Posted on: April 22, 2012 8:41 pm
Edited on: April 22, 2012 8:43 pm
The Falcons are obviously set for 2012 at starting quarterback. Matt Ryan is signed through 2013, and the team is likely to work on an extension at the end of this season. The main question for the draft is at backup quarterback.
Chris Redman has been the one bright spot to come out of The Bobby Petrino Experience. The former second-rounder had been out of the league after major back surgery, was selling insurance, and had signed on to try his hand at Arena football when the call came from the Falcons. He has been a solid backup. The catch: he turns 35 in July. Time is quickly catching up with him.
John Parker Wilson was a favorite of the coaching staff, who opted to keep the Alabama star #3 in 2009 rather than stick with the former Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley. Quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave thought highly of JPW, and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey raved about him. However, Musgrave is now the OC for the Vikings, while Mularkey is the new head coach of the Jaguars. Our new offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, hasn't even had a chance to see him on the field yet.
That makes him a major question mark. Is he ready to step up to the #2 spot? Preseason last year was a lost cause. He was leading a drive fairly effectively in the first exhibition game, but the backup prospects on the line and in the backfield weren't able to protect him. He suffered a concussion, missed the next two preseason games, and was badly out of sync in the preseason finale. He didn't make the roster, but when Musgrave tried to snatch him from the practice squad, the Falcons responded by promoting him to the roster.
The Falcons could certainly use an extra arm in camp. The question of JPW's readiness is a major factor in determining the priority. If he's ready to step up to #2, then the team could use a late pick on a #3 - or even sign one of several potential candidates as an undrafted free agent. There will be some noteworthy names going undrafted this year.
On the other hand, if there is any doubt at all about his suitability for the backup role, the team needs to think about drafting someone who could step in right away as the #2. That would likely mean one of the earlier picks - perhaps the third rounder - would go towards landing a new quarterback.
My take: the key person in all of this will be Glenn Thomas.
Surprised? Ever even heard of him?
He has been an offensive assistant to Mike Mularkey going back to the 2008 season. He knows the offensive roster. And with Bratkowski following Mularkey down to Jacksonville, Glenn Thomas has been reassigned. He's our new quarterbacks coach. Dirk Koetter won't know himself whether he'll share Mularkey's high opinion of JPW. He'll be depending on the information he gets from Thomas.
If it's up to me, I go after a potential immediate #2 in this draft. We know Redman won't be around much longer, and the question on JPW is whether he's even suitable as a backup, not whether he can take over the offense and win a championship. We need a player who can make things happen if something happens to Deuce.
My favorite QB prospect in this draft class is Russell Wilson. Sure, Andrew Luck and RG3 are better prospects, but they're not available. My take is that Wilson is hands down the best one within our reach.
Something else to keep in mind is that we're now hearing the salary cap is likely to remain close to the current level for several more years. If that proves to be the case, Matt Ryan might prove too expensive to keep beyond 2013. If we land an immediate #2 such as Wilson now, that prospect might be ready to start by 2014 - giving the team options.
But as much as I'd be delighted to have Russell Wilson as the new backup, I suspect it won't happen. (It's not often that our team selects our top choices in the third and later rounds. We're lucky if they select the first rounder we want.) I'll chalk it up as wishful thinking.
We're reportedly scouting B.J. Coleman and Austin Davis as potential targets in the later rounds. So if we don't have a QB by the time the draft reaches round four, keep those names in mind as possibilities for the final day of the draft.
Posted on: October 30, 2011 2:35 pm
One of the rare weeks where I'm in Atlanta for the weekend, and naturally it's our bye week... Oh well. That makes it a pretty good time to take a look at this coming offseason.
The Falcons had it easy with free agency heading into the 2009 and 2010 seasons, as the team was loaded with young players locked under contract. But the pendulum swung the other way this season and will be full tilt this coming offseason.
John Abraham will be a free agent. So will Brent Grimes, since we only tendered him as a RFA this year. Ditto for Eric Weems. The team only resigned Jason Snelling for a one year deal. He's a free agent again this year too. Same story with linebacker Mike Peterson.
Tony Gonzalez is in the final year of his contract. So are Todd McClure and Chris Redman, plus Joe Zelenka (long snappers are people too). And so are the second and later rounders from the 2008 draft: Curtis Lofton, Thomas DeCoud, Kroy Biermann, and Harry Douglas.
And except for DE Ray Edwards, who inked a long term deal, all of our new Falcons are only signed for this season: Kelvin Hayden, James Sanders, Brett Romberg, Reggie Kelly, Kirk Chambers, Mike Cox.
That's 19 unrestricted free agents on the current 53-man roster. Yikes...
At quarterback, Matt Ryan is still here. But John Parker Wilson is already a free agent - all practice squad members are free agents who could be plucked at any time. It's not a good sign for his future that the team chose to expose him rather than keep him on the roster. And Redman will turn 35 before the start of training camp next year. He may still have another year or two left in the tank, but I wouldn't depend on it. So figure at least one new quarterback - and maybe two - in our future next year.
At running back, the Falcons are in reasonable shape for 2012 - mainly because serviceable running backs are so easy to come by, and because the backups are still so underused. (Michael Turner has 138 carries going into the bye. The other RB/FBs have a combined total of 24.) Antone Smith has yet to carry the ball this year at all. He's likely to be a fringe player once again next summer.
At tight end, Michael Palmer is an exclusive rights free agent. That means the team can simply renew his contract, which makes him the only tight end they have locked in at all. Gonzalez has said he feels like he can play a few more years. He has also said before that he'd like to end his career with the Chiefs, so there's no telling whether he'd resign with Atlanta. Practice squad players Marquez Branson (injured) and Tommy Gallarda are likely to be here for camp on futures contracts. But we'll probably need more - I wouldn't expect to see Kelly back for another season.
At wide receiver, I would guess that Douglas wouldn't be too difficult to resign. Roddy White and Julio Jones are both here long term, and Kerry Meier is still under contract and likely to be more involved in his second year back from ACL surgery. The interesting question is whether one of the prospects might challenge for a roster spot. The front office reversed course last season. Instead of going for big guys with good hands but who are slow as molasses, the team started looking at speedsters. D.J. Davis and Kevin Cone are both lightning quick, and they're both getting a chance to learn the offense on the practice squad.
(I'm thrilled to see the change - finally. Too bad they couldn't have gone that route back in 2009, when we really could have used a speedster. Our scouts had seen Johnny Knox at the Texas vs The Nation game - but after trading away Laurent Robinson, Dimitroff left Knox sitting on the draft board to take cornerback William Middleton instead.)
For all the fuss about how Atlanta's offensive line would supposedly be devastated by free agency this season, we turned out to be overloaded instead. McClure is getting banged up pretty hard this year, and it's the final year of his contract. Don't be surprised if Ol' Mud Duck hangs up the cleats. But except for fill-ins Romberg and Chambers, everyone else is under contract at least through 2012. (One caveat: Sam Baker may be on one of those option or voidable years.) And there's already extra depth in the pipeline, as both Andrew Jackson and Jose Valdez are still sitting on the practice squad.
Specifically at center, Romberg would be likely to resign. He came aboard this season as a street level free agent. He's mainly working as a backup guard right now, but he's a natural center and was here previously as the #2 behind McClure. He became expendable last year when the team drafted Joe Hawley. Now he'd be a pretty obvious choice to bring back as Hawley's backup.
At DE, we're in trouble. Both Abraham and Biermann will be free agents. Can we even afford to sign both? We'd need at least one of them returning to supplement the remaining trio of Edwards, Lawrence Sidbury, and Cliff Matthews - and Sidbury will be a free agent after next season. If we're going to stick with the current 4-3 scheme, the DE position will continue to need attention every year.
At DT, we're set. Vance Walker will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and if he's still here, Carlton Powell would be a restricted free agent after 2012. But the trio of Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry won't be free agents until 2014.
At linebacker, resigning Lofton will be a priority. But otherwise, Peterson is the only free agent this year, and Spencer Adkins is the only one set to become a free agent next year.
At cornerback, the question is whether we'd be able to hang on to Grimes at all. He was hoping for a long term deal this year but only got a tender. He's coming off a Pro Bowl appearance and continuing to make highlight reel plays. If he hits the open market, somebody is bound to offer him the big bucks, as the Ravens did with Domonique Foxworth a few years back. Hayden will also be a free agent this offseason, and Chris Owens will be entering the final year of his contract. The team has already started preparing for 2012 by keeping undrafted rookie Darrin Walls on the roster, while Dominique Franks also continues to develop.
One potential scenario: Grimes bolts for the big bucks, but the team resigns Hayden. Even before the draft, that gives Atlanta a quintet of Dunta Robinson, Hayden, Owens, Franks and Walls. Throw in few futures contract or two - perhaps bringing Kamaal McIlwain in for another run at training camp - and the group as a whole would at least be no worse off than in 2009 and 2010.
At safety, Decoud and Sanders are both free agents. That leaves William Moore (who will be in the final year of his contract) and Shann Schillinger as the only safeties locked in. The team opted to expose Rafael Bush to the practice squad instead of Walls, and he has already been plucked away. Suaesi Tuimaunei is getting a chance to learn the system as the replacement for Bush on the practice squad. He's an intriguing possibility as a long term project, but he won't be ready for real action in 2012. At least one more safety will be a must.
Tags: Andrew Jackson, Atlanta, Brent Grimes, Brett Romberg, Chris Owens, Chris Redman, Curtis Lofton, Falcons, James Sanders, Jason Snelling, John Abraham, John Parker Wilson, Jose Valdez, Kelvin Hayden, Kroy Biermann, Michael Palmer, Sam Baker, Suaesi Tuimaunei, Thomas Decoud, Thomas Decoud, Todd McClure, Tony Gonzalez, William Moore, William Moore
Posted on: August 19, 2010 1:34 am
Initial kick return unit = Eric Weems (KR) with Ovie Mughelli, Stephen Nicholas, Brett Romberg, Corey Peters, Justin Peelle, Kerry Meier, Jason Snelling, Sean Weatherspoon, Chris Owens, ? (Kroy Biermann?)
1st offensive series: starters, with Brian Finneran replacing Michael Jenkins
(my note: 2 TE formations were effective in power running game, with extra TE sometimes acting as a fullback rather than blocking at the end of the line)
2nd offensive series: Michael Turner is finished, but Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White are still in. Still the first unit offensive line and regular receivers, with Weems as 3rd WR.
(my note: Matt Ryan ran some no-huddle on this drive, including plays with a single back. The running game bogged down without the fullback.)
3rd offensive series: Chris Redman in at QB. Brett Romberg in at center. Rest of starting linemen still in game. Now seeing Antone Smith and Dimitri Nance at RB. Snelling now playing FB.
(my note: the line sure made a mess of this series. Looked to me like Nance may have missed a play call on 3rd and 15. I was expecting him to stay in and block, but he went out on a short route instead.)
first PUNT COVERAGE unit: Michael Koenen and Joe Zelenka as specialists, Dominique Franks and Shann Schillinger as the gunners, with Kroy Biermann, Kerry Meier, Weatherspoon, Mughelli, Snelling, Nicholas, and Finneran.
4th offensive series: still the other starters and Romberg on the line.
5th offensive series: new line from left to right = Will Svitek, Mike Johnson, Joe Hawley, Garrett Reynolds, Quinn Ojinnaka. I wasn't expecting to see QO at RT.
6th offensive series: still Redman at QB. Dan Klecko now in at FB. Romberg back at center. Ojinnaka slides to RG, with Jose Valdez coming in at RT. Looks like it will be Smith and Nance the rest of the way at RB.
(my note: Snelling did lead blocking for Smith and Nance in the first half but had no FB for his own carries after Mughelli came out. Keep an eye to see whether the running game perks up again with a FB in the remaining preseason games.)
7th offensive series: John Parker Wilson now in at QB. Hawley and Reynolds return at C and RG, respectively. Kerry Meier and Troy Bergeron are the main two receivers at this point, with Michael Palmer at TE, Keith Zinger coming in as the second TE, and Brandyn Harvey as third receiver.
(my note: JPW looks good.)
8th offensive series: Quinn Ojinnaka now at LT, Blake Schlueter at LG, Rob Bruggeman at RG. Still Hawley and Valdez at C and RT. Bergeron and Meier are the main two WRs, with Andy Strickland and Harvey getting some reps as well.
9th offensive series: Ryan Wolfe getting some snaps as 3rd WR, with Robbie Agnone getting in as a second TE.
last PUNT: Brandyn Harvey and Antone Smith were the gunners.
Posted on: February 6, 2010 12:18 am
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: January 27, 2010 12:46 pm
The short version of the CBA talks = nothing's happening. At least nothing good. We're now 90% likely (and rising) to have 2010 as an uncapped year. (We're also starting to feel the possibility of a lockout/strike in 2011. It's getting ugly.)
But... if we assume that we will actually have NFL Football in 2011, the odds are that the new deal will restore the salary cap system regardless of which side "wins". This uncapped year is probably a one shot deal. That's something teams will have to consider when approaching this year's free agency market.
Now that the draft season is underway, the chatter regarding the Falcons usually centers around the cornerback and defensive end positions and the first round draft pick.
Those are fun discussions, but there are other areas occupying the minds of Atlanta's front office and coaching staff as well. They've already started on two of them at the staff level by replacing the secondary coach and sacking the head trainer.
We're now within five weeks of the start of free agency, so the real roster changes around the league will begin soon. With that in mind, here are five roster issues facing our Falcons that have NOT received much attention yet:
(1) Backup quarterback. Other positions are more popular topics of conversation, but for the next five weeks no spot on the roster is more important than the #2 QB.
Chris Redman is an unrestricted free agent. He had one rough outing but put in a respectable performance this season. He demonstrated that he's capable of stepping in at a moment's notice and running the offense effectively.
To put his 2009 performance in context, he finished the season with a higher QB rating (78.4) than many other better known backup and even starting quarterbacks - including Chad Pennington, Derek Anderson, Daunte Culpepper, Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller, Matt Leinart, Trent Edwards, Jay Cutler, Jake Delhomme, Matt Hasselbeck, JaMarcus Russell, Kerry Collins, Todd Collins, and Charlie Frye.
In other words, he's a legit candidate for ANY team wanting a solid #2 - and he's a better option than many teams have as starters. If he decides to test the waters to learn his real market value rather than re-sign early, he WILL attract interest from around the league.
That leaves us with a big, big problem. John Parker Wilson and D.J. Shockley are our only backups under contract, and neither has played a single NFL game.
ALTERNATIVES: The Falcons would want a veteran presence. If Wilson or Shockley could somehow emerge and become the #2, that's fine - but the team would still want experience for the #3. Unfortunately, nothing out there jumps out as a better alternative than re-signing Redman. He already knows the offensive scheme. He's familiar with the receivers here. And he's proven that he CAN step in and run Mularkey's scheme. That might be an issue with any other potential #2 out there.
So, let's hope our front office decides to throw enough money at Redman to keep him from testing the open market.
(2) Punter. Michael Koenen is a gem. But he's also the second highest paid punter in the NFL (behind only Shane Lechler, who signed a multi-year deal last season to remain with the Raiders), and the Falcons have already used the franchise tag once to hang on to him. That's pretty scary when you consider he hasn't even hit true free agency yet.
The guy is fabulous. But the question is whether we can justify spending $2.7 million or more on a punter.
If so, now would be a GREAT time to lock him in with a long term deal, since the team could front-load the contract and avoid most of the cap hit in future seasons after the next CBA kicks in.
And if not, now is an equally good time to start looking at cheaper alternatives, so that the extra money could be used to sign guys at other positions. There are plenty of adequate punters out there that could be had for $500k or less.
ALTERNATIVES: punter is one of the few positions where you really don't mind going with a rookie. The playbook isn't particularly thick. There will be several undrafted free agents this April, and there are still plenty of candidates from last year floating around.
But just for giggles, allow me to be the first to tell you about a certain 32-year old rookie free agent who is available right now. His name is Anthony Rocca.
Sound familiar? His brother (Saverio Rocca) is currently the punter for the Eagles. And like his older brother Sav, Anthony Rocca has made his career up to now playing Aussie Rules.
I've been wondering for years if this guy would hang up the boots and come to the U.S. He has by far the strongest leg of any of the Australian players that have made the switch. And when the AFL season wrapped up in September, he finally did announce his retirement - and has reportedly been training in American football since then, intending to follow Sav to the NFL.
He'll make a GREAT punter for somebody. Sav Rocca and Ben Graham are both doing fairly well, and he's got a much, much better leg than either of them.
(3) Offensive line depth. I have not heard this first-hand from the Nasty Boys themselves, but I'm told that Tyson Clabo and Harvey Dahl aren't thrilled with this year-by-year tender stuff. It's not the money that's rubbing them the wrong way. It's the uncertainty over whether they're really part of the team's plans for 2011 and beyond. RFA tender offers are only one year contracts.
And consider the rest of the unit, which featured just nine total players on the main roster. Key backup Quinn Ojinnaka is another "limbo" restricted free agent likely to be tendered this season. Justin Blalock, Will Svitek and Brett Romberg all have contracts that expire after 2010. Todd McClure isn't getting any younger.
So if the Falcons tender the three RFAs now, we could be facing a nearly complete turnover of our line - including the backups - after the end of the 2010 season. While it's not an immediate crisis, it's a serious issue that the team should start to handle immediately.
Are the Nasty Boys the long term future of our right side? If so, sign them to long term deals and get it out of the way.
ALTERNATIVES: if our coaching staff views The Village Idiots (Boudreau's nickname for Atlanta's line) as merely stop-gap measures until better players can take over, the tender thing really is the way to go for now. It would work, but the O-line would have to be a serious draft priority, with at least one early round and one late round prospect joining the fold.
I suspect our braintrust is happy with Clabo/Dahl and that at some point this year we'll hear about efforts to lock them in long term. And personally, I'd still like to see how they'd do if they switched places, using Clabo's size at guard and Dahl's agility at tackle.
(4) Life without Babs? The 2009 Falcons were much improved at DT in spite of losing Peria Jerry after only two weeks. Thomas Johnson became the team's Out Of Nowhere man, beginning the year as a futures contract prospect and finishing it as a starter. Vance Walker improved throughout camp, earned a promotion from the practice squad to the regular roster, and ended up performing well with significant playing time. Trey Lewis wasn't in top form, but he worked his way back into action after a pair of major knee reconstruction surgeries.
But the clear star of the Falcons defensive line this season was Jonathan Babineaux. Babs was banged up for much of the season yet started every game, notched 47 total tackles (second among the d-linemen in spite of the bad shoulder), and led the team with 6 sacks.
There's just one catch... he's now facing a felony possession charge. Depending on the outcome of his legal case, the team may be without him for at least half the season. Even if he's acquitted, he's likely to face at least a four game suspension under the league's controlled substance policy.
If the team is planning on releasing him, they haven't given any indication of yet. Quite the contrary - Dimitroff's comments in one press session suggest that Babs has a future here in Atlanta. All the same, the Falcons will have to make preparations now for a potential lengthy suspension.
Everyone else in the DT group has question marks too. Was Johnson a one-year flash that has already reached his maximum potential? Will Peria Jerry be able to return to form after his injury? And after getting hurt three times last summer, can he stay healthy for a season? Is Walker ready for starting duty? Will Lewis step up and play like the beast he was before his 2007 injury?
ALTERNATIVES: the best bet is probably to stand pat and simply rearrange the roles of various players if needed. The Falcons play a three man rotation at DT. They have four candidates in hand, not counting the DEs taking reps in the middle on passing downs. So while Babs would be a noticeable loss, there are at least enough bodies available to continue without him. They aren't stars, but they're at least competent when healthy.
And the remaining DTs have enough versatility that any two could be paired together. Peria Jerry was the starting NT, but he really has the build and skill set of a three-technique under tackle. Trey Lewis clearly has the NT build, but he also filled in at UT when Rod Coleman was out early in the 2007 season. Thomas Johnson can fill in at either DT position. Vance Walker hasn't been asked to play NT yet, but he probably could if needed.
Scary thought: If Trey Lewis steps up this year and Peria Jerry is fully recovered by the start of the season (both Smitty and Dimitroff have said they expect him back), they might play some in tandem - giving us the Jerry-Lewis DT line. (Insert rim shot here.)
If so... Lewis would command a double-team. So would Jerry. That would make it difficult to contain John Abraham and Kroy Biermann on the ends, and it would make blitzing a lot easier for the linebackers or the nickel corner.
In other words, keep your fingers crossed that they're both at full speed in training camp. They could make our pass rush surprisingly effective next season. Lewis really was a monster early in his rookie year, and we saw what a difference having Jerry in the middle made for Abe and Biermann in the season opener.
(5) WE NEED A KICKER. We can talk about the inexperienced cornerbacks and the lack of pass rush all day long. But we all know that the failures in the kicking game cost us a few wins and made the difference in the Falcons not making the playoffs.
No other single position on the roster needs to be addressed this offseason more than place kicker. It isn't necessarily hard to address or expensive in terms of contract or draft picks.
But the Falcons have no area of need that is more important. They MUST solve this problem.
Smitty noted in the postseason press conference that when the team signed Matt Bryant and Steven Hauschka, both were signed for 2010 as well as the remainder of 2009. Well gosh, that's great. Between the two of them we'll certainly have our kicker, right?
Bryant has only made 16 of 26 field goals from 40-49 yards over the last four seasons. He went 0 for 2 from that range after replacing Jason Elam. Oh, and he'll turn 35 in May.
The Ravens let Hauschka go in midseason when his accuracy proved to be only marginally better than that of Elam. With two half-seasons (eight games last year, nine this year) of experience, he's an unproven commodity and is off to a really shaky start.
He might come through with more experience. After all, Matt Prater turned out okay - which is why the Broncos let Elam slip away to us in the first place. Hauschka has a strong leg and would be able to handle kickoff duty as well as field goal attempts. The question is whether the 2010 Falcons should be the team that serves as his proving grounds.
Since they're both under contract, we might as well give them both a shot at winning the job in camp. But the Falcons need to bring in someone else as well.
ALTERNATIVES: While teams carry only one kicker during the season, they typically use two or even three in the offseason. Until September, that makes it tougher to bring in many of the street free agents on the verge of breaking through and sticking on a roster. And those Aussie Rules guys are punters, not place kickers. Can't help you there...
The best bet will probably be to use the seventh round compensatory pick - or even bite the bullet and use the sixth round pick - on one of the top kicking prospects in the draft. Three of them (Alabama's Leigh Tiffen, Michigan State's Brett Swenson, and Ohio State's Aaron Pettrey) have been invited to the Combine. A few others (such as Hunter Lawrence from Texas and Joshua Shene from Ole Miss) will get serious attention during their Pro Day workouts.
Most teams prefer not to use draft picks on specialists, but the Falcons otherwise have very few holes to fill on the roster. With potentially eight picks in hand, the team can afford to use a late pick (the last compensatory pick is likely to be in the #230-240 overall range)on the position that might have put them into the postseason this year.
Posted on: September 4, 2009 2:37 am
I was glad to have the chance to see this one in the Dome. I travel a lot and miss most of the home games. The new vid screens are sweet.
I recorded the broadcast but haven't watched it yet. From my vantage point, I didn't get to see detail of the backup offensive linemen (Adam Speer, Ryan Stanchek, Jose Valdez, Ben Wilkerson, Mike Butterworth) who are in the hunt for the last roster spots and/or practice squad jobs. I know the mop-up unit as a whole didn't look as good as the regular second unit, but that's obviously no surprise.
I'll have to watch the broadcast tomorrow to see how well each one of them did individually.
Quick takes from the Dome: the offensive play calls were way too basic and conservative. The defense did pull some blitzes, but those seemed pretty tame as well. The two that I remember most were both delayed blitzes that were too slow in developing to have any chance of success. Again it felt like the coaching staff kept things simple to evaluate how well the kids did the basics.
I may change my mind on that one after watching the TV broadcast, but that's how it felt - this was all about evaluations, and the coaches didn't put much effort into actually trying to win this one. Some fans booed when the team ran on third and long to end the opening drive. I understand their frustration - everyone in the Dome knew that was the end of the night for the starters, and it felt like the coaches were packing it in just to get them off the field.
Christopher Owens had a bad game. A *really* bad game. I know lots of fans want the Falcons to start him instead of Brent Grimes, but he proved he isn't ready. He's a fine prospect, but you really don't want rookies or even second year players to start in the secondary if you can avoid it. (Yes, the Falcons are doing it. But that's exactly why we've all complained about the secondary for the last two years...)
Chris Houston had another off game. I'll bet we'll soon start hearing speculation that Tye Hill will replace him instead of Grimes. Don't blame Houston for that first TD pass though. Mike Peterson had the coverage on that one and got torched.
I've posted a few times that Keith Zinger struck me in practice as the most improved Falcons player since last season and that I wouldn't be surprised if he landed the #3 job. I say he nailed it tonight. Tony Gonzalez starts, Justin Peelle is the #2, and Zinger is the #3. Considering Zinger was the fifth string TE even for the Rams game, that's a nice accomplishment.
Robert Ferguson may have lost his roster spot. Eric Weems stepped up and had another solid game. Ferguson didn't.
If the Falcons only keep five WRs, Weems made a pretty strong case that he should be the #5. Also, Weems and Chandler Williams have been the main candidates (virtually the only candidates) for the punt return job. So the Falcons will either have to (a) keep six WRs, (b) keep Weems or Williams instead of Ferguson, or (c) find another punt returner that hasn't had many reps in preseason. After this game, Ferguson can only hope for (a) - and then hope he's the #6 instead of Troy Bergeron or Williams.
Vance Walker has played well enough to win a practice squad spot, but it's tough to say he's going to make the roster. Thomas Johnson has had the inside track as the fourth DT and has been pretty solid, but Walker also had good game and is getting better every day. He clearly beat out Tywain Myles and Jason Jefferson, and he's making it extremely tough to cut him.
The twist is that whoever wins the fourth DT job will be on the inactive list every week unless someone else gets too banged up to play. If the coaches figure that Walker will have a few more weeks of practice before he sees action, they might choose to keep him rather than risk losing him to another team by putting him on waivers and sending him to the practice squad.
Kroy Biermann bulked up in the offseason and it showed. He may have been playing against the second unit, but he had a monster game. (If a second string DE plays lights out against the second unit OL, that still counts as a good performance.) I say the Falcons will use one of the extra roster spots to keep all five defensive ends.
Maurice Lucas had a sack tonight, but I don't know if he's earned a practice squad job. I'm guessing the sack won't make a significant difference - if he hadn't won it already, he still hasn't won't it after this game.
I saw Jamie Winborn make two solid plays and botch one pretty badly. Offhand, I really don't remember too much from Spencer Adkins or Robert James. They each had a few tackles but nothing that stood out (either good or bad) in my mind.
Coy Wire and Tony Gilbert are set as the #4 and #5 LBs. Winborn probably has the edge for the #6 spot. Adkins and James are both eligible for the practice squad if they don't make it as a seventh linebacker or beat out Winborn for the sixth spot.
I'll have to watch the broadcast in detail, but NONE of the backup safeties really jumped out at me during the game live.
Finally, on the QBs - John Parker Wilson started out rough and looked a little gun-shy. But he got it together and had a couple of really solid drives. He showed he has some solid potential - it was pretty obvious why Mike Mularkey says he really likes the kid.
I still feel JPW and DJ are both good candidates for the #3 job but that neither of them is ready for real game action. Bulldog and Crimson Tide fans will feel differently about it, but frankly it doesn't matter which one wins the #3 spot. If either one of them sees the field this year, it's a disaster.
So it's Redman as the #2 unless the team picks up someone from outside the organization. And as I mentioned in a thread on the Falcons message board, Smitty was asked point blank after practice yesterday if Redman would be the backup QB again this year. Smitty dodged the question.
I thought that was rather interesting. Considering Redman was highly respected as the backup last season and that Smitty said he had a great game against the Chargers, it's hard to understand Smitty not being willing to say Redman is his #2. I say the team might be considering an upgrade after the Saturday roster cuts. This year's #2 QB might be someone not currently in the Falcons organization...
Posted on: August 11, 2009 11:19 pm
I did a mock 53-man roster right before minicamp in May. We're now a week into training camp, and the team still hasn't posted an official depth chart, so I figured this would be a great time to revisit the list.
It's still too early to project John Parker Wilson as a keeper, but it's a possibility. He's had a good camp. So far he has shown more consistent accuracy than Shockley and a better arm than Redman. Both Shockley and Redman are in the final years of their contracts, and Redman is carrying a $2.5 million base salary.
Verron Haynes is also having a good camp and will make the competition interesting. The Falcons carried only four backs on the roster for the entire 2008 season, since Jason Snelling did double-duty as the #2 fullback and #3 running back. Verron Haynes also plays both roles.
I suspect that the team will keep at least five runners this year, and the roles that Norwood, Brown, Snelling and Haynes play on special teams might make a strong argument to keep all six.
Aaron Kelly had a good first week of camp and will still have chances to impress the coaches in preseason. Likewise, Chandler Williams will have his chances - including returning punts and kickoffs. But the Falcons signed not one but two veteran free agents to replace Harry Douglas, so unless the team keeps six wideouts, they will both have a major uphill battle to crack the roster. Ditto for Troy Bergeron and Eric Weems. The other undrafted receivers (Darren Mougey, Bradon Godfrey, and Dicky Lyons) have already been released.
I'm not making any changes here yet, but I suspect that Keith Zinger might be in the hunt for one of the backup TE spots. He has shown amazing improvement from last preseason to camp this year. But I'll wait until the second preseason game before dropping either Hartsock or Peelle in favor of Zinger or Jason Raider.
With the pre-minicamp list, I said it was way too early even to think about naming the backups. There are still some battles to be won, and it's not certain the team will even keep ten linemen. (Last season the Falcons started with nine but finished with ten.)
If they keep just nine, Ben Wilkerson is likely the odd man out. He has progressed nicely as a backup center and guard, but Brett Romberg has more experience and has even won a starting job while playing under line coach Paul Boudreau. Quinn Ojinnaka can play all five positions on the line and has experience at left tackle (and has performed well when needed).
Mike Butterworth is in the hunt for a backup guard spot as well, but he'd be a long shot - especially if there are only nine linemen. There are also three undrafted linemen in camp, but they have had so few reps in 2practice that they are likely competing for one or two practice squad jobs.
Not much of a story here. The only other specialist in camp is rookie long snapper Robert Shiver. But next season could be interesting, as the team elected to tender Koenen for one year with the franchise tag rather than resign him to a long term deal.
I'm projecting nine defensive linemen, though the performances of the other DTs will make a strong argument for keeping ten. (That's unusual, but the Falcons use such frequent rotations that it would make sense to use an extra at-large roster spot on the defensive line. The team did have ten defensive linemen for a short time last season.)
At this point, the significant candidates for an extra DT spot are Jason Jefferson and Thomas Johnson. You might remember Jefferson from last year, but he's had a much better preseason this year. I'm not quite ready to buy into his improvement, so I'm waiting for the exhibition games to see how he does in full contact action before saving him a roster spot.
Johnson is one of the surprises of camp. He was brought in under a futures contract in January. He played in 13 games in 2005-2006, was out of football in 2007, went to camp with the Jets last season and is in camp with us this year. That's not a particularly impressive resume, but the story is he's progressing very well with line coach Ray Hamilton.
The numbers game says that if there are 10 offensive linemen or 6 wide receivers, the extra roster spot will likely come from the linebacker corps. That would put the squeeze on young prospects Spencer Adkins and Robert James, who are already in heated competition with Edmond Miles and Tony Gilbert for those backup linebacker jobs.
Last time around, I projected that Von Hutchins and David Irons would be the cornerbacks who didn't make it. Irons wasn't cleared for full contact before the start of camp, so he was released with an injury settlement. The wild card is Hutchins.
He was brought in to add experience to the CB group last year, since Chris Houston (11 games) was the only corner on the roster at the time that had ever started a single game in the NFL. But now the CB group is crowded, and Houston, Jackson and Grimes have more experience behind them.
But Hutchins was also a safety with the Houston Texans before signing with Atlanta, and the Falcons could use some experience in the safety corps. So this time around, I'm putting him in as a backup safety and knocking out Jamaal Fudge, Antoine Harris, and Eric Brock.
A key for all of the fringe players is that they'll be competing for at-large roster spots. The extra wide receivers aren't just competing with the other WR prospects and the receivers ahead of them on the depth chart. They're also competing with the borderline linebackers, defensive backs, etc, trying to convince the coaches that a sixth WR would be a better way to use a roster spot than a 10th offensive lineman, 7th linebacker, etc.
And that will make the final roster cuts very, very interesting.
Also note that the team still might not be finished acquiring players from outside the organization. Domonique Foxworth, Jason Jefferson, and Jamaal Fudge all came aboard AFTER the roster cuts but before the first game. It's likely that the Falcons will make a few moves again this season after seeing who gets squeezed out elsewhere.