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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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Roster Talk: Locks and Bubble Players

August 28th, 2013 1 comment

Back at the start of training camp, I made my projections on who would make the Falcons final roster. And frankly, I feel very good about most of them. I feel like I might be in the single digits with the number of ones where I was off on, which should work out to be only about a sixth of the roster. I’ll take that.

But on the eve of the Falcons final preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, I want to discuss which players on the roster are locks versus those that are likely on the outside looking in. I’ll break down all 75 players and put them into four categories which should determine their status for the impending Falcons final 53.

Locks

These players from the start were really in no danger to get released. While they may not have all been 100%, they were in the upper part of the 90th-percentile, and thus were more at risk to be injured than cut by the Falcons.

Among them are a few rookies, who weren’t in danger of getting released one bit such as their top four picks this past April. Their play in training camp and the preseason was to determine how much they’d play when the regular season begins, not whether the Falcons would carry them on the roster.

Quarterback: Matt Ryan
Running Backs: Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling
Wide Receivers: Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas
Tight Ends: Tony Gonzalez, Levine Toilolo
Offensive Line: Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Peter Konz, Lamar Holmes, Garrett Reynolds, Joe Hawley
Defensive Ends: Kroy Biermann, Osi Umenyiora, Jonathan Massaquoi, Malliciah Goodman
Defensive Tackles: Corey Peters, Jonathan Babineaux, Travian Robertson
Linebackers: Sean Weatherspoon, Akeem Dent
Cornerbacks: Asante Samuel, Robert McClain, Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford
Safeties: Thomas DeCoud, William Moore
Special Teams: Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris

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Training Camp: Day 5 Report

July 30th, 2013 Comments off

Here are the things that happened on the fifth day of the Atlanta Falcons 2013 training camp:

  • Steven Jackson appears to be saving himself for the regular season as he picks up the Falcons offense. He also thinks highly of his own standing within this generation of running backs.
  • Daniel Cox gives his five things we learned from the fifth day of camp.
  • Mike Smith seems to be putting expectations on Jonathan Massaquoi, Kroy Biermann, and Corey Peters to make strides to help the Falcons pass rush. Malliciah Goodman is getting help from veteran players and taking it slow as he develops his technique and hands.
  • William Moore hasn’t become any less aggressive.


  • Fresh on the field, like many of the other Falcons rookies, Stansly Maponga is going through some struggles early but coaches are working to overcome.


 

Training Camp: Day 4 Report

July 29th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons held their first padded practice of training camp on Sunday. Here are some of the main bullet points from observers:

  • Rookie defensive end Stansly Maponga was cleared to return to team drills today, and showcased some athleticism indicating that he appears to be 100% recovered from off-season foot surgery that forced him to sit out OTAs and only get work in individual drills the first few days of camp.


  • Desmond Trufant is getting work at right cornerback as expected, but also working inside in the slot at the nickel spot. Yesterday, Daniel Cox noted Trufant’s growing confidence which seemed to be echoed in the following comments from the young cornerback:

    “I’m a young player. It’s my first camp. I’m going to make some mistakes, but I’ve got to move on. You’ve got to take the hard coaching and never take (anything) personal because they are just trying to get me better.”

  • Check out Daniel Cox’s five daily observations from the fourth day of camp.
  • Here’s the transcript from the post-practice interviews conducted by Mike Smith and Roddy White.
Categories: News Tags: , ,

Training Camp: Day 1 Report

July 26th, 2013 Comments off

Besides the contract extension signed by quarterback Matt Ryan, here is a look at some of the top stories that developed from the first day of the Atlanta Falcons 2013 training camp:

  • It appears that tight end Tony Gonzalez will be given some time off in the coming days and weeks of camp. Falcons head coach Mike Smith did not specify when Gonzalez will take time off and it remains to be seen how much action Gonzalez will get in preseason games. Gonzalez had this to say (h/t to the AJC for the transcript):

    Right now, I’m here. I’m planning on being here tomorrow but there are some prior obligations I made to my family, more specifically my son Nikko, last year. I made these obligations to them last year because I was planning to retire. I wasn’t joking about that all year last year. Those responsibilities are coming up and will be here pretty soon so I’ll probably head back and hang out with him and do what I told him I was going to do. Then I’ll be back and join the team early. I’m not going to be showing up a week before the game, I’ll be here a lot earlier than that, but I’ll be ready to go, too. You can bet the house on that. This isn’t something that is going to go into the regular season.

  • Falcons rookie defensive end Stansly Maponga has been cleared for individual drills, but will be held out from team drills for the first few days of camp per Smith. Maponga is recently returned from off-season foot surgery that kept him out of OTAs.
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Camp Battles 2013: Defensive End

July 18th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Jonathan Massaquoi’s growth could make a difference in 2013

The Falcons appear to be set with their two starters at the defensive end position. Free agent pickup Osi Umenyiora will draw the tall order of replacing one of the team’s all-time best in John Abraham at right defensive end. Kroy Biermann will once again fill in as the team’s left defensive end.

But the rest of the position will feature heavy competition as a number of young players compete not for starting spots, but for placement and reps in the team’s rotation.

The likeliest candidate to serve as the team’s third defensive end will be Jonathan Massaquoi, who enters his second season with the team. He played very little on defense last year, with most of his play coming on special teams. He was very effective there and coupled with his upside as a pass rusher, he’s in no danger to be cut. But the Falcons will look for him to have a good summer as he is the candidate most likely to figure into the Falcons nickel subpackage if/when Umenyiora and Biermann aren’t on the field. The multiple fronts presented by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could easily feature all three, especially given Biermann’s ability to drop into coverage like a linebacker.

Another player that is assured of making the final roster is 2013 fourth round pick Malliciah Goodman. Goodman’s best shot at earning playing time will more than likely come on run downs in the team’s base package as they look to get more size on the field. While Biermann is a consistent run defender, Umenyiora is not, and it’s likely that Massaquoi won’t be asked to play a major part in that role. Goodman possesses good physical tools to develop long-term into an effective pass rusher, but probably his best chance of earning lots of initial playing time will be proving himself as a run defender.

The past three seasons the Falcons have opted to keep at least five defensive ends on the roster, although last year that number was six until the November release of Ray Edwards. That probably will be the case again with Cliff Matthews and Stansly Maponga rounding out the depth chart. If the Falcons only opt for five on the roster, Matthews is the likelier candidate. Given his ability to help as a run defender, high motor, and value on special teams he has a leg up on Maponga, who missed most of the offseason coming off a leg injury. While Maponga offers better long-term value down the road as a pass rusher, he’s unlikely to offer immediate value to the rotation. If the Falcons do opt to keep six ends on the roster, Maponga will likely be the last and is primed to spend most of the year on the team’s inactive list each Sunday. Not unless he can showcase special teams prowess along the same lines of Matthews and Massaquoi a year ago, and show he’s 100% recovered from his injury. While Maponga isn’t guaranteed to make the team’s 53-man roster, he’s almost certainly a lock to be carried on the team’s practice squad at a minimum.

Two other players that the Falcons will bring to camp but are longshots to make the roster are undrafted rookies Cam Henderson and Brandon Thurmond. Henderson has a solid frame (6-4/260) with good arm length (over 34 inches) that passes the eyeball test when it comes to NFL defensive ends. Thurmond is shorter, squatter player with short arms but had excellent production while at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Between the two, it really doesn’t matter who looks better in a uniform, it will come down to any production they can produce on the field. If either player can impress with a strong preseason, the Falcons might opt to carry a seventh defensive end on their practice squad.

Trufant returns; Maponga out til training camp

June 11th, 2013 Comments off

Jay Adams of Atlanta Falcons.com reports that Falcons head coach Mike Smith updated the status of three rookies today at the team’s OTA session. Top pick and cornerback Desmond Trufant was able to participate in his first Falcon practice due to the graduation of students at the University of Washington. Tight end Levine Toilolo is expected to join the team tomorrow. Smith also indicated that rookie defensive end Stansly Maponga is expected to be out until training camp, as he recovers from offseason surgery on his broken foot/ankle.

Trufant had been trying to keep up with the team by speaking with defensive backs coach Tim Lewis via Skype due to his absence away from the team due to league rules indicating that rookies can’t join their teams until after their respective schools graduate. Toilolo’s absence has been for similar reasons.

In other injury news, linebackers Stephen Nicholas (sports hernia) and Sean Weatherspoon (knee) appear to be on track to re-join the team for mandatory practices next week. That had been the target date since their injuries were announced.