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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Interior Offensive Line

July 19th, 2014 Comments off

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Hawley

The Atlanta Falcons finally stabilized the interior of the offensive line this offseason by signing Kansas City guard Jon Asamoah to handle right guard duties. Since the team allowed Harvey Dahl to depart via free agency three seasons ago, there has been a revolving door of one poor player after another stuck at that position.

The addition of Asamoah gives the team an accomplished player that will do well to bolster their pass protection, something that should greatly benefit quarterback Matt Ryan. If there are any issues surrounding Asamoah, it’s the run blocking that is a relatively minor concern.

Asamoah made his bones in Kansas City as a productive starter mainly with his athleticism and ability to block on the move in their zone-blocking scheme. That has not been the style of blocking the Falcons have preferred over the course of the Mike Smith Era, thus raising the question of how much, if any, adapting the Falcons will do for Asamoah.

Opposite Asamoah at left guard, Justin Blalock returns and was the team’s best blocker a year ago. But given the Falcons had one of the league’s worst lines, that might not be saying a lot.

But 2013 was one of Blalock’s better seasons as a Falcon and if he can carry that momentum in 2014, it should give the Falcons the best pair of starting guards that they’ve had in more than a decade. While Blalock has never blossomed into one of the league’s premier guards, he has become relatively consistent with above average to good play each year as he enters his eighth season in the league.

Contrasting with Blalock, there is a lot more uncertainty surrounding Joe Hawley at center. While Hawley played mostly well down the stretch as a replacement for Peter Konz at center, that does not automatically mean that given the opportunity to start every game this year will automatically translate to equal or greater success.

This summer will be an important one for Hawley, as he is getting his first legitimate chance to be the team’s long-term option at center. Initially drafted as the heir apparent to Todd McClure in 2010, Hawley was leap-frogged when the team drafted Konz in 2012.

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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – June 23, 2014

June 23rd, 2014 Comments off
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Yates

The Atlanta Falcons made the somewhat bold move to trade for Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates earlier this week.

It’s a bold move in the sense that the Falcons saw a weakness on their team and went about addressing it. That weakness was their backup quarterback situation where Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree and Jeff Mathews sat behind starter Matt Ryan. Between the three of them, they only have one game and seven pass attempts’ worth of actual NFL experience.

If one was power-ranking the Falcons backup quarterback situation, it would have been in contention for dead last in the league with that of the Chicago Bears.

Following the departure of Josh McCown, who is now expected to start for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bears featured Jimmy Clausen, Jordan Palmer, David Fales and Jerrod Johnson behind starter Jay Cutler. The Bears signed Clausen earlier this month to add some much-needed experience. Clausen played poorly, but at least started 10 games as a rookie with the Carolina Panthers in 2010. Before his arrival, their sole experience came from Palmer, who attempted 15 passes over three years with the Cincinnati Bengals (2008-10).

Johnson was cut this week, as was Davis for the Falcons. Teams don’t often carry five quarterbacks on the roster, and it was clear that Yates’ arrival was going to push Davis out the door.

That’s unfortunate for Davis, who despite my frequent criticism of his skills, did have some potential to develop. Davis’ problems were that the same issues that plagued him during his days at East Carolina did not improve to a significant enough degree to merit the team’s continued investment. Davis’ accuracy and mechanics were erratic during his time in college and were the main reasons why teams passed on drafting him. Davis’ arm strength and athleticism were pluses, two things that helped him shine as an undrafted rookie during the 2012 preseason. But even then he showed the flashes of erratic play that hurt him in college.

In a sense, Yates is his polar opposite. Accuracy, footwork are two of Yates’ strengths, while arm strength is probably his biggest weakness. After the move to get Yates, I went back and looked at his limited play last season and in his playoff loss against the Baltimore Ravens in 2011 to see how much, if at all, Yates had really developed since his days at North Carolina.

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Draft Needs: Are Falcons Okay at Center?

April 29th, 2014 Comments off

The Atlanta Falcons seemingly solidified their center position by re-signing free agent Joe Hawley this offseason.

But the interesting thing about Hawley’s contract is that it is a significant commitment to the fifth-year pro, but also not really a commitment to him.

If Hawley doesn’t have a strong 2014 season, the team could move on from him rather easily in 2015 based off how his contract is structured. In 2015, the metaphorical keys could easily be tossed over to Peter Konz at center, when he could play out the final year of his contract in order to be given the opportunity to earn a second. At this point, it would seem Konz is unlikely to get a substantial second deal with the team in 2016, but that could change if he shows growth and development over the next year or two.

Given the added presence of Harland Gunn on the roster, the Falcons appear three-deep potentially at the center position. More than likely, they’ll let the competition between Hawley and Konz play out this year without bringing any major addition into the mix. They’ll certainly add at least one more body in undrafted free agency, but drafting a player seems doubtful.

Based off how Hawley and Konz performed this upcoming season, the Falcons could then determine if center is going to be a priority position in the 2015 offseason. The less faith Hawley or Konz instill in them this year, the more likely the team will go out of its way to upgrade the position next year.

Categories: Draft Central Tags: , , ,

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 60 “We Just Love Misery”

March 16th, 2014 Comments off

Allen and I are back to recap and review the first week of free agency in the NFL and whether or not the Atlanta Falcons’ moves to bolster the offensive and defensive lines were good or bad. We break down each move and player, indicating what we like about the decisions to bring back Joe Hawley, Jonathan Babineaux and Mike Johnson; as well as discussing the pros and cons of newcomers Jon Asamoah, Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson. During the course of our discussion, I explain the “Hampton-Hoke Fallacy” and the negative ripple effects that can occur when teams overpay for players.

Episode 60: We Just Love Misery [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Allen covers the Falcons for Pro Football Spot. 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, 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

Breaking Down Joe Hawley and His Contract

March 14th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Hawley

ESPN’s Vaughn McClure already posted the numbers of the new deal that center Joe Hawley signed with the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday. However, I’m going to talk about what those numbers really mean from a roster standpoint.

Here’s a basic overview of what Hawley got from the Falcons:

Contract: two years, $6 million with an additional $500,000 available through incentives
Guarantees: $3 million ($2 million signing bonus and $1 million base salary in 2014)

Cap Hits:

2014: $2 million ($1 million base salary + $1 million bonus proration)
2015: $4 million ($3 million base salary + $1 million bonus proration)

Pay close attention to those cap hits, particularly Hawley’s 2015 number. That’s a fairly high number for a center. Comparing that to Todd McClure, who in the final year (2011) of his extension signed in 2006 counted just $2.3 million against the cap. It’s also worth noting that the 2015 cap hit for Hawley is currently tied with Jason Kelce for the 10th highest at the position. Kelce just signed a lucrative six-year contract extension.

The point is that Hawley won’t be allowed to make that sort of money as a backup or even an underwhelming starter. Hawley not only will need to win the starting center spot in any potential competition with Peter Konz this summer, but he’ll have to play at a level in 2014 where there is zero doubt that he deserves the same role in 2015.

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Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Falcons Load Up Lines to Open Free Agency

March 13th, 2014 Comments off
Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE

Paul Soliai

The official opening of free agency started with a bang for the Atlanta Falcons who brought in three additions and re-signed another to bolster their offensive and defensive lines. The Falcons added offensive guard Jon Asamoah and defensive end Tyson Jackson, both formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs, along with ex-Miami Dolphin defensive tackle Paul Soliai,  and re-signed center Joe Hawley.

The influence of new assistant general manager Scott Pioli was apparent with the team’s decision to sign Asamoah and Jackson. They were both drafted by Pioli during his time in Kansas City as general manager.

Asamoah signed a five-year contract worth $22.5 million, and had been rumored to be a favored target by the Falcons during the “legal tampering” period prior to Tuesday’s start of free agency. He served as the Chiefs starting right guard for most of the past three seasons, starting a combined 41 games, and will presumably play the same role in Atlanta.

Jackson was Pioli’s first-ever draft selection in Kansas City, originally selected as the third overall selection in 2009. The underwhelming start of his career earned him the “bust” label, but his improved play this past season allowed him to shed that distinction. Jackson started 45 games over five seasons with the Chiefs, with improved production the past two years as he combined for 77 tackles and seven sacks. He signed a five-year deal worth $25 million and will likely play defensive end, replacing free agent Peria Jerry in the starting lineup.

Rather than Pioli, Soliai owes his Falcon benefactor to be defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Soliai and Nolan along with current defensive line coach Bryan Cox spent time together in Miami in 2010-11. He was another player that was linked to the Falcons prior to signing with the team. He spent seven seasons in Miami, starting the past four at nose tackle in their predominantly 3-4 defense. Soliai landed a five-year contract worth $33 million.

Hawley joins Jonathan Babineaux, Mike Johnson and Corey Peters as current Falcons that were re-signed. He signed a two-year deal worth $6 million to stay with the team. Hawley started the final seven games at center last year as a replacement for an underachieving Peter Konz.

 

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 59 “That Bad Taste In Your Mouth”

March 10th, 2014 Comments off

Aaron is back with me to discuss free agency! Allen gives his long-awaited thoughts on the Falcons cuts made in the month of February, which includes a brief history lesson on the team’s free agent history. Later, we get into a discussion on which positions of need and possible targets the Falcons could target when free agency kicks off. During the course of our debate, we bring up Osi Umenyiora’s possible pay cut, Corey Peters and nose tackles, Robert McClain’s restricted free agent status, T.J. Ward’s ability, Champ Bailey’s value, and what are the differences between Lamarr Houston, Michael Bennett and Michael Johnson. In the end, we discuss how Antone Smith will quickly replace Jason Snelling as the team’s most underutilized player.

Episode 59: That Bad Taste In Your Mouth [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Allen covers the Falcons for Pro Football Spot. 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, 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 Weekly Round-Up – March 9, 2014

March 9th, 2014 Comments off
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Ebron

Publishing weekly round-ups dealing with various Atlanta Falcons news was a regular event during the abyss known as 2011 NFL Lockout. Since then, I haven’t had much need for them but I figure that it is time to dust them off this offseason.

Partially because my day job has me traveling a lot during the week which limits the number of timely updates and posts I can have during the week involving Falcons-related items. So they will be partially house-cleaning for any stories I may not have written during the week.

I will also aggregate some articles, both Falcons-related and not, that I think are worthy of views that were posted during the past week.

***

The Falcons are actively working on retaining some of their own free agents including defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, center Joe Hawley, and guard Mike Johnson according to reports.

Rounding up news involving Falcons free agents is that defensive tackle Peria Jerry is also unlikely to be retained, prompting some celebration.

***

North Carolina tight end prospect Eric Ebron joins the list of potential draft picks being openly in favor of playing for the Falcons. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney previously voiced his favor for Atlanta as a potential landing zone. Here’s what Ebron had to say:

I would love to play for the Falcons. Julio Jones, Roddy White and Matt Ryan – I would love to play with those guys. Those are big shoes to fill, which I’m not afraid of. I can’t walk into the league expecting to be Tony G. I’m just going to compete as hard as I can as myself.

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Will Joe Hawley Be Hard to Re-Sign?

March 1st, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Hawley

On Friday, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure wrote that he expects Atlanta Falcons center Joe Hawley to be a priority target to re-sign among the team’s impending free agents. Given the struggles of Peter Konz last year at the position, and Hawley’s expected to be a relatively cheap option for the team, it makes sense that bringing him back shouldn’tt be too difficult for the Falcons.

But last week, Tony Pauline of TFY Draft Insider cited sources at the Combine that indicated that the chances of Hawley’s return to Atlanta was considered “50-50.” That initial prognostication flies in the face of what McClure wrote, so which is it?

Unfortunately, Pauline did not go into detail exactly why the chances of Hawley returning could go either way. Whether that is due to him likely finding greener pastures elsewhere in the league or not being considered a priority by the Falcons, was not indicated. However, it probably refers to the latter since the former seems less likely.

Pro Football Focus rates Hawley as their seventh-best center among the impending free agents. Hawley played about 530 snaps this past season at center, mostly coming in the final seven games where he proved to be an upgrade over a disappointing Konz. He saw 230 snaps in 2011 at the position as an injury replacement for Todd McClure during the first four games. Hawley did wind up playing over 900 snaps that season, but the majority of the remainder came at right guard, a role he struggled in.

It means that Hawley in total in his career has less than 800 snaps played at center, which doesn’t even represent a full season’s worth of games. It’s hard to imagine an NFL team coveting a player that is as unproven, relatively speaking, as Hawley is at the position. His past playing right guard adds versatility, but considering that Hawley was a poor fit at the position makes that added value minimal.

If there is one asset that Hawley possesses that other teams may want, it is youth. He is only 25, when most of the other free agent centers around the league are 28 or above. However, age isn’t as big a negative with centers as it can be at other positions in free agency, since centers tend to have the longest careers of anybody on the offensive line. McClure retired just after his 36th birthday and impending free agent Brad Meester of the Jacksonville Jaguars is hanging it up just before he turns 37 this offseason. Such longevity would mean that if Hawley is good enough, he could wind up playing a decade or more as a starter with the Falcons or another team. But it also means that team’s don’t have to avoid a free agent on the wrong side of 30 because such a player could still play several years for them. However, there are enough good centers that will be free agents that are on the right side of the 30: Alex Mack, Brian De La Puente, Evan Dietrich-Smith and Ryan Wendell to name several. And all have more experience than Hawley playing the position.

Those factors are why I think it’s more likely that Pauline’s source refers to the idea that the Falcons may not be completely sold on bringing Hawley back as the reason why his return is only given a 50 percent chance of occurring.

If that is the case, then I’m not sure why the Falcons have come to that conclusion.

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Categories: Features Tags: ,

Falcons cut Garrett Reynolds

February 18th, 2014 Comments off

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Garrett Reynolds

The Atlanta Falcons announced earlier this evening that guard Garrett Reynolds was released from the team. Reynolds’ departure was expected given his finishing the 2013 season on the team’s inactive list coupled with the recent signing of Gabe Carimi, who potentially fills the same niche. Per Over the Cap.com, Reynolds’ release frees up nearly $1.4 million in cap space for the Falcons in 2014.

Reynolds started the first nine games of 2013 at right guard, but was benched in Week 11 when the team inserted center Joe Hawley into the lineup and moved Peter Konz from center to right guard. But Konz performed poorly early in that game, and Reynolds finished the game at right guard. He would resume his starting position the following week against the New Orleans Saints, but would not finish that game due to his own struggles. He was reduced to a backup role with hardly any playing time for the next four games, before being inactive in the team’s season finale against the Carolina Panthers.

Reynolds was originally a fifth-round pick by the Falcons out of North Carolina in 2009. He spent his first two seasons as a backup to right guard Harvey Dahl, before getting first crack at replacing him in 2011. But he was benched after making seven starts that year in favor of Hawley, who finished the season as the starter. Reynolds would again resume the starting position in 2012, making six starts before injuries sidelined him for the remainder of the year. He was then replaced by Konz for the rest of the season.

The Falcons have had a revolving door at the right guard position since the departure of Dahl before the 2011 season. That has been partly due to the fact that Reynolds has not shown the consistency to hold the position long-term. However, Reynolds did make steady progress each year. Per the site Pro Football Focus, he graded out better each subsequent year as a starter finishing with a career-best +2.8 grade this year. That grade rated second-best on the Falcons behind left guard Justin Blalock in 2013.

Categories: News Tags: , , , ,