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Camp Battles 2012: Secondary

July 19th, 2012 Comments off
Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

Dunta Robinson

One of the most interesting battles that will come in training camp this summer will occur in the secondary, as the Falcons look to shuffle their depth at cornerback.

With the addition of Asante Samuel joining Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes, the Falcons are now three-deep at the cornerback position, and intend to take full advantage of that this season. The nickel package is expected to often be utilized as the Falcons base package with the intent of getting the best 11 defenders on the field at the same time.

But what needs to occur first in camp, is which of the three players will emerge as the two everydown players. Two of the players will play virtually every snap on defense, with the third nickel corner subbing in on passing situations. That third corner will play the majority of snaps on defense overall, but it won’t be every snap. Last year when Grimes was healthy, he and Robinson averaged about 63 snaps per game as starters, while the nickel corner was on the field (a combo of Kelvin Hayden, Dominique Franks, and Chris Owens) for about 36 snaps per game. The latter number is likely to increase, potentially to as high as 45-50 snaps per game.

Robinson and Grimes are the incumbents, and as such got most of the first team reps during the off-season. That means that Samuel will be coming off the bench as the nickel corner. If that remains the case into the season, then in those nickel situations Samuel will play on the outside across from Grimes with Robinson moving inside to the slot corner spot. This is arguably the best usage of the three players since among the three Samuel is the weakest in run support and thus limiting his first and second down reps could streamline his usage. But at the same time, Samuel is also the best playmaker of the group, and thus it would make sense to maximize that ability by putting him on the field as much as possible. Robinson on the other hand is the least likely to make plays in coverage, and while his strength has historically been run support, that was an area where he struggled throughout the 2011 season. He’ll need to show the coaching staff this summer that 2011 was an aberration, and his former toughness against the run has returned.

Franks, Owens, and Darrin Walls will be competing for the opportunity to be the first player off the bench in the event of an injury. Franks is the most likely of the group to win the job. He had his share of moments last year as an injury replacement for Grimes down the stretch. While Franks is not well-suited to playing in the slot, he does have a solid skillset that can make him a potentially effective starter on the outside. And given the looming contract issues that both Robinson and Grimes face in the future, the team may want to groom Franks as a potential replacement come 2013.

The addition of Samuel to the roster means that the Falcons could be parting ways with either Owens or Walls. Walls shined last summer but in the face of minimal competition due to the fact that he was competing with other undrafted free agents. He won’t have such a luxury this year, as he’ll likely be going directly up against Owens for the fifth and likely final cornerback slot. Owens has struggled throughout the years when lined up in the slot, but when he’s been an outside corner as a rookie and late last year, he has been a solid reserve. That experience and versatility coupled with Owens being one of the team’s better producers on special teams should give him an edge to win the job. But it’s no slam dunk. Owens is entering the final year of his contract, and while Walls is probably never going to be a better player than Owens in the long run, the fact that Walls is two years younger and cheaper could give him a slight edge in the competition. The key for Walls is showing that he can also be a very good special teams player. The positive for Walls is that he remains eligible for the practice squad, so it’s possible they could keep both.

There will be added competition at cornerback this summer. The team picked up Robert McClain in the off-season as well as adding undrafted free agents Marty Markett and Peyton Thompson. McClain was a solid special teams player as a rookie in 2010 with the Panthers. And Markett is a track guy from South Carolina that could potentially be an excellent gunner. Thompson has solid cover skills and the sort of toughness that could also make him a capable special teams player. Because of their potential to impact on special teams, all three players have a legit chance of making the roster.

At safety, the starters are settled with Thomas DeCoud at free safety and William Moore at strong safety. The team made a good decision to upgrade their depth by signing veteran Chris Hope. Hope will be the primary backup at strong safety, but he also posseses the experience to fit nicely as the team’s top backup at free safety as well. All three players have firm holds on their roster spots.

The key competition at safety will come for who wins the fourth safety spot. Shann Schillinger will compete with rookie draft pick Charles Mitchell, along with undrafted rookies Chad Faulcon and former practice squad player Suaesi Tuimaunei. Schillinger is one of the team’s top special teams players, which gives him an edge in the competition. But the team likes Mitchell and his skillset should also translate well to producing on special teams. Mitchell is not a great cover guy, but is an ace run defender despite being undersized. Schillinger has not shown a lot on defense the past two summers but he’s a free safety while Mitchell is a pure strong safety. And since Hope is primarily a strong safety, that also gives Schillinger the potential nod. The Falcons may opt to keep five safeties particularly if Schillinger manages to win the job, but Mitchell may also be destined for the practice squad at least early in the year. As for Faulcon and Tuimaunei, they are likely competing for practice squad spots, but will be hard-pressed to do so especially if the Falcons manage to keep five safeties. Their best chances will be impacting on special teams.

Falcons add Hope to secondary

June 29th, 2012 Comments off
Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE

Chris Hope

The team announced the signing of veteran safety Chris Hope, formerly of the Tennessee Titans today. The team made room for hope on the roster by waiving undrafted rookie wideout Cody Pearcy yesterday.

Hope is a ten-year veteran that has spent the past six with the Titans. In that span, he recorded 16 interceptions, 34 pass breakups, 4 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles as the Titans starting strong safety. Hope earned Pro Bowl honors in 2008 with the Titans, where he finished with 78 tackles and 4 interceptions. In 2011, Hope was slowed by injuries. He began the season nursing a bum shoulder, missing two games. In his second start of the year, he broke his arm and missed the next four contests. He returned in Week 10 as a reserve. He managed to end the year with 25 tackles and an interception in 10 appearances. Prior to joining the Titans, Hope played with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he started two out of his four total seasons in Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, Hope was the starter at free safety, playing alongside Troy Polamalu. Originally, a third round pick out of Florida State in 2002. Hope has been noted throughout his career for his leadership skills. He’ll likely supplant both Shann Schillinger and Charles Mitchell as the team’s top safety reserve and his experience at either safety spot means that he can fill in the event of injury to either starters there.

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Moneyball 2011 – Week 15 Review

December 20th, 2011 Comments off

A pretty outstanding performance in this game for the Falcons. The Jaguars basically failed to show up for this one, and the Falcons took full advantage of their no-show.

Matt Ryan had little issue moving the ball through the air, with Roddy White having an outstanding game. Julio Jones also made some really nice plays and catches, but this really was all about Roddy. Tony Gonzalez had a very quiet game. MIchael Turner was solid on the ground, as were Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers in spots. The Falcons offensive line had their struggles trying to get push against the Jaguars front, but they were able to get the job done.

The best performance up front was probably by Clabo, as well as McClure and Blalock having solid games. Hawley had his good moments as well as his bad ones. He gave up a hit that should have been a sack had Ryan not quickly checked it down to Turner. But he continues to show that he’s filled in ably for Harvey Dahl as the team’s dirtiest blocker. He was able to draw a personal foul penalty on Nate Collins by virtue of getting away with horse-collaring Collins down the field away from the ball. Then when Collins retaliated after the whistle, that drew the flag, giving the Falcons a first down instead of punting. The next play, Ryan hit White on an easy 29-yard touchdown pass to put the Falcons lead to 41-0. Jeremy Mincey gave Will Svitek and the others fits throughout the night. Honestly watching this game, I would have to say that Jacksonville’s front seven is really potentially good. The Falcons missed 12 blocks because they got overwhelmed at the point of attack. But their secondary was really bad in this one, but thats understandable when you’re starting third string corners.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLOCK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Roddy White$0$0$13$0$0$0$13.00
Matt Ryan$13$0$0$0$0-$1$12.00
Michael Turner$0$10$0$0$0$0$10.00
Julio Jones$0$1$6-$1$0$0$6.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$4$0$0$0$0$4.00
Jason Snelling$0$3$0$0$0$0$3.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$2.5$0$0$2.50
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$1.5$0$0$1.50
Mike Cox$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Chris Redman$1$0$0$0$0$0$1.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Reggie Kelly$0$0$0$0$0-$1-$1.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Eric Weems$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Joe Hawley$0$0$0-$1$0-$1-$2.00
Will Svitek$0$0$0-$2$0$0-$2.00

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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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Camp Battles 2011: Safeties

July 17th, 2011 Comments off

The safety position is relatively settled compared to most of the defense. The Falcons are firm at the starting positions, and already have their top backup penciled in.

William Moore and Thomas DeCoud will come back for another year as starters, and hopefully will begin to grow together. DeCoud particularly needs to have a stronger year since he is on the verge of free agency after the season. Moore needs to prove he can stay healthy, after being plagued by injuries throughout the first year of his career.

The top backup position will likely go to Shann Schillinger, replacing Erik Coleman. Schillinger is coming off an ankle injury, which reports indicate is only at about 85% as of the beginning of the month. Getting him back to full speed will be important. If not, then the Falcons may seek to add a veteran as an insurance policy, similar to what they did last summer with Matt Giordano.

Rafael Bush is the other safety on the roster and stands a decent chance of making the roster after spending most of last season on the practice squad. However the Falcons likely will want to add another couple of bodies to promote competition, particularly some bigger, more physical strong safeties. That likely will come in undrafted free agency. The Falcons are likely to keep only four safeties, with an open competition for that final spot.

Falcons Weekly Round-Up 7/1

July 1st, 2011 Comments off

Recapping news and headlines involving the Falcons from the week of June 26…

ICON SMI

Stephen Nicholas

‘Big’ Chance Nicholas returns

The Florida Times-Union visited Falcons linebacker Stephen Nicholas at his youth football camp last weekend to discuss the possibility of what he might do this season. Nicholas is a prospective free agent. Nicholas indicated that he wants to test the market, but also said there is a “big” chance that he will return to Atlanta. The Falcons tagged Nicholas with a restricted free agent tender, which he did not sign. But if the Collective Bargaining Agreement is made before the start of the 2011 season, then Nicholas due to having four years of experience should become an unrestricted free agent. Nicholas was a regular attendee of the Falcons player-organized “Camp Exile” during the month of June. (Source: Tania Ganguli, Florida Times-Union)

Schillinger at around 85 percent

Writing up some observations from the Falcons player-organized “Camp Exile,” D. Orlando Ledbetter indicates that free safety Shann Schillinger, who is coming off a broken ankle he suffered in the penultimate game of last season is around 85 percent recovered. Schillinger indicated that he is making steady progress daily on his recovery and can participate in football-related drills, including 7-on-7 drills at Camp Exile. He appeared with a notable limp during the final practice. Schillinger is expected to have a bigger role this year on defense, as he will be tasked with replacing veteran Erik Coleman. (Source: D. Orlando Ledbetter, Atlanta-Journal Constitution)

Mularkey excited about the upcoming year

Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey was enjoying some vacationing time in Cherrokee County, North Carolina when the Andrews Journal caught up with him to discuss the upcoming season. Mularkey spoke on his desire to try and keep the Falcons offensive line intact, due to three of the team’s five starter being impending free agents.

We had five fantastic guys last season. They are a special group, and I wish we could keep them together forever. They are one of the most physical offensive lines in the league. If we don’t sign them back up, it will be disappointing … but that is just business in the NFL.

Mularkey also broached the topic of the Falcons incoming rookie class, praising wideout Julio Jones. He also expressed confidence that even without contact with the coaches, those rookies would be getting a lot of help from Matt Ryan during player-organized workouts, calling the team’s fourth-year quarterback a “coach on the field.” (Source: Robert Horne, Andrews Journal)

Falcons ‘not panicked’ about O-line

On the subject of the potential impending shakeup of the Falcons offensive line, Dan Pompei writes that the Falcons wont’ be too worried if they lose multiple starters via free agency. Offensive tackle Tyson Clabo, and guards Harvey Dahl and Justin Blalock are potential free agents. Per Pompei, the team is confident that three of the linemen they have drafted over the past three drafts: Garrett Reynolds, Mike Johnson, and Joe Hawley, can potentially fill the voids left by any of those players. Reynolds has worked primarily as a reserve at right guard behind Dahl, but played right tackle while in college, making him a possible candidate to replace Clabo. Johnson played left guard last season behind Blalock. Hawley has worked primarily as the backup center behind Todd McClure, but has also gotten reps at the guard spots as well. (Source: Dan Pompei, National Football Post)

Jackson working out on his own

Falcons took Fresno State guard Andrew Jackson in the seventh round of this year’s draft. And while he did not attend any of the team’s player-organized workouts since being drafted, or will be attending along with some of his other new teammates at the NFLPA-organized rookie symposium this week, Jackson has been keeping busy. He has been staying in shape and working out at facilities at his alma mater. He also has spent time visiting local high school football camps to talk to the kids about football. (Source: Anthony Barstow, Grass Valley Union)

Schillinger could follow in DeCoud’s footsteps

May 23rd, 2011 Comments off
Icon Sports Media, Inc.

S Shann Schillinger

Shann Schillinger was the Falcon’s final choice in their 2010 draft class, taken in the sixth round out of Montana. Schillinger wound up playing in fifteen games this year, missing the season finale after breaking his ankle in the Falcons Monday Night loss against the Saints in Week 16.

For the year, Schillinger took a grand total of 3 snaps on regular defense, which came in the garbage minutes in a blowout win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2. He recorded no tackles on defense, but did get 8 stops on special teams, including 2 stops on kickoff coverage that earned him a little by via Moneyball.

Overall, it was a pretty non-descript season for the rookie safety, who turned 25 on Sunday. But Schillinger could be in a position to make a bigger impact with the team in 2011. Since fracturing his ankle, the team let go of veteran safety Erik Coleman and did not take a safety in the draft, as some expected them to do. That means that Schillinger will enter this summer as the team’s top backup at safety. A vital position considering how injury-prone safeties are at this level.

It’s probable that the team’s hope for Schillinger’s future is one of the reasons they chose not to bring back Coleman for the final year of his contract. Schillinger won’t be pushing either of the starter’s but he could be taking a page from starting free safety Thomas DeCoud.

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Camp Battles ’10: Safety

July 25th, 2010 1 comment

The safety position may feature one of the few legitimate competitions for a starting position.

The battle may come between incumbent strong safety Erik Coleman and second-year player William Moore. It was obvious last season that when the Falcons took Moore in the second round of the draft, they envisioned him as a starter. But an injury early in camp derailed his chances of winning that job. And the Falcons plugged in Thomas DeCoud at free safety, and moved Coleman from his natural spot to the strong safety position. Coleman was serviceable as a starter, but his drop in production from 2008 to 2009 indicates that he is not a natural fit at his current position. So if Moore puts together a strong summer, then odds are he can win that position, and Coleman will be relegated to utility reserve.

But the Falcons won’t force Moore into the starting lineup after missing almost the entirety of his rookie year due to injury. They can afford to give him another year to develop before putting him into the lineup. The key for Moore’s chances of winning the job is if he can show that the mental awareness and discipline is there for him to man the starting position. Knowing his assignments in coverage are key for his success.

But after those three players, the competition is wide open. The Falcons may only need to keep four safeties because Coleman can play two positions. And that fourth spot will likely come down to Matt Giordano or Shann Schillinger. And who wins that battle will likely be largely dependent on who plays well on special teams this summer, since that is primarily what that player will do in the regular season. Giordano has more experience, but Schillinger is a rookie draft pick and thus has more long-term value. That probably gives Schillinger a slight edge in the competition.

Gabe Derricks and Rafael Bush are two undrafted free agents that will be in the mix and with good summers of producing on special teams and making some plays on defense could land practice squad roles.

Schillinger signs

June 10th, 2010 Comments off

The Falcons signed safety Shann Schillinger to a four-year deal according to the AJC. He is the second draft pick to sign a contract, as defensive tackle Corey Peters signed a deal on Tuesday.

Schillinger was the Falcons last pick in the sixth round of the draft.

The team also announced that it released undrafted rookie quarterback Eric Ward.

Categories: News Tags: ,

Grading the Falcons 2010 Draft

April 25th, 2010 Comments off

Now that I’ve had a day to let the draft sink in, everybody wants to start grading drafts. Well, here are mine:

1/19. LB Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri
This pick didn’t have me jumping for joy, maybe because I expected it the minute Brandon Graham was snatched up by the Eagles. Perhaps I had set myself up to think we were going to fix our defensive end position with this pick. But that shouldn’t mean I’m disappointed with this pick at all. Weatherspoon is going to be a fixture on our defenses for years to come with the potential to make multiple Pro Bowls. He fits very well in our defense, with his speed, range, and his eagerness to hit. He has good coverage ability that means he’ll be able to cover tight ends like Kellen Winslow and backs like Reggie Bush in our division. His intensity and fierceness make him a near perfect match to put alongside Curtis Lofton. The only real question is just how soon will the Falcons try to reap the benefits of this selection. Weatherspoon is a natural weakside linebacker, and will be miscast on the strongside. The Falcons could move Peterson to the strongside where he played a bit in Jacksonville to try and put their best three linebackers on the field at once. Or they could keep Nicholas in the lineup, and instead trying to bring along Spoon a bit more slowly, incorporating him in subpackages, particularly on passing downs. It really doesn’t matter to me, either way I think Spoon will begin to make his presence known as a rookie. And he’ll almost certainly be the starter in 2011 regardless of what happens next year. GRADE: A

3/83. DT Corey Peters, Kentucky
Dimitroff indicated the team really wanted to address their depth at defensive tackle, and basically “reached” on Peters because they felt that he wasn’t going to be available later in the draft. I buy that, and I can understand why the Falcons liked Peters more than other defensive tackle prospects that were available. He has a good motor, is a capable pass rusher, and should fit nicely in our rotation behind our starters. I don’t really see starting potential with him, and in the middle of the third round you prefer to get guys that can start down the road. But Peters will definitely contribute even if it’s not as a starter. He should be the top tackle off the bench no later than 2011. GRADE: C+

3/98. OG Mike Johnson, Alabama
This pick really appears like the real coup of the Falcons draft. Johnson has Alan Faneca-like ability as a left guard. Johnson is one of the top run blockers in the entire class, and should be able to compete right off the start for a starting job at left guard. His ability to clear running lanes is exactly what the Falcons need at left guard, since Sam Baker is not exactly a road-grader. Johnson’s ability there will help offset that lacking ability from Baker, and allow the Falcons to be more productive running to the left. Johnson’s major weakness is that he’s inconsistent in pass protection. But Faneca has been the same way throughout much of his later career, but like Faneca he can also potentially be a fill-in at tackle as well, although his best position is left guard. Even if Johnson doesn’t unseat Blalock this summer, it’s highly likely that he’ll slide in as the starter in 2011 with Blalock headed to free agency. GRADE: A+

4/117. OC Joe Hawley, UNLV
I don’t know enough about Hawley to really have a strong opinion on this pick. He’s a center that can also play guard, a position he played more during his career than at center. But if he’s a physical player, and almost every thing I read suggests he is, he could be a nice developmental center. Basically he could be another Brett Romberg, and has a chance to be the heir apparent to Todd McClure at center at some point in the next year or two. He is not Alex Mack, but you don’t have to be in order to be a starting NFL center. GRADE: B

5/135. CB Dominique Franks, Oklahoma
Franks entered this draft early because the NFL draft advisory board probably told him he would be a second round pick back in January. Well they were obviously wrong, because he fell. But he could be a potential steal. Franks isn’t great, but is a solid corner that should definitely be able to compete for a starting job in the near future. For now, he’ll probably push Grimes and Owens for the nickel job, but with his size he could leapfrog both as the heir apparent to Brian Williams as the starter in 2011 and beyond. At the very least, he should add depth if not becoming a serviceable starter down the road. GRADE: B+

5/165. WR Kerry Meier, Kansas
Meier is a player you like when you watch him play. He has good hands, nice size, and does a good job moving the chains in Kansas wide-open spread attack. He was very productive, but I’m not convinced he’ll be a factor on offense at the NFL level because of a lack of burst and speed. He’s targeted to fill the role that Brian Finneran holds on the team, and his first duties will be on special teams. He’s a guy that I think could bulk up and work as a wideout/H-back, a role that Finneran filled for much of last season before he got hurt. GRADE: C

6/171. S Shann Schillinger, Montana
Schillinger was drafted to fill depth and will push Matt Giordano as the reserve free safety and special teams. Again, don’t know much about him, but I’m at least hopeful that there’s a chance he can be developed somewhat and fill the role as a reserve safety that Erik Coleman is expected to fill this year. If he can be a stud special teams player and a capable reserve a few years down the road, then this is a solid pick. GRADE: B-

OVERALL GRADE: B

This draft will largely be judged down the road on how good of NFL players Weatherspoon and Johnson will be. Both have Pro Bowl potential, and if they develop into that then no one is really going to care about the rest of this class. If Peters also develops into a solid No. 3 defensive tackle, Hawley is a competent starter, and Franks, Meier, and Schillinger can contribute off the bench, then that only makes this draft class stronger.