Tag:Brandon Miller
Posted on: December 19, 2008 7:18 pm

farewell, D'Anthony Batiste - and congratulations

The Falcon web site never listed it on the transaction page, but we lost a solid line prospect from our practice squad.  OG D'Anthony Batiste was signed to the active roster of the Redskins.  

This is another example of just how much the team's depth has improved over the last couple of seasons.  When Matt Lehr was suspended a few years ago, the team signed a guy off the street (P.J. Alexander) and instantly started him because there were no game-worthy prospects in the organization.   This season, three of our initial practice squad members have been promoted to our roster while three more have been signed to the rosters of other teams.

It's a bummer to lose Batiste, though.  He was a solid prospect and would have been a likely candidate to make the roster next season.  The team has replaced him on the practice squad by re-signing Michael Butterworth, the OT from Slippery Rock that we had signed for camp as an undrafted free agent.  I'm not crazy about Butterworth's chances of making next year's team, but he would be a strong contender for the practice squad in 2009 and a shot at the roster in 2010.

We also added OG Nate Bennett to the practice squad last week, when Glenn Sharpe was promoted to the active roster.   Bennett played for Clemson and spent about half the season on the practice squad of the Ravens.  He's 6-4, 314.  He doesn't have the experience of Batiste, but our coaches will at least get a few weeks to look him over and evaluate him as a potential prospect for next year.

Key note:   practice squad players are all free agents at all times.   Once they are signed/promoted, the new team holds their rights and can renew their contracts for camp the following season.  So the odds are that we won't have a shot at getting Batiste or Brandon Miller back until their new teams make roster cuts next summer.  But we protected our rights to Eric Brock, Glenn Sharpe, and Eric Weems by promoting them to the main roster as replacements for injured players.

And the practice squad recruiting game has worked in our favor too.  Last season, Rich McKay scored big when he plucked Harvey Dahl from the practice squad of the 49ers.

Posted on: November 21, 2008 12:09 pm
Edited on: November 21, 2008 3:51 pm

a review of the practice squad moves... so far

Last season I kept up with every practice squad-related move the Falcons made and posted them all on the Falcon message board. There were a lot of them.

This season, the roster has been relatively stable ever since the week 1 moves that brought in Jamaal Fudge and Domonique Foxworth.  That has helped make the practice squad fairly stable as well.

But we've had a few more changes recently, and we've also had some questions on the Falcon message board about some of the guys on the squad.  So I figured it was time to present the complete run-down.

In 2007, the Falcons used the practice squad to pick up a lot of players cast off from other teams.  This year, the majority of our eight spots on the squad went to our own prospects - the guys who had already been through camp with this coaching staff. I like that approach.  We're doing what we can to develop these prospects, and we're keeping them handy as reserves.  If they're needed, they already know the lingo and have a pretty good grasp of the schemes.

The holdovers from camp were DE Brandon Miller, DB Eric Brock, DB Glenn Sharpe, OL D'Anthony Batiste, WR Eric Weems, and TE Keith Zinger

Zinger was the team's final draft pick this season. Brock (Auburn) was an non-roster invitee to minicamp who performed well enough to get signed. Miller (UGA) and Sharpe (Miami) were also undrafted free agents.  Weems was on the practice squad last season.  He was an extreme long shot to make this year's roster, but he performed well enough to stick around and win a spot on the squad for another season.

Batiste is the most experienced of the bunch.  He was sort of an unofficial trade with Carolina right at the 2007 roster cut deadline.  Petrino cut Frank Omiyale (OT, 2005 5th round draft choice) to make room for his Louisville tackle, undrafted free agent Renardo Foster. The Panthers, needing another tackle, scooped up Omiyale in a heartbeat.  They cut Batiste, and we picked him up off of waivers.

For those of you lucky enough to have blacked out all memory of 2007, Batiste was inactive for the first couple of months.  He was a surprise starter on Thanksgiving against the Colts, and he started a few more games after that. He made several rookie mistakes but did fairly well considering he was in his first career games.  (At the other guard spot, the rookie Blalock made just as many mistakes in the first month.) 

Batiste is a decent prospect at guard, but he's still a little raw.  He'll be someone to watch closely if he returns to camp next season. The catch is that all practice squad players are free agents at all times.  They can be scooped up by any team at any moment, so there's no guarantee we'll still have any of them at the end of the year. 
One of our other two initial practice squad players is a prime example. RB Kenneth Darby (Alabama) was a seventh round pick for Tampa last season, appeared in one game, and was released by the Bucs at this year's roster cut deadline.  With Thomas Brown on IR, we added him to the squad as our potential fourth RB.  But the Rams signed him to their roster in midseason.  So far, he has 11 carries and 8 receptions for 141 yards total from scrimmage.  Keep him in mind.  We'll probably get to see him up close in week 17.

The final player on the initial squad was DE Sean Conover, who signed with the Titans in 2006 as an undrafted free agent out of Bucknell.  He appeared in six games including two starts that season, and he appeared (mainly on special teams) in five games last year. 

When Darby was signed by the Rams (Oct 14), the Falcons added RB Chris Barclay to the squad as his replacement.  Barclay, from Wake Forest, signed with Cleveland in 2006 as an undrafted free agent and spent the season on Cleveland's practice squad.  The Browns sent him to NFL Europa for the 2007 spring season, where he had 143 carries for 751 yards (5.3 average) plus 22 receptions.  Bear in mind that the instructional NFL-E played a 10-game season and the players typically shared playing time, so his stats amount to a respectable 75 yard per game average.  He also returned 32 kickoffs for a 23.8 yard average.

A few weeks later, the team got the initial word that the league intended to suspend Grady Jackson for four weeks over the water pill issue.  Since every other defensive lineman on the active roster lists at under 300 pounds, the team immediately moved to bring in a backup while waiting for the results of his appeal.  They signed DT J'Vonne Parker to the squad, releasing Conover to make room.

Heads up on this one, everybody.   There's a strong chance you'll be seeing Parker on the field before the end of the season.  If you want to get a good look at him, dig up the video from this year's final preseason game (Atlanta vs Baltimore).  Parker got a solid amount of playing time in that game and racked up four solo tackles.

Other than preseason, he hasn't had a whole lot of playing time. He signed with Cleveland in 2005 as an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers, bounced around a bit and spent most of last season on Baltimore's practice squad. While he's here, he's our insurance policy in case Grady becomes unavailable.  He's also auditioning for an invitation back to camp next year. If he puts in the effort, there's a good chance he'll be here next summer.

After the release of Adam Jennings, the team promoted DE Brandon Miller to the main roster.  That was an unusual move, as it gave the team a total of six active DEs.  It suggested that more moves were in the works, perhaps involving one of the PUP list players.  In the meantime, they brought back WR Chandler Williams to replace Miller on the practice squad.  Williams (Florida International) was drafted in the 7th round by Minnesota last year, played in training camp and preseason with them, and then spent the season on Miami's practice squad.  He spent training camp and preseason with the Falcons this year.

Last week, the team moved Trey Lewis from the inactive list to the reserve/PUP list.  This week, they moved Renardo Foster to that list as well.  Both players are done for the year.

Also, Roddy White, Laurent Robinson, and Brian Finneran are all banged up this week.  White and Robinson were out of practice completely both Wednesday and Thursday. Roddy is expected to practice Friday.

For extra depth, the team dropped DE Brandon Miller and promoted WR Eric Weems to the main roster.  So the net result is that Jennings has been replaced by Weems as the sixth WR on the roster.

One slight twist -  the Falcons weren't able to get Miller through waivers and back on the practice squad.  The Seahawks scooped him up first added him to their main roster.   So a second prospect has graduated to someone's main roster this year.  Congratulations, Brandon.

So instead of Miller, DE Willie Evans is the replacement for Weems on the practice squad.  Evans was also with us during training camp and preseason.  He played NFL-E in 2007 and spent four weeks on Carolina's practice squad last year.  I had mixed grades for him in preseason and will say that I think he's not ready for duty on the roster, but I certainly have no objections to having him on the practice squad.  He can get coaching, improve his technique, and maybe earn a trip to minicamp and OTAs next year.

At this point of the season, things happen to players on the main roster on a regular basis.  Everybody's banged up.  It's just a question of how much more they can take before they're serious enough to get listed on the injury report.  And when those things happen, many teams make fast and furious adjustments to the practice squad to keep up.  We'll see more moves between now and the end of the season.

The last name on the practice squad was actually the first guy assigned to it.  He's our designated international development program player, Noriaki Kinoshita. Under the terms of the program, he's doesn't take up one of the eight official practice squad spots and can't be signed away by another team, but he also can't be promoted to the main roster.  He's simply here as a freebie ninth man, getting the experience of practicing with NFL players for a season.  (And in his case, he's here to work on his English as well.)

But he might have a shot at coming back to camp next year.  Nori came close to making the Falcon roster in 2007, when he was one of the last players released at the final roster cutdown.  He has great hands, adequate speed, and absolutely no fear. He played three seasons in NFL Europe and became one of the top kickoff returners in that league.  I'd love to see what he could do as a punt returner in camp next year.

Posted on: November 12, 2008 1:48 pm

Jennings out, Miller promoted

The upcoming release of Adam Jennings had been a hot rumor around Flowery Branch for the last two weeks.  I mentioned here that Coach Smith may have tipped off the move shortly after the Raiders game in a press conference, when he praised the receiving corps and named every receiver on the team EXCEPT for Jennings.   It was a noteworthy omission, and it really stoked the flames on the rumors around The Branch. 

One thing I'd like to make clear:   the move was mainly to free up a roster spot.  The horrible muff call by the refs may have been the final nail in the coffin (which makes it all the more shameful), but the bottom line is that he wasn't released because he failed as a punt returner.

With Finneran ahead of him on the WR ladder and Laurent Robinson back healthy, Jennings wasn't going to get any playing time at receiver in the forseeable future.  That meant he was taking up a roster spot purely as a punt return man.   A one trick pony isn't something many teams can afford to keep on the 45 man game day roster.  All the team needed was to find a viable alternative - not necessarily an upgrade - in order to free up a roster spot.

It's the same situation that resulted in Allen Rossum being traded at the end of the 2007 preseason.  Petrino had decided that his player from Louisville, Antoine Harris, would be the team's ninth DB ahead of Rossum.  If Rossum remained on the roster, he would be taking up space strictly as a return man.   If the team could find anyone else already on the roster that could do the job, Rossum would be expendable.   At that time, Jennings already had his spot secured as the #5 wide receiver.  When the coaches decided that Jennings would suffice as the punt return man without taking up an extra roster spot, Rossum's fate was sealed.  

(Side note:  Atlanta received a seventh round pick, #232 overall, in the trade that sent Rossum to Pittsburgh.  The Falcons used their two seventh round picks to select DB Wilrey Fontenot at 212 and TE Keith Zinger at 232.  Neither made the roster, but Zinger is currently on the practice squad.)

One of the other candidates for that #5 WR spot last year, Brian Finneran, missed his second straight season with a knee injury.  But he never gave up, stuck with his rehab and became one of the better stories of this year's training camp by making the roster.  He has dropped several passes (surprising for someone with his reputation for good hands) but has also make several clutch receptions.  

Finneran worked his way up to the #5 WR spot, which dropped Jennings to #6.  Laurent Robinson missed a little time due to injury, but once he was back to health, there was no way Jennings was going to get playing time at wide receiver.  That put Jennings in the same position as Rossum a year ago -  taking up a roster space strictly as a return man.  

And the result is the same as it was with Rossum -  the team looked for alternatives.   It didn't have to be an upgrade - just a viable alternative who is already listed elsewhere on the depth chart.   The team doesn't need six WRs.  The music stopped, and Jennings is the guy without a chair. 

For now, that roster spot is being used to promote defensive end Brandon Miller from the practice squad to the main roster.  Miller was an undrafted free agent out of UGA who was with the team in camp and preseason.  He was paired with Biermann at DE in the exhibition games.  The two of them were clearly rookies, but their tenacity was fun to watch.  It was obvious that both of them have real potential with proper coaching.

But looking ahead, I find it VERY interesting that the roster spot was filled with yet another defensive end.  I'm probably jumping the gun, but my take is that there will be another roster change coming soon.   I can't imagine why the team would stick with six defensive ends (Abraham, Anderson, Davis, Biermann, Fraser, and now Miller) for very long.   

I'm still waiting for definitive news on the two Falcons on PUP lists:  OT Renardo Foster and DT Trey Lewis.   The last word was that Foster was more likely to return to the roster, with Lewis more likely to be placed on IR for the year.  But both were borderline cases in their rehab.  Significant progress or setbacks during the 21 day exemption period could make the difference for both of them.

But time is running out.  We'll know very soon.  Maybe even later today...

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com