Falcons Wrap Camp Exile
The Falcons finished their final day of what has been dubbed “Camp Exile” on Wednesday. That was the name of the player-organized sessions which primarily featured 7-on-7 workouts between offensive and defensive players. Matt Ryan, Curtis Lofton, and Coy Wire got majority credit for organizing the workouts that had varying attendance between 20 and 35 teammates over recent weeks. Perhaps the most noteworthy accomplishment for the camp was the ability for Ryan and top rookie wide receiver Julio Jones to lay a foundation and work to build a rapport for the upcoming season. (Source: D. Orlando Ledbetter, AJC)
Roddy confident about Falcons offense
On an appearance on NFL Network on Sunday Night, Falcons receiver Roddy White was brimming with confidence and expectations when asked about the potential success that the Falcons could have with rookie receiver Julio Jones added to the mix. White compared it to the famous St. Louis Rams offense of 1999, often dubbed the “Greatest Show on Turf.” It currently ranks as the 5th most potent scoring offense in NFL history, and until it’s record was broken by the 2007 Patriots, ranked first in terms of point differential between points scored and allowed by the defense.
It’s going to be special. It’s going to remind you of the greatest show on turf. We got a lot of explosive players and you know, I see a lot more explosive plays coming out of our offense. [Julio Jones] is a guy that can get downfield and make those things happen. And more one on one coverages with me so I can do my thing and get explosive plays.
Snelling wants to stay in Atlanta, but willing to explore options
In an interview with Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk Live, Falcons running Jason Snelling shared his thoughts on the current CBA negotiations as well as his potential future with the Falcons. Snelling is expected to be an impending free agent if the new Collective Bargaining Agreement returns to players with four years or more being unrestricted free agent. Snelling indicated that he would like to return to the Falcons as they are at the top of his list, but also would be willing to explore other options in free agency if possible. (Source: Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk)
There are two things that cannot be questioned about Curtis Lofton: first his toughness and secondly, his leadership. These are two areas where Lofton excels in. He’s a punishing, hard-hitting middle linebacker that likes to mix it up on defense. He’s taken on more of the leadership mantle during the lockout, acting as the “quarterback” of the defense during player-organized workouts according to several sources.
But there are areas where Lofton can be questioned, and often that is his play on the field. He did not play up to expectations in 2010 after a very promising 2009 campaign. The previous year, he made consistent plays against the run, while struggling quite a bit against the pass. And while he made improvements as a pass defender, his run play was not up to par. And that play against the run is mainly what Lofton is known for.
The Falcons emphasized improving their offense in this past year’s draft mainly because their brass feels it already has many of the pieces on defense to make significant strides going forward. Obviously, one of those pieces is Lofton. But he’ll have to step up his play like many of the others if he wants to prove the Falcons front office to be right.
LB Akeem Dent
While much of the post-draft debate has centered on whether the Julio Jones trade-up was a good move or not, the biggest question mark of the Falcons 2011 draft class is arguably the next player they took off the board: Georgia linebacker Akeem Dent.
There is very little question of Jones’ skills. The only question there is whether the Falcons gave up too much to acquire those skills and only time will tell. But one wonders whether Dent has the skills that merited the Falcons taking him with a late third round pick.
My initial reaction was that Dent was not worth that high a pick, particularly for a 4-3 team like the Falcons. Dent fits best as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. That is the best scheme and role where he can maximize his skills at the NFL level. Playing in a 4-3 is not likely to maximize his skillset, which leaves questions of what the Falcons saw in Dent that many others, including myself did not see.
So I went back and watched some more tape on Dent to see if I could figure it out. Here is what I saw…
The Eagles defense swarms Packers RB James Starks
I imagine when the line comes out today or tomorrow, the Falcons will only be favored by one or two points in this game. Considering Vegas gives the home team an automatic three points and the Falcons are one of the teams with one of the more widely known home-winning records, such a low line is actually an indicator that Vegas thinks Green Bay is the superior team.
The emergence of running back James Starks is a worrisome development for the Falcon faithful. When the Falcons took on the Packers in Week 12, Green Bay had no real running game. In that game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the team’s leading rusher with 12 carries for 51 yards. The Falcons rushed three for much of that game, which allowed Rodgers ample room to step up in the pocket and scramble for first days down all day. Among the Packers running backs, Brandon Jackson had a paltry 10 carries for 26 yards. The Packers were one dimensional on that November day in Atlanta, and it greatly helped the Falcons achieve victory.
In the following week, Starks emerged with 73 yards on 18 carries. It wasn’t a mind-blowing statline to the conventional fan, but one has to remember that it was the best single total by a Packers running back since Brandon Jackson’s 115-yard performance in Week 5. And with Stark’s 23-carry, 123-yard performance on Sunday afternoon against the Eagles, it doesn’t seem like the Falcons can count on the Packers being one-dimensional again.
Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux was listed as questionable for the regular season finale this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers in the team’s weekly injury report earlier today. Babineaux missed the entire week of practice with a shoulder injury. Also listed as questionable are defensive end Kroy Biermann (calf), linebacker Curtis Lofton (knee), and center Todd McClure (ankle). Defensive end John Abraham (groin) and wide out Roddy White (knee) were listed as probable on the report.
Babineaux was the lone Falcon to miss all three days of practice. Lofton, McClure, and White each missed Wednesday and Thursday practices, but White fully participated on Friday, and both Lofton and McClure had limited participation as well.
Second-year defensive tackle Vance Walker is listed on the team’s depth chart as Babineaux’s primary reason. His absence will likely mean increased playing time for Peria Jerry as well.
Team hopes to have both Lofton and Weatherspoon in lineup
The Falcons released their full injury report this afternoon, which listed defensive end John Abraham and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon as questionable for Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams. Included on the report were also linebacker Curtis Lofton and tight end Justin Peelle, both listed as probable.
Abraham was the only one of the group that was limited in Friday’s practice with a groin injury. He was also limited on Thursday and did not participate on Wednesday. Weatherspoon who has missed the past four games with a knee injury, fully participated in Friday’s practice giving optimism that he will play this weekend. Peelle has missed three games due to a sports hernia, but fully participated in both Thursday and Friday practices. Lofton was limited on Wednesday with a knee injury, but fully participated in the past two days of practice.
The Falcons Week 7 injury report released today indicated that cornerback Dunta Robinson is questionable for this weekend’s game vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. Robinson suffered a concussion on a hit he delivered to Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson in the second quarter last week. He missed the remainder of the game and sat out all three days of practice.
As previously noted, tight end Justin Peelle (sports hernia) and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (knee) are out this week. Running back Antone Smith who suffered a shoulder injury last week is also listed as questionable after missing the entire week of practice. Linebacker Curtis Lofton who was limited in practice on Wednesday, fully participated on Thursday and was removed from the report for Friday, indicating he will play this weekend.
For the Bengals, they will be without running back Brian Leonard, defensive end Antwan Odom, and safety Roy Williams. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph (ankle), defensive tackle Pat Sims (knee), and defensive end Jonathan Fanene (hamstring) were labeled questionable. Fanene fully participated in all three days of practice this week. Joseph missed Wednesday and Thursday practice, but was limited on Friday. Sims missed Wednesday practice, was limited on Thursday and fully participated on Friday.
If not every day, but every few days over the course of training camp I plan to post some scouting reports of some of the Falcons top (or at least more notable) players. I’m kicking things off with the centerpiece of the Falcons defense, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton.
Pros: Is physical, hard-hitting run defender that shows nice range in the middle of the field when defending the run because he has a good nose for the ball. Does his best work when he’s allowed to attack upfield at or near the line of scrimmage. Shows good passion and exuberance for a physical defensive style, making him a natural for a team leadership role.
Cons: Needs work in coverage, and lacks awareness when playing in space. Will lose sight of some of his assignments, and doesn’t consistently get good depth when working in zone coverage. Doesn’t have the hips or quickness to match up with opposing receivers over the middle and is rarely in position to make a play in the passing game. Despite good range, doesn’t have great speed and doesn’t make many plays vs. the run outside the hashmarks.
2010 Outlook: Lofton has already begun distinguishing himself as one of the up and coming run-defending middle linebackers in the league. But he still has a ways to go in coverage, and how much improvement he shows this season will be a huge indicator of his long-term success in both Atlanta and the league.
J. Michael Moore of AtlantaFalcons.com reports that middle linebacker Curtis Lofton returned to practice today. Lofton has been held out of practice since the first day of training camp due to a hamstring injury.
Per the report, all players on the roster practice today except running back Jason Snelling, who suffered a bit hit from Jamaal Fudge on Friday’s scrimmage. The Falcons welcomed back Roddy White for his first day of practice due to his holdout, as well as defensive tackle Trey Lewis who missed a few days last week.
With less than a day before the Falcons kick off training camp on Saturday with an 8:30 am et practice, the Falcons were able to get one of their two remaining unsigned draft picks under contract when they signed linebacker Curtis Lofton to a four-year deal per the AJC.
Lofton is expected to be the team’s starting middle linebacker, but his ability to compete for that role could have been impacted based on when he arrived to camp. First round pick Sam Baker remains the only unsigned rookie. All players on the teams’ roster are expected to report today at Flowery Branch for camp.