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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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Player on the Rise: Pat Schiller

June 1st, 2013 1 comment

Linebacker Pat Schiller was among the Falcons most impressive rookies from last year’s preseason. Schiller was consistently in position when working both versus the run and pass, suggesting that he was deciphering the intricacies of Mike Nolan’s new defense better than many veterans could.

He managed to stick on the Falcons practice squad and would become one of the more memorable aspects of the team’s weekly D-Block video segments, silently taking it all in. He would also be the subject of a good piece in the New York Times, chronicling the beginning of his NFL journey.

While much of the attention will likely fall on fellow linebacker Brian Banks this summer, and understandably so, I think it will be Schiller as the player the organization expects to see make the biggest contributions. Schiller essentially will be expected to replace Mike Peterson. No, not in terms of leadership, as that will be left to veterans like Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon. But Peterson served as the Falcons primary reserve at all three spots last year, garnering reps in goalline situations and earning starts when Weatherspoon was out for a few games during midseason.

The Falcons stress cross-training their players at multiple positions, and while Schiller spent the majority of his reps at middle linebacker last summer, he could easily kick outside to either the weakside or strongside spot. The fact that he was able to show last summer that he was able to get the job done from the neck up means that being position-versatile shouldn’t be a major obstacle going forward.

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Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

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.

Jones, Spoon questionable against Cardinals

November 16th, 2012 Comments off

Today, the Falcons released their injury report for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals. On it, wide receiver Julio Jones (ankle) and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (ankle) were listed as questionable. Neither player practiced during the week, and according to head coach Mike Smith will be game-time decisions. Jones suffered his injury during the first half of last week’s loss to the New Orleans Saints, but later returned to the game in the third quarter. Weatherspoon has missed the past two games with his injury.

Wideout Kevin Cone (groin) and safety Charles Mitchell (calf) also missed the week of practice nd were listed as out for the Cardinals game. It’s the third consecutive game missed for Cone, while the second for Mitchell.

Also listed as questionable were defensive end John Abraham (back), running back Michael Turner (groin), and defensive tackle Vance Walker (ribs). All three players were limited in practice for all three days of practice this week. Listed as probable on this week’s report were defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (thigh), wide receiver Harry Douglas (ankle), tight end Tony Gonzalez (shoulder), linebacker Stephen Nicholas (groin), and linebacker Mike Peterson (foot). Peterson fully participated in all three days of practice, while Babineaux, Douglas and Gonzalez were full participants on Thursday and Friday. Nicholas was upgraded on Friday and fully participated in practice for the first time all week.

Douglas and Peterson will likely replace Jones and Weatherspoon in the lineup, respectively if the pair sit. The injury to Abraham plus the release of Ray Edwards this week could mean a significant increase in reps for Lawrence Sidbury, Cliff Matthews, and/or Jonathan Massaquoi at defensive end. Turner’s injury could lead to the team giving increased reps to Jacquizz Rodgers and/or Jason Snelling at running back.

Weatherspoon among others out for Saints game

November 9th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons released their injury report today for this Sunday’s upcoming contest against the New Orleans Saints. A number of Falcons players were on this week’s injury report, including linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (ankle), wide receiver Kevin Cone (groin), and safety Charles Mitchell (calf), all of whom were declared out for the game. All three players missed the entire week of practice.

Also appearing on the report were a number of questionable players including: defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux (hamstring) and Peria Jerry (knee), and cornerbacks Robert McClain (hip) and Chris Owens (heel). McClain and Owens were added to the injury report today after being limited in today’s practice. Both Babineaux and Jerry were limited throughout the week’s three days of practice.

Defensive end John Abraham (elbow), tackle Sam Baker (ankle), wideout Harry Douglas (ankle), cornerback Asante Samuel (hip), and running back Jason Snelling (illness) all also appeared on the report, but are listed as probable. Abraham was able to fully participate in all three days of practice. Both Baker and Samuel were limited on Thursday while fully participating on Thursday and Friday. Douglas was limited until fully participating in today’s practice. Snelling missed Wednesday practice, but was full go on Thursday and today.

With Weatherspoon out, Mike Peterson will likely enter the starting lineup in the base defense, with Akeem Dent taking over Spoon’s duties in the nickel. Both Cone and Mitchell will be missed on special teams. Babineaux and Jerry’s injuries leave the team relatively thin at defensive tackle, as Corey Peters is still recovering from a foot injury that kept him out of the first six games of the season. It could mean Vance Walker and Travian Robertson get increased reps on Sunday. McClain and Owens are the team’s top two backups at cornerback, being key components of the team’s nickel and dime packages. That could potentially be tested given the Saints proclivity to use three, four, and five wideouts on the majority of their plays.

Palmer and Smith to miss Raider game

October 12th, 2012 Comments off

Today, the Falcons announced their injury report for this weekend’s home game against the Oakland Raiders. Tight end Michael Palmer (shoulder) and running back Antone Smith (hamstring) were both declared out for the game, as neither player practiced this week. Palmer will miss his third consecutive game after suffering his shoulder injury in the first quarter of the team’s Week 3 win over the San Diego Chargers. Smith missed two games due to his hamstring injury in Weeks 3 and 4, but returned to practice last week and suited up for the Week 5 matchup against the Redskins. But he reaggravated the injury and will also miss his third game of the 2012 season due to injury.

Also on the injury report were defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (groin) and linebacker Stephen Nicholas (ankle) as questionable. Babineaux was limited in all practices this week. Nicholas was limited in Thursday and Friday practices after missing Wednesday. Nicholas suffered his injury late against the Redskins last weekend. He was replaced by Mike Peterson in the lineup. However middle linebacker Akeem Dent took over his role in the team’s nickel defense. If Babineaux does not suit up or has his role reduced, it will likely result in Vance Walker getting a start and/or Travian Robertson seeing increased reps. Robertson has been active for every game thus far this season, but has only garnered playing time late in the team’s Week 3 blowout of the Chargers.

Players that appeared on the injury report but were listed as probable for the Raider game include: wide receivers Kevin Cone (knee) and D.J. Davis (knee); defensive tackle Peria Jerry (thigh), center Todd McClure (pectoral), safety William Moore (hip), guard Garrett Reynolds (back), and cornerback Dunta Robinson (shoulder). All seven players fully participated in Friday’s practice. Cone, Davis, and Robinson also were full participants on Thursday.

Falcon Players to Watch Tonight vs. Bengals

August 16th, 2012 Comments off

Looking at several Falcon players that are in prime position in tonight’s preseason matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals to stand out and make a big push to make this Falcons team come September.

  • WR Kevin Cone – While the offensive production of Cone and the other receivers is what is easiest to pay attention to, the key for Cone making the Falcons roster will be his performance on special teams. With D.J. Davis already putting some nice highlights there last week, it’s time for Cone to step up and start to make some key contributions. Otherwise regardless of his offensive potential, he won’t be a Falcon in 2012.
  • WR Kerry Meier – Meier was highlighted last week, and will be so again. Against the Ravens, he played with the first unit taking over the third wide receiver spot for Harry Douglas and did not notch any production. With Douglas returning to the lineup, he’ll likely be pushed to the second units where he can start to make an impact on offense. While Meier’s roster spot is pretty much locked up, he needs to start producing on offense to verify that the Falcons depth is not weak at this position.
  • DE Cliff Matthews – Matthews had a nice performance last week against the Ravens, and will need another solid to strong one tonight. He’s in a battle with Jonathan Massaquoi for the fifth defensive end spot. If push comes to shove, it’s likely that Matthews will be the odd man out if the team is forced to choose only one of the pair. But both players have performed well enough to think the Falcons might try and keep six ends. But that will only become a possibility if Matthews continues to play well.
  • DT Micanor Regis – While Travian Robertson’s play was highlighted from last week’s preseason opener, Regis also made some things happen against the Ravens. Regis has the sort of bulk and presence in the middle to play the nose in a three-man front. While it seems doubtful that he’ll win an outright roster spot, continuing to play well this summer likely can lock up a practice squad spot for him. But his roster chances are enhanced if Vance Walker sits out once more tonight.
  • LB Mike PetersonHe will get the start tonight for an injured Akeem Dent. Few have ever questioned Peterson’s ability to defend the run, and if Dent cannot show he’s significantly better in pass coverage, then it’s possible the team could lean towards the veteran Peterson as the starting middle linebacker. But he’ll need to stand out against the Bengals for that possibility to occur.
  • CB Dominique Franks – It won’t really be Franks coverage abilities that will be worth monitoring, but his return skills. With the team electing not to use Douglas on returns, Franks has a perfect opportunity to solidify his hold on the position. Another productive night could be the nail in the coffin for that competition.
  • S Shann Schillinger – Charles Mitchell made a bit of a name for himself last week on defense, and it’s time for Schillinger to step up his game a little. While Schillinger has proven himself to be one of the team’s best special teams players, he needs to showcase that he does offer some upside on regular defense to really solidify his roster prospects.

Peterson to start vs. Bengals with Dent out

August 14th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons ruled middle linebacker Akeem Dent out for Thursday night’s preseason matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals due to a concussion he suffered during last week’s game against the Baltimore Ravens. In his stead, Mike Peterson is expected to start at middle linebacker. Peterson was signed by the Falcons just before the start of training camp, after a season-ending injury to Lofa Tatupu. Along with Dent, defensive end Louis Nzegwu (leg) has already been ruled out for the Bengals game.

Harry Douglas, who missed the Ravens game with a rib injury, is expected to play against the Bengals. Several players that missed the Ravens game remain unknown as far as their status for this week’s game. Mike Calvin (leg) and Corey Peters (foot) remain unable to practice as of Tuesday and are expected to miss the game. Vance Walker (foot) returned to practice on Tuesday and could be available against the Bengals.  Erik Folk, Richard Medlin, Chris Owens (hamstring), Jason Snelling (leg), and Lamar Holmes also did not play against the Ravens, and their statuses for this week’s Bengals game is unknown.

Preseason Stock Exchange (Week 1)

August 14th, 2012 Comments off

It’s time to look at which Falcon players have improved their stock and those that have not after the first preseason outing. This is mostly looking at who shined and who did not against the Ravens.

Stock Up

QB Dominique Davis – Davis benefited greatly from the lackluster night by both Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson. Besides Wilson running an effective 2-minute drill at the end of the half, both veteran passers looked very rusty against the Ravens. Davis showed some athleticism, using his legs to extend plays and also showed off his strong arm with some shots downfield. Davis still needs to polish up his footwork, mechanics, and tighten up his accuracy, but if he can build off last week’s performance against the Bengals, he will be in prime position to potentially earn a roster spot.

WR DJ. Davis – The No. 5 wide receiver spot will almost certainly be determined by special teams ability. And Davis stood out against the Ravens, particularly with his excellent open field stop when working as a gunner on a punt returner, tripping up Bobby Rainey in the 3rd quarter to cause a 1-yard loss on a Dawson Zimmerman punt. Kevin Cone looked to have the inside track at the spot, but Davis is making up ground.

OL Peter Konz – Konz had his moments when working at right guard with the second team offensive line, showing ability to get some push. He missed a block while pulling inside on a play, but then helped make up for with a good block downfield when he pulled outside on the next play. Konz had some struggles when he moved to center for the third unit. But if he’s going to make up ground against Garrett Reynolds for the starting right guard spot, he got off to a solid start.

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