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.
If the Falcons did dump Nicholas, it would only save $500,000 against the cap. And if he was replaced on the roster by a player like Joplo Bartu, those savings really only amount to $94,000. That’s not a small amount, basically the equivalent of a practice squad player, but probably not a necessary amount the Falcons have to free up in order to be in good shape this year. The Falcons would save twice as much ($191,500) by cutting Antone Smith in favor of either undrafted running back: Ronnie Wingo or Donald Russell . Joe Hawley getting dumped in favor of Matt Smith would free up $224,000 in cap space, although that dwindles to $75,000 if it was Jacques McClendon that took his spot. Garrett Reynolds getting axed in favor of Theo Goins would save a net of $102,750 against this year’s cap, while Jason Snelling getting swapped out for Wingo/Russell would save $85,667 against the cap. I don’t believe Hawley, Reynolds, or Snelling are in danger of getting cut by the team . I’m not sure I’d call them 100% locks, but they are certainly north of 95%. It makes me believe that really only Jerry and Smith are in danger of being cut for cap reasons. The Falcons have put themselves in good shape cap-wise. Their current cap space gives them the flexibility even to spend upwards of $2.5 million on a veteran player (e.g. Richard Seymour) if they so chose to and still carry roughly $3 million in space during the season as emergency/insurance against injuries.
Not to mention cutting Nicholas would open a hole at linebacker, a position group that already has inexperienced depth. The Falcons flirted with Karlos Dansby during the off-season, but he ultimately signed with the Cardinals. I guess it would be possible the Falcons swapped Nicholas for a player like him if gets cut in the coming weeks. In the case of Dansby, that appears doubtful due to the four-game suspension slapped down on Daryl Washington. The Falcons had plenty of opportunities to bring in a veteran player to push Nicholas this off-season and chose not to. Several are players that have played under Mike Nolan or Mike Smith, including Dansby, Kevin Burnett (signed with Raiders), Manny Lawson (signed with Bills), Daryl Smith (signed with Ravens), and Justin Durant (signed with Cowboys). Mario Haggan, who last played with the Rams in 2012 is still unsigned, having played for Nolan in 2009 with the Broncos. Every single one of those players has experience playing the strongside linebacker position too. And the Falcons could have easily used one of their six third day draft picks on a linebacker. So if the Falcons were really iffy on Nicholas, we’d probably have seen something happen there this off-season besides the team standing pat. Editor’s Note: The contract/salary cap information specified in this article is wrong. Click here to read the update and accurate information.
Injuries are the scariest thing about training camp and the preseason. Several players and some teams fortunes are irrevocably changed from the injuries that inevitably occur every summer.
Thus far with only a week’s worth of camps around the league, several high-profile players have already gone down with injuries. Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL and is out for the season. Reports say the hip injury to Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta will also clear his schedule until 2014. Dallas Cowboys defensive end Tyrone Crawford tore his Achilles last Sunday, and Denver Broncos center Dan Koppen tore his ACL yesterday. While Crawford injury won’t be devastating for his team, the Cowboys do lose a valuable reserve that was figuring to be steady in the rotation. Meanwhile, Maclin and Pitta were expected to be the No. 2 receivers on their respective teams. Pitta, himself was likely going to be the primary benefactor of Anquan Boldin’s departure from Baltimore, filling his shoes as the sure-handed outlet receiver for Joe Flacco. Koppen was a big part of Peyton Manning’s initial success last year due to his experience. Their top backup is oft-injured J.D. Walton, who currently isn’t healthy as he recovers from an ankle injury. In fact, the Broncos are down to their fourth-string center, converted guard Manny Ramirez, due to injuries ravaging the position. Hawley’s trade value just doubled overnight.
In Seattle, wide receiver Percy Harvin also suffered a hip injury, although recent reports suggest there is optimism that he won’t require season-ending surgery to fix the problem. If he is done for the year, that may be the most devastating injury of all. The Seahawks dealt a first round pick to Minnesota to acquire Harvin at the outset of the off-season in what was perhaps the biggest headline-grabbing move of the spring. He was intent on the being the centerpiece of a revamped Seahawks passing attack in 2013. If he can’t stay fully healthy, then whatever progress the Seahawks dreamed of having for quarterback Russell Wilson this season will be stunted.
No one likes to think about injuries, let alone talk openly about them as if there is some sort of jinx. And I won’t lie, it’s one of the few things that I’m quasi-superstitious about when it comes to football. So I won’t discuss the potential taint that injuries could put on the Falcons. But let’s just hope that they make it through camp as healthy as possible.