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Five Falcons to Watch Tonight vs. Bengals

August 8th, 2013 Comments off
Phil Sears-US PRESSWIRE

Dominique Davis

You might have thought I cheated by putting six Falcon players, but I didn’t. I have five Falcons and one Bengal. And watching that one Bengal will allow you to watch multiple Falcon players. But these are a handful of Falcons that I think certainly deserve to draw a lot of eyeballs in tonight’s preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

QB Dominique Davis

Matt Ryan may only see a series or two in the preseason opener if anything, which should give Davis a lot of work with the starters. While he won’t have Julio Jones or Tony Gonzalez to throw to, he should get plenty of time with players like Harry Douglas and Chase Coffman, as well as many of the Falcons starters up front, a considerable uptick from what he was predominantly working with last preseason as the fourth string quarterback to start off. If Davis picks up where he left off last summer, he’s well on his way to locking down the No. 2 spot behind Matt Ryan.

OT Lamar Holmes/Ryan Schraeder

Holmes will get the start at right tackle. I would not be surprised to see Holmes get the brunt of the work in the first half and give way to Schraeder at some point in the second or third quarter. I also would not be surprised for the Falcons to pull the plug fairly early on Sam Baker at left tackle, and give Schraeder reps on the left side in the first half, so the possibility that they can evaluate both Schraeder and Holmes at the same time. The Bengals front line is a formidable unit, and with ends like Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, all of the Falcons tackles will have their backs against the wall. Luckily for them, it’s doubtful that they will see either starter for extended reps.

MLB Brian Banks

Tonight’s game will mark Banks’ first real football action in a decade since he was falsely incarcerated as a top high school prospect. Banks has received plenty of work in recent months with the Falcons, but ostensibly when he hits the field he will be even rawer than your typical rookie due to all the time and learning lost. While the expectation won’t be that Banks will be a monster his first game in, it will be important for him to try and limit the mental errors he makes. And if he can make a couple of plays here and there, particularly against the run, that will be a bonus.

CB Desmond Trufant

I suspect Trufant will get the start at right corner. It’s a shame that Bengals wideout A.J. Green will be out of the lineup since Trufant would get an opportunity to test himself against one of the league’s best. Or at least another opportunity, since he gets two of those opportunities every day in practice going against Jones and Roddy White. Instead he should get plenty of work against the Bengals new de facto No. 1 receiver in the absence of Green which is Mohamed Sanu. Well, he was likely to see a lot of Sanu regardless, since he is the receiver that typically lines up against the right side. Sanu isn’t the fastest receiver, but he’s got good size and athleticism which allows him to make plays on the ball even when you have him blanketed. That should be a good first test for Trufant as he prepares to get ready for Marques Colston and Lance Moore in Week 1.

TE Tyler Eifert

I mention Eifert because he’s likely to get extended reps in his first preseason action. The 6’6″ 250 first round pick has had a strong camp and will be a difficult matchup for the Falcons starting linebackers, let alone the backups. With Sean Weatherspoon out of the lineup, it will be a good opportunity for Akeem Dent to showcase any abilities he possesses in coverage. And certainly if any of the reserves fare well if/when matched up on an island against Eifert, it could greatly benefit their chances of making the Falcons final roster. Essentially you’re watching Eifert to see which Falcon defender is covering him on that given play.

Falcons to add dime to the mix

August 8th, 2013 Comments off
Icon SMI

Dominique Franks

One of the more interesting developments I was hoping to see this year was whether or not the Falcons would incorporate more dime subpackages into their defense. The dime differs from the nickel subpackage due to the fact that it features six defensive backs rather than five. The Falcons made limited use of the dime a year ago, but at least for the preseason appear willing to experiment. Falcons head coach Mike Smith had these comments following Wednesday’s practice:

When you start talking safeties and corners, those are guys that usually contribute on all four special teams. It’ll be fun to watch those guys. I think we’ve got a number of guys that will work and you’ll see play the dime position. Again, this is what the preseason is all about. It’s about evaluating your roster.

The Falcons did make more usage of dime at the end of the regular season last year when injuries hurt their secondary, particularly with William Moore and Chris Owens out of the lineup. In that subpackage, Dominique Franks worked his way on the field, often lining up as a safety on the back-end.

In fact, the dime subpackage might represent Franks best opportunity to retain his hold on a roster spot in 2013. The expectation are that both rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will surpass him on the depth chart at cornerback, leaving him as the fifth corner. The fifth corner is often used as a special teams-only player, particularly when it comes to coverage units. The only reason why Franks was active last season on Sundays was because of his role as the team’s punt returner, but that appears to be very much in jeopardy heading into 2013.

In reality, if the Falcons do use more dime this year, it may mean greater opportunities for the loser of the battle between Trufant and Alford at right cornerback, as the Falcons will likely field four corners and two safeties in the dime.

One of the benefits of dime is potentially to help the Falcons better match up with some of the top-level tight ends they will see this year. It was a strategy the Houston Texans tried to employ to only limited success last year against the New England Patriots in 2012. While it did not work in terms of execution, the idea behind it is sound. Given that the best cover men on a defense are its corners and if a team is going to try and match up man to man against quality receivers and tight ends, it makes sense to maximize the number cornerbacks on the field as opposed to linebackers, who are notably weaker there. Given the fact that all of the Falcons linebackers struggled in coverage in 2012, and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan frankly had to throw the entire kitchen sink at Jimmy Graham to try and contain him last year, it makes sense to find a more permanent solution.

Two offenses the Falcons are set to face in 2013 that make ample use of the two-tight end set are New England and San Francisco. Given New England’s issues however, it doesn’t appear that installing a dime subpackage will need to be a priority heading into the season. But as Smith indicated it makes sense to see how things fare during the preseason where the wins and losses don’t count, and roster evaluation is the priority.

Categories: News Tags: , , ,

Training Camp: Day 10 Report

August 6th, 2013 Comments off

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:

 

Training Camp: Day 9 Report

August 5th, 2013 Comments off

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.

Takeaways from Last Week – August 5

August 5th, 2013 Comments off
David Kohl-US PRESSWIRE

Carlos Dunlap

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.

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Training Camp Stock Report Week 1

August 3rd, 2013 Comments off

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.

Stock Up

 

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.

Martel Moore

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.

Ryan Schraeder

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.

Peter Konz

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.

Joplo Bartu

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.

Stock Down

 

Lamar Holmes

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.

Desmond Trufant

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.

Training Camp: Day 8 Report

August 3rd, 2013 Comments off

Last night, the Falcons participated in their annual Friday Night Lights, a scrimmage in front of fans in Gainesville, Georgia. Over 14,000 fans showed up, setting a new attendance record for the event. In the end, the scrimmage resulted in a tie 14-14 between offense and defense. The Falcons will have Saturday off, and return to work tomorrow. Next week they will have combined practices with the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday and Tuesday gearing up for their Thursday Night preseason opener in the Georgia Dome.

Jay Adams also gives his thoughts on the 5 players that stood out the most in his eyes.

Here are some of the highlight plays of the event from Adams as well:

The players also really appreciated the fans:

 

Takeaways from Last Week – July 29

July 29th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Should Stephen Nicholas be worried?

Training camp has begun for the Falcons. And it’s still early, but there have been a few interesting developments.

A lot has been made of the beatings that rookie corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have had at the hands of Julio Jones and Roddy White. It’s somewhat silly, given it’s their first few days in camp. They are going up against arguably two of the ten best receivers in the league (I’d love to meet the person that would argue against it). And they are rookies after all. Frankly, if Patrick Peterson didn’t set the world on fire as a rookie, and he was the best cornerback prospect to come out since Champ Bailey, then why would anybody expect either Trufant or Alford to not suffer through growing pains? The key for them is going to be how much progress they show over the course of camp and the preseason. And then they’ll face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the season opener. And I have no doubt that Sean Payton and Brees are going to very purposefully attack them in that game. And my expectations are that Payton and Brees will get the better of them more than they won’t. But even then, I won’t be upset. In regards to Trufant, Alford, and Robert McClain, it’s less about how good they are in September, but how good they are in January. After all, everyone expects this Falcon team to make the playoffs and make a title run.

It’s hard to tell who is ahead in some of the other position battles that dot the roster. What limited word we’ve heard about the right tackle position, suggests that Mike Johnson is still slightly ahead of Lamar Holmes. But one can’t put too much stock in one observation during one drill. We’ll see how that plays out the rest of summer. In past summers, things usually start to pick up by the second preseason game for offensive line battles so we’ll see how that goes.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the tight end battle plays out with Tony Gonzalez’s prolonged absence from camp. Chase Coffman and Tommy Gallarda appear to be getting much of the first-team reps thus far, with Levine Toilolo working as a reserve. While Toilolo’s roster spot isn’t really in jeopardy, we’ll have to see if he can leapfrog either in the coming days and weeks. As I’ve mentioned before, what sort of summer Toilolo has could have significant impact on how the rest of the roster plays out at that position. If he shines as a blocker, then Gallarda loses a bit of value. If he shines more as a receiver, then Coffman loses a bit of his luster there.

Defensively, there isn’t any direct competitions per se that I’m paying attention to. I’m more curious to see and hear how the Falcons use certain players like Kroy Biermann and Osi Umenyiora, who seem to getting a lot of time playing on their feet thus far. Eventually, I’m curious to see how the competition between Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas plays out for the second linebacker in the nickel. I fully expect Dent to win the job, but I’m curious how it all plays out. I’d like to see Dent win the job handily, that would give me more confidence that things are looking up for the Falcons coverage abilities from the linebacker position. There is some risk that Nicholas winds up a cap casualty at the end of camp. I don’t expect that to happen, but I also didn’t expect the Falcons to cut John Abraham at the beginning of the off-season. The Falcons cap situation currently (projected at roughly $5.7 million in cap space after Ryan’s extension) doesn’t call for the team to really need to purge salary at the end of the summer. As I’ve noted before the Falcons can save $905,000 against the cap by cutting Peria Jerry. Well actually that’s not true, the savings really only becomes $498,000 when you factor in a player like Micanor Regis (2013 cap hit of roughly $407,000) would then take up a roster spot and eat into those savings.

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Training Camp: Day 4 Report

July 29th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons held their first padded practice of training camp on Sunday. Here are some of the main bullet points from observers:

  • Rookie defensive end Stansly Maponga was cleared to return to team drills today, and showcased some athleticism indicating that he appears to be 100% recovered from off-season foot surgery that forced him to sit out OTAs and only get work in individual drills the first few days of camp.


  • Desmond Trufant is getting work at right cornerback as expected, but also working inside in the slot at the nickel spot. Yesterday, Daniel Cox noted Trufant’s growing confidence which seemed to be echoed in the following comments from the young cornerback:

    “I’m a young player. It’s my first camp. I’m going to make some mistakes, but I’ve got to move on. You’ve got to take the hard coaching and never take (anything) personal because they are just trying to get me better.”

  • Check out Daniel Cox’s five daily observations from the fourth day of camp.
  • Here’s the transcript from the post-practice interviews conducted by Mike Smith and Roddy White.
Categories: News Tags: , ,

Training Camp: Day 3 Report

July 27th, 2013 Comments off

Recapping once more what media outlets were discussing from the third day of the Atlanta Falcons 2013 training camp:

  • John Manasso shed a bit more light on the expected absence of tight end Tony Gonzalez, who departed camp today. He’ll be expected back to participate in the final two preseason games (on August 24 and 29 vs. Tennessee and Jacksonville respectively). When he returns prior to that point still remains unknown.
  • Desmond Trufant’s confidence is up. Confidence is a necessary trait for quality corners. Goes along with a short memory, something Trufant is going to have going up against these Falcon receivers.
  • Martel Moore has earned praise from several outlets for his work during the first two days of camp. The latest being from Manasso and Jay Adams.
  • Osi Umenyiora is getting reps as a stand-up pass rusher, although he’s not sure how much he’ll be asked to do that on Sundays. Well if he was to ask John Abraham, the answer would be “a lot.”
  • Looks like a foursome might be emerging that is vying for the punt returner spot. To no surprise, Harry Douglas, Dominique Franks, Robert Alford, and James Rodgers got reps today. Douglas and Franks worked on the unit last season. Alford returned punts while at SE Louisiana. Rodgers split reps with his brother Jacquizz last summer on kickoff returns, but also got reps on punts during his collegiate career at Oregon State.
  • And as usual, Daniel Cox recounts five observations from the third day of camp, an obligatory read.