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2013 Key Player: Akeem Dent

June 28th, 2013 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

Akeem Dent

Last season linebacker Akeem Dent got the opportunity to replace long-time starting middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. He didn’t exactly run away with that opportunity. Dent was the focus of many of my game reviews, noting several times how much he was struggling to impact against the run in 2012. That is going to have to change in 2013.

This upcoming season is going to be an important career marker for Dent. It’s likely going to be the year where shows enough that he could be counted on to become a significant contributor for the Falcons for years to come or one where he shows himself to be relegated to becoming a role player.

Dent does not have to come out and be an elite middle linebacker in 2013. But he does need to show significant improvement from a year ago. Dent struggled to make plays when the Falcons utilized their base package last year. He appeared in less than half (48.5%) of the team’s total defensive snaps last year (according to Pro Football Focus).

That led to the Falcons overuse of strongside linebacker Stephen Nicholas, whose Pro Football Focus coverage rating was the fifth-worst among all linebackers. Dent should be in a prime position to take reps from Nicholas. Dent is more athletic and has better hips than Nicholas. While Dent is no coverage maven, he should be an upgrade physically. The key will be the mental aspect of the position however.

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OTAs: Day 7 Report

June 12th, 2013 Comments off

The media once again had access to the first of four days of the Falcons third and final offseason team activities. The Falcons will have a mandatory minicamp starting next week on June 18:

  • As mentioned earlier, Desmond Trufant returned to practice today. He and fellow rookie Robert Alford were able to get extra reps due to the excused absence of veteran cornerback Asante Samuel today. Trufant at left corner, Alford at right, and both Robert McClain and Dominique Franks manning the slot. Matt Ryan was impressed with the Falcons top pick.
  • Speaking of Ryan isn’t too concerned over his looming contract status.

    You know what, I leave that to my agents and the front office. Those guys will get that stuff done.

  • Absent at today’s session were Samuel, as mentioned previously, Tony Gonzalez, and Levine Toilolo. Toilolo is expected to join the team tomorrow. Meanwhile, Chase Coffman stepped in for Gonzalez at tight end with the Falcons starters. Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas still look to be on schedule to return for next week’s minicamps.
  • Steven Jackson has improved his diet to try and defeat Father Time. Sounds like his plans are to be a “finisher” for the Falcons with most of his work on the ground coming in the fourth quarter. He’s focused on getting on the same page with Ryan in the passing game for the no-huddle offense earlier in games.
  • Matt Ryan seems to admit the offensive line is a work in progress, but that strides are being made. And it looks like they might be incorporating more tempo which I suggested the other day.

 

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.

OTAs: Day 1 Report

May 29th, 2013 Comments off

Technically it’s the second day, but this is the first day that media have been covering things.

  • So the biggest news from the day is that Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez were absent from these these voluntary workouts. So was Desmond Trufant, who is finishing school at the University of Washington. But he’s apparently putting in the extra work by contacting coaches via Skype. Levine Toilolo is also finishing up his schoolwork at Stanford.
  • As reported earlier, linebackers Sean Weatherspoon (knee), Stephen Nicholas (sports hernia), and rookie end Stansly Maponga (foot/ankle) were held out of practices today due to their recoveries from off-season surgeries.
  • The Falcons opened with a brand new starting 5 on their offensive line: LT Sam Baker, LG Justin Blalock, C Peter Konz, RG Garrett Reynolds, and RT Mike Johnson. Lamar Holmes is expected to be in the mix with Johnson at right tackle.
  • The Falcons cut UDFA Deon Goggins. Goggins played DT at Syracuse, but was being converted to fullback in Atlanta.

Weatherspoon, Nicholas to miss start of OTAs

May 24th, 2013 Comments off

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reports that linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas will miss the start of Falcons’ organized team activities which begin next Tuesday due to their recoveries from off-season surgeries. Weatherspoon had arthroscopic knee surgery, while Nicholas is recovering from a sports hernia. Both players are expected back by mid-to-late June in time for the team’s mandatory minicamp which begins on June 18.

Ledbetter also reports that a pair of rookies will be limited for the start of OTAs: defensive end Stansly Maponga who is recovering from surgery on his broken foot in March, and quarterback Sean Renfree who suffered a torn pectoral at the end of December both were limited throughout the pre-draft process and off-season.

Takeaways from Last Week – April 15

April 15th, 2013 3 comments
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Is DeCoud in danger?

It’s now less than two weeks until the 2013 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday night, April 25. In past years I would have for the top prospects in the draft. I have not done that this year. My job had me traveling a lot in the fall, so I didn’t watch as much college football as normal. Once the winter hit, and now that we’ve rolled into spring, I have a lesser workload but not by a huge margin. And since I typically do a poor job managing my time anyway, I did not get to make up for lost time as much as I would have liked.

So this year, there aren’t going to be many scouting reports on draft prospects. At least not before the draft. After the draft, I intend fully to dive into breaking down the players that the Falcons draft. Although again, because my workload is likely to be hectic that might take a month or so especially if the Falcons wind up making eleven picks.

But I do hope that in the next ten days that I will put a few scouting reports online of some of the players that the Falcons are potentially targeting in the early rounds of the draft. I really want to look at some cornerbacks as well as some pass rushers because I feel that these are the most likely players the Falcons will come away with in Round One.

We have five years of drafts under Thomas Dimitroff to gauge in order to try and guess who the Falcons are taking with their top pick this year. Frankly, that’s all it really is: educated guessing, because none of the many bloggers around the interweb that cover the Falcons really know what is going to happen.

To be honest, I’m not very good with guessing who the Falcons will take with their top pick. In 2008, I was split on Glenn Dorsey and Matt Ryan. That was understandable to a degree because it was Dimitroff and Mike Smith’s first draft, and their tendencies were unknown. In hindsight, it’s obvious why they ultimately chose Ryan but at the time it seemed like a toss-up. Mike Smith was a defensive coach, and Dorsey was widely hailed as the best interior pass rusher since Warren Sapp. And many weren’t high on Ryan. I can proudly thump my chest, and say I wasn’t one of them. I wrote this about Ryan in that 2008 draft guide:
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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 26 “IHateDuntaRobinson.com”

March 30th, 2013 Comments off

On this week’s episode, I am joined by Allen Strk and Tom Melton to recap the Falcons free agent moves as well as look forward to what the team could do in April’s draft. You’ll hear our thoughts on the acquisitions of Osi Umenyiora and Steven Jackson, as well as the team re-signing players like Sam Baker and William Moore. You’ll also hear our opinions on what are the chances that Brent Grimes and John Abraham suit up for the team in 2013. As we venture into the draft, you’ll hear opinions on whether the Falcons should prioritize improving the pass rush or their coverage on the back-end. You’re hear opinions on a couple of first round targets such as Datone Jones, Desmond Trufant, and Johnthan Banks. The conversation then returns back to the Falcons, and whether players like Tyson Clabo, Jonathan Babineaux, and Stephen Nicholas’s days as Falcons might be numbered. We debate whether Peria Jerry or Jamaal Anderson proved to be a better pick. Thoughts about what options the Falcons may have at improving their linebacker and wide receiver play will also be discussed. We pine over the memories of Eric Weems, and shed no tears for the departed Dunta Robinson.

Ep. 26: IHateDuntaRobinson.com [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 14 minutes

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

Tom Melton writes for his own blog at Tom Melton Scouting, as well as NFL Draft Monsters and the newly formed DraftFalcons.com. You can find him on twitter: @TMeltonScouting

 

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

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 24 “Playoff Recap and Offseason Preview”

February 20th, 2013 1 comment

Another episode in which I’m joined by Allen Strk to recap the Atlanta Falcons postseason efforts as well as preview some potential moves the Falcons could make this off-season. Allen and I last spoke at the end of the regular season, and scheduling conflicts prevented us from getting a recap up earlier this month. But we’re back again to go deep into the San Francisco 49ers loss and Seattle Seahawks win, including our thoughts on Michael Turner, Thomas DeCoud, Julio Jones, Stephen Nicholas, Harry Douglas, Richard Sherman, and the offensive line. Both of us give our insights into what are some of the Falcons biggest off-season needs with much of the focus on the defensive line and the secondary. We discuss some potential free agents that could help the team including Cliff Avril, Michael Johnson, Michael Bennett, and even Darrelle Revis. You’ll also hear us discuss the play of Kroy Biermann and the futures of Jonathan Babineaux, Dunta Robinson, and Brent Grimes.

Ep. 24: Playoff Recap and Offseason Preview [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 20 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

Falcons FA Focus: Linebacker

February 12th, 2013 Comments off
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Jon Beason

I know I skipped over the defensive line positions in terms of looking at prospective free agents that could help the Falcons, but there are a lot of players to watch to drink it all in. So I’ll just instead skip ahead to the linebacker position won’t take a huge amount of effort to break down.

The Falcons need at linebacker centers around their desire to get better in coverage. It arguably cost them a chance at the Super Bowl after tight end Vernon Davis carved up the Falcon defense in the NFC Championship Game, following a year where tight ends seemed to do the same every week.

The Falcons are expected to challenge Stephen Nicholas for his role in the team’s nickel subpackage. The primary challenger probably will be middle linebacker Akeem Dent, but with Mike Peterson hitting free agency and unlikely to return, there is a definite void that could be filled this off-season. And it makes the most sense if that is a player that also can help out in coverage.

It makes sense if the Falcons wait until the draft to address this position. One of the many issues with the Falcons’ coverage at the linebacker position is a lack of speed. While Sean Weatherspoon, the unit’s best player does not lack in that arena, he too struggled at times to match up. Particularly with New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles, who worked him over in Week 13 last year. Upgrading in that area makes a lot of sense to try and give the team a linebacker that can deal with Sproles. That way, the Falcons can utilize Weatherspoon more effectively to cover tight end Jimmy Graham in those Saints matchups, which may prove ultimately more fruitful than previous attempts.

The simple fact is that linebackers in the draft are going to be younger, sprier, and ultimately more explosive than any veterans that have already accumulated wear and tear in the league. If the Falcons want someone with speed that can potentially match up with Sproles, their best options likely lie in the draft.

But that doesn’t mean that the Falcons can’t find veterans worth signing. With Peterson likely departing, the Falcons have a need for depth. Currently their backups are Robert James and Pat Schiller due to the release of Matt Hansen over the weekend.

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Falcons Needs: Linebacker

February 10th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons linebacker position had its ups and downs in 2012. First-year starter Akeem Dent was erratic in his first year as a starter. Stephen Nicholas got off to a good start, but his play petered off over the second half of the season. And Sean Weatherspoon dealt with injuries and was not the consistent impact player on the field when he was healthy that he was in 2011.

The Falcons could opt to shake up this position in the off-season, but I don’t think that will be a major goal this spring. Weatherspoon will certainly be back to anchor this position and the hope will be that in his second year under Mike Nolan, he can start to play at a higher level. Weatherspoon is a fast, rangy playmaker that is very good in pursuit against the run. But too often last year, he was forced to take on blocks due to the Falcons porous run defense and it affected his ability to make those plays.

Dent also struggled taking on blocks and defending the inside run. That was an area that was a strength while he was at Georgia. He did a much better job this year playing sideline to sideline and defending the run outside the tackle box. As he gets more comfortable and experienced with his role in the middle, there should be improvement.

Nicholas is a good, hard-nosed run defender, but his inability to cover tight ends was an issue the Falcons dealt with all year. He wasn’t alone in that regard, as Weatherspoon also blew a number of coverages against tight ends. But because of those issues, the Falcons probably will return to Nicholas being more of a two-down defender, and trying to mix Dent into the nickel subpackage. Dent has better upside there because he has better hips and flexibility to turn and run with receivers and backs.

But one can also expect the Falcons to look for outside options to help improve their coverage ability. Mike Peterson, while still a solid run defender, is a free agent and probably won’t be back. He was only brought back this past year due to the injury to Lofa Tatupu. The team is likely to look for a player in the draft and/or free agency to replace him, preferably one that can help out in the nickel.

Right now the Falcons depth here is untested with Robert James, Pat Schiller, and Matt Hansen being the only backups under contract. So adding a veteran in free agency makes sense. Someone like Peterson that can play both inside and outside, and also contribute on special teams. A rookie that might be drafted could be a player that projects to playing the strongside with the hopes that either this year or next he can push Nicholas for his starting job.