Posted on: November 13, 2008 10:07 pm

A Kicker Faces His Former Team...

The media has already jumped on the story of Jason Elam and Domonique Foxworth facing their former teams.  (Tyson Clabo also started his career with the Broncos, signing with them as an undrafted free agent in 2004. Jamaal Fudge is likely to remain on the inactive list, but he's also a former Bronco.)

But the best story of a player coming back to face a former team goes the other direction... A Falcons staffer told me in preseason that our Birds would probably have won four more games last season if we only had a kicker.  I always get a chuckle out of that idea, because we actually had several of them. 

First we had Aaron Elling, but we cut him in camp to go with Billy Cundiff.  Cundiff kicked extremely well in camp and was rock solid in the first three preseason games. Then, in the final week of preseason, Matt Prater became available.  Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg had been watching the kid for a while and liked what he saw, and he had GM Rich McKay invite the young kicker in for a workout with the coaching staff.

Petrino never even had him practice with the team.  He didn't even watch a complete workout.  He simply had McKay sign the young kicker, had Prater kick the final exhibition game (when he had the entire first unit take the night off), and unexpectedly cut Cundiff the next morning in favor of the kid with the tribal armband tattoos on BOTH arms. 

Falcon fans remember the rest of the story, though hardly any can even remember the kid's name.  Prater was working through a brief period with some mechanical issues.  He had pulled one of his three kicks in that final exhibition game.  He also pulled one of his two attempts in the first regular season game against the Vikings - but hardly anyone cared, as the game wasn't particularly close, and the Falcons had many other problems to occupy everyone's minds.

But in the second game, against Smitty and the Jags no less, he shanked both of his attempts.  Both were from short to middle range, and the Falcons ended up losing the game by... six points.   The ever-so-patient hog caller released him immediately, and by that Wednesday Atlanta had once again dragged Morten Andersen back into action.

Meanwhile, the Broncos had a tendency of carrying a second kicker strictly for kickoffs in order to save Jason Elam's leg.  (This was what I had hoped the Falcons would have done with Cundiff and Prater.)   In midseason, they picked up Prater as their second kicker. 

He worked out the mechanical problem he had during his whopping 17-day Falcon career and became their full time kicker after Elam's departure.  Today, many Bronco fans claim he's better than Elam.

Mike Shanahan was asked if he's looking forward to seeing Jason Elam again.  Shanahan joked of course not - he's kicking against us.   I feel the same way about Prater.  Rosburg was right.  The kid has astounding potential, and Petrino cast him aside after just one bad game.  

I'm glad things worked out well for him, and I'm looking forward to seeing him in action again.  Considering that Petrino did more damage to Atlanta than General Sherman, Prater was probably lucky to have been set free so early.   He missed the misery of the next 12 weeks that followed here in Atlanta (which many of the players compared to a form of purgatory - except worse), and he landed on his feet in a great situation for a young kicker.

Unfortunately for us, the kid has a cannon of a leg.   If the Broncos choose to have him kick deep, expect to see the Falcons starting at the 20-yard line after any Denver kickoff.   And if anyone in the league right now is capable of kicking a game-winning 60+ yard field goal, my money would be on Prater as the guy most likely to do it.  



Posted on: November 13, 2008 12:50 am
Edited on: November 13, 2008 1:02 am

Early notes for the Broncos game

The Falcons will still be without Sam Baker, who will almost certainly be out for at least the next three games.   Kindal Moorehead, who sustained a foot injury against New Orleans, missed practice Wednesday.  He'll be the main player to watch out for in Friday's injury report.   The other noteworthy casualty from the Saints game was John Abraham.  He was only partially active in practice on Wednesday.   Jason Elam missed the practice session, resting his hip, but at this point isn't considered a cause for concern.   The other banged up Birds (Grady, Grimes, Weiner) participated but were kept out of full contact drills.  None of them are expected to miss the game.

All in all, the Falcons are in great overall health.  The way the coaching staff limited their contact during two-a-days in training camp caused some raised eyebrows, but it seems to have worked very well.  In each of the previous three seasons, the Falcons had so many casualties by this point that they were scrambling just to find enough bodies to throw out on the field.  This year, Atlanta hasn't lost a single player to IR since the final preseason game, when RB Thomas Brown was taken down by an illegal horse collar tackle.   Luck has been a part of it, but improved conditioning is the main factor.  Big time kudos to strength and conditioning coaches Jeff Fish, Bill Hughan, and the staff of trainers and medics. 

By comparison, Denver will be playing with ten days rest after their Thursday win over Cleveland last week.  But even though they'll be well rested, the Broncos will come to the Dome without several key players.  Two of their starting linebackers, Nate Webster and D.J. Williams, have already been announced as unavailable due to knee injuries.  Starting safety Marlon McCree will also miss the game with an ankle injury.  Champ Bailey hasn't officially been ruled out yet, but as of Wednesday he still isn't practicing.  He hasn't played since September 14.

The Bronco problems at running back have already been widely reported.  Three RBs are already on IR.  Selvin Young is still battling a groin injury and is expected to miss the game.  That leaves fullback Peyton Hillis as their primary runner, with P.J. Pope (promoted from the practice squad last week) as the #2 runner, and Tatum Bell (re-signed this week - keep an eye on your luggage) as the #3.

Fans on the Falcon message board have likely noted that I've made a theme of stressing how the Falcon defensive line has simply been outsized at times.  That was most obvious in the Eagles game.  When Grady was off the field, any randomly selected Philly offensive lineman had at least a 30 pound advantage on any randomly selected Atlanta defender.  Some of the video was painful to watch, as our guys were simply crushed up front.   Life against the Saints was a little easier since New Orleans played without starting center Jonathan Goodwin.  His replacement was our old pal Matt Lehr, who currently lists at 290 pounds.  When he was here, Lehr couldn't overpower anyone even while he was on the steroids...

This week, we'll face the line that made the cut-based zone blocking scheme famous.  If our linemen can survive the cut blocks, they shouldn't be overpowered.  Rookie left tackle Ryan Clady lists at 325 pounds, but he's by far the largest of the bunch.  The rest of the starting line is Hamilton (290), Wiegmann (285), Kuper (302), and Harris (300). 

One item to watch will be how frequently Abraham lines up against Clady vs how frequently he lines up on Harris.  Once it's clear which one gives Abraham the greatest advantage, the team will line him up most frequently at that spot, leaving Jamaal as the sacrificial lamb against the better Bronco pass blocking OT.

The middle of the line will also be noteworthy.  Grady will almost certainly be double teamed every play that he is on the field. He might be able to power his way between the defenders a few times.  If Grady lines up on Wiegmann and Kuper, that will leave Babineaux one on one against Hamilton.  They are roughly equal size, with Babs listing at 284 to Hamilton's 290.  It could be an interesting matchup.  Babs is having a great season as a full time starter, and this will be his first game against undersized starting guards. 

But keep in mind that the basic premise of Smith and VanGorder's defense is for the defensive tackles to force double teams whenever possible, giving the linebackers free access to the backfield.  If Babs (or Jamaal, moving to the middle) plays effectively, it will be the LBs that look good in the box scores.


Posted on: November 10, 2008 6:01 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2008 9:32 pm

New Falcon #1 CB - and it isn't DeAngelo...

Shortly after the combine, DeAngelo Hall demanded a trade.  The Falcons consented.  And right after his new team played against these very Falcons, Hall found himself unemployed.  He didn't want to be a Falcon to start the season, and it turned out that the Falcons didn't want him back to finish the season.

We rip MeAngelo to shreds on a regular basis on the Falcon message board, but I do have to give him due credit.  Going into that Oakland-Atlanta game, he had 3 interceptions (all of the Atlanta cornerbacks combined had only two) and was second in the league in passes defended.

In the meantime, Brent Grimes moved up from the practice squad and has played pretty well.  Chris Houston is developing nicely.  Chevis Jackson is still making rookie mistakes, but he's progressing well too.  But the real treasure came out of a week 1 trade with Denver.  It's our new top cornerback, Domonique Foxworth.

With 18 starts and 46 games played in the prior three seasons, Foxworth is by far the most experienced cornerback on Atlanta's active roster. Chris Houston started 11 games as a rookie last season, while Grimes appeared in (but did not start) the last two games of 2007 after interim coach Emmitt Thomas called him up from the practice squad.  David Irons played special teams last season, and Chevis Jackson is a rookie this season.

Foxworth was strictly a backup and saw very little action until the bye week, as the coaches waited until he could learn the defense before they threw him in.  But he's now listed on the team's depth chart as the starting left cornerback, ahead of Brent Grimes. Grimes hurt his knee late in the game against Chicago. Foxworth has started the three games since then.

In his first three starts as a Falcon, Foxworth has notched 5 passes defensed and has allowed very few completions, becoming Atlanta's most dependable defensive back.   

He is a free agent after this season. Under the terms of the trade, the Falcons would have to send their sixth round draft pick to Denver if they re-sign him.   There are also reports that the seventh round pick Atlanta traded to acquire him is a conditional pick that could escalate based on playing time.

It should also be noted that Foxworth can play safety.   The team should get Von Hutchins back from IR next season.  If they can retain Foxworth, the what-ifs for next season's secondary will be really interesting...

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