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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.

Scouting Report: Zeke Motta

May 23rd, 2013 Comments off

Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

Zeke Motta

Here’s a look at the second safety the Falcons selected in the seventh round in Zeke Motta.

Height: 6-2 1/4
Weight: 215
School: Notre Dame
Class: Senior
Speed: 4.71 (Campus)

He split reps with Jamoris Slaughter during his sophomore and junior seasons at strong safety, playing opposite Harrison Smith. After Smith was drafted in 2012, he moved to free safety as a senior in his lone season as a full-time starter. He had career highs in tackles. Not a great coverage guy, Motta has good size and is an active run defender. But like many of his Notre Dame brethren, Motta’s stock was hurt by the fact that he had an underwhelming game against Alabama in the National Championship. He did lead the team with tackles in that game, recording a career-high 16 but many of those were made several yards downfield after successful Alabama runs or throws. Then his stock was hurt even more with a slow 40 time at the Combine (4.83). His first name is short for Ezekiel.

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Falcons announce four draft pick signings

May 17th, 2013 Comments off

Following up on previous report, the Falcons announced the signing of four draft picks today including the previously reported move to get safety Kemal Ishmael under contract. Also signing were Falcons 2013 fourth round pick defensive end Malliciah Goodman, fifth round defensive end Stansly Maponga, and seventh round safety Zeke Motta. That leaves four remaining unsigned draft picks for the Falcons.

All agreed to four-year deals, although exact terms of their contracts were undisclosed. Based on deals signed by players taken in last year’s draft, Goodman’s four-year deal will likely be worth around $2.55 million with a signing bonus under $400,000. Maponga will likely sign a deal worth around $2.35 million with a signing bonus in the area of $190,000. Similar to Ishmael, Motta’s deal should be worth roughly $2.2 million with a signing bonus around $45,000.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 27 “2013 Draft Recap”

May 11th, 2013 Comments off

On this episode, Allen and I recap the 2013 Draft. We detail what we liked and didn’t like about the Falcons picks, as well as looking around the league at other teams’ picks. You’ll also hear Allen’s insights and recap of his experience at Radio City Music Hall on the opening night of the draft. Dominique Franks’ roster status as well as John Abraham’s chances of returning to the team are also discussed. Robert James earns a new nickname: “Cancer” in this episode, and of course we can’t go an episode without our obligatory Peria Jerry and Ray Edwards bashing.

Ep. 27: 2013 Draft Recap [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 16 minutes

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

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. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

 

Takeaways From Last Week – 2013 NFL Draft

April 29th, 2013 2 comments
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Manti Te’o: “Star” of the Draft

The 2013 NFL Draft was held this past weekend, and as usual it was an intriguing affair. I told my brother, who did not watch one minute of the draft mainly because his wife detests football, that this year’s draft was much like recent NBA Drafts meaning that in future years the 2013 draft class won’t be particularly memorable with its star appeal. Not to say this draft won’t produce good or even great NFL players, because every draft does, at least everyone that I can recall. But as we often heard over the weekend, this was a draft in which the linemen were front and center. Try as they might, ESPN and NFL Network did their best to insert as much “star appeal” as possible by spending as much time as possible talking about this quarterback class and Manti Te’o.

The media desperately wanted to talk about those players, but ultimately I think the quarterbacks and Te’o will be largely forgotten in the NFL. Ultimately the best you’re going to hope from the group of quarterbacks drafted this year is that they produce a Matt Schaub or David Garrard-caliber passer. They may be competent to good starter, but the only time they’ll be really discussed by the media by and large is to talk about how they aren’t great.

Also, it’s not that I doubt Te’o will be a good NFL player, it’s just that his infamous catfishing incident may ultimately eclipse his NFL career. I think Te’o probably winds up playing a decade in the NFL, most of it as a starter. But I think he winds up being comparable to players like Curtis Lofton or Lofa Tatupu, capable starters that their respective team likes, but are rarely mentioned among the best in the league.

I know it’s unrealistic to think that I could turn on league’s flagship channel or the Worldwide Leader in Sports, and expect them to spend hours talking about the greatness of Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Dion Jordan, or any of the players at “blue collar” positions. But there were really good players in this draft and none them played quarterback or middle linebacker for Notre Dame, but you wouldn’t know that from watching the television coverage as they never went more than fifteen minutes without mentioning one of those lesser players.

My final comments on the draft before I start to discuss the Falcons picks specifically is that I do think it’s interesting that quarterbacks did not get pushed up the board. I talked about that in an earlier column this off-season. And at that time, it was difficult to fathom that there wouldn’t be any Top 10 selections at the quarterback position. I compared it to the 2011 class, where a number of lesser prospects went high in the draft and ultimately none of those teams are better for it. I still think the passers did get pushed up the board, but not as far as they normally do. So I tip my hat to NFL teams for not reaching too far on subpar passers. We’ll see if this trend continues next April.

But onto the Falcons…

I liked the Falcons draft. It’s not very sexy, nor is it one that I think people will look back and say made a huge impact on the team. But it’s a solid group of players. I think moreso than in recent drafts, the Falcons seemed more intent on looking at players that had higher ceilings. I think a hallmark of some of the Falcons post-2008 drafts has been targetting players with high floors, but relatively low ceilings. I think the opposite happened this year.

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Falcons take pair of safeties and passer in seventh round

April 27th, 2013 Comments off

Beth Hall-US PRESSWIRE

Kemal Ishmael

The Falcons finished up their 2013 NFL Draft class with three selections in the seventh round. They took a pair of safeties: UCF’s Kemal Ishmael and Notre Dame’s Zeke Motta back to back with the 243rd and 244th selections in the draft. With the 249th pick, they drafted Duke quarterback Sean Renfree. All three selections were compensatory picks. The Falcons cap off their 2013 draft class with eight picks.

Ishmael was productive at Central Florida, starting 49 consecutive games at free safety. As a senior, in 14 starts he had 124 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 3 interceptions, his most productive year. He also had 7 passes defended and 3 forced fumbles. He earned 1st team All-Conference USA honors as a senior after an honorable mention nod his junior season. The 5-11, 201-pound safety had a nice workout at his pro day, running a 40 time of 4.63 seconds, with 21 bench reps, 35.5-inch vertical, 10-foot-3-inch broad jump, and a 3-cone drill of 6.75 seconds. For his career, he had 368 tackles, 9.5 for loss, 1 sack, 6 interceptions, 19 passes defended, and 6 forced fumbles.

Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

Zeke Motta

Motta is a tall, physical safety that drew comparisons to former teammate Harrison Smith, a first round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2012 and had a strong rookie campaign, due to his size (6-2/213) and physicality. But his stock fell when he ran a poor 40 time of 4.83 at the Combine. His 10-foot-6-inch broad jump and 6.75 second 3-cone drill were among the best at his position. He also did 11 bench reps and leapt 35.5 inches on the vertical jump. Motta was a player that was on the Falcons radar, as he visited with the team in early April. He started 29 games over his final three years at Notre Dame. He had his best season as a senior with 77 tackles, 2 for loss, and 3 pass breakups. His prior two seasons, he combined for 90 tackles, 1.5 for loss, 2 interceptions, 6 breakups, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery which he took to the house for a score.

Both Ishmael and Motta are likely to compete for reserve spots with the Falcons and on special teams. Motta’s size has some projecting him to possibly be converted to a linebacker down the road a la former Falcon player Coy Wire.

Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE

Sean Renfree

Renfree did not win a lot of games, but showed leadership as he helped lead Duke to their first bowl appearance since 1994 in his final year there. He started 35 games over his career, leading the Blue Devils to a 11-24 record. Despite the lack of talent around him, he managed to be productive completing nearly 65-percent of 1,389 pass attempts during his career. He also passed for 9,465 yards, 51 touchdowns, and 40 interceptions during his Blue Devil career. He saved his best for last, completing 67.3% of 441 attempts for 3,113 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions as a senior. In his final game of his Duke career against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Belk Bowl, he injured his throwing shoulder which affected his draft stock. He was unable to work out at Duke’s pro day at the end of March The 6-3, 219-pound quarterback has a live arm and was a 3-time Academic All-ACC selection. His college coach David Cutcliffe is considered a good developer of quarterbacks, having coached four former 1st round picks in college in Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Brady Quinn, and Heath Shuler.

Renfree will push Dominique Davis for the Falcons top backup position behind Matt Ryan.

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