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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Interior Offensive Line

July 19th, 2014 No comments

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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Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 30 Peter Konz

July 16th, 2014 No comments
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Peter Konz

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 30th-ranked player: offensive lineman Peter Konz.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 47/100

Last year’s rank: 16
Player Grade: 47/100
Teams he is starter: 4 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 4 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 24 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +3

Peter Konz blew a fantastic opportunity last year to become the team’s long-term starter at center. Now he’s behind the eight ball heading into 2014, as he will be the backup behind Joe Hawley.

While there will be a competition between the two, Konz would have to play exceptionally well or Hawley would have to struggle mightily for Konz to leapfrog him on the depth chart.

Konz struggled last year thanks to a litany of issues including poor footwork, hand usage and an utter lack of an aggressive edge in his play. The Falcons are hopeful that new offensive line coach Mike Tice can help address some of these issues to help salvage Konz’s career. Because at this point, his career is on the brink.

While Konz’s high draft status as a former second-round pick should keep his roster spot relatively safe this year, beyond this year remains to be seen. That will largely depend on what if any improvements Konz can make this season, as well as whether or not Hawley plays well. If Hawley can play well and increase the gap between him and Konz by year’s end, it could result in Konz being firmly on the roster bubble heading into the 2015 season.

But that is still a ways away, and for the time being Konz needs to be focused on this summer and season. Reports indicate that Konz has been “living” in the weight room this offseason, strong indications that he’s not taking his roster status for granted. That’s an important first step for Konz to make to salvage his career, but the rest will have to be proven on the field.

Konz will likely serve as the team’s top interior backup, due to his ability to play both center and guard. He’s struggled mightily at the latter position when asked to play there. That’s why players like Mike Johnson and Harland Gunn will likely receive reps at center this summer, as if either perform well there, it could cost Konz his status as their preferred option as a swing center/guard.

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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.

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FalcFans Weekly – April 6, 2014

April 6th, 2014 Comments off
F. Medina-US PRESSWIRE

William Moore

Potential Atlanta Falcons newcomer and safety Rafael Bush appears very keen on joining the team. The Falcons signed Bush to an offer sheet this week as a restricted free agent, giving his former team, the New Orleans Saints until April 8 to match or let him become a Falcon. Bush is still friends with Falcons safety William Moore, from their days with the team back in 2010-11, and is the strongest candidate should he join the Falcons to replace Thomas DeCoud at free safety.

Blogging Dirty’s Jake Bennett has a nice write-up about how Bush’s addition can benefit the Falcons.

And speaking of Moore, he apparently now has a chip on his shoulder in regards to the contract the Saints gave Jairus Byrd this offseason.

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Vaughn McClure of ESPN has an excellent piece on how defensive tackle Paul Soliai’s contract came to be in Atlanta with a  candid discussion with his agent David Canter.

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McClure also shares insights into center Peter Konz, who has been working hard to improve this offseason. Konz has added some muscle and took to heart the final words of tight end Tony Gonzalez, when he addressed the team before the regular season finale against the Carolina Panthers.

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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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Free Agent Focus: Jon Asamoah

March 3rd, 2014 Comments off
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Asamoah

Ranking just behind his Kansas City Chiefs teammate Geoff Schwartz on a lot lists about the top free agent guards in 2014 is Jon Asamoah, making him a potential target for the Atlanta Falcons this offseason.

Asamoah (pronounced AH-suh-MO-uh) is not coming off his most successful season, losing his starting job at right guard to Schwartz towards the end of the year. But that doesn’t really portray the reality of how Asamoah’s career in Kansas City could potentially end if he walks in free agency.

Asamoah lost his job due to both injury and less than ideal play. He suffered a shoulder injury in Week 11 against the Denver Broncos, being limited the following week in practice. Schwartz replaced him as the starter at right guard, and his performance against the San Diego Chargers in Week 12 led to his keeping the job for the remainder of the season.

But Asamoah gave the Chiefs mostly solid production over the past three seasons since assuming the starting right guard spot after the departure of long-time veteran stalwart Brian Waters. His +8.9 Pro Football Focus grade in 2011 was second-best on the team behind only left tackle Branden Albert that year. He followed that up with a +15.0 grade in 2012, tying right tackle Eric Winston for the best on the roster. While there was a decline from Asamoah in 2013, his +7.9 grade still earned him third-highest on the roster and better than all but 19 of 80 other guards with significant playing time last year.

And it’s more than likely the decline of Asamoah had more to due with a shift in blocking scheme installed by new head coach Andy Reid than any decline in skill. Clearly, his Pro Football Focus grades indicate Asamoah fared well in the zone-blocking scheme employed under the previous regime. While the Chiefs didn’t completely scrap zone-blocking under Reid, there was more of an effort to become more of a straight-ahead smash mouth rushing attack, which is more in line with what Reid had in Philadelphia.

Over the years, the Eagles offensive lines under Reid featured massive blockers such as Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan and Jason Peters at offensive tackle and Shawn Andrews, Jermane Mayberry, Jamaal Jackson and Todd Herremans inside at guard and center, all of whom are north of 320 pounds and some over 340. When Reid made the decision late in his tenure to switch to a smaller group coached by Howard Mudd, it resulted in disaster for the Eagles.

The lighter, 305-pound Asamoah just doesn’t fit that sort of style as well as the 340-pound Schwartz.

Any questions surrounding Asamoah center on whether he could fare better with the Falcons, a team in desperate need of upgrading the play at right guard.

Strengths:

  • Athletic and very effective blocking on the move on stretch plays and getting downfield on the second level
  • Has good feet and does a nice job staying in front of speed in pass protection
  • Young, developing player with still room to grow

Weaknesses:

  • Not very big or powerful to create consistent push off the line
  • Will give up ground to powerful interior pass rushers
  • Has had a few nicks and bruises the past two years causing some slight durability concerns

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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.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 57 “Who Stays, Who Goes?”

February 4th, 2014 Comments off

This week, Allen has a snow day and I ask Dave Choate of The Falcoholic to fill in. We discuss several Atlanta Falcons players that are on the bubble, as we decide which players we think stay or go this offseason. Among the players discussed are Steven Jackson, Harry Douglas, Osi Umenyiora, Jonathan Babineaux, Asante Samuel and Thomas DeCoud. Afterwards, I give my thoughts on the Falcons cap room, while Dave weighs in on the recent induction of Claude Humphrey into the Hall of Fame and whether it will open opportunities for other past Falcon greats. We finish off the episode by discussing Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seattle Seahawks blueprint and potential dynasty, free agent pass rushers that are on the Falcons radar, and whether trading up for Jadeveon Clowney is worthwhile with Khalil Mack possibly available.

Episode 57: Who Stays, Who Goes? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 7 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Dave writes for The Falcoholic and can be found on twitter: @TheFalcoholic.

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

Takeaways from Super Bowl XLVIII

February 3rd, 2014 1 comment

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Wilson

Super Bowl XLVIII proved compelling if you find one-sided blowouts to be such. The Seattle Seahawks just decimated the Denver Broncos, who were masquerading as the ’90s era Buffalo Bills, in the 43-8 blowout on Sunday. However, what was compelling is the lessons that may be learned from the game.

Last year, I mused on the fact that there had been an unprecedented run of closely contested Super Bowls over the past decade. Fitting that streak came to an end yesterday.

Super Bowl XLVIII All About Seattle’s Defense

My initial expectation for the game was that Denver would not be able to cope with Seattle’s defense, headlined by their physical secondary and relentless pass rush. But apparently I over-thought it because I chose the Broncos to win the game, largely because I didn’t believe the Seahawks had enough offensive firepower.

Well, it was clear that the Seahawks defense was more than a match for the Broncos. The Broncos didn’t convert a first down until five minutes into the second quarter and were held scoreless until the final play of the third quarter. The Seahawks were able to set the tone early by winning the coin toss and electing to play defense first.

My expectation that the Seahawks offense wasn’t good enough did seem to be fairly accurate through the early going of this game. I would say that Seattle’s offense was solid, but unspectacular. For the Seahawks, 21 of their points were generated off turnovers, including a pick-six by linebacker Malcolm Smith. The other two gave them favorable field position near midfield or in Bronco territory to score points. And the Seahawks took the opening kickoff of the second half for six.

Factoring in all those points that were directly responsible by the defense or special teams, the Seahawks only scored 13 points in the game. And that touchdown was set up by an onside kick that once again gave Seattle favorable field position to start their drive. Really, the only success the Seahawks offense had that was generated on their own was a pair of drives that ended in field goals in the red zone in the first quarter.

So I feel better that at least half of my prediction came true. It was a game where field position, special teams, and defense were the deciding factors. A stark change from previous years, which was a main reason why the other half of my prediction was so wrong. I expected the Seahawks defense to have a good game, but I never expected them to stymy the Broncos as thoroughly as they did.

Absolutely nothing went right for Denver, and this game ultimately will probably become a referendum on whether defense still matters in today’s offensive-driven league. Really, it should not be a revelation that it still does. But it just shows that even still, an excellent defense can have the advantage over an excellent offense despite all the rule changes in favor of the latter.

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Team Needs: Re-signing Hawley Key at Center

February 1st, 2014 Comments off

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Hawley

Unlike most of the positions along the offensive line, at center, the Atlanta Falcons can say that time healed some wounds in 2013.

That elixir came in the form of Joe Hawley, who assumed the starting spot at center in Week 11. While Hawley was by no means outstanding in that role, he proved to be an immediate upgrade over Peter Konz, who had struggled throughout 2013. Konz moved to right guard, where he did not fare any better.

Hawley is now an impending free agent, but one that the Falcons are likely to re-sign. His market isn’t expected to be huge given his limited experience at center. Prior to starting the final seven games in 2013 at the position, he had logged just three starts at center in three previous years in Atlanta, all coming as injury fill-in for Todd McClure in 2011.

Despite Hawley’s solid play at the position this past season, it doesn’t mean he’s entrenched there. His lack of experience makes him a somewhat unknown commodity moving forward. Essentially, his play in 2013 only gives him the leg up in any competition and means it should be considered his job to lose in 2014. But the Falcons shouldn’t be thinking that seven games is enough to give Hawley a lucrative, long-term deal, a mistake they’ve made too often in recent years based off limited sample sizes.

If the team does manage to successfully re-sign Hawley to a modest contract, it’s possible he could be in for a camp competition with Konz this summer. The chances of Konz returning to center increase if the Falcons are able to add a potential starter to replace him at right guard.

Were that to happen, it would be reasonable to believe that the competition between the two would likely produce a competent or possibly good long-term option. The team also has Harland Gunn on the roster, who has experience playing center and has a similar skillset as Hawley.

The Falcons could also opt to add other players this offseason, particularly if Hawley finds a way to depart via free agency. If that were to occur, adding a veteran on the open market would make the most sense given Konz has done little to merit the team’s optimism and faith.

Even if Hawley is retained, the team could still seek to bolster the position in the draft with a developmental player in the latter rounds.

But the key remains re-signing Hawley, as letting him walk would open up a can of worms. And given the team’s needs at other positions along the offensive line, that’s a can best left alone.

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