Posted on: October 19, 2009 2:30 pm
The Falcons come off an 11-5 season under their new coach and new GM, and they start the year with a scorching hot 6-2 record.
Yes, I know they've only played five games and are now 4-1. That was a flashback to 2005. The problem then was that injuries were building up throughout that early run. And by midseason, a whole lot of backups (and in some cases, backups to the backups) were getting a whole lot of playing time.
The result... the Falcons won only two games in the second half of the season and finished 8-8, missing the playoffs.
This year's initial roster had much better depth. But you can only go two or three deep at any position when you're limited to a 53-man total and a 45-man game day active roster. So regardless of how deep you are coming out of the gate, if you get multiple injuries at one position, it's a problem.
This year, the Falcons had their bye in week four. Atlanta is now two weeks into a stretch of thirteen straight games without a rest. And the injuries are starting to pile up.
It didn't get as much attention as when Brian Williams or Jerious Norwood went out, but Atlanta also lost backup safety William Moore... again. Moore left the game with another hamstring problem. It's turning into the same situation the team had with Laurent Robinson last year. Robinson played well in 2008 - for a grand total of five quarters at WR. But he missed a lot of preseason and early season action with an injury, then tweaked his hamstring, and then re-injured it the moment he returned to practice. Now it's happening with Moore. Hopefully the Falcons won't give up on their second round DB and give him away in a bad trade the way they did their third round WR.
The catch - Antoine Harris is still out with his knee injury, not practicing at all last week. So the Falcons don't have a healthy backup safety on the roster at all. And the main guy who would sub at safety in an emergency... Brian Williams. Uh oh.
The usual practice is for the team to wait until Wednesday to talk about the extent of injuries, since that's when the first official injury report of the week gets released. It also fits the team's regular schedule, since the injured players would normally spend most of the day with medical staff. Smitty wouldn't have the latest info until after he meets with the media. (That's by design - it's simple to deflect questions when you really don't have any info.) And Tuesday is the team's day off, so the Wednesday afternoon Q&A after practice is the first time the word gets out.
But this week may be treated a little differently since the trade deadline is tomorrow. The team's own front office absolutely HAS to know ASAP if Norwood and Williams will be out for the year or an extended time so that they can have a day to work the phones and make a deal if needed. And if Smitty has that info (or if Daryl Ledbetter or another writer thinks about it and manages to corner Dimitroff), the team is usually pretty good about at least summarizing it.
So there's a chance we'll hear something after this afternoon's press time - especially if it's really bad news.
Now for a little what-if...
(a) suppose Norwood's hip flexor thing is major and he's headed to IR. The option that would probably be the fan favorite is that Thomas Brown is still available. While Mughelli is out, that would leave the team with a four-back group similar to last year. Verron Haynes would be the principal fullback with Jason Snelling doing double-duty as backup RB and backup FB. Brown would take Norwood's spot as a backup RB.
(b) if Brian Williams is gone, the CB situation isn't that much of a problem. The team is already carrying six CBs on the roster anyway. We'd be back to Brent Grimes, Chris Houston, and Chevis Jackson as the main three. That's what the team was planning to do all along anyway. And if those three struggle, it's still only a matter of time before Tye Hill is ready for action. Domonique Foxworth became a starter in week eight last year.
The real question is what to do at safety without Williams being available. Moore is banged up. Harris is banged up. William Middleton cross-trained at safety, but he's now with the Jaguars. Lawyer Milloy is now with the Seahawks.
At this point, it might be for the best if Moore's hamstring problem is serious enough for the team to put him on the shelf for the year. It's clear he won't be playing in the secondary anytime soon. If he's healthy, he can work special teams. But considering he missed all but one week of training camp, all of preseason, has had only three weeks of full participation in practice, and is out from practice again for the forseeable future, it's hard to imagine the team would give him the responsibility of being the last line of defense in the backfield anytime in 2009.
If he's on the shelf (by that I mean if the team puts him on IR), that would free up the roster spot for someone else who really could play the defensive backfield if necessary.
The three names that come to mind right away are the three Falcons who didn't make the final roster cut. That's intentional - it's not that I'm playing favorites, but that if you need a guy who could step in immediately, the obvious choice is someone who spent all training camp and preseason in your system. The good news is that they're all available.
Jamaal Fudge also knows Smitty's defenses after playing for Smith and DB coach Alvin Reynolds in Jacksonville. And he was the guy Smitty turned to last year when Lawyer Milloy was too banged up to play the final regular season game. He'd be the most likely candidate.
Von Hutchins is still available too. He wasn't healthy enough for full duty in the secondary during preseason, but he was getting really close. He's had two more months to recover, while everyone else in the league has had two months of contact to get banged up. If he's now back to about 90%, that would put him roughly on par with everyone else. He'd be capable of being a backup. Keep in mind that half his career starts were at safety rather than CB, and that he got more playing time at safety in camp this year than at CB anyway. He's had the reps. He'd be a strong choice - if he's physically up to playing condition.
The other issue was that he signed a pretty big free agent contract here before the 2008 season. It would have been tough for the team to carry his base salary purely as a backup role - especially if he couldn't beat out Grimes or Jackson for the nickel corner job. But that's out of the way now. The team is free to re-sign him to a smaller contract that will fit within the salary cap.
And I said there were three ex-Falcons... the third is Eric Brock, the camp walk-on who made the practice squad and ended the season on the roster last year. Even if the team re-signed Fudge or Hutchins or made a trade for another safety, they should still consider bringing Brock back to the practice squad ASAP. They need the depth.
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 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.
Posted on: December 19, 2008 7:18 pm
This is another example of just how much the team's depth has improved over the last couple of seasons. When Matt Lehr was suspended a few years ago, the team signed a guy off the street (P.J. Alexander) and instantly started him because there were no game-worthy prospects in the organization. This season, three of our initial practice squad members have been promoted to our roster while three more have been signed to the rosters of other teams.
It's a bummer to lose Batiste, though. He was a solid prospect and would have been a likely candidate to make the roster next season. The team has replaced him on the practice squad by re-signing Michael Butterworth, the OT from Slippery Rock that we had signed for camp as an undrafted free agent. I'm not crazy about Butterworth's chances of making next year's team, but he would be a strong contender for the practice squad in 2009 and a shot at the roster in 2010.
We also added OG Nate Bennett to the practice squad last week, when Glenn Sharpe was promoted to the active roster. Bennett played for Clemson and spent about half the season on the practice squad of the Ravens. He's 6-4, 314. He doesn't have the experience of Batiste, but our coaches will at least get a few weeks to look him over and evaluate him as a potential prospect for next year.
Key note: practice squad players are all free agents at all times. Once they are signed/promoted, the new team holds their rights and can renew their contracts for camp the following season. So the odds are that we won't have a shot at getting Batiste or Brandon Miller back until their new teams make roster cuts next summer. But we protected our rights to Eric Brock, Glenn Sharpe, and Eric Weems by promoting them to the main roster as replacements for injured players.