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: September 2, 2009 2:31 am
Since we just acquired a CB from the team we played the week before, it seemed pretty obvious to double check and see how well the guy did against us.
Executive summary: he did well in pass coverage, but he couldn't tackle a running back to save his life.
If by chance you still have a copy of the video (you DO record and save every single Falcons game, right?) here are the plays to review:
13:00 remaining Q1, 2nd and 3 at Rams 27 - Michael Turner runs around the right side for a 9 yard gain and a first down. Hill lined up on the defensive left/offensive right side, covering Roddy White. He attempted to tackle Turner but missed. (A CB attempting to bring down MT seems almost unfair, so it's hard to blame him too much for that one.)
7:20 Q1, 1st and 10 at ATL 30 - Hill has coverage on Roddy. The ball was thrown past them out of bounds. It's possible that Matt Ryan saw the coverage and threw it over their heads intentionally. Regardless, Hill was on Roddy like a suit. That one had almost zero chance of being caught.
4:14 Q1, 2nd and 10 at Rams 25 - Hill lines up on Michael Jenkins. The Rams did a lot of zone coverage, and it appears that Hill was on the outside zone on this play. When Jenkins broke to the middle, Hill let him go. Chris Long was the defender in coverage on him when Jenkins caught the short pass. (Or at least it appeared that way - if that play was supposed to be man coverage, Hill should have stayed with him. But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. It wasn't his play.)
3:33 Q1, 1st and 10 at Rams 14 - Hill was the DB with the one-on-one coverage on Tony Gonzalez. TG gets the touchdown. Big surprise, huh? Hill was right there with Gonzalez, but the throw was positioned so that TG could fend him off. He did just that. Six points for Atlanta.
Trent Green said he loved to throw to TG in those situations, because NOBODY could beat Tony in single man coverage. The linebackers weren't quick/agile enough to keep up with him, and the DBs weren't big enough to avoid being screened out by him as Hill was on this play.
That was the ONLY pass that Atlanta completed against Hill. Ryan and Shockley only threw it his way twice, choosing to take on Bartell or Wade (the nickel corner) instead.
14:42 Q2 - 1st and 10 at ATL 9 - Hill misses a tackle on Norwood. I can understand bouncing off of Michael Turner. But if you get your hands on Norwood, you ought to be able to get him down. Or at least hang on until help arrives.
13:57 Q2 - 2nd and 15 at ATL 19 - D.J. Shockley throws a pass to Marty Booker. Booker botches the catch, tipping the ball into the air. The refs say that James Laurinaitis made the interception. (Note - he didn't. The ball hit the ground, and Road Warrior Junior secured it on the short hop. I have no idea why Smitty didn't throw the red flag.)
Hill was NOT the one in coverage on Booker. He had the outside zone. But he was running in towards the ball and had as good a shot at it as Laurinaitis, who collided with him while making the "catch".
8:19 Q2 - 1st and 10 at ATL 16 - Hill AGAIN misses a tackle on Norwood. This time Jerious put a pretty lame move on Hill and ran right past him. Hill didn't even attempt to make the hit.
And that was the last play where Hill had any significant involvement. Quick take: he was considered good enough by the Rams to start. He was good enough that the Falcons QBs went elsewhere on all but two throws, and he didn't allow separation on either of those.
So he had a nice game in coverage. Or at least he was better against us than our CBs were against the Rams, and far better than our guys were against the Chargers. Perhaps he really is an upgrade - as long as we're not counting on him to play run defense. That part of his game was ugly with a capital Ugh.
Posted on: August 26, 2009 12:04 am
Smitty referred to the Lions game as "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly". The second preseason game had more of the same.
The TV graphics and announcers all said that Todd McClure started but noted later that Brett Romberg had come in at center. Actually, Romberg was there from the beginning. The rest of the starting offensive lineup was the regular cast - Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo on the front line.
The Falcons completely owned the Rams for the first two offensive series. The first drive had a heavy dose of Michael Turner, who then took the rest of the game off. The second was heavy on passes and used a lot of no-huddle offense.
The second defensive series had Peria Jerry come in to replace Lewis.
3:22 remaining Q1, Rams ball, 1st and 10 at STL 17 (first play of the drive) - this one got attention because Brent Grimes dropped an interception. He jumped too soon when he should have backpedaled a little more (he didn't recognize the pass was a total duck) and couldn't hold on to it in the air. Other details of the play: the Falcons only rushed the front four. Both DEs were collapsing the pocket, but Babs and Jerry were both beaten by single blockers. Side note - the intended receiver was a former prospect of ours, TE Daniel Fells.
2:44 Q1, Rams ball, 3rd and 10 at STL 17 - Atlanta blitzes, but it isn't effective. The mechanics of the failed pass rush: Abraham drops back into coverage. Coy Wire and Chevis Jackson both rush the passer. The other linemen do a twist, with each moving to their right while Jackson and Wire rush on the left side. All three defensive linemen are beaten easily by single blockers. The twist leaves the RT free to block Wire, and the running back picks up Jackson.
1:25 Q1, Rams ball, 2nd and 10 at STL 36 - John Abraham does a stunt, faking outside but then swings to his left to rush from the inside of the line. Babineaux breaks off into short coverage. HE HAS CONTAIN RESPONSIBILITY. Grimes is in zone coverage, shadowing Laurent Robinson.
Kyle Boller has no one open, sees space to his left (since Abe was coming in the middle) and breaks from the pocket. Laurent Robinson sees him take off and runs to the middle to block Babineaux.
Let that sink in for a moment... the WR who didn't fit into Atlanta's plans because he wasn't physical enough and couldn't block took on the starting DT and took him completely out of the play.
Grimes initially continued shadowing Robinson (that was his responsibility - Boller could still pull up and throw the ball) but then ran after the QB. He couldn't prevent him from turning the corner, and Boller picked up the first down.
The announcers made Grimes look bad, saying he was the one who lost contain. Cut the kid some slack - it wasn't his responsibility.
14:56 Q2, Rams ball, 3rd and 10 at ATL 40. The Falcons got really lucky on this play, which SHOULD have gone for a Rams touchdown. It was a play designed to attack the cover two, and the Falcons had a mishap at the start.
The Rams were in a 3 WR set. The Falcons were in their cover two nickel package with Chevis Jackson on the slot receiver on the same side (defensive right side, offensive left side) as Grimes, who was lined up on (him again) Laurent Robinson. Chris Owens (starting in place of Chris Houston) was on the receiver on the opposite side.
I have no idea what Jackson was trying to do, but he initially broke inside as if trying to jump a slant route. His receiver ran right past him, and Jackson chased after him all the way down the middle of the field - from five yards behind him.
On the other side, Owens released his man (also running deep) to the safety in the deep zone (Thomas DeCoud). When Robinson entered the deep zone, Grimes started to release him as well. But the safety on his side (Erik Coleman) wasn't there. Instead, he had run to the middle of the field to pick up Jackson's man.
Both safeties ended up on the defensive left side of the left hash mark, with no safety at all on the right half of the field. That's not supposed to happen.
Grimes chased after Robinson, but there's no way he was going to catch up. Fortunately the ball was badly overthrown. At the end of the play, Grimes looked back at his teammates as if asking what the heck happened.
The end result was good, but file that one under "The Ugly".
Baldinger pointed out the obvious fact that Booker should have caught the ball, but what we didn't see on the Atlanta broadcast was that Laurinaitis might not have made the pick cleanly. The ball definitely touched the ground as he came down with it, and it's questionable whether he had full control until after it touched. One shot looked like he momentarily didn't have it.
The guys in the St. Louis production truck showed it repeatedly on their broadcast, but Trent Green was busy rambling on about what a ball hawk Laurinaitis is and didn't get the hint that the play might be challenged. The Atlanta broadcast only showed the replay from the overhead camera, so Falcons fans had no idea the play was so close.
I mention it for two reasons. First, this was the longest completion for any Falcons QB so far this preseason - and it was wiped out by a silly penalty. Second, the coaching staff evaluates the film, not the box score. Shockley has had a bunch of passes that haven't counted as completions. The stats look horrible, but the film is much better.
The defensive line for the series had Sid and Jamaal Anderson at DE with Peria Jerry and Trey Lewis in the middle. Jamaal drops into coverage while Curtis Lofton rushes. (It's not a blitz since there were still only four pass rushers. Atlanta is mixing things up a bit so that the offense won't know who's coming and who's in coverage.)
Trey Lewis draws a double team. (He did that for most of the night.) Sidbury stunts, coming inside of Lewis while Lofton rushes around the end. Lofton gets there first but misses the sack. The QB steps up into the pocket and right into Sid Vicious, who beat his inside blocker with that spin move of his. (If you're not familiar with it, look up Sidbury on YouTube.)
2:12 Q2, Rams ball, 2nd and 9 at ATL 28. Follow that one up with one Grimes would rather forget. He didn't have his assignment and was out of position, leaving Burton wide open for a short catch. And then he too failed to make the tackle, allowing Burton to run for the first down.
Hey, at least our DBs were being consistent...
14:20 Q3, Rams ball, 2nd and 11 at STL 15. There had to be a mixup on the coverage assignments on this one. TE Daniel Fells was absurdly wide open. (None of the regulars were on the field for this entire series - Wire, Gilbert and James were the LBs with Owens and Middleton at corner and Harris and Brock at safety.)
10:13 Q3, Falcons ball, 2nd and 8 at ATL 29. This was the sack/fumble.
Ben Hartsock was the TE on the right side. He went out for a short curl route. The Rams overloaded that side of the line, with two rushers coming free.
Shockley had to know he had to throw it to the hot receiver. The big question is WHO was supposed to be the hot read? If you check the replay, Shockley looked immediately to Jason Rader (TE on the left side) and started a throwing motion. But Rader didn't turn around in time. Shockley tucked it and instantly got hit and stripped.
(Hmmm.... could the "Tuck Rule" have applied here?)
9:30 Q3, Rams ball, 2nd and 8 at ATL 20. Brock Berlin hits the 20 yard TD pass. chris Owens actually had decent coverage, but he had no safety help. Eric Brock was up short (probably by design, playing run support) and not in position to help on the play.
Shockley drops back to pass and no one is open. He sees daylight in the middle - and for the first time this preseason, he decides to run for it.
Unfortunately, he's playing behind the backup offensive line. The DT (Scott) sheds his block and tackles Shockley just as he hits the hole.
It didn't work out, but it was a pretty good decision. The opportunity was there, and it was safer than risking an interception.
This one is Fudge's play he'd like to forget. He's beaten by Bajema for a short completion and then can't make the tackle, allowing Bajema to run for the first down and keep the drive alive. (Hmmm... sound familiar? Same play, different corner, cheap movie...) William Middleton comes over to make the tackle, but only after a 16 yard gain on 3rd and 15.
14:55 Q4, Falcons ball, 3rd and 8 at ATL 25. John Parker Wilson is now in at QB. His first pass was off target, overthrowing Chandler Williams. This one was slightly behind Eric Weems, but close enough for Weems to make the play. Weems got his hands on it but couldn't catch it, instead tipping it up for it to become an interception. Maybe these things don't ONLY happen to D.J. Shockley...
Zinger has only played TE with the mop-up unit, but keep him in mind as a contender for the #3 TE spot. He has done well with what little opportunity he's had on offense, and more importantly he plays on every single special teams unit (including forming the wedge with Brett Romberg on kickoff returns).
5:34 Q4, Falcons ball, 1st and 10 at STL 32. Jason Snelling breaks off a 23 yard run to take it inside the 10.
The four Rams RBs had a grand total of 60 yards rushing for the whole game. Snelling had 61 all by himself.
Give due credit all around - Atlanta's defensive line and linebackers got it done on run defense. Oh, and we have some pretty darn good running backs of our own. Snelling's a beast, and he's competing to be the freaking THIRD STRING running back.
For those of us old enough to remember the days of Haskel Stanback and Bubba Bean, that's enough to give us goosebumps.
1:54 Q4, Rams ball, 1st and 10 at ATL 38. This is the one exception to the excellent run defense. 4th string RB Kenneth Darby (a fine prospect who was plucked off of Atlanta's practice squad last season) charged straight up the middle for 21 yards.
The Rams were in a 3-WR formation, with the Falcons playing their nickel package. It was EXACTLY the same situation as last year, when Grady Jackson would leave the field on nickel situations and teams could plow right through the middle.
Here's the breakdown of the play:
DT Tywain Myles (who wasn't expected to play in this game) lined up on the left guard. Vance Walker lined up just outside the right guard. The defensive ends (Sidbury and Willie Evans) lined up on the TE and outside the left tackle.
At the snap, the right guard let Walker get penetration on the OUTSIDE (away from the play) and moved downfield to block one linebacker (Tony Gilbert). The left tackle and tight end blocked the defensive ends, with the idea of allowing them around the outsides (again, away from the play) but protecting the inside. The right tackle was free to move downfield and block the other linebacker (Robert James).
The center blocked to his left, completely bulldozing Tywain Myles. The left guard pulled and sealed off the right side, preventing Walker from getting back into the play before the runner got through the line.
With the WRs either blocking or running the CBs away from the play and both LBs blocked by offensive linemen, the first guys with a shot at Darby were the two safeties (Von Hutchins and Eric Brock) - who were both lined up in deep zones for pass protection against the 3-WR set. They both made the play at first contact, but that was 21 yards downfield.
What they didn't mention was the call by Brian VanGorder. He sent seven rushers after the QB.
Yep... with the game on the line, the Rams in a spread formation (3 WRs plus TE split off on the right side) and his mop-up defense on the field, VanGorder dialed up the Gritz Blitz. WOW...
It would otherwise seem insane to leave Jamaal Fudge, Glenn Sharpe, Tony Tiller and Eric Brock all in one-on-one matchups in the red zone. Von Hutchins, the only experienced DB on the field, was one of the blitzers. (I'm sure VanGorder did that on purpose, just to throw the kids into the deep end of the pool.) But considering the opponent was a fourth string rookie QB, it wasn't a bad idea.
The QB (Keith Null, from West Texas A&M) got spooked and threw a bad pass for the pick. Two receivers had separation (Fudge was well behind his man on a short crossing route), but Null threw the ball straight to Eric Brock. Game over.
Tags: Atlanta, Brent Grimes, Brett Romberg, Chauncey Davis, Chevis Jackson, Chris Owens, D.J. Shockley, Daniel Fells, Eric Brock, Falcons, Jamaal Fudge, James Laurinaitis, Jason Snelling, Jonathan Babineaux, Keith Null, Keith Zinger, Kenneth Darby, Laurent Robinson, Lawrence Sidbury, Marty Booker, Rams, Trey Lewis, Von Hutchins
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.
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: April 18, 2009 4:35 pm
Of course, everyone who sits on the hillside to watch the team during minicamp will be there to see the newly drafted players, new free agent Mike Peterson, and of course Matt Ryan and Michael Turner.
But like last year, there will be a lot of good stories unfolding with a whole lot of other players on the roster. The Falcons are one of the youngest teams in the league, and the 11-5 record last season is strong evidence that they're stepping up and breaking through.
Jamaal Fudge and Antoine Harris are also noteworthy as his incumbent competition, but right now Decoud is the one to watch most closely.
2) Trey Lewis. He was a diamond in the rough in the 2007 draft, coming from Washburn (ever heard of it?) in the sixth round. He won the starting NT job from Grady Jackson, which led to Petrino's controversial release of our beloved Jabba The Nose Tackle. And then he became one of four players to suffer season-ending injuries in week ten, ultimately missing the entire 2008 season as well.
Other than through game film, our coaching staff hasn't had a chance to evaluate him yet. If he makes the grade, he will be a huge part of our defense. (Even if we draft a new starting nose tackle, Lewis will be part of the rotation - and possibly at both the nose tackle and under tackle positions.)
3) D.J. Shockley. At this time last season, Shockley was still rehabbing from the serious knee injury that erased his 2007 season. But he was still able to work his way back and put up gutsy preseason performances to beat out Joey Harrington for the #3 QB position.
This season, he'll be focusing on football instead of physical rehab. Take note: he'll be competing to take the #2 spot away from Chris Redman, and he'll have a serious shot at doing it.
4) Stephen Nicholas. Nicholas was all set to replace Demorrio Williams as the starting weak side linebacker. But then the Falcons drafted Curtis Lofton in the second round last year. And when Lofton showed he was ready for part time duty as the starting middle linebacker, the coaching staff moved Keith Brooking to the weak side ahead of Nicholas.
The interesting aspect of the competition for starting linebacker jobs is that Nicholas will indirectly compete with Coy Wire. Mike Peterson will take one of the outside starting postions. Which one he plays depends on Nicholas and Wire.
If Nicholas shows he's ready to step up, he'll take the WLB spot and Peterson will play at SLB.
5) Von Hutchins. He was intended to be our experienced corner, bringing stability to that unit last season. But he suffered a broken foot in a freak accident on the first day of training camp and was lost for the season. The team tried Blue Adams but ultimately traded for Domonique Foxworth instead.
Foxworth has moved on to big bucks in free agency, but Hutchins will be back to reclaim the position that was to be his in 2008.
Many fans have expressed a lack of confidence, listing CB as their top desires for the draft. But Hutchins will be the most experienced corner on our roster and figures to hold down one of the three main corner spots.
6) Quinn Ojinnaka. Todd Weiner's retirement was a bit of a surprise, but it may not be a catastrophe. While Weiner was one of the better pass blockers in the league, his ongoing rehabilitation from his 2007 surgery left him as the #3 tackle instead of a starter. Replacing him simply means someone else will have to step up to the #3 OT spot.
Ojinnaka was being groomed by Jim Mora as the team's future right tackle. He played well as the starting left tackle at the end of the 2007 season and as the #4 tackle throughout 2008. He'll be competing with incoming free agent Will Svitek for that #3 tackle spot.
The twist is that Ojinnaka is versatile and can play any position along the line if needed. If Svitek impresses the coaches in camp, Ojinnaka might end up as the primary backup at guard.
7) Renardo Foster. He's another major wild card that the coaches will evaluate for the first time this spring. Smitty saw him first hand in one game in 2007, as Foster's NFL debut came against the Jaguars. (Foster replaced struggling Wayne Gandy in the second half, and the team immediately had success running to the left side behind Foster.)
But he hasn't suited up in a year and a half, and his roster spot was essentially handed to him by his former college coach. We've seen that he has potential, but we don't know if he'll be able to win a roster spot against the serious competition he'll face in camp this summer.
Something to keep in mind: he should be eligible for the practice squad if he doesn't make the roster.
8) Eric Brock. If you like the "out of nowhere" guys (Tommy Jackson, Tony Taylor, Harvey Dahl, Brent Grimes, etc), Brock is someone to watch closely. The Auburn defensive back wasn't drafted at all in 2008. He wasn't even signed by any team as an undrafted free agent.
Instead, the Falcons invited him to minicamp last May as one of eight participants who were just hoping to win an invitation to training camp. Brock passed the audition and was signed for camp - with no one expecting him to make it to September.
But he played well enough to win a practice squad job, and he continued to impress the coaches throughout the season. When Antoine Harris was banged up at the end of the year, Brock was promoted to the main roster.
He already figures to be #5 on the depth chart at safety (behind Erik Coleman, Decoud, Fudge, and Harris) even before the draft. But he's already proven that we should never count him out. He'll have a chance at taking a backup job away from one of the others.
9) Robert James. He was nicknamed "The Beast" in college and was a monster of a tackler. The Falcons drafted him in the early fifth round last year. Unfortunately, he suffered a major concussion, and the doctors would not clear him to participate in preseason. The team instantly put him on the shelf for the year.
The question now is whether he'll be the same after the concussion as the tackling machine he was in college. If so, he's a fine young prospect to develop for the future, and the team will be fairly well set in the linebacking corps.
10) David Irons. He's another one of the Petrino draft choices, which might make him an endangered species. From that draft class, fellow sixth rounders Doug Datish and Daren Stone are already gone, as are fourth rounder Martrez Milner and now third rounder Laurent Robinson, plus undrafted prospects Tony Taylor and Kurt Quarterman.
Irons has been a special teams demon for Atlanta, but he has yet to appear in real game action in the secondary. The return of Von Hutchins potentially drops him to #5 on the CB depth chart. This could be a make or break training camp for him.