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Tag:Brett Romberg
Posted on: April 22, 2012 4:19 pm
 

Pre-draft notes: offensive line

The first question....  should we really be bummed out about our line heading into the new season?  No doubt, their play left a lot to be desired last season.  They had three pretty good years in 2008-2010 but then fell flat in 2011. 

The verdict from our braintrust was that it was a coaching issue as much as a personnel issue.  Line coach Paul Boudreau was sacked.  On the personnel side, the right guard position was identified as the weakest link in the chain.  Vince Manuwai was signed to plug that gap.



My take:  I agree with the decision.  Boudreau was a highly experienced coach who did well in 2008-2010, but he really dropped the ball badly last year.  Our linemen simply weren't well prepared and didn't play fundamentally sound football.  They were up high all season, getting no leverage and getting pushed back into the backfield.  Michael Turner typically had first contact a yard behind the line.  If he made three yards after contact, that was still only good enough for a two yard gain.

I suspect that Boudreau had a hand in going with two older journeymen (no upside) rather than two of our own prospects last year.  Throw in the awful idea to play Sam Baker at right guard when he had only had one full practice after his back surgery, and the decision to make a coaching change seems pretty obvious.

And Manuwai is an upgrade over any of Kynan Forney, Harvey Dahl, Garrett Reynolds or Joe Hawley at the right guard position.  Great move there.  Manuwai and Clabo provide a whole lot of beef on the right side.



Second question:   what's the answer at left tackle?   The team has publicly stood behind Sam Baker, noting that he played through injury all year.   (Key:  he was experiencing back problems even in preseason.  He tried to play through it, was horrible, and finally opted to have surgery when it became obvious that he wasn't capable of getting the job done otherwise.)

Fortunately, Will Svitek stepped up in Baker's absence last year and showed that he can be a competent left tackle.  He may not be Pro Bowl material, but his play (including utterly shutting down Jared Allen) was good enough to put him above average among starting LTs.  If it comes down to it, we do have a Plan B.

Many of us want to see an upgrade in free agency, particularly Marcus McNeill.  And yes, McNeill backed up by Svitek does have a pretty sweet sound to it.  But will it happen? 

My take:   don't count on it.  The odds are against it.  McNeill is visiting many other teams and will likely have other options.  Even if we move out Baker to clear cap room, we'll be hard pressed to fit McNeill under the cap.  Another team could easily outspend us and land the free agent.

As for Baker, never mind his skill level.  We're talking about a 300-pound man who makes a living throwing his body into other large people and has already had two back surgeries in the last four years.  Do we really expect him to hold up the entire season without more health concerns?

I wouldn't bet on it.  But I do have confidence in Svitek.  I'd hope that the team would forget about trying to work Mike Johnson at guard and let him practice at tackle instead.  He has the potential to be our future left tackle -  he did pave the way for a national championship at Alabama at LT, after all.  If Baker ended up on IR, Svitek backed up by Johnson could work, *if* the coaches do practice Johnson at tackle.



Third question...   do we use one of those top draft picks on a lineman? 

A lot of "big name" mock drafts now have the Falcons going with an offensive lineman at the #55 pick.  We're talking about a late second rounder here, so just about anything is possible.  But I wouldn't be so hasty as to identify the OL as the most likely area that Dimitroff will target with our top pick. 

Under Mike Smith, the Falcons have tried to go with nine offensive linemen on the roster when possible.  Counting Baker and Jackson, we currently have ten.   Even if Baker does become a cap casualty or lands on IR in preseason, someone else would have to go to make room for an incoming rookie -  who would spend 2012 and likely 2013 on the bench anyway.

So suppose we did take a second round lineman to groom as a future LT.  The most likely casualty would be that Jackson returns to the practice squad this season.  Johnson would be worked as a backup guard rather than potentially returning him to tackle (where he played at Alabama).

If we get the right guy, he might be an upgrade.  But would it be enough of an upgrade to be worth spending the second or third round pick?   Probably not.  We have more obvious needs elsewhere, and Dimitroff openly admits he's a needs-based GM in the draft.



My take:  the main roster is probably fine as it is.  Where we really need to reload is on the practice squad.  We lost Rob Bruggeman when we opted to bring back Boudreau favorite Brett Romberg.  We lost Jose Valdez to our former QB coach when we opted to sign Kirk Chambers rather than promote Valdez.  If Jackson makes the main roster, the developmental pool will be empty.

So look for plenty of undrafted free agents and perhaps a late rounder (such as the compensatory pick).  But I do hope that Dimitroff will address more important needs with the earlier picks.



The big picture...  the whole thing really hinges on Pat Hill doing a better job preparing his men than Boudreau did last year.  If Hill can get it done, we'll be fine.   One potential combination:  we might end up with Svitek, Justin Blalock, Joe Hawley, Manuwai and Tyson Clabo as the starting five, backed up by Johnson, McClure, Jackson and Reynolds.

That's actually a pretty darn good group.  But it still depends on new coach Pat Hill having them ready to go.  Even in December, last year's team looked like it was still in preseason mode.  Hill will have to have them much more prepared this year.

Posted on: October 30, 2011 2:35 pm
 

Looking ahead... free agency

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. 




Posted on: September 3, 2010 3:43 pm
 

quick notes before the roster cuts

We should start getting news on roster cuts soon.   Last thoughts...


Dunta Robinson had expected to play last night.  The word from Dimitroff was that he was ready to go.  It wasn't health reasons that kept him out -  it was simply that Mike Smith decided to rest him along with John Abraham and Curtis Lofton rather than risk anything happening to the $50 million free agent CB.

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Matt Bryant didn't shank any of his shorter kicks against the Jaguars the way he did that extra point against the Dolphins.  But he still hasn't shown he's reliable from longer distances -  and his troubles from 40+ were why the Buccaneers decided to go another direction in the first place.

I don't think the Falcons are actually LOOKING to replace him right away, but in light of Jason Elam's woes last year, they're likely to stay on top of things a little better in 2010 than they did in 2009.  The most interesting situation is that Kris Brown is now on the open market.

Also, expect to see some of the top rookie prospects become available this weekend.  Atlanta went with Garrett Lindholm, who made the ESPN highlights because of that last second 60+ yarder in the playoffs.  But Lindholm really wasn't among the top 3 or 4 prospects.  The coaches would rather not be forced to go with a rookie, but if it came down to that, at least there are some better ones likely to be available.

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Interesting twist...  Corey Peters wasn't able to play last night.

Since Jonathan Babineaux is out just one game, the Falcons will have to decide whether to keep a fourth DT on the roster for the season opener.  Babs doesn't count towards the roster for that week.  The key question (and no one who actually knows is talking) will be the health status of Peters.

The Falcons typically keep three DTs active, with the fourth as one of the eight inactive players.  So if they keep all four other DTs for the opener, odds are that one of them would have to go when Babs returns for week two.  Best guess is that Trey Lewis has beaten out Vance Walker for the true #4 spot (and possibly even Peters for the #3 spot as well). 

So if Peters is healthy enough to play, the team might keep just Peria Jerry, Lewis and Peters for the opener, with Jamaal Anderson sliding in to DT in the 4-2-5 nickel package or on other passing situations.  That would allow the team to keep an extra WR for the first week, when the status of Michael Jenkins is still uncertain.

The likely odd man out is Walker.  He'd be on the inactive list for the opener anyway, so there wouldn't be that much point in keeping him on the roster just to bump him out a week later.  If Peters is healthy, Walker probably starts the year on the practice squad.

But if it looks like Peters might not be ready to go (and we won't know until well after the rosters are in), they'd need Walker to fill out the rotation.  Peters would start the season as the #4 on the inactive list while he recovers.  Any extra roster spots would have to be squeezed from other units.

I have no info whatsoever on Peters.  Pure guess = he's still questionable, and Walker sticks for the opener.

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Michael Palmer was a go-to guy for Chris Redman last night, and JPW threw a couple to him as well.  He's definitely going to stick, be it on the practice squad or on the main roster.

The sticky part of putting him ahead of Keith Zinger on the roster is that the #3 TE has major blocking and special teams duties.  Those are areas where Zinger stands out. 

The part that didn't make a whole lot of sense was that the commentators referred to Palmer as a kid who needed to add some bulk to make it long term.  Huh???  Okay, he's a youngster.  But he's already bigger than either Zinger or Peelle.  I'll take that remark as random lunacy by our preseason announcers (WXIA's Randy Waters and NFL-N's Brian Baldinger).   If he really does add some upper body strength, look out.  The kid will be a beast.

I'm still not comfortable with the idea of knocking what Dimitroff called the consummate blocker off the roster, but I'll go ahead and fill in Palmer as the #3 TE on my mock roster.  He managed to get open and was targeted throughout the preseason.  Zinger did get on the field, but you'd never know it unless you were specifically looking for him.

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Spencer Adkins got banged up a bit last night.  Unless it's a season-ending thing, I'm not expecting any official word on him until Wednesday.  But I think he has made the roster.  If he's not seriously hurt (it might have just been a cramp) it won't matter that he got banged up - as the #6 LB, he'd be on the inactive list for the first week anyway.

Bear Woods played well this preseason.  I doubt he made the roster, but I'm comfortable filling his name in for a practice squad spot.

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I don't think any of the RB/FB trio nailed down the #5 job.  I haven't seen enough from Dimitri Nance to make me entirely comfortable with him, but I do like his versatility:  he was successful in several short yardage situations, including two touchdown runs, and he did well catching passes out of the backfield.   But he had too many unsuccessful rushing attempts.  He didn't win the job outright.

Antone Smith was the team's leading rusher in preseason, but he messed up several reception opportunities, had a critical fumble last night, and also muffed a kickoff return opportunity.  Saving grace:  he did well picking up a blitz late in the game.  The Falcons are looking for their backup RBs to be capable of pass protection.

Dan Klecko had looked fairly solid throughout the preseason - until halftime last night.  He didn't play all that well in the second half, plus he's a pure fullback (at least on offense - he's also a defensive lineman).  He can block (and tackle), but he can't catch very well and won't get any opportunities to carry the ball.  That makes him as useful as Verron Haynes, though better on special teams - which wouldn't matter as he'd be a fixture on the inactive list until someone got hurt.

And of course the biggest question is whether the team will even keep a fifth runner to start the year.  If they go with just four (preferring to keep an extra wideout while Jenks is banged up or go with an extra offensive lineman or DB for the long haul), I think I'd pick Nance for the practice squad. 

If they go with five, it's a toss-up between Smith and Nance for the roster.  The other would be a strong candidate for the practice squad.

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The next rough decision will be in the secondary.  If Brian Williams is healthy enough for the main roster - and based on last night's game, it looks like he is - the team is carrying six CBs and ten total DBs.  And that's not even counting prospects Dominique Daniels, Rafael Bush and Eric Brock.

Now that safety Matt Giordano is gone, the guy whose chair is getting the hottest should be cornerback Chevis Jackson.  CJack was a disappointment in his second season last year, and he really struggled in coverage throughout the preseason. 

(My take... he's playing way too soft, giving receivers far too much cushion.  He doesn't have the recovery speed for that.  His only chance is to play physical and jam his man at the line.  If he's going to start out five yards off his receiver, he's basically just Chris Houston without the stupid attitude.)

But CJack might still have a chance, as he is a strong contributor on special teams (including a gunner-blocker on the punt return unit).  He might stick with an at-large roster spot specifically for his special teams role.

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

Smitty won't comment on Michael Jenkins until the first official injury report on Wednesday.   The unofficial word is that the coaching staff is hoping (but not certain) that he'll be available against the Steelers, or at the very least against the Cardinals in the second game.

At wide receiver, the main guy who opened some eyes last night was Ryan Wolfe, who had two 20+ yard receptions plus a third shorter reception.  (Unfortunately, WXIA's coverage had sideline interviews during two of his three receptions, so he didn't get the attention he deserved from the announcing crew.)

Meanwhile, Brandyn Harvey had received most of the attention among the trio of undrafted receiving prospects.  Harvey had a game he'd rather forget.   Harvey was targeted five times but came away with one reception for only three yards.  He had another catch but pushed off unnecessarily, getting called for an offensive pass interference penalty that killed a drive.  He was also flagged for a holding call downfield that wiped out a long touchdown run by Jerious Norwood.  (Atlanta had to settle for a field goal on that drive - and ended up losing by four points.)

I'm not picking any of the trio to make the roster, and I'm not sure they'll beat out Andy Strickland or other prospects from around the league for a practice squad job either (remember - we don't HAVE to sign our own guys to those spots).  But I'm leaning towards putting Wolfe's name ahead of Harvey's on the list of prospects.  It might not seem right to think the coaching staff will make a decision based on just one game, but that was the ONLY game where Wolfe got real playing time, and he really made the most of it. 

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Brett Romberg stepped up and played better on the o-line last night than in the previous exhibitions.  Key question... is that enough for him to stick around?   He can play guard or center, but was signed mainly to be our backup center last year (ultimately beating out Alex Stepanovich and Ben Wilkerson after Jeremy Newberry decided to retire).

But the Falcons braintrust decided to look elsewhere for its center of the future, drafting Joe Hawley in the fourth round.  Will the team keep them both?  Will Svitek appears to have won the swing tackle position, as he's now the only backup with experience at LT.  Garrett Reynolds and Mike Johnson both play tackle and guard - and both appear to be ahead of both Hawley and Romberg at guard.

So Romberg's best shot would be if the team decides to keep ten offensive linemen - and if they decide to make the tenth man an extra C/G rather than an extra T/G.  If they wanted another T/G, the extra guy would be Jose Valdez, who got his first chance to play LT last night (having previously played RT and RG) and performed quite well.

That one would be a virtual toss-up.  Boudreau likes the idea of keeping ten guys and also likes the idea of being three-deep across the board.  Keeping Romberg as the #10 would achieve that.  But Valdez is a far better long term prospect than Romberg, who has little upside and who is a free agent after this season anyway.

My guess:  they start the season with nine.  Romberg is out, and Valdez starts the year on the practice squad.  Svitek, Reynolds, Johnson and Hawley are the backups.  Valdez gets called up before the end of the season though, regardless of whether or not someone gets hurt. 

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The team's official web site is really driving me nuts.  The new format is bad enough, but it's just plain PATHETIC when a team's very own web site can't get the basic facts right.  Even now, their "official" roster still includes offensive lineman Mark Ortmann (who was briefly signed for depth for the Miami game and was immediately released afterwards) and leaves out CB Dominique Daniels (who got extensive playing time in the second half last night).

Several players have no ages listed, Justin Peelle still has no position, and the rookies are listed as "1" under experience the same as the second year guys.  In other words, Sean Weatherspoon, Corey Peters, etc have the same amount of experience as Chris Owens, John Parker Wilson, Lawrence Sidbury, etc.

JMike, we miss you buddy.  The web site has completely sucked ever since you left.


Posted on: August 19, 2010 1:34 am
 

offensive personnel - Chiefs preseason game

Initial kick return unit = Eric Weems (KR) with Ovie Mughelli, Stephen Nicholas, Brett Romberg, Corey Peters, Justin Peelle, Kerry Meier, Jason Snelling, Sean Weatherspoon, Chris Owens, ? (Kroy Biermann?)

1st offensive series: starters, with Brian Finneran replacing Michael Jenkins

(my note:  2 TE formations were effective in power running game, with extra TE sometimes acting as a fullback rather than blocking at the end of the line)

2nd offensive series:  Michael Turner is finished, but Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White are still in.  Still the first unit offensive line and regular receivers, with Weems as 3rd WR.

(my note:  Matt Ryan ran some no-huddle on this drive, including plays with a single back.  The running game bogged down without the fullback.)

3rd offensive series:  Chris Redman in at QB.  Brett Romberg in at center.  Rest of starting linemen still in game.  Now seeing Antone Smith and Dimitri Nance at RB.  Snelling now playing FB.

(my note:  the line sure made a mess of this series.  Looked to me like Nance may have missed a play call on 3rd and 15.  I was expecting him to stay in and block, but he went out on a short route instead.)

first PUNT COVERAGE unit:  Michael Koenen and Joe Zelenka as specialists, Dominique Franks and Shann Schillinger as the gunners, with Kroy Biermann, Kerry Meier, Weatherspoon, Mughelli, Snelling, Nicholas, and Finneran.

4th offensive series:  still the other starters and Romberg on the line.

5th offensive series:  new line from left to right = Will Svitek, Mike Johnson, Joe Hawley, Garrett Reynolds, Quinn Ojinnaka.  I wasn't expecting to see QO at RT.

(halftime)

6th offensive series:  still Redman at QB.  Dan Klecko now in at FB. Romberg back at center.  Ojinnaka slides to RG, with Jose Valdez coming in at RT.  Looks like it will be Smith and Nance the rest of the way at RB.

(my note:  Snelling did lead blocking for Smith and Nance in the first half but had no FB for his own carries after Mughelli came out.  Keep an eye to see whether the running game perks up again with a FB in the remaining preseason games.)

7th offensive series:  John Parker Wilson now in at QB.  Hawley and Reynolds return at C and RG, respectively.  Kerry Meier and Troy Bergeron are the main two receivers at this point, with Michael Palmer at TE, Keith Zinger coming in as the second TE, and Brandyn Harvey as third receiver.

(my note:  JPW looks good.) 

8th offensive series:  Quinn Ojinnaka now at LT, Blake Schlueter at LG, Rob Bruggeman at RG.  Still Hawley and Valdez at C and RT.  Bergeron and Meier are the main two WRs, with Andy Strickland and Harvey getting some reps as well.

9th offensive series:  Ryan Wolfe getting some snaps as 3rd WR, with Robbie Agnone getting in as a second TE.

last PUNT:  Brandyn Harvey and Antone Smith were the gunners.

Posted on: August 13, 2010 4:08 pm
 

mock roster, pre-exhibition edition

The Falcons released their first depth chart this week, heading into the first preseason game tonight against the Chiefs.  The first one never means much, as much of it is typically based largely on the prior season.

As an example, Garrett Reynolds is listed as a backup at right tackle while Jose Valdez is listed as a backup at right guard.  That's how they practiced last season (with Valdez on the practice squad).  But in camp, Reynolds has slid inside to guard while Valdez has played outside. 



But I digress...  here's the pre-exhibition version of the mock 53-man opening day roster and practice squad:



Quarterback:  Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, John Parker Wilson

Running back:  Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Jason Snelling

Fullback:  Ovie Mughelli, Dan Klecko

Tight End:  Tony Gonzalez, Justin Peelle, Keith Zinger

Wide Receiver:  Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas, Kerry Meier, Brian Finneran

Offensive line, starters:  Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Harvey Dahl, Tyson Clabo

Offensive line, backups:  Will Svitek, Mike Johnson, Garrett Reynolds, Joe Hawley (Quinn Ojinnaka = suspended)

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

Defensive tackle:  Peria Jerry, Corey Peters, Trey Lewis, Thomas Johnson (Jonathan Babineaux = suspended)

Linebacker:  Mike Peterson, Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nicholas, Sean Weatherspoon, Coy Wire, Spencer Adkins (Robert James = suspended)

Cornerback:  Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes, Chris Owens, Chevis Jackson, Dominique Franks

Safety:  Erik Coleman, Thomas DeCoud, William Moore, Brian Williams, Shann Schillinger

Specialists:  Matt Bryant, Michael Koenen, Joe Zelenka


Practice squad:  RB Dimitri Nance, WR Brandyn Harvey, TE Michael Palmer, OL Jose Valdez, DE Emmanuel Stephens, DT Vance Walker, LB Bear Woods, S Rafael Bush



Notes on the three suspended players: 

After the game against the Steelers, the coaching staff will evaluate the film and make the decision:  either Trey Lewis or Thomas Johnson will have to go.

For this list, Quinn Ojinnaka isn't making the roster anyway.  But the team will wait the extra week while he is suspended (he won't count towards the roster) before making the move.  Odds are that another team will pick him up off of waivers, so they'd rather wait in case someone gets hurt rather than lose him prematurely.

Robert James is out four weeks.  At the moment, he wouldn't make the roster anyway - but that could easily change if he plays well in the four exhibition games.  He's locked in a battle for the #6 LB spot with Spencer Adkins.

Adkins has blazing speed, but can he really play linebacker?  He's improving in practice, but so is James. It will be a close call between them, and the team will wait the full four weeks to see how Adkins progresses before making the final decision.



Unusual inclusions: 

Brian Finneran is listed as making the initial roster because Michael Jenkins is likely to be unavailable for the opener.  But otherwise, Finn is in that Old Yeller stage.  We love him, but he's old, slow, and injury prone.  Sooner or later it will be time for Smitty to put him down.  It's only a question of when. 

At that point, add one of the prospects to the roster, with at least one more on the practice squad.



The media speculation is that Brian Williams is a strong contender for the starting CB spot.  I have my doubts about that.  The guy hasn't even been cleared for contact in practice yet.  It's a tall order to expect him to beat out Grimes, Owens, Jackson and Franks in just four weeks.  He may not be ready to play at all - Von Hutchins was farther along at this point last season but ended up being released with an injury settlement.

For now, I'll go along with Smitty's reassurances that he'll be ready to go in September.  But I'm putting him in as a safety rather than the overcrowded CB position. 



Chauncey Davis is still on the list, but he's on the hot seat.  In terms of playing time, Biermann passed him last season and Sidbury is likely to do it this season.  Davis has a very high salary for a #5 DE, which makes him expendable.

Emmanuel Stephens has come on strong in camp and will try his best to take that spot away from Davis.  If Davis continues to underachieve and Stephens cranks it up, it just might happen. 

But for now, Davis gets the benefit of the doubt. For his efforts, Stephens makes the practice squad list.




Noteworthy cuts:

Eric Weems faces competition at WR and also at PR/KR.  But Jerious Norwood, Dominique Franks, and others can also handle the return jobs, so Weems will have to win his roster spot purely on his skills at WR.  He may be the odd man out before opening day.


Brett Romberg is one of Boudreau's guys.  But his primary position is center.  McClure is still the starter, and the Falcons just drafted Hawley as the center of the future.  Romberg can also play guard, but so can Mike Johnson, Garrett Reynolds, Hawley, and practice squad prospect Jose Valdez.  In four weeks the music stops, and Romberg doesn't have a chair.


Quinn Ojinnaka is a holdover from the Jim Mora days.  He's still around because of his versatility, but it should be noted that he wasn't brought here specifically because he fit Smitty/Mularkey/Boudreau's prototype for a lineman. 

The team needs a reliable backup at left tackle.  Last season, Svitek was Boudreau's choice as the #2 ahead of Ojinnaka.  So at least for now, pencil in Svitek as the guy.  Ojinnaka will have to step up and win the job.  Otherwise, as of the Tuesday following the Steelers game, you'll not see nothing of The Mighty Quinn.



Jose Valdez is still practice squad eligible.  He's coming on strong, but the team has no vested interests at risk here (meaning no draft pick involved - if they lose him, all they've lost is an undrafted practice squad prospect).  So they'll likely try to stash him back on the squad for another season, calling him up if someone gets hurt.

Vance Walker is also practice squad eligible.  He's not likely to last the season without being plucked by another team.  For that matter, he might not even clear waivers for the Falcons to put him on the squad in the first place.  But they'll try.

Robert James is still eligible for the squad as well, but he's suspended for the first four weeks.  If he and Adkins both do well in preseason, look for Adkins to win the roster spot with James being added to the practice squad in week five.

Matt Giordano was a strong contender to replace Antoine Harris, Charlie Peprah and Jamaal Fudge as a special teams oriented backup safety.  But drafting Shann Schillinger turns up the heat on Giordano.  And if Brian Williams does get added to the mix at safety, it's no contest.  Who would you rather keep as your # 4 -  a veteran who has never made it playing in the secondary and has only been a special teamer for his entire career, or a veteran who can start at either cornerback or safety if needed?  Giordano loses out to both Schillinger and Williams.




Posted on: May 6, 2010 3:41 pm
 

Players on the hot seat

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.



Posted on: September 12, 2009 6:43 pm
 

First look at 2010 compensatory draft picks

The Atlanta Falcons gave up their 2010 seventh round draft pick to the Rams for Tye Hill.  They had earlier given up their second round pick to the Chiefs for Tony Gonzalez.

But in addition to the regular seven draft picks per team, the league also awards 32 compensatory draft picks to offset player losses due to free agency.  The league has a proprietary (translation:  secret) formula it uses to determine which free agents count and in what rounds the resulting compensatory draft picks will fall.

Some keys:  not every player counts.  The secret formula includes factors such as salary, playing time, postseason results and other awards/honors - with both the old and new teams.  Reverse engineering of the formula has found that by far the biggest factor is the salary received with the new team.

Also, only players that are true unrestricted free agents and who sign with their new team during the unrestricted free agency period count.  The signing period typically starts March 1 and runs through July, subject to minor calendar-related adjustments.  (This year's period opened on Feb 27 and ended July 27.)

Players who were released by their former clubs do not count.  Players who sign after June 1 that were not tendered offers by their former clubs also do not count.

Compensatory picks are based on NET loss of free agents.  If you lose four players that count to other teams but sign three, you have a net loss of one compensatory free agent.  You would typically expect to receive one compensatory pick.

No matter how many players you lose, you can receive at most four compensatory picks.

The formula places values on the players as well as counting them.  It's possible to get an extra pick if you sign the same number of guys as you lose - if the value of the guys you lose is much greater than the value of the ones you sign.  But the picks awarded this way will only be late seventh rounders.

Also note that there are always 32 and only 32 picks awarded.  If the formula determines that more than 32 are deserved, only the highest ranking 32 will be awarded.  If the formula comes up short, the remaining picks will be given to the teams that would be selecting first if there were an eighth round of the draft.  (That happened this year - and the Raiders and Chiefs got the final two picks of the draft as a result.)

It can get a little fuzzy as to which free agents count and which don't, and in what rounds the resulting picks will fall.  The key factor appears to be the salary with the new team.  Best guess =  guys with salaries below $800k will not count at all.  Guys above $900k probably will.  For the ones right in that $800-900k territory, playing time will decide it.


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


Here are the Falcons players, both coming and going, and how they might affect the Falcons draft in 2010:

Mike Peterson -  reportedly signed for 2 years, $6.6 million.  He counts as a player signed by Atlanta and will have a value around the 6th round.

Grady Jackson - reportedly signed a 3 year deal with the Lions for $8 million.  (Congratulations to the big man.  Falcons fans wanted him back, but we can understand our team not competing with that kind of offer.)   Best guess is he'll count as a seventh rounder, but he may be on the borderline of the 6th round..

Lawyer Milloy - will not count.  He signed with the Seahawks far too late.  (The idea is that these extra picks offset your losses in free agency.  If you don't even bother to tender him an offer, you didn't really lose him.  You threw him away.)

Brett Romberg - apparently signed a two year deal at an average of $800k per year.  The salary should be too low to count, and even if it's close, he's not a starter.  Unless someone gets hurt, he won't play enough snaps to count at all.

Verron Haynes - was out of the league last year.  Does not count.

Will Svitek - was released by the Chiefs last year.  Does not count.

Domonique Foxworth - signed a 4 year, $27 million deal with the Ravens.  My best guess is that he'll count as a 4th rounder, but there's a possibility he'll end up counting for a 3rd round pick.

Keith Brooking - signed a 3 year, $6 million deal with the Cowboys.  I think the borderline between 6th and 7th round picks will be around $2.5 million per year, so I suspect Brooking will count as a 7th rounder.

Michael Boley - signed a 5 year, 25 million deal with the Giants.  He'll be right around the borderline between a 4th and 5th.  I'll be optimistic and say a 4th, but playing time could drop him to the 5th - so root for him to start every game after this week and play nearly every snap.

Jeremy Newberry - signed June 15, then retired.  I'm 99% certain he doesn't count.

Marty Booker - signed in August.  Does not count.  (Ditto for Robert Ferguson and Jamie Winborn.)


I see four players who left Atlanta that will count and only one incoming player.  The Mike Peterson signing will offset the Grady Jackson loss, leaving Atlanta three compensatory picks:  a fourth rounder, a second fourth rounder or fifth rounder, and a seventh rounder.

We'll still feel the impact of losing the 2nd rounder in the Tony Gonzalez trade, but with potentially two extra picks coming at the end of round four, the Falcons still have the freedom to trade their own 5th and/or 6th round picks for extra help if needed.

Posted on: August 26, 2009 12:04 am
 

Noteworthy plays from the Rams game

Smitty referred to the Lions game as "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly".  The second preseason game had more of the same. 

Here are details for some of the significant plays.  If you still have the video recorded (from either the Falcons feed live or the Rams feed via the NFL Network replay), please check them out...

 

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 starting defensive line featured Chauncey Davis and John Abraham at DE with Babineaux and Trey Lewis at DT.  Lewis did a fine job of drawing double teams. 

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. 

Meanwhile, Laurent Robinson (remember him?) beats Chris Owens for a 19 yard gain.

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".


13:57 Q2, Falcons ball, 2nd and 15 at ATL 19.  Everyone saw the first interception on the highlights.  After a false start by Tyson Clabo, Shockley throws a pass to Marty Booker.  Booker can't make the catch, and James Laurinaitis makes the interception off of the tip.

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.
 
Smitty didn't challenge.  I don't know if the call would have been reversed, but he certainly had grounds to throw the red flag.


12:10 Q2, Falcons ball, 3rd and 8 at ATL 21.  Shockley throws a perfect strike to Justin Peelle for a 23 yard completion on the right side.  But both offensive tackles were lined up too far off the ball, so the play got erased by the penalty for illegal formation.

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.


9:00 Q2, Rams ball, 3rd and 16 at 50 yard line. (Lawrence Sidbury gets his first sack as a Falcon.) 

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.)


5:00 Q2, Rams ball, 3rd and 10 at STL 34.  This one's a play Chevis Jackson would rather forget.  Ronald Curry beats him on a short pass.  No big deal, but Jackson then misses the tackle - allowing Curry to get the first down and keep the drive alive.

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. 
The play was ugly from the outset.  Atlanta was in a 2 TE, single back set, but Jason Snelling shifted to a slot receiver position, leaving no one in the backfield for protection.  The Rams blitzed.  Can you see the train wreck in this picture?

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.


4:55 Q3, Falcons ball, 3rd and 8 at STL 15.  The Falcons get into the red zone and promptly try two straight runs up the middle.  Now it's 3rd and 8.

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.


3:16 Q3, Rams ball, 3rd and 15 at STL 35.  I'm really only including this play to mention the defensive personnel.  Safety Jamaal Fudge played the nickel cornerback role for the remainder of the game, while Von Hutchins played safety.

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...

Well, apparently they really do only happen to Shockley, even when they happen to someone else.  Check out the box score of the game on NFL.com, and also find the start of the fourth quarter on the play-by-play listing.  You won't believe it.  

The play by play shows that Wilson came in at QB and that Wilson threw the incompletion to Williams.  But then it lists Shockley as the QB that threw the INT on the pass intended for Weems.  And the box score lists the INT under Shockley, plus there's an extra pass attempt and INT included in Shockley's preseason stats.

Jeff Van Note said at halftime that Shockley is having "buzzard's luck" this preseason.  That wasan interesting and polite way of saying he isn't getting much help from his teammates, who have dropped over 15% of his throws so far.  But when the league starts putting someone else's interceptions in your stats, that's just silly.  How snakebit can you get???



8:33 Q4, Falcons ball, 2nd and 9 at ATL 38.  With his best pass of the preseason, John Parker Wilson hits a leaping Keith Zinger over the middle for 15 yards.

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.


0:50 Q4, Rams ball, 4th and 6 at ATL 13.  The highlight film shows the interception.  The announcers raved about how important it was for the Falcons to step up and make a play.

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.

 
 

 
 
 
 
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