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Team Needs: Falcons Tackles Could be Shuffled Around

January 31st, 2014 Comments off

 Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Questions surround Sam Baker’s future

The issue the Atlanta Falcons face in terms of their offensive tackle position isn’t necessarily about whether certain players will return, but rather what roles they might return in.

Although some had the foresight to question it, it’s become abundantly clear in hindsight that the contract the Falcons gave left tackle Sam Baker last March was a bad one. The team is faced with the scenario of paying him an option bonus which likely will lock him to being a Falcon for the next two seasons. While it’s possible the Falcons could decide to get out of the contract, it does not appear that is their plans, likely due to the significant cap penalties they would face over the next year or two. So it seems that Baker will return next season and open up the offseason as a starter. The only real question is whether that will be playing left tackle or another position.

It’s likely that Baker will man the left tackle position once again in 2014. But it’s possible that dependent on what moves the Falcons make this offseason, he could be switching positions. Baker’s brief stint at right guard did not go well in 2011, making a possible switch to right tackle more doubtful. If that happens, then it will be due to the Falcons spending on a free agent or using a high pick on another left tackle. The latter seems more plausible of the two scenarios, since it’s doubtful the Falcons are willing to dole out another large contract that it would take to entice such a free agent to Atlanta given their investment in Baker. And drafting a tackle will depend on whether or not the Falcons like the premier prospects at the top of the draft, whether they are on the board on May 8, and if the Falcons can shore up other needs across the roster in free agency. All of which are unknown quantities to date, making it doubtful that is planned path moving forward.

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Takeaways from Last Week – August 12

August 12th, 2013 Comments off
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Is Vick the one to lead the Eagles in 2013?

I don’t feel the need to really discuss the Falcons preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. I spent 4,300 words breaking down nearly every player on the roster on both offense and defense, an hour-long podcast, as well as seeing which players’ stock is up and down following the game.

But the one thing I do think is worthwhile mentioning about the preseason opener is just many of the reactions I’ve seen and read about it. For whatever reason, people seem to have what I believe to be an overreaction to preseason games in general, but particularly the first one. If I am to wager a guess as to why that is, it’d be that since it’s really the first real football action we’ve seen in six months, people tend to probably overrate it. Similar to if you’re on a diet and you’ve decided to cut out soda or pizza. If you were to a regular consumer of either and then went six months without it, you might think that first sip of cola or slice of pepperoni is among the greatest thing you’ve ever eaten. Even if it is just the generic brand you bought for $0.89 at the local grocery store, or the crappy pizza from your local parlor that makes Pizza Hut look like gourmet stuff.

It’s not surprising that many fans do this. They are probably just aping what the media is doing, whose job it seems to be only about overreacting to things.

Take for instance the happenings in Philadelphia. First, Riley Cooper mouths off and says a racial slur. This might be a controversial viewpoint to some, but I don’t get what the big deal is. Cooper did what tens (if not hundreds) of millions of (white) Americans have done in the past, especially when they have imbibed alcohol. The only difference is that Cooper is semi-famous and it was posted on YouTube. I’m certainly not trying to condone what Cooper said, but why is the media coverage of this incident to the degree like he is/was the first person to use a racial slur. If you just paid attention to television, you would think Cooper and Paula Deen were the only people to use a racial slur in the past twenty years.

The other thing in Philly is how quickly everyone seems to be slamming the door on the quarterback competition between Michael Vick and Nick Foles. I don’t deny that Vick’s performance against the New England Patriots likely means he’s the front-runner and likely winner of the job going into the regular season. In fact, it’s not really the notion that people believe the competition is over since I’m fairly confident that it is over as well. But it’s the notion that Vick’s performance in the preseason opener means that all the question marks that the Eagles have at that position are answered.

Vick threw an extremely pretty pass to DeSean Jackson for a score against New England. But hitting deep passes to Jackson really hasn’t been Vick’s problem over the years. It’s been managing games and limited turnovers. His performance against New England did nothing to indicate those won’t continue to be issues for Chip Kelly and the Eagles to try and overcome this season.

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Mike Johnson goes on IR, Falcons add backup OT

August 9th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons made a decision in regards to tackle Mike Johnson’s future, announcing today that they have placed him on injured reserve. Johnson suffered a dislocated ankle and broken leg during Tuesday’s joint practice session with the Cincinnati Bengals. Johnson was penciled in to be the team’s starting right tackle, but his injury has now given way to second-year tackle Lamar Holmes.

The team also announced that they have signed offensive tackle Jeff Nady, and waived punter Sean Sellwood. Nady was an undrafted free agent signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars after the 2013 draft, but was cut two weeks later after their initial mini-camps. Sellwood was an undrafted free agent out of Utah signed by the Falcons this past spring as well. He was inactive in the team’s preseason opener against the Bengals last night.

Categories: News Tags: , ,

Training Camp: Day 12 Report

August 7th, 2013 Comments off

Wednesday served as a pre-game walkthrough day for the Falcons in preparation for tomorrow night’s preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

  • Tony Gonzalez’s return to Atlanta is not expected until around August 17 per John Manasso of FOX Sports. It has been previously noted that Gonzalez is expected to return for the third and fourth preseason games, the former of which will be played against the Tennessee Titans on August 24 in Nashville. That third preseason game is typically the one where NFL teams suit up their starters and play them into the third quarter, meaning it makes sense to have Gonzalez back in time for that. The return date of August 17 indicates that Gonzalez will likely use the week prior to knock off any rust that has accumulated since departing camp on July 27. In Gonzalez’s absence, most reports indicate that Chase Coffman and Levine Toilolo have made the most of their opportunities with the starters.
  • Mike Smith talked about many of the things he’ll look for in the upcoming preseason game, including the situation at right tackle. Another interesting note is that Smith indicated that he expects Jacquizz Rodgers to handle the team’s kickoff return duties during the regular season, although other players will get opportunities throughout the preseason. With Rodgers relatively secure on kickoffs, it would seem that the bulk of the competition will come for punt return duties. Throughout camp, players like Robert Alford, Dominique Franks, Jason Snelling, James Rodgers, Harry Douglas, and Rashad Evans have reportedly gotten work there. Previous reports indicate that Douglas is only likely going to be a last resort.
  • Thomas DeCoud gives some personal insight into some of his teammates in the secondary.
  • Daniel Cox has his five notes from Day 12 of camp, including discussion of the increased workload that Dominique Davis saw on Wednesday and will likely see throughout the preseason, the expectation that Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder will likely split reps at right tackle on Thursday, and Matt Ryan’s focus for the preseason and the rest of the year.
  • The Falcons haven’t quite ruled out Mike Johnson for the remainder of the year per Jay Adams of AtlantaFalcons.com.


    As noted earlier, the Falcons could seek to place Johnson on injured reserve but designated for return, sometimes referred to as the “short-term IR.” That would mean he would miss the first six weeks of the regular season and then be eligible to return to practice and subsequently the active roster after eight weeks. The short-term IR is only allowed for one player and must be determined by September 3 in the case of Johnson. The Falcons could opt to keep Johnson on the active roster between now and then, but they would lose one of their 90-man roster spots in camp. However they could potentially place him on the “normal” IR (gaining a roster spot) and then reactivate him for the September 3 deadline so that he can be then designated for return. The third option would to be of course to place him on normal long-term injured reserve with the expectation that he’ll miss the entire season. None of which, as Adams and Smith indicated, will not be known until following his surgery, scheduled for next week.

Where do Falcons turn at right tackle?

August 7th, 2013 1 comment
Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

Bryce Harris: Could the Falcons turn to a familiar face for help?

Mike Johnson is down and not likely to return anytime soon for the Falcons. It puts the pressure on Lamar Holmes to step up and man the right tackle position that most were expected him to win outright when the team opted to cut Tyson Clabo in the off-season.

Pressure will be on Holmes this year, as the Falcons offensive line is the biggest weakness on their offense. It has struggled throughout each of the past two regular seasons, allowing too much pressure to reach Matt Ryan, and not being able to clear running lanes to produce for the ground attack.

The likely scenario for the Falcons will be to wait and see. As I outlined earlier this offseason when it came to the possibility of signing a veteran like Eric Winston to bolster the right tackle position, the Falcons have a vested interest in their young players developing at the position. Signing a veteran will only really prevent that development, and it’s not something one should expect the Falcons to make immediately, if at all.

Undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder has been earning a ton of praise thus far in camp, and fellow rookie Terren Jones has also had his moments. The Falcons will likely give all three players along with Alec Savoie opportunities in these first two preseason games to see if they can step up and ably fill the void.

Johnson was by no means a proven commodity at the position, but the belief was that via competition between him and Holmes, the Falcons could be firm that they had solidified that spot the best they could. Without a veteran player like Johnson in the mix, it will be a hard to gauge exactly where Holmes is.

If the Falcons do go shopping for right tackles, Sean Locklear, Jammal Brown, and Winston Justice likely top the free agent lists. Locklear is a versatile player that served as the Giants swing tackle last year. He started 9 games in 2012: one at left tackle, and the rest at right tackle due to an early season injury to David Diehl. But Locklear wound up tearing his ACL in December and is unlikely to be ready for the start of the regular season.

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Training Camp: Day 11 Report

August 7th, 2013 Comments off

Yesterday the Falcons held the second of two joint practice sessions with the Cincinnati Bengals in preparation for Thursday night’s preseason opener against the team in the Georgia Dome. Here are the buzz generated from yesterday’s camp session:

The notable news from yesterday was the injury to tackle Mike Johnson at the start of practice as he suffered a dislocated ankle and broken left leg, likely ending his season. The Falcons began working Lamar Holmes and then Ryan Schraeder into the lineup.

Grits Blitz points out that two observers in CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco and FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez were praising of Schraeder, who has impressed nearly all observers thus far in camp.

Fox Sports’ John Manasso discusses some of the concerns facing the Falcons front now that Johnson is injured. While D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC discusses some of the potential options on the free agent market that the Falcons could face, as well as giving up an update on the team’s cap space.

Despite news that wide receiver Julio Jones will miss the preseason opener, it does appear that the injury he has is a minor one as he was still working during practice yesterday.

The time table of Sean Weatherspoon’s return from injury isn’t quite know, but he’s likely to be out a couple of weeks per Mike Smith via Jay Adams. Weatherspoon suffered a badly dislocated finger on Monday and was held out of Tuesday’s practices. Editor’s Note: It should be noted that during his tenure as Falcons head coach Smith has consistently underestimated the time tables for players’ returns. So a couple of weeks could easily translate into Spoon missing the entire preseason if that trend continues.

Mike Johnson goes down with leg injury

August 6th, 2013 Comments off

Reports indicate Falcons right tackle suffered what was termed a serious injury to his left leg today during practice this afternoon. The exact nature of the injury is unknown as of yet, although John Manasso tweeted that it appears to be a broken leg. Johnson was carted off the field and taken away from practice in an ambulance.

Johnson was atop the Falcons depth chart at right tackle, and appeared to be winning the battle between himself and Lamar Holmes for the starting position there. Johnson has suffered many setbacks during his four years in Atlanta due to injuries. He suffered a concussion early in training camp in 2011, prompting him to miss time and lose the competition at right guard with Garrett Reynolds. He then suffered an injury later that year and wound up on injured reserve a week prior to when the Falcons made the switch from Reynolds to Joe Hawley at the position. Last summer, with the injury to Will Svitek, he was moved to backup right tackle where he settled in nicely as the team’s sixth blocker and extra tight end.

UPDATE: D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reports that Johnson suffered a dislocated ankle and fractured left fibula. He is scheduled to have surgery next week. It is unknown if this will end Johnson’s 2013 season, although he is likely to land on the injured reserve. However, league rules allow teams to designate one player that is placed on the IR eligible to return following Week 8 of the season.

Categories: News Tags: , ,

Takeaways from Last Week – August 5

August 5th, 2013 Comments off
David Kohl-US PRESSWIRE

Carlos Dunlap

Today the Falcons begin their joint practice sessions with the Cincinnati Bengals as they prepare for their preseason opener against them on Thursday night. Two days of practice, which all of the players look forward to because it’s nice to hit someone that is not your teammate. One of the more interesting developments that could come from this session will be if any fights occur. I could be mistaken but generally speaking it seems like the number of training camp fights is a lot lower with Mike Smith than previous regimes.

One of the drawbacks for these two days of joint practices will be the absence of Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have both taken their fair share of lumps from Roddy White and Julio Jones through the first week-plus of training camp, and it would be nice to see them go against another top wideout. Green injured his knee last week, and is expected to be held out by the Bengals for this first week of preseason if not the next week. He is by far their primary offensive weapon, and they don’t want to risk further injury to him.

If there was another matchup that I’d be curious to see is how right tackles Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes handle standout Bengals left defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Dunlap is one of the premier situational pass rushers in the league. So much so that he just earned a $40 million contract, despite the fact that he’s only technically started two games in three seasons in Cincinnati. We won’t know how much work either party will see in Thursday’s game, so how they fare in practice against a premier pass rusher like Dunlap could determine a lot about how much confidence the team has in either player. It’s probably too late for the Falcons to try and make a move in free agency to bolster the position if they don’t like what they see this week. But it could go a long way to determining just how the Falcons handle their protections this year. Most NFL teams tend to roll their protections to the left side in order to protect the blindside of the quarterback, with the Falcons being among those teams. But given all the question marks that the Falcons could have on the right side with a pair of unproven starters in Garrett Reynolds at right guard, and either Johnson or Holmes at tackle, the Falcons might have to do the opposite. Given the Falcons have invested nearly $80 million in the left side of their offensive line, it would only make sense then that they should feel comfortable enough with them to put them more on an island.

Another fascinating development will be getting to see these joint practices and the upcoming preseason game portrayed on HBO’s series Hard Knocks. The cameras are enveloping Bengals training camp for the second time in the series’ history. The Falcons have indicated that they are interested in the show in the past, but have said that the timing wasn’t right. Personally, I believe the Falcons want to be on Hard Knocks. Arthur Blank very much strikes me as the type of owner that would be very open to the idea of millions of viewers seeing the greatness that is the organization he’s built in Atlanta. But they also don’t want to deal with the potential for distractions it creates. I think they are waiting until after they win a title before we’ll see the NFL Films crew descend upon Flowery Branch. But until then, we’ll just have to settle for the taste we’ll likely receive in the second episode, which will air next Tuesday.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 32 “They’re Gonna Run It Up the Middle!”

July 17th, 2013 5 comments

Allen and I are joined this week by Matt Chambers of Grits Blitz blog to discuss the NFC South in depth. We discuss each of the Falcons three NFC South opponents: New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and Carolina and what are our expectations for each team in 2013, and whether or not they will present a significant challenge to the Falcons in their bid for a title this year. Discussions also veer towards the competition at cornerback and whether Dominique Franks should be written off … How much confidence folks should have in the Falcons offensive line, including Sam Baker and Mike Johnson … Matt Bryant and the Falcons kickers of the recent past … What interviewing Michael Vick might be like … Chris Weinke, Pierre Thomas, and a host of other past Falcon killers. WARNING: This episode contains some EXPLICIT language.

Ep. 32: They’re Gonna Run It Up the Middle! [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 11 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Matt Chambers can be found on twitter: @FalconsM5, and also writes for Grits Blitz blog.

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

Ranking the Falcons: No. 22 Mike Johnson

July 17th, 2013 Comments off
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Mike Johnson

Ranking 22nd on the Falcons is offensive lineman Mike Johnson. Click here to read about the scoring system used to provide these rankings.

Total Score: 50

Player Grade: 50 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 10 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 28 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +3

Mike Johnson earns the highest ranking of the Falcons untested linemen that aren’t named Baker, Blalock, or Konz. Part of that is because of my initial belief that Johnson was a highly talented guard prospect coming out of Alabama. Johnson hasn’t exactly proven that yet in his three years in Atlanta. Injuries have been partially a reason why. He nearly unseated Garrett Reynolds in a camp competition in 2011, but injuries prevented Johnson from getting the necessary reps to supplant Reynolds.

Another reason is versatility. After manning the left guard position behind Justin Blalock as a rookie, Johnson moved to right guard in 2011. Then in 2012, he moved to right tackle as the primary reserve behind Tyson Clabo. During last season, Johnson served as the team’s sixth lineman functioning as a tight end and produced in that role. Essentially the only position that he hasn’t played extensively at is center after working some at left tackle in Atlanta and Alabama.

That is what helps him in his ranking, allowing him to potentially start on as many as ten other NFL teams. For some that would be at right tackle and for others potentially at guard. It also means that Johnson could find a role on the vast majority of NFL teams, albeit mainly as a backup at swing tackle or guard.

Johnson will be facing competition this summer from Lamar Holmes at right tackle. But he’ll have the opportunity for the first time in his career to be the front-runner for a starting position. If history repeats itself, then it likely means he’ll emerge as the winner of the battle. If so, and he is able to turn that into a productive year as a starter, he’ll have a chance to earn a long-term contract from Atlanta next off-season when he is due to hit free agency. Where the Falcons see his long-term prospects remains to be seen. The Falcons are going to want to get Holmes an opportunity to start eventually, which means that even if Johnson plays well at tackle this year, his future may still lie inside at guard where he could compete with Reynolds in 2014.

Johnson could compete with Reynolds this summer, although that seems like a longshot barring an early setback at right tackle. Johnson doesn’t have the natural feet of a polished tackle, but he’s shown definite improvement in that area over the past few summers. That was a similar criticism levied at Clabo over the years, as many felt that he was a more natural guard. But Clabo solidified the Falcons right tackle spot for six seasons despite that perceived shortcoming. Like Clabo, Johnson isn’t overly powerful although he ranks better in that arena that many of his Falcon counterparts. The key for him in 2013 will be adding that “plus” ability as a run blocker but also not being a liability in pass protection. It remains to be seen if he protects Matt Ryan from players like Charles Johnson, Cameron Wake, Ahmad Brooks, and Clay Matthews better than Clabo has in the past. And unfortunately for Johnson, he’ll have little room for error as Holmes will be looking over his shoulder.