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Free Agent Focus: Safeties

February 15th, 2012 1 comment

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Thomas DeCoud

The Falcons have two free agents that they have to decide whether to keep or let test the market: starting free safety Thomas DeCoud and utility backup James Sanders. In a perfect world the Falcons probably manage to hang onto both, but given other priorities, it’s possible one or both players slip through the cracks.

DeCoud has been up and down as a Falcon, but he’s generally been solid as the team’s free safety. Sanders was a nice late summer addition because he can play either safety spot, filling in that depth role vacated by Erik Coleman. There was some hope that when Sanders was signed, he could give the Falcons cause to let DeCoud walk if need be. But Sanders did not quite play at that level this year. He was serviceable when asked to fill in, but was not a significant upgrade when he was on the field versus when DeCoud suited up.

New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will have to make a decision on whether he thinks DeCoud or Sanders can potentially be the quarterback of the secondary in this new scheme. Or he will have to find another option.

One obvious alternative choice would be DaShon Goldson, a player that Nolan drafted in San Francisco. Goldson is coming off a breakout season where he had 6 interceptions. The concern with Goldson is that up until this year, he really was not anything more than an above average player. And any team that is going to pay him will have to determine if his emergence was due to his natural progression and development, or simply because of the introduction of a new scheme by Vic Fangio. If it’s the latter, then there is a buyer’s beware on him.

Outside Goldson, there are few free safeties that jump out for the Falcons to sign. Jim Leonhard (Jets) has a bit of the intangibles that the Falcons probably would want as leader in their secondary, but he’s finished his second straight season on injured reserve and will be 30 in October. His teammate Brodney Pool is a ballhawk, but a bit too one-dimensional as he’s a suspect run defender.

Reggie Nelson is known by head coach Mike Smith, and played well as a rookie in 2007. But in the ensuing years after Smith’s departure, his play dropped off significantly. But he had a nice bounce-back season this past year in Cincinnati. But the issue with Nelson is whether you can count on him to maintain that level of play.

One other player near the top of the list is Tennessee’s Michael Griffin. Griffin has not quite developed into the elite safety the Titans envisioned when they made him their top pick in 2007. But he is a fast, athletic safety that at least offers some upside.

But in truth, there are no obvious upgrades over a player such as DeCoud on the market. When examining their entire bodies of work, nobody’s really stands out above his. This is the classic sort of free agent market where mid-level starting safeties get overpaid. If the Falcons can re-up with DeCoud on a hometown discount, that probably makes the most sense.

If the Falcons lose Sanders and are looking for more of a utility backup, one option out there is Jordan Babineaux, younger brother of Jonathan. Babineaux can play either safety spot as well as nickel cornerback, giving the team options there. But in the end, the Falcons should probably try and keep both DeCoud and Sanders. If they were to prioritize one over the other, then DeCoud is probably the better choice. But if the Falcons are going to want to find a player that is a significant upgrade at free safety, they will need to focus on finding him in the draft.

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Year-End Superlatives: Top Newcomer

January 5th, 2012 Comments off

This is meant to distinguish which non-rookie addition to the team (i.e. free agent) stood out the most. At the midpoint, Kelvin Hayden was the pick. By year’s end, I can’t really take it away from him.

Hayden missed the last five games with injury, which is sort of damning that none of the other players were able to step up and take this honor from him in that span. And those other options would be Ray Edwards, James Sanders, and Reggie Kelly.

More on Edwards will come later, but he certainly did not produce anywhere to the level many expected from him. He was rarely a factor as a pass rusher, and while he made solid contributions as a run defender, the Falcons already had that player in Jamaal Anderson before.

Sanders got numerous opportunities to perform, having started for Thomas DeCoud early in the year, and William Moore later when he was out with injury. And while Sanders was okay, he never really stood out either against the pass or a run defender.

And don’t get me started on Reggie Kelly. He brought nothing to the table. He was tasked to be a blocker, but did very little there, and his lone reception was practically on account of charity by Matt Ryan.

So again, you’re stuck with Kelvin Hayden. Hayden was a solid pickup in the nickel. He wasn’t great all the time, but he at least inspired confidence that unlike Chris Owens, he was not going to get abused in that role. And while he gave his share of receptions, rarely were they big, game-changing ones like constantly seemed to be the case when Owens was in that role.

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Baker could return this week, Jones might not

November 18th, 2011 Comments off

The Falcons released their injury report this week, and Sam Baker was listed as questionable after limited participation in all three days of practice. Baker missed the past three games with a back injury. Two weeks ago he was reportedly expected to miss 3-4 weeks. He has been replaced by Will Svitek in the team’s past three outings.

Wide receiver Julio Jones was also listed as questionable, despite not practicing all week due to re-aggravating a hamstring injury in last week’s loss to the Saints. Jones suffered the original injury in a Week 5 loss against the Packers, missed two games, but then returned two weeks ago to have a big game against the Colts. If Jones is unable to go on Sunday, he will be replaced by Harry Douglas who is coming off a career high performance against New Orleans.

Expected to miss a second consecutive game is William Moore (quadricep), as he also did not practice this week. James Sanders will start in place of him at strong safety.

Several other players were listed as probable for this weekend’s game against the Tennessee Titans. Harry Douglas (thigh), Ray Edwards (knee), and Antone Smith (knee) all were able to participate fully in the past two days of practice and were probable. Brent Grimes (knee) and Jason Snelling (hamstring) were both limited on Wednesday and Thursday, but participated fully in Friday’s practice. Curtis Lofton (ankle) was added to the injury report after Thursday, but also went full bore on Friday. John Abraham and Todd McClure were also included on the injury report, but only because both were held out of Wednesday’s practice for non-injury related rest. They had full participation in both Thursday and Friday’s practices.

The Titans linebacker corps is shaken up with starters Gerald McRath (hamstring) and Barrett Ruud (groin) both listed as questionable on their injury report. Both were able to practice fully on Friday. Backup linebacker Colin McCarthy (knee) is also questionable after missing the last two days of practice. Defensive end Dave Ball will miss the game with a concussion.

Jones Doubtful against Lions

October 21st, 2011 Comments off

Falcons wideout Julio Jones was listed as doubtful on Friday’s injury report for the team’s Week 7 matchup against the Detroit Lions. Jones missed last week’s game against the Carolina Panthers, after suffering a hamstring injury during the fourth quarter of the team’s loss to the Green Bay Packers the previous week. Jones did not practice at all this week and looks like he will miss a second straight game.

If Jones misses the game, he will be joined by cornerback Chris Owens, who was listed as out as he still recovers from a concussion he suffered against the Packers. Owens missed last week’s Panther game as well due to the same injury.

Four Falcon players were listed as questionable on their injury report: defensive end John Abraham (groin), offensive tackle Sam Baker (back), center Todd McClure (knee), and guard Garrett Reynolds (ankle). Abraham sat out the Packer game due to the injury, but returned last week against the Panthers. He was able to have limited participation in Thursday and Friday’s practices. If he misses the game, he’ll likely be replaced by Kroy Biermann at right defensive end. Baker missed both Wednesday and Thursday practices, but was back in limited duty on Friday. Baker suffered from durability concerns his first two years in Atlanta, but has managed to start 26 straight games without injury. If he sits out this weekend’s game, he’ll be replaced by offensive tackle Will Svitek in the starting lineup at left tackle. Svitek started twice in place of Baker during 2009. McClure has been in and out of the lineup throughout this year due to a knee injury. His backup Joe Hawley has already started three games thus far this year, pulling his last start against the Packers. Reynolds suffered his ankle injury against the Packers, but has managed to finish that game as well as start last week. Like Abraham, he sat out Wednesday’s practice, but was able to return on a limited basis each of the past two days.

Also listed on the injury repot are defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (Knee), tight end Tony Gonzalez (elbow), safety James Sanders (hamstring), and wide receiver Roddy White (knee). Babineaux, Gonzalez, and White all participated fully in the three days of practice this week, but have been limited by their respective injuries somewhat in past weeks. Sanders missed last week’s game against the Panthers but was able to go fully in Friday’s practice.

For the Lions, running back Jahvid Best has been declared out with a concussion. Wide receiver Rashied Davis (foot) and safety Vincent Fuller (elbow) both were listed as doubtful on Friday’s injury report. Cornerback Aaron Berry (groin) and defensive end Willie Young (calf) were also listed as questionable.

Jones Out for Week 6

October 13th, 2011 Comments off
ICON SMI

Jones waves goodbye

The Falcons ruled wide receiver Julio Jones out for this weekend’s game against the Carolina Panthers due to a hamstring injury he suffered in the fourth quarter while running a deep pattern. In the absence of Jones, the Falcons will likely look for more contributions from reserve Kerry Meier, who in four games played so far this year, has yet to make an appearance on regular offense.

Also not participating in Wednesday’s practice, but their status has yet to be determined for this week’s game are: defensive end John Abraham (groin), tight end Tony Gonzalez (elbow), center Todd McClure (knee), safety William Moore (knee), cornerback Chris Owens (concussion), and guard Garrett Reynolds (ankle).

McClure did not play against the Packers, with Joe Hawley starting in his place for the third time this year in five games. Moore, Owens, and Reynolds all left last weekend’s game with their respective injuries, although Reynolds managed to re-enter the game after suffering his injury. Gonzalez managed to play through his injury.

Also listed on the Falcons injury report were defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, defensive end Cliff Matthews, safety James Sanders, and wide receiver Roddy White. All four players had limited participation in practice. Matthews sat out last week’s game with his knee issue. Babineaux returned last week after suffering an MCL sprain during the season opener.

Moneyball 2011 – Week 2 Review

September 20th, 2011 Comments off

The Falcons did not have their most stellar performance against the Eagles, but they made plays at critical points in the game to pull out the victory.

Offensively, Matt Ryan did not really get going until the fourth quarter, where he earned $7 of his $9.50 passing the ball. Michael Turner had a good start with $7 in the first half, but went quiet until his big runs late in the game. Tony Gonzalez was money in this game with his two touchdown grabs and ability to move the chains. Roddy White and Julio Jones were fairly quiet for most of the game, although they had some key catches at certain points in the game. But at least from the Eagles perspective, they should feel happy about their two highly paid corners containing both White and Jones pretty much the entire night.

Up front, the blocking was hit and miss just like last week. Sam Baker really struggled going against Trent Cole, which was the same issue he had a year ago. Reynolds gave up an early sack but had a fairly solid game the rest of the way. Clabo also struggled on the outside getting beat by Jason Babin several times. Blalock was the best up front, and Hawley had his really good moments as well as his share of mental errors and mistakes. If and when McClure returns, the Falcons can iron out many of the inconsistencies.

The Falcons inability to move the ball on the ground in the third quarter was a big reason why the Eagles were able to get back into the game and take a 10-point lead then.

Ryan saw a lot of pressure throughout the game from the edges, but some of it was on him getting happy feet in the pocket after he took a couple of early hits.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Michael Turner$0$9$2$0$0$0$11.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$9$1.5$0$0$10.50
Matt Ryan$9.5$1$0$0$0-$1$9.50
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$3$0$0$0$0$3.00
Roddy White$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Ovie Mughelli$0$0$2$0$0$0$2.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Julio Jones$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Eric Weems$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Reggie Kelly$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Michael Palmer$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0-$1.5$0$0-$1.50
Joe Hawley$0$0$0$0$0-$2-$2.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$2.5$0$0-$2.50

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Sanders signs one-year deal with Falcons

August 30th, 2011 1 comment
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James Sanders

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that free agent safety James Sanders agreed to a one-year deal with the Falcons today. Sanders visited and worked out for the Falcons earlier today, after being cut by the New England Patriots on Monday.

Sanders is a six-year veteran that served off and on as a starter for the Patriots since being drafted by them in the fourth round of the 2005 draft out of Fresno State. He has played both free and strong safety in the past. He played the former position primarily when the Patriots had Rodney Harrison at strong safety, and then moved to strong safety in recent years with the introduction of Brandon Meriweather to the lineup. He split time with Patrick Chung at the strong safety position last season. He started 9 games, finishing with 56 tackles and 3 interceptions. Sanders also has produced on special teams, tallying 30 career tackles over his career in New England.

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Falcons will take a look at Sanders

August 29th, 2011 Comments off

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Falcons will meet with free agent safety James Sanders on Tuesday. Sanders was released by the New England Patriots earlier today.

Sanders is well-known to Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, who was in New England when that team drafted Sanders in the fourth round of the 2005 draft. In his six seasons with the Patriots, Sanders provided valuable depth for the Patriots at both free and strong safety in the past.  He served as the team’s starting free safety in 2007 and 2008, before being reduced to a part-time role the past two seasons when the Patriots used a second round pick on Patrick Chung in the 2009 draft. He has played both free and strong safety in the past for the Patriots. For his career, Sanders has started 50 games, recorded 279 tackles and picked off 8 passes.

If the Falcons sign Sanders, it will likely be to add depth at either safety positions where he can work as the top reserve behind both Thomas DeCoud and William Moore. Currently, Shann Schillinger and Rafael Bush are slated to fill those rules. Both are second-year players that have yet to record a tackle on regular defense in 15 appearances between them.

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