- It was a scorcher at practice today, with temperatures north of 90 degrees, and it was clear the Falcons players felt it. The high temperatures may have gotten the better of cornerback Josh Wilson, who had to get his hamstring worked on midway through practice.
- As usual, Jay Adams provides us with five things we learned from practice today. Included are running back Antone Smith’s role with the team, the majesty of wide receiver Julio Jones, the battles in the trenches, and the play of linebackers Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu and Prince Shembo.
- The competition at cornerback seemed to heat up a bit, as Robert McClain was taking first-team reps at nickel cornerback. That should be no surprise given that head coach Mike Smith indicated that McClain, Wilson, and Javier Arenas would all have opportunities this summer. Wilson had worked as the starting nickel the first two days of practice. Desmond Trufant, who has spent the bulk of the first two days of practice at right cornerback, made the switch to the left side today.
- The Falcons cross-trained a few of their blockers today. Guard Harland Gunn took snaps at center, while guard Gabe Carimi got some work at right tackle.
- But the star of today was Jones, who caught a lot of eyeballs as he showed no ill signs from his day off yesterday.
Every other day, Jones will receive a day off from practice, while Biermann will practice two days and then receive time off every third practice. Jones is recovering from a foot injury that sidelined him for the final 11 games of 2013. Biermann missed 14 games after tearing his Achilles tendon in Week 2 of last season.
Smith also indicated that he expects defensive tackle Corey Peters to be removed from the active/Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list quickly. Like Biermann, Peters is also recovering from an Achilles tear that caused him to miss the Falcons 2013 season finale.
This news is not surprising given a report last month that indicated both Peters and Motta’s statuses for the start of training camp was in doubt. Peters tore his Achilles tendon at the end of the 2013 season and has been rehabbing. He targets Week 1 of the regular season for his return.
Motta is suffering from a fractured neck sustained also at the end of the 2013 season and has been held out of workouts all offseason long. It was reported in June that he was set to see a specialist this month in order to indicate if he can return to the field. Presumably his status on the active/PUP list indicates that the Falcons have yet to rule him out for the remainder of the 2014 season, giving some optimism. However, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure indicates that this news may not be as promising, tweeting that Motta still should not be expected to play this season.
As I explained in the write-up on the Falcons defensive ends, all signs point to the Falcons adopting more of a 3-4 schematic look in their base attack on defense this season. The addition of Soliai is a big part of that reason for he is the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle.
Big, strong and capable of absorbing double teams, Soliai gives the Falcons something they did not truly have with Corey Peters last season. Peters was capable in performing some of those roles, but was by no means the classic version of the 3-4 nose that usually weighs in above 320 pounds. Coupled with Peters’ recovery from injury, it was clear the Falcons were going to need more help at the position.
They found that in Soliai with a substantial long-term contract. If offensive tackle Jake Matthews is the jewel of the draft class, then Soliai is that for free agency based purely off his contract. And thus, it doesn’t make sense for a team to spend as much money as they did on 3-4 players like Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson and not utilize them in the manner that suits them best.
Soliai will start for the Falcons, but will likely be pulled off the field in most passing situations. That was the case in Miami as Soliai had a tendency to wear down over the course of games. The Falcons will need to find a way to minimize that.
A heavy rotation with Peters could be one answer, but that is dependent on his health. Peters told me himself that he is expecting to return for the regular season opener, and if that is the case then he’ll be able to earn reps replacing Soliai in passing situations.
Unlike some 3-4 teams, the Falcons will likely utilize a four-man front when they employ their nickel sub-packages on passing downs. It’s likely that the same starting lineup the team featured up front last season: Osi Umenyiora and Jonathan Massaquoi at the end spots with Peters and Jonathan Babineaux at tackle will be their go-to group. That potentially puts the team’s four best pass-rushers (minus linebacker Kroy Biermann) on the field at the same time.
To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.
Total Score: 68/100
Last year’s rank: 14
Player Grade: 59/100
Teams he is starter: 23 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 12 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 31 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +2
Positional Bonus: +3
Peters’ ranking is high based on the possibility that he’s fully healthy in 2014, which recent discussions indicate may be the case.
He suffered a torn Achilles tendon at the end of last season, an injury that has been one that took 18 months to recover. While players were able to return in less time, they did not appear to look close to their former selves until after that 18-month deadline.
However recent breakthroughs in medical science have the conventional wisdom all twisted. Falcons linebacker Kroy Biermann suffered the same injury last September and has shown no limitations thus far this offseason. Former Falcon cornerback Brent Grimes suffered the same injury a year prior, and was no worse for wear last season with the Miami Dolphins.
How such an Achilles injury effects a massive body like Peters however could be different. New England’s Vince Wilfork and Dallas’ Tyrone Crawford are defensive linemen that suffered the same injury last season as well. Former New York Jet defensive end Ropati Pitoitua missed all of 2010 with a torn Achilles, but came back in 2011 and picked up where he left off.
So there is certainly reason to be optimistic for Peters in the immediate future. If Peters manages to pick up where he left off, he could be considered the team’s best defensive lineman.
I know I have not done much of these weekly recaps since the spring but given the dearth of football-related events at this point in the calendar year, it would be a good idea to bring it back. Here’s recapping some interesting Atlanta Falcons-related reads (and listens) I found this week:
In case you were wondering what Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters has been up recently, I conducted an interview of him on Falcons Central Radio on Pro Football Central.com.
Grantland’s Robert Mays wrote a preview of the Falcons this year, with a focus on the 2011 draft-day trade for wide receiver Julio Jones. Mays states what I currently think about that trade, a change from a previous opinion, in that the trade had both a positive and negative impact on the team. Basically the Falcons would not have gotten as far as they did in 2012 without the trade, but also would not have sunk as low in 2013. It’s worth a read and also makes a key point towards the end, which is the Falcons’ success in 2014 seems to be firmly fixed on the health of Jones.
ESPN’s Vaughn McClure assesses that the Falcons’ biggest key to success in 2014 is returning to being an offensive juggernaut. McClure writes that will be the team’s key to success for the upcoming seasons. And similarly, the health of Jones will matter there, but McClure also points out the offensive line upgrades made by the team this offseason in acquiring guard Jon Asamoah and tackle Jake Matthews will be key. Hard to argue against McClure’s conclusions. The Falcons defense isn’t poised to be anything more than above average this year (at best) and until the team makes a similar investment in upgrading their pass rush, it’s unlikely that will be the case in any season in the near future.
On ESPN, voters also expressed their opinion that Morten Andersen’s game-winning kick against the Minnesota Vikings in the 1998 NFC Championship Game that sent the Falcons to their first (and only) Super Bowl appearance is the greatest play in team history. It edged out Michael Vick’s impressive overtime run against the same team in 2002.
The Atlanta Falcons announced earlier today that wide receiver Drew Davis would be placed on the training camp or active/Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list. Davis suffered an unspecified foot injury requiring surgery that will keep him out of practice for the next six weeks, which will include the start of training camp practices on July 25.
The active/PUP list designation means that Davis will be held out of practices in training camp until team doctors clear him. When he is cleared, he will be able to resume practicing immediately. There is a possibility that defensive tackle Corey Peters could go on the training camp PUP list as well, according to a report in June.
There is a distinction between the types of PUP lists allowed for a player. One is strictly used for training camp, which is the active version mentioned above that Davis will go on. The other is the reserve version that is used for the regular season. In that version, a player is barred from playing or practicing for the first six weeks of the regular season. After which, there exists a five-week window in which the player is allowed to return to practice and play. Once a player resumes practicing within that window, there is a three-week period in which they can be returned to the active roster. If the player is unable to return, then he will finish the year on the injured reserve.
The Atlanta Falcons made the somewhat bold move to trade for Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates earlier this week.
It’s a bold move in the sense that the Falcons saw a weakness on their team and went about addressing it. That weakness was their backup quarterback situation where Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree and Jeff Mathews sat behind starter Matt Ryan. Between the three of them, they only have one game and seven pass attempts’ worth of actual NFL experience.
If one was power-ranking the Falcons backup quarterback situation, it would have been in contention for dead last in the league with that of the Chicago Bears.
Following the departure of Josh McCown, who is now expected to start for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bears featured Jimmy Clausen, Jordan Palmer, David Fales and Jerrod Johnson behind starter Jay Cutler. The Bears signed Clausen earlier this month to add some much-needed experience. Clausen played poorly, but at least started 10 games as a rookie with the Carolina Panthers in 2010. Before his arrival, their sole experience came from Palmer, who attempted 15 passes over three years with the Cincinnati Bengals (2008-10).
Johnson was cut this week, as was Davis for the Falcons. Teams don’t often carry five quarterbacks on the roster, and it was clear that Yates’ arrival was going to push Davis out the door.
That’s unfortunate for Davis, who despite my frequent criticism of his skills, did have some potential to develop. Davis’ problems were that the same issues that plagued him during his days at East Carolina did not improve to a significant enough degree to merit the team’s continued investment. Davis’ accuracy and mechanics were erratic during his time in college and were the main reasons why teams passed on drafting him. Davis’ arm strength and athleticism were pluses, two things that helped him shine as an undrafted rookie during the 2012 preseason. But even then he showed the flashes of erratic play that hurt him in college.
In a sense, Yates is his polar opposite. Accuracy, footwork are two of Yates’ strengths, while arm strength is probably his biggest weakness. After the move to get Yates, I went back and looked at his limited play last season and in his playoff loss against the Baltimore Ravens in 2011 to see how much, if at all, Yates had really developed since his days at North Carolina.
Vaughn McClure of ESPN reported this morning that the statuses of Atlanta Falcons safety Zeke Motta and defensive tackle Corey Peters are unknown as of yet for next month’s training camp. Both players are coming off serious injuries suffered last December at the end of the 2013 season.
Motta suffered a fractured neck in the Falcons’ Week 14 loss to the Green Bay Packers. He had offseason surgery on the injury, but his recovery has been delayed longer than initially expected. Per McClure, Motta will have a follow-up appointment in July that will determine whether or not he’ll return not just for training camp, but also for the year. It’s clear that Motta’s neck injury is a career-threatening one.
Peters on the other hand suffered a torn Achilles tendon against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16 last year. Per Falcons head coach Mike Smith, Peters is ahead of schedule in his recovery. But he is still is at risk for missing a large portion of training camp and/or the preseason as he continues to recover from the injury. McClure indicates there is a possibility that Peters could be placed on the team’s Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list at the start of not only training camp but also the regular season.
McClure notes of two distinct designations that could await Peters. If at the outset of training camp, which begins on July 25, Peters is placed on active/PUP list, he will be eligible to return to practice during camp at his earliest allowance. But if he is placed on the reserve/PUP, then he will be forced to miss the first six weeks of the regular season, but will have a chance to return to practice and the active roster within a month afterwards.
McClure also notes that wide receiver Julio Jones is expected to be a full participant in training camp, despite missing all of the team’s offseason practices. Jones indicated earlier this month that his target date for return is the regular season-opener against the New Orleans Saints, indicating doubt that his usage in camp and the preseason may be extremely limited.
After taking a look at the key roster battles that will take place this summer on the Atlanta Falcons offense, it’s time we take a look at the defensive side of the ball.
Like the offense, the Falcons defensive starting lineup is relatively settled with much of the competition coming at depth positions.
Unlike the offense, the possibility that the Falcons look to bolster many positions with veteran additions at the end of camp is low. It could happen, if injuries become a problem, but for the most part the added presence of recent draft picks at several positions means the team has a vested interest in getting young guys more opportunities.
The team signed Paul Soliai to a large contract, making him their starter at nose tackle. He will be joined by incumbents Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters. The only question among the three of them is whether or not Peters’ recovery from a late-season Achilles tear will force him to miss significant time in training camp. If so, he could wind up starting the year on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list, potentially opening up an opportunity and roster spot for someone else at the position.
Peria Jerry would appreciate that greatly, as he’s the most experienced remaining option at the position but on the bubble as far as his roster spot goes. He’ll need a strong summer to retain his job, with Ra’Shede Hageman, Cliff Matthews, and Travian Robertson also vying for time at the position. This summer is Robertson’s last chance to make the roster, but Peters’ absence opens up the possibility for the team needing more depth at nose tackle, which benefits Robertson.
Like Robertson, Matthews may be entering his final summer with the Falcons given their investment in Hagemen. A competent special teams player, Matthews will need to make more plays on defense this summer to prove he’s worth retaining for the Falcons.
Undrafted rookie Donte Rumph is a long shot to leap frog any of them for a roster spot, but given his size, a good summer could merit a practice squad position to prompt development down the road.
Tyson Jackson and Malliciah Goodman can be considered locks for roster spot. Jackson will be a starter, and Goodman’s performance this summer will determine whether or not he earns significant playing time in the regular season. There’s an outside possibility he could win the starting spot opposite Jackson if he performs at an exceedingly high level.
Hageman and Matthews will also get looks here, and undrafted rookie Nosa Eguae is also in the mix. But like Rumph, Eguae is likely looking at a practice squad spot if he has a strong enough summer.