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Team Needs: Defensive Tackle A Priority Due to Injuries and Free Agency

February 4th, 2014 1 comment

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Babineaux

The potential is high for turnover at defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons this offseason. Mainly because the team has all three of its primary players headed towards free agency.

It is likely that the Falcons will be able to retain at least one of the guys, with Corey Peters topping the list. Peters suffered a torn Achilles tendon at the end of the season, and while that might put the start of his 2014 in jeopardy, it probably enhances the chances that the Falcons re-sign him. The injury will likely eliminate a number of potential suitors in free agency and thus allow the Falcons to bring him back at a more modest salary than previously expected. Peters had a strong 2013 campaign prior to his injury, standing out as a run defender and occasionally as a pass rusher. He really found a home as the team’s nose tackle in their hybrid defensive scheme, due to his ability to hold leverage at the point of attack. While his injury may limit his effectiveness in 2014, there is good reason to believe that the 25-year old Peters still has plenty of good years ahead of him.

The player that is likely to be next on that priority is Jonathan Babineaux, although there could be complications in his return, namely salary. At 32 years of age, Babineaux is nearing the end. And similar to the situation with John Abraham a few years ago, the Falcons don’t want to be in a position to overpay a player that may only have one or two more years of solid production left. But everything suggests that the Falcons are definitely open to re-signing Babineaux, and the only potential sticking point is compensation. Babineaux once again seemed to defy time by having a solid, but unspectacular 2013 season. He is still the team’s best interior pass rusher due to his disruptive capabilities. There is good reason to believe that with a reduced role, his production should stay steady if not improve. Babineaux simply was forced to play too many snaps in 2013 and his ideal role would be a situational player with half the workload.

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Peters and Motta headed to injured reserve

December 24th, 2013 Comments off
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Corey Peters

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Atlanta Falcons will place defensive tackle Corey Peters and rookie safety Zeke Motta on injured reserve. Peters suffered an Achilles injury in Monday night’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The injury will likely limit Peters during the upcoming offseason where he is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Motta suffered a fracture in his C1 vertebrae during the preceding week’s win over the Washington Redskins. He is expected to miss 4-6 weeks as he recovers from his recent surgery.

For the fifth consecutive season the Falcons have placed a player on injured reserve before the season finale. Last year, it was wide receiver Kevin Cone. In the preceding year, it was linebacker Mike Peterson and cornerback Kelvin Hayden. In 2010, safety Schann Schillinger found himself going to injured reserve while guard Harvey Dahl and cornerback Chris Houston were sidelined in 2009. Traditionally the Falcons typically elevate player(s) from the practice squad to the active roster for the season finale.

In the absence of Peters, the Falcons moved Peria Jerry to his traditional nose tackle spot against the 49ers. It will likely lead to increased reps for Travian Robertson in the season finale next week against the Carolina Panthers. Robertson has just played a total of 55 defensive snaps this season in four games played. Motta filled in for an injured Thomas DeCoud at free safety against the Redskins in his lone start of the season. But DeCoud returned this past week against the 49ers. Motta’s injury led to fellow rookie Kemal Ishmael receiving three snaps against the 49ers, his first of the season on defense. That will likely continue against the Panthers with Ishmael being the team’s top backup at both safety spots.

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Camp Battles 2013: Defensive Tackle

July 19th, 2013 Comments off
ICON SMI

Peria Jerry is on the bubble to make team

Like many other positions, there is no real concern over the starters at defensive tackle for the Falcons as Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters both return. Babineaux has been a fixture since the 2008 season, and Peters since 2010. Peters missed last summer with a foot injury that limited his effectiveness in 2012. He hopes to respond with a stronger year that can be buoyed into a long-term contract by the team.

The bigger questions at this position come in terms of the depth. The Falcons have already been linked to free agent Richard Seymour as a possible addition throughout the summer, although talks were broken off in June. Then, Seymour sounded like a player prepared to retire if no NFL team was willing to meet his price. The possibility still remains that Seymour could be signed to the team. If so, then he almost certainly will be the team’s top reserve at the position. If not, then there will be a fairly wide-open competition for the spot.

The incumbent is former first round pick Peria Jerry, who has had a disappointing career in Atlanta. Jerry becomes a potential candidate for release as the team could save nearly a million dollars against their 2013 cap by doing so. But that will only come if the team is comfortable with one of the other defensive tackles being the top backup at the position.

The likeliest player would be second-year Travian Robertson. Robertson garnered limited playing time last year, but had an impressive summer showcasing his ability to be a disruptive run defender and capable pass rusher. Also in the mix is Micanor Regis, who also had a good summer last year alongside Robertson. Regis is athletic and offers more size to plug the middle in run defense. He can potentially play a role at the nose tackle position when the Falcons incorporate more 3-man fronts on their defense.

But to unseat Jerry, at least one if not both are going to need to have strong summers. Robertson is as close to a lock to make the final roster, regardless of whether it’s as the third or fourth player in the rotation. At this point, Regis may be looking more at a practice squad spot. But the Falcons carried five defensive tackles last year on the roster (Vance Walker being the other), and Regis adds similar potential value to the unit as the bulky run defender like Walker.

Also in the mix will be undrafted rookies Adam Replogle and Neal Huynh. Replogle is an athletic player that offers potential as a pass rusher. Huynh is more of a run stopper that can add depth at nose tackle. Both players are longshots to make the final roster, but certainly will be prime candidates to make the practice squad.

The Falcons interest in Seymour indicates the possibility, if not likelihood that they could be looking for more help at this position by the end of summer even if Seymour isn’t picked up. If Seymour is the indicator, an established veteran that is well-versed in both a 3-4 and 4-3 defense would be a prime candidate.

Takeaways from Last Week – May 27

May 27th, 2013 Comments off

Rumors of Richard Seymour’s imminent arrival in Atlanta swirled this past week. First, we had reports that contract talks were ongoing, suggesting a move was right around the corner. Then we received word that no ongoing talks were occurring between Seymour’s agent, Eugene Parker, and the Falcons. The Falcons first showed interest in Seymour way back in March at the outset of free agency. But progress has been slow since then. If/when the Falcons sign Seymour, it will have to wait until after June 1, when $4.5 million comes off the books due to the release of Tyson Clabo.

Will Seymour be a good addition for the Falcons? Yes. He’ll help out the Falcons rotation. But don’t be mistaken in getting enamored by the name Richard Seymour. The player that embodied that name hasn’t really existed for three seasons.

Seymour is still a good run defender as he is still a very powerful player that is hard to move off the ball. But the quickness that made him a perennial Pro Bowler in New England is long gone.

Probably the reason for that is the bothersome knee injuries he’s had to deal with each of the past two years. It was ultimately a hamstring injury that landed Seymour on the injured reserve last December, after not playing since the beginning of November in Week 9. It was also a hammy injury that limited Seymour in 2010.

While I expect Seymour to ultimately land in Atlanta, I do think those injury concerns could be a sticking point for the Falcons. Simply put, Seymour hasn’t really been healthy since 2006, as nagging injuries have dogged him most years. At this point in his career, he really should be a situational player. Last year, he alongside Tommy Kelly appeared in roughly two-thirds of the Raiders pass-rushing snaps in the first half of the season. Meanwhile, Desmond Bryant appeared in less than half during that span. Bryant was Oakland’s best pass rusher, and the presences of both veterans really limited how effective the Raiders pass rush was last year. It was a unit that was largely ineffectual at pressuring quarterbacks until of course they faced the Falcons porous offensive line in Week 6.

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Takeaways from Last Week – April 15

April 15th, 2013 3 comments
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Is DeCoud in danger?

It’s now less than two weeks until the 2013 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday night, April 25. In past years I would have for the top prospects in the draft. I have not done that this year. My job had me traveling a lot in the fall, so I didn’t watch as much college football as normal. Once the winter hit, and now that we’ve rolled into spring, I have a lesser workload but not by a huge margin. And since I typically do a poor job managing my time anyway, I did not get to make up for lost time as much as I would have liked.

So this year, there aren’t going to be many scouting reports on draft prospects. At least not before the draft. After the draft, I intend fully to dive into breaking down the players that the Falcons draft. Although again, because my workload is likely to be hectic that might take a month or so especially if the Falcons wind up making eleven picks.

But I do hope that in the next ten days that I will put a few scouting reports online of some of the players that the Falcons are potentially targeting in the early rounds of the draft. I really want to look at some cornerbacks as well as some pass rushers because I feel that these are the most likely players the Falcons will come away with in Round One.

We have five years of drafts under Thomas Dimitroff to gauge in order to try and guess who the Falcons are taking with their top pick this year. Frankly, that’s all it really is: educated guessing, because none of the many bloggers around the interweb that cover the Falcons really know what is going to happen.

To be honest, I’m not very good with guessing who the Falcons will take with their top pick. In 2008, I was split on Glenn Dorsey and Matt Ryan. That was understandable to a degree because it was Dimitroff and Mike Smith’s first draft, and their tendencies were unknown. In hindsight, it’s obvious why they ultimately chose Ryan but at the time it seemed like a toss-up. Mike Smith was a defensive coach, and Dorsey was widely hailed as the best interior pass rusher since Warren Sapp. And many weren’t high on Ryan. I can proudly thump my chest, and say I wasn’t one of them. I wrote this about Ryan in that 2008 draft guide:
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Falcons Needs: Defensive Tackle

February 6th, 2013 Comments off

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Babineaux

The first decision the Falcons will have to make in regards to their defensive tackle position is whether or not to re-sign free agent Vance Walker. Walker has been a valuable role player for the Falcons over the years. For much of 2012, with Corey Peters out of the lineup due to injury, he was the team’s second best interior presence. He’s coming off his best season as a pass rusher, and has consistently been one of their best run defenders. But given their tight cap space, the team may not be able to afford a long-term deal that satisfies Walker. Coupled with the fact that the team has Travian Robertson and possibly Micanor Regis that could take his spot.

With Jonathan Babineaux spending much of his 2012 at defensive end rather than in the interior, the need some help inside. Especially considering that Babineaux, along with Peria Jerry and Corey Peters will all be hitting free agency following 2013. Given the likelihood that several (if not all) of those guys might not be on the team a year from now, the team will likely seek to draft a young defensive tackle that can join Robertson on the roster.

The Falcons also had issues with defending the run, so it’s likely the team could be looking for a wide-body especially if the team intends to move more towards a two-gap scheme. The Falcons featured a three defensive tackles-formation throughout the latter half of 2012, which could be potentially expanded into more two-gap concepts that are featured in the traditional 3-4 scheme. That scheme features a wide-body nose tackle that is responsible for securing both A gaps beside the opposing team’s center. While the Falcons have a few candidates already on the roster in Peters, Regis, and possibly Walker if retained, they might want to look into other options in free agency or the draft that have more experience there.

But the bigger issue facing the Falcons is improving their pass rush. Babineaux remains their best guy, but he’s beginning to slow down. Peters and Jerry, two players that were known for their disruptive abilities in college have not picked up the slack over the years. Robertson flashed quickness during the preseason to suggest he might have a future, but he’s still young and needs more time. So the Falcons could seek a pass rusher early in the draft to groom as a possible replacement for Babineaux in the near future. That player could also garner reps at defensive end similar to Babineaux, suggesting that the Falcons may be looking for a hybrid player that may be considered a 3-4 end by most. The best example of this type of player is Houston’s J.J. Watt. Now the Falcons won’t be able to find a player as good as Watt, but they could be happy with a poor man’s version of him. In Houston, Watt plays end in their base 3-man front, and then moves inside to tackle when they go to a 4-man look in their dime package (the Texans play very little nickel).

Mike Nolan’s scheme prefers versatility, and having such a presence on the defense capable of playing inside and outside, especially if they can get pressure at both positions, would be highly valuable. Such a player could supplant John Abraham at end on run downs, and then kick inside along with Babineaux on passing downs with Abe and Biermann likely lining up at end.

Samuel questionable against Saints

November 28th, 2012 Comments off
Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Asante Samuel

The Falcons announced their weekly injury report this afternoon, earlier than normal due to the fact that they will host the New Orleans Saints tomorrow on Thursday Night Football. On the report, cornerback Asante Samuel and defensive tackle Peria Jerry were listed as questionable after sitting out all three days of practice this week. Samuel was nursing a bum shoulder, which he has been limited with in recent weeks. He re-injured the shoulder last Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and missed the fourth quarter. Jerry is nursing the same quadricep injury that kept him out of last week’s game. He’s dealt with thigh and knee injuries already this year which have curtailed his reps in recent weeks. Both could get welcome rest after this week’s game, as they will receive an extra three days of rest as they will not play again until December 9. If Samuel is unable to go, then Robert McClain will likely take reps at left cornerback, while Chris Owens plays in the nickel. If Jerry does not play, then Vance Walker and Travian Robertson are likely to see an increase in reps. A week ago, both players saw season-high snaps with 49 and 16, respectively.

Also appearing on the injury report listed as probable were tackle Sam Baker (groin), wide receivers Kevin Cone (groin) and Harry Douglas (ankle), safety Charles Mitchell (calf), linebacker Stephen Nicholas (knee), tight end Michael Palmer (back), cornerback Dunta Robinson, defensive tackle Vance Walker (ribs), and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (ankle). Besides Robinson, all of the players were limited in practice this week due to the short week. Robinson was added to the report on Tuesday, after missing practice due to an illness.

A key injury for the Saints is right tackle Zach Strief, who was listed as questionable with a groin injury. Strief was limited in practice all week after missing three games. If he does not go, then Will Robinson will be expected to start at right tackle. Robinson is the Saints fourth string right tackle, and was only signed to the roster on November 20.

Out this week for the Saints are defensive end Junior Gallette (ankle), wide receiver Courtney Roby (shoulder/ankle), tackle Charles Brown (knee), defensive tackle Tom Johnson (back), and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus (concussion). Tight end David Thomas (knee) and cornerback Corey White (knee) are questionable. Cornerback Elbert Mack (concussion) is probable.

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.

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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Camp Battles 2012: Defensive Line

July 17th, 2012 Comments off
Thomas Campbell-US Presswire

Lawrence Sidbury

Relative to many positions on the Falcons roster, the defensive line won’t see a lot of shakeup during training camp. The four starters are pretty much settled and the majority of the reserves are fairly secure in their roster spots. The brunt of the competition will be based around many of those reserve players trying to carve out larger niches in the Falcons rotation.

The four starters that are likely to open the season include John Abraham and Ray Edwards at defensive end and Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters at defensive tackle. As far as the starters go, the issues to watch are how much improvement both Edwards and Peters make, and whether Babineaux can bounce back after a subpar 2011.

Edwards was hampered by an injury last summer, but also never seemed to mesh with Brian VanGorder. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan hopes to fix that issue, and it seems that Edwards has already warmed up to him and his new scheme. Last season, Peters flashed top-level playmaking skills, but still has yet to develop the sort of consistency to put together a complete season. It will be interesting to see whether or not the fact that he won’t have to look too much over his shoulder will drive him for greater success this season. Babineaux was hampered by an injury early last year, and the Falcons are hopeful that his production will return to a level where it was prior to 2011 when he was one of the most disruptive interior players in the league.

For bench players like Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury, both won’t have to worry too much about not collecting a check from the Falcons this year. Last year Biermann stole reps in nickel situations from Edwards. He’ll be competing to show that the new deal he signed this past off-season was money well worth spending. Biermann likely benefited to a degree from the relationship with VanGorder, and will have to find a way to similarly impress Nolan that he is worthy of being the top backup in the rotation. Sidbury was no sure thing to make the roster last summer, so a year has made a world of difference. Sidbury flashed potential last season and will be working to carve out a larger spot in the rotation. He’ll push Biermann to be the team’s top reserve. He’ll need to show improvement as a run defender, where Biermann has the edge. Abraham’s playing time is stream-lined so that the majority of snaps he comes off the field will be in running situations. And if Edwards can bounce back and earn Nolan’s trust on passing situations, then there may not be as many opportunities there as well. Becoming a more all-around player will be the key to Sidbury taking the next step.

Outside those six, the roster spots aren’t solidified. The Falcons will likely keep at least nine, but potentially ten players to beef up their rotation. A big part of the competition will be at tackle, where Peria Jerry, Vance Walker, and rookie Travian Robertson will all be competing for playing time. Jerry’s roster spot is probably the safest because his contract is structured so that cutting him doesn’t help the Falcons cap situation to a significant degree. And Vance Walker has proven himself over the years to be a valuable rotation player, making him less likely to be cut. Robertson will need a strong summer to move up the depth chart, but should be kept as a potential fifth tackle. The Falcons carried five tackles for much of last year with Carlton Powell in that role. That makes undrafted rookie Micanor Regis on the outside looking in as far as the roster goes, since he’s unlikely to leap frog all three players to make the team. But with a strong summer, he definitely can be a candidate for the practice squad.

At end, one of the big battles will come in the competition between Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews for the fifth defensive end spot. It’s unlikely that the Falcons will try and carry six defensive ends. It’s not impossible that the Falcons may opt to carry six defensive ends, particularly if they try and work either Massaquoi or Matthews at outside linebacker. But given only four ends will likely be active on game days, carrying a sixth player will mean that the roster could be depleted elsewhere. Massaquoi has the edge given that he has a bit higher upside as a pass rusher. Most years the Falcons have only seen their fifth defensive end as a special teams player, which may limit Massaquoi’s contributions as a rookies. But if he has a strong summer, he could push for playing time during the regular season comparable to Sidbury back in 2009. Even if the Falcons part ways with Matthews, he is still a prime candidate for the practice squad. He will need to have a strong summer to make the roster.

Also competing will be Louis Nzegwu, who is in a similar boat as Regis in facing long odds to make the roster. But he has the sort of athletic talent that can make him a nice project to carry and develop on the practice squad for a year or two.

Overall the issue along the defensive line won’t about shuffling around the roster, but more about Nolan trying to get more out of the current slate of players.