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Roster Talk: Defense

August 28th, 2012 Comments off
Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE

Is Schillinger on the bubble?

Earlier, I broke down many of the position battles and how the roster could break on the offense. Now I’m going to turn my attention to the defense which seems to have a lot less question marks.

Most of the roster spots seem relatively sewn up, but the last few spots at each position group still seem to be up in the air. And guys will have one last opportunity on Thursday night in Jacksonville to showcase their skills to make one last pitch for the roster and/or practice squad.

Defensive End

The Falcons have kept five defensive ends each of the past few years, but I think this year they will possibly keep a sixth. Keeping five has been their M.O. mainly because they had a young developing prospect that they didn’t trust would clear waivers to make the practice squad due to the league’s premium on pass rushers. In 2009 and 2010, it was Lawrence Sidbury that filled that role, and a year ago it was Cliff Matthews’ turn. As evidenced by Sidbury in 2010 and Matthews last year, whoever that player is rarely gets a chance to play on defense. Thus that would make keeping six seem like extravagance, since now you have two guys that are spending most Sundays inactive. But I think the battle between Jonathan Massaquoi and Matthews has been that close, that I don’t think the team wants to part with either. Massaquoi’s potential as a pass rusher probably means he’ll be higher on the depth chart than Matthews if push came to shove. But Matthews has played well this summer and played consistently with a high motor. So high in fact that you could make the argument he has the best motor of any of the ends on the team. And that’s not the type of player I could see the Falcons cutting when it comes down to it. Matthews still remains eligible for a practice squad spot, but if any team pops in tape of the Falcons previous three preseason games, one of the 31 other teams is certainly going to be impressed enough to snatch him up similar to how the Browns pounced on Emmanuel Stephens last year.

Best Guess for Final 53: Abraham, Edwards, Biermann, Sidbury, Massaquoi, Matthews

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Preseason Stock Exchange (Week 1)

August 14th, 2012 Comments off

It’s time to look at which Falcon players have improved their stock and those that have not after the first preseason outing. This is mostly looking at who shined and who did not against the Ravens.

Stock Up

QB Dominique Davis – Davis benefited greatly from the lackluster night by both Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson. Besides Wilson running an effective 2-minute drill at the end of the half, both veteran passers looked very rusty against the Ravens. Davis showed some athleticism, using his legs to extend plays and also showed off his strong arm with some shots downfield. Davis still needs to polish up his footwork, mechanics, and tighten up his accuracy, but if he can build off last week’s performance against the Bengals, he will be in prime position to potentially earn a roster spot.

WR DJ. Davis – The No. 5 wide receiver spot will almost certainly be determined by special teams ability. And Davis stood out against the Ravens, particularly with his excellent open field stop when working as a gunner on a punt returner, tripping up Bobby Rainey in the 3rd quarter to cause a 1-yard loss on a Dawson Zimmerman punt. Kevin Cone looked to have the inside track at the spot, but Davis is making up ground.

OL Peter Konz – Konz had his moments when working at right guard with the second team offensive line, showing ability to get some push. He missed a block while pulling inside on a play, but then helped make up for with a good block downfield when he pulled outside on the next play. Konz had some struggles when he moved to center for the third unit. But if he’s going to make up ground against Garrett Reynolds for the starting right guard spot, he got off to a solid start.

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Falcons re-sign Peterson

July 23rd, 2012 Comments off
Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE

Mike Peterson

The Falcons announced the re-signing of linebacker Mike Peterson today. The team was looking for linebacker depth after injuries to Lofa Tatupu and Matt Hansen. Peterson first joined the Falcons in 2009, and played three seasons for the team. He was a free agent after last year where he served primarily as a reserve. In 15 games, including 4 starts, he recorded 22 tackles and 1 interception.

With the Falcons, Peterson played primarily weakside linebacker. But in previous seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars he played middle linebacker. Peterson has been the de facto leader of the Falcons linebacker group since first joining the team and his veteran presence should give the team a viable insurance policy in case Akeem Dent doesn’t run away with the starting middle linebacker position. He also gives the team an experienced backup on the weakside, where the top reserve was Robert James, who has only played in 2 games in 4 seasons with the Falcons.  Peterson turned 36 this past June.

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Camp Battles 2012: Linebackers

July 18th, 2012 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Sean Weatherspoon

The Falcons linebacker position should see some solid competition this summer during training camp. One of the starting positions will be determined this summer, as well as the team could be looking at infusing their depth with a lot of youth.

One player that does not have to worry about his job is Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon will be counted on becoming the anchor for the Falcons unit. Weatherspoon emerged as one of the league’s top 4-3 outside linebackers last year and had a Pro Bowl caliber season. He hopes to continue that this year with another strong season where he’ll actually get a chance to play in Hawaii. He’ll be a core piece of the Falcons defense under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. With the additions the team has made at cornerback, it is expected that the Falcons will operate a lot out of the nickel as their base defensive package. It will mean that Weatherspoon’s ability in coverage will be a key asset to have in such situations. He’ll be counted on largely to cover the many solid tight ends that now dot the league.

Who will line up beside him in those nickel situations will need to be determined via competition this summer. The Falcons have three candidates that will be fighting to be in the nickel package. Strongside starter Stephen Nicholas and whoever wins the middle linebacker spot: Lofa Tatupu or Akeem Dent, will be in the mix for the role. Nicholas’ job on the strong side is safe, but he was marginalized for much of last year in part because of injuries. Also his snap count was reduced by about a third last year because he was taken off the field in nickel situations. If he wants to return to becoming a regular contributor, he’ll have to show Nolan that he can be more than just functional on passing downs, he’ll need to be good.

The competition for the starting spot at middle linebacker however will get the bulk of the attention this summer. Lofa Tatupu is coming off a year where he sat out the season and will compete with second year player Akeem Dent. Tatupu is the savvy veteran while Dent is the fresh, young upstart. This should be a fairly even and fair competition as the team is simply looking for the best player. More than likely, as the season goes on, both players will get playing time. But this summer, one player is expected to emerge as the guy that should get the brunt of the work. Before injuries sapped his ability, Tatupu was one of the league’s better middle linebackers. He’ll hope to show that those injury concerns are behind him, and answer the questions about whether he still has the speed and range to be an effective starter.

Dent should fare a little better in that arena, as he’s the more athletic of the two. But the key for Dent is that he’s going to have to show a certain awareness that is necessary to be able to play in the middle at the NFL level. It remains to be seen if he has developed that after one year of minimal work on defense. Dent was never lacking in the instinctual aspects of the game during his days at Georgia, but it’s a fairly big leap to the NFL level. His predecessor Curtis Lofton took nearly half of his rookie season before he really started to get comfortable in that area.

As with Nicholas, one way that either player can distinguish themselves from the other is by performing well in coverage. That could be the tie-breaker. Dent has the athletic ability to better match up in coverage, but Tatupu’s experience gives him the edge on awareness in knowing where he should be and where his assignments should take him. It is going to be an interesting competition.

What also needs to be determined, is which player if any of the linebackers will dawn the green dot on their helmet in order to receive information from the coaches and make the defensive calls on the field. That role was previously held by Lofton, and among the current players, only Tatupu has experience doing that. It remains to be seen if that will be a factor in camp competition. But it is also not unheard of for teams to give that role to safeties if need be. Weatherspoon would make a strong candidate since he’s a sure bet to be an everydown player at linebacker.

Regardless, those four players are virtual locks to make the final roster. Because of their need to provide depth elsewhere on the roster, the Falcons have been known to only carry six linebackers on their 53-man roster during the regular season. That policy is likely to continue this year. The two veteran incumbents for those spots include Spencer Adkins and Robert James. Adkins got reps late last year as an injury replacement for Nicholas and had his moments. Adkins has good speed and can be an effective attacking linebacker, but his hips and flexibility are less than desired, which can get him in trouble in coverage. He is the safer of the two. James has only garnered marginal playing time in four years on and off the practice squad. In fact, in four summers with the team James has been on the team’s opening day 53-man roster only once. It makes his foothold on a final roster spot tenuous at best.

Because of that, it gives the team’s group of undrafted free agents a better than average chance to make an impression and win a roster spot. Outside linebackers like Jerrell Harris and Max Gruder probably have the slightly better odds since they will be filling a reserve spot on the outside, but inside guys like Rico Council and Pat Schiller also will be in the mix. Likely their chances will come down to  who showcases the best on special teams because if any of them make the team, their role will be entirely in that arena. All four have similar athleticism, although both Harris and Council tested slightly better at their respective pro days this past spring. Harris and Gruder have the added benefit of playing in some 3-4 schemes while in college, which could help them grasp schematically some of the things that Nolan will try to do in camp.

With the departure of Eric Weems, Dent becomes the team’s top special teams player. And if he wins the starting job, then it’s likely that he’ll get a lot less reps on special teams. It will be important that one of these young guys can step up and fill the void left by him if that situation arises. Otherwise the team could be scouring the waiver wire come the end of August, looking for someone that can.

Falcons add James and Cone to roster

December 28th, 2011 Comments off

The Falcons promoted wide receiver Kevin Cone and linebacker Robert James to their active roster to replace the spots vacated by cornerback Kelvin Hayden and linebacker Mike Peterson, who were placed on injured reserve yesterday. The Falcons also added linebacker/safety Matt Hansen to the practice squad.

Peterson suffered a torn triceps injury against the Saints on Monday night, and will miss the rest of the season. Hayden has missed the past five games with a dislocated toe, and his season will also now come to an end after a slow recovery. Due to a lingering toe injury from starter Stephen Nicholas, the team is expected to start Spencer Adkins at strongside linebacker for the regular season finale this weekend against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

James and Cone have been on the practice squad since the beginning of the season. James was originally a fifth round pick by the Falcons in 2008. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve, but spent the bulk of the 2009 and 2010 seasons on the practice squad. Cone was an undrafted free agent signed by the team this past summer out of Georgia Tech. He will add some depth at wide receiver due to a groin injury to Kerry Meier.

Hansen also was an undrafted rookie free agent for the Falcons this past summer. Hansen played linebacker at Rhode Island, but spent the bulk of his summer playing safety for the Falcons.

Falcons cut 10 to get down to 53

September 3rd, 2011 Comments off

The Falcons announced the last ten roster moves to get down to the 53-player limit today. The cuts included: S Rafael Bush, WR Kevin Cone, WR D.J. Davis, OG Andrew Jackson, LB Robert James, C Brett Romberg, DE Emmanuel Stephens, OT Jose Valdez, and QB John Parker Wilson. The team also announced that it reached an injury settlement with TE Ryan Winterswyk, resulting in his release as well.

Prominent among the moves was the departure of Wilson, who made the Falcons team as their third quarterback the past two seasons since being an undrafted rookie in 2009. Jackson, was the Falcons lone draft pick in their 2011 draft class that did not make the roster. James was a 2008 draft pick that had bounced off and on the Falcons roster over the past two seasons, spending most of the past two seasons on the practice squad. Valdez spent the past two years on the practice squad as well. Bush was on the Falcons practice squad a year ago. Romberg was signed by the Falcons earlier this week to add depth behind injured center Todd McClure, but the team opted instead to keep Rob Bruggeman as the team’s third center on opening day for the second year in a row.

Prominent among the players that the Falcons apparently are keeping on their 53-man roster is cornerback Darrin Walls, who made the team as an undrafted free agent. Also defensive tackle Carlton Powell made the roster as a fifth defensive tackle. Powell joined the Falcons on August 14, only a week before they broke training camp, showing he could beat the odds and impress the team despite others getting a two-week head start.

The Falcons will need to establish a practice squad tomorrow consisting of eight players. Many of the players cut today and yesterday will be eligible. The Falcons may make other moves in the week before the regular season starts as they scour the waiver wire to add other players were cut around the league.

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Seven Roster Spots Remain Open

August 20th, 2011 1 comment

The NFL instituted a new rule that teams will be allowed to activate 46 players on gamedays instead of the traditional 45 players. As such, I think through two preseason contests the Falcons have pretty much found 46 players that assuming there are no injuries to them, are virtual locks to make this year’s roster. That leaves 7 remaining spots that are still in contention that will have to be earned through these final two preseason games.

Here is my list of 46 that are locks to make the roster. These are guys that I feel will not be cut before the season starts. If they aren’t on the final roster it will be because they are on the injured reserve or some other reserve list. Here are the offensive players:

QB – Ryan, Redman, Wilson
RB – Turner, Mughelli, Snelling, Rodgers,
WR – Jones, White, Douglas, Meier, Weems
TE – Gonzalez, Palmer
OT – Baker, Clabo, Svitek
OG – Blalock, Reynolds, Johnson
OC – McClure, Hawley

Now for the defense:
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Spotlight Players vs. Jaguars

August 19th, 2011 Comments off
Icon SMI

Peria Jerry

Looking at five players that the spotlight will be on during the second preseason contest. I would also list DE Ray Edwards on here, but as of this writing, it has yet to be confirmed whether he will play against the Jaguars. Most signs seem to point that will not be the case at this point.

DT Peria Jerry

Jerry will get the start for the injured Corey Peters and will get his first real test in that role since the beginning of the ’09 season. Jerry did not have a noteworthy performance last week against the Dolphins, and showing some improvement against the Jaguars will go a long way to inspire more confidence in the coaching staff and the fan base.

RB Jacquizz Rodgers

Last week, I highlighted Rodgers against the Dolphins. Rodgers’ Falcon debut ended without much fanfare. While he’s sure of a roster spot this season, the better he plays in the preseason, the bigger his role is likely to be at the outset of the season. Getting some earlier reps with the first and second team offensive lines should potentially help.

OG Mike Johnson

Garrett Reynolds showed some things against the Dolphins last week at right guard. Johnson missed that game due to a concussion, and if he has any shot at usurping Reynolds for the starting job, he’s going to need a really strong performance against the Jaguars.

LB Robert James

James got opportunities last week in nickel situations. And with Akeem Dent out for this week’s action, he should get even more chances, particularly with the second unit defense. James is on the roster bubble since it’s no safe bet the Falcons will keep more than six linebackers, and needs a bit more consistent performance this week against the Jags.

CB Chris Owens

Who starts in place of Dunta Robinson will be quite telling about the way the nickel cornerback battle is going. Franks appears to be ahead after Owens gave up a touchdown last week on a blown coverage. Regardless of who fills out the starting lineup, Owens needs a good bounce back performance against the Jaguars.

Camp Battles 2011: Linebackers

July 15th, 2011 Comments off

The Falcons first must address their free agent situation at this position, because it will have impact on the starting lineup. Both Stephen Nicholas and Mike Peterson are going to hit the open market, and probably that only one will return. The odds probably point to Peterson simply because Nicholas is likelier to get more interest on the open market. If the Falcons had their druthers, Nicholas is probably the better option since he’s younger and adds more value on third downs in coverage and as a pass rusher. But the Falcons also like the veteran leadership that Peterson provides due to the youth they have at the position. Peterson can also play more than one position.

Regardless of the Falcons free agency situation, two of the three starters are set in stone. They will be middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon at one of the outside spots. Depending on which free agent returns will determine which of the two spots Weatherspoon starts at. But Lofton and Weatherspoon will certainly be the Falcons two everydown linebackers playing both in their base set as well as their nickel formation.

If Nicholas is the one that returns, then it’s likely that Weatherspoon moves to his more natural weakside position after playing the strongside as a rookie. If Peterson comes back, then Weatherspoon will stay at the same position. If neither player returns, and that is a possibility, then Weatherspoon will likely replace Peterson on the weakside, and open up an opportunity for rookie Akeem Dent on the strongside.

The Falcons drafted Dent in the third round likely to be an insurance policy in case the team can’t retain Nicholas. The likeliest scenario has Dent being groomed for a year before replacing Peterson next season. Such a plan would then allow Weatherspoon to move to the weakside in 2012, while keeping the seat warm this year. But if neither free agent return, it’s possible that the Falcons thrust Dent into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.

In camp, Dent will likely be worked at multiple positions if not all three, similar to how the team worked both Lofton and Weatherspoon in their rookie camps.

Also with a fairly secure roster spot is veteran Coy Wire. He adds value on special teams, and can perform on nickel downs. His versatility to play all three spots makes him valuable depth for the team.

The Falcons are likely only to keep six linebackers as they did a year ago, to free up a roster spot elsewhere. The versatility of players like Weatherspoon, Wire, and Dent to play multiple positions allows the team to keep one less linebacker than normal. With those three, Lofton, and one of the free agents likely to form five of the spots, it leaves players like Spencer Adkins, Robert James, and Bear Woods likely competing for a single spot.

Adkins probably has the best odds because of his athleticism and proven ability on special teams (9 tackles in two seasons). James has managed to hang on despite only playing in a single game in three seasons with the club, and unless he can make significant strides this summer it’s hard to see him lasting a fourth year. Woods is a potential darkhorse, dependent on how much improvement he’s made from a year ago on regular defense. But he remains eligible for the practice squad which is his likeliest destination if he can’t unseat Adkins.

The chances that trio makes the roster will be reduced if the Falcons manage to keep both free agents. The Falcons may also add bodies via undrafted free agency, although any of those guys will likely only be competing for a practice squad spot.

Falcons sign seven off practice squad

January 18th, 2011 Comments off

The Falcons signed seven of their eight practice squad members to future contracts. Among them: tight end Marquez Branson, center Rob Bruggeman, wide receivers Tim Buckley, Brandyn Harvey, and Andy Strickland, defensive end Emmanuel Stephens, and offensive tackle Jose Valdez.

The only member of the practice squad that was not re-signed was linebacker Robert James. James served a four-game suspension at the beginning of the season. He was a fifth round pick by the team in 2008.

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