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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Cornerback

July 23rd, 2014 Comments off
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Alford (left) and Desmond Trufant

The Atlanta Falcons seem pretty secure as far as their starting cornerbacks go heading into the 2014 season, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of questions surrounding the position.

The first questions do center on their starters and how effective they’ll be now that the team lacks a true safety net at the position. A year ago, the team had long-time veteran Asante Samuel in that role. Now Samuel is gone and the team will be reliant upon starters Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford to rise to the occasion.

There is less question on whether Trufant can accomplish that task. Trufant is coming off a very promising rookie season where his play particularly down the stretch has many considering him one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Trufant regularly displayed his ball skills and disruptive capabilities at the cornerback position, breaking up or intercepting a pass in 13 out of 16 games last season including nine consecutive games to open the season.

If there is any concern, it’s the fear against a sophomore slump for Trufant. Such slumps can be precarious because they typically are not caused by a significant downturn in play, but by the much higher expectations placed on a player after a successful rookie season. There’s no doubt that expectations are high for Trufant this year, and his play in camp will likely determine whether or not he’s set to meet them.

Opposite him will be Alford, who has a few more questions to answer. Alford supplanted Samuel down the stretch last year thanks to the team’s abysmal record leading the coaching staff to install a youth movement on defense. Alford had his fair share of bright spots, but also several head-scratching ones. A talented athlete, Alford still needs to refine the technical aspects of playing the cornerback position. He certainly has the talent to impact this year, particularly if he can balance some of his inevitable mistakes with big plays.

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Julio Jones Cleared for Training Camp Practices

July 23rd, 2014 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Jones

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones has been cleared medically to participate in training camp practices. Camp commences on Friday for the Falcons. Jones is recovering from a foot injury that sidelined him for the final 11 games of the 2013 season. Per Falcons head coach Mike Smith however, Jones will be kept on a strict snap count with the goal of him remaining healthy until the Falcons regular season starts in September.

Last season Jones broke the screw that was placed in his right foot back in 2011 prior to his entry into the league as the Falcons’ No. 1 pick. Jones originally broke the foot during his days at Alabama.

He has been limited throughout the offseason after undergoing an experimental procedural to help promote healing in the affected area. Jones had bone marrow removed from his hip and injected into his foot coupled with the insertion of another larger screw.

Jones is the Falcons’ top offensive weapon, as he was the league leader in receptions (41) and second in receiving yards (580) at the time of his injury last season. His continued good health may be the biggest factor in the Falcons success in 2014.

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Peters and Motta Will Open Falcons Camp on PUP List

July 22nd, 2014 Comments off

Getty Images from Yahoo! Sports

Corey Peters

The Atlanta Falcons made additional moves today in conjunction with their earlier signings, as D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reports that defensive tackle Corey Peters and safety Zeke Motta will begin training camp on the team’s active/Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list. The pair will join wide receiver Drew Davis, who was announced earlier this month to be headed to the list when the team’s training camp begins later this week on Friday. As part of their designation, Peters and Motta will be held out of practice until medically cleared by team doctors. If/when that occurs they will be removed from the PUP list and resume practicing.

This news is not surprising given a report last month that indicated both Peters and Motta’s statuses for the start of training camp was in doubt. Peters tore his Achilles tendon at the end of the 2013 season and has been rehabbing. He targets Week 1 of the regular season for his return.

Motta is suffering from a fractured neck sustained also at the end of the 2013 season and has been held out of workouts all offseason long. It was reported in June that he was set to see a specialist this month in order to indicate if he can return to the field. Presumably his status on the active/PUP list indicates that the Falcons have yet to rule him out for the remainder of the 2014 season, giving some optimism. However, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure indicates that this news may not be as promising, tweeting that Motta still should not be expected to play this season.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Linebacker

July 22nd, 2014 Comments off

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Joplo Bartu

There are a lot of questions surrounding the Atlanta Falcons linebacker position, with a number of unproven players being asked to contribute larger roles in 2014.

For the Falcons, things took a turn for the worse when linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, the unit’s leader and best player, was injured in June with a torn Achilles. Weatherspoon’s loss has forced the team to look in the others’ directions to compensate.

Much of the void left by Weatherspoon is expected to be filled by middle linebacker Paul Worrilow. Among the three projected starters, Worrilow is the most solidified in his role. As a second-year player, he will have to take on a much larger mantle, becoming the unit’s top playmaker and leader on defense.

While Worrilow possesses the necessary traits for leadership, it remains to be seen if he can perform up to them. Worrilow came out strong last summer as an undrafted free agent to make the team, and this summer will need a similar emergence to lead the team.

Strong-side outside linebacker Kroy Biermann is expected to return from his own Achilles injury to flank Worrilow on the edge. After using Biermann as a bit of a “joker” player in his first season under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan in 2012, the team moved him fully to linebacker last summer. But Biermann was injured too early in the season to know if that transition was successful. Thus, he’ll have to prove himself again this summer.

Beside Worrilow at the other inside position that is expected to replace Weatherspoon is Joplo Bartu. Bartu, a 2013 undrafted free agent like Worrilow, also quickly impressed the coaching staff last summer with his range and athleticism. He quickly carved out a role in the sub-packages due to his coverage potential, and relative to his undrafted status as a rookie, played well in 2013. But there have been recent concerns over whether the coaching staff is ready to place the same amount of trust in him this year.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Defensive Tackle

July 21st, 2014 Comments off

Andrew Weber- US PRESSWIRE

Corey Peters

The Atlanta Falcons will feature more competition at the defensive tackle position in regards to their reserves since their starting lineup was solidified in the offseason by the signing of Paul Soliai.

As I explained in the write-up on the Falcons defensive ends, all signs point to the Falcons adopting more of a 3-4 schematic look in their base attack on defense this season. The addition of Soliai is a big part of that reason for he is the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle.

Big, strong and capable of absorbing double teams, Soliai gives the Falcons something they did not truly have with Corey Peters last season. Peters was capable in performing some of those roles, but was by no means the classic version of the 3-4 nose that usually weighs in above 320 pounds. Coupled with Peters’ recovery from injury, it was clear the Falcons were going to need more help at the position.

They found that in Soliai with a substantial long-term contract. If offensive tackle Jake Matthews is the jewel of the draft class, then Soliai is that for free agency based purely off his contract. And thus, it doesn’t make sense for a team to spend as much money as they did on 3-4 players like Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson and not utilize them in the manner that suits them best.

Soliai will start for the Falcons, but will likely be pulled off the field in most passing situations. That was the case in Miami as Soliai had a tendency to wear down over the course of games. The Falcons will need to find a way to minimize that.

A heavy rotation with Peters could be one answer, but that is dependent on his health. Peters told me himself that he is expecting to return for the regular season opener, and if that is the case then he’ll be able to earn reps replacing Soliai in passing situations.

Unlike some 3-4 teams, the Falcons will likely utilize a four-man front when they employ their nickel sub-packages on passing downs. It’s likely that the same starting lineup the team featured up front last season: Osi Umenyiora and Jonathan Massaquoi at the end spots with Peters and Jonathan Babineaux at tackle will be their go-to group. That potentially puts the team’s four best pass-rushers (minus linebacker Kroy Biermann) on the field at the same time.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Defensive End

July 20th, 2014 Comments off

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Tyson Jackson

The Atlanta Falcons are undergoing a revamp of their defensive fronts this year, and it will begin with the defensive end position.

Under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons have employed a multiple defense, which means it is not strictly a 4-3, nor is it a 3-4 scheme. It’s a hybrid between the two and for the most part over the two years that Nolan has been in Atlanta, it could be most accurately termed a 4-3 scheme with 3-4 principles.

But things might change in 2014 as the Falcons may flip it, opting for a 3-4 scheme with 4-3 principles instead. That change is signaled by the team’s expensive additions up front this offseason, including defensive end Tyson Jackson.

Jackson spent the past five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs playing in a 3-4 scheme, and is the second-highest paid defensive lineman on the roster behind only nose tackle Paul Soliai. Given that level of investment and the fact that Jackson has little experience playing in a 4-3, it does appear that at least for the team’s base packages, the Falcons will feature a lot more three-man fronts.

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FalcFans Weekly – July 20, 2014

July 20th, 2014 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

Julio Jones

Once again recapping the highlights that was the past week of the Atlanta Falcons.

In case you missed anything on FalcFans.com this past week, here are all the links to catch you up:

Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Interior Offensive Line

July 19th, 2014 Comments off

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 Comments off

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 Comments off

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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