with outside linebackers coach Mark Collins, discussing some of the Falcons players but more importantly Cox’s examination of the darkness of men’s hearts.

Next week’s show promised a preview of the battle for backup quarterback, with undrafted rookie Jeff Mathews’ arm likely being featured.

Other highlights of the show:

  • A Sean Weatherspoon cameo that also showed his mentoring of Prince Shembo, who looks hungry enough to have Joplo Bartu looking over his shoulder.
  • Cuteness overload with Tyler Starr’s son. Although, a tip to Tyler, teach your son to run with proper form. Apparently, athleticism skips a generation.
  • How Ricardo Allen earned the nickname that headlines this recap.
  • William Moore and Roddy White’s perpetual war of trash-talking.

Breakdown of Falcons Preseason Week 1

August 9th, 2014 No comments
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Jacquizz Rodgers

As I did last year with each preseason game, I will post my reactions to what I saw on the field in the Atlanta Falcons preseason-opening win over the Miami Dolphins.

The preseason is a time for individual player evaluation, and I’ve looked at every snap from the game and here are my thoughts, observations, and opinions based off what I saw. Since there are so many players to discuss, like last year, I will break them down by position group.

Quarterbacks

What I Saw: Matt Ryan played well in the game, getting pulled after the opening series, a 10-play drive. He completed all of his passes. His best throw was probably his first, which saw him thread the needle to Harry Douglas on a slant pass. To no one’s surprise, it was a solid night for Ryan and he’s poised for the regular season.

T.J. Yates stepped in on the second offensive series and played through the midpoint in the third quarter for five possessions. I thought Yates showed good decision-making throughout the night, but his accuracy wasn’t stellar. There were a couple of throws where he had to make his receivers work a little harder than they needed to, but in most cases they were catchable passes. The throw to Devonta Freeman at the end of the half probably was the most glaring example where Yates could’ve had better placement. That could have been a touchdown. He almost had a second touchdown on a slant to Geraldo Boldewijn at the end of the third quarter, but I put more blame on Boldewijn there even though it wasn’t a perfect throw. Yates pocket movement was good, but his lack of ideal arm strength and accuracy hold him back. But a lot of his incompletions probably had more to do with him working with green, inexperienced receivers. If he was to work with guys like Jones, Douglas and White, he should be okay as a fill-in starter behind Ryan.

Sean Renfree played four series in the second half and made a couple of nice throws. His wheel route to Freeman for 57 yards was his best throw. He almost threw a pick at the end of the game because he stared down Freddie Martino and did not see the linebacker underneath in the throwing lane. From this game, there appears to be a gap between Yates and Renfree, which should surprise no one. Jeff Mathews did not suit up.

Conclusions: Judging solely off this game, Yates probably has a firm handle on the No. 2 job simply because he seems to be operating at a much more cerebral level than Renfree. He’s more decisive and showed better touch, timing, and accuracy on his throws, despite not exactly grading off the charts in those areas. I will be curious if the Falcons do Mathews like they did Seth Doege, who did not take a single snap last summer in four preseason games. If Mathews doesn’t get a couple of series next week, that becomes a strong possibility.

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Five Things to Expect in Falcons vs. Dolphins

August 8th, 2014 No comments

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Kemal Ishmael

Having done a smidgen of research by looking at last year’s trends in the Atlanta Falcons preseason opening loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, I have come up with five things that you can expect to see in this year’s opener against the Miami Dolphins.

1. Falcons Starters Will Not Play Much

Given the Falcons have only a handful of starting positions up for grabs, most of the team’s starters will be in limited action against the Dolphins. Last year, quarterback Matt Ryan and the starting offense played slightly more than a dozen snaps on the first three series. The defense was about the same.

Depending on how the Falcons perform on their first few series will likely determine if/when Mike Smith decides to pull the plug on them. If the offense marches down the field twice and scores touchdowns, then it’s likely Smith will be satisfied with that performance. But if they were to struggle on either drive, then expect Smith to give them a third to try and iron out the kinks. The same holds true for the defense.

While it’s possible that Smith could pull the starters after a single series, given the increased focus on “toughness” this summer, I suspect they’ll get at least two to try and show some.

It will be interesting to see which starters if any garner increased reps. Last year against the Cincinnati Bengals in the preseason opener, Lamar Holmes and Desmond Trufant were starters that earned extra reps with the second unit groups. If anybody likely gets similar treatment this year, it’s likely to be whoever lines up as the starting free safety, particularly if it’s an unproven player like Kemal Ishmael or Dezmen Southward.

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Falcons 2014 Training Camp: Day 10 Report

August 5th, 2014 No comments
From AtlantaFalcons.com

Ricardo Allen. From AtlantaFalcons.com

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

The Falcons gave their official update on the statuses of offensive tackle Terren Jones and defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman this morning. Head coach Mike Smith indicated that Jones was released from the hospital late Sunday and is currently in the league’s concussion protocol after a scary incident Sunday afternoon in which he was carted off the field and taken away via ambulance. Smith also confirmed what various reports indicated in that Hageman did not suffer any break in his hand or wrist, but did not specify the exact nature of whatever hand injury Hageman sustained that forced his exit from practice Sunday.

Clearly, the injury wasn’t that serious as Hageman did participate fully in Monday’s combined practice with the Tennessee Titans.

Jay Adams gives us five takeaways from the day’s work, including Kemal Ishmael’s preparation, Jacquizz Rodgers’ superior pass protection skills and an injury update.

To no one’s surprise, the Falcons and Titans got into it early during practice on special teams, with a fight that involved cornerback Robert McClain. Center Joe Hawley was ejected from practice not long after for fighting and would spend the rest of the day in the locker room. Titans safety Bernard Pollard had choice words for the Falcons during practice. His attitude towards the Falcons seemingly even bothered his own teammate.

Falcons offensive lineman Gabe Carimi also left practice, but his was due to an undisclosed injury he suffered. According to a tweet by FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez early this morning, the team is cautiously optimistic that Carimi only suffered an ankle sprain. How severe that sprain is is not yet known, but it doesn’t sound like Carimi’s season is over. But in the competition for a reserve spot, any missed time will hurt him.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 72 “Nailing the Training Camp Report”

August 4th, 2014 No comments

Allen and I are joined by Jeanna Thomas of the Falcoholic to break down her observations from the first week of the Atlanta Falcons 2014 training camp. Jeanna gives us the skinny on which young skill position players have emerged early in camp plus the Falcons potential upgrades in the trenches. Allen and I finish with more talk of the Falcons, preview the preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins and some of the latest around the league news.

Episode 72 – Nailing the Training Camp Report [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 23 minutes

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

Jeanna writes for The Falcoholic and can be found on twitter: @jeannathomas.

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

Terren Jones Taken to Hospital; Hageman Injures Wrist in Practice (UPDATE)

August 4th, 2014 No comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Ra’Shede Hageman

The Atlanta Falcons conducted their ninth practice of training camp this afternoon, but were witness to a scary sight as offensive tackle Terren Jones was carted off the field and transported to the hospital via ambulance with an apparent head injury. The exact nature of the injury is not yet known, and Falcons head coach Mike Smith gave no updates after practice besides expressing a general concern for Jones. In other news, rookie defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman suffered a hairline fracture in his wrist according to a league source of ESPN’s Vaughn McClure. Hageman suffered the injury while fighting with center Joe Hawley at practice today.

Jones is a second-year player that finished last season on the Falcons roster after beginning the year on the practice squad. He was competing for a reserve spot, primarily at left tackle. Jones was seen to have his eyes closed while he was being loaded into the ambulance after being strapped to a backboard with a neckbrace, the usual protocol for when anybody suffers what is believed a head or spinal injury.

Smith had the following to say about Jones after practice:

“We certainly hope Terren is going to be all right. We don’t have any update right now. But as soon as we do, we’ll release that information. Any time a player doesn’t leave the field on his own power, you’re always concerned about it.”

Hageman got into a fight with Hawley early in practice and was taken into the locker room to have his hand check out and did not return to practice. According to McClure, his wrist injury takes four weeks to heal, but could be padded up to allow him to continue playing immediately.

Smith had the following to say about Hageman following practice:

“I think we’re all talking about competing and fighting for jobs, but we’re not talking about fighting each other. We’ve got to understand that. It’s not what we’re about. We’re about competing and going out and trying to win a job. But we’re not about fighting one another. That’s something that happens when it gets hot. Today, it was hot, or hotter than what we’ve been used to practicing. But we’ve got to definitely get that fixed.”

UPDATE: While Jones’ status has not been officially updated, he did tweet a “thumbs up” late Sunday night. Ross Jones of FOX Sports indicates that Terren Jones suffered a concussion.

Also various reports from Pro Football Talk, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, and FOX Sports’ Jones all indicate from an unspecified source that Hageman did not suffer any break of any kind in his hand or wrist. Sources, huh?

Falcons 2014 Training Camp: Day 4 Report

July 28th, 2014 No comments
From AtlantaFalcons.com

Jake Matthews. From AtlantaFalcons.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The punt block drill drew some eyes as well.

Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – July 28, 2014

July 28th, 2014 No comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Trufant is the rare impact rookie in NFL

Atlanta Falcons training camp has begun. And all the prognostications and analysis that has occurred over the past six months of the NFL offseason are basically thrown out the window at this point as things will soon be decided on the field.

It’s one of the reasons why football is great because of its unpredictably. As I noted last week, it’s one of the most unpredictable of the major American sports. And it’s for that reason, what I do is somewhat meaningless.

Like so many others, for the past six months I have made a bunch of educated guesses as to what I thought the Falcons would do this offseason, in the draft, and ultimately how that would lead to a successful or unsuccessful 2014 season.

What will ultimately happen this season is completely beyond me. If I knew, then I’d get on the first plane to Las Vegas and bet it all.

There are always several surprises in not just the regular season, but in training camp. There is always a player or two that winds up making the Falcons roster that I’m fairly dumbfounded as to why it happened. There’s always a promising prospect that doesn’t make the cut which disappoints me. There’s always a player that I had exceedingly low expectations on entering the summer, but manages to blow those out of the water. And then there’s the opposite, a player that disappoints greatly during the summer months. It all adds up to an eclectic mix that will eventually make up the Falcons 2014 roster.

One of the things that typically emerge during the initial days of camp reports and observations is how promising much of the new blood added to roster in the offseason is looking.

For instance, one can make the argument that after cornerback Desmond Trufant the best player on the Falcons defense last year was defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. And it’s very possible that he may hold that title going into 2014. But you probably won’t hear very much about Babineaux this summer during camp practices because he’s old news. Unless Babineaux is schooling one of the young kids like Malliciah Goodman or Ra’Shede Hageman on the intricacies of the position, there won’t be a lot of buzz surrounding him. Yet given that he’s the best player up front, he probably is a player that practices the best as well.

But nobody wants to hear how Babineaux still looks solid in the various camp reports you’ll find over the next several weeks. It’s more about how those young guys like Goodman and Hageman are looking and likely to contribute significantly in 2014.

So pardon my cynicism, but that’s the nature of the beast. People tend to get caught up in what is shiny and new rather than what appears old hat.

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Falcons 2014 Training Camp: Day 2 Report

July 26th, 2014 No comments
From AtlantaFalcons.com

Roddy White. From AtlantaFalcons.com

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

  • As usual, let’s kick things off with Jay Adam’s five takeaways from Day 2. Adams discusses linebacker Kroy Biermann’s return from injury, the team’s padded practice schedule, wide receiver Bernard Reedy’s potential emergence, the battle for the nickel cornerback spot and Julio Jones’ day off.
  • ESPN’s Vaughn McClure expresses his own observations from the day including further elaboration of the battle for nickel cornerback, Reedy, and the play of the Falcons pass-rushers.
  • Head over to AtlantaFalcons.com to check out today’s photo gallery from practice The posted picture above shows wide receiver Roddy White and other Falcons players interacting with the crowd as the team underwent its first-ever “Falcons Walk,” kicking off practice with a stroll through the crowd on their way to the practice field.
  • The AJC provides video of today’s practice and post-practice interviews with general manager Thomas Dimitroff, head coach Mike Smith and offensive tackle Jake Matthews.
  • The Falcons filled the roster spot left open from the waiving of Darius Johnson by signing wide receiver Jabin Sambrano. Sambrano is a former undrafted rookie out of Montana signed by the Indianapolis Colts in 2012. Sambrano was put on injured reserve by the Colts in that summer after suffering a concussion in training camp. He was later released by the Colts and ended the season on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad. He was re-signed by the Colts the following offseason, but was cut at the end of their 2013 camp. He finished last year with the Jacksonville Jaguars on their practice squad before being released in the offseason. He has spent the past few months in Canada with the B.C. Lions before getting another chance in the NFL with the Falcons.
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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Defensive Tackle

July 21st, 2014 Comments off

Andrew Weber- US PRESSWIRE

Corey Peters

The Atlanta Falcons will feature more competition at the defensive tackle position in regards to their reserves since their starting lineup was solidified in the offseason by the signing of Paul Soliai.

As I explained in the write-up on the Falcons defensive ends, all signs point to the Falcons adopting more of a 3-4 schematic look in their base attack on defense this season. The addition of Soliai is a big part of that reason for he is the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle.

Big, strong and capable of absorbing double teams, Soliai gives the Falcons something they did not truly have with Corey Peters last season. Peters was capable in performing some of those roles, but was by no means the classic version of the 3-4 nose that usually weighs in above 320 pounds. Coupled with Peters’ recovery from injury, it was clear the Falcons were going to need more help at the position.

They found that in Soliai with a substantial long-term contract. If offensive tackle Jake Matthews is the jewel of the draft class, then Soliai is that for free agency based purely off his contract. And thus, it doesn’t make sense for a team to spend as much money as they did on 3-4 players like Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson and not utilize them in the manner that suits them best.

Soliai will start for the Falcons, but will likely be pulled off the field in most passing situations. That was the case in Miami as Soliai had a tendency to wear down over the course of games. The Falcons will need to find a way to minimize that.

A heavy rotation with Peters could be one answer, but that is dependent on his health. Peters told me himself that he is expecting to return for the regular season opener, and if that is the case then he’ll be able to earn reps replacing Soliai in passing situations.

Unlike some 3-4 teams, the Falcons will likely utilize a four-man front when they employ their nickel sub-packages on passing downs. It’s likely that the same starting lineup the team featured up front last season: Osi Umenyiora and Jonathan Massaquoi at the end spots with Peters and Jonathan Babineaux at tackle will be their go-to group. That potentially puts the team’s four best pass-rushers (minus linebacker Kroy Biermann) on the field at the same time.

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