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Camp Battles 2013: Quarterback

July 12th, 2013 Comments off
Phil Sears-US PRESSWIRE

Dominique Davis is the center of attention

Of course, Matt Ryan is in no risk of losing his starting position. Ryan is coming off the best season of his career, and the hope is that he can build upon it. It was a year in which at least through the early running of the year he was considered a league MVP candidate. The only real negative of Ryan’s 2012 campaign was that his play started to diminish in the second half of the season. But even a diminished Ryan is still one of the top quarterbacks in the league. The expectation is that Ryan will receive a new contract extension that will make him one of the highest paid passers in the league before camp starts. If not, it could present a possible distraction as the media may raise questions why negotiations have been so protracted. The Falcons have made no secret about their desire to get Ryan locked up to a long-term deal since the end of the season, and the fact that a deal cannot get done before camp is somewhat troublesome.

But assuming the Falcons can get Ryan signed to a contract, much of the focus at the quarterback position this summer will be on the competition for Ryan’s backup. Dominique Davis is the incumbent, coming off a strong preseason performance during his rookie season last summer. If Davis can build off that, then he’ll be in the driver’s seat to take over as the top backup behind Ryan. Keys for Davis include showing that he has an improved command of the offense and has refined his mechanics and footwork somewhat, areas that despite an outstanding 2012 preseason were areas of weakness.

He’ll be pushed by seventh round pick Sean Renfree. Renfree missed a chunk of the offseason as he was recovering from an injury to his throwing arm that he suffered in Duke’s bowl game last December. Renfree is known for his smarts and toughness, and the key for him this summer will be showing that he’s a quick study when it comes to the offense. Davis has him beat as far as physical tools go, with the superior athleticism and mobility. But if Renfree can prove himself in the film room and then translate that into production on the field, he can potentially push Davis for the No. 2 spot.

Fourth arm Seth Doege is more than likely competing for a potential spot on the practice squad. While he does possess good arm strength and athleticism, the likelihood that he’ll be able to surpass either Davis and Renfree on the depth chart is low.

If Davis or Renfree doesn’t come out and have a strong summer, it will likely result in the Falcons pursuing a veteran backup at the end of camp once cuts are made. The Falcons scooped up Luke McCown at the end of last summer, and he filled the No. 2 spot ahead of Davis in 2012. If the Falcons pursued a veteran, they’d likely target a player with starting experience rather than another developmental backup. The possibility of McCown returning remains a possibility as he is set to compete with Seneca Wallace for the backup spot behind Drew Brees in New Orleans. If cut, he’d obviously be a top option. Other veterans with starting experience that might be on the roster bubble this summer include: David Carr (Giants), Curtis Painter (Giants), John Skelton (Bengals), Dan Orlovsky (Buccaneers), Brady Quinn (Seahawks), and Rex Grossman (Redskins). Trent Edwards, currently a free agent, is also a player that could be a target given that he played under Dirk Koetter for a year in Jacksonville.

Scouting Report: Sean Renfree

May 24th, 2013 Comments off

Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE

Sean Renfree

Here is my breakdown of the Falcons final pick in Duke quarterback Sean Renfree:

Height: 6-3 1/8
Weight: 219
School: Duke
Class: Senior
Speed: 4.76 (estimate)

Was recruited by Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, but ultimately chose Duke when Andrew Luck landed there. Became the starter as a redshirt sophomore. Showed improvement with his production every year, culminating in career highs in completions, completion percentage, and touchdowns as a senior. Posted his best record as a starter that year, leading Duke to a 6-6 record and their first bowl appearance since 1994. Nearly led the Blue Devils to a win over Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, but a last minute touchdown pass lifted the Bearcats over them. Wound up injuring himself on the last play of the game, getting hit and tearing his pectoral muscle. That torn pec led to him not throwing in the off-season and not working out at either the Combine or his pro day. Is expected to begin throwing at some point in May before training camp begins. Renfree was coached by David Cutcliffe, a noted QB guru, at Duke. Pretty much every starting QB that has played under Cutcliffe since 1991 has played in the NFL: Heath Shuler (1991-93), Peyton Manning (1994-97), Tee Martin (1998), Romaro Miller (1999-00), Eli Manning (2000-03), Brady Quinn (2005), Erik Ainge (2006-07), Thad Lewis (2008-09), to Renfree. He was a three-time Academic All-ACC selection as well as served as Duke’s team captain his final two years.

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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.

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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