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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 35 “Ravens Recap/Titans Preview”

August 20th, 2013 1 comment

Allen and I are joined by Dave Choate of the Falcoholic to discuss the Falcons preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. We talk of the players that impressed us the most in the game: Peter Konz and the solid offensive line play, Steven Jackson’s improvement, Paul Worrilow’s emergence, and the battle between Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford… Stephen Nicholas, and how safe his roster spot is… Whether Lamar Holmes has solidified the starting right tackle spot, or whether the Falcons should be on the lookout for help there in free agency… Potential of adding a defensive tackle to bolster the interior rotation and later discuss some specific names… Dave then breaks down some of the players he thinks are sleepers that could wind up making the roster and gives his thoughts on how the depth at wide receiver might shape up. And whether Michael Jenkins could help bolster that position… Thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens, their off-season moves, and whether or not they can repeat as champions… Reviewing some of the matchups that could be interesting this week against the Tennessee Titans… Discussion of the Falcons subpar pass rush and tight end depth… Von Miller’s suspension and how that could affect the Denver Broncos season and AFC playoff picture.

Ep. 35: Ravens Recap/Titans Preview [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 21 minutes

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

Dave writes for The Falcoholic and can be found on twitter: @TheFalcoholic.

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

Nicholas out for remainder of preseason

August 19th, 2013 Comments off

Falcons linebacker Stephen Nicholas left Saturday’s practice with an undisclosed injury, and yesterday the team gave an update by indicating that Nicholas will miss the remainder of the preseason with an unspecified leg injury. Per Daniel Cox’s report, Falcons head coach Mike Smith expects Nicholas to return for the start of the regular season.

Nicholas is the team’s starting strongside linebacker, although in both preseason games he has worked mainly at weakside linebacker due to the emergence of defensive end Kroy Biermann at strongside and the absence of injured weakside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Nicholas is widely considered to be on the roster bubble given his high salary, declining skill, and the emerging young talent at linebacker. In his absence, Joplo Bartu took first team reps on Sunday, and also split starting reps with him briefly during last Thursday’s preseason matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. This injury keeping him out for at least the next two weeks doesn’t enhance his ability to maintain his grip on the roster.

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Takeaways from Last Week – August 19

August 19th, 2013 Comments off
ICON SMI

Could we see the return of Mike Peterson?

Roddy White is injured, and I’m not worried. At least I should say I’m not worried right now. If White is out of the lineup in Week 1, then I’ll be worried.

But I’m pretty calm at this point in time, even knowing that White will miss the rest of the preseason with an ankle injury that he suffered on Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Falcons now have three weeks for White to get some rest and hopefully heal what the team termed a “minor” injury. Initial reports seem to confirm the lack of severity on this injury, suggesting White could suit up within a week if this were the regular season. But to be honest, I don’t fully buy that. The Falcons routinely have underestimated the amount of time it would take for their players to return. One famous example came in 2010 when Michael Jenkins suffered a shoulder injury in early August that was originally slated to put him out 4-6 weeks. Jenkins did not suit up for a Falcons game until 10 weeks later.

Now it should be noted that since 2010 I don’t recall any other blatant misreads of a player’s recovery. And the team may be a lot better today now three years removed at estimating the timetables for players’ recoveries. But generally speaking, I tend to add a week or two to all prognoses that the Falcons release about their injured players. The fact that the Falcons usually don’t put a timetable on players’ returns is also indicative that they also realize that it only opens themselves up for more criticism.

But the term “minor” is such a relative term. It could be minor in the sense that it may only keep him from practice or playing for a week or two. It could be minor in the sense that it won’t require surgery, but could keep him out of the lineup for a month or more. We really won’t know until Wednesday, September 4, when the Falcons practice report for Week 1 is released and it says either FP (full participation), LP (limited participation), or DNP (did not practice) to indicate where White’s status is. My personal philosophy is que sera sera, thus there is no sense worrying about things you cannot control.

And losing White is arguably the lesser of two evils, at least compared to losing Julio Jones. While I think Richard Sherman’s “dissing” of White several months ago went a bit too far (by saying he’s a product of the system), I do think there is a small sliver of a kernel of truth to what Sherman was saying in that White isn’t as good a player as Jones. Jones is the player that really makes the Falcons offense go, at least in the sense that it changes the way teams try to defend the Falcons. I do think there is a lot more overlap in regards to how the Falcons normally use White in comparison to his replacement, Harry Douglas.

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Preseason Week 2 Stock Report

August 18th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Peter Konz appears to have found a home at center

This is the third installment in the weekly stock reports, assessing which Falcon players have improved or diminished their stock for making the Falcons roster and/or potentially contributing in 2013.

Last week I indicated that four players’ stock was down: QB Dominique Davis, TE Levine Toilolo, OT Ryan Schraeder, and CB Dominique Franks. Without going into great detail, all four players improved their performances against the Ravens. Franks stood out the most as he was arguably the most impactful defender on the field once the starters went out. He blanketed Ravens wideout LaQuan Williams, and made it nearly impossible for backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor to complete a pass to the young receiver. But rather than rehash previous players, I’ll indicate some new faces that were able to raise their stock within the past week.

Stock Up

 

RB Antone Smith – After a strong preseason debut by Ronnie Wingo, Smith’s grip on a roster spot seemed a bit more tenuous especially given the time he missed due to injury. But Smith responded with a solid performance against the Ravens. As a rusher, Smith was unimpressive. He rushed for 16 yards on 6 carries (2.7 avg). None of his first five carries proved successful, until his sixth and final carry of five yard where he was able to bounce a play to the edge. He is being pushed for what is expected to be the fourth running back spot by a trio of youngsters in Josh Vaughan, Ronnie Wingo, and Donald Russell. That trio combined for 12 carries and 67 yards (5.6 avg) against the Ravens. Seven of those dozen combined carries (58.3%) were successful runs. Vaughn looked particularly impressive, with his first four carries all counting as successes. But Smith showcased excellent speed, which can be valuable in both the passing game and on special teams. He was able to use that speed on the edge on a pair of catches in the flat that went for a combined 40 yards, almost all of it coming after the catch where he streaked by Ravens’ defenders. That speed also came into handy on special teams where he was able to get downfield quickly and cover punts, including downing one at the Ravens’ own 2-yard line. While Smith doesn’t offer the same long-term potential as a runner that the other young backs on the roster do, he does offer immediate value in the passing game, thus complementing Matt Ryan well, and on special teams, meaning he can be active and contribute every Sunday.

OC Peter Konz – While I did highlight Konz as a player whose stock was rising a week ago, it should be mentioned that it continues to rise after a standout game against the Baltimore Ravens. He faced 4-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and was highly effective in controlling the 340-pounder. As mentioned previously, former Falcons center Todd McClure routinely struggled against big 3-4 nose tackles. But if Thursday night is any indcator, that will no longer be an issue with Konz playing the pivot.

Stock Down

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Training Camp: Day 17 Report

August 18th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons break training camp after a brief practice Sunday morning. The following was the news emerging after Saturday’s practice.

  • Head coach Mike Smith gave injury updates (video) on players after practice yesterday. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon returned to practice on Saturday after suffering an injury to his finger early last week. Running back Jason Snelling is expected to return to practice today. Linebacker Robert James and fullback Bradie Ewing are expected to resume regular practice on Tuesday, since the Falcons will be off on Monday. All four players missed this past Thursday’s preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
  • Falcons wideout Roddy White will not play in the team’s upcoming preseason contest against the Tennessee Titans next Saturday and thus will not suit up for the remainder of the preseason. Regular starters do not suit up for the  fourth and final preseason, scheduled for August 29 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Smith indicated that he’s on the same “plan” as the rest of the starters i.e. he won’t play against Jacksonville.
  • In other injury news, linebacker Stephen Nicholas did not finish practice on Saturday. No further information has been made available.
  • Tony Gonzalez is set to return today after a three-week absence from camp.
  • Click here to check out the five things Jay Adams learned about the Falcons on Saturday.
  • Defensive end Osi Umenyiora made the decision to switch his uniform number from 90. He will be taking No. 50 from linebacker Pat Schiller. Schiller’s new number has yet to be determined.


Reactions to Falcons-Ravens

August 16th, 2013 5 comments
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Peter Konz stood out against Baltimore

Just like last week, I’ll post my reactions to the Falcons’ performances in their second preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. For the most part, I thought the Falcons had a good performance. Here I’ll try to recount the performances of as many players on the roster as possible and some basic conclusions about how it could effect the roster and potentially the season.

Quarterback

What I Saw: Ryan saw some pressure in this game, but again the Falcons gameplan with the starters was to try and keep him from getting hit with some quick throws and reads. Ryan made several nice throws downfield in this game, hitting Jones on a 32-yarder. Davis played better in this game, but it appeared the Falcons were definitely trying to help him out with their play-calling. He didn’t make a read downfield until his fourth throw to Coffman near the end of the first half. Outside that throw and the throw to Drew Davis that he fumbled at the end of the first half, Dominique Davis didn’t make any throws that were more than 5 or so yards in this game. He made some good throws and some nice runs to keep the offense in rhythm, but his solid play seemed to be more a result of Koetter’s play-calling than Davis really playing at a high level. Renfree entered the game at the end of the third quarter and was erratic. He made a couple of nice throws that were dropped. He appeared much more willing to throw the ball downfield as only a few of his throws were 5 or less yards. His accuracy was too erratic however, but I like the willingness to pull the trigger on downfield throws, a desirable trait in an NFL quarterback.

Conclusion?: No Seth Doege in this game, which means it’s highly doubtful he sticks on the team or practice squad. I think Koetter’s defense of Davis earlier this week and his play-calling indicates the team is intent on using Davis as the No. 2 and are willing to work harder to make him look better. Renfree appears set as the No. 3 and I didn’t see anything in this game to suggest that the pair should flip spots. But it’ll be interesting to see how their battle unfolds next summer, which will hopefully be the next time we see them hit the field once the regular season starts.

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Takeaways from Last Week – July 29

July 29th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Should Stephen Nicholas be worried?

Training camp has begun for the Falcons. And it’s still early, but there have been a few interesting developments.

A lot has been made of the beatings that rookie corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have had at the hands of Julio Jones and Roddy White. It’s somewhat silly, given it’s their first few days in camp. They are going up against arguably two of the ten best receivers in the league (I’d love to meet the person that would argue against it). And they are rookies after all. Frankly, if Patrick Peterson didn’t set the world on fire as a rookie, and he was the best cornerback prospect to come out since Champ Bailey, then why would anybody expect either Trufant or Alford to not suffer through growing pains? The key for them is going to be how much progress they show over the course of camp and the preseason. And then they’ll face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the season opener. And I have no doubt that Sean Payton and Brees are going to very purposefully attack them in that game. And my expectations are that Payton and Brees will get the better of them more than they won’t. But even then, I won’t be upset. In regards to Trufant, Alford, and Robert McClain, it’s less about how good they are in September, but how good they are in January. After all, everyone expects this Falcon team to make the playoffs and make a title run.

It’s hard to tell who is ahead in some of the other position battles that dot the roster. What limited word we’ve heard about the right tackle position, suggests that Mike Johnson is still slightly ahead of Lamar Holmes. But one can’t put too much stock in one observation during one drill. We’ll see how that plays out the rest of summer. In past summers, things usually start to pick up by the second preseason game for offensive line battles so we’ll see how that goes.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the tight end battle plays out with Tony Gonzalez’s prolonged absence from camp. Chase Coffman and Tommy Gallarda appear to be getting much of the first-team reps thus far, with Levine Toilolo working as a reserve. While Toilolo’s roster spot isn’t really in jeopardy, we’ll have to see if he can leapfrog either in the coming days and weeks. As I’ve mentioned before, what sort of summer Toilolo has could have significant impact on how the rest of the roster plays out at that position. If he shines as a blocker, then Gallarda loses a bit of value. If he shines more as a receiver, then Coffman loses a bit of his luster there.

Defensively, there isn’t any direct competitions per se that I’m paying attention to. I’m more curious to see and hear how the Falcons use certain players like Kroy Biermann and Osi Umenyiora, who seem to getting a lot of time playing on their feet thus far. Eventually, I’m curious to see how the competition between Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas plays out for the second linebacker in the nickel. I fully expect Dent to win the job, but I’m curious how it all plays out. I’d like to see Dent win the job handily, that would give me more confidence that things are looking up for the Falcons coverage abilities from the linebacker position. There is some risk that Nicholas winds up a cap casualty at the end of camp. I don’t expect that to happen, but I also didn’t expect the Falcons to cut John Abraham at the beginning of the off-season. The Falcons cap situation currently (projected at roughly $5.7 million in cap space after Ryan’s extension) doesn’t call for the team to really need to purge salary at the end of the summer. As I’ve noted before the Falcons can save $905,000 against the cap by cutting Peria Jerry. Well actually that’s not true, the savings really only becomes $498,000 when you factor in a player like Micanor Regis (2013 cap hit of roughly $407,000) would then take up a roster spot and eat into those savings.

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Predicting the Falcons Final 53

July 24th, 2013 2 comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Will Brian Banks make the squad?

On the eve of training camp, it’s time to predict which players will make the Falcons 53-man roster to start the season. As things progress this summer, I’ll continue to update how things are looking.

One of the challenges of accurately predicting who will make a roster is injuries. Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL, and no team is immune from them. There are always going to be at least one or two players that were near-locks to make the team that wind up beginning the season on injured reserve. Players like Will Svitek and Bradie Ewing fit the bill from 2012. And that is bad for those players, but also gives unexpected opportunities for others. And even when a player doesn’t suffer a season-ending injury, it certainly affects the roster. If a key player sprains his knee and is going to miss just one or two games, it will often cause the team to carry an extra player at his position group into the season, which leads to carrying one less player at another.

Another factor is that when other teams make cuts, players that the team likes will become available. And it’s hard enough predicting who the Falcons will cut, it’s near impossible to predict who the other 31 teams will cut. Thus it’s unknown, which veterans will become available and who the Falcons could possibly add to bolster their roster heading into the season.

So I have no expectation that these predictions will be 100% accurate due to unknowable factors like that, but if I can get 48 of 53 players correct, I’d be extremely happy. I put an asterisk (*) beside the players that I believe remain eligible for the practice squad. A double asterisk (**) indicates players that I believe fulfill the parameters to allow a potential third year on the practice squad (normally players are only allowed two).

Quarterback
While I do think there is a relatively good possibility (around 25%) that the Falcons opt to bring in an outside veteran to bolster depth at this position, right now I do think the odds favor the Falcons opening the season with Dominique Davis and Sean Renfree poised as the team’s two backups behind Matt Ryan. While the new trend in the NFL is to keep only two quarterbacks, I’m not convinced that the Falcons have that much confidence in Davis to keep him alone on the roster. Especially since the Falcons did use a draft pick on Renfree, and that indicates that they do have long-term plans for him.

Who Makes It: Matt Ryan, Dominique Davis*, Sean Renfree*
Who Doesn’t: Seth Doege*

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Camp Battles 2013: Linebacker

July 20th, 2013 1 comment
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Banks will be the center of attention this summer

The Falcons are set in regards of their three starters at the linebacker position. Stephen Nicholas, Akeem Dent, and Sean Weatherspoon all return to man the strongside, middle, and weakside linebacker spots, respectively.

The battle that could occur however among them is to see who lines up beside Weatherspoon in the team’s nickel subpackage. Nicholas filled the spot in 2012, but Dent is expected to man the job in 2013 after Nicholas had an unimpressive season in coverage. To put in bluntly, Dent’s inability to take the gig this summer would be nothing short of an abject failure on his part given his superior athleticism and youth.

The bigger questions that will come at linebacker will be which players fill depth roles. The Falcons carried five linebackers on their roster last year. They can get away with that since several of their defensive ends such as Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi also double as outside linebackers in several of their packages.

Robert James is the lone candidate that actually made the roster last year, spending his year working on special teams where he was effective. Last season actually marked the first time that James actually made the Falcons opening day roster after being a fifth round pick in 2008. He has spent most of his previous years off and on the practice squad. The Falcons clearly have managed to keep James around for a reason, meaning he still stands a good chance to be back in 2013. He flashed good speed and range last summer, in what was certainly his most impressive preseason. But his ability to stick may depend less on his own play, but more on whether other candidates emerge.

That includes Pat Schiller, who had a strong preseason a year ago to make the team’s practice squad. Schiller has a good head on his shoulders and offers potential to add depth at all three linebacker spots if need be. If he can showcase that he’s a capable special teams player, then he stands a very good shot at making the final 53.

But much of the attention will be focused on Brian Banks, the player with the remarkable comeback story that had him falsely imprisoned for years after being one of the top high school linebackers in the nation years ago. Banks will be competing for a reserve middle linebacker spot. If Banks makes the team it likely won’t be because he’s expected to impact on defense, but because of his potential value on special teams. There is no doubt that Banks is a project given the fact that he never played college football, but he certainly would be a feel-good story for the franchise which frankly gives him an edge if the competition is close.

The other linebacker options include three undrafted rookies in Joplo Bartu, Nick Clancy, and Paul Worrilow. Bartu played defensive end in college, while Clancy hails from the Boston College pipeline that has put a few linebackers in the league the past few years. Worrilow is an athletic specimen from Delaware. All three have decent odds of making the roster if they can impress on special teams, but more than likely they will be practice squad candidates.

Due to the lack of established depth, linebacker remains a position the Falcons could potentially address at the end of camp when cuts are made. More than likely the Falcons will be looking for a player that can provide the same value that Mike Peterson did a year ago, which is to be able to add depth at multiple positions as well as contribute on special teams. Among the players currently on the roster, Schiller offers the best potential to fill that role, but if he doesn’t step up and inspire confidence in the team they could look elsewhere.

Ranking the Falcons: No. 19 Stephen Nicholas

July 19th, 2013 Comments off
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Stephen Nichlas

The 19th-ranked Falcons player is linebacker Stephen Nicholas. Click here to see the scoring system used to devise these rankings.

Total Score: 56

Player Grade: 57 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 16 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 1 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 26 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +1
Positional Bonus: +3

Nicholas could potentially start on half the teams in the league. Mainly because he’s a more versatile player than he’s often given credit for. Nicholas possesses underrated pass rushing skills, and is a capable, physical run defender. He does his best work when he can play close to the line of scrimmage and come downhill. As a pass rusher, there are a few 3-4 teams that he could potentially line up on the outside and rush the quarterback.

Where Nicholas is limited is in coverage. It was an area that was never a strength of his due to stiff hips and less than ideal range. But now that he is 30 years old, Nicholas struggles even more. Those struggles were very apparent last year as the Falcons were routinely carved up in coverage by tight ends. That isn’t all on Nicholas’ shoulders, as fellow linebacker Sean Weatherspoon had his share of struggles alongside safety William Moore. But simply put, the Falcons overexposed Nicholas last year as an every down player, a role he had never assumed in his Falcon career since earning the starting strongside spot in 2009.

If the Falcons can get more contributions from Akeem Dent this year, then Nicholas can settle back into a more part-time role. While Nicholas has his limitations, he is a player that the coaching staff can trust. He plays his assignments and gives excellent effort every snap. The bonus that he is also a capable special teams player also means that even if he’s not getting reps on regular defense, he still finds ways to contribute on Sundays.

His status in Atlanta beyond 2013 is up in the air. He only has another year or two which can be considered “peak” seasons. Both Keith Brooking and Mike Peterson were age 32 when they began their final years in Atlanta and Jacksonville, respectively. After those years, both teams opted to part ways given the declining skill of both linebackers. And frankly, Nicholas simply hasn’t been quite the players that either Brooking or Peterson were prior to their dismissals. But even if 2013 is his final run, Nicholas has had a solid career in Atlanta. If he manages to start 15 games, then he’ll have 62 career starts in a Falcons uniform, exceeding former fourth round pick Henri Crockett by one. Which will be the most by any fourth round pick selected by the Falcons since Moe Gardner back in 1991, who started 85 games in a Falcons uniform.

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