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Jaguars prevail over Falcons in preseason finale

August 29th, 2013 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Massaquoi celebrates a touchdown with teammates

Despite a pair of opportunities to win the game late, the Falcons dropped their fourth preseason game to the Jacksonville Jaguars by a score of 20-16. The Falcons end their 2013 summer winless in the exhibition season, hoping to reverse their fortunes next Sunday when they open the season on the road against the New Orleans Saints. The overwhelming majority of Falcons starters got their rest on the evening, with the backups making their final bids for roster spots. The Falcons will have to cut down their roster from 75 to 53 players by Saturday.

Dominique Davis got the start at quarterback and was inconsistent for much of the night. He completed 18 of 35 passes for 175 yards with an interception. He was pulled from the game at halftime, but due to an injury to Sean Renfree, he was forced back into the game. Renfree finished 3 of 5 for 1 yard before his injury that forced him out of the game. Davis added 23 yards on the ground on a five carries. Josh Vaughan however led the team in rushing with 83 yards on five carries, including a 65-yard touchdown. Chase Coffman and Antone Smith each had four receptions for 47 and 23 yards, respectively. Darius Johnson was targeted a team-high nine times, but only caught a single pass for 11 yards. Kevin Cone (2 catches, 25 yards), James Rodgers (2 catches, 11 yards), and Jason Snelling (2 catches, 10 yards) also contributed. Jeremy Shelley got the work at kicker, but missed a 48-yarder which he followed by making a 42-yarder. He also missed an extra point following the Falcons’ first touchdown. Matt Bosher was forced to punt seven times due to struggles offensively, averaging 44.3 yards with a pair placed inside the 20-yard line. Robert Alford returned a pair of kickoffs for 34 yards, while Jacquizz Rodgers had a 27-gain on his lone kickoff return. Alford also added a pair of punt returns for 20 yards as well. The Falcons struggled on third downs, converting only 4 of 17 attempts. They managed to have 176 yards rushing on the night with 344 yards total.

The Falcons defense stepped up in the second half, and overall limited the Jaguars to 275 total yards. They bottled up the Jaguars’ second half passing attack, limiting them to just 46 yards on 15 attempts. For the entire night, the Jaguars converted just six of their 18 third down attempts. The Falcons defense was able to generate points thanks to a scoop and score by Jonathan Massaquoi, as well as pick off Jaguars’ passers twice. Robert James led defenders with 7 tackles on the night, including one for loss. Massaquoi added 4 tackles of his own, with a sack, forced fumble, recovery, and the aforementioned touchdown. Robert Alford (3 tackles, 1 interception, 2 passes defended), Joplo Bartu (4 tackles, 1 for loss), Zeke Motta (4 tackles), Adam Replogle (2 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 pass defended), Travian Robertson (2 tackles, 2 for loss), Shann Schillinger (3 tackles), Desmond Trufant (2 tackles, 1 interception, 2 passes defended), and Paul Worrilow (3 tackles) had noteworthy games.

The Falcons defense got off to a strong start. Pressure from Cliff Matthews forced an incompletion from Chad Henne on the first play from scrimmage. Two plays later, Robert Alford stepped in front of a Henne pass for the interception. That gave the Falcons prime field position at the Jaguars’ 29-yard line less than a minute into the game. But the Falcons offense had a hard time moving the ball, and a holding penalty on Phillipkeith Manley set up a 3rd & 21, which the Falcons were unable to convert on a 11-yard completion from Dominique Davis to Drew Davis. Jeremy Shelley came on the field to attempt a 48-yard field goal, but the kick sailed wide left leaving the Falcons without points off their initial turnover. The Falcons defense held on the ensuing Jaguars’ series that moved the ball 19 yards on six plays before forcing a punt by Bryan Anger that was downed at the Falcons own 9-yard line. After Jason Snelling burst up the middle for a 9-yard gain on first down, Snelling was bottled up for no gain on his two subsequent carries in short-yardage. That forced Bosher to punt, with the Jaguars taking over at their own 40-yard line. After an initial incompletion, Chad Henne completed four straight passes to get the ball into the redzone. Jordan Todman then burst up the middle for an 18-yard run into the endzone to put the Jaguars on the board with less than five minutes to go in the first quarter.

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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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Falcons sign Trufant, Renfree

July 24th, 2013 Comments off

The potential for a holdout from Falcons top draft pick and cornerback Desmond Trufant was averted today when the team announced that he had signed a deal. The team also announced that seventh round quarterback Sean Renfree had also inked a deal earlier today.

All eight of the Falcons 2013 draft picks are now signed as players report to training camp in Flowery Branch, Georgia today. Practices will begin for the team tomorrow morning.

Talk over the weekend indicated that there would be potential for Trufant and the team to come to an impasse with contract negotiations over guaranteed money. The Associated Press cites a source that the deal agreed upon was a four-year deal worth $8.16 million with $4.3 million in guaranteed money. Substantially lower than the $7.5 million in guaranteed dollars received by last year’s 22nd overall pick, Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden.

Terms of Renfree’s deal were undisclosed, but are not expected to differ from the terms agreed upon by Falcons defensive tackle Travian Robertson, who was taken with the 249th overall selection in last year’s draft.

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Takeaways from Last Week – July 22

July 22nd, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Trufant

The Falcons will report to training camp on Wednesday, July 24 and practices begin on Thursday of this week. And with no positive news on Matt Ryan’s deal, focus now centers on the possibility of some rookie holdouts. That was a thing that should have been a thing of the past with the new Collective Bargain Agreement’s rookie wage scale.

Word broke Sunday morning of the potential risk of a holdout from Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant per Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. There is an impasse looming between Trufant and the Falcons over guaranteed money. And it all stems from previous deals negotiated at the 22nd overall spot where Trufant was selected by the Falcons.

In 2011, the 22nd overall pick was Indianapolis Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo.  The Colts refused to fully guarantee all of Castonzo’s four-year deal with the team, only the first three years. Castonzo eventually relented and reported to work on the second day of Colts training camp with $6.535 million in guaranteed money in his pocket.

However in 2012, the Cleveland Browns sweetened the pot for quarterback Brandon Weeden, also taken 22nd overall. They guaranteed the first three years of his deal, and about 60% of his base salary in the fourth year, giving him guaranteed money of $7.511 million.

That’s more guaranteed money than 2013′s 21st overall pick, tight end Tyler Eifert, got in his deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. Eifert received $7.49 million in guaranteed money, which represents all of his contract minus approximately a $765,000 roster bonus he’s due in the fourth year. Eifert’s guarantees differ little from those of defensive end Chandler Jones ($7.421 million), the previous year’s 21st overall pick.

Due to the flat increase of the salary cap, Trufant will receive the same signing bonus that both Weeden and Castonzo received ($4.318 million). If following suit from the Colts’ example by guaranteeing the first three years and signing bonus, Trufant should be due guarantees around $6.65 million this year.  That is based off the first three years and bonus of Weeden’s deal multiplied by roughly the same increase rate seen from Jones to Eifert’s deals (about 1%). More than likely the Falcons will have to relent and guarantee a portion of that fourth year money, but the question becomes how much. The fact that the Falcons moved up eight spots in this year’s draft to select Trufant, buoys his camp’s stance of maximizing the guarantee dollars.

The Falcons gave up third round (92nd overall) and sixth round (198th overall) picks to move up to get Trufant and got back a seventh round pick in 2015. Players taken with those picks were St. Louis Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey and Houston Texans defensive tackle Chris Jones. Bailey received a $527,400 signing bonus from the Rams, while Jones got $92,512 from the Texans. Combined that would be $619,912, suggesting that it would make sense for the Falcons to guarantee a comparable amount of his fourth-year salary seeing that they were willing to give up that amount via trade. Adding that to his $6.65 million, that would give Trufant a guaranteed payout of around $7.271 million. Whether the actual terms of the deal signed by Trufant are that remains to be seen, but it’s a fair compromise in my eyes. Hopefully it results in Trufant not missing a single snap of practice.

While the possibility of a holdout would hurt Trufant’s chances to win the starting right cornerback position, I don’t think any potential holdout will be long. Trufant displayed his eagerness and commitment to the team this spring during OTAs when he was Skyping with Tim Lewis while away due to league rules. My suspicion is that he’ll push for agent, Doug Hendrickson of Octagon Sports, to get him in camp on time, no matter what. But even if he does miss a few practices, I would be shocked if it was more than a day or two’s worth, and thus I don’t think would be a significant setback to his chances of winning the starting job by camp’s end.

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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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