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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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FalcFans Weekly – April 27, 2014

April 27th, 2014 Comments off

Much of the news surrounding the Atlanta Falcons this week centered on rumors about whether the team would trade up for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Reports swarmed that the Falcons could swap picks with the Houston Texans, who hold the No. 1 overall selection in the 2014 draft.

On Friday, Clowney worked out for the team in what wasn’t quite a normal workout, rather a biomechanical “force plate” test. Pro Football Talk has the scoop on what exactly went down. It appears that the test used on Clowney is far from a new development with the Falcons.

Vaughn McClure of ESPN indicates that the Falcons won’t make the trade up. D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC is also suggesting that a trade up isn’t smart on the Falcons behalf as it may be a smokescreen.

In a related article, CBS Sports’ Will Brinson writes about the economics of trading up for the No. 1 pick.

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The 2014 regular season schedule was also announced this week, and the Falcons are set to open up the season at home against their biggest rival, the New Orleans Saints. The war of words has already begun as Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan had some choice words for the Falcons offensive line.

When it comes to the Falcons-Saints matchup on September 7, in the immortal worlds of Bart Scott, “Can’t wait!

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Podcast co-host Allen Strk analyzes the schedule for Pro Football Spot.

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The Falcons offseason program began this week. Mike Smith, Matt Ryan, Sean Weatherspoon and William Moore all spoke to the media on Tuesday and Wednesday and the official site provides the video.
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FalcFans Weekly – April 20, 2014

April 20th, 2014 Comments off

On this fine Easter Sunday, let’s recap some of the news and stories surrounding the Atlanta Falcons over the past week:

The subject of fifth-year options for 2011 first-round picks became a popular subject this week. The Falcons have yet to exercise their option on wide receiver Julio Jones, and have until May 3 to do so.

The fifth-year option will be equivalent to the top 10 salaries for his position group in 2015, which according to ESPN’s Vaughn McClure will give Jones a salary of $10.176 million next year. That money will be guaranteed, but for injury only.

It is very likely that the Falcons will exercise that option. The only reason not to is because they want to sign Jones to an extension before the start of the 2014 regular season. That certainly is a possibility, but unless progress on talks are pretty far along, it really doesn’t hurt the team to still exercise the option in the meantime.

Jones has a cap hit of roughly $5.15 million in 2014, which means that if the option is exercised, he will make around $15.3 million over the next two years, with roughly-two thirds of it guaranteed.

Comparatively, Mike Wallace signed a five-year contract worth $60 million last offseason, with a $27 million payout in his first two seasons, all of which was guaranteed (according to Spotrac.com). It’s certainly possible that Jones could receive substantially more money in his eventual extension from the Falcons. Through the first five games of the 2013 season before his season-ending foot injury, Jones was leading the league in receptions (41) and second in yards (580) behind only tight end Jimmy Graham (593).

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FalcFans Weekly – April 13, 2014

April 13th, 2014 Comments off

One of the big stories of the week came when Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank appeared on 680 the Fan on Tuesday morning and spoke candidly about how he perceived the team lacking toughness. Blank highlighted the hit that New Orleans Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro put on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in the season-opener as a play that bothered him:

“And that play really bothered me, sincerely. It bothered me that none of our players, they all complained, but none of them went to the safety on the Saints and did anything.”

ESPN’s Vaughn McClure has a good recap of Blank’s interview as well as a follow-up piece praising Blank’s candidness. Blank’s comments echoed earlier ones made immediately following the 2013 regular season in which he expressed his desire to toughen up the Falcons.

Blank’s comments were followed up on Friday with a radio appearance by Ryan himself, who was diplomatic in defending his teammates’ inaction while also expressing his own praise for Blank for “having his back.”
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Falcons Sign Lowery and Wilson to Bolster Secondary

April 8th, 2014 Comments off

The Atlanta Falcons announced the signings of safety Dwight Lowery and cornerback Josh Wilson earlier today. Lowery spent the past three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Wilson played with the Washington Redskins during that same span. Terms of their deals have yet to be disclosed, although Wilson’s deal is reportedly for one year.

Lowery missed most of the 2013 season with a concussion, suffered in the third game of the season on a blindside hit from Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate. In 2012, he started nine games, missing five during midseason with an ankle injury and missing the final two with a foot injury. Lowery was first traded to the Jaguars at the start of the 2011 season after spending three years with the New York Jets, who drafted him in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Lowery began his career as a cornerback, but was moved to free safety as an injury replacement for Eric Smith near the end of the 2010 season before making the permanent transition upon his arrival in Jacksonville. He spent his first two years in the NFL primarily playing as the Jet’s nickel cornerback. Through his entire career, Lowery has started 41 games both at cornerback and safety and tallied 178 tackles, three sacks, 10 interceptions, five forced fumbles and six recoveries.

Wilson signed a deal with the Redskins following the lockout in 2011 and started the past 48 games for them opposite DeAngelo Hall. He’s coming off a season where he finished with career-highs in tackles (89), sacks (two) and fumble recoveries (three). Prior to joining the Redskins, Wilson spent one season with the Baltimore Ravens after getting traded by the Seahawks. In both Baltimore and Seattle, Wilson played a lot as a nickel cornerback but still managed to start a combined 33 games between 2008-10.

Lowery is likely to move into the team’s vacant free safety position, while Wilson adds depth at cornerback and can compete for the nickel job or potentially push Robert Alford for a starting job. Wilson has experience playing the slot both in Washington and Seattle.

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