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Training Camp Stock Report Week 1

August 3rd, 2013 Comments off

It’s been over a week since Falcons began training camp on July 25, and it’s time to look at which players have distinguished themselves (and those that have not) with our weekly stock report. Expect the next one to be up after the Falcons Thursday night matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals next week.

Stock Up

 

Chase Coffman/Levine Toilolo

Coffman has been taking full advantage of the absence of Tony Gonzalez from the Falcons lineup, catching everything that comes his way. Toilolo is also making good ground as well, and it seems like the Falcons will no longer be hurting for depth at tight end as they have been in past seasons.

Martel Moore

Moore got off to a fast start in camp, working the corners on the roster that aren’t named Asante Samuel. The competition for the fourth and fifth receiver spots are fairly wide open. Moore has shown he can make plays on offense, but perhaps the secret to his making the final roster will be if he can showcase his prowess on special teams.

Ryan Schraeder

Schraeder has generated quite a bit of buzz working with the reserve offensive line units. He’s a player that could manage to make the roster as the ninth offensive lineman and backup to left tackle Sam Baker.

Peter Konz

By all accounts, Konz has had a solid camp, quieting any concerns whether or not the Falcons would see a precipitous dropoff this year at center due to the retirement of Todd McClure.

Cliff Matthews/Malliciah Goodman

Both Matthews and Goodman are off to good starts to camp. Both are expected to be in the mix to play defensive end when the Falcons want to add size to the lineup. Both players are hitting the scales around 280 pounds, and should be in the mix to spell Jonathan Babineaux when the Falcons go to their 3-man fronts at left defensive end. They will also likely be asked to play inside in 4-man fronts to add some quickness inside. Any concerns over whether either player would be able to carve out a significant role in the rotation seem to be evaporated given their start.

Joplo Bartu

Bartu’s name is generating a bit more buzz in recent days. His athleticism and speed have been drawing rave reviews. Bartu has a chance to win a backup outside linebacker position, particularly as a backup to Stephen Nicholas on the strongside.

Stock Down

 

Lamar Holmes

It’s been fairly quiet on the Lamar Holmes front. He is expected to be pushing Mike Johnson for the starting right tackle spot in one of the few starting positions that was truly open to competition, but there hasn’t been much buzz surrounding Holmes. While there hasn’t been a ton of buzz surrounding Johnson either, it does seem like he clearly has the lead. If Holmes doesn’t step up in the coming weeks, this competition could be over before it even really began.

Desmond Trufant

It’s probably not fair to put Trufant on this list. He had a rocky beginning to camp, but by all accounts has improved significantly as camp has progressed. He’ll have plenty of time to get his stock back up the rest of the way, so by no means should anybody be in panic mode. But Trufant is/was expected to win the starting right cornerback position, and the simple truth is that if the season began today, it would be a question of whether he would be in that role.

Training Camp: Day 7 Report

August 2nd, 2013 Comments off

A minor discrepancy in how the count Wednesday’s off day. It was in fact the seventh day since camp opened, causing the AJC to consider Thursday to be the eighth day. However the team’s official site counts Thursday as the seventh day, skipping Wednesday altogether. For these recaps, we’ll be going with the “official” numbering of AtlantaFalcons.com.

So here is all the media buzz from Thursday, Day 7 of Falcons training camp:

  • The Falcons announced a pair of roster moves on Thursday, waiving-injured cornerback Saeed Lee, who suffered a serious knee injury on Tuesday. The team picked up cornerback Jordan Mabin in his place. Lee underwent surgery on Wednesday for his knee injury, although it was not ACL surgery per John Manasso. If he clears waivers, he will wind up on injured reserve for the Falcons. Mabin was an undrafted free agent out of Northwestern last year with the Baltimore Ravens. He spent time on the Ravens practice squad before finishing the season on the practice squad of the Cleveland Browns. He also spent time on the practice squad of the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL last October. He was re-signed by Montreal this past March before joining the Falcons.
  • Joe Hawley was working with the first team at right guard.
  • I suggested before that whoever lines up as the second-string left tackle would have a good shot at making the roster. Well in certain drills on Thursday, Ryan Schraeder, who is already having a standout camp according to some observers, was working there across from Lamar Holmes at right tackle.
  • Malliciah Goodman has been generating some buzz with his work among the reserves.
  • Jason Snelling was in the mix to return punts with the same foursome from before. James Rodgers is among that foursome, but will also be in the mix to return kickoffs. Harry Douglas might only be considered a last resort however as a punt returner. The AJC has a quick interview with Douglas.
  • Osi Umenyiora’s role as a stand-up linebacker may be limited with his primary value there to help defend the read-option. The Falcons will see plenty of that this year with matchups against Carolina, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington again this season. Also the potential of E.J. Manuel to run that with the Buffalo Bills could also be in play in 2013.
  • Daniel Cox has his five observations from Day 7, including more insight into the competition for the returner jobs, Robert Alford’s fashion, Desmond Trufant’s work in the slot, and unsung performances by rookies Ronnie Wingo and Brandon Thurmond.

 

Training Camp: Day 6 Report

July 31st, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons will have today off from practice. League rules enacted after the new CBA prohibit teams from practicing after six consecutive days of practice. But here is the buzz emerging from the Falcons on their sixth day of practice from various media outlets:

  • Julio takes on Deion. ‘Nuff said.
  • Rookie offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder has been generating some buzz as he’s worked against the backup defensive line. I should note that Schraeder is a player I pegged to make the Falcons final roster.
  • The Falcons got their first glimpse of the injury bug. Running backs Antone Smith and Bradie Ewing were held out of Tuesday’s practice and are expected to miss between five and ten days with unspecified injuries. Also cornerback Saeed Lee went down with a serious right leg injury and needed to be helped off the field. The nature of the injury also was unspecified and it’s likely more updates will come today or tomorrow.
  • Daniel Cox gives his five observations from Day 6. Among them he notes that tight ends Chase Coffman and Levine Toilolo have heeded the advice from veteran Tony Gonzalez and getting extra work after practice. Gonzalez is noted for his practice routine which includes catching passes before and after practice, and on the veteran’s instruction, Coffman has added that to his repertoire:

    “When Tony was here for the first couple of days he told us to make sure we are getting our catches in when he leaves and get in the extra work we need.”

  • Thomas Dimitroff gave folks on 790thezone an update (via the AJC) about the Falcons salary cap situation. He indicated that the team did not have any current plans to use their cap space to sign a veteran like defensive tackle Richard Seymour, instead opting to use that space in the event of injuries down the road.

Takeaways from Last Week – July 29

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

Should Stephen Nicholas be worried?

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

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

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

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

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

Read more…

Training Camp: Day 2 Report

July 27th, 2013 Comments off

Here’s the buzz and news that emerged on the second day of Falcons camp. Once again, hat tip to the AJC for providing a transcript of some of the post-practice interviews.

    • The Falcons added Syracuse wide receiver Marcus Sales to the roster. Sales tried out with the Falcons following the draft, but went unsigned as an undrafted free agent. Sales finished his career at Syracuse strong, with career highs of 64 catches, 882 yards (13.8 avg), and 8 touchdowns.
    • The Falcons also named another addition to their training camp roster.
    • Brian Banks clearly appreciated the magnitude of the moment and situation he has earned for himself during his first practice with the team on Thursday.
    • Knox Bardeen indicated that rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford looked a little green during their first day. It seems their struggles continued on Day 2, as they continue to take their lumps against one of the NFL’s premier receiving duos in Roddy White and Julio Jones.

    • Daniel Cox of Atlanta Falcons.com gives five excellent observations from the second day of camp, including Steven Jackson’s usage in the passing game, Drew Davis and Kevin Cone’s progress at wide receiver in their third seasons with the team, Trufant and Alford’s abilities to have short memories when it comes to getting beat in coverage, Kroy Biermann’s continued usage as a “joker” in Mike Nolan’s defense, and Chase Coffman’s ability to benefit from Tony Gonzalez’s absence.
    • Matt Ryan doesn’t mind that Gonzalez will being getting time off from camp due to the strong rapport the pair have built over the past four seasons. Ryan spent some time with Gonzalez in Southern Cali to strengthen their bonds this off-season. And Ryan likes the opportunity it presents him to get some of the other tight ends involved, echoing Cox’s sentiments about Coffman.
    • Ryan also feels that Peter Konz is off to a good start in his transition to center, where he is more comfortable. Given the switch over to Konz at center, left guard Justin Blalock is taking on more of a leadership role with the offensive line as they tried to build continuity given the departure of 13-year veteran Todd McClure.

Predicting the Falcons Final 53

July 24th, 2013 2 comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Will Brian Banks make the squad?

On the eve of training camp, it’s time to predict which players will make the Falcons 53-man roster to start the season. As things progress this summer, I’ll continue to update how things are looking.

One of the challenges of accurately predicting who will make a roster is injuries. Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL, and no team is immune from them. There are always going to be at least one or two players that were near-locks to make the team that wind up beginning the season on injured reserve. Players like Will Svitek and Bradie Ewing fit the bill from 2012. And that is bad for those players, but also gives unexpected opportunities for others. And even when a player doesn’t suffer a season-ending injury, it certainly affects the roster. If a key player sprains his knee and is going to miss just one or two games, it will often cause the team to carry an extra player at his position group into the season, which leads to carrying one less player at another.

Another factor is that when other teams make cuts, players that the team likes will become available. And it’s hard enough predicting who the Falcons will cut, it’s near impossible to predict who the other 31 teams will cut. Thus it’s unknown, which veterans will become available and who the Falcons could possibly add to bolster their roster heading into the season.

So I have no expectation that these predictions will be 100% accurate due to unknowable factors like that, but if I can get 48 of 53 players correct, I’d be extremely happy. I put an asterisk (*) beside the players that I believe remain eligible for the practice squad. A double asterisk (**) indicates players that I believe fulfill the parameters to allow a potential third year on the practice squad (normally players are only allowed two).

Quarterback
While I do think there is a relatively good possibility (around 25%) that the Falcons opt to bring in an outside veteran to bolster depth at this position, right now I do think the odds favor the Falcons opening the season with Dominique Davis and Sean Renfree poised as the team’s two backups behind Matt Ryan. While the new trend in the NFL is to keep only two quarterbacks, I’m not convinced that the Falcons have that much confidence in Davis to keep him alone on the roster. Especially since the Falcons did use a draft pick on Renfree, and that indicates that they do have long-term plans for him.

Who Makes It: Matt Ryan, Dominique Davis*, Sean Renfree*
Who Doesn’t: Seth Doege*

Read more…

Falcons waive Toone

July 24th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced yesterday that they have waived wide receiver Tim Toone. Toone finished the 2012 season on the Falcons, but did not make any appearances. He was picked up by the team originally on the eve of training camp last summer after being released by the Denver Broncos in the off-season. Originally the final pick of the 2010 draft by the Detroit Lions, Toone spent a year on the Lions practice squad. He was cut by the Lions in September 2011, and finished the year on the practice squad of the Buffalo Bills before the Broncos picked him up after the season.

He joined the Falcons and was waived-injured to start the season. But he was brought back by the team in November of last year due to some of the struggles by Dominique Franks as a punt returner. That was a role that Toone flashed potential last summer in the preseason with the Falcons. The Falcons now have an extra roster spot open on their 90-man roster to begin training camp. Players report today and practices begin tomorrow.

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Camp Battles 2013: Special Teams

July 23rd, 2013 1 comment

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Alford could man both return spots this year

The Falcons brought in a pair of undrafted specialists in Jeremy Shelley and Sean Sellwood to push kicker Matt Bryant and punter Matt Bosher, respectively. Both are longshots and unless Bryant or Bosher get hurt really don’t stand much of a chance to make the roster.

Instead both will be competing in the hopes that it may impress another NFL team that could pick them up at the end of the summer off waivers. If either of them offer much potential for the Falcons it’s Shelley. Matt Bryant is signed through the 2014 season, but is already 38 years old. He’s been highly productive for the Falcons since joining the team late in 2009, but age eventually always catches up. Jason Elam was also solid for the Falcons until he turned 39 that same season, and his inconsistency prompted the team replace him with Bryant. So in reality if Shelley can have an impressive summer, he could be on speed dial in case there is any dropoff from Bryant in the near future. Shelley was one of the more accurate kickers in college football the past few years while at Alabama, specializing on short field goals. He’ll have to prove that he has NFL-caliber leg strength however.

Like Bosher, Sellwood possesses a big leg, but really is just insurance. Bosher struggled throughout his rookie season in 2011, but emerged as one of the top young punters with a much more consistent 2012 season. Sellwood really is only around in case Bosher regresses, which isn’t likely.

Long snapper Josh Harris had a bit of a rocky rookie season, but the Falcons didn’t bring in any direct competition for him. Assuming he doesn’t regress this summer, he should be a lock to retain his spot.

The big battle at this position group will be for the returner positions. Jacquizz Rodgers returned kickoffs last year, while Dominique Franks managed punts. Rodgers was effective at times in his role, but Franks was not. More than likely the Falcons would prefer another young player to emerge at either spot. However, the likelihood that Rodgers has a decreased role on offense due to the presence of Steven Jackson, means that he may better handle return duties. But in reality, he’s probably only going to open the season as the kickoff returner if no one else emerges.

The best candidate may be second round pick Robert Alford. While Alford primarily returned punts in college, his skillset may be better suited to returning kicks due to his excellent straight-line speed. In a perfect world, Alford will take over at both spots and give the Falcons a big play element that has been missing since the heyday of Allen Rossum. He’ll be competing with a number of other potential candidates.

Tim Toone, while not a big play threat as a punt returner, showed last summer that he can be somewhat reliable when it comes to consistently getting yardage. That is a valuable trait in that role and lacking that ability was one of the biggest reasons why Franks struggled last year. Undrafted rookies Rashad Evans and Darius Johnson both offer explosive speed and return experience from college. James Rodgers, Jacquizz’s brother nearly won a spot last summer and if he can improve upon that he is a prime candidate to win one of the spots.

Antone Smith and Harry Douglas also might be in the mix as they have return experience, but really are only options of last resort if no one else emerges.

Camp Battles 2013: Safety

July 22nd, 2013 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Charles Mitchell must fend off several promising youngsters

Starters Thomas DeCoud and William Moore are both coming off Pro Bowl years. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan certainly had a positive effect on both of them as they proved to be one of the most opportunitic pair of safeties in the league. Neither player is expected to be challenged this summer and instead will be focusing upon building towards an even better 2013 season.

But the backup spots behind them are potentially wide open as the Falcons hope one of their young safeties emerge as positive depth. The fact that Moore has been injured nearly every year since joining the team in 2009 makes it important that the Falcons are comfortable and confident with their depth. Last June, the Falcons added veteran Chris Hope because of their discomfort and it remains a possibility that they could seek another veteran at the end of this summer if a young player doesn’t emerge.

The best candidate to emerge is second-year safety Charles Mitchell. Mitchell is in a prime position to become the team’s top backup at the position. He worked last summer at both safety spots. A good run defender that possesses decent range to make plays in coverage, Mitchell is a solid candidate to fill in in the event of an injury to either starter. If there is any negative in regards to Mitchell, it’s the fact that he made minimal contributions on special teams last year. That will need to change given the fact that the team doesn’t often substitute in reserve safeties as they do reserve corners in their subpackages. Thus to merit being active every Sunday, a backup safety needs to make contributions on special teams.

He’ll be pushed by Shann Schillinger and a pair of rookie draft picks in Kemal Ishmael and Zeke Motta. Schillinger missed all of the 2012 season with an injury, but prior to it he was one of the team’s top special teams players. While Schillinger doesn’t offer a ton of upside to be a regular on defense, his special teams ability means he can be active every Sunday and be a contributor. His biggest competition will likely come from Ishmael, who also plays the free safety position. Ishmael was a very active run defender during his days at Central Florida, which is expected to translate into high special teams value.

Zeke Motta will be pushing Mitchell as the reserve strong safety. While Motta doesn’t quite offer the same value defensively that Mitchell does, again if he can showcase more value on special teams he could potentially leap frog him on the depth chart. While there are few star safeties hailing from Notre Dame over the past decade, nearly all have managed to stick on special teams in the NFL, with David Bruton (Broncos), Tom Zbikowski (Bears), and Sergio Brown (Colts) being current standouts.

Because of the presence of so many former draft picks, it’s possible the Falcons will opt to keep five safeties. But the team could potentially hide Motta and/or Ishmael on their practice squad as well. Undrafted rookie Troy Sanders is a longshot even for the practice squad because of the presence of all the former draft picks.

Camp Battles 2013: Cornerback

July 21st, 2013 Comments off
Alan Maglaque-US PRESSWIRE

Dominique Franks is on the bubble

This is the only position on defense that likely will feature a position battle for a starting spot. While Asante Samuel is locked in at the left cornerback position, the right cornerback position is relatively wide open. The team dumped veterans Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson in the off-season, replacing them with rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, their top two picks in 2013. Trufant is expected to win the job because of his higher draft status and the fact that he has NFL bloodlines (two older brothers already in the NFL). But Alford could give him a run for his money. Incumbent nickel corner Robert McClain also could be in the mix for the spot. Regardless, the Falcons won’t be afraid to start either Alford or McClain over Trufant if need be. This is indeed a spot where the best candidate will win the job.

But more than likely, it’s Trufant’s job to lose. He’ll likely man the right cornerback position, which he has throughout the off-season when he’s been available. Alford is considered Samuel’s top backup on the left side, a role he played primarily at Southeastern Louisiana. McClain should remain the team’s nickel guy and man the slot, a role he was surprisingly adept at last season. McClain was a player that was one of the last players to make the team, but was able to turn it into an excellent season once Grimes went down with an Achilles tear. The Falcons hope he can pick up where he left off last season.

His emergence has pushed Dominique Franks to the fringe, and now he’s on the roster bubble. Franks showed potential in 2011 as a nickel corner, but struggled for reps a year ago even after the injury to Grimes. Franks’ ability to make the team is limited by the fact that his value on special teams is minimal. Franks’ struggles as a punt returner are well-documented, but also hurting his case is the fact that he has made almost no contributions in coverage in three seasons. McClain’s ability to contribute there was a key reason why he was able to pass him on the depth chart last summer and during the regular season. Franks’ best hope of making the roster then rests on his ability to be a regular contributor on defense. The presence of two rookie corners limits that, especially given the fact that Alford is also considered a prime candidate to win one of the return jobs, and his speed (potentially the fastest player on the defense) also projects well to finding a role on coverage units. Late last year the Falcons employed more dime looks in their subpackages, with Franks filling a role there. That potentially remains his best odds of making the roster, although again he’ll have to outplay Alford who also would be a candidate for that role.

Special teams ability is likely what will earn potential roster spots for the remainder of the position group. Peyton Thompson spent last year on the team’s practice squad and could propel that into a roster spot this year as the fifth corner. Terrence Johnson is also in the mix due to his experience playing in the nickel for the Indianapolis Colts in 2011. Saeed Lee is an undrafted rookie that was able to earn a contract after being brought in for a tryout. All three have a legit chance to earn the fifth and likely final cornerback spot due to special teams being the primary motivator for that spot. But if any of them emerge as capable defenders it will certainly be a significant factor in who makes the team. That’s why Thompson and Johnson are the likeliest candidates, given their experience over Lee.