A lot of talk has been made about the Falcons many undrafted additions at the wide receiver position that could be making the roster, including burner Cody Pearcy. But a player that might be going under the radar and has just as strong a chance to make the team’s final roster is former UConn Huskie and Kutztown Golden Bear Robbie Frey. Frey won’t have an easy road trying to make the Falcons roster, but his potential as a kickoff returner could give him a significant leg up.
With the loss of Eric Weems as the team’s primary return specialist, a big part of this summer’s training camp competitions will be to find a player or two that can replace him. The Falcons will likely rest on either Harry Douglas or Dominique Franks to return punts, both having done so before. But it leaves the competition for who will take over on kickoffs wide open.
That likely will mean that any one of the Falcons undrafted receivers and Frey will have an opportunity to shine and make the roster. Unlike the receivers, while Frey isn’t blessed with dynamic speed, he is unique in the sense that he was consistently productive and the most experience kickoff returner among the undrafted crop. The only other player with his level of experience is James Rodgers, and he’s been slowed by an ACL injury that he suffered in 2010, and is now still continuing to fight back from.
The departure of Ovie Mughelli does increase the odds that Frey coudl make the roster. The Falcons aren’t guaranteed to carry more than one fullback on the roster, something they did last season. The team carried Ovie Mughelli in that role until his injury, and then Mike Cox afterwards. They could do the same with fifth round pick Bradie Ewing being the run-away favorite to be the starter this season. Last year, they opted to keep four tailbacks in Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling, and Antone Smith. Snelling’s ability to double as a lead blocker means that the team isn’t forced to carry more than one fullback at a time. Smith predominantly played on special teams, a role he shined in late in the year. But his roster status is far from a lock. And he’ll be pushed by Dimitri Nance and Frey for a potential fourth tailback spot. If Frey can prove himself as a return man, and also a capable gunner on special teams like Smith then he has as good a chance as anyone to make the roster. Another key part to the equation will be how well he can pick up the passing game. When Nance and Smith competed directly for the reserve role back in 2010, a big part of the reason why Smith made it and Nance did not was because Smith was the more polished player in pass protection. Frey did not have a ton of experience working in the passing game at either UConn or Kutztown, but if he can show he’s a quick study the team could give him the opportunity.
But the primary value Frey can bring to the table is kickoff return specialist. And while the rule changes to kickoffs have limited the ability of kickoff returners, it is not a throwaway position. The majority of kicks go into the endzone forcing teams to settle for touchbacks. But a good returner can add value if he can take kicks that would normally be called for touchbacks and get them beyond the 20-yard line to set up his team for success. If a team can trust it’s returner to be able to take kicks five or six yards deep and then turn that into a twenty-five or thirty yard gain, it is immensely valuable to an offense to give it the best possible field position. If Frey can showcase this kind of ability, and his extensive experience should help him, then he has as good if not a better shot than anyone of landing the role and finding a place on the roster.