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Svitek joins the Patriots

March 17th, 2013 Comments off

Field Yates of ESPN Boston tweets that Falcons free agent offensive tackle Will Svitek has signed a deal with the New England Patriots. Terms of his contract were not disclosed.

Svitek missed all of hte 2012 season due to a triceps injury suffered during training camp. He started 10 games for the Falcons at left tackle in 2011, as a replacement for an underachieving Sam Baker. Svitek first joined the Falcons in 2009, and has primarily served as the team’s swing tackle but has logged 12 starts over the years as an injury replacement at left tackle. Prior to joining the Falcons, he spent three seasons as a reserve with the Kansas City Chiefs after being a sixth round pick in 2005. Svitek likely will act as insurance in case the Patriots are unable to re-sign right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Svitek’s role in Atlanta as swing tackle is expected to be assumed by Lamar Holmes. Mike Johnson performed the role for much of the 2012 season in Svitek’s absence, but Johnson’s immediate future may lie at right guard as competition to recently re-signed free agent Garrett Reynolds.

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Falcons FA Focus: Offensive Tackle

February 8th, 2013 Comments off
Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

William Beatty

A few days ago, I broke down the Falcons needs both at offensive tackle as well as along with center and guard. Well after some time to really dive deep into some tape via Game Rewind, I was able to look at many of the potential free agents that could be available this off-season for the team to sign.

The Falcons potentially have needs at both areas, principally at left tackle and at right guard. Sam Baker is a free agent, and as mentioned in that previous post he will likely be their first priority to re-sign rather than trying to add a replacement on the open market.

There certainly are better left tackles that could become free agents than Sam Baker. Jake Long (Dolphins), Ryan Clady (Broncos), and Branden Albert (Chiefs) headline that group. Clady almost certainly will be slapped with a franchise tag, so there really is no point discussing him. But the other two, Long and Albert, the possibility that they hit the open market is a little higher. Both probably will be tagged given the loads of cap space that each team is projected to have. But if not, then both present significant upgrades to Baker if the Falcons are willing to spend. The expectation is that both players will seek new deals that approach the monster eight-year, $92 million deal that Joe Thomas signed in the summer of 2011. Up until this most recent year, Long was considered along with Thomas as the top left tackle in the game. But he’s coming off a down year in Miami. Injuries have accumulated over the past few years with Long, and it started to really affect his game as well as a shift in blocking scheme under head coach Joe Philbin. Long is still a premier tackle due to his quick feet, polished technique and strength, but one wonders if the injuries will limit the remainder of his NFL career. He was limited in 2010 by a left knee injury and had shoulder surgery at the end of the year but still managed to play at a Pro Bowl level that year despite his injury issues. He was limited at the start of the 2011 with another left knee injury, and then had to deal with lower back problems late in the year. His season ended with him on the IR after suffering a torn biceps in December. He was once again limited with a minor MCL sprain in his right knee at the start of the 2012 season, and once again his season was cut short prematurely with a late-season triceps tear. Essentially, it’s going to be a tough decision for a team to be willing to commit huge dollars to a player that hasn’t made it through a season healthy in over three years. Why Long is better than Baker is because he’s much quicker and more adept in pass protection, and is a much more physical player as a run blocker. But I did notice that Long can get beat by speed rushers, because I believe he sets up too deep in the pocket which allows defenders to be able to build speed and momentum too easily. He also did not play with great power this past year, which could be directly related to all of the injuries that have accumulated on his arms and shoulders in recent years. But he’s still very athletic, and would be an excellent fit for the Falcons on the left side with their ample use of screens and a renewed emphasis on the ground attack. Late in the season, Miami moved right tackle Jonathan Martin to left tackle, and while he was capable he’s a huge downgrade from Long. But given Long’s injury history and his huge price tag, the Dolphin may opt to pass on him.

Albert is also dealing with injury concerns of his own, as his season was ended prematurely due to back problems. Back issues are notorious with offensive linemen, as they have limited the careers of players like Marcus McNeill and Jared Gaither in recent years. So it’s going to take team doctors signing off on him for another team to merit paying him a big contract. Albert is a capable run blocker that is athletic with good feet. He’s not a dominant player, but he certainly would make a significant upgrade for the Falcons in terms of his ability to get push off the left side. The Chiefs have the No. 1 pick, and many believe that the top prospect in this year’s draft is tackle Luke Joeckel out of Texas A&M. Joeckel’s contract will be considerably less than what Albert would make on the open market, so there remains questions on whether the Chiefs will left him walk.

Other left tackle prospects include Will Beatty (Giants), Jermon Bushrod (Saints), and Bryant McKinnie (Ravens). None are considerably better players than Baker and thus would be primarily a lateral move for the Falcons if signed. Beatty is coming off his best season as a Giant, after three seasons of flashing potential but never putting together a full year. He’s both a competent run blocker and pass protector, but he’s not a player that wows you. Bushrod has been an effective pass protector at times over the years in New Orleans, as he’s a gifted athlete. But he’s inconsistent, and tends to struggle when facing top-end pass rushers. McKinnie is age 33 and played well down the stretch for the Raven during their Super Bowl run, but sat out of most of the season due to questions about his conditioning during the summer and some nagging injuries. McKinnie is infamous for his less than stellar work ethic dating back to his days in Minnesota as well as his actions of the “Love Boat,” which I probably won’t go over well with the brass in Atlanta.

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Falcons make cuts to pare roster

August 25th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons announced roster moves today to pare their roster down to 75 players. The players cut included: TE Chase Coffman, LB Max Gruder, K Erik Folk, RB Richard Medlin, FB Lee Meisner, DE Louis Nzegwu, WR Kenny Stafford, and TE Aron White. The team also officially placed OT Will Svitek on injured reserve. They also reached injury settlements with DT Eli Joseph and CB Darrin Walls.

These moves put the Falcons roster down to 77 players, which means they will have to cut two more players before Monday’s 4 pm Eastern deadline.

Coffman and Medlin were additions made since the start of training camp. Joseph was signed on the eve of training camp. Folk, Gruder, Meisner, Nzegwu, Stafford, and White were undrafted free agents signed after the draft. Walls was an undrafted free agent last summer that made the Falcons roster and played in 5 games, recording 1 tackle on defense and 1 on special teams. Svitek was injured last week.

The Falcons will travel to Jacksonville take on the Jaguars on Thursday night. The league has a mandated deadline on Friday night at 9 pm Eastern to get their rosters down to 53 players. Starting  on Saturday, teams will be allowed to set their eight-man practice squads.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 18 “Bengals-Falcons Recap”

August 21st, 2012 3 comments

Ryan and I get together to discuss and recap the Falcons preseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, and our takeaways from the game. We discuss which players and position groups we thought stood out in the game, as well as a few that did not. Discussions center around our respective concerns about the offensive line, especially in the wake of an injury to a key backup. We discuss the A.J. Green vs. Julio Jones debate, Dominique Davis and the Falcons backup QB situation, which players might get axed with the looming cutdown date, and how much of a role Michael Turner should play in the Falcons offense this year. In non-football related discussion, you even get to hear Ryan’s take on what shows were popular around 2006 as well as his views on the Batman cinematic franchise.

Ep. 18: Bengals-Falcons Recap [Download]

Duration: 1 hour

 

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop Ryan an e-mail at: ryan-valdez@live.com. Don’t forget to drop by every week to hear our live broadcast at: ustream.tv/channel/falcfans-show

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

With Svitek out, Holmes must be ready

August 21st, 2012 Comments off
Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

Lamar Holmes

Lamar Holmes has had a quiet beginning to his career in Atlanta. Not long after being drafted, he suffered a foot injury that kept him out of OTAs and mini-camps. Then with the start of training camp, very little buzz surrounded him. He even sat out the first two preseason games. This Friday, against the Dolphins, Holmes will dawn his Falcon uniform for game action the first time, and a lot of fans’ eyes will be glued to him.

Will Svitek is out for the year with an upper arm injury. Svitek was the team’s swing tackle, poised to be inserted in the lineup if either of the team’s starting tackles: Sam Baker or Tyson Clabo go down with injury. Svitek was trusted. He outperformed Baker for the final 10 games of last year. Holmes is a question mark.

Due to the lingering concerns over whether Sam Baker is truly ready to make the step up, fans would love to have a known commodity like Svitek behind him, ready to pick up the slack in the event of injury or poor play. After all, Baker has missed a total of 14 games over the past four seasons due to injury. Odds are certainly in the favor of whomever is his backup, will log a couple of starts each year.

Holmes is going to have to be ready.

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Svitek done for the year

August 20th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons announced today that offensive tackle Will Svitek would be out for the season with an undisclosed injury suffered during Sunday’s practice. Svitek was the team’s top swing tackle on offense, working at both left and right tackle spots during the preseason. Svitek started 10 games last season for the Falcons at left tackle, as a replacement for Sam Baker.

With Svitek out, the team will likely turn to third round pick Lamar Holmes to take up the swing tackle position. Holmes has yet to play this preseason, but is expected to get work on Friday against the Miami Dolphins. Mike Johnson has worked as the team’s top backup at right tackle during the preseason as well.

UPDATE: Svitek suffered an upper arm injury per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC.

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Camp Battles 2012: Offensive Line

July 16th, 2012 Comments off
Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE

Sam Baker

The offensive line is likely to be the most contested offensive position group in camp. Unlike the other offensive positions, the Falcons aren’t currently set on their starting lineup. The brunt of the competition will come at the two weakest spots from a year ago: left tackle and right guard. Sam Baker is the incumbent at left tackle, although he remains a question mark because he was effectively benched last year after a very poor start to the season. Will Svitek replaced him and proved to be an upgrade. But the team remains optimistic about Baker’s abilities, excusing much of his struggles due to injuries. The team drafted rookie Lamar Holmes as well in the third round, and he’ll push for time as well. But by missing rookie mini-camps with a foot injury likely will have Holmes climbing an uphill battle in camp to gain the starting spot. More than likely the spot will come down to Baker or Svitek, with Baker having the advantage going into camp because he worked the majority of first team snaps in the off-season.

At right guard, the team could have a new face as two of their off-season additions will be competing there. Free agent pickup Vince Manuwai and top pick Peter Konz will be pushing for playing time behind Garrett Reynolds, who is considered the incumbent. Reynolds got the majority of first team snaps during OTAs, a small surprise given that Reynolds, like Baker, lost his job in 2011. He was replaced after a sluggish start by Joe Hawley, who was an improvement but only slightly over the second half of the season. Reynolds has struggled with extensive reps at the guard position largely due to his height, which is disadvantageous inside at guard. Manuwai worked mostly with the second unit during minicamps, and is the strongest candidate among the two to push for time. Konz played exclusively as a center during his days at Wisconsin, and split time between both spots this off-season. He still has a small learning curve at guard, and while he will be given a legitimate opportunity to win the starting spot, he’ll likely be on the outside looking in.

The other three roster spots are pretty much locked up as the team brought back center Todd McClure along with left guard Justin Blalock and right tackle Tyson Clabo. Blalock and Clabo won’t face any competition for their jobs, while McClure will be pushed by Hawley. McClure has never lost his starting spot in his 13-year career, so it doesn’t seem likely that he will do so this summer. But the Falcons will give Hawley a chance to emerge as the team wants to get more physical up front. Hawley was miscast as a guard last year, but his skillset is much more suited to playing the pivot where he is fiesty and physical. That sort of mentality will be welcomed at the center position. But he’s not nearly as polished as McClure and certainly lacks McClure’s extensive experience and knowledge calling out blocking assignments.

But even if players like Hawley, Konz, and Holmes don’t win starting positions, they are virtual locks to be among the final nine or ten blockers that could make the 53-man roster. Between Manuwai and Reynolds as well as Baker and Svitek, it doesn’t seem like a sure bet that all will make the roster if they don’t win the starting spot. Svitek is probably the most valuable as a reserve given his versatility to serve as swing tackle and potential blocking tight end.

Also vying for positions include former draftees Andrew Jackson and Mike Johnson. Johnson was a third round pick, but injuries have limited his development over the past two summers. He had the potential to win the starting gig from Reynolds last summer, but an untimely concussion forced him out of the lineup, allowing Reynolds the time to solidify the spot. Jackson will likely get a boost because the Falcons new position coach is his former head coach Pat Hill from Fresno State. The team has been working to cross-train both players for multiple positions to give them some potential added value. Both players have gotten reps at tackle this off-season. But both are fighting an uphill battle to make the roster certainly due to the more experienced players ahead of them. It is noteworthy that both players still remain eligible for the team’s practice squad, although it doesn’t seem likely at this point that either would clear waivers if released by the team.

Also competing in camp are undrafted rookies Bryce Harris, Tyler Horn, and Phillip Manley. All three are longshots to make the roster, but can certainly impress enough to make bids for the practice squad. Harris also followed Hill from Fresno State, but is facing long odds given the added depth at the tackle position. A bit undersized, Harris is an ideal candidate to be placed on the practice squad for a year or two to add some bulk. Horn is stuck behind a relatively deep center group in Atlanta, as he is fourth on the depth chart. And the fact that Hawley and Konz add the versatility of also playing guard, it will make it that much harder for Horn to stand out. Manley offers good size for a guard, but he too is stuck behind a bunch of bodies.

Mike Smith has stressed trying to bolster competition in camp, and very few positions embody that mentality than the offensive line. Its struggles a year ago precipitate that renewed focus on getting the best players on the field. And while the majority of the team’s starting positions are likely settled, there will be a maelstrom brewing as players compete for second unit spots and their football-playing lives. Predicting who the final nine or ten will be on the roster is the most tenuous of any position group. Three of the starters (Blalock, Clabo, and McClure) and three reserves (Hawley, Holmes, and Konz) are fairly safe bets. But beyond that, the last handful of spots will be completely up for grabs.

2012 Key Players: Offensive Line

May 29th, 2012 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

The Falcons Front Line

I’ve already discussed how Michael Turner’s play this year will be a key to success for the Falcons in 2012. Tied to that is the play of the offensive line. It’s clear that the Falcons are a team that pride themselves on being an effective to good running team. And that notion isn’t likely to change under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. The Jaguars under Jack Del Rio styled themselves in a similar manner, being a team that could run the ball well and play good defense, i.e. often the core elements of what is called being “physical.” That’s the exact sort of mentality and identity that Mike Smith has tried to instill here in Atlanta over the past four seasons. And it’s probably one of the main reasons why Smith was attracted to Koetter to take over for Mike Mularkey.

But joining Koetter on his quest to reinvigorate the Falcons offense on the ground will be new offensive line coach Pat Hill. Hill comes to the Falcons after years as the head coach at Fresno State. The Falcons hope Hill’s brand of high energy and toughness will also prove a boost up front.

It was clear last year that the biggest weakness on the offense was the offensive line. They struggled to create holes for Turner to run through, and struggled protecting Matt Ryan when they faced quality pass rushes. While the team may be very vocal about not regretting the decision to trade for Julio Jones, they certainly should be regretful over how they took the offensive line for granted last off-season.

Too often the line got manhandled in 2011 and it often occurred in instances where they could not establish the run early in games. If they got behind the offense would become one-dimensional and lose its balance. And several opposing teams were able to take advantage by pinning their ears back and be effective at getting to Matt Ryan.

Ryan is not a quarterback that likes to get hit. That isn’t questioning his toughness, but there is plenty of evidence over the past four years that if teams can get to him early and often, it can affect his play the rest of the game. That could also describe Tom Brady rather easily. So it’s prohibitive of Ryan becoming a top quarterback, it’s just an obstacle to overcome. You can live with a subpar O-line in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger behind center because he seems to thrive at times with pressure in his face. But that won’t be the case here in Atlanta, and thus emphasizing better play up front will remain important as long as Ryan is the starter.

Thus the Falcons off-season decisions to bolster the competition up front were good moves. The team needed to improve their blocking, and they did so by adding veteran guard Vince Manuwai and drafting rookies Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes in the draft.

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Falcons add beef in the trenches

April 28th, 2012 Comments off

Two of the more memorable moments of the Falcons 2011 season were their futile attempts in short-yardage during their Week 10 overtime loss against the New Orleans Saints and against the New York Giants in the opening round of the playoffs. Well it appears the Falcons have taken steps in the 2012 draft to correct those issues, by using their two picks on the second day of the draft on a pair of beefy offensive linemen. Wisconsin center Peter Konz was the Falcons second round pick (55th overall) and Southern Miss tackle Lamar Holmes was taken in the third (91st overall).

For more than a decade, center Todd McClure has been a fixture as the anchor of the Falcons offensive line. McClure, undersized by NFL standards at 6’1? 296 pounds, could potentially give way to the 6’5? 314-pound Konz in the future. Holmes standing at 6’5? 323, also is considerably larger than either of the men he could potentially replace in the future at left tackle: Sam Baker (6’5? 301) and Will Svitek (6’6? 308). Earlier this off-season, the team also signed free agent guard Vince Manuwai, who sports a 6’2″ 333-pound frame, the bulkiest on the team.

Konz is expected to immediately compete with Manuwai for the vacant right guard spot. Both McClure and Manuwai’s contract expire after the season, and it’s possible Konz could kick inside to center. Or he could potentially remain at right guard if Joe Hawley continues to improve. Holmes should be in the potential three-way competition at left tackle, but likely will be expected to fill in as the team’s swing tackle. With Tyson Clabo entrenched on the right side, that could mean that Baker and Svitek could be competing for a single roster spot this summer.

If the Falcons don’t manage to get push this upcoming season, it won’t be because they lack the beef to do so. It appears that the Falcons are planning on recommitting themselves to running the football this year, and in the future. But the added bodies via the draft, certainly will shake up competition and presumably at this point in time only McClure, Justin Blalock, and Clabo are assured roster spots among the incumbents. The rest of the lineup could be in a state of flux.

Free Agent Focus: Offensive Line (Part 1)

January 30th, 2012 Comments off
AP Photo

Jared Gaither

Arguably the biggest priority for the Falcons this off-season is improving up front. This team got pushed around too much last year, and if they intend to make a championship run in the coming years that has to change. Their offensive line is going to have to go from a glaring weakness to an obvious strength.

The Falcons will first need to make decisions on whether to bring certain players back. Todd McClure is a free agent, and it appears he intends to keep playing. But McClure turns 35 in two weeks, and with the intense focus on improving in the trenches, the time seems ripe to move on and try to get younger here. The Falcons have Joe Hawley waiting in the wings. Hawley did not particularly shine at center early in the season, but the experience he added later in the year playing guard should help him improve there.

The Falcons will also need to make a decision on whether to bring back Sam Baker. Many are speculating that the Falcons will part ways with Baker due to his salary and the disappointing 2011 he had. Baker showed promise early in his career, playing well in his first two seasons, but has showed almost no improvement, if not regression over the past two seasons. The team tried him at right guard and as a blocking tight end late in the season, and neither position switch really worked. So it’s likely that the team will part ways, saving money and moving on.

If the team shows trust in Hawley to man the pivot spot, that will mean more than likely the team will focus on upgrading the left tackle position and right guard spot this off-season.

Will Svitek was a decent replacement for Baker at left tackle, but as he got more experience there he was exposed a bit more. The team should be on the lookout for a long-term solution at this position. But without a first round pick in the draft, it will be hard to find a good left tackle ready to start right away in the draft. That could mean the Falcons scour the free agent market looking for quality left tackle candidates.

A few players such as Jared Gaither (San Diego) and Demetrius Bell (Buffalo) rise to the top of the list. Although there is some talk that the Chargers could dump Marcus McNeill due to his high salary and his neck and back injuries, Gaither is probably not likely to return to San Diego. Back injuries also forced Gaither to miss all of the 2010 season and some of 2009. But prior to those injuries, he was considered one of the top young left tackles in the league. He signed with the Chiefs this past off-season to try and resurrect that reputation, but he did little besides serving as a third tackle and tight end. But when he was picked up by the CHargers in Week 13, he started to play well down the stretch.

Gaither’s past injury issues probably means that whatever team, Falcons included, should not break the bank for him. But he’s a big, physical player that if his strength is back is capable of going up against the better pass rushers in the league and a clear upgrade over what the Falcons have at the position.

Bell has also dealt with his share of injuries, missing a big chunk of this past year with a broken collarbone, before a knee injury put him on IR before the final game of the season. He also missed half of the 2009 season with knee problems. Bell looked like a player that was finally emerging into a capable left tackle this year before injuries sapped him. But he struggled in both previous seasons as the Bills left tackle. It appears the Bills want to keep him, but he may decide to move on because they intend to have him compete with second-year Chris Hairston for the starting job. Bell may opt to go to a team where he is more appreciated. Bell has always been noted for his athleticism, being the son of former NBA super star Karl Malone. The question the Falcons must ask is whether or not his issues with injuries are going to be a problem going forward, and whether he’s a one-year wonder that will pick up where he left off before getting hurt this season.

Another option to the Falcons may be to go after a player like Philadelphia’s King Dunlap. Dunlap has performed admirably in a handful of replacement starts for Jason Peters over the past few years. He’s a massive blocker that could be looking to emerge from the shadows as a legit starter. Because of his limited experience, he probably would be a much cheaper option for the Falcons to pursue.

Pittsburgh’s Max Starks might be worth a look, but he’ll likely miss most if not all of the spring due to suffered a torn ACL at the end of the year. Starks could be a cheap insurance policy if that injury drives his price down, that the Falcons could stash on the PUP until he’s healthy.

The Falcons could also try and go after a veteran like Jeff Backus who could be a decent stopgap for a year. The Lions appear to want Backus to return. But he too is coming off a biceps injury that may limit his ability to come in right away and man the starting spot.

Signing injured players is not really in the best interest of the Falcons because they’ll need their new linemen to be able to come in the spring and summer and begin to gel as a unit. So that would make it doubtful that the team would look hard at guys like Backus and Starks, although Bell should not be out too long.

That likely means the Falcons will have to make a serious play for Gaither, who could be a fairly hot commodity on the open market for all the left tackle-needy teams that won’t be picking at the top of the draft. Teams like Arizona, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, and Minnesota all might be making strong plays for a player such as Gaither. Which is thus why the Falcons may find themselves priced out of that sweepstakes, and a player like Dunlap more attractive to bring in to compete directly with Svitek.

In the next part, we’ll look at what the Falcons can do to upgrade their interior offensive line.

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