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Falcons not expected to make splash in free agency

July 13th, 2011 Comments off

NFL.com’s Jason LaCanfora cited league sources indicating that the Falcons have contingency plans in place to deal with the potential departures of free agent offensive linemen Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo, who are expected to be hot commodities on the open market if/when free agency occurs after the end of the lockout. LaCanfora also writes that the Falcons may not be big players in free agency as some sources expect with the pursuit of either Nnamdi Asomugha or top defensive ends like Ray Edwards or Charles Johnson.

Per LaCanfora, the Falcons brass may opt to play a wait and see game in regards to free agency, letting this year’s market play itself out in order to get a better foothold and grip on what to expect next off-season when things should return to normal.

It has been previously mentioned that the Falcons’ contingency plans along the offensive line include the possibility of replacing starters like Dahl and Clabo with current backups like Garrett Reynolds and Mike Johnson. Also players such as veteran tackle Will Svitek and Jose Valdez might also be in the mix to replace Clabo at right tackle.

Camp Battles 2011: Offensive Line

July 13th, 2011 Comments off

Like the running back position, this unit could be heavily influenced by free agency. The Falcons will have to make important decisions on three of their starters: Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl, and Justin Blalock.

Clabo is likely to be a high priority for the team to retain. And if they do so, it will go a long way to solidify their front line and maintain some continuity. It remains to be seen whether the Falcons will prefer to keep either Dahl or Blalock, although it seems likely at least one will remain. Dahl is probably the safer bet since he appears to be a favorite of position coach Paul Boudreau.

Ideally, the Falcons will be able to keep all three players. If they are successful in achieving that goal, then competition during camp at this position won’t be particularly compelling. The most interesting battle will likely then be between Jose Valdez and Will Svitek for the swing tackle position. Valdez’s practice squad eligibility is likely to expire this season, so if the Falcons want to continue to develop him, they will probably need to do so by giving him a regular roster spot.

However, if even one of those free agents depart, it will make things a lot more interesting. If all three depart, it’s likely to be a free-for-all.

The most likely candidate to replace Blalock at left guard is Mike Johnson. He got the majority of reps there last summer, and he’d be the front runner. Johnson didn’t have a great summer a year ago, but the team was high on him when they drafted him in the third round and will give him every opportunity to win the vacant position.

His most likely competition will come in the form of Garrett Reynolds, who is also the primary reserve at right guard behind Dahl. Reynolds also adds the value of playing right tackle as well, although his primary position in inside. His chances of earning a starting job will increase if Dahl is the one that departs, although Johnson would probably be the top candidate there as well for reasons mentioned previously.

If Clabo isn’t kept, then Svitek is likely to be the front runner to replace him and he’ll be pushed by both Reynolds and Valdez. Svitek is the more known commodity and proven run blocker, making him a good fit at right tackle. Valdez is an intriguing dark horse, showcasing his superior athleticism last summer.

Left tackle Sam Baker is unlikely to be pushed in camp, as the Falcons will likely want to retain as much continuity as possible. The same goes for veteran center Todd McClure. Second-year pro Joe Hawley is his heir apparent. Hawley also garnered reps at guard last season, but probably won’t be a serious contender to become a starter there unless Johnson and/or Reynolds struggle.

The Falcons drafted Andrew Jackson to bolster depth and competition. But he’ll be hard-pressed to make his way into the likely to be nine roster spots unless at least two of the Falcons free agents depart. He is most likely to be competing for a practice squad spot, although a solid summer may convince the team to keep ten blockers instead of the typical nine.

Also on the roster is Rob Bruggeman, although he remains a long shot unless there is an injury to one of the centers. The Falcons probably will sign a few undrafted or street free agents to fill out the roster here, with all just being camp bodies competing for a chance to make the practice squad.

Should the Falcons draft an Offensive Lineman?

March 9th, 2011 Comments off
Icon Sports Media, Inc.

OT Sam Baker

I keep seeing a bunch of mocks having the Falcons take an offensive linemen in the first round of the draft, and frankly from where I’m sitting, I think the odds are very, very, very low that happens. In fact, I think the odds are fairly low that the Falcons will take an offensive lineman at any point in the draft, let alone the first round. And I’ll explain why, and much of it has to do with the labor strife the league is currently undergoing.

I’m not certain what is going to become of the CBA labor situation the rest of this week or going forward. But let’s look at both scenarios: (1) the pessimistic one where a lockout occurs and there is essentially no player movement between now and the draft and afterwards. And (2) the optimistic one in that a new CBA gets hammered out at some point in the next seven weeks before the draft and that we get some semblance of free agency and a relatively normal off-season. How does either scenario affect the Falcons offensive line situation?

We know that Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl, and Justin Blalock all had their contracts expire at the end of the 2010 season. The Falcons quickly were able to re-sign reserve Will Svitek last week, getting him locked up for two more seasons as a Falcon. But those three players that aren’t yet signed represent 60% of the Falcons starting lineup, and arguably the best 60%. Clabo landed a Pro Bowl bid this year, and Harvey Dahl quietly had a second solid year in a Falcon uniform. And even Justin Blalock, the player I thought going into this season was the weakest link of the front five improved his play, and arguably was our most consistent blocker over the second half of the season.

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Falcons re-sign Svitek, add punter

March 3rd, 2011 Comments off

Jay Adams of Atlanta Falcons.com tweets that the Falcons have re-signed impending free agent offensive tackle Will Svitek. Terms of his contract were undisclosed. The Falcons also added free agent punter Ken Parrish.

Svitek joined the Falcons in 2009. He’s appeared in 29 games as a valuable reserve swing tackle, including logging 2 starts as an injury replacement for Sam Baker in 2009.

Parrish is a journeyman punter out of East Stroudsburg University in 2007. He has bounced around the league with several teams, but has yet to make an NFL roster. His most recent stint in the league was with the Philadelphia Eagles during last summer’s training camp. He played with the Florida Tuskers of the UFL during the 2010 season, averaging 40.7 yards on 41 punts, with a net average of 34.0 yards with 13 punts placed inside the 20.

Falcons current punter Michael Koenen is an unsigned free agent. The Falcons extended a restricted free agent tender to running back Jason Snelling yesterday. The Falcons already indicated they would not bring back Brian FInneran and Brian Williams. Formal decisions on the fates of other impending free agents including cornerback Brent Grimes, offensive linemen Justin Blalock, Tyson Clabo, and Harvey Dahl, inebackers Stephen Nicholas and Mike Peterson, running back Jerious Norwood, and kicker Matt Bryant have yet to be announced.

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Camp Battles ’10: Offensive Line

July 21st, 2010 Comments off

The offensive line may be the only area of the team’s offense that might see a change in the starting lineup this season.

That would likely come at guard, as third round pick Mike Johnson pushes for playing time. More than likely, Justin Blalock will be looking over his shoulder more than Harvey Dahl, since Johnson should have an easier transition to the pros playing on the left side rather than the right. But more than likely, Blalock will retain his starting gig as the Falcons try to build and maintain continuity up front.

Even with the starting lineup likely to go unchanged, there will be a ton of competition for the reserve spots. A typical NFL team only has to keep eight linemen, although the Falcons kept nine for most last season. Because the team will have one or two less players than there are positions on the line, versatility is very important.

Will Svitek can play either tackle position. Quinn Ojinnaka has experience at all five positions. Garrett Reynolds worked both at guard and tackle last summer. Brett Romberg has also played both center and guard in Atlanta. And rookies Johnson and Joe Hawley also have experience playing more than one position in college. Those five players will be the most likely to land the four likely to be available reserve spots.

More than likely, the Falcons would like to keep both rookies on the roster. But just in case neither is quite ready to contribute right away off the bench, the need for the two remaining veterans to be able to play all five positions increases.

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Camp Battles: Offensive Line

July 7th, 2009 Comments off

Barring some unforseen injury, it’s doubtful the Falcons five starters will change from last year. Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Harvey Dahl, and Tyson Clabo are all set to open the season as the team’s starting five, and something significant would need to happen in order to change that.

The battles here will come for who will sit the bench. Most NFL teams keep a rotation of eight linemen, but usually keep a ninth guy for emergency purposes, meaning that there are probably four open spots on the roster for competition.

The three players that are likely best suited to land three of those spots are Jeremy Newberry, Brett Romberg, and Garrett Reynolds. Newberry is highly experienced and Romberg is a favorite of Paul Boudreau as he played under him in both Jacksonville and St. Louis. Reynolds is the team’s fifth round draft pick and expected to compete for the utility backup position. While the team counts Baker as healthy for the time being, his injuries the past two seasons mean there is some concern over whether he can stay healthy for 16 games, meaning the need for a guy that can fill in at left tackle (and preferably right tackle as well) is key this summer. Last year, the job was filled by Todd Weiner.

Reynolds draft status insulates him somewhat to possibly landing that job. If he does not get that gig, then the most likely option for the fourth reserve is the guy that does win that role. And most likely that will be either Quinn Ojinnaka or Will Svitek. The team likes Ojinnaka’s versatility as they feel he can play all five line spots, but with having players like Newberry and Romberg on the roster, that doesn’t carry as much weight now as it did in the past.

Also in the mix are Ben Wilkerson, who was the top backup to McClure last year, along with Mike Butterworth, Ryan Stanchek, and Jose Valdez. In all likelihood all three of the latter are longshots to make the roster, and instead will hope to impress enough to land on the practice squad. Wilkerson will be hard-pressed to win a job since the team brought in both Romberg and Newberry, implying that aren’t overly impressed with Wilkerson’s ability to provide depth.

This is one of the few positions on offense that you could potentially see the team still looking to address at the end of camp. If either Reynolds, Ojinnaka, or Svitek has filled the team’s confidence on their ability to fill in as a reserve tackle, you may see the team try to target a veteran on the waiver wire.