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Falcons cut 19 to get down to the roster

August 31st, 2012 Comments off
Alan Maglaque-US PRESSWIRE

Dominique Franks, among surprise cuts

The Falcons announced the cuts made today to get their roster down to 53 players. The team released 22 players including running back Dimitri Nance; fullback Mike Cox; wide receivers D.J. Davis, Marcus Jackson, and James Rodgers; offensive linemen Bryce Harris and Tyler Horn; defensive tackles Conrad Obi and Micanor Regis; linebackers Spencer Adkins, Rico Council, Jerrell Harris, and Pat Schiller; cornerbacks Dominique Franks, Marty Markett, and Peyton Thompson; safety Suaesi Tuimaunei; and long snapper Joe Zelenka.  The team also reached injury settlements with tight end LaMark Brown and guard Andrew Jackson, while waiving-injured wide receiver Kerry Meier, and placing safety Shann Schillinger on injured reserve.

Among the cuts, notable ones include Cox, Adkins, Franks, and Zelenka played with the team last season. Cox lost the battle to fullback Lousaka Polite, who was signed three weeks ago for the battle for the starting fullback position. Cox joined the team last October after the injury to Ovie Mughelli. Adkins was a sixth round pick of the Falcons in 2009 that had his best season a year ago, starting 1 game and recording 5 tackles as a reserve linebacker. Franks started 4 games last year at cornerback as a replacement for Brent Grimes, and was considered a front-runner for taking over the punt return duties this year. Franks was originally a fifth round pick in 2010. Zelenka has been the Falcons since 2009, but lost the long snapping job to undrafted rookie Josh Harris.

With these moves, several players made the Falcons roster for the first time. Five of the team’s six draft picks made the final roster, with the sixth player: Bradie Ewing already on injured reserve. Harris joined quarterback Dominique Davis and guard Phillip Manley as one of three undrafted free agents that made the team. Quarterback Luke McCown, signed earlier this week is also a newcomer to the roster. Wide receivers Kevin Cone and Tim Toone also made the team as reserves. Cone spent last year on the Falcons practice squad, but Toone was added earlier this month in camp. Alongside Cone, tight end Tommy Gallarda was able to elevate himself from a practice squad spot last year to a full roster position this year. Free agent pickups in cornerback Asante Samuel, safety Chris Hope, and cornerback Robert McClain are also first time Falcons.

Camp Battles 2012: Special Teams

July 21st, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons will have arguably the most amount of competition for roles on special teams in seemingly a long while this summer. The team is two-deep at all three specialist spots, and both return spots are completely open to competition.

It is likely that the incumbents at all three specialist spots will retain their jobs with Matt Bryant at kicker, Matt Bosher at punter, and Joe Zelenka at long snapper. All three players have given the team little issue to worry about. Bryant is the savvy veteran that has been highly productive and consistent in Atlanta. He’s made 28 of 30 kicks at home, with his two misses being a blocked 55-yarder against Buffalo in 2009 and a missed 41-yarder against the Saints last year. But Bryant isn’t getting any younger, and one of the issues that often comes with age as a kicker is leg strength. So far, Bryant hasn’t shown any significant drop-off from long range, but it’s not a coincidence that the player they brought in to push him is known for his leg strength. Undrafted rookie Erik Folk will push Bryant, and while he’s a longshot to win the job he’ll be given an opportunity to impress the staff if he can showcase a powerful and accurate leg in camp.

At punter, Matt Bosher got off to a very slow start last year. In fact, there was little debate to who was the league’s worst punter over the first 6-8 weeks of the season because it was indeed Bosher. But in the second half of the season, he really began to come on, and his ability to drive kickoffs into the endzone with consistency as well as get good placement on his punts saw a huge boost to the production of the Falcons special teams unit. He’ll be pushed by undrafted rookie Dawson Zimmerman. As is the case with the kicker spot, Zimmerman will have to be extremely good to unseat Bosher, who cannot afford another slow start to this season.

Zelenka might have the most tenuous hold on a roster spot among the three specialists. The team made an extra effort to bring a bunch of snappers this off-season, which could be a referendum on their desire to get younger at the position. In January, they added Corey Adams and Scott Albritton. Neither made it to camp, but they also signed undrafted rookie Josh Harris. It seemed that the team had plans to move on from Zelenka this off-season. He was one of the team’s final free agent re-signings, a move made in late March seemingly at a point when they realized they could afford to bring him back. That gives Harris a better than average chance to actually unseat Zelenka. The fact that Harris was actually a pretty solid snapper at Auburn. Harris probably needs another year or two to add polish, but if he can hit the ground running this summer, it would not be a surprise if he’s the team’s opening day snapper.

But most of the attention paid to special teams this year will be at the returner spots. The team will have open competitions for both kickoff and punt return duties this summer. While the team feels relatively secure at punt returner, as Harry Douglas and Dominique Franks will be pitted against each other. Douglas handled punt returns in the latter half of his rookie season in 2008, and Franks has been productive in limited action in each of the past two summers there. Between the two of them, the team should get a fairly competent replacement for the departed Eric Weems. Douglas appears ahead in the competition, but the positive for both is that losing that competition won’t cost either a roster spot.

The kickoff return duties are a lot less settled. The team will likely give several players looks this summer at the spot, but James Rodgers, Antone Smith, Jacquizz Rodgers appear to be the front-runners. James Rodgers was productive kickoff returner during his days at Oregon State, but will have to show that some of the burst he lost due to a knee injury in 2010 has returned. Smith is considered a dark horse candidate and because of his already established value on special teams coverage might be in prime position to win the job. Given the increased role on offense, the team would probably prefer not to use Quizz as a returner.

Depending on how the competition goes during the early days and weeks of camp, the team could easily throw others into the competition, including Brent Grimes, Franks, Douglas, Robbie Frey, and Marcus Jackson into the mix. It’s also possible that depending on how the competition goes the team could look elsewhere for an established returner on the waiver wire come August.

While the new rules around kickoffs lessen the impact that having a good kickoff returner can have on the game, it still remains important to have someone effective in that role. With Weems, the Falcons had a player that they were confident could field kicks 5 or so yards deep in the endzone and advance the ball past the 20-yard line on a fairly consistent basis. Not having that player won’t have a hugely negative impact on field position, but it does have still have a negative one. It’s mostly about trust. And if the coaching staff cannot trust the player to get 25 or more yards and the team is forced to kneel for touchbacks, then you’re not really helping the team.

Walker and Zelenka re-sign with Falcons

March 23rd, 2012 Comments off

The <a href=”http://www.atlantafalcons.com/2012/03/walker-signs-tender-zelenka-re-signed/”>Falcons announced earlier today</a> that defensive tackle Vance Walker and long snapper Joe Zelenka both agreed to return to the team. Walker, a restricted free agent, signed his one-year tender. Zelenka was an unrestricted free agent, and terms of his new deal with the team were undisclosed.

It had been previously reported that Walker had already agreed to sign his $1.26 million tender on the opening day of free agent, but his agent, <a href=”https://twitter.com/#!/AlvinKeels/status/179661596837167104″>Alvin Keels, tweeted shortly that those reports were false</a>. Walker will become an unrestricted free agent following the 2012 season. He was originally a 7th round pick by the Falcons in 2009. In three seasons with the Falcons, he has combined for 48 tackles and 2 sacks in 42 appearances, including two starts. Walker was the lone restricted free agent for the Falcons this off-season. Restricted free agents have until April 20 to sign offer sheets with new teams. Their respective teams then have the right of first refusal, which allows them to match the offer of the new team, or to allow them to depart and receive compensation in the form of draft picks.

Zelenka’s return to the team was potentially shaky given the team had signed a pair of free agents, Corey Adams and Scott Albritton, to futures contracts back in January. But the team opted to bring back the veteran snapper. He first joined the team at the end of hte 2009 season, after Mike Schneck went on injured reserve and his replacement Bryan Pittman was inconsistent in four games.

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Camp Battles 2011: Special Teams

July 18th, 2011 Comments off

It will be important for the Falcons to settle their issues here in free agency. Both incumbents are impending free agents, although it’s likely only one will be retained.

The likelier of the pair appears to be Matt Bryant who is coming off a resurgent year, hitting three game-winners and being perfect in the Georgia Dome. That likely will leave Michael Koenen out in the cold as the team is ready to move on after an inconsistent season.

The team made plans for this it would seem with the sixth round selection of Matt Bosher. Bosher was a dual threat at the University of Miami, but spent most of his time as a punter. He also served as that team’s kickoff specialist, making him an ideal candidate to replace Koenen in both capacities.

He’ll be pushed by journeyman Ken Parrish, who has a better than average chance due to the lockout and having a bit more professional experience having been with the Eagles the past two off-seasons and working in the United Football League last fall.

It’s Bosher’s job to lose, but it’s definitely a position that the team will keep the best player since field position is very important. This is a position that could be closely scrutinized throughout the summer, as if neither Bosher nor Parrish seem to be pulling their weight, the Falcons could opt to go in a brand new direction.

Long snapper Joe Zelenka is probably safe. The Falcons have brought in undrafted long snappers in recent summers to push him, but it’s probably not necessary this summer since Zelenka has been very consistent for the 21 games he’s served as the team’s snapper.

Eric Weems is unlikely to lose his return job coming off a Pro Bowl year. Although the team may give some opportunities to some of their younger players to see if they can add some value. Jacquizz Rodgers, Andy Strickland, and Dominique Franks could get opportunities. The Falcons may also give top rookie Julio Jones a chance as well. However, the Falcons won’t be looking for someone to replace Weems, instead looking at options in case he goes down with an injury.

Falcons re-sign long snapper Zelenka

March 8th, 2010 Comments off

On the heels of the retirement of Mike Schneck, the Falcons have seemingly solidified their long snapper position by retaining free agent Joe Zelenka, per a report by Adam Schefter of ESPN. Zelenka stepped in late in the year and finished the season as the team’s long snapper, appearing in the final 5 games.

Zelenka helped solidify the position over the final month of the season following Schneck’s injury. The team brought in Bryan Pittman immediately after Schneck’s injury, but he struggled in four appearances with the Falcons before being replaced by Zelenka. Prior to joining the Falcons, Zelenka played eight seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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Falcons release Elam

December 1st, 2009 Comments off
Matt Bryant

Matt Bryant

The Falcons announced several roster moves today involving special teams. The team released kicker Jason Elam and long snapper Bryan Pittman today, and replaced them with kicker Matt Bryant and long snapper Joe Zelenka.

Elam was in the midst of the worst season ever in his fifteen seasons in the NFL. He hit on 12 of 19 field goals this year (69.2%). Elam missed a field goal in each of the last three games. The team signed Pittman earlier this month as an injury replacement for snapper Mike Schneck.

Bryant’s last NFL experience with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season where he made a career-high 32 of 38 field goals. Bryant played with the Buccaneers since 2005. He lost his job to Mike Nugent this past summer and signed with the Florida Tuskers in the upstart UFL. He made 11 of 14 field goals and all 23 of his extra points. For his career, Bryant had made 138 of 168 field goals (82.1%). He is famous for making a 62-yard game-winning kick vs. the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006, and connected on 3 field goals in a match vs. the Green Bay Packers in 2008 the day after his son’s funeral.

Zelenka played with the Jacksonville Jaguars last season, and had been a member of that team since 2001. He’s a nine-year veteran of this league

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