Tag:Brian Finneran
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: August 8, 2010 11:44 pm

Jenks out 4-6 weeks; Glenn Sharpe arrest

Jenks came back for an underthrown ball in the Friday Night Lights scrimmage, landed badly on his shoulder and did not return.  The latest news is that he will be out for up to six weeks.  That means he'll miss the entire preseason and is already a question mark for the opener against the Steelers .

This is our first significant injury of the offseason, and it comes at one of the more shaky positions for the FalconsMichael Jenkins and Roddy White were already slated as the starters with Harry Douglas in the slot as the #3. 

It may be enough to prompt the team to begin the season with six wideouts.  It also makes both Brian Finneran and Kerry Meier important people to watch during the exhibition games as well as all the other prospects, who are *all* contenders for a potential sixth spot.

The scoop:  Thomas Dimitroff says the model for this team is to have two "talls" on the outsides with a smaller, quicker guy like Harry in the slot.  Finn is 6'5", has boatloads of experience and good hands, and has the trust of Matt Ryan to be a go-to guy in clutch third down situations.  Meier is 6'4" and has opened a lot of eyes this offseason.  He was already virtually assured of making the roster and likely even ahead of Finneran for playing time in the rotation.  Brandyn Harvey (6'4") has missed some time this week but has also shown good hands.  Ryan Wolfe is a solid body (lists at 210 pounds on his 6'2" frame) that would fit the bill as well.  He hasn't stood out as much as Meier, but he has certainly had his moments - including a touchdown reception in today's mock game.

How badly will the Falcons miss their #2 WR?   Probably not much. 

That's not a shot at Jenkins.  First off, even if he's out six weeks, four of them would be preseason games.  And if he only misses four weeks, he'll be back in time for the opener.  Second, we're still a run-first offense.  If Mularkey scripts the first twelve plays against the Steelers, the pattern is likely to be run, rollout pass, run, run, screen pass, run, rollout pass, run, run, quick out, rollout pass, run.  The main responsibilities of the wideouts will be to draw attention from the corners and safeties and then to block those same DBs downfield.  If he's the fill-in starter, Finn can handle that role as well as anyone.  

And keep an eye on how well Matt Ryan connects with any of his targets on passes 20 yards or more through the air.  He really struggled with those last year in preseason, and like many of the other Falcons preseason woes from 2009, it carried into the regular season.  (Some others that stood out in preseason:  the defense couldn't get off the field on third down - including giving up first downs vs the run, scrambles, and big yardage on screen plays, the corners frequently got torched, Jason Elam seemed to have a case of the yips, and our running game really didn't look particularly sharp.)

Ryan has said he wants to work on improving his long passing game in camp this season.  If he can't show more than he did this weekend in the scrimmage and mock game, the team might as well move someone like Keith Zinger or Dan Klecko to wideout.  If your WR is primarily a blocker, let it be someone who can knock an opposing DB flat on his back and still catch the occasional roll out pass.

Side note:  the TV and newspaper coverage on Glenn Sharpe's arrest identifies him as a former Falcon who played with the team in 2008 and 2009. 

That's overstating his significance.  Let's clear up the history:  the U of Miami DB was signed for camp as an undrafted free agent in 2008.  He didn't make the roster but was signed as a practice squad player. 

The Falcons had three of their better practice squad guys plucked by other teams during the season (running back Kenneth Darby to the Rams , defensive end Brandon Miller to the Seahawks , and offensive lineman D'Anthony Batiste to the Redskins ).   So at the end of the year, they protected some of their remaining prospects by calling them up to the regular roster to replace injured players. 

(For those who might not be familiar with that tactic...  Eight guys have to be listed as inactive each week.  So late in the season, teams will sometimes take players not seriously injured but too banged up to play the remaining games and put them on injured reserve.  They'll take the open roster spots and bring in practice squad players - either plucking them from other teams, or promoting their own practice squad guys to prevent other teams from signing them.  Practice squad players are always free agents, and the team that holds a guy's rights at the end of the season also holds the rights to him heading into the offseason.  So it's a cheap way for a struggling team to add additional prospects.

A few Falcons-related examples:  at the end of 2007, McKay and interim coach Emmitt Thomas signed lineman Pat McCoy from the Eagles practice squad and also promoted cornerback prospect Brent Grimes from our own squad.  Last season, the Packers had stashed QB prospect Brian Brohm on their practice squad.  In mid-November the Bills signed him to their active roster, and he got his first career start against us in the next to last week of the season.  Also last season, the Cleveland Browns promoted running back Thomas Brown to their active roster in the final week to prevent another team from signing him.  Possibly us, as Thomas Dimitroff still had interest in him.) 

Sharpe was one of three practice squad prospects that the Falcons protected by calliing up to the main roster.  So he was briefly on the main roster at the tail end of the 2008 season, but he did not see action. 

He returned for camp last year but didn't make the team.  He also wasn't a top choice for the practice squad. 

The Falcons wanted to stash fifth round draft pick William Middleton on the squad, but the Buccaneers claimed him off waivers.  So the Falcons re-signed Sharpe to the squad in his place.  A week later, the Bucs dropped Middleton.  The Falcons immediately signed him to the practice squad and dropped Sharpe.  And a week after that, the Jaguars plucked Middleton - and kept him.  Sharpe once again became the replacement on the practice squad.  He then got banged up in practice and was dropped on an injury waiver in late October, with undrafted safety prospect Eric Brock re-signed to the squad in his place.  That ended Sharpe's tenure with the Falcons.

The Saints signed him to their own practice squad during the postseason.  They re-signed him for minicamp, but dumped him before the end of OTAs.  He was not on the roster of any team at the time of his arrest last week.

It's always sad to see any part of the Falcons family in trouble.  But some of the news stories have implied that he played for the team for two seasons.  Just to set the record straight, that's not the case.  He was a practice squad hand for about a season and a half, but he never played other than preseason exhibition games.

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: February 6, 2010 12:18 am

Offseason pipe dream scenario, v1.0

Something that frequently comes up on the message board...  should the Falcons fill a particular need by signing a free agent or drafting a top prospect.  Well, why not do both? 

As an example, that's what the Patriots did to fill their hole at DT in 2004.  They traded to pick up Ted Washington from the Bears and drafted Vince Wilfork.  Washington only played 10 games for New England, but that bought them enough time to get Wilfork up on the defense and ready to step into the starting role.

That same mentality could work well for Atlanta this offseason.  If the team can sign its own free agents (particularly Brian Williams, Chris Redman and long snapper Mike Schneck) and RFAs (eight total, including seven that may become unrestricted free agents if a new CBA is reached in the next four weeks), there will be zero true holes on the roster and only a handful of positions in need of upgrades.

To show how the sign-one-and-draft-one approach COULD work, here's my own current pipe dream scenario (Pipe Dream v 1.0) for the offseason:

Over the next two weeks, the Falcons re-sign Chris Redman, Brian Williams, and Mike Schneck.  They work out deals with RFAs Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl, Jerious Norwood and tender Quinn Ojinnaka, Jamaal Fudge and Charlie Peprah.

Rather than repeating the franchise tag on Michael Koenen, they save the cash and sign Anthony Rocca.  (I *love* footy, so I have to throw a bone to the AFL guys - even though I usually rooted against Rocca's team for most of his career.  Nothing against Koenen though.  He might be the best punter in the NFL.)

They also re-sign Brian Finneran, Marty Booker, Von Hutchins and David Irons for competition in camp.  (Note that Hutchins played safety with the Texans as well as CB and that Irons was a demon on special teams.) 

In free agency, they sign Aaron Kampman (Packers) to a three-year deal including a large incentive bonus based on sacks in the 2010 season.

In the draft, they trade down in the first and land an extra third rounder.  They draft DE Brandon Graham with the late first rounder, package their fifth and sixth rounders to trade up if needed to snag LB Daryl Williams and CB Donovan Warren in the third, take WRs Jacoby Ford (Clemson) and Freddie Barnes (Bowling Green) with the fourth round and first compensatory pick, and take FB Rashawn Jackson and injured LB O'Brien Schofield with the other two compensatory picks.

Sign two kickers - Brett Swenson (Michigan State) and Joshua Shene (Ole Miss) as undrafted free agents.  Other undrafted free agents are DTs Travis Ivey (Maryland) and Kade Weston (UGA), offensive linemen Cord Howard (Ga Tech) and Sean Allen (East Carolina), and WR Kelton Tindal (the Newberry kid who will be playing in the Texas Vs The Nation game tomorrow).

Up to this point, everything listed is well within reason.  Aaron Kampman is expected to hit the open market.  Our own free agents are believed to want to return.  Hutchins, Irons, and Rocca are already available.  The draft picks are all within reach based on current CBS rankings.  (The one exception is Schofield - he's still listed higher in the rankings, but he tore his ACL in Senior Bowl practice and won't play a single snap in 2010.  He should fall off the draft board entirely by the start of April.)

Here's the final touch - which many here might not like, but it's *my* pipe dream scenario...  

Offer the Jaguars a package of Jonathan Babineaux, Eric Weems, Chris Houston, Jamaal Anderson AND Chauncey Davis for John Henderson.  What the heck - throw in Tye Hill and Antoine Harris if they like.

The Jags get a younger DT (Babs) for one near the end of his career (Henderson) who hasn't always been on the best terms with the coaching staff.  They also get a return man, a potential starting CB and potential backup DEs as throw-ins.  They might not want all of those players, but they can give them a look in OTAs and training camp and then trade or release the ones they don't want.  Babineaux and Weems alone should be a decent return for Henderson.  The rest is gravy.

Atlanta cleans house (ditching a pot smoker, a DUI, and several players who won't make the roster anyway) and gets a solid, front-line big man who already knows Smitty's defense to head our DT corps.

Projected 53-man roster:    ( / = competition for roster spot)

QB = Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, John Parker Wilson / D.J. Shockley 
RB = Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Jason Snelling
FB = Ovie Mughelli, Rashawn Jackson
TE = Tony Gonzalez, Keith Zinger, Justin Peelle
WR = Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas, Jacoby Ford, Freddie Barnes
OL =  Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl
OL backups = Quinn Ojinnaka, Brett Romberg, Will Svitek, Garrett Reynolds (plus 2 or 3 more on practice squad)
DE = John Abraham, Aaron Kampman, Kroy Biermann, Brandon Graham, Lawrence Sidbury
DT = John Henderson, Peria Jerry, Vance Walker, Thomas Johnson, Trey Lewis
LB = Mike Peterson, Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nicholas, Daryl Washington, Coy Wire, Spencer Adkins / Robert James, (Schofield on IR)
CB = Brian Williams, Brent Grimes, Chris Owens, Donovan Warren, Chevis Jackson
S = Thomas DeCoud, Erik Coleman, William Moore, Von Hutchins / Eric Brock / Jamaal Fudge
PK = open competition between all four candidates
P = Anthony Rocca
LS = Mike Schneck
(KR candidates = Jerious Norwood, Harry Douglas, Jacoby Ford, Brent Grimes)
(PR candidates = Harry Douglas, Jacoby Ford, Brent Grimes, Freddie Barnes)

Posted on: December 15, 2009 12:37 am

Farewell to Finn...

The significant injury of the week was Brian Finneran. He once again has an injured knee.

The good: it won't require surgery. It's nothing like the two knee injuries that knocked him out for consecutive seasons.

The bad: since there are only three weeks left in the season, it's a season-ending injury. The team put him on IR today to free up a roster spot. No word yet on who will be signed or called up to fill that roster spot.

(I'm still hopeful we might see a former Falcon brought back to the nest, but my understanding is that the team will work out several players tomorrow and make the decision in time to have someone signed by the time practice starts on Wednesday.)

The ugly: this season is it for his contract. He'll be a free agent, but he's 33, has a long history of injuries, and isn't the least bit fast even when he's healthy. Unless Mora brings him in for the Seahawks, there won't be a lot of demand for him.

Smitty will want him back here at least for training camp, so we'll probably get to see him next summer. But I'm not so hot on his chances of making next year's roster. With Harry Douglas returning, Finn would be at best the #4 - and that's assuming Eric Weems doesn't jump ahead of him by the end of camp and also that the Falcons don't land another WR in next year's draft.

The catch is that his chances of making the team as the #5 or potential #6 would depend more on his special teams abilities as his receiving ability. He has been a good special teams player in the past, but the team's recent emphasis on speed has brought in a lot of tough competition for those special teams roles.

For 2010, he wouldn't be one of the top two choices as a return man either on punts or kickoffs. He wouldn't be one of the top four choices as a gunner. If he can get back to full speed quickly, he might still be a solid candidate as a gunner blocker and also part of the kickoff coverage unit. But he'll have to beat out a whole new crew of young, fast players in those roles to earn his spot. That will be a tall order for the tall receiver. He can still do those jobs, but there are likely to be other players who can do those jobs better.

Unfortunately, we may have just seen his final game as a Falcon and possibly as an NFL receiver.
Posted on: November 10, 2009 3:08 pm

miscellaneous notes - 11/10/2009

It's Tuesday, which is the team's day off now that we're back to a "normal" weekly routine.  A few notes before we head into the second half of the season...

The inside word on Thomas Brown:  the Falcons still love the kid.

It seemed really strange that the team brought in two running backs (Antoine Smith for the practice squad in addition to Aaron Stecker for the roster) and that Brown wasn't one of them...  not to mention the fact that Brown wasn't part of the original practice squad.

The reason is that the news reports from the roster cut deadline didn't give us all the details.  Thomas Brown and Von Hutchins weren't ordinary releases/waivers.  They were injury settlements, just like with David Irons at the start of training camp.  Under league rules, teams can't re-sign players released under injury settelements until mid-November.  So they didn't sign Brown to the practice squad because they couldn't.  And while they were able to re-sign Jamaal Fudge and bring promising prospect Eric Brock back to the practice squad, Von Hutchins has been off limits.

I fully expect to see Brown in a Falcons uniform again.  Not certain about Hutchins, but it's quite possible we'll see him come back as well.

On other banged-up Falcons:   unless he gets hurt in practice, Jason Snelling will return this weekend against the PanthersThomas Johnson is expected to return to practice this week.  The team hopes he'll also be able to play, but it's not certain. 

Sam Baker aggravated the same ankle he's been having problems with for the last several weeks.  The story with him this week will probably be the same as last week - he might be cleared to play, but whether the team would (or even should) choose to play him is another question entirely.  Will Svitek certainly showed last week that he's a competent replacement.  He plays with fire like the Nasty Boys on the right side of the line.  Falcons radio announcer Wes Durham joked that he learned from the best, doing an internship this year at the firm of Clabo & Dahl, and that he plays right through the last millisecond of the whistle.  

The big concern this week is Brian Finneran.  There haven't been any official announcements or comments on him at all yet.

Much ado about a doo-doo:   no word yet on formal complaints being filed about DeAngelo Hall's claims the Falcons tried to do him wrong on the sideline, though obviously we know the league is reviewing it. 

Forget all the talk.  There won't be any significant action against Smitty or Jeff Fish or even LaRon Landry of the Redskins.

The hit was late, and it drew a flag.  Case closed.  It wasn't a vicious hit, and Landry left the area immediately (and even made peace with the Falcons while doing so).  There was plenty of yelling and some pushing, similar to what happens all the time when tempers flare up on the field.  But there was no major incident, and the only remotely significant item was the extra bump by Albert Haynesworth which drew the second flag.

The whole thing was a non-event, and the only reason anyone is talking about it at all is that ex-Falcon MeAnJello made all those insane post-game comments.

If any thing does come out of it, the most likely actions are a small fine against Albert Haynesworth and possibly some action against Hall for both instigating the situation and that obscenity-laced diatribe.   

Looking ahead to the second half of the season...  the Falcons were 5-3 at this point last year too.  They're now coming off the four game stretch that they simply needed to survive, and they came away 2-2 in those four games.  They did exactly what they had to do.

I won't say the rest of the schedule is easier in terms of the opponents, but other aspects of it do get better.  There are no more west coast trips or pre-scheduled Monday night games (still subject to flex scheduling) to mess up the travel and practice routines.  Also, we're now done with three of the four games against teams coming off of byes.

In the meantime, the young guys in the secondary have gotten some valuable experience, two new acquisitions (Tye Hill and Aaron Stecker) have stepped in very well, and some of the young d-linemen (particularly Kroy Biermann and Vance Walker) are also stepping up.

That will give the Falcons a boost in the second half.  We have better depth than many teams out there, and injuries are piling up all over the league - not just here.  If we can avoid injuries to significant players, we'll have an edge down the stretch.

Posted on: November 12, 2008 1:48 pm

Jennings out, Miller promoted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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