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Baker, Samuel and White Questionable For Week 4 vs. Patriots

September 28th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced their Week 4 injury report yesterday, listing offensive tackle Sam Baker (foot/knee), wide receiver Julio Jones (knee), cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh), and wide receiver Roddy White (ankle) as questionable. Running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) is out as a previous report indicated. Both Baker and White missed Wednesday’s practice and were limited on Thursday and Friday. Jones was limited all week, while Samuel was added to the injury report just yesterday after fully participating the previous two days.

With Baker out of the lineup last week against the Miami Dolphins, the Falcons started Lamar Holmes at left tackle and replaced him at right tackle with Jeremy Trueblood. It remains to be seen if the Falcons will go with that combination again this week. Baker missed two days of practice due to a knee injury prior to the team’s Week 2 bout against St. Louis, was listed as questionable but managed to play. He wound up starting, but did not play the last few snaps after suffering the foot injury that kept him out last week.

Jones has been limited in nearly every practice since suffering his knee injury in Week 1, but has been no worse for wear on gamedays. He is currently leading the NFL in receptions (27) and receiving yards (373).

Samuel being added to the injury report suggests his thigh injury has regressed somewhat. He missed the season opener and played only seven snaps against the Rams. He managed only one day of practice last week but only missed a single snap in Week 3 against the Dolphins. In his absence earlier in the season, slot corner Robert McClain got the start at left cornerback and slid back back inside in the nickel to make way for Robert Alford on the outside.

White has yet to fully participate in any practice this year, as he grits through a high-ankle sprain suffered in the preseason. He has played every game, but been essentially splitting reps with Harry Douglas opposite Jones.

Jackson’s absence will mean that Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling will carry the load at running back for Atlanta for the second week in a row.

Also appearing on the injury report as probable were: center Peter Konz (knee), cornerback Robert McClain (knee), guard Garrett Reynolds (knee), and running back Josh Vaughan (ankle). Both Konz and Reynolds were limited on Wednesday and Thursday, but fully participated in practice on Friday. McClain and Vaughan both fully participated in all three practices this week. McClain and Vaughan both suffered their injuries against the Dolphins and exited the game. Konz had the same practice schedule and was nursing his knee injury a week ago. Reynolds suffered his injury against the Dolphins, but was not removed from the game.

For the Patriots, wide receiver/special teams player Matt Slater (wrist) was listed as out. Notable players that are questionable were wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin), cornerback Kyle Arirngton (groin), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), tackle Sebastian Vollmer (foot), and running back Leon Washington (thigh). According to reports cited by WEEI’s Mike Petraglia, Amendola and Gronkowski are unlikely to play this week.

Takeaways from Last Week – September 2

September 2nd, 2013 Comments off

ICON SMI

Peria Jerry

The Falcons finalized their roster over the weekend and there were a few interesting moves. If you’ve ready any of my lengthy reaction reviews following the Falcons preseason games, you probably know my opinion on many of the players that made the roster. I want to devote this week’s column to discussing many of the players that were small surprises.

For the record, I would say that I was off on eight players making the roster when I did my initial prediction at the start of training camp. Forty-five out of fifty-three ain’t bad at all. Just to recap, the players I wrongly projected to make the team were: I had Sean Renfree as the third-string quarterback, instead the Falcons kept Josh Vaughan as their fifth tailback. Renfree went on injured reserve, as it’s obviously impossible to predict injuries. Marcus Jackson was on my 53-man roster instead of Kevin Cone as the fifth wide receiver. I picked Phillipkeith Manley as the backup guard, instead it was Harland Gunn. Manley was added to the practice squad. Micanor Regis was my pick for backup defensive lineman, but the Falcons instead opted to keep Peria Jerry. Pat Schiller and Brian Banks were my picks for the team’s backup linebackers, but Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow made it instead. Charles Mitchell and Terrence Johnson were the backup defensive backs, instead Shann Schillinger and Dominique Franks preempted them. Yes, I did pick Ryan Schraeder to make the roster, along with all the teams’ rookie draft picks.

This isn’t meant to toot my own horn (well, maybe just a little) but just as a vector to discuss some of the decisions the Falcons made with their roster. I should preface this by saying that I’m often critical of how the Falcons have managed their roster over the years. I think one of the larger deficiencies of this team is their struggles to develop players, especially undrafted players and guys at the back-end of their roster. When the Falcons kept Brett Romberg as a third center on their roster in 2011, it made little sense to me. What team needs three centers? Todd McClure and Joe Hawley were already on the team and had both proven they could ably play the spot. That same year the Falcons picked up Kirk Chambers at midseason to replace an injured Mike Johnson on the roster. But despite Joe Hawley’s struggles at guard that year, the Falcons never once considered plugging in Chambers there. In my eyes that’s a poor use of a roster spot. Instead the Falcons could have been smart to replace him with a player that they could develop for next year such as Shawn Andrews, Vince Manuwai, or  Leonard Davis. Essentially if a player is not contributing in some capacity by being active every Sunday, or isn’t a player that the team wants to develop for its long-term future, then that player is basically taking up unnecessary space. That might be overly harsh, but I always feel like there is room for improvement as you could replace that players’ spot on the team with someone who does fulfill those requirements.

Take for instance a player like Stansly Maponga, who made the roster as the sixth defensive end, but in truth because the Falcons will use a variety of 3-4 and 4-3 looks this year, he’s essentially eighth on the depth chart. Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann, and Jonathan Massaquoi will earn the majority of the reps at end in the Falcons 4-3 looks. But the Falcons also can play Malliciah Goodman and Cliff Matthews there if need be. And in their 3-4 looks, alongside Goodman and Matthews, Peria Jerry and Jonathan Babineaux will get reps at end. And they will get those reps at times when the Falcons employ a four-man front if the preseason is any indicator as to what will happen in the regular season. So the odds are very low that Maponga will play any snaps this year unless the Falcons are hit with several injuries up front. Maponga thus will probably be inactive every Sunday because I don’t think the Falcons consider him to be a highly valuable special teams player either. So the Falcons likely won’t get any value out of him on game days this year. But in the case of Maponga there is a clear long-term value to developing him. I personally didn’t think Maponga was that impressive this year, enough that I thought the Falcons could risk exposing him to waivers with the intent of putting him on the practice squad. The Falcons obviously felt differently, and understandably so because Maponga does have developmental potential. He may not have had a great rookie summer, but he had injury concerns as somewhat an excuse, and he could still be primed to take a huge leap from Year 1 to Year 2, as many players do. Lawrence Sidbury did when he was here in Atlanta, and Maponga reminds me a lot of Sidbury, at least as an NFL prospect.

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Falcons get to 53 with 9 more cuts

August 31st, 2013 Comments off

Just before the deadline, the Falcons officially announced the last nine cuts. The team had already made 13 moves yesterday in their effort to get down to the 53-man roster limit by 6 pm Eastern today. Among those cut were: fullback Patrick DiMarco, linebacker Robert James, wide receivers Darius Johnson, Martel Moore, and James Rodgers, cornerback Jordan Mabin, guards Phillipkeith Manley and Jacques McClendon, and defensive tackle Adam Replogle.

These moves may not be the final moves the Falcons make in regards to their roster as they have typically also picked opposing teams’ players off the waiver wire in recent years. Tomorrow the Falcons can establish their eight-man practice squad as well.

These moves indicate that at least for the time being, the Falcons will keep four undrafted free agents on their roster in linebackers Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow, as well as offensive tackles Terren Jones and Ryan Schraeder. Guard Harland Gunn made the roster, beating out both Manley and McClendon. Wide receiver Kevin Cone retained his spot as the team’s fifth receiver. The Falcons currently have six running backs on their roster including fullback Bradie Ewing. The team opted to keep Antone Smith and Josh Vaughan at tailback, after it seemed likely only one would stick around. Other bubble players that seemingly have retained jobs are cornerback Dominique Franks and defensive tackle Peria Jerry. The Falcons also retained all of their draft picks, except quarterback Sean Renfree who went on injured reserve yesterday.

Dominique Davis is the team’s lone backup quarterback as of now. Again, the Falcons could continue to make more moves in the next week as they fine-tune their roster in preparation for their season-opening game against the New Orleans Saints on September 8.

Reactions from Falcons-Jaguars

August 30th, 2013 Comments off

Another thorough and extremely long post of reactions from last night’s game. I’ll give some more firm Conclusions: now that we have all four preseason games to evaluate. I’ll focus mainly on what the backups did and whether or not they managed to earn roster spots.

Quarterback

What I Saw:: Davis once again was very inconsistent. He made some poor decisions, some poor reads, and some poor throws. He struggled throwing accurate balls downfield. He had a few really nice throws that were on the money. But in general, he makes his receivers work much harder than they should because of his inaccuracy. When the 2-minute drill kicked off at the end of the half, he was throwing on time and in a rhythm on the throws that the ball came out quickly. But when he gets time in the pocket a few plays later, he struggled making those throws. I think part of that is because of his footwork/mechanics. When he can just make his drop and then throw off his back foot, he’s fine. But when you force him to have to get his feet under him and/or reset them, he messes up causing some errant throws and balls to sail. I felt sorry for him at the end of the game, you could tell he didn’t want to come back into the game. The pass protection just was subpar at the end of the game with the third stringers in the game. Sean Renfree only got a bit of work before he got injured, suffering some sort of injury to his throwing arm as he landed wrong while trying to throw the ball away. I hate to say it but that injury might wind up being fortunate for the Falcons, as it might force them to bring in another backup that can potentially push/overtake Davis on the depth chart down the road. It’s obviously not good for Renfree, who suffered a major injury to his throwing arm at the end of December. If this is another major one, it will be two major ones in 8 months and puts his NFL future in jeopardy.

Conclusions: Davis has talent, but he needs at least another year of refining before he’s a legit No. 2 quarterback in the NFL. He’s just too inaccurate and stares down his reads too much (almost threw 3 picks because of it). You see the flashes which you like and thus why he still has developmental potential. But the Falcons coaching staff will have to work extra hard to make him effective if he ever gets into a real game this season. Renfree even without the injury is just a project that the team was hoping could carry the clipboard for a year, and maybe in 2014 as he’s more comfortable in the system could start to show some promise. His injury might throw a wrench into that plan. He just did not look good this summer in limited action even before the injury.

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Jaguars prevail over Falcons in preseason finale

August 29th, 2013 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Massaquoi celebrates a touchdown with teammates

Despite a pair of opportunities to win the game late, the Falcons dropped their fourth preseason game to the Jacksonville Jaguars by a score of 20-16. The Falcons end their 2013 summer winless in the exhibition season, hoping to reverse their fortunes next Sunday when they open the season on the road against the New Orleans Saints. The overwhelming majority of Falcons starters got their rest on the evening, with the backups making their final bids for roster spots. The Falcons will have to cut down their roster from 75 to 53 players by Saturday.

Dominique Davis got the start at quarterback and was inconsistent for much of the night. He completed 18 of 35 passes for 175 yards with an interception. He was pulled from the game at halftime, but due to an injury to Sean Renfree, he was forced back into the game. Renfree finished 3 of 5 for 1 yard before his injury that forced him out of the game. Davis added 23 yards on the ground on a five carries. Josh Vaughan however led the team in rushing with 83 yards on five carries, including a 65-yard touchdown. Chase Coffman and Antone Smith each had four receptions for 47 and 23 yards, respectively. Darius Johnson was targeted a team-high nine times, but only caught a single pass for 11 yards. Kevin Cone (2 catches, 25 yards), James Rodgers (2 catches, 11 yards), and Jason Snelling (2 catches, 10 yards) also contributed. Jeremy Shelley got the work at kicker, but missed a 48-yarder which he followed by making a 42-yarder. He also missed an extra point following the Falcons’ first touchdown. Matt Bosher was forced to punt seven times due to struggles offensively, averaging 44.3 yards with a pair placed inside the 20-yard line. Robert Alford returned a pair of kickoffs for 34 yards, while Jacquizz Rodgers had a 27-gain on his lone kickoff return. Alford also added a pair of punt returns for 20 yards as well. The Falcons struggled on third downs, converting only 4 of 17 attempts. They managed to have 176 yards rushing on the night with 344 yards total.

The Falcons defense stepped up in the second half, and overall limited the Jaguars to 275 total yards. They bottled up the Jaguars’ second half passing attack, limiting them to just 46 yards on 15 attempts. For the entire night, the Jaguars converted just six of their 18 third down attempts. The Falcons defense was able to generate points thanks to a scoop and score by Jonathan Massaquoi, as well as pick off Jaguars’ passers twice. Robert James led defenders with 7 tackles on the night, including one for loss. Massaquoi added 4 tackles of his own, with a sack, forced fumble, recovery, and the aforementioned touchdown. Robert Alford (3 tackles, 1 interception, 2 passes defended), Joplo Bartu (4 tackles, 1 for loss), Zeke Motta (4 tackles), Adam Replogle (2 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 pass defended), Travian Robertson (2 tackles, 2 for loss), Shann Schillinger (3 tackles), Desmond Trufant (2 tackles, 1 interception, 2 passes defended), and Paul Worrilow (3 tackles) had noteworthy games.

The Falcons defense got off to a strong start. Pressure from Cliff Matthews forced an incompletion from Chad Henne on the first play from scrimmage. Two plays later, Robert Alford stepped in front of a Henne pass for the interception. That gave the Falcons prime field position at the Jaguars’ 29-yard line less than a minute into the game. But the Falcons offense had a hard time moving the ball, and a holding penalty on Phillipkeith Manley set up a 3rd & 21, which the Falcons were unable to convert on a 11-yard completion from Dominique Davis to Drew Davis. Jeremy Shelley came on the field to attempt a 48-yard field goal, but the kick sailed wide left leaving the Falcons without points off their initial turnover. The Falcons defense held on the ensuing Jaguars’ series that moved the ball 19 yards on six plays before forcing a punt by Bryan Anger that was downed at the Falcons own 9-yard line. After Jason Snelling burst up the middle for a 9-yard gain on first down, Snelling was bottled up for no gain on his two subsequent carries in short-yardage. That forced Bosher to punt, with the Jaguars taking over at their own 40-yard line. After an initial incompletion, Chad Henne completed four straight passes to get the ball into the redzone. Jordan Todman then burst up the middle for an 18-yard run into the endzone to put the Jaguars on the board with less than five minutes to go in the first quarter.

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Ravens streak past Falcons in comeback

August 15th, 2013 Comments off
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Torrey Smith bolts past Falcons defense for a score

The Falcons went up early against the Baltimore Ravens, but a late fourth quarter comeback led to their second loss of the preseason by a score of 27-23. The Falcons wound up blowing a 16-point lead in the second half.

Matt Ryan was solid despite seeing some pressure in this game, completing 8 of 15 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown. Dominique Davis came into the game in the second quarter, and finished the night completing 8 of 10 passes for 98 yards. Sean Renfree mopped up, completing 8 of 16 passes for 63 yards. On the ground, Steven Jackson was also solid with 42 yards gained on 8 carries. Josh Vaughan led Falcons rushers with 44 yards on 5 carries. Jacquizz Rodgers added 28 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown. Julio Jones shined with the starters, catching 3 passes for 55 yards and a touchdown. Darius Johnson led Falcons receivers with 6 grabs for a total of 50 yards. Drew Davis (4 catches, 45 yards), Antone Smith (2 catches, 40 yards), and Chase Coffman (3 catches, 30 yards) also made contributions in the Falcons’ passing attack. Matt Bryant connected on a 45-yard field goal, and Jeremy Shelley had a pair of field goals from 42 and 29 yards to give the Falcons their other scores. Matt Bosher punted six times for an average of 41.7 yards with 2 punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Robert Alford returned a pair of punts for 29 yards (14.5 avg) and Harry Douglas also returned a punt for 2 yards. All the Ravens kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. The Falcons were able to gain 255 yards of total offense in the first half, with 16 first downs and converted 4 of 8 third downs. They did not fare as strongly in the second half, with 167 total yards, 11 first downs and only 3 of 10 on third down conversions.

Defensively, the Falcons really bottled up the Ravens offense. While they gave up a pair of big plays for scores, the Ravens struggled to move the ball throughout the first three quarters. The Ravens’ starters played the entire first half, and only were able to accumulate 131 yards of total offense, 3 first downs, and converted only 1 of 5 third downs. In the second half, despite the big plays, the Falcons defense only allowed 118 yards of total offense. Paul Worrilow led defenders for the second consecutive game with 6 stops. He also added a sack and a tackle for loss. Among regulars, Jonathan Babineaux (3 tackles, 2 tackles for loss), Akeem Dent (2 tackles, 1 for loss); Robert McClain (3 tackles), and Asante Samuel (2 tackles, 1 interception) had standout performances. Among the backups, Joplo Bartu (3 tackles), Dominique Franks (no tackles, 1 interception, 3 passes defended), Kemal Ishmael (2 tackles), Charles Mitchell (2 tackles, 1 for loss), and Adam Replogle (2 tackles, 1 sack) had noteworthy games. Ishmael also added a pair of stops on special teams as well. The Falcons did give up a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown, the second score allowed in as many preseason games this summer.

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Falcons add eight off practice squad

January 24th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced on Monday the signing of eight players to future contracts. Each were signed off the team’s eight-man practice squad, including wide receivers Marcus Jackson and James Rodgers, guard Jacques McClendon, defensive tackle Micanor Regis, linebacker Pat Schiller, tight end Andrew Szczerba, cornerback Peyton Thompson, and running back Josh Vaughan.

Jackson, Rodgers, Regis, Schiller, and Thompson were all undrafted rookie free agents with the Falcons this summer that were signed to the practice squad at the outset of the regular season. Josh Vaughan was with the Carolina Panthers this past summer before being added to the Falcons practice squad in late September. Both McClendon and Szczerba were added in November. McClendon is a second-year player that was with the Detroit Lions in training camp, while Szczerba was an undrafted rookie with the Dallas Cowboys.

Terms of their deals were not disclosed, but a year ago players such as Robert McClain, Drew Davis, and Tommy Gallarda were signed to future contracts that were two years in length. That likely means that the eight players signed Monday have contracts that expire following the 2014 season.