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Five Falcons to Watch Tonight vs. Titans

August 24th, 2013 Comments off

Tonight against the Tennessee Titans will function much like a dress rehearsal for the regular season. The Falcons have game-planned for the Titans, and the starters will likely see their most extensive action of the preseason. They are expected to play all of the first half and also might get a series or two in the second half.

While preseason records don’t count, the third preseason typically is the Falcons’ best because of their primary reliance on starters. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons are 4-1 in their third preseason game. That represents 4 of only 7 preseason wins the Falcons have earned under Smith over the past five summers. So when it comes to treating these exhibition games like the real games, the team is exceedingly good.

The players to watch will focus mainly on the starters:

FB Bradie Ewing

Tonight will be Ewing’s first preseason action, and frankly his first NFL action after suffering a season-ending injury early in his first preseason action last year as a rookie while working on special teams. He has yet to line up on offense with the Falcons. Ewing is expected to man the starting fullback position. While Patrick DiMarco hasn’t run away with the spot in his absence, Ewing will need to have a solid debut and if he can get one clean, hole-clearing hit on a Titans linebacker to spring Steven Jackson, it’ll be a successful night.

TE Tony Gonzalez

This will mark Gonzo’s only action of the preseason. There are zero questions surrounding Gonzalez, but it will be nice to see him on the field. He’s both a security blanket for Matt Ryan and also the fans. As long as he’s healthy and playing, things are going to be okay.

DT Peria Jerry

I have been a firm believer that when the time comes, the Falcons will opt to dump Jerry due to his high salary and lacking production when final cuts are made next weekend. But I’ve been wrong before. Jerry has been working extensively with the team’s starters when Mike Nolan has used a 3-man front, playing left defensive end. Jerry has made minimal contributions as a Falcon since his injury in 2009, and if things are going to be different in 2013, it needs to show up tonight.

DE Jonathan Massaquoi

With the starters expected to get a full first half of play, it will be interesting to see how much the Falcons try to mix Massaquoi in with the group and how effective he is going up against the Titans’ starting offensive tackles. Massaquoi has been the one shining spot among the backups when it has come to getting pressure on the quarterback, and the Falcons will likely employ him in a rotation with Biermann and Umenyiora once the regular season starts. But how many reps he earns may depend on how strong a showing he has tonight.

OLB Sean Weatherspoon

Tonight will be Spoon’s first action of the preseason. And while Spoon is not in a position where he needs to prove himself, like with Gonzalez, it will be nice to see him on the field nonetheless. He’s coming off a lackluster (by his standards) 2012 season, and it will be nice to see if he can kick off his 2013 performance with a good start tonight.

Takeaways from Last Week – August 19

August 19th, 2013 Comments off
ICON SMI

Could we see the return of Mike Peterson?

Roddy White is injured, and I’m not worried. At least I should say I’m not worried right now. If White is out of the lineup in Week 1, then I’ll be worried.

But I’m pretty calm at this point in time, even knowing that White will miss the rest of the preseason with an ankle injury that he suffered on Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Falcons now have three weeks for White to get some rest and hopefully heal what the team termed a “minor” injury. Initial reports seem to confirm the lack of severity on this injury, suggesting White could suit up within a week if this were the regular season. But to be honest, I don’t fully buy that. The Falcons routinely have underestimated the amount of time it would take for their players to return. One famous example came in 2010 when Michael Jenkins suffered a shoulder injury in early August that was originally slated to put him out 4-6 weeks. Jenkins did not suit up for a Falcons game until 10 weeks later.

Now it should be noted that since 2010 I don’t recall any other blatant misreads of a player’s recovery. And the team may be a lot better today now three years removed at estimating the timetables for players’ recoveries. But generally speaking, I tend to add a week or two to all prognoses that the Falcons release about their injured players. The fact that the Falcons usually don’t put a timetable on players’ returns is also indicative that they also realize that it only opens themselves up for more criticism.

But the term “minor” is such a relative term. It could be minor in the sense that it may only keep him from practice or playing for a week or two. It could be minor in the sense that it won’t require surgery, but could keep him out of the lineup for a month or more. We really won’t know until Wednesday, September 4, when the Falcons practice report for Week 1 is released and it says either FP (full participation), LP (limited participation), or DNP (did not practice) to indicate where White’s status is. My personal philosophy is que sera sera, thus there is no sense worrying about things you cannot control.

And losing White is arguably the lesser of two evils, at least compared to losing Julio Jones. While I think Richard Sherman’s “dissing” of White several months ago went a bit too far (by saying he’s a product of the system), I do think there is a small sliver of a kernel of truth to what Sherman was saying in that White isn’t as good a player as Jones. Jones is the player that really makes the Falcons offense go, at least in the sense that it changes the way teams try to defend the Falcons. I do think there is a lot more overlap in regards to how the Falcons normally use White in comparison to his replacement, Harry Douglas.

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Training Camp: Day 17 Report

August 18th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons break training camp after a brief practice Sunday morning. The following was the news emerging after Saturday’s practice.

  • Head coach Mike Smith gave injury updates (video) on players after practice yesterday. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon returned to practice on Saturday after suffering an injury to his finger early last week. Running back Jason Snelling is expected to return to practice today. Linebacker Robert James and fullback Bradie Ewing are expected to resume regular practice on Tuesday, since the Falcons will be off on Monday. All four players missed this past Thursday’s preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
  • Falcons wideout Roddy White will not play in the team’s upcoming preseason contest against the Tennessee Titans next Saturday and thus will not suit up for the remainder of the preseason. Regular starters do not suit up for the  fourth and final preseason, scheduled for August 29 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Smith indicated that he’s on the same “plan” as the rest of the starters i.e. he won’t play against Jacksonville.
  • In other injury news, linebacker Stephen Nicholas did not finish practice on Saturday. No further information has been made available.
  • Tony Gonzalez is set to return today after a three-week absence from camp.
  • Click here to check out the five things Jay Adams learned about the Falcons on Saturday.
  • Defensive end Osi Umenyiora made the decision to switch his uniform number from 90. He will be taking No. 50 from linebacker Pat Schiller. Schiller’s new number has yet to be determined.


Spoon doubtful to play against Ravens

August 12th, 2013 Comments off

Via the team’s official twitter, Falcons head coach Mike Smith indicated that linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is unlikely to play in the team’s second preseason matchup against the Baltimore Ravens this Thursday. Other reports from Smith indicated that wide receiver Julio Jones is likely to suit up for the first time this preseason after missing the team’s preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals last Thursday. Spoon suffered an open dislocation on his finger last week, an injury that required stitches and is expected to be held out until the wound fully heals. Jones missed last week’s game due to tightness in his hamstring that left him limited in team practices, but he fully participated in yesterday’s practice for the first time in a week.

No word on whether other recently injured players such as linebacker Robert James, fullback Bradie Ewing, and running back Antone Smith will suit up on Thursday evening. Both Ewing and Smith were initially expected to miss 5 to 10 days of practice when they first went down with injuries on July 30. James suffered his injury during the Bengals game after limited work. All three players missed Saturday’s practice.

Training Camp: Day 11 Report

August 7th, 2013 Comments off

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.

Grits Blitz points out that two observers in CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco and FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez were praising of Schraeder, who has impressed nearly all observers thus far in camp.

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.

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.

Spoon and Jones to miss preseason opener

August 6th, 2013 Comments off

Updating previous reports, it is now known linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and wide receiver Julio Jones will not participate in Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Both Weatherspoon and Jones were limited in yesterday’s joint practice sessions with the Cincinnati Bengals. Weatherspoon suffered an open dislocated finger on his left hand, while Jones had tightness in his hamstrings. Per the team’s newly released depth chart, it would appear that Harry Douglas will step in at wide receiver while Robert James moves into the starting lineup at weakside linebacker to replace them Thursday night. The time table for each’s return is unknown as they are indefinite. In the case of Weatherspoon, it will be based around how long it takes for his wound to heal after getting stitches. Jones obviously will return to a full workload when the tightness in his hamstrings disappears.

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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:

 

Ranking the Falcons: No. 6 Sean Weatherspoon

July 25th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Sean Weatherspoon

Finishing sixth in these rankings is linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Click here to read about how the scoring system for these rankings was devised.

Total Score: 86

Player Grade: 74 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 31 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 23 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +3

Weatherspoon looked like a monster in 2011, considered alongside Chicago Bears outside linebacker Lance Briggs as the league’s preeminent 4-3 outside linebacker. But he was not quite the same in 2012. The change in defense presented by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan seemed to take Weatherspoon away from what he did best, which was being able to play in space and make stops in pursuit. Last year, with the Falcons using more nickel defenses, Weatherspoon functioned much more like an inside linebacker that was asked to play in the box and attack downhill. Weatherspoon isn’t the biggest linebacker nor is he great taking on blockers and playing at the point of attack. He’s not poor at those things, but it certainly isn’t the strength of his game. Not to mention playing beside Akeem Dent didn’t help because of his struggles with being out of position.

But going into his second season under Nolan, the hope is that Weatherspoon will be more comfortable. He’ll be asked to take on more of a leadership role on the defensive side of the ball. Gone is mentor Mike Peterson, as well as other veterans on defense. While veterans like Jonathan Babineaux and Asante Samuel remain, it’s no doubt that they aren’t going to be sticking around forever. This defense eventually is expected to morph into Weatherspoon’s team where he may be the rock they lean on. And in order to fulfill that role, the team is going to need more production out of him in 2013.

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2013 Key Player: Akeem Dent

June 28th, 2013 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

Akeem Dent

Last season linebacker Akeem Dent got the opportunity to replace long-time starting middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. He didn’t exactly run away with that opportunity. Dent was the focus of many of my game reviews, noting several times how much he was struggling to impact against the run in 2012. That is going to have to change in 2013.

This upcoming season is going to be an important career marker for Dent. It’s likely going to be the year where shows enough that he could be counted on to become a significant contributor for the Falcons for years to come or one where he shows himself to be relegated to becoming a role player.

Dent does not have to come out and be an elite middle linebacker in 2013. But he does need to show significant improvement from a year ago. Dent struggled to make plays when the Falcons utilized their base package last year. He appeared in less than half (48.5%) of the team’s total defensive snaps last year (according to Pro Football Focus).

That led to the Falcons overuse of strongside linebacker Stephen Nicholas, whose Pro Football Focus coverage rating was the fifth-worst among all linebackers. Dent should be in a prime position to take reps from Nicholas. Dent is more athletic and has better hips than Nicholas. While Dent is no coverage maven, he should be an upgrade physically. The key will be the mental aspect of the position however.

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OTAs: Day 7 Report

June 12th, 2013 Comments off

The media once again had access to the first of four days of the Falcons third and final offseason team activities. The Falcons will have a mandatory minicamp starting next week on June 18:

  • As mentioned earlier, Desmond Trufant returned to practice today. He and fellow rookie Robert Alford were able to get extra reps due to the excused absence of veteran cornerback Asante Samuel today. Trufant at left corner, Alford at right, and both Robert McClain and Dominique Franks manning the slot. Matt Ryan was impressed with the Falcons top pick.
  • Speaking of Ryan isn’t too concerned over his looming contract status.

    You know what, I leave that to my agents and the front office. Those guys will get that stuff done.

  • Absent at today’s session were Samuel, as mentioned previously, Tony Gonzalez, and Levine Toilolo. Toilolo is expected to join the team tomorrow. Meanwhile, Chase Coffman stepped in for Gonzalez at tight end with the Falcons starters. Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas still look to be on schedule to return for next week’s minicamps.
  • Steven Jackson has improved his diet to try and defeat Father Time. Sounds like his plans are to be a “finisher” for the Falcons with most of his work on the ground coming in the fourth quarter. He’s focused on getting on the same page with Ryan in the passing game for the no-huddle offense earlier in games.
  • Matt Ryan seems to admit the offensive line is a work in progress, but that strides are being made. And it looks like they might be incorporating more tempo which I suggested the other day.