Tag:Atlanta Falcons
Posted on: August 22, 2010 4:15 pm
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Ten players to watch - end of camp update

Most fans attend practices and watch preseason games to see the first units and the top draft picks.  But the real stories of camp are deeper down the roster.  There are 80 players in every training camp vying for only 53 roster spots. 

For the last three seasons, I've presented a top ten list of key players involved in these competitions.  Some are established players in jeopardy of losing their jobs if they don't come through.  Others are prospects on the rise or lesser known players that have an opportunity to step up and make more significant contributions.

This morning's special teams practice session marked the official end of training camp for the Falcons.  Here's an update on how this year's list of players to watch has fared:



1.  Trey Lewis

Reason he made the list:  the Falcons have six DTs (not even counting Jamaal Anderson) and probably just four roster spots for the big men to fill.  Of the three fringe players competing for the last spot, Lewis is the top story. 

End of camp update:  he's looking much better than he did in 2009, with Smitty noting that his play was one of the few bright spots in Thursday's otherwise dismal showing against the Patriots

He's still in jeopardy, but his current level of play, versatility (can play either DT spot - acted as a sub at UT for Rod Coleman in 2007) and size (listed as our largest defensive player at 316 pounds) will make it tough for Smitty to send the Turk his way.



2.  Steven Hauschka

Reason he made the list:  of the three kickers (including Michael Koenen) Atlanta had in camp, Hauschka was the primary unknown factor.  The team already knows what Matt Bryant and Koenen can/can't do, making Hauschka the wild card in the contest and the most important one to watch.

End of camp update:  the media reports say that Matt Bryant won the kicking battle.  A more accurate description would be that Hauschka lost it.  He was the younger candidate with the theoretically stronger leg.  But his longer field goal attempt against the Chiefs came up short, and his kickoffs lacked depth and weren't particularly strong for hang time.

Never mind that he couldn't outdo the struggling Bryant on field goals.  When it became clear he wasn't going to beat out Koenen for kickoffs, that sealed his fate.  The Falcons would still make a move to bring in another kicker if Bryant gets the yips like Jason Elam last year. But at least for now, Hauschka isn't it.



3.  Kerry Meier

Reason he made the list:  the top three WRs were essentially set in stone (Roddy White and Michael Jenkins as the starters, with Harry Douglas in the slot as the #3) even before camp, but the Falcons need to improve their depth at the position.  The fifth rounder from Kansas was the top candidate for the fourth WR spot.

End of camp update:  he had an outstanding camp, but he hurt his knee on a special teams play late in the Patriots game.  Like Douglas last year, he's out for the season.



4.  Lawrence Sidbury

Reason he made the list:  the Falcons didn't draft a DE or sign one in free agency.  They're putting all their chips on Kroy Biermann as a second threat along with John Abraham and Sidbury to step up as a third potent pass rushing end.

End of camp update:  so far, so good.  What El Sid needs most is experience, as he only played a bit over 100 total snaps last season.  He'll have far more snaps than that in preseason (he's on the field more than any other d-lineman), and so far he's doing pretty well.



5.  Keith Zinger

Reason he made the list:  he was the team's most improved offensive player in camp last summer, and if he stepped up again this year, he'd nail down a backup spot (forcing the prospects to start on the practice squad) and potentially even challenge for the #2 spot.

End of camp update:  so far, he has been nearly invisible.  He's watching Michael Palmer stand out this year exactly the way Zinger stood out last season, when he moved from #5 on the depth chart to win the #3 spot - beating out one of Dimitroff's top free agent signings (Ben Hartsock, signed to replace Alge Crumpler) in the process.

The battle isn't over yet, but Zinger has opened the door for Palmer to take the third TE job.



6.  William Moore

Reason he made the list:  it's the second season for the second rounder, and the public had yet to see him in action in camp or preseason.  He even missed minicamp after overworking his shoulder in the weight room.

End of camp update:  I expressed doubts earlier about all the media speculation that he'd challenge Erik Coleman for the starting job. His 2009 season was a lost cause, and he just didn't have the reps to trust him on the last line of defense. 

And he still doesn't -  we've finally been able to watch him in a few practices, but he missed minicamp (overworked his shoulder in the weight room) and has missed time during camp plus both preseason games so far this year.  He still hasn't faced NFL competition - in real games, exhibition games or even combined practices. 

The coming exhibition against the Dolphins will be his first time on the field for the Falcons.  He's still a talented prospect, but he's still a long way from being ready for action in the secondary when it counts.



7.  Quinn Ojinnaka

Reason he made the list:  the Falcons have a whole lot of talented linemen competing for what appears to be one opening on the roster.  Ojinnaka is the most intriguing story among them.

End of camp update:  he's getting time at multiple positions along the line, including left tackle.  The Falcons are definitely testing out his versatility.  The Mighty Quinn is very much in the hunt for that ninth backup line spot.



8.  Dimitri Nance

Reason he made the list:  all three candidates for the #5 RB/FB spot are interesting "stories", but Nance is the most intriguing as a potential Jason Snelling type hybrid RB/FB.

End of camp update:  not bad so far.  He has shown good ability in the power running game plus receiving ability out of the backfield.  If he can demonstrate some blocking skills, he's likely to be the guy.  One catch:  due to the Michael Jenkins injury and situations at other positions, the team may start out the season with just four runners.  Even if he wins the job, he could be starting the season on the practice squad.



9.  Eric Weems

Reason he made the list:  drafting Meier and Dominique Franks put Weems in jeopardy of losing both of his roles on the team.  He entered camp knowing he didn't have a secure roster spot and would have to step up to win a place on the team.

End of camp update:  the injury to Meier means that unless the team brings in new blood, Weems and Brian Finneran simply have to hold off Troy Bergeron, Andy Strickland, and the three undrafted rookies to win the #4 and #5 spots.  He's also the top KR/PR from camp.  His chances of holding his spot are much better now than they were a month ago.



10.  Brian Williams

Reason he made the list:  if he can make a successful return from injury, he spices up the competition for the DB positions considerably. 

End of camp update:  he hasn't appeared in preseason yet, but we did get to see him practice, with his first full participation coming in the joint sessions with New England on the final open day of camp.  He's slated to appear in these next two exhibitions.  I'm still particularly interested to see whether the coaching staff gives him playing time at safety. 

Key question: whether he'll be healthy enough after the Jaguars exhibition to keep on the roster.  The team had similar hopes for Von Hutchins last season, but Hutchins ended up being an injury settlement case when he wasn't ready to go at the end of preseason.  Williams is only now getting his first full contact this week.




Posted on: September 24, 2009 4:59 pm
 

notes before the Patriots game

Don't expect to see Jerious Norwood on the field this weekend.  He hasn't practiced all week.  Otherwise, everyone is fully participating.  The remaining Falcons are essentially at full health.

For the Patriots, Wes Welker did not practice on Wednesday due to a knee problem and was limited today.  Jerod Mayo is still out from his own knee situation.  The Patriots haven't given out any information on how long Mayo is expected to be sidelined, but I don't think the Falcons will see him on the field.  New England has a bunch of other guys limited this week, but I'm guessing they'll all play - including Welker.

One positive side to the injury to Peria JerryTrey Lewis will DEFINITELY be on the 45-man active roster and in the rotation.  The significance is that Lewis is the team's nose tackle for their 3-4 package.  That part of the defensive playbook was put on the shelf for the first two games since the team elected to keep Lewis on the inactive list.  But with Lewis on the field, the team can throw some blitzes at Tom Brady that the Pats will not have seen before from game film.

The alignment we might see:  Lewis, Jonathan Babineaux and Jamaal Anderson in three point stances as the down linemen, with John Abraham and one of the linebackers rushing from the second level.

First guess at the inactive list = John Parker Wilson (third QB), William Moore (hamstring), Vance Walker, Jerious Norwood (head), Will Svitek, Garrett Reynolds, Spencer Adkins, Tye Hill.

At some point, Tye Hill and William Moore will replace other players on the active list (possibly Christopher Owens and Lawrence Sidbury), but there's a strong chance the Falcons will wait until after the bye to start working them.  Moore is practicing, and I'm told he's at about 85-90% health - which is where a lot of players are after two weeks of full contact anyway.  But he's still way behind on his reps and would be limited to special teams duty if he got on the field.  There's not much advantage to putting him in and taking out one of the other guys from those units, so Moore is likely to stay on the inactive list for this game.

It's a lot closer with Hill.  He's essentially ready for man coverage assignments.  The question is whether he has the playbook down well enough to trust him with the zone schemes, where one slip can quickly become a touchdown for the opposing team.  (Imagine him releasing Randy Moss to a safety who isn't there.  Not a pretty thought...)

But considering the Patriots have three dangerous WRs and a dangerous tight end, it's possible that the Falcons will elect to go with more man coverage combined with blitz packages.  (There isn't much to lose since Brady, Welker and Watson can rip the soft zone to shreds anyway.)  If so, activating Hill would be a very good move.  Personally, I'd start him in place of Chris Houston.


Posted on: September 17, 2009 11:49 pm
 

Ten observations from the Dolphins game

Sure, everyone's heard that Matt Ryan missed several deep passes (including two that would have been sure touchdowns), that Jason Elam had a nightmare of a game, that the Falcons rushing game got shut down, that Kroy Biermann emerged as a star, and that John Abraham is still a beast.

Here's a list of ten more observations that you might not have seen on the 11 o'clock news or the highlights shows...


The positive:
(1) The defense held the Dolphins under 100 rushing yards and under 200 passing yards.  All three levels of the defense stepped up, but especially the linebacker corps.  Last year, safeties Erik Coleman and Lawyer Milloy had 188 combined tackles.  In this game, the three leading tacklers were Curtis Lofton (10 plus 1 assist), Mike Peterson (7 plus a forced fumble and an INT), and Stephen Nicholas (7, including one on special teams).  The safeties only had to make two tackles each.

(2) Matt Ryan racked up a QB passer rating of 98 in spite of having what we would consider an off game.  He struggled badly with the deep pass in the preseason and again in this first game, but he's deadly accurate with the short stuff.  (And even the missed deep attempts helped to stretch the defense.)

(3) The Falcons racked up four sacks on defense - and all were by defensive linemen.  The six and seven man blitz packages weren't needed.  The front four were able to generate pressure all by themselves.   If they can keep that up, allowing the LBs and safeties to defend their zones, this defense will be outright scary by the end of the year.

(4) They didn't give up the big play.  Miami had only seven plays that went for more than 10 yards, and only two for more than 20 yards.  Both of those were 21 yards.  (And one of them was that trick double pass thing.)

(5) The Falcons absolutely stuffed the Wildcat.  My tally showed 4 yards on 3 plays before the Dolphins essentially put that package on the shelf for the day.

(6) They also succeeded in defending the screen pass.  After repeatedly getting burned by screens throughout the preseason (including 94 yards on 4 screens in the first half by the Chargers), the Falcons held their own on several attempted screens by Miami.

And a few things that need work:

(7) Never mind the under 3 yard average by Michael Turner.  A more important problem is that he had 22 rushing attempts, which puts him on a pace for over 350 carries for the season.  That's too many.  Meanwhile, Jerious Norwood only had two rushing attempts, while Ovie Mughelli and Jason Snelling had none.  They need to do a much better job of spreading the load. 

(8) The offensive line gave up a pair of sacks and allowed pressure on a few other plays.  The first sack was purely a miscommunication.  They'll get it together pretty quickly, but they're not where they need to be quite yet.

(9) Atlanta's secondary had zero passes defended.  (The entire team had two - one by Mike Peterson and one by Jamaal Anderson.)  That's okay against the Dolphin receiving corps, but they'll need to step it up when they face the likes of Wes Welker, Joey Galloway, Ben Watson and Randy Moss in week 3 against the Patriots.  By contrast, Miami's DBs broke up several pass attempts by the Falcons. 

(10) The defense had good stats, but the old problem of defending the run up the middle against a three WR package is still there.  Miami simply didn't attempt it very often.  But three of Miami's top ten gains on offense were running plays, and all three were straight up the middle against the nickel defense.  (They were also by different ball carriers.  Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown each had a 14 yard gain, while Polite had a nine yarder.)


Posted on: September 9, 2009 10:49 pm
 

miscellaneous notes - 9/9/09

Preseason's out of the way, and the Falcons are nearly at full health.  Obviously Harry Douglas is a total loss, but he's the ONLY significant casualty for the summer.  There were others who were banged up or still recovering from 2008 injuries (David Irons, Von Hutchins, Tywain Myles, Jason Jefferson) but they all faced uphill battles to make this year's roster - and all were able to participate at the very least in OTAs. 

That's even better than last year, when the Falcons lost Von Hutchins (on the first day of training camp), linebacker prospects Robert James and Travis Williams, TE prospect Brad Listorti, Thomas Brown (in the final preseason game), had linemen Trey Lewis and Renardo Foster on PUP (with both moving straight to IR), and had Todd Weiner far from 100% rehabbing from his 2007 major knee surgery.  All of those players were strong candidates for at least the practice squad if not the regular roster, and all but Weiner were total losses.

And last year was considered a good summer for going without major injuries. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The very first official injury report of the year came out today.  Only William Moore (still nursing his hamstring) did not practice at all.  John Abraham (knee) was limited but did participate. 

Jerious Norwood (head, foot) was fully back in action.  Abraham should be ready to go this weekend.  Moore is likely to be held out, but that's really not a loss -  since he missed the entire preseason after his minor surgery, he would almost certainly have been one of the eight inactive players anyway.

The best news of all from the injury report - Chris Houston wasn't even on the list.  He had hamstring issues that affected him in the final two preseason games (only five days apart).  He's back at full strength now, so hopefully his horror show is over.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thoughts on the Wildcat, since the Dolphins are the main team using it:   if done properly, it's more than just a gimmick.  There really are sound fundamentals behind it.  The main one is that it gives the offense an extra lead blocker on running plays. 

If the quarterback is off the field entirely (which is the way I prefer to see it done) or way, way out wide at the flanker position (hopefully avoiding contact - think Randy Moss "taking a play off"), then there's no need for the person taking the snap to hand the ball to someone else.  Or if there is a handoff or pitchout, the guy who took the snap can become a lead blocker.

If you line up with a running back at the QB position, plus another running back (or TE lined up in that spot) and a fullback, the RB who takes the snap can follow both of the other two lead blockers.  That's a major advantage over a regular handoff, when the QB simply becomes dead weight after handing the ball to the tailback.  It's one more guy for the defense to overcome.

I know teams use the single-wing and other goofy packages, but the simple run straight up the middle is the main situation I want to watch out for in this game.  That's still a point of weakness for the Falcons defense.  

If the DTs are single-blocked by the guards (who are bigger than all our DTs except for Trey Lewis), the center will be free to block a linebacker.  The TE will take another linebacker - or perhaps even a DE, with the tackle moving downfield to the LB.  And then there will be not one but two lead blockers for the ball carrier.  Even one of the safeties will have a blocker between him and the ball carrier.

We saw the damage that can do in preseason (the Sproles TD against our first unit defense in the Chargers game) even without the Wildcat package.  Add another lead blocker, and it could be big trouble.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The initial practice squad consisted entirely of players who had been through training camp with the Falcons.  That's a rare item, but it didn't last.  Since the team kept only nine offensive linemen, center/guard Ben Wilkerson was the odd man out.  That leaves Brett Romberg as the only real center on the roster behind Todd McClure

This week the Falcons added center Rob Bruggeman to the practice squad as an insurance policy.  Bruggeman became a full time starter in his senior season at Iowa.  He was signed as an undrafted free agent and went through training camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Guard/tackle Mike Butterworth (last year's undrafted free agent from Slippery Rock) was released from the squad to make room for Bruggeman.

NFL Draft Scout (whose rankings are featured here on CBS Sports dot com) rated Bruggeman as the 13th best center in this year's draft class and the 336th best overall prospect - just ahead of Falcons sixth round pick Spencer Adkins, who ranked 337th overall.  Bruggeman's practice squad linemate Jose Valdez ranked 342nd.

The Dolphins have also made their first practice squad move already.  They promoted tackle Nate Garner from the squad to the main roster to replace released tight end Davon Drew.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Falcons are working Tye Hill and Brian Williams hard to get them up to speed on learning the defensive scheme, play calls, etc.  There are only so many things you can do with cover one, cover two, etc, but the assignments, reads, and communications do take time to learn - even for a veteran.

Williams has a huge headstart because he played under Smitty and DB coach Alvin Reynolds for several seasons with the Jaguars.  He may see action this weekend, but unless other DBs get hurt the team won't make any decisions until after Friday's practice.  I'm anticipating seeing one if not both of them on the active roster against the Dolphins, though I suspect neither one will start.


Posted on: August 11, 2009 11:19 pm
 

mock roster, v2.0 (training camp)

I did a mock 53-man roster right before minicamp in May.  We're now a week into training camp, and the team still hasn't posted an official depth chart, so I figured this would be a great time to revisit the list.


Here's the updated projection:

QB) Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, D.J. Shockley

It's still too early to project John Parker Wilson as a keeper, but it's a possibility.  He's had a good camp.  So far he has shown more consistent accuracy than Shockley and a better arm than Redman.  Both Shockley and Redman are in the final years of their contracts, and Redman is carrying a $2.5 million base salary. 

RB) Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Thomas Brown
FB) Ovie Mughelli, Jason Snelling

Verron Haynes is also having a good camp and will make the competition interesting.  The Falcons carried only four backs on the roster for the entire 2008 season, since Jason Snelling did double-duty as the #2 fullback and #3 running back.  Verron Haynes also plays both roles.

I suspect that the team will keep at least five runners this year, and the roles that Norwood, Brown, Snelling and Haynes play on special teams might make a strong argument to keep all six. 


WR) Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Brian Finneran
WR) Marty Booker, Robert Ferguson

Aaron Kelly had a good first week of camp and will still have chances to impress the coaches in preseason.  Likewise, Chandler Williams will have his chances - including returning punts and kickoffs. But the Falcons signed not one but two veteran free agents to replace Harry Douglas, so unless the team keeps six wideouts, they will both have a major uphill battle to crack the roster.  Ditto for Troy Bergeron and Eric Weems.  The other undrafted receivers (Darren Mougey, Bradon Godfrey, and Dicky Lyons) have already been released.


TE) Tony Gonzalez, Ben Hartsock, Justin Peelle

I'm not making any changes here yet, but I suspect that Keith Zinger might be in the hunt for one of the backup TE spots.  He has shown amazing improvement from last preseason to camp this year.  But I'll wait until the second preseason game before dropping either Hartsock or Peelle in favor of Zinger or Jason Raider.


LT) Sam Baker, Will Svitek
LG) Justin Blalock, Quinn Ojinnaka
 C) Todd McClure, Brett Romberg
RG) Harvey Dahl, (Brett Romberg)  
RT) Tyson Clabo, Garrett Reynolds

With the pre-minicamp list, I said it was way too early even to think about naming the backups.  There are still some battles to be won, and it's not certain the team will even keep ten linemen.  (Last season the Falcons started with nine but finished with ten.)

If they keep just nine, Ben Wilkerson is likely the odd man out.  He has progressed nicely as a backup center and guard, but Brett Romberg has more experience and has even won a starting job while playing under line coach Paul Boudreau.  Quinn Ojinnaka can play all five positions on the line and has experience at left tackle (and has performed well when needed).

Mike Butterworth is in the hunt for a backup guard spot as well, but he'd be a long shot - especially if there are only nine linemen.  There are also three undrafted linemen in camp, but they have had so few reps in 2practice that they are likely competing for one or two practice squad jobs.

 


ST) Jason Elam, Michael Koenen, Mike Schneck

Not much of a story here. The only other specialist in camp is rookie long snapper Robert Shiver.  But next season could be interesting, as the team elected to tender Koenen for one year with the franchise tag rather than resign him to a long term deal.


DE) Jamaal Anderson, Lawrence Sidbury
DT) Jonathan Babineaux, Vance Walker
DT) Peria Jerry, Trey Lewis
DE) John Abraham, Chauncey Davis, Kroy Biermann

I'm projecting nine defensive linemen, though the performances of the other DTs will make a strong argument for keeping ten.  (That's unusual, but the Falcons use such frequent rotations that it would make sense to use an extra at-large roster spot on the defensive line.  The team did have ten defensive linemen for a short time last season.)

At this point, the significant candidates for an extra DT spot are Jason Jefferson and Thomas Johnson.  You might remember Jefferson from last year, but he's had a much better preseason this year.  I'm not quite ready to buy into his improvement, so I'm waiting for the exhibition games to see how he does in full contact action before saving him a roster spot.

Johnson is one of the surprises of camp.  He was brought in under a futures contract in January.  He played in 13 games in 2005-2006, was out of football in 2007, went to camp with the Jets last season and is in camp with us this year.  That's not a particularly impressive resume, but the story is he's progressing very well with line coach Ray Hamilton.

LB) Mike Peterson, Coy Wire, Jamie Winborn
LB) Curtis Lofton, Spencer Adkins
LB) Stephen Nicholas, Robert James

The numbers game says that if there are 10 offensive linemen or 6 wide receivers, the extra roster spot will likely come from the linebacker corps.  That would put the squeeze on young prospects Spencer Adkins and Robert James, who are already in heated competition with Edmond Miles and Tony Gilbert for those backup linebacker jobs.


CB) Chris Houston, Chris Owens, Brent Grimes
CB) Chevis Jackson, William Middleton
 S) William Moore, Von Hutchins
 S) Erik Coleman, Thomas DeCoud

Last time around, I projected that Von Hutchins and David Irons would be the cornerbacks who didn't make it.  Irons wasn't cleared for full contact before the start of camp, so he was released with an injury settlement.  The wild card is Hutchins.

He was brought in to add experience to the CB group last year, since Chris Houston (11 games) was the only corner on the roster at the time that had ever started a single game in the NFL. But now the CB group is crowded, and Houston, Jackson and Grimes have more experience behind them. 

But Hutchins was also a safety with the Houston Texans before signing with Atlanta, and the Falcons could use some experience in the safety corps.  So this time around, I'm putting him in as a backup safety and knocking out Jamaal Fudge, Antoine Harris, and Eric Brock.

A key for all of the fringe players is that they'll be competing for at-large roster spots.  The extra wide receivers aren't just competing with the other WR prospects and the receivers ahead of them on the depth chart.  They're also competing with the borderline linebackers, defensive backs, etc, trying to convince the coaches that a sixth WR would be a better way to use a roster spot than a 10th offensive lineman, 7th linebacker, etc. 

And that will make the final roster cuts very, very interesting. 

Also note that the team still might not be finished acquiring players from outside the organization.  Domonique Foxworth, Jason Jefferson, and Jamaal Fudge all came aboard AFTER the roster cuts but before the first game.  It's likely that the Falcons will make a few moves again this season after seeing who gets squeezed out elsewhere.

Posted on: May 8, 2009 4:25 pm
 

mock roster, v1.0 (pre-minicamp)

Before April, the Falcons didn't have many available spaces on the roster.  With the signing of free agents Mike Peterson, Will Svitek and Brett Romberg plus the return of five players who missed all of 2008 due to injury, the team had already taken in more players than it had lost from the 2008 roster.

There were obviously still several players that could easily be replaced by top draft picks, but it would have been tough to fit in the late rounders. 

But then the team cleared some extra space for more youth with the pre-draft trade of Laurent Robinson and the early release of Kindal Moorehead and Simon Fraser.  So now that we have a little breathing room, here's a first look at a possible 53-man roster that fits in all eight drafted players plus some undrafted prospects:


QB) Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, D.J. Shockley
RB) Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Thomas Brown
FB) Ovie Mughelli, Jason Snelling
WR) Roddy White, Harry Douglas, Aaron Kelly
WR) Michael Jenkins, Brian Finneran
TE) Tony Gonzalez, Ben Hartsock, Justin Peelle
LT) Sam Baker, Renardo Foster
LG) Justin Blalock, Quinn Ojinnaka
 C) Todd McClure, Ben Wilkerson
RG) Harvey Dahl, Ryan Stanchek  
RT) Tyson Clabo, Garrett Reynolds
ST) Jason Elam, Michael Koenen, Mike Schneck
DE) Jamaal Anderson, Lawrence Sidbury
DT) Jonathan Babineaux, Vance Walker
DT) Peria Jerry, Trey Lewis
DE) John Abraham, Chauncey Davis, Kroy Biermann
LB) Mike Peterson, Coy Wire
LB) Curtis Lofton, Spencer Adkins
LB) Stephen Nicholas, Robert James
CB) Chris Houston, Chris Owens, Brent Grimes
CB) Chevis Jackson, William Middleton
 S) William Moore, Jamaal Fudge
 S) Erik Coleman, Thomas DeCoud
 
(KR = Norwood, Brown, Grimes)
(PR = Douglas, Grimes, Finneran)

(Practice squad = QB John Parker Wilson, TE Keith Zinger, WR Darren Mougey, OL Michael Butterworth, DT Tywain Myles, LB Brock Christopher, LB Derek Nicholson, S Eric Brock)


WHO GOT CHOPPED:

1) Von Hutchins. Why him rather than Grimes?  Hutchins has a $1.35M base salary this year that will jump above $2M next year. Grimes makes league minimum.  So if Hutchins loses the nickel job to Chris Owens, he'll be expensive to keep around as the #4 corner.  Grimes also has the special teams factor on his side and probably has more long term upside.


2) Antoine Harris.  No real reason for keeping Fudge other than he's one of Smitty's guys from Jacksonville while Harris was one of Petrino's guys from Louisville.  It could very easily go the other way.

For that matter, Eric Brock or Marcus Paschal might step up and take the job away from both of them.  Or we might pick up someone at the end of preseason (which is actually fairly likely, but something I'm excluding for purposes of listing a mock roster).


3) Jason Jefferson.  It comes down to Walker, Lewis, and Jefferson for the two backup DT spots.  I'm tagging Trey Lewis as the NT in the 3-4 package.  That leaves Jefferson and Walker (plus prospects Tywain Myles and Thomas Johnson) for the last spot.  I'll take Walker.


4) David Irons.  He's a special teams ace, but the coaches haven't used him in the secondary at all.  That puts him behind Grimes and Hutchins on the depth chart, leaving him as the one who gets the boot to make room for the faster William Middleton.


5) Jason Rader.  Justin Peelle goes into minicamp with the lead for the #3 TE job behind Tony Gonzalez and blocker Ben Hartsock.  Keith Zinger is still practice squad eligible, but Rader and Peelle have no other options.  If everyone stays healthy, at least one of them will be gone.


6-8)  Alex Stepanovich, Will Svitek, Brett Romberg.  It feels kind of silly to project the winners of the backup jobs on the o-line this early.  Not one job is even close to being settled, and the battles will be INTENSE all summer long. I really have no clue who will make it and who won't. 

But you can't do a mock roster without listing some names, so I picked five and put them in. 

What I like about the five I listed:  Foster was impressive in his limited experience at LT in 2007. Ojinnaka can play any position on the line and has experience at LT.  Wilkerson plays guard in addition to center (and can even be a fullback if needed). The scouting reports on Stanchek and Reynolds say they could be the Nasty Brothers, Part Two.  That's a good thing, especially since the originals (Clabo and Dahl) are both unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.


9-10) Tony Gilbert, Edmond Miles.  For now, I'm listing the two draft picks James and Adkins as the #5 and #6 linebackers.  But I'm marking it in pencil. 

It could easily be these two that win the jobs instead - Miles excels in special teams, and Gilbert is one of Smitty's guys from the Jaguars

Either LB I listed for the practice squad (Derek Nicholson from FSU and Brock Christopher from Mizzou) could also step up and win a roster spot. They weren't the highest rated prospects out there, but they were both productive players that were leaders in big time programs.


11)  Verron Haynes.  Our other post-draft free agent will compete with Thomas Brown and especially Jason Snelling.  There's a chance the team will keep all six RB/FBs, but I suspect there will only be room for five. 

The early word I've heard is that Thomas Brown is 100% and has a chip on his shoulder about missing his entire rookie season over a dirty horse-collar tackle in the final preseason game.  He'll be playing with fury.  For now I have Snelling hanging onto his spot, but Haynes will push him hard.  Both can play FB as well as RB.  I'm taking Snelling because he has proven his ability to grind out the tough yards.

 

Category: NFL
Posted on: March 17, 2009 3:35 pm
 

forming a baseline

I started to do a piece on how building/maintaining a roster during the offseason essentially boils down to a really big math problem.  Each team has constraints in the form of limited cap space, a defined number of roster spots, practice squad spots, and draft picks.  The GM's objective is to get the maximum benefit of the available resources in order to establish the best roster year after year.

To do this, you evaluate what you have and what resources are available, and you move in the direction that will give you the most benefit.  Then you evaluate again, make the next move(s), etc.

Several GMs understand the concepts even though most do not define the problem in purely mathematical terms.  Thomas Dimitroff and Rich McKay both fall into this category, and head coach Mike Smith is on board with the approach as well.

I'll skip the heavy-duty math and keep this as short as possible.  The first step in "The Process" is to form a baseline.  You define your potential roster using as few resources (cap space, draft picks) as possible. You fill in any holes with prospects (not draft picks - we're not there yet) or dirt cheap free agents. 

Note that this isn't the actual roster.  It's just the starting point.  And you don't actually have to sign any cheap free agents yet - just knowing they're readily available is enough.

The key is that as soon as you can form a reasonably competent roster, the moves you make from that point forward can all be to improve the team rather than to plug holes. That's when you have the freedom to go in any direction you want in free agency and the draft, and when you can stockpile for the future rather than scramble to keep a roster together for today. 

 

Here's our current potential roster:

Quarterback:  Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, D.J. Shockley

Running back:  Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Jason Snelling, Thomas Brown, with Ovie Mughelli and Snelling as fullbacks.

Tight end:  Ben Hartsock, Justin Peelle, Jason Rader/Keith Zinger. 

Wide receiver:  Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Laurent Robinson, Harry Douglas, Brian Finneran

Offensive line:  Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Harvey Dahl, Tyson Clabo, plus four of Quinn Ojinnaka, Brett Romberg, Nate Bennett, Renardo Foster, Alex Stepanovich, Will Svitek, Michael Butterworth, Ben Wilkerson.  (The competition in camp will be extremely tight, so for now I just listed them all.  Pick your favorite four and roll with it.) 

Defensive end:  John Abraham, Jamaal Anderson, Chauncey Davis, Kroy Biermann

Defensive tackle:  Jonathan Babineaux, Trey Lewis, Kindal Moorehead, Jason Jefferson

Linebacker:  Mike Peterson, Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nicholas/Coy Wire start, plus Robert James, Tony Gilbert, Wire/Nicholas as backups

Cornerback:  Chris Houston, Brent Grimes, Chevis Jackson, Von Hutchins, David Irons.

Safety:  Erik Coleman, Jamaal Fudge, Antoine Harris, Thomas DeCoud

Specialists:  Michael Koenen, Jason Elam, Michael Schneck, with Douglas and Norwood as return men.

Two at-large roster spots remain. Key in-house candidates include an extra offensive lineman, Eric Brock at safety, Simon Fraser at DE, Eric Weems and Chandler Williams at WR, or any of several DT or CB prospects.


 

Something I find very interesting: in general, this baseline is already better than our 2008 opening roster. Considering we haven't even hit the draft yet, that's encouraging.  (With the team being so young, even the names that haven't changed are upgrades.  For example, Matt Ryan has now started 17 games.  Heading into 2008, he had started none.  The extra experience will be a major factor for four of our starting offensive linemen, two of our WRs, and too many of our players on defense to name them all.)

One thing that continues to jump out at me is that we don't have a lot of holes to fill.  We do have some, and they're certainly important, but there aren't a lot of them.  That's a part of why we haven't signed as many no-name free agents as last year.  Our baseline is already at a level where there isn't much point to bringing in another dozen or so guys off the street the way we did last season.  They would have virtually no chance of beating out the guys we have in house.  (And this year, we know it.)

It's also noteworthy that with fairly few roster spots that could be upgraded via the draft, the likelihood of trading away one or more of our draft picks increases.  In the last two seasons we made deals to increase our total number of picks and ended up selecting 11 players in each draft.  This year, we simply won't have room for another 11 prospects.  The extra picks would end up being wasted.  We're far more likely to go the other direction, either packaging picks to move up or trading picks out to future drafts.  We'd get far more benefit from three really good prospects than our full complement of seven picks scattered throughout the draft.

 

Posted on: March 3, 2009 4:39 pm
 

The Chart (part three - the Brady Quinn deal)

The trade that got the most attention during the 2007 draft was when the Cleveland Browns gave up their second rounder and their 2008 first rounder to move up into the back end of the first round and select Brady Quinn. It was hailed as a bold, aggressive move, and with the Browns already having selected Joe Thomas with the #3 pick, it made Cleveland's class the talk of the draft.

Was the move really all that aggressive?

Based on the chart, the Browns gave up the future first rounder and pick #36 (550 points) to the Cowboys for pick #22 (780 points).  In theory, that would put a value of only 230 points on the future first round pick of a team that had the #3 overall that year and was widely considered likely to pick in the top ten the next year. 

That's a heck of a large discount factor, making the trade a case where the GM stepped out on a limb.  But this is THE perfect example to demonstrate why teams make the more interesting draft day trades. One of the caveats of the chart is that the team trading up is doing so based on perfect information.  They aren't just acquiring a draft pick.  They know exactly who they will select, and they're trading to acquire the player. 

(That could be viewed as a flaw with the chart. A team's willingness to overpay varies depending on the player involved.)


In this case, Brady Quinn had previously been considered the face of the draft.  He was the cover of ESPN's magazine for April, 2007.  He was universally considered a top five pick and believed to be the player that the Browns would likely take with the #3 overall - IF he lasted that long.

In terms of the chart, the #5 overall rates 1700 points. A player considered worthy of a top five pick would carry a grade of 1700+ points.  In Quinn's case, many scouts rated him around 2500 points.

But one of the interesting oddities of the draft is that the second and third quarterbacks taken tend to slide.  If any quarterbacks are among the top five prospects, at least one will be taken in the top five. But the next two may drop way down the board regardless of their pre-draft grades. 

When that happened with Quinn, it was a second Christmas for the Browns front office.  They didn't trade to get a 780-point draft pick.  They traded to get a 2500-point quarterback prospect.  Even if the team had bombed in 2007 and ended up with the #3 overall again in 2008, that trade would have amounted to 2200 points in the future plus 550 points immediately for a 2500 point player.  That puts a discount factor of just 11% on the future draft pick. 

Considering that most teams tend to put 50% or higher discounts on the value of future picks, the Browns were getting a bargain -  even if they repeated as the #3 overall team.  And that's the key to the trade.  It was a no-brainer for Cleveland to make that deal.  It was also a no-brainer for Dallas to trade down and pick up the chance to land what might become a future top ten pick.

As it turned out, the Browns were a surprise team that year.  The pick they sent to Dallas became the #22 - ironically, the same pick as the one they acquired.  The final price became 550 points in 2007 and 780 points in 2008 for the guy who had been the face of the 2007 draft. 

And even for Dallas it worked out well. Momentarily neglecting all the other moves Jerry Jones makes every draft and focusing on just this one trade, the Cowboys picked up an extra second rounder for delaying their first round pick by a year.  In financial terms, they collected a 29.5% interest rate on their #22 pick.  That's not too shabby either.


(Coming up, whenever I get around to it:  more on the Falcons move for Sam Baker, and why I think the Broncos firing their GM was partly because of the 2007 draft.)

 
 
 
 
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