Posted on: May 6, 2010 3:41 pm
The basic Falcons 53-man roster typically consists of 3 QB, 5 RB/FB, 3 TE, 5 WR, 9 OL, 5 DE, 4 DT, 6 LB, 5 CB, 4 S, 1 P, 1 K, 1 LS, and one at-large spot.
The at-large spot is completely up for grabs and likely to change during the season. The team briefly had six defensive ends in 2008 and finished the season with ten offensive linemen. Last season began with six cornerbacks but ended with an extra running back.
The team will naturally make tweaks as needed, such as in 2008 when they carried only 4 runners (with the fifth on the practice squad) in order to start the year with extra depth elsewhere. But for the most part, that's what we can expect for the 2010 team.
I made a list of what I call the late season 2009 roster. With injuries and replacements, it's difficult to nail down one set of 53 players as "the" roster. But these were the players who were aboard for most of November and December.
Eight players from that list are now gone. Eight incoming or returning players are penciled in as locks to make the roster: Harry Douglas (assuming he's medically cleared), Peria Jerry, William Moore, Dunta Robinson, Sean Weatherspoon, Corey Peters, Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley.
The catch is that while some are easy one-for-one swaps (Douglas replaces Marty Booker, Sean Weatherspoon replaces Tony Gilbert), others are not (Corey Peters and Mike Johnson replace ????). There are also many other returning or incoming players that will offer strong competition for roster spots. And Smitty has already made the first "nobody is safe" reference of the year.
So the key question is which players from last season are on the hot seat in camp this summer?
I've pegged as many as twenty that are at risk. I think eight of them are probably safe, but the other twelve are in real danger of losing their roster spots. Starting with the offense, they are:
1) Eric Weems. He made the roster last season for his potential as a return man, not strictly as a wide receiver. He'll have a good shot at playing a few years in the NFL off of his special teams skills, but the fifth round of the draft may have sealed his fate in Atlanta. The Falcons drafted potential return man Dominique Franks and potential WR Kerry Meier with their two fifth round picks.
Weems will also have to compete with returning practice squad candidates Troy Bergeron and Andy Strickland plus undrafted free agent Ryan Wolfe and two others just to have a shot at the at-large spot as a sixth WR. And that DUI arrest in November certainly doesn't help his cause.
2) Brian Finneran. While Weems figures to be the first WR replaced, if both Meier and Wolfe stick (or if Bergeron, Strickland, Brandyn Harvey or converted quarterback Tim Buckley amaze the coaches), Finn may have a tough time returning once more.
His latest knee injury isn't anywhere near as bad as the two that sidelined him in consecutive seasons, but he's now 34. He wasn't all that fast to begin with, so he can't afford to lose a step due to age or injury.
3) Will Svitek. He was an interesting addition to last year's roster and played competently as a backup. But he's not a starting caliber player, and that's not likely to change in camp this year.
4) Quinn Ojinnaka. He can play any position on the offensive line. So can third round pick Mike Johnson. And the coaching staff chose Svitek to fill in for Sam Baker last season at left tackle. If Svitek is still the choice at the end of preseason, Ojinnaka may be the one bumped out to make room for Johnson.
Ojinnaka is also the only backup lineman who was not brought into the organization under Smitty and Dimitroff. I'm not saying Smitty and his staff will play favorites, but it's a factor. Ojinnaka is a holdover from the Jim Mora days and was drafted because he fit the Alex Gibbs blocking scheme. Everyone else was hand picked by Smitty and Dimitroff because they fit the current Falcons scheme.
5) Brett Romberg. Yep, three of the four backup linemen are at risk. Romberg played for Boudreau in St. Louis, and the Rams thought enough of him to start him. He's a solid - and experienced - backup. He's definitely a handy guy to have around.
But Mike Johnson probably takes over the #3 guard role this year, and the arrival of Joe Hawley puts his backup center role at risk. To date, Romberg hasn't been a real candidate to play tackle, plus the team chose Ojinnaka ahead of Romberg to fill in for Harvey Dahl at guard.
If the team once again keeps only nine total linemen, these three are all at serious risk. Johnson and Hawley will make the roster, so two guys will have to go to make room for them. Prospects Jose Valdez and Rob Bruggeman are knocking on the door as well.
6) Matt Bryant. The Falcons had a steady-Freddy but aging kicker in Jason Elam to start the 2009 season. They finished with another in Matt Bryant.
He's about to turn 35 later this month. He was 1 for 4 from 40+ yards last season after going 5 of 11 and 6 of 10 from 40+ the previous two seasons with the Buccaneers. He's rock steady from inside 40, but that means the Falcons would have to get inside the 23-yard line to feel confident in making a field goal. That's not good.
The team added Steven Hauschka for insurance in the final week of the season, as Bryant came away from the Bills game a bit gimpy. Hauschka has a strong leg but missed a pair of shorter field goal attempts that cost him his spot with the Ravens. If he can work out the mechanics, he's a strong contender.
And then there's the rookie, Garrett Lindholm. He was mainly on the national radar for this:
In the playoffs, no time left, game on the line...
He turned it on his senior year, but his sophomore and junior year stats certainly won't blow you away. And he definitely needs work on his mechanics if he is to maintain consistency, as you'll see in one of the clips below. I don't know if he's the answer. I think I might have preferred signing Damon Duval when we had the chance.
Some highlights (no sound)
Workout results... he made the 49-yarder but missed several shorter ones...
At the very least, Lindholm will add competition. But my guess is that if Hauschka turns it on, he'll be the man.
7) Joe Zelenka. Joe who? I'm sure many of you don't really care who takes the long snapper job. But keep in mind that after Mike Schneck went on IR last year, replacement Bryan Pittman, holder Michael Koenen and kicker Jason Elam just couldn't get in sync, costing the Falcons at least one game and chances at winning two more.
Zelenka did well enough as the second replacement, but he hardly has a lock on the position the way Schneck might have had he not decided to retire. The competition comes from undrafted rookie Justin Drescher, who has plenty of college experience after serving as Colorado's long snapper in all four years.
8) Coy Wire. Frankly, I found it hard to believe he was included in the "On The Fringe" TV series last year. There was no doubt in my mind that he'd make the roster. He still has a strong chance this year, but it will be a little more challenging.
The catch is that if Sean Weatherspoon takes over as the starting Will backer, Mike Peterson would then drop down to the #4 overall LB. So unless the team drops Peterson off the roster completely, Wire would then drop to #5, pretty much limiting him to special teams duty.
So far, no problem there - he's our special teams captain. And there isn't a need to drop anyone to make room for 'Spoon, as Tony Gilbert was not re-signed.
But most teams prefer to have younger guys with upside potential filling those spots on the back end of the roster. He'd be competing not only with the younger linebacker prospects, but also with the new safeties (Matt Giordano and Shann Schillinger) as special teams players.
I was hesitant to include him on this list, as he was solid as a replacement for Michael Boley in 2008 and has been outstanding on special teams. He's a fine player. The question is whether the team would continue to keep a guy with zero remaining upside as the #5 LB.
9) Spencer Adkins. If Wire does stay aboard as the #5 LB, then Adkins will have to step up big in his second year or face competition for the #6 spot. He was on the inactive list for most of the season, but the team worked him in on special teams for a few games when the WRs and safeties were so banged up.
The competition will come from 2008 fifth rounder Robert James and from this year's undrafted prospects, Bear Woods and Weston Johnson.
While it seems like a reach for one of the undrafted prospects to unseat a drafted player from the roster, keep in mind that it was considered a big stretch when the Falcons drafted Adkins in the sixth round in 2009 - mainly because of his blazing fast 40 time. He was otherwise figured to be an undrafted free agent himself.
So once you put their projections on an even footing, there's a lot to be said for the rest of the pack. Adkins was only a part time player for Miami. Meanwhile, Weston Johnson was named team captain at Wyoming, while Bear Woods was the leading tackler at Troy. The competition will be quite real.
10) Trey Lewis. Smitty said he was excited to have Lewis back last season, and that Lewis gave the team potential to work in some 3-4 as a package defense. But it turned out that Lewis was far from full speed in his first season back from two reconstructive knee surgeries. He spent most of the year as the #4 (inactive) DT, taking the 3-4 package off the table.
On the plus side, he showed as a rookie that when healthy, he can play either DT spot. He's not strictly a nose tackle. And his size adds an element that no other DT on the roster can bring. If his knee will allow him to get back to form, he has a good chance of winning the #4 DT job again this year, serving as the #3 while Babs is out.
But he'll have to turn it up this summer or he'll be off the roster when Babs returns, if not sooner.
11) Thomas Johnson. I can't say enough good things about the job he did last season. He truly was our Out Of Nowhere player for the 2009 season.
The guy was an undrafted free agent who had already been released by three different teams and hadn't played a game since 2006. He signed with the Falcons as a futures contract. He wasn't expected to make the roster at all but ended up as our starting nose tackle.
Now move ahead a year... Peria Jerry is expected to return, and the team has added Corey Peters. Johnson is expendable, and he probably has the least potential upside of the backup candidates. It's a brutal fact of life in the NFL.
12) Vance Walker. It shouldn't be a surprise that all three backup DTs are at major risk. Unless one wins the at-large spot, the Falcons will have two DTs too many after Babs returns from suspension. And that's not even counting Joe Klecko or Trey Bryant as serious candidates or DEs sliding in to play the middle.
The seventh rounder started the season on the practice squad and is still practice squad eligible. If all else is equal between the three backup DTs, the coaching staff may try to keep them all for the start of the season by stashing Walker back on the practice squad.
Noteworthy players left off the list:
Brian Williams: the only reason he's not on the list above is that he wasn't on the late 2009 roster in the first place, so he didn't have a roster spot to lose.
Otherwise, he might be the most at risk player of all. He's still far from 100% and won't be back until at least the start of training camp. If his recovery takes longer, he may end up starting the year on the PUP list or get released on an injury settlement as Von Hutchins was last year.
If he's healthy, his main value (and best chance at making the roster) is that he can play safety as well as CB. He would likely be the top contender for the #4 safety role.
Jamaal Anderson, Chauncey Davis: if the Falcons had brought in a serious DE candidate, it would be obvious that one of these two would have to go. But the team appears to be standing pat, bringing in only a pair of undrafted candidates to replace Maurice Lucas on the practice squad.
I won't say they're definitely safe, but at least for now there is room to fit all five DEs on the roster. Unlike the DTs, they aren't in a spot where somebody HAS to go... yet...
Chris Owens, Brent Grimes: the rookie Owens worked his way into the starting rotation, plus he's a Dimitroff prospect. He isn't going anywhere. Many fans don't care for Grimes, but he entered the season with just eight total games of experience. He was essentially a rookie too. He led the team with six interceptions. The last time any Falcons player had more was 1998 (Ray Buchanan, with seven).
If Williams isn't healthy or makes the roster as a safety, or if Franks gets the at-large spot as a return specialist, everyone in the room could make the roster. Only one CB absolutely had to go, and Tye Hill's release settled the question of who it would be.
Justin Peelle, Keith Zinger: they certainly aren't safe, but the three prospects brought in this season aren't as much of a threat as the incoming DTs or offensive linemen. While Colin Peek and Michael Palmer are both contenders, the Falcons may choose to start them on the practice squad as they did with Zinger in 2008.
Tags: Atlanta, Bear Woods, Brent Grimes, Brett Romberg, Brian Finneran, Brian Williams, Chauncey Davis, Chris Owens, Corey Peters, Coy Wire, Dominique Franks, Eric Weems, Falcons, Garrett Lindholm, Jamaal Anderson, Joe Hawley, Joe Zelenka, Justin Drescher, Justin Peelle, Keith Zinger, Kerry Meier, Matt Bryant, Mike Johnson, Peria Jerry, Quinn Ojinnaka, Ryan Wolfe, Spencer Adkins, Steven Hauschka, Thomas Johnson, Trey Lewis, Vance Walker, Weston Johnson, Will Svitek
Posted on: August 8, 2009 12:03 am
First observation = wow, the place was packed. It was pretty obvious that there were more than 10,000 people there, and even at halftime there were more and more and more coming in the gates. Later, the attendance was announced at over 12,300 !!
They did kickoff / returns and FG drills before the scrimmage part got underway. Chandler Williams and Jerious Norwood had nice returns. Interesting sight = Peria Jerry on the kickoff return unit, forming a wedge.
Early on, the defense got the better of the offense. A series with the 1st team offense was stopped. Chris Redman later had a pass to Justin Peelle where Brent Grimes single-handedly made the strip, recovery, and return for a defensive TD.
My vote for THE play of the entire scrimmage was by safety prospect Eric Brock. He made a nice read to see (I think) Robert Ferguson breaking open. He closed in a heartbeat and timed the hit perfectly to separate the receiver from the ball. And then he plucked the ball out of the air for a pick. Obviously no replay, but I think it would go down as an interception rather than a fumble. (It would be his ball either way though, since he grabbed it before it hit the ground.) It was SWEET.
You KNEW that sooner or later Matt Ryan would hit Michael Jenkins for a long TD. They've been doing it in every single practice session. It came in Ryan's second series, with a 20+ yard pass over the middle for a touchdown. Chris Owens was the defender in coverage on that play.
The pass rush was disappointing - not sure if the rule to avoid hitting the QB had something to do with it. But the one nice pass rush was by everyone's favorite lineman, Jamaal Anderson. Jamaal flushed Redman from the pocket and forced him to throw the ball away.
Not much happening early in the second "half". The scrimmage was scheduled for ten series, with each QB getting at least two drives. Pretty much everyone seems to be playing at least a little bit. I didn't have a notepad with me, so I wasn't able to track the O-linemen and D-linemen as I would have wanted. But I know that Fudge and Hutchins got snaps at safety, Owens and Glenn Sharpe got reps at corner, Vance Walker got time at DT, Kroy Biermann, Chauncey Davis, Spencer Adkins, Robert James, etc were all in rotations. The goal of this thing was to get "game" film to evaluate players, so as many people as possible got as many reps as possible.
In his final series (9th of 10), Redman threw an interception that was caught by Tony Gilbert. I missed who the intended receiver was. (Gilbert has been practicing with the first unit offense this week in Curtis Lofton's place. Lofton is expected back in practice early next week.)
In the 10th and presumably final series, D.J. Shockley hit Hartsock for a first down. The next play was a handoff that had a penalty on the defense. Shockley later hit Chandler Williams to get inside the red zone. Coy Wire had great penetration to stop Thomas Brown for a loss. (The coaches had the Bulldog backfield for this drive - Shockley at QB, Brown at RB, and Verron Haynes at FB. All are ex-UGA.) After that, it was run, run, run (like I said - Bulldog backfield...) until Brown scored the TD.
BUT... the show isn't over yet. Smitty calls for more, with John Parker Wilson running every series of "overtime". He hit Peelle for roughly 17 yards over the middle with a really nice throw. I've seen him hit Keith Zinger several times on this exact route in practices this week, so he's obviously already comfortable with that play even though he has to thread the needle to make that throw.
The next snap looked like a busted play. Not sure what was supposed to happen, but Wilson intentionally threw it away. I noted this one because it was a good decision by a rookie QB in a clutch situation. Otherwise it was a non-event.
A little later, Norwood broke loose and took it inside the 15. Wilson hit Brown at about the 10, but the drive bogged down there.
Smitty kept them going. The next series wasn't a good one for JPW. He tried to throw into traffic on the run and was lucky it wasn't picked off - I'm sure he heard about it immediately and will cringe when he sees it in the film room this week.
Verron Haynes had a nice run on a toss sweep, and then Wilson hit Zinger - just like in practice, except that this time Zinger was allowed to show his stuff. He looked like Mike Alstott (insert Chris Berman "rumblin', stumblin" on the highlight reel) breaking tackles and taking it inside the 3. Smitty ended the scrimmage then.
OFFICIALLY, the offense barely edged out the defense in the final score. But the defense got the better of it for most of the night, and the offense ended up taking it during the unscheduled extra three series. So take it with a grain of salt - the defense held their own.
The linebackers looked really good. I wasn't all that hot on the D-line, though I did note that there wasn't much success running up the middle. The big runs were all to the outsides. Now if they can improve the pass rush, they'll have something...
Aaron Kelly didn't have much action in terms of receiving, but he did have some blocking opportunities on run plays. That (along with special teams during the preseason games) will go a long way towards helping him make the roster. Chandler Williams had the nice reception from Shockley plus a great showing as a kick returner. They're both making pretty good arguments for keeping six receivers on the roster.
The safeties looked pretty good, but I'm not sure why Chris Owens didn't have deep help on the TD pass from Ryan to Jenkins.
Ryan looked solid. My favorite play from him was a quarterback keeper on the very first series. Mixed grades on Redman - one of the turnovers wasn't his fault, but the other was one he'd want back. Shockley's first series wasn't much, but he did a fine job with that final "regular" series. His passes were dead on the money. And JPW didn't look anything special during the regular drives, but he did a fine job in the extra time at the end. He hasn't had many reps in the 11 on 11 portions of practices, so it makes sense that he'd get into more of a rhythm with the extra snaps. And he's helping turn Keith Zinger into one of the stars of training camp.
The simulation at Roam The Dome will reportedly be without pads, so this was the closest thing we'll see to a game until next weekend's action. I'm looking forward to it...
Posted on: November 30, 2008 11:35 am
As the 2008 regular season winds down, more and more posts on the Falcons message board are looking ahead to free agency and the draft, sizing up the team's likely targets and areas of need.
One key thing to remember: this is one of the youngest teams in the NFL this decade, not just this season. The Falcons have 31 players - including 11 starters - that are age 26 or younger. This is important for two reasons. First, many of these young guys are still developing and will improve naturally with experience. A few areas that might be perceived as weak points for the team may not be liabilities next season. Those positions wouldn't necessarily be targets for the draft, because the newly drafted players would have to go through the same growing pains as our current players did last year and this year.
Second, every player coming in next season will have to replace someone currently on the roster. We don't have a whole lot of guys who are likely to retire, we really don't have that many free agents in key roles, and Dimitroff is working to sign our potential free agents early to avoid having them hit the open market. The team will have quite a few currently injured guys returning, plus we have more solid prospects on our practice squad than most teams. I'm expecting at least 10 players from those lists to be with the Falcons in minicamp next season and competing for roster spots.
So if you'd like to play GM and start designing your 2009 roster, keep those players in mind.
Here's a rundown by unit:
Quarterback: Ryan, Redman, Shockley. No issues there at all, and all three are under contract for 2009. Feels nice, doesn't it? One catch - both Redman and Shockley are free agents after next season. Expect the team to pick up a fourth guy for camp next year to compete with them and perhaps a developmental project for the practice squad.
Running back / fullback: Turner, Mughelli, Norwood, Snelling, Brown, Barclay. The team is likely to carry five players in this unit. Snelling was a hybrid RB/FB who dropped some weight this season to focus on the RB role - but ended up with the FB#2 duty as well as the RB#3 role. With Brown returning, he may bulk back up to focus on fullback.
Receiver / tight end: White, Jenkins, Hartsock, Robinson, Douglas, Peelle, Finneran, Zinger, Rader, Weems, Chandler Williams, Noriaki Kinoshita. The WR side of this unit is loaded with Jenkins already re-signed. The only question is whether the team will keep five or six on the roster next season.
Tight end will be a significant issue. The team doesn't have a true receiving tight end, and Mularkey will likely want an upgrade for a blocker. Note that Peelle is a free agent at the end of the season. Zinger, like all practice squad players, is a free agent even now. Rader is a stop-gap who is in his third stint with the team this season. Best guess: the team will aim for three TEs on the roster next season. Re-signing Peelle is likely but won't be considered a top priority. Likely scenario = Hartsock + drafted TE + Peelle.
Offensive line: Baker, Blalock, McClure, Dahl, Clabo, Ojinnaka, Wilkerson, Stepanovich, Weiner, Batiste, Foster, McCoy. Wilkerson (center/guard) is a free agent, while Dahl and Clabo are restricted free agents. Gandy will also be available if needed but isn't likely to return.
This unit has a lot of what-ifs. Let's simplify it with a kind of worst-case scenario. Suppose that Clabo, Dahl, and Wilkerson all sign elsewhere. In that case, the Falcons still have Baker, Blalock, and McClure starting on the left side and at center, with Stepanovich holding down the backup center role.
Weiner has played fairly well in spite of being far from 100% back from his rehab. He'll be better next season after another winter of rest and rehab. Ojinnaka can play either guard spot or either tackle spot and is ready to step up as a starter. Batiste, Foster, and McCoy would all challenge for the first-unit jobs.
That's nine solid prospects already in house. The team would be in pretty good shape even without anyone else. If we could hang on to at least one of Clabo or Dahl, it would be a sweet bonus. The coaching staff may elect to bring in someone new via free agency or the draft to add competition, but it certainly shouldn't be considered a weakness or a top priority.
Defensive end: Abraham, Anderson, Davis, Biermann, Fraser, Evans. Abraham, Anderson, and Biermann appear to be locks. Chauncey Davis is a free agent. He'll get attention from other teams, and keeping him may be difficult if he isn't signed before he hits the open market on March 1. Evans is a practice squad prospect hoping to break through and win a regular roster spot as a backup.
A late rounder here for competition is a strong possibility, but the spot might also be handled on the cheap in free agency. In particular, if Brandon Miller becomes available again at the end of the season, there's a strong chance Atlanta will bring him back.
Defensive tackle: Babineaux, Moorehead, Lewis, Jefferson, Parker, Grady Jackson. The nose tackle will be a high priority position for this offseason. The team is well stocked at UT with Babineaux and Moorehead. But with Grady likely to retire (and not capable of playing every down even if he returns), the team needs answers in the form of run-stuffing big men. Lewis may become the starter, but that still leaves an opening as his backup.
The only in-house candidate is practice squad signing J'Vonne Parker. It's possible that they may be the guys for the job, but Vital and Dimitroff are almost certain to bring in some new blood. I've mentioned it before, but it's worth repeating. For Smitty's defensive scheme to work here, we have to have the big men in place. We don't necessarily have to have a 350-pound Jabba The Lineman, but a pair of guys in the 320 ballpark would help the entire defense.
At the moment, when Grady is off the field we have nobody on the line that even tops 300. In run situations, the opposing offense can match up one on one on our linemen, leaving one offensive lineman plus a tight end and a lead blocker free to block the linebackers. That's a big part of why our safeties lead the team in tackles. It puts extra pressure on the safeties to make plays against the run, which leaves them vulnerable to play fakes. That in turn leaves the corners vulnerable. We've had a lot of big play passes against us where the young corners appeared to have been burned but were actually playing their double coverage assignments - expecting help from safeties who weren't there. It may seem odd, but a key to getting improved play from Brooking, Boley, Coleman, Grimes, Houston, and Chevis Jackson is to get the nose tackle resolved so that everybody else can focus on their own jobs rather than having to cover for our lack of size in the middle of the front line.
Linebacker: Boley, Lofton, Brooking, Nicholas, Wire, Gilbert, James. The only four bodies locked in for 2009 are Brooking, Lofton, Nicholas, and James. The team has not kept a linebacker on the practice squad at all this season. James returns from IR next season, but he's a prospect that hasn't played a single snap. He'll be the equivalent of a newly drafted player.
Suffice to say this unit will need extra depth even if Boley re-signs. Wire has played well and can also play safety in an emergency. Look for the team to try to retain him.
Secondary: Houston, Foxworth, Hutchins, Jackson, Grimes, Irons, Coleman, Milloy, Decoud, Harris, Fudge, Brock, Sharpe. This will be an interesting unit to watch. It is overloaded with bodies already, but there are still depth issues. Milloy and Foxworth are free agents while Fudge is a restricted free agent. Hutchins will return from IR, making the CB side very crowded. The wild card is Foxworth. He was acquired mainly as an insurance policy but has quickly developed into our best defender. If the team can re-sign him, the primary CB spots will be held by Houston, Foxworth, and Hutchins at the start of minicamp, with Jackson, Grimes and Irons competing to take those jobs away and also to hang on to what will probably be two roster spots. Someone will have to go even if the team doesn't pick up anyone new in free agency.
Safety will be the greater concern. The team drafted Decoud to groom as the heir apparent to Milloy, and they already released Daren Stone and Deke Cooper to save a roster spot for the third rounder. The whisper in the wind is that he probably won't be ready to step in as a starter next season. That makes it more likely the team will give Milloy an extension or bring in another safety, probably via free agency rather than the draft. And just like at cornerback, the wild card is Foxworth. The coaches may try to solve several problems at once by moving him to safety.
Specialists: Elam, Koenen, Schneck. Koenen will be a free agent. He is one of the more precise and reliable punters out there, and since he also kicks off, the team is very likely to re-sign him rather than try to replace him.