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Falcons 2014 Training Camp: Day 4 Report

July 28th, 2014 No comments
From AtlantaFalcons.com

Jake Matthews. From AtlantaFalcons.com

Let’s take a look at the various tweets, articles, reports, news and rumors that surfaced from the fourth day of Atlanta Falcons training camp:

The Falcons participated in their first padded practice of training camp today and really got after it. Notably, there were a pair of fights between offensive and defensive linemen.

The first fight occurred when offensive tackle Gabe Carimi and defensive end Stansly Maponga got into it. It then spread to center Joe Hawley and outside linebacker Jacques Smith. Hawley had some choice words for Smith afterwards. The media on hand at practice called it a draw.

The second fight involved offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder and Smith again.

Of course, head coach Mike Smith was less focused on the aggression showed in practice, but the more on technical things like pad level.

But today’s practice also meant a shift in philosophy:

The Falcons ran the Oklahoma drill, which you can see an example of here. D. Orlando Ledbetter breaks it down at the AJC. Fullback Patrick DiMarco was one player that reportedly shined.

The shift in philosophy and atmosphere the Oklahoma drill signifies was not lost on some observers:

Other highlights of the day included the play of defensive tackle Travian Robertson in one-on-one drills. Rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews drew heaps of praise:

And according to Smitty, Matthews is on the fast track along with defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman for increased reps. But Hageman may have been less than dominant at times today.

The punt block drill drew some eyes as well.

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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Team Needs: Falcons Tackles Could be Shuffled Around

January 31st, 2014 Comments off

 Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Questions surround Sam Baker’s future

The issue the Atlanta Falcons face in terms of their offensive tackle position isn’t necessarily about whether certain players will return, but rather what roles they might return in.

Although some had the foresight to question it, it’s become abundantly clear in hindsight that the contract the Falcons gave left tackle Sam Baker last March was a bad one. The team is faced with the scenario of paying him an option bonus which likely will lock him to being a Falcon for the next two seasons. While it’s possible the Falcons could decide to get out of the contract, it does not appear that is their plans, likely due to the significant cap penalties they would face over the next year or two. So it seems that Baker will return next season and open up the offseason as a starter. The only real question is whether that will be playing left tackle or another position.

It’s likely that Baker will man the left tackle position once again in 2014. But it’s possible that dependent on what moves the Falcons make this offseason, he could be switching positions. Baker’s brief stint at right guard did not go well in 2011, making a possible switch to right tackle more doubtful. If that happens, then it will be due to the Falcons spending on a free agent or using a high pick on another left tackle. The latter seems more plausible of the two scenarios, since it’s doubtful the Falcons are willing to dole out another large contract that it would take to entice such a free agent to Atlanta given their investment in Baker. And drafting a tackle will depend on whether or not the Falcons like the premier prospects at the top of the draft, whether they are on the board on May 8, and if the Falcons can shore up other needs across the roster in free agency. All of which are unknown quantities to date, making it doubtful that is planned path moving forward.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 52 “Post-Turner Stress Disorder”

December 17th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are joined by Dave Choate of the Falcoholic to recap the Atlanta Falcons’ Week 15 win over the Washington Redskins as well as preview their primetime Week 16 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. We all agree that it was an ugly win for the Falcons and search for positives that can be taken away. We discuss Mike Shanahan’s decision to go for two, lineup changes to the offensive line, Steven Jackson trucking Josh Wilson, and which San Antonio Spur that Tony Gonzalez compares most to. A lot of this episode centers on the cornerback position with Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, and Asante Samuel occupying a large chunk of the discussion. I give my thoughts on the evolution of defense and what it could mean for the value of the cornerback position in the future. And of course Allen and I close with discussing the playoff races, the epic collapse of the Dallas Cowboys, the Arizona Cardinals becoming our new favorite team among other NFL topics in their ‘Around the League’ segment.

Episode 52: Post-Turner Stress Disorder [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Dave writes for The Falcoholic and can be found on twitter: @TheFalcoholic.

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Moneyball 2013 – Week 14 Review

December 10th, 2013 Comments off

A very disappointing finish to a game with a promising start for the Atlanta Falcons.

The offense never really looked comfortable in the cold of Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. The Falcons offense reverted back to the conservative, dinking and dunking of previous weeks (as opposed to last week’s win), and there was only one instance where the Falcons took a shot downfield before the fourth quarter. Sure, you can partially blame the cold and wind (although it wasn’t that windy) that limited how much the Falcons could let things fly, but I’ve long said that the link between this offense scoring and generating big plays is significant. And they simply didn’t have many in this game (just two before the final minute), which is why the offense really only had one successful drive. And it’s not a coincidence that both of their big plays came on that drive. It boils down to the fact that the team did not try hard enough to get those big plays.

I don’t think Matt Ryan had a great game. I saw too many throws that were off the mark, but I’ll partially blame the weather for some of that. I also didn’t like that Ryan seemed to be staring down his initial read quite a bit in this game, which was often Roddy White. White had a good game, so for the most part it didn’t hurt Ryan too much. But it did on the final play where he forced a throw to Harry Douglas, when he potentially had Darius Johnson open on the other side. Johnson was singled up in coverage, and had Ryan made a good throw on that play, it potentially could have set up a very long field goal (likely 53-55 yards) that could have won it rather than the pick.

I don’t want to sound like I’m blaming Ryan for the loss, but it was a rather nondescript performance from him. I thought he had fairly good protection. The Packers started to use more stunts at the end of the game once they realized that Peter Konz and Ryan Schraeder couldn’t handle them. It was one such stunt that disrupted the throw with 21 seconds left on the play preceding the infamous Douglas drop. I thought Schraeder handled himself relatively well since it was his most extensive playing time. The sack he gave up to Mike Neal was a result of just bad technique and footwork. I don’t see any reason why Trueblood should get his job back at this point.

Peter Konz is simply a liability at right guard. When you’re getting beat by a speed rush from B.J. Raji, it tells me you have no business playing guard. I think it’s time the Falcons gave Harland Gunn a look over these last three games.

Lamar Holmes had his share of struggles against Clay Matthews with all of his hurries coming against him. Joe Hawley had a nice block downfield on the 22-yard run by Steven Jackson, and Justin Blalock was his usual solid, but unspectacular self.

I could say some negative things about Douglas and his drop at the end of the game, but I’d just be repeating myself.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$12$0$0$0$0$0$12.00
Steven Jackson$0$7-$1$0$0$0$6.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$2$4$0$0$0$6.00
Roddy White$0$0$5$1$0$0$5.00
Drew Davis$0$0$4$0$0$0$4.00
Joe Hawley$0$0$0$3$0$0$3.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$1$1$0$0$2.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Lamar Holmes$0$0$0$1$0-$1$0.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Jeremy Trueblood$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Harry Douglas$0$0-$1$0$0$0-$1.00
Ryan Schraeder$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00

Read more…

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 48 “Soft Spot for the Jaguars”

November 20th, 2013 1 comment

On this week’s episode, Allen and I are joined by Matt Chambers, a writer for the Falcoholic. We express our condolences over the death of Thomas Howard before getting into the discussion about our favorite team: the Atlanta Falcons. We discuss whether defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is to blame for the defensive troubles seen stemming from Bobby Rainey’s breakout performance in Week 11. We break new ground by mentioning the name Jadeveon Clowney for the first time on the podcast, and begin to look ahead to next spring’s draft, as well as discuss many of the misses from past years’ drafts. We discuss whether Steven Jackson is expendable, and just how much Antone Smith’s performance against the Buccaneers means to his future role with the team. That brings us to a discussion of what the Falcons future plans should be at the running back position. We discuss the “mass benching” that occurred vs. Tampa Bay, and how it could affect things particularly on the offensive line. We close with Matt by discussing the upcoming matchup against the New Orleans Saints in Week 12, and whether or not a blowout is inevitable. Allen and I then have a long discussion about other teams around the league because it’s more interesting than anything going on with the Falcons.

Episode 48: Soft Spot for the Jaguars [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Matt Chambers can be found on twitter: @FalconsM5, and also writes for The Falcoholic.

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Moneyball 2013 – Week 11 Review

November 19th, 2013 1 comment

This game reminded me some of the classic sorts of games the Atlanta Falcons would typically lose in past years, particularly in matchups against the Saints. The Falcons would have a number of opportunities, but due to a few too many breakdowns, they wouldn’t be able to take advantage of them.

The key difference is that this game wasn’t against a Super Bowl-contending Saints team, but against a cellar-dwelling Tampa Bay Bucs team. And the other difference is that after the twenty-minute mark, the Falcons took a notable dive. Bobby Rainey ran for a 43-yard touchdown, which was followed by an onside kick recovery, and things snowballed from there. And that’s when the bad Falcons team that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the past month showed up. Before the Falcons could blink, things quickly went from a competitive 3-3 tie three minutes into the second quarter to a 24-3 score in a nine-minute span.

I honestly thought that the Falcons offensive game plan and execution through the first quarter was pretty solid. The only real mistakes were the pair of sacks given up by Peter Konz. Konz just couldn’t handle Gerald McCoy’s quickness and speed, his lack of footwork and punching power showed.

Then at the outset of the second quarter, the Falcons were moving the ball but then things ground to a halt once they got into the red zone. On 1st-and-5 at the Buccaneer 18, Lamar Holmes whiffed on a block that allowed Adrian Clayborn to chase down Jacquizz Rodgers for a 3-yard loss. Then Ryan looked for Rodgers over the middle on a check down but McCoy read it perfectly, sitting back to try and knock down the throw. Ryan tried to throw it over him, and it was off the mark to Rodgers. And then McCoy beat Konz for a third time on the next play, using power this time, and forcing the Falcons to settle for a field goal.

If I’m desperately looking for a positive, it would to say that at least up until this point in the game, the Falcons looked similar to the team they were at the outset of this season, which was a team that could move the ball before things stalled in the red zone. So perhaps that could be considered improvement from some of their recent performances.

But thereafter, the Falcons really did nothing offensively. Ryan did not have a good game as he saw quite a bit of pressure up the middle, particularly from McCoy (3 sacks, 3 pressures). And the Bucs were also effective with delayed blitzes and stunts from other players. But Ryan was not very accurate and was off-target on a lot of throws, matching his season-high of 7 poor throws. He also had 7 against the Cardinals, but it should be noted that Ryan threw the ball 61 times against Arizona as opposed to only 36 attempts against Tampa Bay.

And once again, the Falcons didn’t really dial up any deep shots. On the red zone play I mentioned earlier, other receivers did run deeper routes, but Ryan looked for Rodgers underneath. Although I can’t really blame him because Rodgers was the only receiver that got open thanks to bracket coverage on Tony Gonzalez. The first real designed deep play didn’t come until 1:50 left in the second quarter, where Ryan could have taken a deep shot to Roddy where he was 1-on-1 against Darrelle Revis on the outside. But in truth, Ryan really wanted no part of Revis throughout the game, content to basically look at other receivers. That reminded me of a younger Ryan, when he would generally avoid top cornerbacks (I’m reminded of games against Antoine Winfield and Charles Woodson from 2008-10) at all costs. On that particular play, Ryan locked onto Harry Douglas early, but Dashon Goldson was in position, thus forcing Ryan to flee the pocket and ultimately throw it to Antone Smith for a 4-yard gain. That again led to another field goal. It should be noted that White wasn’t open on that play, but it just illustrates the current tentative state of the offense. Whether due to the fear of Revis Island or Roddy not being 100-percent, in previous seasons (or even games this season) I could guarantee you that would have been Ryan’s first read.

In the second half, the Falcons took a few more measured shots down the field, but didn’t connect because Ryan either made a bad pass or the pass protection wasn’t there. The deepest passes Ryan threw was a 16-yard throw on the 80-yard touchdown to Douglas, which was largely thanks to Mark Barron being out of position. And then later, Ryan’s second interception was when he forced a pass to Douglas over the middle on a 17-yard throw. Goldson picked it off as Ryan did not look him off. He had Tony Gonzalez open on a corner route where he had gotten behind Lavonte David.

As for Dominique Davis, in his limited action, the play-calling centered on quick drops and throws to get the ball out quickly. With the Bucs settling for underneath stuff, Davis had little issues completing most of his throws. His best pass was one where he threw a laser to Douglas, but it went through Douglas hands probably due to timing and the ball came on him out of his break probably a lot faster than he’s used to with Ryan’s throws.

I thought the running game looked fairly solid. Steven Jackson ran hard early, broke some tackles, and seemed to out-producing his blocking. It’s funny because that was often the case with Michael Turner last year, where after games where I was highly critical of Turner in suggesting he needs to be benched (and I had similar sentiments with Jackson last week), he came out and had a strong performance. Then he’d typically fall back to Earth the following week, so we’ll see if Jackson bucks that trend against the Saints on Thursday. If Rodgers had gotten better blocking, he could have had a more productive game. Antone Smith showed good speed in garbage reps and I think the team needs to be more willing to get him involved on some screen passes in future games.

I should also note that the official box score credited Josh Vaughan with a 12-yard catch when it was clearly Gonzalez that made the catch.

As previously noted, the blocking was poor. I thought Ryan Schraeder handled himself down the stretch, although I didn’t see anything to suggest he was clearly better than Jeremy Trueblood. But I do think he needs more reps and maybe alternating series would be a good idea this week. Just like Konz, Garrett Reynolds had his hands full against McCoy, but seemed a bit better because he is stronger and has a better punch. Joe Hawley handled himself fairly well in the middle. He’s a much better second-level blocker than Konz is, and looked similar to an older Todd McClure in the sense of his ability to get position but not push as a run blocker. If that sort of competent performance continues for Hawley, there’s no reason to plug Konz back into the lineup. I’m more than willing to give Konz another shot in 2014, but at this point it’s clear that he’s not among the best five-man unit the Falcons could field.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Steven Jackson$0$6$4$0$0$0$10.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$6$0$0$0$6.00
Antone Smith$0$6$0$0$0$0$6.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$4$0$0$0$0$4.00
Matt Ryan$4$0$0$0$0$0$4.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$3$1$0-$1$3.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Jeremy Trueblood$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Dominique Davis$1$0$0$0$0$0$1.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Levine Toilolo$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Roddy Whtie$0$0$3$0$0-$3$0.00
Joe Hawley$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Ryan Schraeder$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Lamar Holmes$0$0$0$0$0-$1-$1.00
Darius Johnson$0$0-$2$0$0$0-$2.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0-$2$0$0-$2.00

Read more…

Takeaways from Week 8

October 28th, 2013 2 comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

How Much Change Will Arthur Blank Demand in 2014?

The big question last week was whether or not Atlanta’s win over Tampa Bay was because they caught a bad team on the verge of collapse or because the Falcons were finally showing signs of life after a disappointing start to their 2013 season.

Well, judging from their performance on Sunday in their 27-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, it certainly doesn’t appear to be the latter.

The Falcons season appears to be done as the team now falls to 2-5 and with upcoming matchups against better teams than Arizona in Carolina, Seattle, and New Orleans over the next four games, they will be hard-pressed to get back to .500. While anything is possible on any given Sunday, the Falcons would need so many things to go their way to pull victories over those teams. And very little has gone the Falcons way this year.

Time for the Youth Movement

We’ve reached the point in the year where the main focus is going to be evaluating much of the young talent on the roster. But thanks to the plethora of injuries the Falcons have suffered this year, they already are evaluating a lot of their younger players. Players like Jonathan Massaquoi, Joplo Bartu, Paul Worrilow, Desmond Trufant, and Robert Alford are now logging serious reps on defense. And the Falcons are going to get long looks at their young receivers such as Drew Davis, Darius Johnson, and Levine Toilolo going forward. The positive is that the experience gained by these players should make them better NFL players. Unfortunately for the Falcons, that likely won’t really pay off until 2014 and beyond.

But the Falcons will need to start mixing in other young players more. I’d like to see Ryan Schraeder get mixed into the lineups on game day. He shouldn’t supplant any starter, but he should be given a couple of series here and there. Let’s face it, Jeremy Trueblood is not a long-term option for the Falcons. As explained two weeks ago, due to price tag and draft status, the Falcons have a vested interest in Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes, respectively, seeing the field. But that is not the case with Trueblood even though he hasn’t been the weakest link among the Falcons starting five, he is the most expendable of the group. The Falcons should try to give Schraeder a couple of series in the coming weeks, and see how he handles going up against players like Charles Johnson, Chris Clemons, and Cameron Jordan as an important evaluation tool on his future.

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Waiver Wire Scouting: Offensive Tackles

September 1st, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons are unlikely to be done with roster moves as they prep for the season opener against the New Orleans Saints one week from today.

It would be surprising to see the Falcons carry six running backs into the regular season, something they’ve never really done. They also retained offensive tackle Terren Jones on the roster, a surprising move considering how raw and inconsistent Jones looked in camp. He seemed much more likely as a practice squad candidate than someone that would make any contributions this season. Instead, it would make a bit more sense if the Falcons targeted a veteran tackle that could serve as insurance in case Lamar Holmes and/or Ryan Schraeder don’t solidify the right tackle position this season instead of Jones.

As far as offensive tackles go, the crop isn’t overly strong. Several of the players I figured to be on the roster bubble earlier this month did wind up getting cut. Dennis Roland, Jeremy Trueblood, Tony Pashos, and Kenny Wiggins all got cut. Bryce Harris was retained by the Saints, instead they cut Marcel Jones and his glorious afro. Jonathan Scott didn’t get the boot in Chicago, J’Marcus Webb did instead. Oakland’s Willie Smith was waived/injured, meaning he will wind up on the Raiders’ injured reserve if he is not claimed.

Of that group, no one leaps out. Pashos is the most established veteran. He just turned 33 earlier this month, and started 12 games with the Cleveland Browns at right tackle in 2011. He could be an emergency stopgap. But Pashos has struggled to stay healthy in recent years as his age has caught up to him.

Roland got worked over in the Falcons preseason matchup against Cincinnati. Trueblood has always been terrible. Wiggins is familiar to Pat Hill, having played for him at Fresno State. He certainly was battle-tested going up against quality defenders in San Francisco all summer. Jones is a massive guy with upside as a blocker, but lost out in a competition to the more consistent Harris. Webb had a lackluster summer, and coupled with a change in coaching staff was swept out the door. He has experience as a starter (44 starts) and can play either side of the line having started at both. Webb is infamous for being the embodiment of a porous Bears offensive line the past three years, and certainly that reputation is somewhat deserved. Although forgotten is that Webb was relatively solid a year ago playing left tackle. He still has far too many lapses, but outside an abysmal performance against Aldon Smith last year, he graded out about as well as Sam Baker did in pass protection (according to Pro Football Focus). That makes Webb the most talented of the group, and to be plugged in potentially as a swing tackle makes some sense.

I think a lot of Falcon fans are optimistic that the Falcons can scour the waiver wire for a player that can be plugged in immediately at right tackle and be an upgrade over Lamar Holmes. Well, that is not going to happen. If a player the Falcons add winds up playing this year, it won’t be under promising circumstances.

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Falcons get to 53 with 9 more cuts

August 31st, 2013 Comments off

Just before the deadline, the Falcons officially announced the last nine cuts. The team had already made 13 moves yesterday in their effort to get down to the 53-man roster limit by 6 pm Eastern today. Among those cut were: fullback Patrick DiMarco, linebacker Robert James, wide receivers Darius Johnson, Martel Moore, and James Rodgers, cornerback Jordan Mabin, guards Phillipkeith Manley and Jacques McClendon, and defensive tackle Adam Replogle.

These moves may not be the final moves the Falcons make in regards to their roster as they have typically also picked opposing teams’ players off the waiver wire in recent years. Tomorrow the Falcons can establish their eight-man practice squad as well.

These moves indicate that at least for the time being, the Falcons will keep four undrafted free agents on their roster in linebackers Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow, as well as offensive tackles Terren Jones and Ryan Schraeder. Guard Harland Gunn made the roster, beating out both Manley and McClendon. Wide receiver Kevin Cone retained his spot as the team’s fifth receiver. The Falcons currently have six running backs on their roster including fullback Bradie Ewing. The team opted to keep Antone Smith and Josh Vaughan at tailback, after it seemed likely only one would stick around. Other bubble players that seemingly have retained jobs are cornerback Dominique Franks and defensive tackle Peria Jerry. The Falcons also retained all of their draft picks, except quarterback Sean Renfree who went on injured reserve yesterday.

Dominique Davis is the team’s lone backup quarterback as of now. Again, the Falcons could continue to make more moves in the next week as they fine-tune their roster in preparation for their season-opening game against the New Orleans Saints on September 8.