- It was a scorcher at practice today, with temperatures north of 90 degrees, and it was clear the Falcons players felt it. The high temperatures may have gotten the better of cornerback Josh Wilson, who had to get his hamstring worked on midway through practice.
- As usual, Jay Adams provides us with five things we learned from practice today. Included are running back Antone Smith’s role with the team, the majesty of wide receiver Julio Jones, the battles in the trenches, and the play of linebackers Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu and Prince Shembo.
- The competition at cornerback seemed to heat up a bit, as Robert McClain was taking first-team reps at nickel cornerback. That should be no surprise given that head coach Mike Smith indicated that McClain, Wilson, and Javier Arenas would all have opportunities this summer. Wilson had worked as the starting nickel the first two days of practice. Desmond Trufant, who has spent the bulk of the first two days of practice at right cornerback, made the switch to the left side today.
- The Falcons cross-trained a few of their blockers today. Guard Harland Gunn took snaps at center, while guard Gabe Carimi got some work at right tackle.
- But the star of today was Jones, who caught a lot of eyeballs as he showed no ill signs from his day off yesterday.
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.
Let’s take a look at the various tweets, articles, reports, news and rumors that surfaced from the first day of Atlanta Falcons training camp:
- AtlantaFalcons.com’s Jay Adams writes five things we learned about the first day of camp.
- Not to be outdone, Jay Clemons for FOX Sports also has five takeaways from the first day of camp.
- ESPN’s Vaughn McClure also has his thoughts and observations from the first day.
- Josh Wilson opened up training camp atop the depth chart at nickel cornerback. Wilson will be competing with three other Falcons for the honors of being the team’s top cornerback off the bench: Robert McClain (the incumbent), Javier Arenas and Ricardo Allen.
- While there appears little doubt that Devin Hester will handle the Falcons return duties this year on both kickoffs and punts, the team is also looking for capable reserves to fill in just in case Hester is out of the equation. Harry Douglas, Wilson, Arenas, Bernard Reedy and Tramaine Thompson took reps in the return game.
- The official site has a series of pictures from Day 1, including the one shown above.
- One of the newest Falcons, linebacker Pat Angerer discusses his return from microfracture surgery on his knee.
- Falcon fans enjoyed everything they saw from wide receiver Julio Jones today. As noted earlier today, Falcon fans shouldn’t expect to see Jones on Saturday given his planned practice schedule for camp.
— Jay Adams (@FalconsJAdams) July 25, 2014
Every other day, Jones will receive a day off from practice, while Biermann will practice two days and then receive time off every third practice. Jones is recovering from a foot injury that sidelined him for the final 11 games of 2013. Biermann missed 14 games after tearing his Achilles tendon in Week 2 of last season.
Smith also indicated that he expects defensive tackle Corey Peters to be removed from the active/Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list quickly. Like Biermann, Peters is also recovering from an Achilles tear that caused him to miss the Falcons 2013 season finale.
D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones has been cleared medically to participate in training camp practices. Camp commences on Friday for the Falcons. Jones is recovering from a foot injury that sidelined him for the final 11 games of the 2013 season. Per Falcons head coach Mike Smith however, Jones will be kept on a strict snap count with the goal of him remaining healthy until the Falcons regular season starts in September.
Last season Jones broke the screw that was placed in his right foot back in 2011 prior to his entry into the league as the Falcons’ No. 1 pick. Jones originally broke the foot during his days at Alabama.
He has been limited throughout the offseason after undergoing an experimental procedural to help promote healing in the affected area. Jones had bone marrow removed from his hip and injected into his foot coupled with the insertion of another larger screw.
Jones is the Falcons’ top offensive weapon, as he was the league leader in receptions (41) and second in receiving yards (580) at the time of his injury last season. His continued good health may be the biggest factor in the Falcons success in 2014.
Once again recapping the highlights that was the past week of the Atlanta Falcons.
- Atlanta Falcons.com’s Reid Ferrin writes about five things one needs to know about the Falcons upcoming appearance on HBO’s documentary series, Hard Knocks.
- The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter in his preview of the Falcons linebackers writes that rookie Prince Shembo has a shock to crack the team’s starting lineup, unseating Joplo Bartu.
- Claude Humphrey will become the third Hall of Fame enshrinee to be presented by his daughter. The Enshrinement Ceremony takes place on Saturday, August 2 in Canton, Ohio.
- Football Outsiders’ Scott Kacsmar discusses the catch radius of some of the NFC’s top wide receivers including Atlanta’s Julio Jones. Kacsmar is not too praiseworthy of the Falcons usage of Jones, yet does not deny his enviable talent level.
- Jones received an experimental stem cell treatment to heal his injured foot per Ledbetter, and the Falcoholic has a good recap of the article’s highlights.
- Steven Jackson also praises Jones in a recent interview with TDdaily.com, and indicates he’s also looking forward to the Falcons upcoming appearance on Hard Knocks.
- ESPN’s Vaughn McClure gives his projection of the Falcons final roster, albeit with 54 players listed instead of 53. There are few surprises, notably with wide receiver Darius Johnson, offensive tackle Lamar Holmes and linebacker Yawin Smallwood not making the cut, while offensive tackle Terren Jones and linebacker Jacques Smith do.
- McClure also makes the case for why the Falcons would be wise to extend wide receiver Roddy White’s contract before the start of camp.
- As any father should be, Bruce Matthews is very optimistic of his son, Jake’s ability to transition into a very good NFL player.
- Cover32′s Jason Brooks opines that Falcons head coach Mike Smith will be the fall guy if the team fails to meet expectations in 2014. Like Brooks, I’m wondering what exactly those expectations are? 8 wins? More? Playoffs? Super Bowl?
- Scott Carasik of Bleacher Report writes about the five biggest areas of concern heading into training camp, and it’s hard to disagree with the five he picked.
- Spencer Harrison of Bleacher Report ranks quarterback Matt Ryan’s top 10 most memorable moments since joining the Falcons. I had honestly forgotten about Roddy White’s 90-yard touchdown catch and run from 2009 against the San Francisco 49ers. In case you also needed a refresher, here’s a highlight.
- Allen Strk of Pro Football Spot gives his four choices of current and former Falcons that belong on the team’s Mount Rushmore.
- Former Falcon guard Garrett Reynolds finally landed with a team, signing with the Detroit Lions on Thursday.
In case you missed anything on FalcFans.com this past week, here are all the links to catch you up:
- Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – July 14, 2014
- Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Quarterback
- Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Running Back
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: Scoring System
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 40 Bear Pascoe
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 39 Malliciah Goodman
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 38 Devonta Freeman
- Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Fullbac
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 37 Levine Toilolo
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 36 Javier Arenas
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 35 Devin Hester
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 34 Jacquizz Rodgers
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 33 Patrick DiMarco
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 32 Gabe Carimi
- Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Wide Receiver
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 31 Josh Wilson
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 30 Peter Konz
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 29 Mike Johnson
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 28 Lamar Holmes
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 27 Joplo Bartu
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 26 Robert McClain
- Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Tight End
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 25 Jonathan Massaquoi
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 24 Harry Douglas
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 23 Tyson Jackson
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 22 Kroy Biermann
- Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Offensive Tackl
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 21 Osi Umenyiora
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 20 Robert Alford
- Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Interior Offensive Line
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 19 Steven Jackson
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 18 Paul Worrilow
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 17 Joe Hawley
- Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 16 Matt Bryant
The biggest being the health of Julio Jones. Jones is recovering from a foot injury that cost him the final 11 games of the 2013 season and has been rested for all of the offseason.
While the word all offseason long has been that the team is resting Jones in preparation for training camp, there is no guarantee that he’ll even see much action when camp does arrive.
The Falcons have been clear that they won’t rush Jones back, which could lead to him missing all or most of the preseason if he’s not 100 percent within the first week or two of camp. Expectations are that Jones will return for the regular season opener against the New Orleans Saints, but the Falcons probably won’t risk jeopardizing that even if it means playing Jones at 98 percent.
That translates to the possibility that Jones will sit out all of the preseason with the possible exception of the third game against the Tennessee Titans. If Jones is not 100 percent by mid-August, it likely means that he will skip that Titans game and go into the regular season with limited work in pads.
In the meantime, the Falcons should have Roddy White and Harry Douglas to fill any void. White also missed much of the offseason as he was dealing with a family matters due to the murder of his brother. But expectations are that White will be back for training camp and may have a new contract as well.
Douglas is coming off a career-high season in which he led the Falcons in receptions and yards. His play this summer will be a big factor as he is the team’s primary option to fill the void left by the retirement of tight end Tony Gonzalez. The Falcons are expected to employ three wide receivers significantly more to try and compensate for Gonzalez’s loss. Douglas played in 59 percent of the team’s offensive plays in 2012, but that figure increased to 86 percent in 2013 (per premium website Pro Football Focus). It’s likely that his workload in 2014 will mirror his 2013 one.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was snubbed from the NFL’s annual player-voted top 100 list. Ryan ranked 17th on the list a year ago following a career-best season in 2012. But after a dismal season from the Falcons in 2013, Ryan fell completely off the list. It marks the second time in three seasons that Ryan has not been elected by his peers as one of the league’s best 100 players.
As I wrote a year ago, I’ve never been a big fan of the top 100 because I think there is a clear bias in the voting. The fact that Ryan failed to be listed indicates one of those biases, which penalizes good players on bad teams. Exactly half of the players voted on the list played on one of the dozen playoff teams in 2013.
Several positions are poorly represented, indicating another bias. Last year, only six offensive linemen made the list. This year, that number increased to 10, but that still is far too few given the importance of impact blockers. There is still too much of a bias towards “fantasy” players, with 43 of the top 100 being either quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers or tight ends.
The simple fact that Ryan has only made the Top 100 list once in the past three years is very indicative of the lack of respect. Joe Flacco played very poorly last year, yet was voted 58th. We can say that is due to the Super Bowl bias. Simply put, because Flacco has a ring, he’s probably going to be grandfathered onto the list most years. After ranking 43rd in 2013, Eli Manning fell off the list entirely this year. So presumably if Flacco is once again terrible in 2014, then he might find his way off the list. But despite the widespread belief that Ryan is superior to Flacco as a quarterback, the Ravens team success allows Flacco to be among the top 60 players, while Ryan cannot crack the top 100.
But I can forgive that Super Bowl bias somewhat even though I disagree with it. But the one quarterback ranked ahead of Ryan that I struggle to grasp is Detroit’s Matt Stafford. Stafford has been voted onto the top 100 list for three consecutive years, and I’m just curious what his peers are seeing that the rest of us aren’t. Yes, Stafford has a rocket arm, one of the strongest in the league. But besides that, there isn’t much else to like about his game.
I know I have not done much of these weekly recaps since the spring but given the dearth of football-related events at this point in the calendar year, it would be a good idea to bring it back. Here’s recapping some interesting Atlanta Falcons-related reads (and listens) I found this week:
In case you were wondering what Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters has been up recently, I conducted an interview of him on Falcons Central Radio on Pro Football Central.com.
Grantland’s Robert Mays wrote a preview of the Falcons this year, with a focus on the 2011 draft-day trade for wide receiver Julio Jones. Mays states what I currently think about that trade, a change from a previous opinion, in that the trade had both a positive and negative impact on the team. Basically the Falcons would not have gotten as far as they did in 2012 without the trade, but also would not have sunk as low in 2013. It’s worth a read and also makes a key point towards the end, which is the Falcons’ success in 2014 seems to be firmly fixed on the health of Jones.
ESPN’s Vaughn McClure assesses that the Falcons’ biggest key to success in 2014 is returning to being an offensive juggernaut. McClure writes that will be the team’s key to success for the upcoming seasons. And similarly, the health of Jones will matter there, but McClure also points out the offensive line upgrades made by the team this offseason in acquiring guard Jon Asamoah and tackle Jake Matthews will be key. Hard to argue against McClure’s conclusions. The Falcons defense isn’t poised to be anything more than above average this year (at best) and until the team makes a similar investment in upgrading their pass rush, it’s unlikely that will be the case in any season in the near future.
On ESPN, voters also expressed their opinion that Morten Andersen’s game-winning kick against the Minnesota Vikings in the 1998 NFC Championship Game that sent the Falcons to their first (and only) Super Bowl appearance is the greatest play in team history. It edged out Michael Vick’s impressive overtime run against the same team in 2002.
It’s a division so competitive, that no team in its 12-year existence has ever won the division in consecutive years. And I doubt that streak is broken in 2014.
The Carolina Panthers won the division in 2013, being carried by one of the league’s premier defenses and their ability to win a bunch of close games. After losing their two opening games last year by one score, the Panthers won all five one-score games in the second half of the season.
That ability to win close games is often the difference between whether or not you can win the division or not. The Panthers and Atlanta Falcons have benefited from it the most in the years where they have managed to win the division. In years where the Panthers won the NFC South (2003, 2008 and 2013), they have posted a combined 19-6 record in one-score games. The Falcons record is 20-6 in their three division-winning seasons (2004, 2010 and 2012).
Since the division’s creation beginning with the 2002 season, the Falcons have played in the greatest amount of one-score games (100) within the four-team group and also have the best winning percentage (56.5 percent). No team has benefited more from their ability to win close games than the Falcons under head coach Mike Smith.