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Camp Battles: Defensive Line

July 8th, 2009 Comments off

Unlike the offensive line, the defensive line is fairly unsettled as far as the starting lineup. Jonathan Babineaux and John Abraham can be assured of retaining their starting spots, but the other two positions are up for grabs.

At left end, Chauncey Davis and Jamaal Anderson will compete. But this is Anderson’s job to lose. The team is fairly confident that Davis can handle the starting job if need be. He outplayed Anderson last year, despite coming off the bench. This summer may mark the last chance Anderson has to prove his worth. If he doesn’t impress, might find himself in a new city by the end of August.

At nose tackle, Trey Lewis and rookie Peria Jerry are expected to be the primary competitors. It seems the Falcons would prefer for Lewis to win the gig, and Jerry to serve as the backup tackle at both interior spots, but the coaches like Jerry enough that they would feel fairly comfortable starting him right away. Lewis was solid for the first half of 2007 before an injury sidelined him and he missed all of last year as well. So this summer will be really the first chance the coaches get a look at him outside OTAs and some film study.  So they definitely aren’t married to him as far as the starting spot goes.

The competition for the backup behind Abraham should also be fairly intense between Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury. The winner of that battle could get a lot of reps on passing downs, subbing for Abraham as well as working opposite him since the team likes to move both Anderson and Davis inside to rush the passer. It’s likely that both players will be retained, since the team is looking to develop more speed off the edge.

Also in the mix inside is Jason Jefferson, Thomas Johnson, Tywain Myles, and Vance Walker. All four are likely competing for probably only one roster spot in the tackle rotation. Jefferson is the most experienced, but Walker is a draft pick, giving him a small boost. Myles and Johnson however offer a bit more beef. But because the team can move either Davis or Anderson inside on passing downs, there isn’t a strong need for a fourth tackle if none of the players steps up.

If I was to make a predict today, I would lean more towards the team keeping five ends and three tackles with Davis and Jerry winning the starting gigs by summer’s end.

Falcons get three back from injury

March 24th, 2009 Comments off

The AJC reports that three Falcons have been cleared to participate as the team opens off-season workouts today. Those three were injured last season and include running back Thomas Brown, linebacker Robert James, and defensive tackle Trey Lewis.

Both Brown and James were draft picks last year, but were injured during camp and missed their rookie seasons. Brown is expected to add depth at running back while James is expected to see time as a reserve outside linebacker.

Lewis is probably the most significant return. Lewis suffered an injury midway through the 2007 season and re-aggravated the injury last off-season, forcing him to miss the entire season. With the loss of free agent Grady Jackson to the Detroit Lions this off-season, there is a void at nose tackle which a healthy Lewis may be able to fill. He replaced Jackson as the starter for 5 games in 2007 before his injury.

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Baker signs among other roster moves

July 26th, 2008 Comments off

Sam Baker, property of SI.com The Falcons made a multitude of roster moves on the eve of camp. Not only did the team agree to terms with the last of its unsigned draft picks in offensive tackle Sam Baker, but also signed three others: offensive tackle Mike Butterworth, cornerback Blue Adams, and linebacker Coy Wire. To make room for the additions the team waived cornerback Glenn Sharpe, reached an injury settlement with linebacker Travis Williams, and waived/injured offensive lineman Pat McCoy. The team also placed defensive tackle Trey Lewis on the active/non-football injury list and offensive tackle Renardo Foster on the active/physically-unable-to-perform list.

Baker was the second of the team’s two first round draft picks, and there was some worry about whether he would be signed on time before the start of practices on Saturday morning. Baker is expected to compete for the starting left tackle position against Quinn Ojinnaka.

Butterworth rejoins the team after being cut in June to make room for Harry Douglas. He is an undrafted free agent out of Slippery Rock. Adams was recently dumped by the Cincinnati Bengals. He has spent most of his four seasons in the NFL as a reserve corner contributing on special teams. Last year for the Bengals, he recorded 9 stops on special teams in 13 games. Wire was an unsigned free agent this past off-season after spending six seasons with the Buffalo Bills. In that span, he mostly produced on special teams. His most productive year came as a rookie in 2002, where he started 15 games at strong safety and recorded 92 tackles and 3 sacks. He was moved to linebacker late in 2006, which was the position he played at Stanford.

Sharpe was an undrafted rookie out of Miami signed by the team this past spring. By reaching an injury settlement with Williams, it affords the Falcons an opportunity to re-sign him later in the season but also gives Williams a chance to explore other opportunities with other teams. If McCoy clears waivers, he will be placed on the Falcons injured reserve list.

Lewis and Foster essentially are unable to practice due to injury, and if or when they are able to pass a physical, will be free to join the Falcons active roster this summer. Both players suffered torn ACLs last season. Lewis had a setback in the off-season as he was already in the midst of rehab and require more surgery on his injured knee. Foster suffered his second career ACL tear last October and isn’t completely healed.

Training Camp Preview: Defensive Line

July 21st, 2008 Comments off

The Falcons defensive line also went through some major changes, particularly on the inside.

Inside, the team will have some serious competition for the two starting jobs. As of right now, however Jonathan Babineaux and Montavious Stanley are slated to be the team’s starters. Babineaux had his moments as a fill-in over the past few years replacing Rod Coleman when he was down with injury. Now the Falcons hope that Babineaux can be able to put it all together for a complete season. Babineaux has good quickness and can put pressure on the quarterback, something that the team will need this season as it tries to replace a pass rusher like Coleman.

Stanley is slated to start at the nose tackle position. But Stanley is essentially only penciled in as the starter because Trey Lewis, the incumbent is out with injury. There has been no timetable as when Lewis may return, and that probably won’t be known until a few days or weeks into camp. Lewis suffered a knee injury last year, but re-aggravated it in the off-season. More dire reports indicate he could miss several months of the regular season at the least. Stanley filled in for Lewis late last year, and like Babineaux had his moments. He’s a big, run stuffer. The reason he’s ahead of the other possible replacements for Lewis is because the coaching staff knows him, after he spent much of the first half of the 2006 season with the Jaguars.

Babineaux is unlikely to be pushed significantly for his starting job, while Stanley will probably be looking over his shoulder throughout training camp.

If either is unseated, Kindal Moorehead may be the one to do it. Moorehead is similar to Babineaux. He spent the past five years as a rotation player with the Panthers. He’s best when putting pressure on the quarterback, and will likely get a chance to impact on passing downs. His best season came in 2004, when he replaced an injured Kris Jenkins and performed fairly well in his absence.

Joining Moorehead are two more valuable veterans in Rashad Moore and Tim Anderson. Both have starting experience, but it’s doubtful either would leapfrog both Stanley and Moorehead to gain the starting position. Both will most likely compete for the nose tackle position. Anderson was signed by the team last year due to injury, and made some contributions as a pass rusher. As a starter with the Bills a few years back, he was a disappointment. Meaning, Anderson’s best contributions are probably off the bench.

Moore would probably be able to contribute more as a run stopper. He started for the Seahawks in 2004, but like Anderson works best in a rotation rather than as a starter. He’s familiar to Thomas Dimitroff due to his time with the Patriots last year.

Also in the mix is David Patterson. The team thought very highly of Patterson a year ago as an undrafted free agent, that he was one of the highest paid undrafted free agents. But he missed the entire season with injury. Patterson offers some versatility as a guy that could potentially play end or tackle for the Falcons. But they will be looking mostly for him to provide some pressure from the interior this year.

The competition at end won’t be as heavy. One starter’s job is very safe, and that is John Abraham, the team’s leading sacker last year. Abraham has been nicked up in the past, and that is always a concern for arguably the team’s top player on either side of the ball. Abraham is adept as a speed rusher and forcing turnovers and is an obvious difference maker when he’s healthy.

The other end is not so secure, although incumbent Jamaal Anderson will likely be given numerous opportunities to retain his job. Anderson struggled last year as a rookie, going the entire season without a sack. The team is hopeful that with a year’s experience, being a few pounds lighter, and the added tutelage of new defensive line coach Ray Hamilton, Anderson can make huge strides this year.

If anybody is going to push Anderson it will be Chauncey Davis. Davis clearly outplayed Anderson last year, and he’s not known as a pass rusher. Davis is an ideal third defensive end due to his ability to play the run and rush the quarterback, although he’s better at the former.

The team also added ex-Brown Simon Fraser. Fraser may also get work inside at defensive tackle. Like Patterson, he’s an Ohio State alum that offers the versatility to play multiple positions and could be a valued commodity in the rotation.

The team also tried to upgrade the speed it had on the edge with fifth round draft pick Kroy Biermann, undrafted free agent Brandon Miller, and Willie Evans. Biermann was an impact player at Montana and is known for his motor. Both he and Miller are undersized, so even if they made the roster their reps would be limited. Both would probably be ideal practice squad players where they can use the year to get stronger and bigger before they are put to the test. But if both show some ability as a situational pass rushers this summer, they will get chances during the regular season. Evans has bounced out the league on several teams since entering in 2006 as an undrafted free agent. Like Miller and Biermann, he lacks ideal size but will be given a chance to impact as a situational pass rusher.

The Battles

Stanley vs. Anderson vs. Moore vs. Moorehead – Stanley has the edge, but all will be given the chance to win the nose tackle job as the fill-in until Lewis is healthy.

The Falcons will likely keep eight lineman as part of their rotation, not including Lewis. Abraham, Anderson, and Davis seem unlikely to be released. But who the other five are is a toss-up. Stanley, Fraser, and Moorehead may have the inside track to three of those jobs. Biermann, Evans, Miller, and Patterson are all eligible for the practice squad.

Lewis has setback in recovery

March 5th, 2008 Comments off

The AJC reports that Falcons defensive tackle Trey Lewis has re-injured his already recovering knee in a “freak” accident in falling down stairs. Lewis suffered a torn ACL in his right knee this past November and had been rehabbing it. This latest injury is considered a major setback in his recovery from that initial injury. According to his agent, Richard Katz, he is scheduled to have more surgery this week.

This latest setback will likely prompt the Falcons to make a move at defensive tackle prior to the draft. Various reports indicated the Falcons interest in veteran defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and Shaun Rogers, both of whom have been traded within the past week. Currently still available on the trade block is New York Jets defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, who recently had a trade to go to Cincinnati nixed. Although it’s unknown if the Falcons will show any specific interest in Robinson, defensive tackle likely becomes a major need for the Falcons either via free agency and/or the draft.

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Coleman and Lewis go on IR

November 20th, 2007 Comments off

The Falcons were dealt a severe blow at defensive tackle on Tuesday when they placed both starters Rod Coleman and Trey Lewis on injured reserve. To improve depth, the Falcons signed defensive tackle Jesse Mahelona, promoted defensive end Kevin Huntley from the practice squad, and re-signed end Derrick Jones to the practice squad.

Both Coleman and Lewis suffered their injuries this past weekend against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Coleman injured his triceps and hand on his right arm, while Lewis suffered a severe right knee injury. Depth was already a concern at the position after the release of starter Grady Jackson three weeks ago. After Jackson’s release, Lewis was promoted permanently as the starter at nose tackle. Coleman only returned from injury just five weeks ago.

Jonathan Babineaux and Montavious Stanley are expected to replace Coleman and Lewis, respectively. Babineaux started the first few games of the season in place of Coleman at the undertackle position. Stanley has gotten extensive playing time as the reserve nose tackle much of the season and now will be counted on to start. The team added free agent Tim Anderson a few weeks ago. He’s been inactive thus far, but will likely be counted on to have a much bigger role in the ensuing games.

Mahelona was a fifth round pick of the Tennessee Titans a year ago. Last season as a reserve with the Titans, he recorded 11 tackles and 1 sacks in 10 games. He was released by the Titans after being inactive for Week 1 this season, and joined the Miami Dolphins in October. He was inactive for a single game before the Dolphins released him.

Huntley has been off and on the Falcons practice squad several teams thus far this year. He was originally signed on September 12 and then released on October 9. He was re-signed on October 29. Jones originally joined the team’s practice squad on October 17, but was released two weeks ago.

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Jackson’s release a football decision

October 24th, 2007 Comments off

Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino indicated that the team’s decision to release veteran defensive tackle Grady Jackson was football-related, implying that it had nothing to do with Jackson’s lawsuit filed against the organization during the off-season.

The Falcons had carried five defensive tackles on the roster all year long due to the injury to Rod Coleman which forced him to miss the first five games. Now that Coleman is healthy as well as Jonathan Babineaux who had also missed time due to injury, the team deemed it necessary to cut one of their “extra” tackles per Petrino. Jackson was the choice. Petrino also indicated how impressive rookie Trey Lewis has been. Lewis worked mostly at nose tackle during the summer, but had move to the other tackle position due to the injuries to Colemand and Babineaux.

However, not all parties deem Jackson’s release to be purely about football. For the second time this season, cornerback DeAngelo Hall expressed some dissatisfaction with the organization and coaching staff over Jackson’s release to the AJC. Hall also broached the topic of his contract status with the AJC, indicating his desire to be paid a lucrative contract overrides his desire to stay in Atlanta:
“I got one more year left on my deal. I feel I can go out and get a ton of money, whether it’s here or somewhere else.”

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Falcons dump Grady

October 23rd, 2007 Comments off

Getty Images/Doug Benc The AJC’s Steve Wyche reports that the Falcons released starting nose tackle Grady Jackson today. No specific reasons were given why Jackson was released. The team plans to promote rookie Trey Lewis into the starting lineup.

Lewis has started two games opposite Jackson in relief of injured starter Rod Coleman and his replacement Jonathan Babineaux so far this season. Coleman returned to the lineup against the New York Giants. Lewis has played well, tallying 15 tackles and an interception in six games this year.

Jackson was embroiled in some off-season controversy involving a lawsuit filed against the Falcons. But it was resolved and Jackson received a one-year contract extension. It is unknown if this roster move stems from that or from something else more recent involving Jackson.

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Lewis to start on Sunday

September 28th, 2007 Comments off

Contrasting earlier reports that he was suffering from only a mild knee injury, the Falcons updated defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux’s status to indicate that he will not play this weekend against the Houston Texans. Babineaux had been serving as an injury replacement for Rod Coleman in the starting lineup, but will now be replaced by rookie Trey Lewis. Head coach Bobby Petrino was hopeful that Babineaux might be able to return next week, but the AJC is reporting that he might miss three weeks. This injury leaves the Falcons with only three active defensive tackles for Sunday. Sharing time with Lewis will be Montavious Stanley, who will perform swing duties at both tackle spots, backing up Lewis and nose tackle Grady Jackson as well. Petrino indicated earlier in the week that it is possible that Coleman will return to the lineup next week. Lewis will be the fourth Falcon rookie to start this season, following Jamaal Anderson, Justin Blalock, and Laurent Robinson. Although there is a good possibility that another rookie starter will be joining him in the lineup, either cornerback Chris Houston or David Irons due to the possible benching of DeAngelo Hall.

In other injury news, both Chris Crocker and Todd Weiner are expected to start and play this weekend. But tight end Dwayne Blakley is listed out once more.

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Houston, Irons, and Lewis sign

July 26th, 2007 Comments off

Steve Wyche of the AJC reports that the Falcons have come to terms with three of the five remaining rookies. Most notable among them is second round pick Chris Houston, along with sixth rounders David Irons and Trey Lewis.

Houston agreed to a five-year contract, while both Irons and Lewis signed four-year deals. Houston is expected to compete for a starting position with Lewis Sanders opposite DeAngelo Hall. Irons and Lewis will both be competing for reserve roles at cornerback and defensive tackle, respectively.

Their signings along with the inking of top pick Jamaal Anderson means that only second round pick Justin Blalock remains as the only unsigned rookie among the Falcons eleven player draft class.

Wyche reports that Blalock is expected to be signed before the team takes the practice field at 3:00 pm Thursday.

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