Tony Gonzalez is set to return today to practice as the Falcons break training camp. Gonzalez left camp on July 27 to spend time with his family in California. Gonzalez was expected to retire after last season but agreed to come back. Part of that agreement was to allow him time to his family, particularly his 12-year old son Nikko. During Gonzalez’s three-week absence, he was in constant communication with the team and his position coach, Chris Scelfo. Gonzalez is expected to suit up for the Falcons upcoming preseason contest against the Tennessee Titans next Saturday.
Sunday represented the final practice that would be open to the public. The Falcons will break camp next weekend before proceeding on their normal schedule leading up the all-important third preseason game on August 24 against the Tennessee Titans. These are news and reports that emerged from Sunday’s practice:
- Dominique Davis is his own worst critic, calling his interception against the Bengals on Thursday night a “dumb decision.”
- The AJC provides Mike Smith’s thoughts following practice.
- The Falcons elevated rookie safeties Zeke Motta and Kemal Ishmael on their depth chart. Both are listed as the third string strong and free safety respectively on the depth chart, but got work with the second unit Sunday. The second team consists of Charles Mitchell and Shann Schillinger.
Rookie safeties Ishmael and Motta are getting some looks with the 2s. #aftc13
— Daniel Cox (@FalconsDCox) August 11, 2013
- After a day off, Daniel Cox was back at it discussing his five observations from Sunday’s practice. They include Harry Douglas’ value in the slot, the emergence of young running backs due to the injury to Antone Smith, Julio Jones’ full return to practice,and how the roster could shake out along the offensive line.
Today represents the team’s final day of training camp open to the public. The Falcons won’t actually break camp until next weekend. After a day off following the team’s preseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Falcons returned to practice on Saturday. Here is what was reported:
- Jay Adams took over for Daniel Cox in highlighted five takeaways from Saturday’s practice. Those include Paul Worrilow’s Thursday night performance against the Bengals, Julio Jones’ return to practice, the play of the Falcons young corners, as well as thoughts from Asante Samuel and Kroy Biermann.
- Robert James was held out of practice, presumably due to an undisclosed injury he suffered in Thursday night’s matchup that limited him to only five snaps.
- It appears the Falcons are trying to figure out ways to get both Jacquizz Rodgers and Steven Jackson on the field at the same time:
Quizz just spent a couple of 11-on-11 snaps running in the slot with SJ39 in the backfield. #Falcons want Quizz on the field this season
— Knox Bardeen (@knoxbardeen) August 10, 2013
- The official site posted Mike Smith’s transcript from his post-practice interview. Smith highlighted the two rookie corners, Matt Bosher, Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder. Also spoke on Peter Konz’s play and Brian Banks’ progress. He also mentioned that newly signed offensive tackle Jeff Nady will get work at right tackle.
Wednesday served as a pre-game walkthrough day for the Falcons in preparation for tomorrow night’s preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
- Tony Gonzalez’s return to Atlanta is not expected until around August 17 per John Manasso of FOX Sports. It has been previously noted that Gonzalez is expected to return for the third and fourth preseason games, the former of which will be played against the Tennessee Titans on August 24 in Nashville. That third preseason game is typically the one where NFL teams suit up their starters and play them into the third quarter, meaning it makes sense to have Gonzalez back in time for that. The return date of August 17 indicates that Gonzalez will likely use the week prior to knock off any rust that has accumulated since departing camp on July 27. In Gonzalez’s absence, most reports indicate that Chase Coffman and Levine Toilolo have made the most of their opportunities with the starters.
- Mike Smith talked about many of the things he’ll look for in the upcoming preseason game, including the situation at right tackle. Another interesting note is that Smith indicated that he expects Jacquizz Rodgers to handle the team’s kickoff return duties during the regular season, although other players will get opportunities throughout the preseason. With Rodgers relatively secure on kickoffs, it would seem that the bulk of the competition will come for punt return duties. Throughout camp, players like Robert Alford, Dominique Franks, Jason Snelling, James Rodgers, Harry Douglas, and Rashad Evans have reportedly gotten work there. Previous reports indicate that Douglas is only likely going to be a last resort.
- Thomas DeCoud gives some personal insight into some of his teammates in the secondary.
- Daniel Cox has his five notes from Day 12 of camp, including discussion of the increased workload that Dominique Davis saw on Wednesday and will likely see throughout the preseason, the expectation that Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder will likely split reps at right tackle on Thursday, and Matt Ryan’s focus for the preseason and the rest of the year.
- The Falcons haven’t quite ruled out Mike Johnson for the remainder of the year per Jay Adams of AtlantaFalcons.com.
Head coach Mike Smith stopped short of calling Mike Johnson's injury "season-ending" today but said he'd know more after surgery. #CINvsATL
— Jay Adams (@FalconsJAdams) August 7, 2013
As noted earlier, the Falcons could seek to place Johnson on injured reserve but designated for return, sometimes referred to as the “short-term IR.” That would mean he would miss the first six weeks of the regular season and then be eligible to return to practice and subsequently the active roster after eight weeks. The short-term IR is only allowed for one player and must be determined by September 3 in the case of Johnson. The Falcons could opt to keep Johnson on the active roster between now and then, but they would lose one of their 90-man roster spots in camp. However they could potentially place him on the “normal” IR (gaining a roster spot) and then reactivate him for the September 3 deadline so that he can be then designated for return. The third option would to be of course to place him on normal long-term injured reserve with the expectation that he’ll miss the entire season. None of which, as Adams and Smith indicated, will not be known until following his surgery, scheduled for next week.
Mike Johnson is down and not likely to return anytime soon for the Falcons. It puts the pressure on Lamar Holmes to step up and man the right tackle position that most were expected him to win outright when the team opted to cut Tyson Clabo in the off-season.
Pressure will be on Holmes this year, as the Falcons offensive line is the biggest weakness on their offense. It has struggled throughout each of the past two regular seasons, allowing too much pressure to reach Matt Ryan, and not being able to clear running lanes to produce for the ground attack.
The likely scenario for the Falcons will be to wait and see. As I outlined earlier this offseason when it came to the possibility of signing a veteran like Eric Winston to bolster the right tackle position, the Falcons have a vested interest in their young players developing at the position. Signing a veteran will only really prevent that development, and it’s not something one should expect the Falcons to make immediately, if at all.
Undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder has been earning a ton of praise thus far in camp, and fellow rookie Terren Jones has also had his moments. The Falcons will likely give all three players along with Alec Savoie opportunities in these first two preseason games to see if they can step up and ably fill the void.
Johnson was by no means a proven commodity at the position, but the belief was that via competition between him and Holmes, the Falcons could be firm that they had solidified that spot the best they could. Without a veteran player like Johnson in the mix, it will be a hard to gauge exactly where Holmes is.
If the Falcons do go shopping for right tackles, Sean Locklear, Jammal Brown, and Winston Justice likely top the free agent lists. Locklear is a versatile player that served as the Giants swing tackle last year. He started 9 games in 2012: one at left tackle, and the rest at right tackle due to an early season injury to David Diehl. But Locklear wound up tearing his ACL in December and is unlikely to be ready for the start of the regular season.
Yesterday the Falcons held the second of two joint practice sessions with the Cincinnati Bengals in preparation for Thursday night’s preseason opener against the team in the Georgia Dome. Here are the buzz generated from yesterday’s camp session:
The notable news from yesterday was the injury to tackle Mike Johnson at the start of practice as he suffered a dislocated ankle and broken left leg, likely ending his season. The Falcons began working Lamar Holmes and then Ryan Schraeder into the lineup.
Ryan Schraeder & Lamar Holmes are rotating reps with the 1s #Falcons
— Knox Bardeen (@knoxbardeen) August 6, 2013
Schraeder definitely getting reps at 1st team RT. Looked good on that last play. #Falcons
— John Manasso (@jmanasso) August 6, 2013
Keep an eye on Falcons rookie T Ryan Schraeder from Valdosta State. He has shown a mean streak. Used on left side, but will go to right some
— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) August 7, 2013
Guy for @Atlanta_Falcons fans to keep eye on at RT in light of Mike Johnson injury: Rookie UFA Ryan Schraeder (Valdosta State). Impressive
— Alex Marvez (@alexmarvez) August 7, 2013
Fox Sports’ John Manasso discusses some of the concerns facing the Falcons front now that Johnson is injured. While D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC discusses some of the potential options on the free agent market that the Falcons could face, as well as giving up an update on the team’s cap space.
Despite news that wide receiver Julio Jones will miss the preseason opener, it does appear that the injury he has is a minor one as he was still working during practice yesterday.
— Jay Adams (@FalconsJAdams) August 6, 2013
The time table of Sean Weatherspoon’s return from injury isn’t quite know, but he’s likely to be out a couple of weeks per Mike Smith via Jay Adams. Weatherspoon suffered a badly dislocated finger on Monday and was held out of Tuesday’s practices. Editor’s Note: It should be noted that during his tenure as Falcons head coach Smith has consistently underestimated the time tables for players’ returns. So a couple of weeks could easily translate into Spoon missing the entire preseason if that trend continues.
Mike Smith says Weatherspoon will likely miss "a couple of weeks" with the finger injury #cinvsatl
— Jay Adams (@FalconsJAdams) August 6, 2013
The Falcons will have another joint practice session today with the Cincinnati Bengals, this time in shells. Here are the media reports from Day 10 of the Falcons practice:
- The big news from Monday was reports of injuries to linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and wide receiver Julio Jones. Per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, Weatherspoon suffered a badly dislocated finger on his left hand. He left practice early, and might be held out of the Falcons preseason opener. Jones got limited reps in Monday’s practice for precautionary reasons. La Canfora also discusses Brian Banks and the Falcons young corners in his write-up of the Falcons.
- Daniel Cox’s five observations from Monday include discussion of Lamar Holmes getting reps with the first team and Desmond Trufant’s progress through the course of camp.
- The team’s official site also has a transcript from Mike Smith’s post-practice interview.
- The AJC has the team’s first official depth chart.
- Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer has some notes from the Bengals perspective but which also include highlighting a few individual performances from Falcons.
D. Orlando Ledbetter also tweeted some takes on the matchups between the two teams in the trenches:
— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@AJCFalcons) August 5, 2013
— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@AJCFalcons) August 5, 2013
Today the Falcons are practicing against the Cincinnati Bengals, which they will be doing again on Tuesday. Roddy White indicated that there has been a firm no fighting rule when it comes to the joint practices. Here are the notes that emerged from Sunday’s practices:
- Daniel Cox gives his five observations from Day 9, including Desmond Trufant’s progress, Mike Smith’s relationship with Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, and the Falcons plans for the upcoming preseason game against the Bengals.
- The team’s official site has a transcript from Mike Smith’s post-practice interview. In it, Smith shed a bit more light on Tommy Gallarda’s injury, indicating that it was indeed a shoulder injury that was comparable to what he suffered last season that led him to injured reserve.
Unfortunately, Tommy had a shoulder injury, a very close injury that he had in November last year that caused him to go on IR.
- The AJC interviewed safety Thomas DeCoud, discussing his camp so far, his conditioning, and his thoughts and expectations on some of the other cornerbacks on the roster.
- Undrafted receiver Rashad Evans got work with fielding punts during practice. At least for Sunday, he ostensibly replaced Dominique Franks on the unit.
Today the Falcons begin their joint practice sessions with the Cincinnati Bengals as they prepare for their preseason opener against them on Thursday night. Two days of practice, which all of the players look forward to because it’s nice to hit someone that is not your teammate. One of the more interesting developments that could come from this session will be if any fights occur. I could be mistaken but generally speaking it seems like the number of training camp fights is a lot lower with Mike Smith than previous regimes.
One of the drawbacks for these two days of joint practices will be the absence of Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have both taken their fair share of lumps from Roddy White and Julio Jones through the first week-plus of training camp, and it would be nice to see them go against another top wideout. Green injured his knee last week, and is expected to be held out by the Bengals for this first week of preseason if not the next week. He is by far their primary offensive weapon, and they don’t want to risk further injury to him.
If there was another matchup that I’d be curious to see is how right tackles Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes handle standout Bengals left defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Dunlap is one of the premier situational pass rushers in the league. So much so that he just earned a $40 million contract, despite the fact that he’s only technically started two games in three seasons in Cincinnati. We won’t know how much work either party will see in Thursday’s game, so how they fare in practice against a premier pass rusher like Dunlap could determine a lot about how much confidence the team has in either player. It’s probably too late for the Falcons to try and make a move in free agency to bolster the position if they don’t like what they see this week. But it could go a long way to determining just how the Falcons handle their protections this year. Most NFL teams tend to roll their protections to the left side in order to protect the blindside of the quarterback, with the Falcons being among those teams. But given all the question marks that the Falcons could have on the right side with a pair of unproven starters in Garrett Reynolds at right guard, and either Johnson or Holmes at tackle, the Falcons might have to do the opposite. Given the Falcons have invested nearly $80 million in the left side of their offensive line, it would only make sense then that they should feel comfortable enough with them to put them more on an island.
Another fascinating development will be getting to see these joint practices and the upcoming preseason game portrayed on HBO’s series Hard Knocks. The cameras are enveloping Bengals training camp for the second time in the series’ history. The Falcons have indicated that they are interested in the show in the past, but have said that the timing wasn’t right. Personally, I believe the Falcons want to be on Hard Knocks. Arthur Blank very much strikes me as the type of owner that would be very open to the idea of millions of viewers seeing the greatness that is the organization he’s built in Atlanta. But they also don’t want to deal with the potential for distractions it creates. I think they are waiting until after they win a title before we’ll see the NFL Films crew descend upon Flowery Branch. But until then, we’ll just have to settle for the taste we’ll likely receive in the second episode, which will air next Tuesday.
It’s been over a week since Falcons began training camp on July 25, and it’s time to look at which players have distinguished themselves (and those that have not) with our weekly stock report. Expect the next one to be up after the Falcons Thursday night matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals next week.
Chase Coffman/Levine Toilolo
Coffman has been taking full advantage of the absence of Tony Gonzalez from the Falcons lineup, catching everything that comes his way. Toilolo is also making good ground as well, and it seems like the Falcons will no longer be hurting for depth at tight end as they have been in past seasons.
Moore got off to a fast start in camp, working the corners on the roster that aren’t named Asante Samuel. The competition for the fourth and fifth receiver spots are fairly wide open. Moore has shown he can make plays on offense, but perhaps the secret to his making the final roster will be if he can showcase his prowess on special teams.
Schraeder has generated quite a bit of buzz working with the reserve offensive line units. He’s a player that could manage to make the roster as the ninth offensive lineman and backup to left tackle Sam Baker.
By all accounts, Konz has had a solid camp, quieting any concerns whether or not the Falcons would see a precipitous dropoff this year at center due to the retirement of Todd McClure.
Cliff Matthews/Malliciah Goodman
Both Matthews and Goodman are off to good starts to camp. Both are expected to be in the mix to play defensive end when the Falcons want to add size to the lineup. Both players are hitting the scales around 280 pounds, and should be in the mix to spell Jonathan Babineaux when the Falcons go to their 3-man fronts at left defensive end. They will also likely be asked to play inside in 4-man fronts to add some quickness inside. Any concerns over whether either player would be able to carve out a significant role in the rotation seem to be evaporated given their start.
Bartu’s name is generating a bit more buzz in recent days. His athleticism and speed have been drawing rave reviews. Bartu has a chance to win a backup outside linebacker position, particularly as a backup to Stephen Nicholas on the strongside.
It’s been fairly quiet on the Lamar Holmes front. He is expected to be pushing Mike Johnson for the starting right tackle spot in one of the few starting positions that was truly open to competition, but there hasn’t been much buzz surrounding Holmes. While there hasn’t been a ton of buzz surrounding Johnson either, it does seem like he clearly has the lead. If Holmes doesn’t step up in the coming weeks, this competition could be over before it even really began.
It’s probably not fair to put Trufant on this list. He had a rocky beginning to camp, but by all accounts has improved significantly as camp has progressed. He’ll have plenty of time to get his stock back up the rest of the way, so by no means should anybody be in panic mode. But Trufant is/was expected to win the starting right cornerback position, and the simple truth is that if the season began today, it would be a question of whether he would be in that role.