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Falcons Swap Dent for Yates; Sign LB Tim Dobbins

June 19th, 2014 Comments off
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Yates

The Atlanta Falcons announced late on Wednesday night that they had acquired Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates via trade and signed free agent linebacker Tim Dobbins. The Falcons sent linebacker Akeem Dent to the Texans in exchange for Yates.

On Tuesday, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Texans had made the decision to waive Yates, but the transaction would not become official until today. That would mean that Yates would be open to waivers. Given the Falcons’ poor record in 2013, they had high waiver priority but per a report by Pro Football Talk, the team wanted to be sure they got Yates. Negotiations went later into Wednesday, prompting the Texans to delay their official waiving of Yates and the late announcement of the move.

Yates was a fifth-round pick of the Texans in 2011. He started the final five games of the regular season as a rookie for an injured Matt Schaub and posted a 2-3 record. He also started in the Texans first-round playoff win over the Cincinnati Bengals that year. For the season, Yates finished with 949 yards passing, completing 61.2 percent of 134 pass attempts for three touchdowns and three interceptions. The past two seasons, he has earned limited playing time in seven games, combining to pass for 151 yards, two interceptions and complete 59.4 percent of 32 attempts. Yates had fell down the depth chart, getting passed up by former undrafted rookie quarterback Case Keenum for the starting spot after Schaub’s benching and his own poor play in relief during a Week 6 loss to the St. Louis Rams.

Yates was a prospect that the Falcons showed considerable interest towards in the run-up to the 2011 NFL Draft. As a local kid out of Marietta, Georgia, Yates was a participant in the team’s local pro day that year and the team also conducted a private workout with him following watching him at his pro day. You can click here to read my scouting report on Yates as a 2011 draft prospect. Yates will be expected to push immediately for the backup position behind starter Matt Ryan. It is likely that one of the following three quarterbacks currently on the roster will not make it to training camp next month: Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree, and undrafted rookie Jeff Mathews.

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Tim Dobbins

Dent was a third-round pick by the Falcons in 2011. He played primarily on special teams as a rookie, where he led the team with 17 tackles. Dent stepped into the starting role at middle linebacker in 2012 after the departure of Curtis Lofton via free agency and struggled. He was limited to being a starter in the Falcons’ base defense and finished the year with 61 tackles and a forced fumble while starting 13 games. He began last season in the same role, but was eventually replaced by undrafted rookie Paul Worrilow by midseason. Dent added seven more starts, 46 tackles and 1.5 sacks to his career stat sheet in 2013.

Dent lost favor within the organization, evidenced when the team selected four linebackers on the third and final day of the 2014 NFL Draft. Seventh-round pick Yawin Smallwood was expected to compete with Dent for the reserve spot behind Worrilow. But with recent news that fourth-round pick Prince Shembo would also be making a move inside to bolster depth, it likely hurt Dent’s chances to make the team. However, with the recent injury to Sean Weatherspoon, Dent’s chances of sticking looked to have improved.

Dobbins, 31, has played the past three seasons with the Texans as a reserve inside linebacker in their 3-4 defense. He started six games as an injury replacement in 2012 and recorded 35 tackles, one interception and four passes defended. Dobbins led the Texans with nine tackles on special teams in 2011. Prior to joining the Texans, Dobbins played under current Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan with the Miami Dolphins in 2010. That season, Dobbins also started six games as an injury replacement and had 42 tackles, one sack and a pass defended. Prior to that, he had played four years with the San Diego Chargers before they traded him to the Dolphins in a trade during the 2010 NFL Draft. Dobbins started 10 games over his four-year stint in San Diego, and was a productive special teams performer. He was originally a fifth-round pick of the Chargers in 2006.

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Falcons Sign Southward; Add Kicker Castillo

June 12th, 2014 Comments off
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Dezmen Southward

The Atlanta Falcons announced today the signing of third-round rookie draft pick safety Dezmen Southward and also signed undrafted kicker Sergio Castillo. Southward was the lone member of the Falcons’ 2014 draft class that had yet to be signed. Castillo adds another leg in training camp after the team released undrafted punter Matt Yoklic earlier this week. Along with Yoklic, the team dumped tight end Andrew Szczerba, freeing up some roster space. The team has one spot left on their roster, which may be to sign a free-agent linebacker such as Tim Dobbins, who earlier reports indicated was working out for the team today.

Southward is expected to fill a backup role with the Falcons and is likely destined to be their free safety of the future behind starter Dwight Lowery. Southward has also been getting work as a reserve at strong safety in light of the neck injury to Zeke Motta that has him sidelined during the offseason.

Castillo is an undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M who finished his career as the NCAA’s all-time leader in points scored (437). Castillo won the Fred Mitchell Award, given to the nation’s top kicker outside of FBS play. Castillo is a two-time All-Conference player and two-time Division II All-American honoree. He also finsihed his career as the school’s all-time leader in field goals made (62). Castillo was very accreted throughout his career, connecting on 78.5 percent of his 79 career tries. He also hit on 251 of 255 extra point tries in his career (98.4 percent). As a senior, he had career-highs with 24 field goals made and 149 points scored. He also had 16 career kickoffs with a pair of touchbacks.

As a follow-up to this morning’s report about the Falcons interest in veteran free-agent linebackers, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure reported that the Falcons are working out ex-Houston Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins today. Dobbins has experience playing for Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, having played under him with the Miami Dolphins in 2010. Dobbins entered the league in 2006 and has been primarily a special teams player and reserve with 22 career starts.

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Report: Falcons ‘Looking Hard’ at Linebacker Vilma

June 12th, 2014 Comments off
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Jonathan Vilma

In a series of tweets on Wednesday evening, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport outlined the Atlanta Falcons options and plans for replacing injured linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. According to Rapoport, the Falcons will take a “hard look” at signing veteran linebacker Jonathan Vilma, formerly of the New Orleans Saints as well as considering other options in Pat Angerer and Tim Dobbins. Per Rapoport, the team is not interested in signing veterans James Harrison or London Fletcher.

Weatherspoon suffered a torn Achilles on Tuesday during practice and will miss the entire 2014 season. Weatherspoon’s loss is a significant blow to the Falcons defense as he was one of the team’s defensive leaders.

Vilma is a 10-year veteran in the NFL, first entering the league as a first-round pick of the New York Jets in 2004. Vilma only appeared in one game with the Saints a year ago ago, limited by knee injury. Vilma had an arthroscopic scope on his left knee in August, but did not play for the first eight games of the 2013 season. He played a dozen snaps in the team’s Week 9 game against the Jets before landing on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. Rapoport indicates that the Falcons would bring in Vilma for a visit if they like his medical prognosis from afar. A report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter in late May indicated that Vilma was “healthy and ready” to play this year after his knee issue.

Vilma, 32, played in 11 games in 2012 for the Saints, starting 10 of them at weak-side linebacker. He was again limited by knee injury and a league-mandated suspension due to BountyGate, but managed to recorded 37 tackles, one sack and one interception. Degenerative knee condition has plagued Vilma throughout his career, causing him to exit New York back in 2007 after being limited to just seven games that year. But he had three good years with the Saints from 2008-10 before the knee became a problem again in 2011. Vilma’s left knee has undergone surgery four times since November 2011.

Angerer, 27, himself is facing injury concerns as well, as he finished the 2013 season on injured reserve due to microfracture knee surgery. Angerer was reportedly a few months away from being able to work out for NFL teams per FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez in April.

Angerer also missed time in 2011 due to foot and knee injuries. He was limited last summer by those same foot problems, and then missed the season opener in 2013 due to a concussion. That was followed up by more knee problems, which ended his season in Week 15 with the Indianapolis Colts. Angerer finished with 63 tackles, 0.5 sacks and an interception in 11 games with nine starts. He was originally a second-round pick of the Colts in 2010, starting at both middle linebacker in their 4-3 and inside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme.

Harrison, 36, is coming off a lackluster season in Cincinnati after a very productive career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 15 games with the Bengals, he had 30 tackles, two sacks and an interception playing mostly outside linebacker. Harrison earned five trips to the Pro Bowl during the decade he played for the Steelers (2002-12), tallying 64 sacks in that span.

Fletcher, 39, was second on the Washington Redskins in tackles in 2013 with 111. He also had two sacks last year. Fletcher has had an extensive career in the NFL, playing for the Redskins (since 2007), Buffalo Bills (2002-06) and St. Louis Rams (1998-01). Fletcher is a four-time Pro Bowler that has started 239 consecutive games and appeared in 256 without missing time due to injury. He was originally an undrafted free agent out of John Carroll in 1998 with the Rams, helping them to two Super Bowl appearances.

Per Rapoport, the Falcons are also considering internal options like Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu to replace Weatherspoon, as well as fourth-round pick Prince Shembo, who Rapoport calls “impressive and versatile.” Shembo played primarily defensive end and outside linebacker at Notre Dame, but will be converted to inside linebacker with the Falcons in their hybrid 3-4 scheme.

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.

Read more…

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

May 31st, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Dominique Davis

June is a month filled with organized team activities, as we steadily inch closer to NFL training camps that open up at the end of July.

Let’s take a look at some of the burgeoning roster battles on offense that will become the key storylines come July and August during the Atlanta Falcons training camp.

Quarterback

The main issue for this position is the backup spot behind starter Matt Ryan. Dominique Davis is the front-runner given his experience, but is far from proven. Davis struggled last preseason, but so did his biggest competition in 2013 seventh-round pick Sean Renfree. Renfree has the draft status backing him up, which means the Falcons have a vested interest in developing him. But he’ll need to prove he can stay healthy, something that has been exceedingly difficult for him the past few years, and also improve his play on the field.

Undrafted free agent Jeff Mathews will also be in the mix, possessing good size and a strong arm that could impress enough to be a serious contender for the job. Normally, Mathews would be competing solely for a spot on the practice squad, but there are so many question marks at the position that if he comes out strong this summer, he could potentially win the No. 2 job behind Ryan.

This is a position that if the performances aren’t up to par, the Falcons may look elsewhere for help as they did two years ago by signing Luke McCown before the start of the regular season.

Running Back

The top of the Falcons depth chart is pretty settled with Steven Jackson as the starter and Jacquizz Rodgers serving as the team’s third-down back. The key issue is whether or not rookie Devonta Freeman can perform well enough to steal significant reps from either player once the regular season begins.

Antone Smith’s special teams ability alone likely will net him a roster spot. Smith has always been productive during the preseason on offense as well, which is why he’s lasted five summers in Atlanta. That leaves the question of whether Josh Vaughan or Jerome Smith can perform well enough to take another spot. The odds are against both as the team is unlikely to carry a fifth back in Vaughan on the roster due to the addition of Freeman, and Smith is likely competing for a practice squad spot even if he has a strong summer.

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Falcons Sign Fourth-Round Pick Freeman

May 22nd, 2014 Comments off

The Atlanta Falcons announced earlier today that 2014 fourth-round running back Devonta Freeman has agreed to terms on his rookie deal. Terms of his contract were undisclosed, but as per league rules it is a four-year deal. Freeman is the second to last of the team’s nine draft picks to sign, leaving just their third-round selection, safety Dezmen Southward, as the only remaining unsigned rookie.

Freeman comes from Florida State and is expected to compete for a backup role at running back behind Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers. As a senior, Freeman was the first FSU running back since Warrick Dunn in 1996 to rush for over 1,000 yards.

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Falcon Sign Rookies Matthews and Hageman to Contracts

May 21st, 2014 Comments off

The Atlanta Falcons announced today that they agreed to terms with the top two selections in the 2014 NFL Draft: offensive tackle Jake Matthews and defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman. Earlier this month, Matthews and Hageman were selected in the first and second rounds of the draft, respectively. Both agreed to undisclosed four-year deals, although because Matthews is a first-round selection, the Falcons have an option for a fifth year on the deal.

Matthews was the sixth overall selection out of Texas A&M and is expected to immediately start at right tackle. Hageman was the 37th selection out of Minnesota and is expected to push for time in the team’s defensive line rotation. He’s expected to play defensive end, but will also add depth at tackle.

Today’s signings leave third-round safety Dezmen Southward and fourth-round running back Devonta Freeman as the only unsigned members of the team’s nine-player draft class. Five of the team’s other selections signed over the weekend.

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Falcons Sign Five Draft Picks

May 19th, 2014 Comments off

On Saturday, the Atlanta Falcons announced the signings of five of their nine 2014 draft picks. The five that signed were all selected on the third and final day of the draft earlier this month, including cornerback Ricardo Allen and linebackers Prince Shembo, Yawin Smallwood, Marquis Spruill and Tyler Starr. All agreed to undisclosed four-year contracts.

Allen was a fifth-round selection of the team out of Purdue. Shembo was selected in the fourth round out of Notre Dame. Both Smallwood and Starr were selected at the end of the seventh round from Connecticut and South Dakota respectively, while the team traded into the fifth round to select Syracuse’s Spruill.

All five players are expected to compete for reserve roles with the team this summer. Their signings leave the Falcons first four selections unsigned: offensive tackle Jake Matthews, defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman, safety Dezmen Southward and running back Devonta Freeman.

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Falcons Officially Sign 20 Undrafted Free Agents

May 13th, 2014 Comments off
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin tight end Jacob Pedersen

On Sunday, I posted a list of 26 players that various reports indicated had signed undrafted free agent deals with the Atlanta Falcons. Monday, the team released their official list of 20 players that were signed after the 2014 NFL Draft.

Nineteen of the twenty names released today appeared on Sunday’s list, with Arkansas State wide receiver Julian Jones being the lone exception. Joining Jones are quarterback Jeff Mathews (Cornell), running back Jerome Smith (Syracuse), fullbacks Maurice Hagens (Miami) and Roosevelt Nix (Kent State), wide receivers Geraldo Boldewijn (Boise State), Freddie Martino (North Greenville), Bernard Reedy (Toledo) and Tramaine Thompson (Kent State), tight ends Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak (both from Wisconsin), center James Stone (Tennessee), defensive end Nosa Eguae (Auburn), nose tackle Donte Rumph (Kentucky), outside linebackers Walker May (Vanderbilt) and Jacques Smith (Tennessee), inside linebacker Brenden Daley (Hawaii), cornerback Devonta Glover-Wright (Utah State), safety Kimario McFadden (South Carolina State) and punter Matt Yoklic (Pittsburgh).

Mathews was a record-setting quarterback at Cornell that holds school and Ivy League records with 11,284 career yards passing and 72 touchdowns. Mathews was a four-year starter, leading Cornell to 12 wins over the course of his career. His best season came as a sophomore, where he posted career-highs with 67.9 percent completions, 3,412 passing yards and 25 touchdowns on his way to earn Ivy League Player of the Year honors.

Jerome Smith starred his final two years at Syracuse, leading the team in rushing in both seasons. He combined for 2,085 yards and 15 touchdowns in those two seasons.

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Falcons Pick Up Tight End Bear Pascoe

May 1st, 2014 Comments off

The Atlanta Falcons announced the signing of unrestricted free agent and former New York Giants tight end Bear Pascoe. News of the Falcons interest in Pascoe broke this morning when it was reported that he was working out for the team. Terms of his contract were undisclosed. Pascoe spent the past five seasons with the Giants as a blocking tight end and fullback. For his career, Pascoe has started 32 games and caught 38 passes for 333 yards and a touchdown.

Pascoe was originally drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the sixth round of the 2009 NFL Draft, after a solid playing career at Fresno State under former Falcons offensive line coach Pat Hill. Pascoe was cut by the 49ers in his first training camp and landed on the Giants practice squad. He was elevated to their active roster by year’s end, catching a single pass in four appearances. He would be released by the Giants the following summer and began the 2010 season on their practice squad. But he was soon elevated to the active roster after early injuries to both fullback Madison Hedgecock and tight end Kevin Boss. He started 11 games in 2010, primarily as a fullback and caught nine passes. In 2011, he would once again start 11 games, splitting his time between fullback and tight end. He finished that year with career-high 12 receptions for 136 yards. He has spent the bulk of the past two years as a blocking tight end, starting a combined nine games and catching 16 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.

Pascoe now becomes the most experienced tight end on the Falcons roster, having appeared in 66 career games. The only other two experienced tight ends on the roster are Levine Toilolo (16 career games) and Mickey Shuler (six games). Pascoe is likely to be expected to be a reserve with Toilolo, or possibly a rookie draft pick assuming the starting spot.

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