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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Defensive Tackle

July 21st, 2014 No comments

Andrew Weber- US PRESSWIRE

Corey Peters

The Atlanta Falcons will feature more competition at the defensive tackle position in regards to their reserves since their starting lineup was solidified in the offseason by the signing of Paul Soliai.

As I explained in the write-up on the Falcons defensive ends, all signs point to the Falcons adopting more of a 3-4 schematic look in their base attack on defense this season. The addition of Soliai is a big part of that reason for he is the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle.

Big, strong and capable of absorbing double teams, Soliai gives the Falcons something they did not truly have with Corey Peters last season. Peters was capable in performing some of those roles, but was by no means the classic version of the 3-4 nose that usually weighs in above 320 pounds. Coupled with Peters’ recovery from injury, it was clear the Falcons were going to need more help at the position.

They found that in Soliai with a substantial long-term contract. If offensive tackle Jake Matthews is the jewel of the draft class, then Soliai is that for free agency based purely off his contract. And thus, it doesn’t make sense for a team to spend as much money as they did on 3-4 players like Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson and not utilize them in the manner that suits them best.

Soliai will start for the Falcons, but will likely be pulled off the field in most passing situations. That was the case in Miami as Soliai had a tendency to wear down over the course of games. The Falcons will need to find a way to minimize that.

A heavy rotation with Peters could be one answer, but that is dependent on his health. Peters told me himself that he is expecting to return for the regular season opener, and if that is the case then he’ll be able to earn reps replacing Soliai in passing situations.

Unlike some 3-4 teams, the Falcons will likely utilize a four-man front when they employ their nickel sub-packages on passing downs. It’s likely that the same starting lineup the team featured up front last season: Osi Umenyiora and Jonathan Massaquoi at the end spots with Peters and Jonathan Babineaux at tackle will be their go-to group. That potentially puts the team’s four best pass-rushers (minus linebacker Kroy Biermann) on the field at the same time.

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An Early Look at Key Training Camp Battles on Atlanta Falcons Defense

May 31st, 2014 Comments off
ICON SMI

Peria Jerry

After taking a look at the key roster battles that will take place this summer on the Atlanta Falcons offense, it’s time we take a look at the defensive side of the ball.

Like the offense, the Falcons defensive starting lineup is relatively settled with much of the competition coming at depth positions.

Unlike the offense, the possibility that the Falcons look to bolster many positions with veteran additions at the end of camp is low. It could happen, if injuries become a problem, but for the most part the added presence of recent draft picks at several positions means the team has a vested interest in getting young guys more opportunities.

Defensive Tackle

The team signed Paul Soliai to a large contract, making him their starter at nose tackle. He will be joined by incumbents Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters. The only question among the three of them is whether or not Peters’ recovery from a late-season Achilles tear will force him to miss significant time in training camp. If so, he could wind up starting the year on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list, potentially opening up an opportunity and roster spot for someone else at the position.

Peria Jerry would appreciate that greatly, as he’s the most experienced remaining option at the position but on the bubble as far as his roster spot goes. He’ll need a strong summer to retain his job, with Ra’Shede Hageman, Cliff Matthews, and Travian Robertson also vying for time at the position. This summer is Robertson’s last chance to make the roster, but Peters’ absence opens up the possibility for the team needing more depth at nose tackle, which benefits Robertson.

Like Robertson, Matthews may be entering his final summer with the Falcons given their investment in Hagemen. A competent special teams player, Matthews will need to make more plays on defense this summer to prove he’s worth retaining for the Falcons.

Undrafted rookie Donte Rumph is a long shot to leap frog any of them for a roster spot, but given his size, a good summer could merit a practice squad position to prompt development down the road.

Defensive End

Tyson Jackson and Malliciah Goodman can be considered locks for roster spot. Jackson will be a starter, and Goodman’s performance this summer will determine whether or not he earns significant playing time in the regular season. There’s an outside possibility he could win the starting spot opposite Jackson if he performs at an exceedingly high level.

Hageman and Matthews will also get looks here, and undrafted rookie Nosa Eguae is also in the mix. But like Rumph, Eguae is likely looking at a practice squad spot if he has a strong enough summer.

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Draft Needs: More Beef Needed on Falcons Defensive Interior?

April 30th, 2014 1 comment
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Malliciah Goodman

An offseason priority for the Atlanta Falcons was “toughening up” their team, with an emphasis on bulking up on both lines of scrimmage. The team did just that when they opened up free agency by signing defensive tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson.

For many, it signaled that the Falcons were moving to a 3-4 scheme. Why else would would they guarantee $25 million to players that have spent the bulk of their careers playing in that defensive scheme? While Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has coached both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, prior to his arrival in Atlanta he had not coached a defense with a 4-3 as their base scheme in seven years. Nolan’s history signaled a clear preference for the 3-4 defense, and the signings of Soliai and Jackson appeared to be that preference finally coming to fruition in Atlanta after two years of a hybrid unit between the two schemes.

But Falcons head coach Mike Smith was quick to pump the brakes on those expectations, indicating that the team would still be utilizing a hybrid scheme. That makes sense given the team opted to bring back free agents Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry, who all were drafted by the Falcons originally to play in a 4-3 scheme.

Although it’s interesting that between the three of them, they are making less than $5 million in guaranteed money. So if money talks, then the Falcons will be tailoring their defense more towards the strengths of Jackson and Soliai, which should indicate more 3-4 “flavor” than 4-3 in their hybrid unit in 2014.

That should help a player like Malliciah Goodman, who has the ability to play in either scheme, but may project best in a 3-4 at defensive end. Goodman flashed good ability as a run defender as a rookie last year, and has reportedly bulked up considerably this offseason with the mindset of becoming a regular in the team’s base defense.

That development should benefit a player like Babineaux, who was the team’s top pass-rusher a year ago despite having a single sack. Per Moneyball game reviews which focus on All-22, Babineaux led the team with 13 “positive pass rushes,” which are sacks, quarterback hits and pressures combined. Babineaux also played the most of any Falcon defensive lineman last year with 924 snaps according to premium website Pro Football Focus. Only William Moore (1,064 snaps) and Desmond Trufant (1,022) played more on defense. Babineaux’s reps were the fourth-most of any interior defensive lineman in the league in 2013, and frankly way too much for a 32-year old player.

Goodman missed two games due to injury last season, but wound up playing 305 snaps. If he can carve a bigger role in the rotation, particularly on run downs, it will allow the team to streamline Babineaux’s playing time on passing downs. That could potentially cut his snap count in half, and thus keep him fresher for this year and give him a better chance to play out the remainder of what is expected to be his final NFL contract.

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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.