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Falcons Cut Eleven, Two Put on IR

August 30th, 2013 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Banks

The Falcons announced initial cuts as the team works its way down to the league-mandated 53-man roster limit by tomorrow. The Falcons waived eleven players and placed two on injured reserve. The injured players were quarterback Sean Renfree and tight end Andrew Szczerba. They will need to make nine more moves before tomorrow’s 6 pm deadline.

The eleven players released included linebackers Brian Banks and Pat Schiller, guard Theo Goins, defensive tackles Neal Huynh and Micanor Regis, cornerbacks Terrence Johnson and Peyton Thompson, safety Charles Mitchell, offensive tackle Alec Savoie, kicker Jeremy Shelley, and running back Ronnie Wingo. Besides Johnson and Mitchell, all of the players waived today remain eligible for the team’s eight-man practice squad which is set to be established on Sunday.

Banks was signed by the Falcons this off-season after spending the better part of the past decade incarcerated due to false rape conviction. Schiller spent last year on the Falcons’ practice squad after a strong preseason, but was passed this summer by Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu. Regis and Thompson also spent last season with the Falcons on their practice squad. Huynh, Savoie, Shelley, and Wingo were undrafted rookies signed this past spring. Johnson was briefly with the team last season before being added to a future contract at the end of the season. Mitchell was a sixth round pick in 2012 and played ten games as a reserve last season.

Renfree was a seventh round pick for the team this past April and suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder last night during the third quarter of the game. Renfree injured his throwing arm in his final collegiate game. Szczerba also was injured during last night’s game as well with an undisclosed leg injury.

Three Key Position Battles to Watch Tonight vs. Jaguars

August 29th, 2013 Comments off

Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Darius Johnson is poised to make a bid for the roster tonight

While the majority of the Falcons roster is fairly settled, there remain some roster spots open. And many of them come at a few key positions, where a clear-cut winner has yet to emerge. Here are three key position battles where the player who has the best performance tonight against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Falcons preseason finale could emerge the winner, while the loser seeks employment elsewhere.

Fifth Wide Receiver: Darius Johnson vs. Kevin Cone

The Falcons top four wideouts appear locked in with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, and Drew Davis atop the depth chart. The Falcons have traditionally kept five wide receivers over the years, with the fourth and fifth players primarily playing special teams.

That helps Kevin Cone, who has been effective working on punt and kickoff coverage dating back to 2012. But Cone has been disappointing thus far on offense. That’s where Darius Johnson has shined. Johnson is the opposite of Cone, in that he’s small, but very quick and explosive. He has been highly productive working with the second and third team offenses. While Cone has made some contributions there, they have been too few and far between. While Cone’s hands have shown improvement from a year ago, he has struggled to separate from coverage.

Johnson did get reps as a return man during his days at SMU, and his speed and quickness could potentially be an asset there in the event that Harry Douglas or Jacquizz Rodgers go down with injuries. But his smaller size remains an obstacle when it comes to coverage on special teams. It didn’t stop a player like Eric Weems from excelling over the years in Atlanta in that realm, but Johnson is a ways from proving himself to be another Weems.

How this final game plays out will determine who wins the job. Cone’s a much more proven commodity as far as special teams goes, while Johnson seems to possess greater offensive potential. The Falcons will ultimately have to decide which they value more. But in both players’ cases, it will help if Cone has a good night on offense, and/or Johnson can make a few plays on special teams. What helps Cone in his bid for a roster spot is that he isn’t eligible for the practice squad, while Johnson is. The Falcons would then have to decide whether they want to risk exposing Johnson to waivers. It would be iffy at best if Johnson cleared them, considering he is currently ranked tied for third in the league in receptions going into the final preseason game. That is likely to catch some receiver-needy team looking for a quick, slot-type to develop.

Another factor that could be in play might be the questionable health of Roddy White. While White is expected to suit up for the Falcons Week 1, if there are any setbacks with his recovery from an ankle injury between now and then, the Falcons could be tempted to carry six receivers on the roster for the opening week as insurance. That could ensure that both players wind up being kept.

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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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Five Falcons to Watch Tonight vs. Ravens

August 15th, 2013 Comments off

This second preseason game will likely feature a longer look at the Falcons starters, who played three series and much of the first quarter in their opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Several of the same five players that I indicated you should keep your eyes on against the Bengals would probably be my choices again this week, including Dominique Davis, Ryan Schraeder, and Desmond Trufant. But I opted to go with a new quintet of players just to keep things fresh.

WR Marcus Jackson

Drew Davis appears to being solidifying his grip on the fourth wide receiver spot on the depth chart, but no one yet has emerged as the front-runner for the fifth and final spot. Jackson has earned praise in camp alongside Martel Moore, and thus needs to turn that into production on the field. Tonight will be as good a time as any to start.

TE Levine Toilolo

Toilolo had a disappointing performance against the Bengals, not necessarily because he did not catch a pass, but because he looked  overwhelmed as a blocker. Toilolo needs to rebound this week and show that he is an effective blocker, as well as potentially showcase his potential as a receiver. He needs to show that he can do at least one of those things well, otherwise he may find himself hard-pressed to see the field come the regular season.

OC Peter Konz

Konz will be going up against All-Pro nose tackle Haloti Ngata when facing the Ravens’ starters. Ngata is one of the best in the business and will be a very tough matchup for any center. Even if Konz fares poorly, it will be a good litmus test for him going into the season. His predecessor, Todd McClure, routinely struggled going up against 3-4 nose tackles, both good and bad, throughout his career. It will be worth watching to note whether Konz has those same issues moving forward.

DE/DT Cliff Matthews

Matthews, similar to Toilolo, looked a bit overwhelmed in the preseason matchup against the Bengals. He appeared to have the majority of his work come inside at defensive tackle, but seemed to get pushed around too much, unable to get off blocks. Matthews is a high-motor that did an excellent job at run defense when he was a much smaller end last year. He needs to showcase that the bulk he added this off-season to get more reps inside is paying dividends by being more stout against the run there.

S Charles Mitchell

One of the issues facing this Falcon team is depth at the safety position given the durability issues that have plagued William Moore almost every season he’s been with the team. Mitchell is the most talented of the group of young safeties and he’ll need to step up to provide confidence that he could fill in if Moore was to go down again. A strong performance against the Ravens could inspire that confidence.

Reactions to Falcons-Bengals (Defense)

August 9th, 2013 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Banks got his first football action in a decade

It’s time to look at what the Falcons defense and special teams did against the Bengals in their preseason debut. From the scoreboard (34 points allowed) it would seem not particularly good. But there were some bright spots. As with what I did for my offensive reactions, I will go through each position group and highlight what I saw from individuals and make loose conclusions about them and their respective position battles.

Again remember, it’s only the first preseason game and thus players will have plenty of opportunities to either improve or decline in upcoming games as well as camp practices.

Defensive End

What I Saw: Osi Umenyiora stood out when he got the opportunity to work against Anthony Collins on the second Bengals series. He got credit for a pressure, beating him with an inside move. He also got in the face of Dalton on a botched screen play although Corey Peters made the play there (more on that to come). Kroy Biermann started opposite him and looked solid defending the run. Osi did not fare as well in that area, struggling to get off blocks at the point of attack. He did make one stop (again teaming with Peters), but that was when he came off the edge on the backside pursuit. Massaquoi and Maponga got mixed in with the reserves. Malliciah Goodman and Neal Huynh also received snaps on the edge. I don’t recall Cliff Matthews getting much edge work, so I’ll hold off on discussing him until I get to the tackles. Massaquoi looked sharp as a pass rusher, as he seemed to be one of the few Falcons reserves up front that could beat individual blocks. He got a sack and a pair of hits from either side of the line. He was able to beat a cutblock by Tyler Eifert to make a stop vs. the run, but there was another time where he was out of position on a play-action rollout. Goodman didn’t do a lot when he played at end. Maponga did get a hurry/hit on a play at left end. That followed Massaquoi’s sack, both of them badly beating Dennis Roland. Roland is a player I considered as a potential pickup after cuts to bolster depth at right tackle, but I think after last night’s performance we might want to scratch him off the list. Overall, outside those few plays the Falcons struggled to get pressure off the edge and had to rely a lot on blitzing and stunts to manufacture pressure, which also wasn’t all that effective. Cam Henderson and Brandon Thurmond got work at the end of the game, but didn’t really stand out.

Conclusion?: It would’ve been nice to see Osi work over Andrew Whitworth like he did Collins, but Whitworth sat out of the game. In the immortal words of Denny Green, Osi, Massaquoi, and Biermann are what we thought they were. Other than that, not much to take away from this position. Goodman and Maponga looked like rookies still growing into their roles, so we’ll have to see what improvements they make in the coming weeks.

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Camp Battles 2013: Safety

July 22nd, 2013 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Charles Mitchell must fend off several promising youngsters

Starters Thomas DeCoud and William Moore are both coming off Pro Bowl years. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan certainly had a positive effect on both of them as they proved to be one of the most opportunitic pair of safeties in the league. Neither player is expected to be challenged this summer and instead will be focusing upon building towards an even better 2013 season.

But the backup spots behind them are potentially wide open as the Falcons hope one of their young safeties emerge as positive depth. The fact that Moore has been injured nearly every year since joining the team in 2009 makes it important that the Falcons are comfortable and confident with their depth. Last June, the Falcons added veteran Chris Hope because of their discomfort and it remains a possibility that they could seek another veteran at the end of this summer if a young player doesn’t emerge.

The best candidate to emerge is second-year safety Charles Mitchell. Mitchell is in a prime position to become the team’s top backup at the position. He worked last summer at both safety spots. A good run defender that possesses decent range to make plays in coverage, Mitchell is a solid candidate to fill in in the event of an injury to either starter. If there is any negative in regards to Mitchell, it’s the fact that he made minimal contributions on special teams last year. That will need to change given the fact that the team doesn’t often substitute in reserve safeties as they do reserve corners in their subpackages. Thus to merit being active every Sunday, a backup safety needs to make contributions on special teams.

He’ll be pushed by Shann Schillinger and a pair of rookie draft picks in Kemal Ishmael and Zeke Motta. Schillinger missed all of the 2012 season with an injury, but prior to it he was one of the team’s top special teams players. While Schillinger doesn’t offer a ton of upside to be a regular on defense, his special teams ability means he can be active every Sunday and be a contributor. His biggest competition will likely come from Ishmael, who also plays the free safety position. Ishmael was a very active run defender during his days at Central Florida, which is expected to translate into high special teams value.

Zeke Motta will be pushing Mitchell as the reserve strong safety. While Motta doesn’t quite offer the same value defensively that Mitchell does, again if he can showcase more value on special teams he could potentially leap frog him on the depth chart. While there are few star safeties hailing from Notre Dame over the past decade, nearly all have managed to stick on special teams in the NFL, with David Bruton (Broncos), Tom Zbikowski (Bears), and Sergio Brown (Colts) being current standouts.

Because of the presence of so many former draft picks, it’s possible the Falcons will opt to keep five safeties. But the team could potentially hide Motta and/or Ishmael on their practice squad as well. Undrafted rookie Troy Sanders is a longshot even for the practice squad because of the presence of all the former draft picks.

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 30 “Norv Turner’s Neck Meat”

June 15th, 2013 Comments off

This week, Allen and I are joined by Rashad James to talk about the latest happenings with the Falcons. Those include discussion of changes to the right side of the line and whether it will work in the Falcons favor … Addressing the depth and rotation at defensive end and which players might step up opposite Osi Umenyiora to help the Falcons pass rush … Concern over depth at linebacker and which young players might step up including Pat Schiller and Brian Banks … Falcons depth at safety and whether or not more usage of Mike Nolan’s Big Nickel is on the horizon … Roddy White’s future in Atlanta … Revisiting the Julio Jones trade and other potential options … NFC South Division Race talk … Offseason Grades … Falcons Mount Rushmore … Are the Houston Texans for real?

Ep. 30: Norv Turner’s Neck Meat [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 4 minutes

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

Rashad can be found on twitter: @SaucedUp_Boss

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

Falcons FA Focus: Safety

March 8th, 2013 Comments off
F. Medina-US PRESSWIRE

William Moore

As the eve of the league’s new legal “tampering” period is upon us, it’s time to look at the final spot on the roster that the Falcons could address in free agency: safety.

The big priority for the Falcons at this position probably won’t revolve around adding a new player, but locking down a current one. William Moore is a free agent, and is interested in testing the market. At this point, I believe this preemptive negotiation period will aid the Falcons in their endeavors to re-up with Moore. If he gets away, the Falcons have a fairly large hole here.

They might try and plug it with Charles Mitchell, but it would be a tall order for him to replace Moore, who is arguably the team’s third or fourth best defensive player. Instead, if Moore departs, the Falcons probably will need to scramble to find a suitable replacement on the market.

Three strong safeties stand out on the open market: Kenny Phillips (Giants), Patrick Chung (Patriots), and LaRon Landry (Jets).

Like Moore, all three have struggled with injuries over the years. Moore has missed a combined 8 games over the past two seasons due to injury. Phillips missed 9 this past year, not long after a 2009 season where he missed 14 games. Both Chung and Landry missed 8 games in 2011, while Chung missed four more this past year.

And as in the case of Moore, those durability concerns will likely drive down their prices. None of those players are good bets to make it through a full 16-game slate healthy.

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Categories: Features Tags: , , , ,

Falcons Needs: Safety

February 12th, 2013 Comments off
Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

DeCoud congratulates Moore

The Falcons do have some questions at safety, most of which linger around the looming free agent status of strong safety William Moore.

Moore is probably the team’s most likely candidate to land the franchise tag if it comes to that. That will carry a cap hit of roughly $6.8 million. Recent reports suggest that Moore probably won’t be too pleased to receive such a tag as it would conflict with his desire to test the market. For the sake of both the Falcons and Moore, it will work best if they can come to an agreement before the deadline of March 5, after which teams can no longer tag players.

Moore is one of the better players on the Falcons defense. Along with former college teammate Sean Weatherspoon, he represents the young core of the Falcons defense that is expected to succeed players like John Abraham, Asante Samuel, and Jonathan Babineaux as regular playmakers. Moore is an opportunistic run-defending safety that managed to make a lot of plays in coverage this past year. He seemed to really find a home in Mike Nolan’s defense. The two major weaknesses of Moore’s game are his struggles when facing quality tight ends and his lack of durability. Saints TE Jimmy Graham abused him so badly in the Week 10 loss this past year, that Nolan made concerted efforts to avoid that matchup in the Falcons in Week 13 win over the Saints. Moore has missed a quarter of the games in each of the past two years with thigh and hamstring injuries. He also sat out his rookie year in 2009 with a hamstring injury, and was often nicked up throughout college. Moore’s physical playing style contributes to his injuries coupled with the fact that players at his position tend to have the shortest careers of all defenders. I doubt that is a big enough issue to make the Falcons let Moore walk, but it may become an issue that may prolong contract negotiations. The Falcons may not want to pay top dollar to a player that already has a long injury history and may only be effective for just another three or four years given the nature of his position.

The Falcons drafted Charles Mitchell last year in the sixth round, probably with the mindset of having him add depth at the position but also to provide an insurance policy in case Moore walked. Well, it doesn’t seem likely that the Falcons will roll the dice with Mitchell as a starter going forward after a lackluster rookie season. But he’ll likely be expected to supplant free agent Chris Hope for the No. 3 safety position. Shann Schillinger is returning from sitting out the year with an injury and will be expected to contribute on special teams. But don’t be surprised if the Falcons look at more options in the draft or free agency to solidify their depth. Again, safety is the most injury prone position on defense, thus it pays to have good depth there. That’s what prompted the team to sign Hope last summer before camp. Hope had his moments filling in for Moore late in the year, but he wasn’t a great fit in Nolan’s scheme and probably won’t be back next year. The Falcons have featured a revolving door in terms of veteran backups the past three years, starting with Erik Coleman in 2010, James Sanders in 2011, to Hope last season. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons go for a fourth, although again it’s more likely that they will give Mitchell every opportunity to take over that spot.

When the Falcons signed Thomas DeCoud to a five-year deal last spring, the deal was structured in a way that suggested that the Falcons weren’t completely satisfied with him at free safety. The first two years of his deal had modest cap hits (both under $2.5 million), with a jump to nearly $5 million in 2014. If DeCoud is on the roster on the fifth day of the league year in 2014, $2.25 of his $4.2 million base salary will become guaranteed. The Falcons could potentially reap savings of $3 million against their 2014 cap if they were to cut him at before that point.

But DeCoud is coming off a Pro Bowl appearance, and it’s increasingly less likely that the Falcons will explore other options at the position in the near future. DeCoud would have to have a very underwhelming 2013 season in order for this upcoming year to be his last in Atlanta.

Like Moore, DeCoud really took to Nolan’s scheme. Already blessed with very good speed and range, he was much more disciplined in coverage this year allowing him to make more plays there. He’s still underwhelming in run support due to his lack of size, which will always be an issue. But he often can make up for it with his closing speed. Despite his 2012 accolades, he’ll probably never be considered one of the best safeties in the league but he can be a productive and effective starter moving forward.

The further solidify depth, the team could tinker with Dominique Franks playing here. It certainly was something they tried late in the year as they mixed in more of their dime subpackage. Franks may struggle to make the roster next year as a cornerback. He’s the biggest of the team’s corners. The Falcons may tinker with the notion of featuring more dime next year, especially as they face teams like New Orleans and New England that present matchup challenges for the Falcons personnel. Similar to Franks, that player might be styled as a big corner that can play the run effectively.

Owens out against Seahawks, Abe questionable

January 11th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced their injury report today. On it, cornerback Chris Owens was the only play to be ruled out for this Sunday’s divisonal playoff matchup against the Seattle Seahawks. Owens missed the entire week of practice with a hamstring injury. Defensive end John Abraham, who went down with an ankle injury in the season finale was listed as questionable, after going through limited participation in practice this week. Safety Charles Mitchell (calf) was also listed as questionable. Safety William Moore (hamstring) and cornerback Dunta Robinson (concussion) were listed as probable. Moore went fully during today’s practice, while Robinson hasn’t skipped a bit all week. Moore has not played since Week 13, missing the final 4 regular season games due to his injury. Robinson suffered his concussion early in the Falcons Week 17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but returned to practice last week.

Due to the absence of Owens, Dominique Franks will likely get more reps on defense if the Falcons opt to utilize their dime package which normally features four corners.

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