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Tag:Brian Williams
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.

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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 22, 2010 4:15 pm
 

Ten players to watch - end of camp update

Most fans attend practices and watch preseason games to see the first units and the top draft picks.  But the real stories of camp are deeper down the roster.  There are 80 players in every training camp vying for only 53 roster spots. 

For the last three seasons, I've presented a top ten list of key players involved in these competitions.  Some are established players in jeopardy of losing their jobs if they don't come through.  Others are prospects on the rise or lesser known players that have an opportunity to step up and make more significant contributions.

This morning's special teams practice session marked the official end of training camp for the Falcons.  Here's an update on how this year's list of players to watch has fared:



1.  Trey Lewis

Reason he made the list:  the Falcons have six DTs (not even counting Jamaal Anderson) and probably just four roster spots for the big men to fill.  Of the three fringe players competing for the last spot, Lewis is the top story. 

End of camp update:  he's looking much better than he did in 2009, with Smitty noting that his play was one of the few bright spots in Thursday's otherwise dismal showing against the Patriots

He's still in jeopardy, but his current level of play, versatility (can play either DT spot - acted as a sub at UT for Rod Coleman in 2007) and size (listed as our largest defensive player at 316 pounds) will make it tough for Smitty to send the Turk his way.



2.  Steven Hauschka

Reason he made the list:  of the three kickers (including Michael Koenen) Atlanta had in camp, Hauschka was the primary unknown factor.  The team already knows what Matt Bryant and Koenen can/can't do, making Hauschka the wild card in the contest and the most important one to watch.

End of camp update:  the media reports say that Matt Bryant won the kicking battle.  A more accurate description would be that Hauschka lost it.  He was the younger candidate with the theoretically stronger leg.  But his longer field goal attempt against the Chiefs came up short, and his kickoffs lacked depth and weren't particularly strong for hang time.

Never mind that he couldn't outdo the struggling Bryant on field goals.  When it became clear he wasn't going to beat out Koenen for kickoffs, that sealed his fate.  The Falcons would still make a move to bring in another kicker if Bryant gets the yips like Jason Elam last year. But at least for now, Hauschka isn't it.



3.  Kerry Meier

Reason he made the list:  the top three WRs were essentially set in stone (Roddy White and Michael Jenkins as the starters, with Harry Douglas in the slot as the #3) even before camp, but the Falcons need to improve their depth at the position.  The fifth rounder from Kansas was the top candidate for the fourth WR spot.

End of camp update:  he had an outstanding camp, but he hurt his knee on a special teams play late in the Patriots game.  Like Douglas last year, he's out for the season.



4.  Lawrence Sidbury

Reason he made the list:  the Falcons didn't draft a DE or sign one in free agency.  They're putting all their chips on Kroy Biermann as a second threat along with John Abraham and Sidbury to step up as a third potent pass rushing end.

End of camp update:  so far, so good.  What El Sid needs most is experience, as he only played a bit over 100 total snaps last season.  He'll have far more snaps than that in preseason (he's on the field more than any other d-lineman), and so far he's doing pretty well.



5.  Keith Zinger

Reason he made the list:  he was the team's most improved offensive player in camp last summer, and if he stepped up again this year, he'd nail down a backup spot (forcing the prospects to start on the practice squad) and potentially even challenge for the #2 spot.

End of camp update:  so far, he has been nearly invisible.  He's watching Michael Palmer stand out this year exactly the way Zinger stood out last season, when he moved from #5 on the depth chart to win the #3 spot - beating out one of Dimitroff's top free agent signings (Ben Hartsock, signed to replace Alge Crumpler) in the process.

The battle isn't over yet, but Zinger has opened the door for Palmer to take the third TE job.



6.  William Moore

Reason he made the list:  it's the second season for the second rounder, and the public had yet to see him in action in camp or preseason.  He even missed minicamp after overworking his shoulder in the weight room.

End of camp update:  I expressed doubts earlier about all the media speculation that he'd challenge Erik Coleman for the starting job. His 2009 season was a lost cause, and he just didn't have the reps to trust him on the last line of defense. 

And he still doesn't -  we've finally been able to watch him in a few practices, but he missed minicamp (overworked his shoulder in the weight room) and has missed time during camp plus both preseason games so far this year.  He still hasn't faced NFL competition - in real games, exhibition games or even combined practices. 

The coming exhibition against the Dolphins will be his first time on the field for the Falcons.  He's still a talented prospect, but he's still a long way from being ready for action in the secondary when it counts.



7.  Quinn Ojinnaka

Reason he made the list:  the Falcons have a whole lot of talented linemen competing for what appears to be one opening on the roster.  Ojinnaka is the most intriguing story among them.

End of camp update:  he's getting time at multiple positions along the line, including left tackle.  The Falcons are definitely testing out his versatility.  The Mighty Quinn is very much in the hunt for that ninth backup line spot.



8.  Dimitri Nance

Reason he made the list:  all three candidates for the #5 RB/FB spot are interesting "stories", but Nance is the most intriguing as a potential Jason Snelling type hybrid RB/FB.

End of camp update:  not bad so far.  He has shown good ability in the power running game plus receiving ability out of the backfield.  If he can demonstrate some blocking skills, he's likely to be the guy.  One catch:  due to the Michael Jenkins injury and situations at other positions, the team may start out the season with just four runners.  Even if he wins the job, he could be starting the season on the practice squad.



9.  Eric Weems

Reason he made the list:  drafting Meier and Dominique Franks put Weems in jeopardy of losing both of his roles on the team.  He entered camp knowing he didn't have a secure roster spot and would have to step up to win a place on the team.

End of camp update:  the injury to Meier means that unless the team brings in new blood, Weems and Brian Finneran simply have to hold off Troy Bergeron, Andy Strickland, and the three undrafted rookies to win the #4 and #5 spots.  He's also the top KR/PR from camp.  His chances of holding his spot are much better now than they were a month ago.



10.  Brian Williams

Reason he made the list:  if he can make a successful return from injury, he spices up the competition for the DB positions considerably. 

End of camp update:  he hasn't appeared in preseason yet, but we did get to see him practice, with his first full participation coming in the joint sessions with New England on the final open day of camp.  He's slated to appear in these next two exhibitions.  I'm still particularly interested to see whether the coaching staff gives him playing time at safety. 

Key question: whether he'll be healthy enough after the Jaguars exhibition to keep on the roster.  The team had similar hopes for Von Hutchins last season, but Hutchins ended up being an injury settlement case when he wasn't ready to go at the end of preseason.  Williams is only now getting his first full contact this week.




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: July 28, 2010 5:56 pm
 

Ten Players To Watch In Camp, 2010 Edition

Players report tomorrow, and practices start Friday morning. So once again, it's time to list....

Ten Players To Watch In Camp

Most fans will sit on the hillside to watch stars like Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez, Michael Turner and Roddy White, or to get a first look at prize free agent Dunta Robinson or first round draft pick Sean Weatherspoon

But the real stories of camp are deeper into the roster.  Here are a few, in no particular order:


1. Trey Lewis -  The big man did get back onto the field last season, but he didn't have the explosiveness that he had before his injury.  This season he'll be looking to get back into top form, hoping to save his job. 

And the team could use him - the potential suspension of Jonathan Babineaux will likely press rookie Corey Peters into a starting role, so the #4 DT will begin the season as the third man in rotation.  Lewis is capable of playing both DT positions and also opens up the possibility of mixing in a 3-4 package.  If he can step up and regain his form, he'll answer a lot of questions for the coaches.  If not, he won't make the roster at all.


2. Steven Hauschka -  Obviously no Falcons fan would want to see a repeat of last year's kicking woes.  The team replaced the struggling Jason Elam with Matt Bryant, then added Steven Hauschka as a late insurance policy.  With undrafted rookie Garrett Lindholm already out of the picture, Hauschka and Bryant will battle it out for the kicking job.

Bryant is frighteningly accurate from short range, but unreliable from beyond 40 yards.  Hauschka has a strong leg but is still young and inexperienced, and he went through a bad stretch that cost him his job with the Ravens last season.  Of the two, Hauschka is the one to watch.  The team already knows exactly what Bryant can (and more importantly, can't) do.  So the decision is really riding on Hauschka's performance in camp and preseason.


3. Kerry Meier -  Last season the Falcons gave away Laurent Robinson and failed to sign or draft a replacement (including passing up Johnny Knox to draft William Middleton instead).  It came back to bite them when Harry Douglas suffered a season-ending knee injury in front of over 1200 fans during a practice session last summer.  Veteran free agent Marty Booker had nothing left in the tank, and free agent Robert Ferguson plus a handful of undrafted free agents failed even to make the roster.

The team hopes this year's crop will add more depth, starting with compensatory fifth round draft pick Meier.  If he can learn the offense quickly, he'll be a fourth productive receiver along with Douglas, Roddy White, and Michael Jenkins, giving the WR corps the extra depth it lacked last year.  That would leave Brian Finneran, Eric Weems, Troy Bergeron and another trio of undrafted rookies to battle for the #5 spot and a potential #6 spot.



4. Lawrence Sidbury -  The glaring hole in this year's draft class is that the Falcons didn't select a defensive end (or even sign Brandon Lang as an undrafted prospect).  The coaching staff is putting its chips on Sidbury and Kroy Biermann joining John Abraham as the team's outside pass rush.  Biermann has already shown he's up to it, but Sidbury is still an unknown.

This is a question mark area that the coaching staff will watch closely.  Jamaal Anderson has bulked up to move inside and will mainly be at DE for run defense.  Chauncey Davis was a disappointment last year.  If the DEs falter in preseason, we may see a late move to add some extra help, as the team did in landing Domonique Foxworth in 2008 and Brian Williams in 2009.



5. Keith Zinger -  The Falcons signed a pair of interesting undrafted tight end prospects this season in Michael Palmer and Colin Peek.  The immediate speculation is that these guys will challenge for the #3 TE job and bump Zinger off the roster.

Not so fast...  Zinger showed impressive development last summer, catching balls across the middle and in traffic.  He's already known for his blocking skills (Dimitroff refers to him as the prototype blocking tight end) and is a key figure on every special teams unit.  If he continues to develop his receiving skills this summer, he'll hang onto the job and force the kids to start out on the practice squad.  It hinges on Zinger's performance, so he's the one to watch.



6. William Moore -  He had a surgical procedure last summer that kept him out of training camp and preseason.  He overdid it in the weight room, and the team held him out of minicamp this year.  So this will be the first chance for the public to get a good look at the highly touted 2009 second rounder.

The speculation is that he'll challenge Erik Coleman for the starting job opposite Thomas DeCoud.  I'm not so sure about that, as Moore's rookie season was virtually a total loss.  He has no experience and close to zero reps in practice.  He might be able to work his way into some playing time, and he'll likely challenge for a starting job in 2011.  But it's a bit much to expect that he'll be ready to start against the Steelers in week one of 2010.


7. Quinn Ojinnaka - six of last year's nine offensive linemen (including three starters) are potential free agents after this season.  The other three are the aging Todd McClure, the fragile Sam Baker, and the inexperienced Garrett Reynolds.  So the team went into this draft looking to add depth, not so much for 2010 but to have the next wave of players ready for 2011 and beyond.

The Falcons started 2008 and 2009 with nine offensive linemen.  If we fill in the five starters as all making the team, and then add 2009 draft choice Reynolds and this year's third and fourth rounders Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley to the list, that leaves only one remaining roster spot available.  Ojinnaka, Brett Romberg, and Will Svitek are all on the hot seat - and three returning practice squad prospects are also competing for that ninth job.

The key player to watch will be Ojinnaka.  Smitty has noted that he could play any position on the line, plus he has experience at the key left tackle position.  If all other things are relatively equal between the three returning backups, his versatility and experience may be the tiebreaker.  He doesn't have a lock on the roster spot by any means, but Svitek and Romberg will have to step up and beat him out.



8. Dimitri Nance -  he may not be the best known of the Falcons undrafted free agents, but he has a real shot at making the roster.  Atlanta went through the 2008 season with only four backs (including fullback Ovie Mughelli), but even five backs weren't enough for the injury-plagued 2009 season.  Verron Haynes and Aaron Stecker aren't returning, which leaves the #5 job up for grabs.  The contenders are practice squad runner Antone Smith, free agent defensive lineman/fullback Dan Klecko, and Nance.

Any of the three could win the job.  Klecko is a pure fullback, but that would allow the team to shift Jason Snelling away from the #2 FB spot and into a full time RB role.  Smith is a pure RB, while Nance is more of a Snelling-like hybrid.

The main one to watch will be Nance.  If he can adapt to the offense and show some blocking skills - particularly in pass protection - he'll be a strong contender to win the job.



9. Eric Weems -  The practice squad prospect filled in well for Harry Douglas in the return game, but he didn't get on the field much as a wide receiver.  And now the Falcons have drafted Kerry Meier at receiver plus Dominique Franks as a potential return man.

Weems is still hard-nosed and versatile.  He earned his way onto the team last season.  But he will have to step up his game to hold onto his roster spot.



10. Brian Williams -  He certainly wasn't the greatest cornerback, but he added some badly needed experience to the Falcons secondary last season.  The team went 4-1 while he was able to play, so it worked.

But this season, the first question is whether he'll be able to get into playing condition at all.  And if he's cleared to participate in the scrimmage and exhibition games, the more interesting question is whether the Falcons will work him at cornerback or at safety.

The team is already loaded at corner with Robinson, Brent Grimes and Chris Owens set to take the top three spots, plus Chevis Jackson and Franks as backups.  They have Coleman, Decoud and Moore at safety, plus free agent Matt Giordano, sixth rounder Shann Schillinger and a few undrafted DB prospects. 

If Williams is somehow able to play, a likely scenario is that he beats out Giordano for the #4 safety spot while Schillinger takes the remaining at-large roster spot for special teams play.  But the question is how close to 100% Williams will be at the end of preseason.  We've heard upbeat comments from Smitty and Dimitroff, but we heard the same last year about Von Hutchins.
Posted on: May 13, 2010 2:59 am
 

what we learned from minicamp

The first thing that jumps out about the rookies is that 2010 is looking like the deepest draft year we've seen in a long time.  I haven't finalized a list of the top 32 or 35 names for a "mock eighth round" yet, but I do believe that the top undrafted prospects this year will have more NFL success than the sixth or seventh rounders from 2007 or 2005.  Maybe even better than the fifth rounders.

For the Falcons, even the tryout kids looked good in minicamp.  The top two made the grade and got signed.  More might have been signed, but the team only had two available roster spots.




One of those was SW DeKalb / University of Richmond QB Eric Ward.  I posted the NFL Draft Scout dot com blurb on him in the misc notes thread before minicamp.   He needs to work on going through his reads faster, learning the offense, etc, but he has all the attributes you'd want in a QB project -  strong arm, pretty good accuracy, leadership (led Richmond to the FCS national championship in 2008), etc, etc.

The odd thing is that the Falcons now have five QBs on the roster.  It's not surprising for teams to carry four heading into training camp, but five is a little unusual.  If all five are still around at the end of July, it's likely that the team will have two sets of two working drills with the WRs while the fifth works with the RBs or TEs.

The alternative...  this could be the end of the line for D.J. Shockley.  He may once again be competing for his football life during OTAs.

Early call:  Ward makes the practice squad.



Dan Klecko is indeed working with the RBs, at least for now.  If that continues during OTAs, he's a real contender for the #2 FB spot (formerly held by Verron Haynes). 

There are three candidates for that #5 spot in the offensive backfield.  Klecko is a pure fullback (outside of the fact that he also plays on the defensive line).  Antone Smith is a pure running back.  Dimitri Nance is a Jason Snelling-like hybrid.  Smith and Nance are both strong prospects, and Klecko has a few Superbowl rings for his past work at fullback.

Early call:  it's a three way toss-up.  Give the initial edge to Nance for his versatility, but any of the three could take the job.  In training camp, Nance and Smith will have to show they can block.




It's not just Kerry Meier and Ryan WolfeBrandyn Harvey and Tim Buckley (the Alcorn State QB that the Falcons are playing at WR) will also be people to watch in camp.  And the returning Falcons prospects (Eric Weems, Troy Bergeron, Andy Strickland) are stepping up their own game in the face of the added competition. 

Atlanta had a whole bunch of prospects in camp last year to try to replace Laurent Robinson.  It didn't go so well, and the front office was already working out free agents even before Harry Douglas got hurt. 

This year's group may not be speed demons, but they have great hands.  They also have good size:  Harvey is 6-4, 205.  Wolfe is 6-2, 210.  Meier is 6-2, 224.  Added bonus:  Mularkey might be able to work in some trick plays or Wildcat stuff with them, as Meier and Buckley are both former QBs.

Early call:  Weems gets replaced.  Meier makes the roster.  If Harvey, Wolfe and Buckley show something in the preseason games, Brian Finneran gets replaced too. 




Not too much to say about the offensive and defensive lines, as minicamp and OTAs are strictly non-contact.  We won't get a real look at their skills until training camp opens at the end of July.

The one thing I will note about the offensive linemen is that these guys are BIG.  The days of the Alex Gibbs zone-blocking scheme are obviously long gone.  I won't knock it - that system was the ONLY way the team could have gone in 2004 to have a chance of being competitive up front.   It paid off, as that team went 11-5 and made it to the NFC Championship game.  But even Bobby Petrino knew we had to get bigger up front once that system was out the door. 

No more 285 pound tackles or 275 pound centers.  Our starting five:   Sam Baker lists at 6-5, 312.  Justin Blalock = 6-4, 333.  Todd McClure = 6-1, 301.  Harvey Dahl = 6-5, 308.  Tyson Clabo = 6-6, 332.  Backups:  Garrett Reynolds = 6-7, 310.  Mike Johnson = 6-5, 312.  Quinn Ojinnaka = 6-5, 305.  Will Svitek = 6-6, 300.   Jose Valdez (guard prospect) = 6-6, 310.

The only players under 6-4 or under 300 pounds are the backup centers and center prospects.  And even they are bigger than the centers we had in the past.  Brett Romberg and Joe Hawley are 298 and 297 pounds.  A few years ago, McClure had to bulk up just to get up to 290.

Early call:  we keep nine linemen, just like last season and the start of the 2008 season.  Unless someone gets hurt, the starters will be the same as last year.  Garrett Reynolds, Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley take three of the four backup spots.   I'll give Quinn Ojinnaka the early nod for the last spot, beating out Will Svitek and Brett Romberg.




It was meaningless without contact, but Lawrence Sidbury and Kroy Biermann showed some intensity during minicamp.  They know the team is counting on them to join John Abraham as a trio of pass rush DEs.  As had been reported earlier, Jamaal Anderson has bulked up a bit for more duty as a swing DE/DT.  He's still listed at 283, but best guess is that he's now around 290-292.

Early call:  the roster will have the same five DEs as last year.  Jamaal will still be the "official" starter, but don't read too much into that - it only means he'll be out there for the first play at 1st and 10.  Beer Man and El Sid will get the bulk of the pass rush reps.




Not much to say about the DT spots.  Peria Jerry did some rehab work but was limping afterwards.  Jonathan Babineaux was held out with a shoulder problem.  Thomas Johnson got banged up in one session and was held out of two others.  And it's already May and we haven't heard a peep about Babs' case going to trial.  His suspension is a certainty, but it might not come at the start of the year.  That would make things really, really awkward for the coaching staff at the DT spots. 

Early call:  the team will keep telling us Jerry is right on schedule with his rehab work and will be ready for the start of training camp.  But when July 29 comes around, they'll have him take it easy for the first week and may even sit him out the first preseason game. 

If the commish waits until after the trial to suspend Babs, we go with four DTs.  Only one of Trey Lewis, Thomas Johnson, and Vance Walker will make the initial roster.  Lewis would be the most likely if he plays like he's healthy, but he'll have to step it up and prove himself.  So I'll give the early nod to Walker instead.




At linebacker, Sean Weatherspoon worked some at both OLB spots in minicamp and did well for his first time out.  Spencer Adkins and Robert James stepped up strongly too. 

Last year's trio of undrafted LB prospects (Derek Nicholson, Brock Christopher, Rashad Bobino) didn't make the practice squad.  Bear Woods and Weston Johnson hope to do better this year.  Woods may be the most interesting personality of this year's rookie prospects.  He wants to become a minister after his football days are over.

Here's a good look at why he's nicknamed "Bear"...

Early call:  Mike Peterson's roster spot is safe, as he's the best candidate for the #2 MLB spot as well as rotating at either OLB spot.  But 'Spoon likely starts right away.  If Adkins and James keep it up, the coaches may use the last at-large roster spot to keep all seven LBs.




I was very happy that the team re-signed Brian Williams.  I noted at the time that his real value isn't at CB but as extra depth at safety.  (Hmmm... would you rather have Williams or Charlie Peprah as your #4?)  

Later, the Falcons signed Matt Giordano in free agency, drafted Shann Schillinger, and signed prospects Rafael Bush and Gabe Derricks as undrafted free agents.  That fourth safety spot will be a nice battle during training camp.

It's tough to say whether this year's group of contenders for the #4 spot is better than last year's group (which included returning safeties Antoine Harris and Jamaal Fudge, plus prospects Marcus Paschal and Eric Brock).  They're competing for a spot that will hopefully be a fixture on the inactive list.

But there's an odd similarity in that the most experienced contender is a CB who also plays safety and who is attempting to return from injury.  This year it's Williams.  Last year, it was Von Hutchins.

Giordano is the only one of this year's crop after Williams that has any NFL experience at all.  Dimitroff is really stoked about Schillinger, noting he's "a safety slash special teams guy with a lot of speed and a lot of toughness".   D-Led is really big on prospect Rafael Bush.  And D-Led has been right more often than not lately, so I have to take him seriously and keep an eye on his guy.

Early call:  Schillinger beats out Giordano and makes the roster.  Williams won't be ready to go in September and will get the injury waiver just like Hutchins did last season. 





Things only get interesting at CB if someone gets hurt or if Williams shows up healthy for camp and can make all the changes of direction required at cornerback.  Otherwise, there are seven other CBs on the roster to fill five positions.  Two of them are undrafted free agents:  Dominique Daniels and Daylan Walker, the other walk-on from minicamp that got signed.

Early call:  without Williams being 100%, it's a no-brainer.  Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes, Chris Owens, Chevis Jackson, Dominique Franks take the five roster spots.  Daniels and Walker are simply competing to make it to training camp. 




Too early to say anything yet on the specialists.  Michael Koenen has his spot locked up already, but the long snapper and place kicker spots are up for grabs.

Early call:  I'll give the May nod to Justin Drescher at long snapper just to get his name out there.  He really is a contender to make the roster, while incumbent Joe Zelenka was really only our #3 choice last season.  And I'll roll with Steven Hauschka at PK, just to point out to D-Led that Matt Bryant isn't a shoo-in and to note that rookie Garrett Lindholm will have to step up and win the job.  It isn't his for the taking.  But in truth, the jobs could go to any of the three kickers and either of the long snappers. 




There are candidates all over the board for the last roster spot.  It could easily be a seventh LB, tenth DB, sixth WR, tenth offensive lineman, tenth defensive lineman, or sixth RB/FB.  The player will make the roster mainly for his performance on special teams.  It won't get as much attention from the local media as the battle for the 4th safety spot, 4th DT spot, etc, but it may be the most strongly contested spot on the entire roster.

Early call:  I'll make life easier on the coaches and go with Robert James as a seventh linebacker, beating out the extra DT or offensive lineman.   The other likely contenders are Shann Schillinger (if Matt Giordano wins the #4 safety spot) or an extra WR out of Wolfe / Harvey / Buckley / Bergeron.




Bottom line...  the main thing I noted about the roster heading into 2009 was that it was the deepest Falcons roster I could remember.  They needed every bit of that depth.

And since no one left in free agency and only long snapper Mike Schneck retired, this year's roster moves and drafts have all been for upgrades rather than mere replacements.   The 2010 roster will be even deeper than last year's version.  That's just plain scary.



Posted on: May 13, 2010 2:59 am
 

what we learned from minicamp

The first thing that jumps out about the rookies is that 2010 is looking like the deepest draft year we've seen in a long time.  I haven't finalized a list of the top 32 or 35 names for a "mock eighth round" yet, but I do believe that the top undrafted prospects this year will have more NFL success than the sixth or seventh rounders from 2007 or 2005.  Maybe even better than the fifth rounders.

For the Falcons, even the tryout kids looked good in minicamp.  The top two made the grade and got signed.  More might have been signed, but the team only had two available roster spots.




One of those was SW DeKalb / University of Richmond QB Eric Ward.  I posted the NFL Draft Scout dot com blurb on him in the misc notes thread before minicamp.   He needs to work on going through his reads faster, learning the offense, etc, but he has all the attributes you'd want in a QB project -  strong arm, pretty good accuracy, leadership (led Richmond to the FCS national championship in 2008), etc, etc.

The odd thing is that the Falcons now have five QBs on the roster.  It's not surprising for teams to carry four heading into training camp, but five is a little unusual.  If all five are still around at the end of July, it's likely that the team will have two sets of two working drills with the WRs while the fifth works with the RBs or TEs.

The alternative...  this could be the end of the line for D.J. Shockley.  He may once again be competing for his football life during OTAs.

Early call:  Ward makes the practice squad.



Dan Klecko is indeed working with the RBs, at least for now.  If that continues during OTAs, he's a real contender for the #2 FB spot (formerly held by Verron Haynes). 

There are three candidates for that #5 spot in the offensive backfield.  Klecko is a pure fullback (outside of the fact that he also plays on the defensive line).  Antone Smith is a pure running back.  Dimitri Nance is a Jason Snelling-like hybrid.  Smith and Nance are both strong prospects, and Klecko has a few Superbowl rings for his past work at fullback.

Early call:  it's a three way toss-up.  Give the initial edge to Nance for his versatility, but any of the three could take the job.  In training camp, Nance and Smith will have to show they can block.




It's not just Kerry Meier and Ryan WolfeBrandyn Harvey and Tim Buckley (the Alcorn State QB that the Falcons are playing at WR) will also be people to watch in camp.  And the returning Falcons prospects (Eric Weems, Troy Bergeron, Andy Strickland) are stepping up their own game in the face of the added competition. 

Atlanta had a whole bunch of prospects in camp last year to try to replace Laurent Robinson.  It didn't go so well, and the front office was already working out free agents even before Harry Douglas got hurt. 

This year's group may not be speed demons, but they have great hands.  They also have good size:  Harvey is 6-4, 205.  Wolfe is 6-2, 210.  Meier is 6-2, 224.  Added bonus:  Mularkey might be able to work in some trick plays or Wildcat stuff with them, as Meier and Buckley are both former QBs.

Early call:  Weems gets replaced.  Meier makes the roster.  If Harvey, Wolfe and Buckley show something in the preseason games, Brian Finneran gets replaced too. 




Not too much to say about the offensive and defensive lines, as minicamp and OTAs are strictly non-contact.  We won't get a real look at their skills until training camp opens at the end of July.

The one thing I will note about the offensive linemen is that these guys are BIG.  The days of the Alex Gibbs zone-blocking scheme are obviously long gone.  I won't knock it - that system was the ONLY way the team could have gone in 2004 to have a chance of being competitive up front.   It paid off, as that team went 11-5 and made it to the NFC Championship game.  But even Bobby Petrino knew we had to get bigger up front once that system was out the door. 

No more 285 pound tackles or 275 pound centers.  Our starting five:   Sam Baker lists at 6-5, 312.  Justin Blalock = 6-4, 333.  Todd McClure = 6-1, 301.  Harvey Dahl = 6-5, 308.  Tyson Clabo = 6-6, 332.  Backups:  Garrett Reynolds = 6-7, 310.  Mike Johnson = 6-5, 312.  Quinn Ojinnaka = 6-5, 305.  Will Svitek = 6-6, 300.   Jose Valdez (guard prospect) = 6-6, 310.

The only players under 6-4 or under 300 pounds are the backup centers and center prospects.  And even they are bigger than the centers we had in the past.  Brett Romberg and Joe Hawley are 298 and 297 pounds.  A few years ago, McClure had to bulk up just to get up to 290.

Early call:  we keep nine linemen, just like last season and the start of the 2008 season.  Unless someone gets hurt, the starters will be the same as last year.  Garrett Reynolds, Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley take three of the four backup spots.   I'll give Quinn Ojinnaka the early nod for the last spot, beating out Will Svitek and Brett Romberg.




It was meaningless without contact, but Lawrence Sidbury and Kroy Biermann showed some intensity during minicamp.  They know the team is counting on them to join John Abraham as a trio of pass rush DEs.  As had been reported earlier, Jamaal Anderson has bulked up a bit for more duty as a swing DE/DT.  He's still listed at 283, but best guess is that he's now around 290-292.

Early call:  the roster will have the same five DEs as last year.  Jamaal will still be the "official" starter, but don't read too much into that - it only means he'll be out there for the first play at 1st and 10.  Beer Man and El Sid will get the bulk of the pass rush reps.




Not much to say about the DT spots.  Peria Jerry did some rehab work but was limping afterwards.  Jonathan Babineaux was held out with a shoulder problem.  Thomas Johnson got banged up in one session and was held out of two others.  And it's already May and we haven't heard a peep about Babs' case going to trial.  His suspension is a certainty, but it might not come at the start of the year.  That would make things really, really awkward for the coaching staff at the DT spots. 

Early call:  the team will keep telling us Jerry is right on schedule with his rehab work and will be ready for the start of training camp.  But when July 29 comes around, they'll have him take it easy for the first week and may even sit him out the first preseason game. 

If the commish waits until after the trial to suspend Babs, we go with four DTs.  Only one of Trey Lewis, Thomas Johnson, and Vance Walker will make the initial roster.  Lewis would be the most likely if he plays like he's healthy, but he'll have to step it up and prove himself.  So I'll give the early nod to Walker instead.




At linebacker, Sean Weatherspoon worked some at both OLB spots in minicamp and did well for his first time out.  Spencer Adkins and Robert James stepped up strongly too. 

Last year's trio of undrafted LB prospects (Derek Nicholson, Brock Christopher, Rashad Bobino) didn't make the practice squad.  Bear Woods and Weston Johnson hope to do better this year.  Woods may be the most interesting personality of this year's rookie prospects.  He wants to become a minister after his football days are over.

Here's a good look at why he's nicknamed "Bear"...

Early call:  Mike Peterson's roster spot is safe, as he's the best candidate for the #2 MLB spot as well as rotating at either OLB spot.  But 'Spoon likely starts right away.  If Adkins and James keep it up, the coaches may use the last at-large roster spot to keep all seven LBs.




I was very happy that the team re-signed Brian Williams.  I noted at the time that his real value isn't at CB but as extra depth at safety.  (Hmmm... would you rather have Williams or Charlie Peprah as your #4?)  

Later, the Falcons signed Matt Giordano in free agency, drafted Shann Schillinger, and signed prospects Rafael Bush and Gabe Derricks as undrafted free agents.  That fourth safety spot will be a nice battle during training camp.

It's tough to say whether this year's group of contenders for the #4 spot is better than last year's group (which included returning safeties Antoine Harris and Jamaal Fudge, plus prospects Marcus Paschal and Eric Brock).  They're competing for a spot that will hopefully be a fixture on the inactive list.

But there's an odd similarity in that the most experienced contender is a CB who also plays safety and who is attempting to return from injury.  This year it's Williams.  Last year, it was Von Hutchins.

Giordano is the only one of this year's crop after Williams that has any NFL experience at all.  Dimitroff is really stoked about Schillinger, noting he's "a safety slash special teams guy with a lot of speed and a lot of toughness".   D-Led is really big on prospect Rafael Bush.  And D-Led has been right more often than not lately, so I have to take him seriously and keep an eye on his guy.

Early call:  Schillinger beats out Giordano and makes the roster.  Williams won't be ready to go in September and will get the injury waiver just like Hutchins did last season. 





Things only get interesting at CB if someone gets hurt or if Williams shows up healthy for camp and can make all the changes of direction required at cornerback.  Otherwise, there are seven other CBs on the roster to fill five positions.  Two of them are undrafted free agents:  Dominique Daniels and Daylan Walker, the other walk-on from minicamp that got signed.

Early call:  without Williams being 100%, it's a no-brainer.  Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes, Chris Owens, Chevis Jackson, Dominique Franks take the five roster spots.  Daniels and Walker are simply competing to make it to training camp. 




Too early to say anything yet on the specialists.  Michael Koenen has his spot locked up already, but the long snapper and place kicker spots are up for grabs.

Early call:  I'll give the May nod to Justin Drescher at long snapper just to get his name out there.  He really is a contender to make the roster, while incumbent Joe Zelenka was really only our #3 choice last season.  And I'll roll with Steven Hauschka at PK, just to point out to D-Led that Matt Bryant isn't a shoo-in and to note that rookie Garrett Lindholm will have to step up and win the job.  It isn't his for the taking.  But in truth, the jobs could go to any of the three kickers and either of the long snappers. 




There are candidates all over the board for the last roster spot.  It could easily be a seventh LB, tenth DB, sixth WR, tenth offensive lineman, tenth defensive lineman, or sixth RB/FB.  The player will make the roster mainly for his performance on special teams.  It won't get as much attention from the local media as the battle for the 4th safety spot, 4th DT spot, etc, but it may be the most strongly contested spot on the entire roster.

Early call:  I'll make life easier on the coaches and go with Robert James as a seventh linebacker, beating out the extra DT or offensive lineman.   The other likely contenders are Shann Schillinger (if Matt Giordano wins the #4 safety spot) or an extra WR out of Wolfe / Harvey / Buckley / Bergeron.




Bottom line...  the main thing I noted about the roster heading into 2009 was that it was the deepest Falcons roster I could remember.  They needed every bit of that depth.

And since no one left in free agency and only long snapper Mike Schneck retired, this year's roster moves and drafts have all been for upgrades rather than mere replacements.   The 2010 roster will be even deeper than last year's version.  That's just plain scary.



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: March 7, 2010 6:44 pm
 

The sweet thing about re-signing Brian Williams

Think back to the first few weeks of the 2009 season - the games against the Dolphins, Panthers, Patriots, 49ers and Bears.

The Falcons had Erik Coleman and first time starter Thomas DeCoud at safety.  Antoine Harris and William Moore were the backups on the roster.  So what would the team have done if one of the starters got hurt or if Decoud faltered?

Moore was still banged up himself, considered on a day to day basis for practice and on the inactive list for games.  He did eventually get in a couple of games strictly on special teams before tweaking the hamstring again.  But even if he had been back to health, he had missed the entire preseason.  There's no way the coaching staff would have wanted to put him on the field as our last line of defense.

Harris wouldn't have been a much better option.  Yes, the coaching staff jokingly refers to him as a Swiss Army knife for his versatility.  He was a solid contributor on special teams.  But he would have been a major liability if the team had been forced to start him in the secondary.

The answer was that before his injury in the fourth quarter of week six, Brian Williams was our game day backup at safety.  Yes, he was our starting cornerback, and he slid inside to cover the slot receiver in the nickel package.  But if a starting safety had been hurt, he would have been the replacement.  Brent Grimes would have taken over at cornerback, with Chevis Jackson stepping in as the nickel.

Williams is expected to be cleared to play medically.  The question is whether he'll be able to pivot and make the sudden changes of direction needed to play the cornerback spot.  The first year back from an ACL injury is usually not so hot.  So while he adds depth at corner, his knee is still a red flag if he's forced to start.  Dunta Robinson is the team's answer at cornerback, not Williams.

Still, the Falcons still have the issue of the #4 safety to address.  He might be the perfect answer for that spot.  Moore is a year behind in his development.  With Williams on board, it won't be a problem if Moore needs a year to learn the defense in practice the same way Decoud did in 2008.  If a starter gets hurt, Williams can be the one to step in.  Like last year, he may be listed at cornerback, but he could easily be our de facto backup safety.

A side benefit:  it would also allow the team to keep an extra cornerback, meaning that Tye Hill or Chris Houston might have a chance to stick on the roster.  We've seen how they are both fish out of water in our zone system, but if new DB coach Tim Lewis can work hard with them in camp, they just might surprise us.  Once upon a time they both had the talent to become top draft picks.  The potential is there. If nothing else, one or both might at least become trade bait for a future draft pick.

So never mind the cornerback spot.  The sweet thing about re-signing Williams is that it upgrades the backup safety position.  If the Falcons are to make a run for a trophy this year, they need to have all depth and skill issues across the board nailed down.  This could easily be the answer at safety.

 
 
 
 
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