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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Interior Offensive Line

July 19th, 2014 No comments

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Hawley

The Atlanta Falcons finally stabilized the interior of the offensive line this offseason by signing Kansas City guard Jon Asamoah to handle right guard duties. Since the team allowed Harvey Dahl to depart via free agency three seasons ago, there has been a revolving door of one poor player after another stuck at that position.

The addition of Asamoah gives the team an accomplished player that will do well to bolster their pass protection, something that should greatly benefit quarterback Matt Ryan. If there are any issues surrounding Asamoah, it’s the run blocking that is a relatively minor concern.

Asamoah made his bones in Kansas City as a productive starter mainly with his athleticism and ability to block on the move in their zone-blocking scheme. That has not been the style of blocking the Falcons have preferred over the course of the Mike Smith Era, thus raising the question of how much, if any, adapting the Falcons will do for Asamoah.

Opposite Asamoah at left guard, Justin Blalock returns and was the team’s best blocker a year ago. But given the Falcons had one of the league’s worst lines, that might not be saying a lot.

But 2013 was one of Blalock’s better seasons as a Falcon and if he can carry that momentum in 2014, it should give the Falcons the best pair of starting guards that they’ve had in more than a decade. While Blalock has never blossomed into one of the league’s premier guards, he has become relatively consistent with above average to good play each year as he enters his eighth season in the league.

Contrasting with Blalock, there is a lot more uncertainty surrounding Joe Hawley at center. While Hawley played mostly well down the stretch as a replacement for Peter Konz at center, that does not automatically mean that given the opportunity to start every game this year will automatically translate to equal or greater success.

This summer will be an important one for Hawley, as he is getting his first legitimate chance to be the team’s long-term option at center. Initially drafted as the heir apparent to Todd McClure in 2010, Hawley was leap-frogged when the team drafted Konz in 2012.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Offensive Tackle

July 18th, 2014 No comments

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Baker

The major questions surrounding the Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle position center on their pair of starters: left tackle Sam Baker and right tackle Jake Matthews.

Those questions mainly are whether Baker can rebound after a 2013 season depleted by injuries and poor play, and whether Matthews can make an impact as a rookie. And those questions won’t get answered until the regular season, regardless how this summer turns out.

As for the first question about Baker, there isn’t a lot of room for optimism. In six years in Atlanta, Baker has managed to stay fully healthy for two seasons (2010 and 2012) and only in the latter year did he perform at a high enough level to merit distinction.

If there is reason for hope, it is that Baker’s performance against Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy in Week 9 was good, especially relative to his three appearances at the outset of 2013.

The hope is that in 2014, Baker can potentially string 16 starts together similar to his performance against Carolina. Otherwise, his future will be limited in Atlanta due to the presence of Matthews on the other side.

There’s little doubt the Falcons envision Matthews as the long-term blindside protector for quarterback Matt Ryan. The son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, Jake has the potential to be a long-term fixture. If his career is just half as successful as his father’s, then fans can expect Matthews to play a decade in Atlanta.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Tight End

July 17th, 2014 No comments

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY

Levine Toilolo

For five seasons the Atlanta Falcons’ tight end position was one of the league’s best due to the presence of Tony Gonzalez, but now entering 2014 could have possibly morphed into one of the league’s weakest units.

There are unanswered questions heading into training camp at this position, centering mostly on whether Levine Toilolo is ready to take over for Gonzalez.

Toilolo was drafted in the fourth round of last year’s draft and tabbed as the heir apparent to Gonzalez. However, despite the team’s youth movement at most other positions in the second half of 2013, the Falcons never saw fit to really get Toilolo on the field. It raises questions about the level of confidence the team should have in the young tight end.

No one expects Toilolo to come close to filling Gonzalez’s shoes, but that doesn’t mean that expectations are low. Toilolo is currently penciled atop the Falcons depth chart at tight end, and thus should still at least act accordingly.

Toilolo won’t be one of the top starting tight ends in the league in 2014, but should at least look competent. And whether he can achieve that remains to be seen. The hope is that Toilolo eventually develops into a player similar to Marcedes Lewis, who Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter had in Jacksonville. Lewis has good size and is known mainly as one of the top blocking tight ends in the league, but is also an occasional playmaker and red-zone threat.

Toilolo has the tools to be that sort of player, but it might take some time before that sort of ability comes forth. It should be noted that Lewis got off to a slow start in his pro career. Toilolo will need a very strong preseason, something he lacked last summer, to allay any concerns about his immediate starting potential.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Wide Receiver

July 16th, 2014 No comments

Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

Julio Jones (left) and Roddy White

The Atlanta Falcons head into the 2014 season with the same basic trio that they have sported for the past three seasons, yet for perhaps the first time ever in that span there are some causes for concern.

The biggest being the health of Julio Jones. Jones is recovering from a foot injury that cost him the final 11 games of the 2013 season and has been rested for all of the offseason.

While the word all offseason long has been that the team is resting Jones in preparation for training camp, there is no guarantee that he’ll even see much action when camp does arrive.

The Falcons have been clear that they won’t rush Jones back, which could lead to him missing all or most of the preseason if he’s not 100 percent within the first week or two of camp. Expectations are that Jones will return for the regular season opener against the New Orleans Saints, but the Falcons probably won’t risk jeopardizing that even if it means playing Jones at 98 percent.

That translates to the possibility that Jones will sit out all of the preseason with the possible exception of the third game against the Tennessee Titans. If Jones is not 100 percent by mid-August, it likely means that he will skip that Titans game and go into the regular season with limited work in pads.

In the meantime, the Falcons should have Roddy White and Harry Douglas to fill any void. White also missed much of the offseason as he was dealing with a family matters due to the murder of his brother. But expectations are that White will be back for training camp and may have a new contract as well.

Douglas is coming off a career-high season in which he led the Falcons in receptions and yards. His play this summer will be a big factor as he is the team’s primary option to fill the void left by the retirement of tight end Tony Gonzalez. The Falcons are expected to employ three wide receivers significantly more to try and compensate for Gonzalez’s loss. Douglas played in 59 percent of the team’s offensive plays in 2012, but that figure increased to 86 percent in 2013 (per premium website Pro Football Focus). It’s likely that his workload in 2014 will mirror his 2013 one.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Fullback

July 15th, 2014 No comments

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick DiMarco

When the Atlanta Falcons released former draft pick Bradie Ewing this offseason, it signaled that the team’s investment in the fullback position was diminishing.

That could be reflected in the fullback competition this summer, as the team has a trio of players competing for what likely will be only one roster spot.

Patrick DiMarco is the incumbent, filling in for an injured Ewing a year ago and performing well. DiMarco is an effective lead blocker that can also contribute on special teams, meaning that his fate is not exclusively tied to the fullback position.

That’s important, since it’s plausible that the team could opt to do away with the position entirely this year. Reports indicate the Falcons will play more three-wide receiver sets which will likely be at the expense fo the fullback.

They could adopt more two-tight end looks that have players like Bear Pascoe or Jacob Pedersen lining up at H-back instead of the traditional fullback. Pascoe’s played fullback in the past and is good enough that he could be perfectly functional in a pinch.

But because DiMarco also can contribute on special teams, it gives him added value when it comes to earning a roster spot. It may very well prove that during the regular season, whoever plays fullback will see more reps on special teams than he does on offense.

DiMarco will face competition from a pair of undrafted rookies in Roosevelt Nix and Maurice Hagens.

Nix is an interesting case because he played defensive tackle at Kent State, where he was very productive at that position. But his lack of size limited his NFL potential there, and the team hopes to take advantage of his physicality on offense.

Hagens is a big body at the position and could also make waves. It’ll be important for both undrafted rookies to show they can also cut it on special teams.

Ostensibly this position is a wide open competition, with any of the three having decent odds to stick. This is also a position where the Falcons could just as easily seek other options elsewhere when cuts occur later this summer.

DiMarco is the safest bet to make the team, but it’s the most wide open position on the team.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Running Back

July 15th, 2014 No comments
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Devonta Freeman

The biggest questions surrounding the Atlanta Falcons running back position are less about who will make the team, but how the team will stack its depth chart.

Steven Jackson returns as the unquestioned incumbent starter at the position. Jackson missed a significant chunk of his first year with the Falcons due to a hamstring injury, but finished the year relatively strong. Jackson rushed for 392 yards in the final seven games, which extrapolates to just shy of 900 for a full 16-game slate.

Although it’s worth noting that low figure likely has a lot to do with the fact that the Falcons rarely had opportunities to run the ball in the second halves of games down the stretch due to getting behind early. Over the final seven games, the team ran the ball on 35.6 percent of first-half plays, but only on 30.6 percent of second-half plays.

Jackson also saw his production dip significantly in those second halves, averaging just 2.4 yards per carry versus 4.8 yards in the first halves of the final seven games.

The team is hopeful that there will be more balance with their running game this year given improvements made along the offensive line as well as on defense which should prevent the team from getting too far behind early.

Behind Jackson may be the most notable competition at the position, which will feature a battle between Jacquizz Rodgers and rookie Devonta Freeman for the right to be the team’s primary third-down back.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Quarterback

July 14th, 2014 No comments

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Yates

Every since Matt Ryan first won the job in his first summer with the team in 2008, the Atlanta Falcons starting quarterback position has been settled. Instead the brunt of the question marks and competition at the position comes in the battle for the right to back up Ryan each year.

This year will be no different, as the team traded for former Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates last month to fill that role. Yates seemingly should be an upgrade over Dominique Davis, who previously held the mantle of the team’s No. 2 quarterback before his untimely release.

Unlike Davis, Yates has legit NFL starting experience, having started six games during his rookie season in 2011.

Upon his release, Davis indicated that the Falcons planned to keep only one backup on the roster behind Ryan, and that their decision to acquire Yates essentially made the decision who that would be before any real competition took place.

But that doesn’t mean Yates is by any means a lock to make the roster. As the team saw in the summer of 2012, there was a similar situation where Chris Redman should have had the backup spot all wrapped up. However, Redman struggled and allowed a bright-eyed, then undrafted rookie with the name of Davis to oust him from the roster.

This summer, young players like Sean Renfree and Jeff Mathews hope to repeat that history.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 70 “Do You Remember Where You Were When Courtney Roby Signed?”

July 8th, 2014 1 comment

Allen and I are joined by The Falcoholic staff writer, Matt Chambers to discuss our favorite NFL team: the Atlanta Falcons once more. Matt’s fifth appearance on the podcast includes discussion of newly signed wide receiver Courtney Roby and the injury to Drew Davis. We also dive into Hard Knocks and training camp storylines along with some possible emerging undrafted rookies. Sean Weatherspoon, Paul Worrilow, Prince Shembo and Sam Baker are also discussed along the way.

Episode 70: Do You Remember Where You Were When Courtney Roby Signed? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 7 minutes

Allen covers the Falcons for 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! For Android users, DoubleTwist is a good app to listen as well. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 69 “Legion of Zoom”

June 27th, 2014 No comments

logoAllen and I are joined by third wheel Rashad James to discuss all the big news from the month of June surrounding the Atlanta Falcons, including the injury to Sean Weatherspoon, pickups of Tim Dobbins and T.J. Yates, and their future appearance on HBO series’ Hard Knocks. Other topics include: Brandon Flowers, Matt Ryan, Harry Douglas, D-Block, NFL Top 100 players, San Diego Chargers fanhood, the best wide receiver duo in the league and the Miami Heat.

Episode 69 – Legion of Zoom [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 9 minutes

Allen covers the Falcons for Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Rashad can be found on twitter with the handle: @100K_Jay.

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! For Android users, DoubleTwist is a good app to listen as well. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Motta, Peters’ Training Camp Statuses Unknown

June 20th, 2014 Comments off
David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Zeke Motta

Vaughn McClure of ESPN reported this morning that the statuses of Atlanta Falcons safety Zeke Motta and defensive tackle Corey Peters are unknown as of yet for next month’s training camp. Both players are coming off serious injuries suffered last December at the end of the 2013 season.

Motta suffered a fractured neck in the Falcons’ Week 14 loss to the Green Bay Packers. He had offseason surgery on the injury, but his recovery has been delayed longer than initially expected. Per McClure, Motta will have a follow-up appointment in July that will determine whether or not he’ll return not just for training camp, but also for the year. It’s clear that Motta’s neck injury is a career-threatening one.

Peters on the other hand suffered a torn Achilles tendon against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16 last year. Per Falcons head coach Mike Smith, Peters is ahead of schedule in his recovery. But he is still is at risk for missing a large portion of training camp and/or the preseason as he continues to recover from the injury. McClure indicates there is a possibility that Peters could be placed on the team’s Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list at the start of not only training camp but also the regular season.

McClure notes of two distinct designations that could await Peters. If at the outset of training camp, which begins on July 25, Peters is placed on active/PUP list, he will be eligible to return to practice during camp at his earliest allowance. But if he is placed on the reserve/PUP, then he will be forced to miss the first six weeks of the regular season, but will have a chance to return to practice and the active roster within a month afterwards.

McClure also notes that wide receiver Julio Jones is expected to be a full participant in training camp, despite missing all of the team’s offseason practices. Jones indicated earlier this month that his target date for return is the regular season-opener against the New Orleans Saints, indicating doubt that his usage in camp and the preseason may be extremely limited.

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