Tony Gonzalez (AP)
Now that I’ve dealt with two defenders, now it’s time to turn the focus and scout an offensive player. Who better to start with than the future Hall of Famer on the roster: tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Pros: Has excellent hands and has good concentration to secure the ball firmly almost every time. Has a knack for getting position against the defender and making the catch in traffic. Does an excellent job adjusting to the thrown ball and making the catch. Will come down with most jump balls and plays the ball very well in the air, attacking it. Knows how to find the soft spots in the zone. Does a nice job as a runner after the catch when he has a step on the defender and not afraid of contact. An extremely hard worker that has an eye for detail, which makes him an excellent leader by example.
Cons: Not a great blocker. Will give effort, but not strong or physical enough to maintain his blocks for long and is a bit of a liability when teams run behind him. Will miss some assignments both as a run blocker and in pass protection. Doesn’t have great speed or burst to get great separation from the defender as well as making plays downfield in the passing game. This can force passer to fit throws into tighter windows.
2010 Outlook: Gonzalez transformed the Falcons offense a year ago. Mike Mularkey has never really had a tight end that can be a featured weapon in the passing game, and Gonzalez was exactly that. He provided a ton of value on third downs and was among the league leaders in converting on third downs. He also was a valuable asset in the redzone because his presence could free up other receivers. When the Falcons needed a play to be made in the passing game, they usually turned to Gonzalez. The Falcons hope Gonzalez can continue to add similar value on third downs and near the goalline in 2010.
I started things off with a report on Curtis Lofton, but now I want to move onto another defender: cornerback Brent Grimes, the small but scrappy undrafted free agent from a Division II school that has developed into a key contributor and potential starter.
Pros: Has good speed and athleticism. Has good leaping ability which means he can challenge bigger receivers for the ball. Shows good ball skills and plays the ball well in the air. Does his best work when he’s allowed to keep things in front of him, and rarely lets defenders get behind him. Shows good, consistent tackling technique because he breaks down and wraps up and is able to make stops on the edge and in space.
Cons: Lacks ideal size and despite athleticism, he is fairly easily outmuscled in traffic by bigger receivers. Lack of size also makes him a non-factor in press coverage, forcing him at times to give up too much cushion. This causes him to give up a lot of completions underneath. His lack of size also means that if his tackling ever gets sloppy, he’s prone to missing tackles.
2010 Outlook: The bottom line on Grimes is that most of his issues are due to his less than outstanding size, but he makes up for a lot of it with toughness, work ethic, and playmaking ability, all the intangibles necessary for success in this league. This makes him a coach’s favorite and even if he goes through some struggles or begins to slump, eventually he will bounce back. At worst that makes him a valuable role player, and at best a capable starter.
If not every day, but every few days over the course of training camp I plan to post some scouting reports of some of the Falcons top (or at least more notable) players. I’m kicking things off with the centerpiece of the Falcons defense, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton.
Pros: Is physical, hard-hitting run defender that shows nice range in the middle of the field when defending the run because he has a good nose for the ball. Does his best work when he’s allowed to attack upfield at or near the line of scrimmage. Shows good passion and exuberance for a physical defensive style, making him a natural for a team leadership role.
Cons: Needs work in coverage, and lacks awareness when playing in space. Will lose sight of some of his assignments, and doesn’t consistently get good depth when working in zone coverage. Doesn’t have the hips or quickness to match up with opposing receivers over the middle and is rarely in position to make a play in the passing game. Despite good range, doesn’t have great speed and doesn’t make many plays vs. the run outside the hashmarks.
2010 Outlook: Lofton has already begun distinguishing himself as one of the up and coming run-defending middle linebackers in the league. But he still has a ways to go in coverage, and how much improvement he shows this season will be a huge indicator of his long-term success in both Atlanta and the league.