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Training Camp: Day 7 Report

August 2nd, 2013 Comments off

A minor discrepancy in how the count Wednesday’s off day. It was in fact the seventh day since camp opened, causing the AJC to consider Thursday to be the eighth day. However the team’s official site counts Thursday as the seventh day, skipping Wednesday altogether. For these recaps, we’ll be going with the “official” numbering of AtlantaFalcons.com.

So here is all the media buzz from Thursday, Day 7 of Falcons training camp:

  • The Falcons announced a pair of roster moves on Thursday, waiving-injured cornerback Saeed Lee, who suffered a serious knee injury on Tuesday. The team picked up cornerback Jordan Mabin in his place. Lee underwent surgery on Wednesday for his knee injury, although it was not ACL surgery per John Manasso. If he clears waivers, he will wind up on injured reserve for the Falcons. Mabin was an undrafted free agent out of Northwestern last year with the Baltimore Ravens. He spent time on the Ravens practice squad before finishing the season on the practice squad of the Cleveland Browns. He also spent time on the practice squad of the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL last October. He was re-signed by Montreal this past March before joining the Falcons.
  • Joe Hawley was working with the first team at right guard.
  • I suggested before that whoever lines up as the second-string left tackle would have a good shot at making the roster. Well in certain drills on Thursday, Ryan Schraeder, who is already having a standout camp according to some observers, was working there across from Lamar Holmes at right tackle.
  • Malliciah Goodman has been generating some buzz with his work among the reserves.
  • Jason Snelling was in the mix to return punts with the same foursome from before. James Rodgers is among that foursome, but will also be in the mix to return kickoffs. Harry Douglas might only be considered a last resort however as a punt returner. The AJC has a quick interview with Douglas.
  • Osi Umenyiora’s role as a stand-up linebacker may be limited with his primary value there to help defend the read-option. The Falcons will see plenty of that this year with matchups against Carolina, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington again this season. Also the potential of E.J. Manuel to run that with the Buffalo Bills could also be in play in 2013.
  • Daniel Cox has his five observations from Day 7, including more insight into the competition for the returner jobs, Robert Alford’s fashion, Desmond Trufant’s work in the slot, and unsung performances by rookies Ronnie Wingo and Brandon Thurmond.

 

Takeaways from Last Week – July 29

July 29th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Should Stephen Nicholas be worried?

Training camp has begun for the Falcons. And it’s still early, but there have been a few interesting developments.

A lot has been made of the beatings that rookie corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have had at the hands of Julio Jones and Roddy White. It’s somewhat silly, given it’s their first few days in camp. They are going up against arguably two of the ten best receivers in the league (I’d love to meet the person that would argue against it). And they are rookies after all. Frankly, if Patrick Peterson didn’t set the world on fire as a rookie, and he was the best cornerback prospect to come out since Champ Bailey, then why would anybody expect either Trufant or Alford to not suffer through growing pains? The key for them is going to be how much progress they show over the course of camp and the preseason. And then they’ll face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the season opener. And I have no doubt that Sean Payton and Brees are going to very purposefully attack them in that game. And my expectations are that Payton and Brees will get the better of them more than they won’t. But even then, I won’t be upset. In regards to Trufant, Alford, and Robert McClain, it’s less about how good they are in September, but how good they are in January. After all, everyone expects this Falcon team to make the playoffs and make a title run.

It’s hard to tell who is ahead in some of the other position battles that dot the roster. What limited word we’ve heard about the right tackle position, suggests that Mike Johnson is still slightly ahead of Lamar Holmes. But one can’t put too much stock in one observation during one drill. We’ll see how that plays out the rest of summer. In past summers, things usually start to pick up by the second preseason game for offensive line battles so we’ll see how that goes.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the tight end battle plays out with Tony Gonzalez’s prolonged absence from camp. Chase Coffman and Tommy Gallarda appear to be getting much of the first-team reps thus far, with Levine Toilolo working as a reserve. While Toilolo’s roster spot isn’t really in jeopardy, we’ll have to see if he can leapfrog either in the coming days and weeks. As I’ve mentioned before, what sort of summer Toilolo has could have significant impact on how the rest of the roster plays out at that position. If he shines as a blocker, then Gallarda loses a bit of value. If he shines more as a receiver, then Coffman loses a bit of his luster there.

Defensively, there isn’t any direct competitions per se that I’m paying attention to. I’m more curious to see and hear how the Falcons use certain players like Kroy Biermann and Osi Umenyiora, who seem to getting a lot of time playing on their feet thus far. Eventually, I’m curious to see how the competition between Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas plays out for the second linebacker in the nickel. I fully expect Dent to win the job, but I’m curious how it all plays out. I’d like to see Dent win the job handily, that would give me more confidence that things are looking up for the Falcons coverage abilities from the linebacker position. There is some risk that Nicholas winds up a cap casualty at the end of camp. I don’t expect that to happen, but I also didn’t expect the Falcons to cut John Abraham at the beginning of the off-season. The Falcons cap situation currently (projected at roughly $5.7 million in cap space after Ryan’s extension) doesn’t call for the team to really need to purge salary at the end of the summer. As I’ve noted before the Falcons can save $905,000 against the cap by cutting Peria Jerry. Well actually that’s not true, the savings really only becomes $498,000 when you factor in a player like Micanor Regis (2013 cap hit of roughly $407,000) would then take up a roster spot and eat into those savings.

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Camp Battles 2013: Interior Offensive Line

July 17th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Garrett Reynolds and Peter Konz get reps together

Certainly one position along the interior of the offensive line is set in stone, and that is the left guard position where Justin Blalock is expected to start his seventh consecutive year at the position.

More than likely another position will be won by 2012 second round pick Peter Konz. He is expected to start at center after spending the latter half of his rookie season playing right guard. Konz struggled in that role, serving as the weakest link among the team’s starting five. But he finished the year with solid efforts in both playoff games, suggesting that improvements were made.

His presence at the pivot likely pushes Joe Hawley out of the mix to start. Hawley was initally drafted in 2010 as the heir apparent to long-time Falcon center Todd McClure, who retired this past offseason. But with Konz’s selection at the top of last year’s draft, it led to Hawley likely being viewed more as a backup after a rocky year as the starting right guard in 2011.

Hawley could again push for time at right guard however where Garrett Reynolds is the current incumbent. Reynolds has started at right guard each of the past two seasons on opening day, but poor play in 2011 led to his being benched in favor of Hawley. And last year, injuries led to the insertion of Konz into the starting lineup. Reynolds hopes that in 2012 he can not only win the starting job again, but also retain it throughout the remainder of the season. Reynolds showed improvement in 2012 after a disappointingly brief 2011 campaign. While Reynolds is probably ideally a backup, he showed last year that he can be an effective starter if need be.

Another player that could possibly mix into the battle here is tackle Mike Johnson, who many including myself feel is a more natural fit at guard than tackle. But he’s competing with Lamar Holmes for the starting spot at right tackle, and it’s doubtful that at this point he’ll get a long look inside.

The Falcons will likely try and keep at least eight offensive linemen, which will include the five currently projected starters, the loser of the right tackle battle between Johnson and Holmes, and Hawley. The eighth spot will most likely go to another interior player, someone that can play guard.

The incumbent would be considered Phillipkeith Manley, who surprised many with a strong summer last year as an undrafted rookie and made the Falcons final 53. There have been rumors of his weight ballooning this off-season, which if true could open the door for other players to take his spot. The top candidate would then likely be Jacques McClendon, who spent last year on the team’s practice squad. McClendon has added to his value by getting off-season work at center as well. Both guards have good size and strength that is a much more natural fit to fill as a reserve there than the undersized Hawley.

Also in the mix will be fellow practice squad player Harland Gunn. Gunn has experience both at guard and center from his days with the Dallas Cowboys last summer. Undrafted center Matt Smith and guard Theo Goins will also be in the mix, but both players are longshots to make the final roster. Instead, both are more likely to make the practice squad if they prove to play well this summer.

Ranking the Falcons: No. 26 Joe Hawley

July 15th, 2013 Comments off
Icon SMI

Joe Hawley

After seeing another lineman at No. 27, guard/center Joe Hawley clocks in at No. 26 among Falcon players. Click here to see the scoring system used for these rankings.

Total Score: 45

Player Grade: 50 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 2 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 1 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 23 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +3

While Hawley and Holmes wound up with the same overall score, I gave Hawley the nod in the rankings because his player grade is a bit higher. And that’s because unlike Holmes, we’ve seen quite a bit of Hawley to really gauge him as a player.

Hawley has filled in at both center and right guard. And while he was completely miscast at the latter spot in 2011, he was serviceable at points. The one positive you can say about Hawley as a guard is that it ultimately resulted in improved play from Tyson Clabo down the stretch. At the outset of 2011, I thought Hawley flashed potential as a fill-in starter at center for an injured Todd McClure.

Unlike Peter Konz, Hawley is probably more like McClure in his playing style. Hawley is more physical than McClure was at the pivot, and gets extra points for his mean streak. Without a doubt, Hawley is one of the “dirtiest” blockers I’ve ever seen. He routinely plays beyond the whistle, and he epitomized the “dirt bag” comments made back in 2011 by an opposing player.

Hawley is expected to compete for playing time this year, but really looks to be on the outside looking in. It would be a major upset at this point if Peter Konz didn’t start the year at center, which puts Hawley’s best avenue at right guard. But unless he’s dramatically improved his game from 2011, then it would be hard-pressed to see the Falcons employing him there over Garrett Reynolds or Mike Johnson should the latter lose his competition at right tackle.

Instead, Hawley should be relatively settled in as the swing guard/center that in the event of an injury to Konz, Reynolds, and/or Justin Blalock will be inserted into the lineup. Hawley is entering a contract year and how this season plays out will determine his future with the Falcons and in this league. There are a few teams that he could probably go to today and start at center and be an upgrade. The majority of NFL teams however, he’d likely serve the same function he does here in Atlanta, which is add depth.

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Could Eric Winston Help Falcons?

June 27th, 2013 Comments off
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Eric Winston

It’s a question that has been raised by AJC columnist Jeff Schultz in his musing about which available free agents could come in and help the Falcons. The simple answer is yes, offensive tackle Eric Winston can help the Falcons. He is one of the premier right tackles in the league, but for whatever reason hasn’t been able to stick in his last two stops in Kansas City and Houston despite solid production.

Winston is basically a similar player to Tyson Clabo. Not a guy that is an overpowering player, but has good size, strength, and knows how to use leverage. He is also very adept in the zone-blocking scheme, consistently able to get downfield and hit his assignments, which has helped spring backs like Jamaal Charles and Arian Foster to generate big runs on the second level. Winston turns 30 in November, making slightly less than two years younger than Clabo, who the Falcons cut in early April.

Schultz discussed the possibility of defensive end John Abraham’s return to Atlanta in the same article. But in truth, while a pass rusher of Abraham’s skill would certainly help the Falcons in that arena, it would be done so with sacrificing development of younger players. It’s true that none of the Falcons young pass rushers that Abe would likely supplant, such as Cliff Matthews or Stansly Maponga, are likely to become as skilled as he is, even at his relatively ancient age of 35. But the Falcons won’t do it as Schultz notes because it would mean less snaps for players like Matthews, Maponga, as well as Jonathan Massaquoi and Malliciah Goodman, who many believe do have significant upside worth developing. The Falcons just don’t appear interested in investing the money it would take to keep Abraham for what is essentially a one-year solution.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 30 “Norv Turner’s Neck Meat”

June 15th, 2013 Comments off

This week, Allen and I are joined by Rashad James to talk about the latest happenings with the Falcons. Those include discussion of changes to the right side of the line and whether it will work in the Falcons favor … Addressing the depth and rotation at defensive end and which players might step up opposite Osi Umenyiora to help the Falcons pass rush … Concern over depth at linebacker and which young players might step up including Pat Schiller and Brian Banks … Falcons depth at safety and whether or not more usage of Mike Nolan’s Big Nickel is on the horizon … Roddy White’s future in Atlanta … Revisiting the Julio Jones trade and other potential options … NFC South Division Race talk … Offseason Grades … Falcons Mount Rushmore … Are the Houston Texans for real?

Ep. 30: Norv Turner’s Neck Meat [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 4 minutes

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

Rashad can be found on twitter: @SaucedUp_Boss

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

OTAs: Day 5 Report

June 6th, 2013 Comments off

Once again, the media had access to today’s practices on the fifth day of the Falcons OTAs. So here’s what we came away with:

McClure set to retire

March 13th, 2013 Comments off
Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

Todd McClure

Long-time Falcons center Todd McClure is set to retire on Thursday per an AJC report, following a tweet from former Falcon receiver Brian Finneran yesterday of McClure’s intention. McClure will hold a press conference and file his retirement papers according to the AJC.

McClure is the longest-tenured Falcon currently on the team, first joining the team as a seventh round draft pick in 1999. He would miss his rookie season with an injury, going down with an ACL tear on the opening day of training camp. But he would return and land the starting center job midway through his second season and never relinquish it. Over the course of the next 13 seasons, he would log 195 starts, missing only 4 starts from 2001-12. Before missing time at the start of the 2011 season, McClure had made 144 consecutive starts without missing a game. His 198 total appearances are fourth most in team history, and his 195 starts are the third-highest.

Consistently undersized as far as NFL centers go, McClure learned to be effective with leverage and intelligence. He anchored offensive lines that for three consecutive seasons (2004-06) finished atop the league in rushing yards, and ranked fourth in 2002. During the time when the Falcons were quarterbacked by Michael Vick, McClure routinely called out the team’s protections. That intelligence and experience helped a young Matt Ryan, who has since become the 9th-least sacked quarterback in NFL history.

The Falcons will likely employ a competition between Peter Konz and Joe Hawley at center to replace him in 2013. Hawley started three games in 2011 as a replacement for McClure.

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Falcons Needs: Interior Offensive Line

February 5th, 2013 Comments off

The interior of the Falcons offensive line could definitely use an upgrade, but it’s possible that the Falcons may opt not to invest significantly at this position.

Center Todd McClure and guard Garrett Reynolds are the team’s lone free agents at the position. While McClure seems set to try and play one more year in the NFL, it remains to be seen if that place is Atlanta. The Falcons have invested draft picks in both Joe Hawley and Peter Konz for a reason, with the intent of succeeding McClure. Given that 2013 will be the final year of Hawley’s contract, it seems that now is the time to determine whether or not he is going to stick long-term in Atlanta.

Because the team may want to give Hawley an opportunity to start at center and earn a long-term contract a year from now, it may mean that Peter Konz will return to start at right guard next year. The Falcons will have to determine whether they consider Konz a better candidate at that position versus a free agent or draft pick. Konz struggled throughout much of the 2012 season but played relatively well in the playoffs, potentially giving the team some hope that he could make significant improvement next year. If that proves to be the case, then the Falcons will likely only be looking for a backup to bolster depth and to compete in camp as opposed to a starter that will supplant Konz.

But if the Falcons do decide to sign/draft someone to be the starter, it will then likely move Konz to center so that he and Hawley compete for that vacant position.

The Falcons will need to decide what to do with Garrett Reynolds. While Reynolds was a serviceable starter this year before he was injured, he has not played well enough to stick in the starting lineup, and thus will likely be viewed as a backup going forward. If he’s willing to stay in Atlanta for the modest price of a reserve then he should be back. If not, then it will mean the team will probably add a veteran or draft pick to replace him. While youngsters like Phillipkeith Manley, Jacques McClendon, and Harland Gunn will be expected to compete for reserve roles next year, it would be a tall order to ask any of them to be a play away from being the Falcons starter at right guard, especially considering how much turnover has been there recently. Only once in the last four years did the opening day starter at right guard end the year in that same position. It’s possible the Falcons could move Mike Johnson back to guard, but that may be dependent on what moves if any the Falcons make at the tackle position. If Sam Baker is re-signed, it increases the chances that Johnson could be competing for a starting guard spot next year. If not, then the Falcons may need him more as a depth option at tackle than they do at guard.

Justin Blalock is coming off a subpar season at left guard, but due to the big contract the team gave him in 2011, he’s not going anywhere.

Falcons place Cone on IR as Hawley returns

December 24th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons announced earlier today that wide receiver Kevin Cone will go on injured reserve to make room for offensive lineman Joe Hawley, who is coming off a four-game suspension. The team indicated no word on the exact nature of Cone’s injury that merits his placement on the season-ending reserve list. Although in past years it has been regular for the team to place players on injured reserve prior to the season finale. They did so a year ago with linebacker Mike Peterson and Kelvin Hayden, in 2010 with safety Shann Schillinger, and also in 2009 with Harvey Dahl and Chris Houston. Hawley returned from his suspension a week ago, but was granted a roster exemption last week allowing the Falcons to carry 54 players on their active roster.

Cone had played in 12 games this season for the Falcons primarily on special teams. Hawley had played in 6 games this season prior to his suspension, adding necessary depth at center and guard.

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