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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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Takeaways from Last Week – August 12

August 12th, 2013 Comments off
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Is Vick the one to lead the Eagles in 2013?

I don’t feel the need to really discuss the Falcons preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. I spent 4,300 words breaking down nearly every player on the roster on both offense and defense, an hour-long podcast, as well as seeing which players’ stock is up and down following the game.

But the one thing I do think is worthwhile mentioning about the preseason opener is just many of the reactions I’ve seen and read about it. For whatever reason, people seem to have what I believe to be an overreaction to preseason games in general, but particularly the first one. If I am to wager a guess as to why that is, it’d be that since it’s really the first real football action we’ve seen in six months, people tend to probably overrate it. Similar to if you’re on a diet and you’ve decided to cut out soda or pizza. If you were to a regular consumer of either and then went six months without it, you might think that first sip of cola or slice of pepperoni is among the greatest thing you’ve ever eaten. Even if it is just the generic brand you bought for $0.89 at the local grocery store, or the crappy pizza from your local parlor that makes Pizza Hut look like gourmet stuff.

It’s not surprising that many fans do this. They are probably just aping what the media is doing, whose job it seems to be only about overreacting to things.

Take for instance the happenings in Philadelphia. First, Riley Cooper mouths off and says a racial slur. This might be a controversial viewpoint to some, but I don’t get what the big deal is. Cooper did what tens (if not hundreds) of millions of (white) Americans have done in the past, especially when they have imbibed alcohol. The only difference is that Cooper is semi-famous and it was posted on YouTube. I’m certainly not trying to condone what Cooper said, but why is the media coverage of this incident to the degree like he is/was the first person to use a racial slur. If you just paid attention to television, you would think Cooper and Paula Deen were the only people to use a racial slur in the past twenty years.

The other thing in Philly is how quickly everyone seems to be slamming the door on the quarterback competition between Michael Vick and Nick Foles. I don’t deny that Vick’s performance against the New England Patriots likely means he’s the front-runner and likely winner of the job going into the regular season. In fact, it’s not really the notion that people believe the competition is over since I’m fairly confident that it is over as well. But it’s the notion that Vick’s performance in the preseason opener means that all the question marks that the Eagles have at that position are answered.

Vick threw an extremely pretty pass to DeSean Jackson for a score against New England. But hitting deep passes to Jackson really hasn’t been Vick’s problem over the years. It’s been managing games and limited turnovers. His performance against New England did nothing to indicate those won’t continue to be issues for Chip Kelly and the Eagles to try and overcome this season.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 34 “Everything Bengals”

August 10th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are joined once again by Matt Chambers to recap the Falcons preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. We each give our thoughts on some of the things we liked and did not like about the game. You’ll hear our thoughts on the rumors of Steven Jackson’s demise…How Garrett Reynolds, Lamar Holmes looked and how it could affect the offensive line play in 2013…Paul Worrilow vs. Akeem Dent…The pass rush and whether some of the young defensive linemen are ready to step up…Robert McClain, Desmond Trufant, and Robert Alford and how they looked against the Bengals…The greatness of Dane Sanzenbacher…Brian Banks and what are his chances of making the roster…Dominique Davis’ performance and how the backup QB position may play out…The greatness of Jason Snelling…Whether Chase Coffman is for real…What to look forward to in upcoming preseason games, including next week’s matchup against the Baltimore Ravens.

Ep. 34: Everything Bengals [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 6 minutes

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

Matt Chambers can be found on twitter: @FalconsM5, and also writes for Grits Blitz blog.

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, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Takeaways from Last Week – July 29

July 29th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Should Stephen Nicholas be worried?

Training camp has begun for the Falcons. And it’s still early, but there have been a few interesting developments.

A lot has been made of the beatings that rookie corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have had at the hands of Julio Jones and Roddy White. It’s somewhat silly, given it’s their first few days in camp. They are going up against arguably two of the ten best receivers in the league (I’d love to meet the person that would argue against it). And they are rookies after all. Frankly, if Patrick Peterson didn’t set the world on fire as a rookie, and he was the best cornerback prospect to come out since Champ Bailey, then why would anybody expect either Trufant or Alford to not suffer through growing pains? The key for them is going to be how much progress they show over the course of camp and the preseason. And then they’ll face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the season opener. And I have no doubt that Sean Payton and Brees are going to very purposefully attack them in that game. And my expectations are that Payton and Brees will get the better of them more than they won’t. But even then, I won’t be upset. In regards to Trufant, Alford, and Robert McClain, it’s less about how good they are in September, but how good they are in January. After all, everyone expects this Falcon team to make the playoffs and make a title run.

It’s hard to tell who is ahead in some of the other position battles that dot the roster. What limited word we’ve heard about the right tackle position, suggests that Mike Johnson is still slightly ahead of Lamar Holmes. But one can’t put too much stock in one observation during one drill. We’ll see how that plays out the rest of summer. In past summers, things usually start to pick up by the second preseason game for offensive line battles so we’ll see how that goes.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the tight end battle plays out with Tony Gonzalez’s prolonged absence from camp. Chase Coffman and Tommy Gallarda appear to be getting much of the first-team reps thus far, with Levine Toilolo working as a reserve. While Toilolo’s roster spot isn’t really in jeopardy, we’ll have to see if he can leapfrog either in the coming days and weeks. As I’ve mentioned before, what sort of summer Toilolo has could have significant impact on how the rest of the roster plays out at that position. If he shines as a blocker, then Gallarda loses a bit of value. If he shines more as a receiver, then Coffman loses a bit of his luster there.

Defensively, there isn’t any direct competitions per se that I’m paying attention to. I’m more curious to see and hear how the Falcons use certain players like Kroy Biermann and Osi Umenyiora, who seem to getting a lot of time playing on their feet thus far. Eventually, I’m curious to see how the competition between Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas plays out for the second linebacker in the nickel. I fully expect Dent to win the job, but I’m curious how it all plays out. I’d like to see Dent win the job handily, that would give me more confidence that things are looking up for the Falcons coverage abilities from the linebacker position. There is some risk that Nicholas winds up a cap casualty at the end of camp. I don’t expect that to happen, but I also didn’t expect the Falcons to cut John Abraham at the beginning of the off-season. The Falcons cap situation currently (projected at roughly $5.7 million in cap space after Ryan’s extension) doesn’t call for the team to really need to purge salary at the end of the summer. As I’ve noted before the Falcons can save $905,000 against the cap by cutting Peria Jerry. Well actually that’s not true, the savings really only becomes $498,000 when you factor in a player like Micanor Regis (2013 cap hit of roughly $407,000) would then take up a roster spot and eat into those savings.

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Ranking the Falcons: No. 22 Mike Johnson

July 17th, 2013 Comments off
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Mike Johnson

Ranking 22nd on the Falcons is offensive lineman Mike Johnson. Click here to read about the scoring system used to provide these rankings.

Total Score: 50

Player Grade: 50 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 10 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 28 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +3

Mike Johnson earns the highest ranking of the Falcons untested linemen that aren’t named Baker, Blalock, or Konz. Part of that is because of my initial belief that Johnson was a highly talented guard prospect coming out of Alabama. Johnson hasn’t exactly proven that yet in his three years in Atlanta. Injuries have been partially a reason why. He nearly unseated Garrett Reynolds in a camp competition in 2011, but injuries prevented Johnson from getting the necessary reps to supplant Reynolds.

Another reason is versatility. After manning the left guard position behind Justin Blalock as a rookie, Johnson moved to right guard in 2011. Then in 2012, he moved to right tackle as the primary reserve behind Tyson Clabo. During last season, Johnson served as the team’s sixth lineman functioning as a tight end and produced in that role. Essentially the only position that he hasn’t played extensively at is center after working some at left tackle in Atlanta and Alabama.

That is what helps him in his ranking, allowing him to potentially start on as many as ten other NFL teams. For some that would be at right tackle and for others potentially at guard. It also means that Johnson could find a role on the vast majority of NFL teams, albeit mainly as a backup at swing tackle or guard.

Johnson will be facing competition this summer from Lamar Holmes at right tackle. But he’ll have the opportunity for the first time in his career to be the front-runner for a starting position. If history repeats itself, then it likely means he’ll emerge as the winner of the battle. If so, and he is able to turn that into a productive year as a starter, he’ll have a chance to earn a long-term contract from Atlanta next off-season when he is due to hit free agency. Where the Falcons see his long-term prospects remains to be seen. The Falcons are going to want to get Holmes an opportunity to start eventually, which means that even if Johnson plays well at tackle this year, his future may still lie inside at guard where he could compete with Reynolds in 2014.

Johnson could compete with Reynolds this summer, although that seems like a longshot barring an early setback at right tackle. Johnson doesn’t have the natural feet of a polished tackle, but he’s shown definite improvement in that area over the past few summers. That was a similar criticism levied at Clabo over the years, as many felt that he was a more natural guard. But Clabo solidified the Falcons right tackle spot for six seasons despite that perceived shortcoming. Like Clabo, Johnson isn’t overly powerful although he ranks better in that arena that many of his Falcon counterparts. The key for him in 2013 will be adding that “plus” ability as a run blocker but also not being a liability in pass protection. It remains to be seen if he protects Matt Ryan from players like Charles Johnson, Cameron Wake, Ahmad Brooks, and Clay Matthews better than Clabo has in the past. And unfortunately for Johnson, he’ll have little room for error as Holmes will be looking over his shoulder.

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Ranking the Falcons: No. 23 Garrett Reynolds

July 17th, 2013 Comments off
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Garrett Reynolds

Earning the 23rd-ranked distinction on the Falcons is offensive guard Garrett Reynolds. Click here to read the scoring system used to provide these rankings.

Total Score: 50

Player Grade: 50 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 8 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 2 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 28 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +3

Garrett Reynolds entered the 2012 season with a lot of questions about his ability to perform. And for the most part I believed he answered them. But ultimately an injury sidelined him after seven games, and just like in 2011 he did not finish the year as the starter.

Reynolds hopes to have better luck with his third opportunity to start. He will enter camp atop the Falcons’ depth chart at right guard. Reynolds probably will win the starting job with competition only coming from Joe Hawley to start things. If Mike Johnson loses the competition at right tackle quickly, then he might be moved inside to push Reynolds. But given the time frame of such a move, it appears that Reynolds probably wouldn’t be in any danger assuming he plays well in camp.

Reynolds has struggled playing inside at guard mainly due to his tall frame. At 6-7 and some change, it leads him to play fairly high. When facing powerful defensive tackles that are often only 6-2 or 6-3, it allows them to be in a better position to create leverage inside the phone both that is playing inside. Good technique is a must for a player with Reynolds’ size, as he must play with better balance and lower hands than what is natural for him given his height. He improved that technique in 2012 and was having a solid campaign before his injury.

His height also prevents Reynolds from being a “mover” as a run blocker as he’s not a guy that can get low enough to consistently drive defenders off the ball. But he is a decent position blocker that if he can be more consistent with his ability to get leverage can be an effective run blocker. Tyson Clabo, who also towered at a smidge under 6-7, was that type of player and the most consistent run blocker, so there is the potential for Reynolds to be far from a liability as a run blocker.

Reynolds is a solid player, but his upside might be less than players like Johnson and Lamar Holmes, who won’t have to overcome height issues as they continue to grow moving forward. The Falcons liked Reynolds enough to give him a two-year contract at low-end starter money, so they are clearly comfortable with him filling the starting lineup. But he may be viewed as more of a stopgap than a long-term solution at the position. How he performs this year could go a long way to change that perspective.

Categories: Features Tags: ,

Camp Battles 2013: Interior Offensive Line

July 17th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Garrett Reynolds and Peter Konz get reps together

Certainly one position along the interior of the offensive line is set in stone, and that is the left guard position where Justin Blalock is expected to start his seventh consecutive year at the position.

More than likely another position will be won by 2012 second round pick Peter Konz. He is expected to start at center after spending the latter half of his rookie season playing right guard. Konz struggled in that role, serving as the weakest link among the team’s starting five. But he finished the year with solid efforts in both playoff games, suggesting that improvements were made.

His presence at the pivot likely pushes Joe Hawley out of the mix to start. Hawley was initally drafted in 2010 as the heir apparent to long-time Falcon center Todd McClure, who retired this past offseason. But with Konz’s selection at the top of last year’s draft, it led to Hawley likely being viewed more as a backup after a rocky year as the starting right guard in 2011.

Hawley could again push for time at right guard however where Garrett Reynolds is the current incumbent. Reynolds has started at right guard each of the past two seasons on opening day, but poor play in 2011 led to his being benched in favor of Hawley. And last year, injuries led to the insertion of Konz into the starting lineup. Reynolds hopes that in 2012 he can not only win the starting job again, but also retain it throughout the remainder of the season. Reynolds showed improvement in 2012 after a disappointingly brief 2011 campaign. While Reynolds is probably ideally a backup, he showed last year that he can be an effective starter if need be.

Another player that could possibly mix into the battle here is tackle Mike Johnson, who many including myself feel is a more natural fit at guard than tackle. But he’s competing with Lamar Holmes for the starting spot at right tackle, and it’s doubtful that at this point he’ll get a long look inside.

The Falcons will likely try and keep at least eight offensive linemen, which will include the five currently projected starters, the loser of the right tackle battle between Johnson and Holmes, and Hawley. The eighth spot will most likely go to another interior player, someone that can play guard.

The incumbent would be considered Phillipkeith Manley, who surprised many with a strong summer last year as an undrafted rookie and made the Falcons final 53. There have been rumors of his weight ballooning this off-season, which if true could open the door for other players to take his spot. The top candidate would then likely be Jacques McClendon, who spent last year on the team’s practice squad. McClendon has added to his value by getting off-season work at center as well. Both guards have good size and strength that is a much more natural fit to fill as a reserve there than the undersized Hawley.

Also in the mix will be fellow practice squad player Harland Gunn. Gunn has experience both at guard and center from his days with the Dallas Cowboys last summer. Undrafted center Matt Smith and guard Theo Goins will also be in the mix, but both players are longshots to make the final roster. Instead, both are more likely to make the practice squad if they prove to play well this summer.

Takeaways from Last Week – June 3

June 3rd, 2013 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

2013 Could be a Make or Break year for both Dent and Spoon

We’re entering the “dark time” of the NFL calendar where there isn’t a whole lot going on. Teams are conducting minicamps and OTAs and it’s the season of hype. Media members talk up this new free agent or rookie, or that new assistant coach or coordinator, and how it’s going to pay big dividends for their respective team. Sometimes it does, but most times it does not.

Teams have got to sell tickets, and it doesn’t feel right putting down hundreds of your hard-earned dollars for an inferior product. So they have to sell you on how your team’s product is going to be superior and merit that investment. For good teams like the Falcons, that means talking up Super Bowl possibilities. For mid-level teams like say the Panthers, it means talking up playoff potential. For cellar-dwelling teams that are rebuilding like the Raiders, it’s usually about how management has things moving in the right direction.

I apologize for my cynicism, but I can’t help it. For whatever reason, it’s always the month of June where I get the most skeptical, pessimistic, and negative about the upcoming season. Maybe it’s the freshness of the draft starts to wear off, and now we sit in this lull waiting for training camp to come around. Maybe it’s just my impatience making me bitter. No different than waiting in an overly long line to get into a store or venue, and beginning to wonder if the product or event is really worth all this fuss. This is why I don’t shop on Black Friday.

I think it’s also because I have a tendency to be contrarian. Not to extreme measures, but if you have a certain viewpoint, I enjoy exploring the opposite viewpoint. I was never on the debate team in high school, but I think I probably would have enjoyed it. You think Player A is going to have a breakout year for B and C reasons, well then I’ll start to think about D and E reasons why you’re wrong.

Speaking of breakout candidates, I’m actually not sure if I can think of many for the Falcons this year. At least no one I’m really confident is poised for a big 2013 season. I’m sure there is going to be a player a lot like Robert McClain, that sort of comes out of nowhere and becomes a key contributor for the team. But I can’t really wager a guess because it really comes from nowhere.

But there are a number of Falcon players that I hope have breakout years and really become big-time contributors in 2013.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 29 “The Ryan Fitzpatrick of Left Tackles”

May 31st, 2013 2 comments

Allen and I are joined by Steve Cohen, another die-hard Falcon fan to talk some of the latest news surrounding the Falcons, including the potential signing of free agent defensive tackle Richard Seymour. We also discuss whether that move and other recent moves signal the Falcons will be moving more towards a 3-4 defense in 2013. We each share our concerns about the battles along the offensive line, and discuss our disappointment with some of the contracts given to some of those blockers recently. We go in-depth on what sort of effect Steven Jackson will have on the Falcons offense and whether or not it could have a huge impact on the outcome of the 2013 season and discuss what if any changes defensively could also make a huge difference. Our conversation then swings towards whether the Falcons are now the top team in the NFC in the wake of Michael Crabtree’s injury, and give our thoughts on what other teams in the conference could be contenders this year. Of course no FalcFans podcast can go without some discussion of Brent Grimes, and the we opine on what was really the reason behind Tyson Clabo’s release. We wrap things up with a discussion on how geography affects our fanhood.

Ep. 29: The Ryan Fitzpatrick of Left Tackles [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 27 minutes

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

Steve can be found on twitter: @SteveInBrooklyn

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, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

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.