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Five Falcon Players to Watch Tonight vs. Dolphins

August 8th, 2014 No comments

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Devonta Freeman

All five of these Atlanta Falcons players are in a position to have some standout performances on Friday night in the team’s preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins.

Devonta Freeman

With Steven Jackson out of the lineup, Freeman is likely to get most of the work tonight against the Dolphins. While he may not wind up being the starter, we should see him get work early with the first-team offense. The two areas where Freeman will need to show the most tonight is running the football and pass protection. Toting the rock isn’t a huge challenge for Freeman, but he’ll have to show a few extra things such as the ability to get reliable yards after contact if he doesn’t want to be simply a change-of-pace runner this season. Freeman was a capable pass protector during his collegiate days, but that was then, this is now. He’ll have to show that he can handle the size and strength of NFL defensive linemen, linebackers and other blitzers if he’s going to be trusted to garner serious reps on third down this year. It’s overall, a big potential debut for Freeman. There’s no doubt that Freeman will have some role with the Falcons runners this year, but how big a role that is will be partially determined by how he fares tonight.

Bernard Reedy

There has been a lot of hype surrounding Reedy since his first arrival in Atlanta as an undrafted free agent in May. He’s not the first undrafted rookie wide receiver to receive a great deal of hype as a playmaker in the lead-up to actual games being played. Martel Moore was the superstar of last summer. But Moore did not distinguish himself at all in any of the preseason games despite receiving rave reviews almost every day in practice. Reedy cannot go down that same path.

Reedy has explosive speed and needs to display that tonight after the catch. He should also get a few opportunities as a return man, which should also help his cause. He’s a front-runner as a possible sixth wide receiver on this year’s roster and his preseason debut could help him a long way to earning that.

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Falcons 2014 Training Camp: Day 4 Report

July 28th, 2014 No comments
From AtlantaFalcons.com

Jake Matthews. From AtlantaFalcons.com

Let’s take a look at the various tweets, articles, reports, news and rumors that surfaced from the fourth day of Atlanta Falcons training camp:

The Falcons participated in their first padded practice of training camp today and really got after it. Notably, there were a pair of fights between offensive and defensive linemen.

The first fight occurred when offensive tackle Gabe Carimi and defensive end Stansly Maponga got into it. It then spread to center Joe Hawley and outside linebacker Jacques Smith. Hawley had some choice words for Smith afterwards. The media on hand at practice called it a draw.

The second fight involved offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder and Smith again.

Of course, head coach Mike Smith was less focused on the aggression showed in practice, but the more on technical things like pad level.

But today’s practice also meant a shift in philosophy:

The Falcons ran the Oklahoma drill, which you can see an example of here. D. Orlando Ledbetter breaks it down at the AJC. Fullback Patrick DiMarco was one player that reportedly shined.

The shift in philosophy and atmosphere the Oklahoma drill signifies was not lost on some observers:

Other highlights of the day included the play of defensive tackle Travian Robertson in one-on-one drills. Rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews drew heaps of praise:

And according to Smitty, Matthews is on the fast track along with defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman for increased reps. But Hageman may have been less than dominant at times today.

The punt block drill drew some eyes as well.

Roster Talk: Five Falcons on the Bubble

July 24th, 2014 No comments
Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Darius Johnson

After examining the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons roster, that still leaves 50 players that did not get such in-depth looks. Most of those top 40 players will wind up making the Falcons 53-man roster this year, leaving little more than a dozen roster spots for the remaining 50.

Let’s examine several of the players “on the bubble” that may struggle to make the cut. All five of the following players have been counted among contributors in the past, but may not be any longer. In examining each, I’ll break down what exactly are their best avenues of making the team.

Darius Johnson, Wide Receiver

Johnson played well last year considering he was an undrafted rookie, leapfrogging both Drew Davis and Kevin Cone on the depth chart, two third-year veterans. But that won’t earn him lingering credit if he doesn’t perform up to task this summer.

He’ll face steady competition from a group of young, explosive receivers like Bernard Reedy. What hurts Johnson is that he won’t be able to help himself much on special teams. Given his smaller stature, he’s not shown that he’s very effective when asked to cover punts and kicks.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Defensive End

July 20th, 2014 Comments off

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Tyson Jackson

The Atlanta Falcons are undergoing a revamp of their defensive fronts this year, and it will begin with the defensive end position.

Under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons have employed a multiple defense, which means it is not strictly a 4-3, nor is it a 3-4 scheme. It’s a hybrid between the two and for the most part over the two years that Nolan has been in Atlanta, it could be most accurately termed a 4-3 scheme with 3-4 principles.

But things might change in 2014 as the Falcons may flip it, opting for a 3-4 scheme with 4-3 principles instead. That change is signaled by the team’s expensive additions up front this offseason, including defensive end Tyson Jackson.

Jackson spent the past five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs playing in a 3-4 scheme, and is the second-highest paid defensive lineman on the roster behind only nose tackle Paul Soliai. Given that level of investment and the fact that Jackson has little experience playing in a 4-3, it does appear that at least for the team’s base packages, the Falcons will feature a lot more three-man fronts.

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An Early Look at Key Training Camp Battles on Atlanta Falcons Defense

May 31st, 2014 Comments off
ICON SMI

Peria Jerry

After taking a look at the key roster battles that will take place this summer on the Atlanta Falcons offense, it’s time we take a look at the defensive side of the ball.

Like the offense, the Falcons defensive starting lineup is relatively settled with much of the competition coming at depth positions.

Unlike the offense, the possibility that the Falcons look to bolster many positions with veteran additions at the end of camp is low. It could happen, if injuries become a problem, but for the most part the added presence of recent draft picks at several positions means the team has a vested interest in getting young guys more opportunities.

Defensive Tackle

The team signed Paul Soliai to a large contract, making him their starter at nose tackle. He will be joined by incumbents Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters. The only question among the three of them is whether or not Peters’ recovery from a late-season Achilles tear will force him to miss significant time in training camp. If so, he could wind up starting the year on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list, potentially opening up an opportunity and roster spot for someone else at the position.

Peria Jerry would appreciate that greatly, as he’s the most experienced remaining option at the position but on the bubble as far as his roster spot goes. He’ll need a strong summer to retain his job, with Ra’Shede Hageman, Cliff Matthews, and Travian Robertson also vying for time at the position. This summer is Robertson’s last chance to make the roster, but Peters’ absence opens up the possibility for the team needing more depth at nose tackle, which benefits Robertson.

Like Robertson, Matthews may be entering his final summer with the Falcons given their investment in Hagemen. A competent special teams player, Matthews will need to make more plays on defense this summer to prove he’s worth retaining for the Falcons.

Undrafted rookie Donte Rumph is a long shot to leap frog any of them for a roster spot, but given his size, a good summer could merit a practice squad position to prompt development down the road.

Defensive End

Tyson Jackson and Malliciah Goodman can be considered locks for roster spot. Jackson will be a starter, and Goodman’s performance this summer will determine whether or not he earns significant playing time in the regular season. There’s an outside possibility he could win the starting spot opposite Jackson if he performs at an exceedingly high level.

Hageman and Matthews will also get looks here, and undrafted rookie Nosa Eguae is also in the mix. But like Rumph, Eguae is likely looking at a practice squad spot if he has a strong enough summer.

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Draft Needs: Are Falcons Desperately Seeking an Edge-Rusher?

April 30th, 2014 Comments off
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Massaquoi

If you’re making a case for what is the Atlanta Falcons biggest draft need, it starts and ends with edge pass-rusher.

The lack of a significant pass rush has plagued the team for multiple seasons. The last time the team finished in the top 15 league-wide in sacks was 2008, and the last time they finished in the top 10 was in 2004 when they led the entire league with 48 sacks.

Frankly, the Falcons wasted the talents of John Abraham for the seven years he played in Atlanta as they were never able to surround him with a good enough supporting cast to create a consistently effective pass rush. The Falcons have watched team after team tee off on Matt Ryan over the past few seasons, yet have rarely done the same to opposing quarterbacks. It is long overdue that changes.

Thus, it was disappointing when the team opted to not make any major moves during free agency to improve the pass rush. Instead the team focused their attention on adding run defenders like Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson along with retaining the likes of Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry. While the latter three are solid players, they are simply part of the pass-rush-deficient problem that has plagued the team for multiple years.

So things now turn to the draft where the Falcons must find a way to improve the league’s worst third-down defense.

However that puts a lot of pressure on a rookie pass-rusher to essentially carry the unit, even if said rookie isas gifted as South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.

But any rookie will get help from the likes of Jonathan Massaquoi, Kroy Biermann, Osi Umenyiora and Stansly Maponga. The Falcons are retaining their hybrid scheme, but may play with “more 3-4 flavor” than previously under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

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Takeaways from Last Week – February 17, 2014

February 17th, 2014 Comments off

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Fisher’s strong Combine workout benefited him greatly in 2013

This week, the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off in Indianapolis. Next to draft weekend and the first week of free agency, this week represents one of the more pivotal points of the NFL’s offseason.

It’s the first time that all 32 NFL teams are going to be in one place. Sure, all NFL teams sent representatives to Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl in January, but that is primarily for scouts. Not to mention, two teams were busy with their Super Bowl preparations, limiting their ability to have a large presence in Mobile. That is not the case for Indianapolis, where the Combine signals that the beginning of free agency is right around the corner (March 11).

This is where teams can really start to talk shop about potential moves that are forthcoming in the offseason. While trades won’t become official until March 11, teams can start to sniff around about possible moves at the Combine. I’m sure that with the trades that sent Alex Smith to Kansas City last March and the rights to Robert Griffin III to Washington the year before, talks began in earnest or picked up steam during the week of the Combine.

Agents are also putting out feelers for their respective clients that are on the verge of hitting free agency. It’s that sort of furtive tampering that resulted in the NFL adopting the three-day window before the start of the league year that allows teams to openly negotiate with prospective free agents.

It’s also during this period that NFL teams can begin to designate certain free agents as franchise or transition players. That also means that negotiations for players and teams that want to avoid using the franchise or transition tag really pick up in earnest during the week of the Combine.

All in all, it’s a big week for NFL teams with a lot of things that go on behind closed doors that fans like you and me aren’t privy to and can only guess at. But that doesn’t mean that the Combine doesn’t have value to the everyday fan like ourselves.

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Team Needs: Searching for the Next John Abraham at Defensive End

February 4th, 2014 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Massaquoi

The pass rush of the Atlanta Falcons has been a problem area for a number of years.

Expectations were reasonably high that the Falcons could potentially upgrade their pass rush with the switch from defensive end John Abraham to Osi Umenyiora last year. Unfortunately, Umenyiora’s production wasn’t in the same ballpark as Abraham from the previous year. Falcon fans had to watch as Abraham put together a Pro Bowl season with the Arizona Cardinals, while the Falcons finished second-to-last in the NFL in sacks.

Upgrading that pass rush will likely be one of the team’s biggest priorities this offseason, alongside their needs on the offensive line. While the Falcons could opt to release Umenyiora due to the disappointing 2013 he had, it’s more than likely that they’ll retain him and move him into a situational role similar to what he had with the New York Giants prior to his arrival in Atlanta.

One reason to release Umenyiora is due to the presence of Jonathan Massaquoi, who midway through the year arguably started to play at a level on par with Umenyiora. Massaquoi wasn’t ready for the starting role that was thrust upon him last year due to the injury to Kroy Biermann, but as a situational player he could be a solid fit, and a much cheaper and younger one than Umenyiora. Of the young defensive ends on the roster, Massaquoi possesses the most upside and the teaching that new defensive line coach Bryan Cox could provide, could help bring that out of him in 2014.

Biermann is another player that the Falcons can count on to bolster their pass rush in 2013. He is coming off a torn Achilles that sidelined him for practically the entire season. While never a great pass rusher, his production as a pass rusher in previous years was pretty consistent and frankly, any little bit will help the Falcons.

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Takeaways from Last Week – September 2

September 2nd, 2013 Comments off

ICON SMI

Peria Jerry

The Falcons finalized their roster over the weekend and there were a few interesting moves. If you’ve ready any of my lengthy reaction reviews following the Falcons preseason games, you probably know my opinion on many of the players that made the roster. I want to devote this week’s column to discussing many of the players that were small surprises.

For the record, I would say that I was off on eight players making the roster when I did my initial prediction at the start of training camp. Forty-five out of fifty-three ain’t bad at all. Just to recap, the players I wrongly projected to make the team were: I had Sean Renfree as the third-string quarterback, instead the Falcons kept Josh Vaughan as their fifth tailback. Renfree went on injured reserve, as it’s obviously impossible to predict injuries. Marcus Jackson was on my 53-man roster instead of Kevin Cone as the fifth wide receiver. I picked Phillipkeith Manley as the backup guard, instead it was Harland Gunn. Manley was added to the practice squad. Micanor Regis was my pick for backup defensive lineman, but the Falcons instead opted to keep Peria Jerry. Pat Schiller and Brian Banks were my picks for the team’s backup linebackers, but Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow made it instead. Charles Mitchell and Terrence Johnson were the backup defensive backs, instead Shann Schillinger and Dominique Franks preempted them. Yes, I did pick Ryan Schraeder to make the roster, along with all the teams’ rookie draft picks.

This isn’t meant to toot my own horn (well, maybe just a little) but just as a vector to discuss some of the decisions the Falcons made with their roster. I should preface this by saying that I’m often critical of how the Falcons have managed their roster over the years. I think one of the larger deficiencies of this team is their struggles to develop players, especially undrafted players and guys at the back-end of their roster. When the Falcons kept Brett Romberg as a third center on their roster in 2011, it made little sense to me. What team needs three centers? Todd McClure and Joe Hawley were already on the team and had both proven they could ably play the spot. That same year the Falcons picked up Kirk Chambers at midseason to replace an injured Mike Johnson on the roster. But despite Joe Hawley’s struggles at guard that year, the Falcons never once considered plugging in Chambers there. In my eyes that’s a poor use of a roster spot. Instead the Falcons could have been smart to replace him with a player that they could develop for next year such as Shawn Andrews, Vince Manuwai, or  Leonard Davis. Essentially if a player is not contributing in some capacity by being active every Sunday, or isn’t a player that the team wants to develop for its long-term future, then that player is basically taking up unnecessary space. That might be overly harsh, but I always feel like there is room for improvement as you could replace that players’ spot on the team with someone who does fulfill those requirements.

Take for instance a player like Stansly Maponga, who made the roster as the sixth defensive end, but in truth because the Falcons will use a variety of 3-4 and 4-3 looks this year, he’s essentially eighth on the depth chart. Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann, and Jonathan Massaquoi will earn the majority of the reps at end in the Falcons 4-3 looks. But the Falcons also can play Malliciah Goodman and Cliff Matthews there if need be. And in their 3-4 looks, alongside Goodman and Matthews, Peria Jerry and Jonathan Babineaux will get reps at end. And they will get those reps at times when the Falcons employ a four-man front if the preseason is any indicator as to what will happen in the regular season. So the odds are very low that Maponga will play any snaps this year unless the Falcons are hit with several injuries up front. Maponga thus will probably be inactive every Sunday because I don’t think the Falcons consider him to be a highly valuable special teams player either. So the Falcons likely won’t get any value out of him on game days this year. But in the case of Maponga there is a clear long-term value to developing him. I personally didn’t think Maponga was that impressive this year, enough that I thought the Falcons could risk exposing him to waivers with the intent of putting him on the practice squad. The Falcons obviously felt differently, and understandably so because Maponga does have developmental potential. He may not have had a great rookie summer, but he had injury concerns as somewhat an excuse, and he could still be primed to take a huge leap from Year 1 to Year 2, as many players do. Lawrence Sidbury did when he was here in Atlanta, and Maponga reminds me a lot of Sidbury, at least as an NFL prospect.

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Reactions from Falcons-Jaguars

August 30th, 2013 Comments off

Another thorough and extremely long post of reactions from last night’s game. I’ll give some more firm Conclusions: now that we have all four preseason games to evaluate. I’ll focus mainly on what the backups did and whether or not they managed to earn roster spots.

Quarterback

What I Saw:: Davis once again was very inconsistent. He made some poor decisions, some poor reads, and some poor throws. He struggled throwing accurate balls downfield. He had a few really nice throws that were on the money. But in general, he makes his receivers work much harder than they should because of his inaccuracy. When the 2-minute drill kicked off at the end of the half, he was throwing on time and in a rhythm on the throws that the ball came out quickly. But when he gets time in the pocket a few plays later, he struggled making those throws. I think part of that is because of his footwork/mechanics. When he can just make his drop and then throw off his back foot, he’s fine. But when you force him to have to get his feet under him and/or reset them, he messes up causing some errant throws and balls to sail. I felt sorry for him at the end of the game, you could tell he didn’t want to come back into the game. The pass protection just was subpar at the end of the game with the third stringers in the game. Sean Renfree only got a bit of work before he got injured, suffering some sort of injury to his throwing arm as he landed wrong while trying to throw the ball away. I hate to say it but that injury might wind up being fortunate for the Falcons, as it might force them to bring in another backup that can potentially push/overtake Davis on the depth chart down the road. It’s obviously not good for Renfree, who suffered a major injury to his throwing arm at the end of December. If this is another major one, it will be two major ones in 8 months and puts his NFL future in jeopardy.

Conclusions: Davis has talent, but he needs at least another year of refining before he’s a legit No. 2 quarterback in the NFL. He’s just too inaccurate and stares down his reads too much (almost threw 3 picks because of it). You see the flashes which you like and thus why he still has developmental potential. But the Falcons coaching staff will have to work extra hard to make him effective if he ever gets into a real game this season. Renfree even without the injury is just a project that the team was hoping could carry the clipboard for a year, and maybe in 2014 as he’s more comfortable in the system could start to show some promise. His injury might throw a wrench into that plan. He just did not look good this summer in limited action even before the injury.

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