Tag:Ben Wilkerson
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: August 5, 2009 8:51 pm

camp notes - 8/05/09

I guess everyone's heard by now about the injury to Harry Douglas.  He was running a pass route in one of the drills and apparently did something to his knee.  He went down in a heap and stayed down a long time.  Brian Finneran came over to him and stayed with him until he was ready to get up.  He tried to walk off with help from Finn and a trainer, but he couldn't do it   He went back down to the ground and the team brought out a cart to take him off the field.

While he was down, he was holding the lower part of his knee.  That's never a good thing.  Smitty says we'll have to wait until tomorrow for any kind of update from the team.  Until then, we'll all have to hope for the best.   Of course, we all know that Harry will be receiving attention for it all afternoon and again this evening, so that response from the head coach wasn't particularly satisfying.  But we might hear more on ESPN or NFL-N tonight.  I'm certainly planning on checking out Total Access for a possible update.

Other notes from the session:   the fringe linemen (Jose Valdez, Ryan Stanchek, Adam Speer) mainly saw action as a scout team DEFENSIVE line.  They're taking their turns in basic drills with the rest of the offensive linemen, but they're not getting much action in the scrimmage situations.  (I'm bummed, because I've really wanted to see Ryan Stanchek in action.)

On the other hand, we did get a better look at undrafted receiver prospects Aaron Kelly, Bradon Godfrey and Darren Mougey today.  Kelly looked good.  If he keeps going like he did today and does a good job on special teams, he'll make the roster.  Mougey looked good enough for a practice squad spot, but I'm not sold on his chances of making the 53-man list.  Godfrey is somewhere in between.  I saw some pretty good flashes from him and only one route that looked bad, but he'll still have an uphill battle to beat out Weems, Williams, and Bergeron.

HERE TODAY, GONE THIS AFTERNOON:   I mentioned on the Falcons message board yesterday that the team had signed undrafted free agent Dicky Lyons (from Kentucky) but that there hadn't been any word on who was released to make room for him.  He's an interesting prospect - most notable in that he played only six games last season for the Wildcats yet was still their leading receiver.  

I looked for him in practice today, but he wasn't on the field.  It turns out the player axed to make room for Dicky Lyons was... Dicky Lyons. 

He wasn't with the team at all this afternoon and was immediately released before he ever even got to suit up.   I'll have to add that one to Shuless Joe's thread of questions for coaches.   Odd things happen every year with the fringe players, but that one is a first class head-scratcher.

This is the fifth day, ninth practice, and fifth practice in full pads.  So far, the guy who looks like he has made the biggest improvement from last season to this season is...   Keith Zinger.   In preseason last year, "disappointing" was probably an overly kind way to describe his performance.  He was off on a few routes, dropped more balls than he caught, and even missed a block or two. 

So far in camp he's looking like a junior clone of Tony Gonzalez.  He's catching everything and has had a few "oh wow" moments.  His routes have mostly been simple, but they've been well executed.  That's all you can ask -  he's running the patterns he's given, running them with precision, and catching the ball when it's thrown to him.

Two of his more impressive catches this week have come from the arm of John Parker Wilson.  One of them was an out route, completed for about 25 yards.  The other was a shorter crossing route.  Wilson threaded the needle between two defenders with a third right behind Zinger.  My immediate reaction is that none of the other QBs would have completed that pass.  (Up until today, Shockley would have thrown it too high and it would have been a bullet off his fingertips.  Redman wouldn't have enough zip and would have had it picked off.  Ryan simply would have seen three defenders and thrown it somewhere else.)   But today, he also had several balls thrown his way by Matt Ryan.  He's obviously getting noticed. 

William Moore and Trey Lewis didn't practice today.  They're both day-to-day after getting banged up earlier this week (Monday afternoon for Lewis, yesterday for Moore).  That gave Thomas DeCoud the bulk of the reps at safety, and he looked solid.  One DT who got extra reps with Lewis out was Tywain Myles.  He's a long shot to make the roster but he made the most of the opportunity, getting some good penetration on several scrimmage pays including one in the goal line session.  He lists at 305, but I've seen one other "unofficial" roster that listed him in the neighborhood of 320.  That's something to note -  the weights listed on the team web site aren't necessarily up to date.

Many of you will NOT want to hear this, but Jamaal Anderson had a really good practice this afternoon.  He got penetration on several plays, including one in the goal line session on a sweep to Turner.   Actually, he's been good all week.  Obviously the QBs are off limits for hitting during training camp, but he has been right there for at least three sacks and two rushed throws.

One of the oh-wow plays of the day was a deep pass from Ryan to Michael Jenkins against double coverage.  Jenkins beat Chris Houston and Thomas Decoud to come down with the catch.

D.J. Shockley looked much better today.  Earlier in the week he was too high on many of his throws.  Today he was keeping it down and was nearly always on target.  He also tucked and ran on a few simulated plays.  That's something he didn't do much earlier in the week or in the exhibition games last year.  (It was as if he was intentionally giving up the run just to get in the extra pass.  But his main value to the team is his threat on the ground, so it's good to see him at least willing to show the ground attack from time to time.) 

I noticed Brett Romberg getting the bulk of the snaps at center with the #2 line again today.  It looks like he's the leading candidate for the backup center job, with Ben Wilkerson in the hunt mainly as a guard.  The key question for Wilkerson appears to be whether the team elects to keep nine linemen or ten, because it's starting to look like he's the tenth man.   Will Svitek and Garrett Reynolds were once again the second unit tackles. 

The team ended the practice with a goal line (scoring) session followed by a few snaps coming out from our own goal line and then a few snaps in the two minute offense.  The goal line session had more highlights than any other part of the practice.  Brian Finneran caught a fade (which we all wanted to see the team do more often last season) for a score, over the head of Chris Houston.  The next play was the sweep to Michael Turner where Jamaal Anderson got penetration to stretch it out.  The play after that was a drop by TE Ben Hartsock.  I don't want to say he's in danger of losing his roster spot quite yet, but the TE battles sure did get a lot more interesting this week.  Later in the goal line session, Tywain Myles had his penetration to disrupt a play, and then D.J. Shockley had a nice play-action rollout.

The own-goal spot was nothing fancy.  The two-minute thing ended with a bit of a slip-up.  Ryan picked up some nice yardage and then hurried to get the next play off quickly, but he fumbled the snap.  The coaches immediately called for him to spike the ball and stop the clock, and then the air horn sounded to end the session.

The one thing the team did that wasn't so fan-friendly today was to sound the air horn to end the autograph session after practice.  It was the biggest crowd of the week, with over 1200 people there today.  Many of them were kids, and this is the last week before all the munchkins are back in school.  So when the QBs and WRs started walking over to the sideline, you can imagine how many people were wanting autographs.  The players signed as many as they could, but there were still a whole lot more fans remaining and waiting their turns when the air horn sounded once again and all the players went into the building. 

Quick reminder:   the "All Access Weekend" is this weekend.  The team will have a scrimmage at Brookwood High School as well as the "Roam The Dome" at the Georgia Dome.  Both are highly recommended events.  Coach Smith has said the kicking game will be a bigger part of the scrimmage this year - mainly because place kicker Jason Elam was a product of Brookwood High School way back when.  He has visited the school at least once already since returning to Atlanta, but this time he'll actually get to kick on his old high school field.  Pretty cool...
Posted on: July 26, 2009 7:35 pm

Newberry's retirement

Three quick notes about the announced retirement of Jeremy Newberry:

1)  the attention seems to be on the Falcons losing their backup center.  If you're worried about this aspect of it, don't sweat it.  Newberry was going to be working in camp primarily at guard.  It's true that he would likely have been the backup center on game days, when there are typically only seven active linemen (one tackle and one interior guy in addition to the five starters).  But he's wasn't Atlanta's only option, and the coaching staff isn't particularly concerned about that position.

2)  the silver lining is that the team would have had to release a player to make room to sign draft pick Peria Jerry before camp.  Including Newberry and the as-yet-unsigned Jerry, there were 81 players in the organization.  The roster limit for camp is 80 players.  Somebody had to go.  Newberry's retirement means the team can keep one of the extra candidates at one of the other positions that are up for grabs, such as the backup linebacker spots, #5 and potential #6 WR, #5 and potential #6 running back, etc.

The team has a bunch of prospects, projects, and journeyman type veterans who will compete for those positions.  The more, the better.  Even if all the prospects flop, the opportunity to try them all out during preseason gives the team an advantage.  That came into play last year, when the coaches decided they needed better than the basket full of prospects they had in the secondary (Deke Cooper, Blue Adams, Daren Stone, etc) and traded for Domonique Foxworth during Week 1 of the regular season.  

3)  Most of the mass media believe the Falcons still have depth issues on the offensive line.  Example:


With Newberry, the Atlanta O-line would have been so deep it bordered on silliness.  The goal is to have a few backups who are ready to step in as starters right away if needed, and a few prospects who can contribute on special teams or in rotation now but mainly are developing for the future.

The Falcons certainly have that.  Quinn Ojinnaka finished the 2007 season as the starting left tackle and played well subbing for Sam Baker and Todd Weiner last year.  He's ready to start at either tackle position when needed.  There's also interior lineman Brett Romberg, who has 18 career starts at center and guard and who won a starting job at center for coach Boudreau while both were in St. Louis. 

Newberry and Alex Stepanovich (who was released after the fact to make room for Newberry) would have added to that list, but even so, the Falcons already have a tackle and an interior guy with decent amounts of starting experience to serve as the primary backups on game days. 

Throw in Ben Wilkerson, who won the backup center job for the Falcons out of camp in 2007 and won a backup guard spot in 2008.  He doesn't have a lot of real game experience, since Todd McClure has proven to be an iron man for the last several seasons.  But OC Mike Mularkey did manage to get Wilkerson on the field for some of those unbalanced packages last season.  Wilkerson has shown versatility, has developed pretty so far in practice as a backup guard, and needs no cross-training at center as that's his natural position.  He's a third reserve who is ready right now.

Next, the goal would be to find a few prospects to develop for the future.  Garrett Reynolds appears to be the head of that class for the 2009 Falcons.  Reynolds was a three-year starter at UNC, which should shorten his training curve considerably.  The coaching staff likes his feistiness.

I'm hoping to see G/T prospect Ryan Stanchek paired with Reynolds in training camp.  Stanchek wasn't drafted, but then neither were Tyson Clabo or Harvey Dahl.  Stanchek also has a nasty "punch" block and is known for his ferocious competitive streak.  Like Reynolds, he saw a lot of action in college, starting for four years at West Virginia.  The Falcons team web site says he played guard in college, but it should be noted that by his junior season he had moved to left tackle and was the starting left tackle that blocked for Noel Devine and Pat White last season.

I'd like to emphasize that these guys aren't just bodies for camp.  Reynolds and Stanchek are real, good prospects that are likely to develop into future starters.  They might not be the best options as starting linemen on Day One, but as the potential #8/#9 (or #9/#10) linemen on the roster, they're exactly the types of players you want.  They can contribute on special teams now, have solid potential for 2010 and beyond, and take up the bare minimum amount of cap space.

And of course there are others competing for those jobs in camp.  The current list includes last year's undrafted free agent Mike Butterworth (tackle, Slippery Rock), free agent tackle Will Svitek (Kansas City, originally drafted 6th round 2005), and G/T prospect Jose Valdez (Arkansas - blocked for Darren McFadden in 2007).  All three need some work on their techniques, but we certainly have the right line coach for that.

Bottom line - Newberry's retirement will certainly be noticed during camp, but it's hardly a disaster.  The line had adequate depth before he signed, and at least one of the reserve centers would not have made the roster anyway.  His departure simply opens the door for guys like Ben Wilkerson and Ryan Stanchek.
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