Posted on: October 30, 2011 2:35 pm
One of the rare weeks where I'm in Atlanta for the weekend, and naturally it's our bye week... Oh well. That makes it a pretty good time to take a look at this coming offseason.
The Falcons had it easy with free agency heading into the 2009 and 2010 seasons, as the team was loaded with young players locked under contract. But the pendulum swung the other way this season and will be full tilt this coming offseason.
John Abraham will be a free agent. So will Brent Grimes, since we only tendered him as a RFA this year. Ditto for Eric Weems. The team only resigned Jason Snelling for a one year deal. He's a free agent again this year too. Same story with linebacker Mike Peterson.
Tony Gonzalez is in the final year of his contract. So are Todd McClure and Chris Redman, plus Joe Zelenka (long snappers are people too). And so are the second and later rounders from the 2008 draft: Curtis Lofton, Thomas DeCoud, Kroy Biermann, and Harry Douglas.
And except for DE Ray Edwards, who inked a long term deal, all of our new Falcons are only signed for this season: Kelvin Hayden, James Sanders, Brett Romberg, Reggie Kelly, Kirk Chambers, Mike Cox.
That's 19 unrestricted free agents on the current 53-man roster. Yikes...
At quarterback, Matt Ryan is still here. But John Parker Wilson is already a free agent - all practice squad members are free agents who could be plucked at any time. It's not a good sign for his future that the team chose to expose him rather than keep him on the roster. And Redman will turn 35 before the start of training camp next year. He may still have another year or two left in the tank, but I wouldn't depend on it. So figure at least one new quarterback - and maybe two - in our future next year.
At running back, the Falcons are in reasonable shape for 2012 - mainly because serviceable running backs are so easy to come by, and because the backups are still so underused. (Michael Turner has 138 carries going into the bye. The other RB/FBs have a combined total of 24.) Antone Smith has yet to carry the ball this year at all. He's likely to be a fringe player once again next summer.
At tight end, Michael Palmer is an exclusive rights free agent. That means the team can simply renew his contract, which makes him the only tight end they have locked in at all. Gonzalez has said he feels like he can play a few more years. He has also said before that he'd like to end his career with the Chiefs, so there's no telling whether he'd resign with Atlanta. Practice squad players Marquez Branson (injured) and Tommy Gallarda are likely to be here for camp on futures contracts. But we'll probably need more - I wouldn't expect to see Kelly back for another season.
At wide receiver, I would guess that Douglas wouldn't be too difficult to resign. Roddy White and Julio Jones are both here long term, and Kerry Meier is still under contract and likely to be more involved in his second year back from ACL surgery. The interesting question is whether one of the prospects might challenge for a roster spot. The front office reversed course last season. Instead of going for big guys with good hands but who are slow as molasses, the team started looking at speedsters. D.J. Davis and Kevin Cone are both lightning quick, and they're both getting a chance to learn the offense on the practice squad.
(I'm thrilled to see the change - finally. Too bad they couldn't have gone that route back in 2009, when we really could have used a speedster. Our scouts had seen Johnny Knox at the Texas vs The Nation game - but after trading away Laurent Robinson, Dimitroff left Knox sitting on the draft board to take cornerback William Middleton instead.)
For all the fuss about how Atlanta's offensive line would supposedly be devastated by free agency this season, we turned out to be overloaded instead. McClure is getting banged up pretty hard this year, and it's the final year of his contract. Don't be surprised if Ol' Mud Duck hangs up the cleats. But except for fill-ins Romberg and Chambers, everyone else is under contract at least through 2012. (One caveat: Sam Baker may be on one of those option or voidable years.) And there's already extra depth in the pipeline, as both Andrew Jackson and Jose Valdez are still sitting on the practice squad.
Specifically at center, Romberg would be likely to resign. He came aboard this season as a street level free agent. He's mainly working as a backup guard right now, but he's a natural center and was here previously as the #2 behind McClure. He became expendable last year when the team drafted Joe Hawley. Now he'd be a pretty obvious choice to bring back as Hawley's backup.
At DE, we're in trouble. Both Abraham and Biermann will be free agents. Can we even afford to sign both? We'd need at least one of them returning to supplement the remaining trio of Edwards, Lawrence Sidbury, and Cliff Matthews - and Sidbury will be a free agent after next season. If we're going to stick with the current 4-3 scheme, the DE position will continue to need attention every year.
At DT, we're set. Vance Walker will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and if he's still here, Carlton Powell would be a restricted free agent after 2012. But the trio of Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry won't be free agents until 2014.
At linebacker, resigning Lofton will be a priority. But otherwise, Peterson is the only free agent this year, and Spencer Adkins is the only one set to become a free agent next year.
At cornerback, the question is whether we'd be able to hang on to Grimes at all. He was hoping for a long term deal this year but only got a tender. He's coming off a Pro Bowl appearance and continuing to make highlight reel plays. If he hits the open market, somebody is bound to offer him the big bucks, as the Ravens did with Domonique Foxworth a few years back. Hayden will also be a free agent this offseason, and Chris Owens will be entering the final year of his contract. The team has already started preparing for 2012 by keeping undrafted rookie Darrin Walls on the roster, while Dominique Franks also continues to develop.
One potential scenario: Grimes bolts for the big bucks, but the team resigns Hayden. Even before the draft, that gives Atlanta a quintet of Dunta Robinson, Hayden, Owens, Franks and Walls. Throw in few futures contract or two - perhaps bringing Kamaal McIlwain in for another run at training camp - and the group as a whole would at least be no worse off than in 2009 and 2010.
At safety, Decoud and Sanders are both free agents. That leaves William Moore (who will be in the final year of his contract) and Shann Schillinger as the only safeties locked in. The team opted to expose Rafael Bush to the practice squad instead of Walls, and he has already been plucked away. Suaesi Tuimaunei is getting a chance to learn the system as the replacement for Bush on the practice squad. He's an intriguing possibility as a long term project, but he won't be ready for real action in 2012. At least one more safety will be a must.
Tags: Andrew Jackson, Atlanta, Brent Grimes, Brett Romberg, Chris Owens, Chris Redman, Curtis Lofton, Falcons, James Sanders, Jason Snelling, John Abraham, John Parker Wilson, Jose Valdez, Kelvin Hayden, Kroy Biermann, Michael Palmer, Sam Baker, Suaesi Tuimaunei, Thomas Decoud, Thomas Decoud, Todd McClure, Tony Gonzalez, William Moore, William Moore
Posted on: May 6, 2010 3:41 pm
The basic Falcons 53-man roster typically consists of 3 QB, 5 RB/FB, 3 TE, 5 WR, 9 OL, 5 DE, 4 DT, 6 LB, 5 CB, 4 S, 1 P, 1 K, 1 LS, and one at-large spot.
The at-large spot is completely up for grabs and likely to change during the season. The team briefly had six defensive ends in 2008 and finished the season with ten offensive linemen. Last season began with six cornerbacks but ended with an extra running back.
The team will naturally make tweaks as needed, such as in 2008 when they carried only 4 runners (with the fifth on the practice squad) in order to start the year with extra depth elsewhere. But for the most part, that's what we can expect for the 2010 team.
I made a list of what I call the late season 2009 roster. With injuries and replacements, it's difficult to nail down one set of 53 players as "the" roster. But these were the players who were aboard for most of November and December.
Eight players from that list are now gone. Eight incoming or returning players are penciled in as locks to make the roster: Harry Douglas (assuming he's medically cleared), Peria Jerry, William Moore, Dunta Robinson, Sean Weatherspoon, Corey Peters, Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley.
The catch is that while some are easy one-for-one swaps (Douglas replaces Marty Booker, Sean Weatherspoon replaces Tony Gilbert), others are not (Corey Peters and Mike Johnson replace ????). There are also many other returning or incoming players that will offer strong competition for roster spots. And Smitty has already made the first "nobody is safe" reference of the year.
So the key question is which players from last season are on the hot seat in camp this summer?
I've pegged as many as twenty that are at risk. I think eight of them are probably safe, but the other twelve are in real danger of losing their roster spots. Starting with the offense, they are:
1) Eric Weems. He made the roster last season for his potential as a return man, not strictly as a wide receiver. He'll have a good shot at playing a few years in the NFL off of his special teams skills, but the fifth round of the draft may have sealed his fate in Atlanta. The Falcons drafted potential return man Dominique Franks and potential WR Kerry Meier with their two fifth round picks.
Weems will also have to compete with returning practice squad candidates Troy Bergeron and Andy Strickland plus undrafted free agent Ryan Wolfe and two others just to have a shot at the at-large spot as a sixth WR. And that DUI arrest in November certainly doesn't help his cause.
2) Brian Finneran. While Weems figures to be the first WR replaced, if both Meier and Wolfe stick (or if Bergeron, Strickland, Brandyn Harvey or converted quarterback Tim Buckley amaze the coaches), Finn may have a tough time returning once more.
His latest knee injury isn't anywhere near as bad as the two that sidelined him in consecutive seasons, but he's now 34. He wasn't all that fast to begin with, so he can't afford to lose a step due to age or injury.
3) Will Svitek. He was an interesting addition to last year's roster and played competently as a backup. But he's not a starting caliber player, and that's not likely to change in camp this year.
4) Quinn Ojinnaka. He can play any position on the offensive line. So can third round pick Mike Johnson. And the coaching staff chose Svitek to fill in for Sam Baker last season at left tackle. If Svitek is still the choice at the end of preseason, Ojinnaka may be the one bumped out to make room for Johnson.
Ojinnaka is also the only backup lineman who was not brought into the organization under Smitty and Dimitroff. I'm not saying Smitty and his staff will play favorites, but it's a factor. Ojinnaka is a holdover from the Jim Mora days and was drafted because he fit the Alex Gibbs blocking scheme. Everyone else was hand picked by Smitty and Dimitroff because they fit the current Falcons scheme.
5) Brett Romberg. Yep, three of the four backup linemen are at risk. Romberg played for Boudreau in St. Louis, and the Rams thought enough of him to start him. He's a solid - and experienced - backup. He's definitely a handy guy to have around.
But Mike Johnson probably takes over the #3 guard role this year, and the arrival of Joe Hawley puts his backup center role at risk. To date, Romberg hasn't been a real candidate to play tackle, plus the team chose Ojinnaka ahead of Romberg to fill in for Harvey Dahl at guard.
If the team once again keeps only nine total linemen, these three are all at serious risk. Johnson and Hawley will make the roster, so two guys will have to go to make room for them. Prospects Jose Valdez and Rob Bruggeman are knocking on the door as well.
6) Matt Bryant. The Falcons had a steady-Freddy but aging kicker in Jason Elam to start the 2009 season. They finished with another in Matt Bryant.
He's about to turn 35 later this month. He was 1 for 4 from 40+ yards last season after going 5 of 11 and 6 of 10 from 40+ the previous two seasons with the Buccaneers. He's rock steady from inside 40, but that means the Falcons would have to get inside the 23-yard line to feel confident in making a field goal. That's not good.
The team added Steven Hauschka for insurance in the final week of the season, as Bryant came away from the Bills game a bit gimpy. Hauschka has a strong leg but missed a pair of shorter field goal attempts that cost him his spot with the Ravens. If he can work out the mechanics, he's a strong contender.
And then there's the rookie, Garrett Lindholm. He was mainly on the national radar for this:
In the playoffs, no time left, game on the line...
He turned it on his senior year, but his sophomore and junior year stats certainly won't blow you away. And he definitely needs work on his mechanics if he is to maintain consistency, as you'll see in one of the clips below. I don't know if he's the answer. I think I might have preferred signing Damon Duval when we had the chance.
Some highlights (no sound)
Workout results... he made the 49-yarder but missed several shorter ones...
At the very least, Lindholm will add competition. But my guess is that if Hauschka turns it on, he'll be the man.
7) Joe Zelenka. Joe who? I'm sure many of you don't really care who takes the long snapper job. But keep in mind that after Mike Schneck went on IR last year, replacement Bryan Pittman, holder Michael Koenen and kicker Jason Elam just couldn't get in sync, costing the Falcons at least one game and chances at winning two more.
Zelenka did well enough as the second replacement, but he hardly has a lock on the position the way Schneck might have had he not decided to retire. The competition comes from undrafted rookie Justin Drescher, who has plenty of college experience after serving as Colorado's long snapper in all four years.
8) Coy Wire. Frankly, I found it hard to believe he was included in the "On The Fringe" TV series last year. There was no doubt in my mind that he'd make the roster. He still has a strong chance this year, but it will be a little more challenging.
The catch is that if Sean Weatherspoon takes over as the starting Will backer, Mike Peterson would then drop down to the #4 overall LB. So unless the team drops Peterson off the roster completely, Wire would then drop to #5, pretty much limiting him to special teams duty.
So far, no problem there - he's our special teams captain. And there isn't a need to drop anyone to make room for 'Spoon, as Tony Gilbert was not re-signed.
But most teams prefer to have younger guys with upside potential filling those spots on the back end of the roster. He'd be competing not only with the younger linebacker prospects, but also with the new safeties (Matt Giordano and Shann Schillinger) as special teams players.
I was hesitant to include him on this list, as he was solid as a replacement for Michael Boley in 2008 and has been outstanding on special teams. He's a fine player. The question is whether the team would continue to keep a guy with zero remaining upside as the #5 LB.
9) Spencer Adkins. If Wire does stay aboard as the #5 LB, then Adkins will have to step up big in his second year or face competition for the #6 spot. He was on the inactive list for most of the season, but the team worked him in on special teams for a few games when the WRs and safeties were so banged up.
The competition will come from 2008 fifth rounder Robert James and from this year's undrafted prospects, Bear Woods and Weston Johnson.
While it seems like a reach for one of the undrafted prospects to unseat a drafted player from the roster, keep in mind that it was considered a big stretch when the Falcons drafted Adkins in the sixth round in 2009 - mainly because of his blazing fast 40 time. He was otherwise figured to be an undrafted free agent himself.
So once you put their projections on an even footing, there's a lot to be said for the rest of the pack. Adkins was only a part time player for Miami. Meanwhile, Weston Johnson was named team captain at Wyoming, while Bear Woods was the leading tackler at Troy. The competition will be quite real.
10) Trey Lewis. Smitty said he was excited to have Lewis back last season, and that Lewis gave the team potential to work in some 3-4 as a package defense. But it turned out that Lewis was far from full speed in his first season back from two reconstructive knee surgeries. He spent most of the year as the #4 (inactive) DT, taking the 3-4 package off the table.
On the plus side, he showed as a rookie that when healthy, he can play either DT spot. He's not strictly a nose tackle. And his size adds an element that no other DT on the roster can bring. If his knee will allow him to get back to form, he has a good chance of winning the #4 DT job again this year, serving as the #3 while Babs is out.
But he'll have to turn it up this summer or he'll be off the roster when Babs returns, if not sooner.
11) Thomas Johnson. I can't say enough good things about the job he did last season. He truly was our Out Of Nowhere player for the 2009 season.
The guy was an undrafted free agent who had already been released by three different teams and hadn't played a game since 2006. He signed with the Falcons as a futures contract. He wasn't expected to make the roster at all but ended up as our starting nose tackle.
Now move ahead a year... Peria Jerry is expected to return, and the team has added Corey Peters. Johnson is expendable, and he probably has the least potential upside of the backup candidates. It's a brutal fact of life in the NFL.
12) Vance Walker. It shouldn't be a surprise that all three backup DTs are at major risk. Unless one wins the at-large spot, the Falcons will have two DTs too many after Babs returns from suspension. And that's not even counting Joe Klecko or Trey Bryant as serious candidates or DEs sliding in to play the middle.
The seventh rounder started the season on the practice squad and is still practice squad eligible. If all else is equal between the three backup DTs, the coaching staff may try to keep them all for the start of the season by stashing Walker back on the practice squad.
Noteworthy players left off the list:
Brian Williams: the only reason he's not on the list above is that he wasn't on the late 2009 roster in the first place, so he didn't have a roster spot to lose.
Otherwise, he might be the most at risk player of all. He's still far from 100% and won't be back until at least the start of training camp. If his recovery takes longer, he may end up starting the year on the PUP list or get released on an injury settlement as Von Hutchins was last year.
If he's healthy, his main value (and best chance at making the roster) is that he can play safety as well as CB. He would likely be the top contender for the #4 safety role.
Jamaal Anderson, Chauncey Davis: if the Falcons had brought in a serious DE candidate, it would be obvious that one of these two would have to go. But the team appears to be standing pat, bringing in only a pair of undrafted candidates to replace Maurice Lucas on the practice squad.
I won't say they're definitely safe, but at least for now there is room to fit all five DEs on the roster. Unlike the DTs, they aren't in a spot where somebody HAS to go... yet...
Chris Owens, Brent Grimes: the rookie Owens worked his way into the starting rotation, plus he's a Dimitroff prospect. He isn't going anywhere. Many fans don't care for Grimes, but he entered the season with just eight total games of experience. He was essentially a rookie too. He led the team with six interceptions. The last time any Falcons player had more was 1998 (Ray Buchanan, with seven).
If Williams isn't healthy or makes the roster as a safety, or if Franks gets the at-large spot as a return specialist, everyone in the room could make the roster. Only one CB absolutely had to go, and Tye Hill's release settled the question of who it would be.
Justin Peelle, Keith Zinger: they certainly aren't safe, but the three prospects brought in this season aren't as much of a threat as the incoming DTs or offensive linemen. While Colin Peek and Michael Palmer are both contenders, the Falcons may choose to start them on the practice squad as they did with Zinger in 2008.
Tags: Atlanta, Bear Woods, Brent Grimes, Brett Romberg, Brian Finneran, Brian Williams, Chauncey Davis, Chris Owens, Corey Peters, Coy Wire, Dominique Franks, Eric Weems, Falcons, Garrett Lindholm, Jamaal Anderson, Joe Hawley, Joe Zelenka, Justin Drescher, Justin Peelle, Keith Zinger, Kerry Meier, Matt Bryant, Mike Johnson, Peria Jerry, Quinn Ojinnaka, Ryan Wolfe, Spencer Adkins, Steven Hauschka, Thomas Johnson, Trey Lewis, Vance Walker, Weston Johnson, Will Svitek
Posted on: March 11, 2010 12:33 pm
I mentioned it in another thread already, but I'll repeat it here... the exact numbers for the remaining draft picks won't be announced until the end of the month, as the compensatory picks will push all the other picks back a few spots.
But I'm projecting that the Falcons now hold the #19, #83, either the #98 or #130 (compensatory pick for Foxworth - could be third or fourth round), #116 or 117 (our fourth round pick), #132 (fifth rounder from Detroit), approximately #164 (compensatory pick for Michael Boley), roughly #168 (sixth rounder from Detroit) and roughly #185 (our sixth rounder).
If it turns out that signing Brett Romberg last year does NOT count towards the compensatory draft pick formula, we would also get a late seventh rounder. My guess is that pick would fall in the #245-250 range. Since there are only 256 total picks, it really doesn't make much difference if we get that pick or not. Whatever player we might draft at that spot would probably be available as an undrafted free agent anyway.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents (ERFA) really aren't free agents at all. They are players with less than three years of league tenure whose contracts (typically league standard, meaning minimum salary as defined by the pay scale in the CBA) have expired. Their contracts expired on March 5 just like the free agents, but their previous teams maintain their rights through the end of the restricted free agency period. The teams can simply renew their league standard contracts for another year, and the players have no choice but to sign or retire.
For the Falcons, that meant they had until April 15 (one week before the draft) to renew the contract of Brent Grimes. They went ahead and did that on Tuesday, so we can finally scratch him off of all those lists that erroneously listed him as a RFA. There was never any doubt that the team would bring him back, but he's now officially a Falcon again for this coming season.
And now that we've had our first player traded in 2010 (Chris Houston to the Lions), we've also had our first player released. Tucker High School and Auburn wide receiver James Swinton was a late replacement for the practice squad in December. When Brian Finneran went to the IR, the team called up Troy Bergeron from the practice squad. The Falcons then signed Swinton to replace Bergeron on the squad.
He did well enough in the few weeks on the practice squad that the Falcons re-signed him to a futures contract to bring him to minicamp and OTAs this year. But apparently they've already changed their minds and have released him. There have been no football related activities so far this year, so it might be due to a late evaluation. He was certainly borderline all along, and players have now returned for their offseason conditioning programs.
The Falcons still have plenty of roster space for free agents of all levels. With the signing of Dunta Robinson, re-signing of Brian Williams and Joe Zelenka and departure of Houston and Swinton, there are now 64 players that count towards the 80-player offseason roster limit.
The tendered RFAs (Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl, Michael Koenen, Jerious Norwood, Jason Snelling, Quinn Ojinnaka) do count as occupying roster spots even though they're actually still free agents and haven't even signed their contracts yet. But the players drafted in April (the draft starts six weeks from tonight !) don't count until they sign their contracts.
That leaves the Falcons room for 16 regular free agents and undrafted free agents for minicamp, plus the draft, plus whatever unsigned players the team might invite to minicamp for a tryout. (Two of those unsigned tryouts are now among the 64 listed on the roster. Eric Brock won an invitation to training camp in 2008, then won a practice squad job and eventually a December call-up to the main roster. Troy Bergeron was invited back from previous camps for another tryout in minicamp last season. He also beat out a large group of undrafted WRs to win a practice squad job in 2009. Both Bergeron and Brock were called up in December this past season.)
The latest free agency news... it's a name I had chosen to ignore because of off-field issues. But Charles Grant said on Sirius/XM radio earlier this week that he'd love to play for Atlanta. So I read a little more about his case, and frankly, I think he probably doesn't deserve the bad reputation.
There are two off-field issues hanging over him. The smaller one is the StarCaps debacle. Most of you are probably sick of hearing about it by now (it's what's behind the current court case between the Vikings and the NFL, and it's also the reason our own Grady Jackson was facing a possible suspension).
Short version: it's hard to blame the players. The banned ingredient is NOT a performance enhancing drug in any way. It's on the banned list simply because it can mess up the tests for other drugs. What makes the suspensions of Grant, Jackson, Will Smith, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, and others so dicey is that they didn't know that the ordinary off-the-shelf weight loss supplement they bought at health food stores would create a problem. The manufacturer failed to include the banned ingredient on the product label. To make things worse, it turns out the league at some point did learn that StarCaps did contain the ingredient (bumetanide) but did not inform the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the players union.
My take is that the league should simply waive the suspensions. No one ever said any of the players involved were trying to cheat the system through chemical enhancement, and they haven't tested positive for anything else.
But regardless of whether Grant ultimately be suspended for it or not, there's definitely not a character issue there. A weight issue, yes, but not a character problem.
The bigger one - and it's definitely the elephant in the room when it comes to any team potentially signing him - is an involuntary manslaughter charge from 2008 that has yet to go to trial.
The fact that it hasn't gone to trial yet is the big problem, as the delay has taken away his opportunity to clear his name. Full details haven't been disclosed since it's an ongoing case.
Here are the parts that are publicly known: Grant and others were at a nightclub. Outside the club, another group apparently had a beef with someone else in Grant's group. Things quickly got ugly. The opposing group was armed, and one of them stabbed Grant in the neck. Someone in Grant's group was carrying a weapon and fired it. The shot missed whatever its intended target might have been, but unfortunately hit and killed a pregnant woman who happened to be downfield and in the line of fire.
The person who fired the shot was charged with her death. That's easy enough to understand. But the county district attorney also charged everyone else on the scene - in both groups - with involuntary manslaughter. Grant is one of those.
He maintains that he was neither an instigator nor a willing participant in the skirmish. NFL teams will have to decide for themselves whether his character is a problem.
Posted on: August 26, 2009 12:04 am
Smitty referred to the Lions game as "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly". The second preseason game had more of the same.
The TV graphics and announcers all said that Todd McClure started but noted later that Brett Romberg had come in at center. Actually, Romberg was there from the beginning. The rest of the starting offensive lineup was the regular cast - Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo on the front line.
The Falcons completely owned the Rams for the first two offensive series. The first drive had a heavy dose of Michael Turner, who then took the rest of the game off. The second was heavy on passes and used a lot of no-huddle offense.
The second defensive series had Peria Jerry come in to replace Lewis.
3:22 remaining Q1, Rams ball, 1st and 10 at STL 17 (first play of the drive) - this one got attention because Brent Grimes dropped an interception. He jumped too soon when he should have backpedaled a little more (he didn't recognize the pass was a total duck) and couldn't hold on to it in the air. Other details of the play: the Falcons only rushed the front four. Both DEs were collapsing the pocket, but Babs and Jerry were both beaten by single blockers. Side note - the intended receiver was a former prospect of ours, TE Daniel Fells.
2:44 Q1, Rams ball, 3rd and 10 at STL 17 - Atlanta blitzes, but it isn't effective. The mechanics of the failed pass rush: Abraham drops back into coverage. Coy Wire and Chevis Jackson both rush the passer. The other linemen do a twist, with each moving to their right while Jackson and Wire rush on the left side. All three defensive linemen are beaten easily by single blockers. The twist leaves the RT free to block Wire, and the running back picks up Jackson.
1:25 Q1, Rams ball, 2nd and 10 at STL 36 - John Abraham does a stunt, faking outside but then swings to his left to rush from the inside of the line. Babineaux breaks off into short coverage. HE HAS CONTAIN RESPONSIBILITY. Grimes is in zone coverage, shadowing Laurent Robinson.
Kyle Boller has no one open, sees space to his left (since Abe was coming in the middle) and breaks from the pocket. Laurent Robinson sees him take off and runs to the middle to block Babineaux.
Let that sink in for a moment... the WR who didn't fit into Atlanta's plans because he wasn't physical enough and couldn't block took on the starting DT and took him completely out of the play.
Grimes initially continued shadowing Robinson (that was his responsibility - Boller could still pull up and throw the ball) but then ran after the QB. He couldn't prevent him from turning the corner, and Boller picked up the first down.
The announcers made Grimes look bad, saying he was the one who lost contain. Cut the kid some slack - it wasn't his responsibility.
14:56 Q2, Rams ball, 3rd and 10 at ATL 40. The Falcons got really lucky on this play, which SHOULD have gone for a Rams touchdown. It was a play designed to attack the cover two, and the Falcons had a mishap at the start.
The Rams were in a 3 WR set. The Falcons were in their cover two nickel package with Chevis Jackson on the slot receiver on the same side (defensive right side, offensive left side) as Grimes, who was lined up on (him again) Laurent Robinson. Chris Owens (starting in place of Chris Houston) was on the receiver on the opposite side.
I have no idea what Jackson was trying to do, but he initially broke inside as if trying to jump a slant route. His receiver ran right past him, and Jackson chased after him all the way down the middle of the field - from five yards behind him.
On the other side, Owens released his man (also running deep) to the safety in the deep zone (Thomas DeCoud). When Robinson entered the deep zone, Grimes started to release him as well. But the safety on his side (Erik Coleman) wasn't there. Instead, he had run to the middle of the field to pick up Jackson's man.
Both safeties ended up on the defensive left side of the left hash mark, with no safety at all on the right half of the field. That's not supposed to happen.
Grimes chased after Robinson, but there's no way he was going to catch up. Fortunately the ball was badly overthrown. At the end of the play, Grimes looked back at his teammates as if asking what the heck happened.
The end result was good, but file that one under "The Ugly".
Baldinger pointed out the obvious fact that Booker should have caught the ball, but what we didn't see on the Atlanta broadcast was that Laurinaitis might not have made the pick cleanly. The ball definitely touched the ground as he came down with it, and it's questionable whether he had full control until after it touched. One shot looked like he momentarily didn't have it.
The guys in the St. Louis production truck showed it repeatedly on their broadcast, but Trent Green was busy rambling on about what a ball hawk Laurinaitis is and didn't get the hint that the play might be challenged. The Atlanta broadcast only showed the replay from the overhead camera, so Falcons fans had no idea the play was so close.
I mention it for two reasons. First, this was the longest completion for any Falcons QB so far this preseason - and it was wiped out by a silly penalty. Second, the coaching staff evaluates the film, not the box score. Shockley has had a bunch of passes that haven't counted as completions. The stats look horrible, but the film is much better.
The defensive line for the series had Sid and Jamaal Anderson at DE with Peria Jerry and Trey Lewis in the middle. Jamaal drops into coverage while Curtis Lofton rushes. (It's not a blitz since there were still only four pass rushers. Atlanta is mixing things up a bit so that the offense won't know who's coming and who's in coverage.)
Trey Lewis draws a double team. (He did that for most of the night.) Sidbury stunts, coming inside of Lewis while Lofton rushes around the end. Lofton gets there first but misses the sack. The QB steps up into the pocket and right into Sid Vicious, who beat his inside blocker with that spin move of his. (If you're not familiar with it, look up Sidbury on YouTube.)
2:12 Q2, Rams ball, 2nd and 9 at ATL 28. Follow that one up with one Grimes would rather forget. He didn't have his assignment and was out of position, leaving Burton wide open for a short catch. And then he too failed to make the tackle, allowing Burton to run for the first down.
Hey, at least our DBs were being consistent...
14:20 Q3, Rams ball, 2nd and 11 at STL 15. There had to be a mixup on the coverage assignments on this one. TE Daniel Fells was absurdly wide open. (None of the regulars were on the field for this entire series - Wire, Gilbert and James were the LBs with Owens and Middleton at corner and Harris and Brock at safety.)
10:13 Q3, Falcons ball, 2nd and 8 at ATL 29. This was the sack/fumble.
Ben Hartsock was the TE on the right side. He went out for a short curl route. The Rams overloaded that side of the line, with two rushers coming free.
Shockley had to know he had to throw it to the hot receiver. The big question is WHO was supposed to be the hot read? If you check the replay, Shockley looked immediately to Jason Rader (TE on the left side) and started a throwing motion. But Rader didn't turn around in time. Shockley tucked it and instantly got hit and stripped.
(Hmmm.... could the "Tuck Rule" have applied here?)
9:30 Q3, Rams ball, 2nd and 8 at ATL 20. Brock Berlin hits the 20 yard TD pass. chris Owens actually had decent coverage, but he had no safety help. Eric Brock was up short (probably by design, playing run support) and not in position to help on the play.
Shockley drops back to pass and no one is open. He sees daylight in the middle - and for the first time this preseason, he decides to run for it.
Unfortunately, he's playing behind the backup offensive line. The DT (Scott) sheds his block and tackles Shockley just as he hits the hole.
It didn't work out, but it was a pretty good decision. The opportunity was there, and it was safer than risking an interception.
This one is Fudge's play he'd like to forget. He's beaten by Bajema for a short completion and then can't make the tackle, allowing Bajema to run for the first down and keep the drive alive. (Hmmm... sound familiar? Same play, different corner, cheap movie...) William Middleton comes over to make the tackle, but only after a 16 yard gain on 3rd and 15.
14:55 Q4, Falcons ball, 3rd and 8 at ATL 25. John Parker Wilson is now in at QB. His first pass was off target, overthrowing Chandler Williams. This one was slightly behind Eric Weems, but close enough for Weems to make the play. Weems got his hands on it but couldn't catch it, instead tipping it up for it to become an interception. Maybe these things don't ONLY happen to D.J. Shockley...
Zinger has only played TE with the mop-up unit, but keep him in mind as a contender for the #3 TE spot. He has done well with what little opportunity he's had on offense, and more importantly he plays on every single special teams unit (including forming the wedge with Brett Romberg on kickoff returns).
5:34 Q4, Falcons ball, 1st and 10 at STL 32. Jason Snelling breaks off a 23 yard run to take it inside the 10.
The four Rams RBs had a grand total of 60 yards rushing for the whole game. Snelling had 61 all by himself.
Give due credit all around - Atlanta's defensive line and linebackers got it done on run defense. Oh, and we have some pretty darn good running backs of our own. Snelling's a beast, and he's competing to be the freaking THIRD STRING running back.
For those of us old enough to remember the days of Haskel Stanback and Bubba Bean, that's enough to give us goosebumps.
1:54 Q4, Rams ball, 1st and 10 at ATL 38. This is the one exception to the excellent run defense. 4th string RB Kenneth Darby (a fine prospect who was plucked off of Atlanta's practice squad last season) charged straight up the middle for 21 yards.
The Rams were in a 3-WR formation, with the Falcons playing their nickel package. It was EXACTLY the same situation as last year, when Grady Jackson would leave the field on nickel situations and teams could plow right through the middle.
Here's the breakdown of the play:
DT Tywain Myles (who wasn't expected to play in this game) lined up on the left guard. Vance Walker lined up just outside the right guard. The defensive ends (Sidbury and Willie Evans) lined up on the TE and outside the left tackle.
At the snap, the right guard let Walker get penetration on the OUTSIDE (away from the play) and moved downfield to block one linebacker (Tony Gilbert). The left tackle and tight end blocked the defensive ends, with the idea of allowing them around the outsides (again, away from the play) but protecting the inside. The right tackle was free to move downfield and block the other linebacker (Robert James).
The center blocked to his left, completely bulldozing Tywain Myles. The left guard pulled and sealed off the right side, preventing Walker from getting back into the play before the runner got through the line.
With the WRs either blocking or running the CBs away from the play and both LBs blocked by offensive linemen, the first guys with a shot at Darby were the two safeties (Von Hutchins and Eric Brock) - who were both lined up in deep zones for pass protection against the 3-WR set. They both made the play at first contact, but that was 21 yards downfield.
What they didn't mention was the call by Brian VanGorder. He sent seven rushers after the QB.
Yep... with the game on the line, the Rams in a spread formation (3 WRs plus TE split off on the right side) and his mop-up defense on the field, VanGorder dialed up the Gritz Blitz. WOW...
It would otherwise seem insane to leave Jamaal Fudge, Glenn Sharpe, Tony Tiller and Eric Brock all in one-on-one matchups in the red zone. Von Hutchins, the only experienced DB on the field, was one of the blitzers. (I'm sure VanGorder did that on purpose, just to throw the kids into the deep end of the pool.) But considering the opponent was a fourth string rookie QB, it wasn't a bad idea.
The QB (Keith Null, from West Texas A&M) got spooked and threw a bad pass for the pick. Two receivers had separation (Fudge was well behind his man on a short crossing route), but Null threw the ball straight to Eric Brock. Game over.
Tags: Atlanta, Brent Grimes, Brett Romberg, Chauncey Davis, Chevis Jackson, Chris Owens, D.J. Shockley, Daniel Fells, Eric Brock, Falcons, Jamaal Fudge, James Laurinaitis, Jason Snelling, Jonathan Babineaux, Keith Null, Keith Zinger, Kenneth Darby, Laurent Robinson, Lawrence Sidbury, Marty Booker, Rams, Trey Lewis, Von Hutchins
Posted on: August 8, 2009 12:03 am
First observation = wow, the place was packed. It was pretty obvious that there were more than 10,000 people there, and even at halftime there were more and more and more coming in the gates. Later, the attendance was announced at over 12,300 !!
They did kickoff / returns and FG drills before the scrimmage part got underway. Chandler Williams and Jerious Norwood had nice returns. Interesting sight = Peria Jerry on the kickoff return unit, forming a wedge.
Early on, the defense got the better of the offense. A series with the 1st team offense was stopped. Chris Redman later had a pass to Justin Peelle where Brent Grimes single-handedly made the strip, recovery, and return for a defensive TD.
My vote for THE play of the entire scrimmage was by safety prospect Eric Brock. He made a nice read to see (I think) Robert Ferguson breaking open. He closed in a heartbeat and timed the hit perfectly to separate the receiver from the ball. And then he plucked the ball out of the air for a pick. Obviously no replay, but I think it would go down as an interception rather than a fumble. (It would be his ball either way though, since he grabbed it before it hit the ground.) It was SWEET.
You KNEW that sooner or later Matt Ryan would hit Michael Jenkins for a long TD. They've been doing it in every single practice session. It came in Ryan's second series, with a 20+ yard pass over the middle for a touchdown. Chris Owens was the defender in coverage on that play.
The pass rush was disappointing - not sure if the rule to avoid hitting the QB had something to do with it. But the one nice pass rush was by everyone's favorite lineman, Jamaal Anderson. Jamaal flushed Redman from the pocket and forced him to throw the ball away.
Not much happening early in the second "half". The scrimmage was scheduled for ten series, with each QB getting at least two drives. Pretty much everyone seems to be playing at least a little bit. I didn't have a notepad with me, so I wasn't able to track the O-linemen and D-linemen as I would have wanted. But I know that Fudge and Hutchins got snaps at safety, Owens and Glenn Sharpe got reps at corner, Vance Walker got time at DT, Kroy Biermann, Chauncey Davis, Spencer Adkins, Robert James, etc were all in rotations. The goal of this thing was to get "game" film to evaluate players, so as many people as possible got as many reps as possible.
In his final series (9th of 10), Redman threw an interception that was caught by Tony Gilbert. I missed who the intended receiver was. (Gilbert has been practicing with the first unit offense this week in Curtis Lofton's place. Lofton is expected back in practice early next week.)
In the 10th and presumably final series, D.J. Shockley hit Hartsock for a first down. The next play was a handoff that had a penalty on the defense. Shockley later hit Chandler Williams to get inside the red zone. Coy Wire had great penetration to stop Thomas Brown for a loss. (The coaches had the Bulldog backfield for this drive - Shockley at QB, Brown at RB, and Verron Haynes at FB. All are ex-UGA.) After that, it was run, run, run (like I said - Bulldog backfield...) until Brown scored the TD.
BUT... the show isn't over yet. Smitty calls for more, with John Parker Wilson running every series of "overtime". He hit Peelle for roughly 17 yards over the middle with a really nice throw. I've seen him hit Keith Zinger several times on this exact route in practices this week, so he's obviously already comfortable with that play even though he has to thread the needle to make that throw.
The next snap looked like a busted play. Not sure what was supposed to happen, but Wilson intentionally threw it away. I noted this one because it was a good decision by a rookie QB in a clutch situation. Otherwise it was a non-event.
A little later, Norwood broke loose and took it inside the 15. Wilson hit Brown at about the 10, but the drive bogged down there.
Smitty kept them going. The next series wasn't a good one for JPW. He tried to throw into traffic on the run and was lucky it wasn't picked off - I'm sure he heard about it immediately and will cringe when he sees it in the film room this week.
Verron Haynes had a nice run on a toss sweep, and then Wilson hit Zinger - just like in practice, except that this time Zinger was allowed to show his stuff. He looked like Mike Alstott (insert Chris Berman "rumblin', stumblin" on the highlight reel) breaking tackles and taking it inside the 3. Smitty ended the scrimmage then.
OFFICIALLY, the offense barely edged out the defense in the final score. But the defense got the better of it for most of the night, and the offense ended up taking it during the unscheduled extra three series. So take it with a grain of salt - the defense held their own.
The linebackers looked really good. I wasn't all that hot on the D-line, though I did note that there wasn't much success running up the middle. The big runs were all to the outsides. Now if they can improve the pass rush, they'll have something...
Aaron Kelly didn't have much action in terms of receiving, but he did have some blocking opportunities on run plays. That (along with special teams during the preseason games) will go a long way towards helping him make the roster. Chandler Williams had the nice reception from Shockley plus a great showing as a kick returner. They're both making pretty good arguments for keeping six receivers on the roster.
The safeties looked pretty good, but I'm not sure why Chris Owens didn't have deep help on the TD pass from Ryan to Jenkins.
Ryan looked solid. My favorite play from him was a quarterback keeper on the very first series. Mixed grades on Redman - one of the turnovers wasn't his fault, but the other was one he'd want back. Shockley's first series wasn't much, but he did a fine job with that final "regular" series. His passes were dead on the money. And JPW didn't look anything special during the regular drives, but he did a fine job in the extra time at the end. He hasn't had many reps in the 11 on 11 portions of practices, so it makes sense that he'd get into more of a rhythm with the extra snaps. And he's helping turn Keith Zinger into one of the stars of training camp.
The simulation at Roam The Dome will reportedly be without pads, so this was the closest thing we'll see to a game until next weekend's action. I'm looking forward to it...
Posted on: August 3, 2009 3:35 pm
Camp notes: It's Day 3 of training camp. So far, the big star has been Brent Grimes. I've lost count of how many interceptions he's made already (probably four or five), but I'm sure at this point Matt Ryan and Michael Jenkins are happy he's with the Falcons instead of the Saints or Panthers. He did it to them again this morning, maneuvering around Jenkins, making the read to get position, leaping and picking off a deep throw from Ryan.
Matt Ryan has shown a little bit more zip than we saw at the end of last season. It could be that he was just wearing down late in 2008, or the reported weight work he did this offseason could be showing. He has also been deadly with his accuracy so far this camp.
Mixed grades on the other three QBs. All three have had great throws followed by a muff here or there. John Parker Wilson looks pretty good so far - he has better accuracy than D.J. Shockley and seems to have a better arm than Chris Redman.
Not much to say about the young WRs (Aaron Kelly, Bradon Godfrey, Darren Mougey) this time around. They've spent as much time playing the DB roles in the offense vs offense drills as they have doing real WR duty, which has cut down significantly on their opportunities for receptions. Jenkins, Harry Douglas and Brian Finneran have had the bulk of the reps so far, with Chandler Williams, Eric Weems and Troy Bergeron acting as a second unit. Darren Mougey did get one deep pass from Redman in the seven on seven drills this morning.
So far the team is sticking to the basics. I half expected a few Wildcat plays or something goofy from Mularkey over the weekend while all the fans were there, but the weekend sessions were either no-pads or shells only. Today was the first day with full pads and almost full contact - the linemen went at it, but there was no tackling, no Wildcat and no trick plays.
Trey Lewis and Peria Jerry are both looking really good. I'm not sure I'm sold yet on Jason Jefferson's reported improvement being the real deal. He's not looking bad, but I haven't seen anything yet to wow me. Thomas Johnson has had a really good camp so far. Vance Walker looks okay too, but I don't know if he'll make the roster. Some of the combinations at DT have been interesting - Lewis and Johnson have worked together while Jerry has done some work with Jefferson.
In some of the full team 11-on-11 sessions, the secondary rotated schemes between cover one, cover two, and cover three. In the cover one, Erik Coleman came up to the line while the other safety (typically Thomas DeCoud or Jamaal Fudge) played a deep center field role. In the cover three, Brent Grimes would drop back and play deep as a third safety. So far, Decoud has had the most work with the first unit, while William Moore has worked with the second group.
The second unit offensive line has mixed it up from practice to practice, but the coaches are getting Garrett Reynolds a lot of work at right tackle. It looks like nearly everybody in the group will be practicing at guard over the next couple of weeks. I do like what I've seen of Will Svitek and Mike Butterworth working together on the left side. If they keep it up, it won't be so easy to write them off.
Posted on: March 17, 2009 3:35 pm
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:
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.)
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: November 21, 2008 5:18 pm
The whisper in the wind has been that Grady's appeal is coming very soon. Apparently it didn't happen today, but the expectation is that it will be sometime next week.
Grady had his knee scoped on Monday. He missed practice Wednesday, was back Thursday, but rested today. He's officially listed as questionable. He's likely to play a limited number of snaps, but the final decision will come a few hours before game time.
Carolina is at full strength for this game (allegedly - more later) while Atlanta is more banged up than they have been in any other week. Baker, Moorehead, and Laurent Robinson are all definitely out. Abraham is still limited by that neck injury late in the game two weeks ago. Roddy White practiced today after missing the rest of the week with his back.
Grimes still isn't 100%, but he's close enough that he fully participated in practice this week. Expect him to be available, though Foxworth is likely to remain the starter. Chris Houston is nursing some tender ribs at the other corner. He's officially listed as questionable but is likely to play.
Norwood also got banged in the ribs late last week. He's still a little sore but hasn't missed any practice time. He's also officially listed as questionable, but expect to see him in action on Sunday.
Todd Weiner is still having flare-ups with his knee. He will probably be available, but even if he's listed as active, he won't be able to play every snap. We might be looking at Ojinnaka and Gandy for most of the day at LT.
As mentioned in an earlier entry, Renardo Foster and Trey Lewis are both out for the year. Both were close enough in their rehab to make the decisions interesting, but in both cases the verdict was that rushing them back would probably do more harm than good. (But for everyone who is already thinking about next year's draft, keep in mind that these two heavyweights will be back in camp next season.)
The big issue for Carolina will be the health of starting QB Jake Delhomme. His struggles over the last two weeks aren't just in the stats. Reports are that his throws haven't had the velocity of his throws earlier in the season. He's coming back from major surgery. The question is whether he was simply in a slump against Oakland and Detroit or whether his arm is tiring out.
Something else also mentioned in the previous entry: if you still have the video from our final preseason game, you might want to take another look at it. J'Vonne Parker was added to the Falcon practice squad when the team first got word of Grady's pending suspension.
He hasn't had a whole lot of playing time in his career, so there isn't all that much film on him available. But he started the third preseason game for Baltimore and got some good playing time in their final preseason game - which was against us. And he played pretty well. He's credited with four tackles in that game.
The coaches are working fast and furious to get him up to speed on our defensive schemes. If Grady is suspended, he may get promoted to the main roster. At 325 pounds, he'd be 25 pounds larger than anyone else we have on the D-line. For better or worse, he'd likely be thrown into the fire as the instant anchor of the run defense.
If all else fails, Rashad Moore and Tim Anderson are both still available as free agents.