Tag:Eric Weems
Posted on: August 22, 2010 4:15 pm
 

Ten players to watch - end of camp update

Most fans attend practices and watch preseason games to see the first units and the top draft picks.  But the real stories of camp are deeper down the roster.  There are 80 players in every training camp vying for only 53 roster spots. 

For the last three seasons, I've presented a top ten list of key players involved in these competitions.  Some are established players in jeopardy of losing their jobs if they don't come through.  Others are prospects on the rise or lesser known players that have an opportunity to step up and make more significant contributions.

This morning's special teams practice session marked the official end of training camp for the Falcons.  Here's an update on how this year's list of players to watch has fared:



1.  Trey Lewis

Reason he made the list:  the Falcons have six DTs (not even counting Jamaal Anderson) and probably just four roster spots for the big men to fill.  Of the three fringe players competing for the last spot, Lewis is the top story. 

End of camp update:  he's looking much better than he did in 2009, with Smitty noting that his play was one of the few bright spots in Thursday's otherwise dismal showing against the Patriots

He's still in jeopardy, but his current level of play, versatility (can play either DT spot - acted as a sub at UT for Rod Coleman in 2007) and size (listed as our largest defensive player at 316 pounds) will make it tough for Smitty to send the Turk his way.



2.  Steven Hauschka

Reason he made the list:  of the three kickers (including Michael Koenen) Atlanta had in camp, Hauschka was the primary unknown factor.  The team already knows what Matt Bryant and Koenen can/can't do, making Hauschka the wild card in the contest and the most important one to watch.

End of camp update:  the media reports say that Matt Bryant won the kicking battle.  A more accurate description would be that Hauschka lost it.  He was the younger candidate with the theoretically stronger leg.  But his longer field goal attempt against the Chiefs came up short, and his kickoffs lacked depth and weren't particularly strong for hang time.

Never mind that he couldn't outdo the struggling Bryant on field goals.  When it became clear he wasn't going to beat out Koenen for kickoffs, that sealed his fate.  The Falcons would still make a move to bring in another kicker if Bryant gets the yips like Jason Elam last year. But at least for now, Hauschka isn't it.



3.  Kerry Meier

Reason he made the list:  the top three WRs were essentially set in stone (Roddy White and Michael Jenkins as the starters, with Harry Douglas in the slot as the #3) even before camp, but the Falcons need to improve their depth at the position.  The fifth rounder from Kansas was the top candidate for the fourth WR spot.

End of camp update:  he had an outstanding camp, but he hurt his knee on a special teams play late in the Patriots game.  Like Douglas last year, he's out for the season.



4.  Lawrence Sidbury

Reason he made the list:  the Falcons didn't draft a DE or sign one in free agency.  They're putting all their chips on Kroy Biermann as a second threat along with John Abraham and Sidbury to step up as a third potent pass rushing end.

End of camp update:  so far, so good.  What El Sid needs most is experience, as he only played a bit over 100 total snaps last season.  He'll have far more snaps than that in preseason (he's on the field more than any other d-lineman), and so far he's doing pretty well.



5.  Keith Zinger

Reason he made the list:  he was the team's most improved offensive player in camp last summer, and if he stepped up again this year, he'd nail down a backup spot (forcing the prospects to start on the practice squad) and potentially even challenge for the #2 spot.

End of camp update:  so far, he has been nearly invisible.  He's watching Michael Palmer stand out this year exactly the way Zinger stood out last season, when he moved from #5 on the depth chart to win the #3 spot - beating out one of Dimitroff's top free agent signings (Ben Hartsock, signed to replace Alge Crumpler) in the process.

The battle isn't over yet, but Zinger has opened the door for Palmer to take the third TE job.



6.  William Moore

Reason he made the list:  it's the second season for the second rounder, and the public had yet to see him in action in camp or preseason.  He even missed minicamp after overworking his shoulder in the weight room.

End of camp update:  I expressed doubts earlier about all the media speculation that he'd challenge Erik Coleman for the starting job. His 2009 season was a lost cause, and he just didn't have the reps to trust him on the last line of defense. 

And he still doesn't -  we've finally been able to watch him in a few practices, but he missed minicamp (overworked his shoulder in the weight room) and has missed time during camp plus both preseason games so far this year.  He still hasn't faced NFL competition - in real games, exhibition games or even combined practices. 

The coming exhibition against the Dolphins will be his first time on the field for the Falcons.  He's still a talented prospect, but he's still a long way from being ready for action in the secondary when it counts.



7.  Quinn Ojinnaka

Reason he made the list:  the Falcons have a whole lot of talented linemen competing for what appears to be one opening on the roster.  Ojinnaka is the most intriguing story among them.

End of camp update:  he's getting time at multiple positions along the line, including left tackle.  The Falcons are definitely testing out his versatility.  The Mighty Quinn is very much in the hunt for that ninth backup line spot.



8.  Dimitri Nance

Reason he made the list:  all three candidates for the #5 RB/FB spot are interesting "stories", but Nance is the most intriguing as a potential Jason Snelling type hybrid RB/FB.

End of camp update:  not bad so far.  He has shown good ability in the power running game plus receiving ability out of the backfield.  If he can demonstrate some blocking skills, he's likely to be the guy.  One catch:  due to the Michael Jenkins injury and situations at other positions, the team may start out the season with just four runners.  Even if he wins the job, he could be starting the season on the practice squad.



9.  Eric Weems

Reason he made the list:  drafting Meier and Dominique Franks put Weems in jeopardy of losing both of his roles on the team.  He entered camp knowing he didn't have a secure roster spot and would have to step up to win a place on the team.

End of camp update:  the injury to Meier means that unless the team brings in new blood, Weems and Brian Finneran simply have to hold off Troy Bergeron, Andy Strickland, and the three undrafted rookies to win the #4 and #5 spots.  He's also the top KR/PR from camp.  His chances of holding his spot are much better now than they were a month ago.



10.  Brian Williams

Reason he made the list:  if he can make a successful return from injury, he spices up the competition for the DB positions considerably. 

End of camp update:  he hasn't appeared in preseason yet, but we did get to see him practice, with his first full participation coming in the joint sessions with New England on the final open day of camp.  He's slated to appear in these next two exhibitions.  I'm still particularly interested to see whether the coaching staff gives him playing time at safety. 

Key question: whether he'll be healthy enough after the Jaguars exhibition to keep on the roster.  The team had similar hopes for Von Hutchins last season, but Hutchins ended up being an injury settlement case when he wasn't ready to go at the end of preseason.  Williams is only now getting his first full contact this week.




Posted on: August 13, 2010 4:08 pm
 

mock roster, pre-exhibition edition

The Falcons released their first depth chart this week, heading into the first preseason game tonight against the Chiefs.  The first one never means much, as much of it is typically based largely on the prior season.

As an example, Garrett Reynolds is listed as a backup at right tackle while Jose Valdez is listed as a backup at right guard.  That's how they practiced last season (with Valdez on the practice squad).  But in camp, Reynolds has slid inside to guard while Valdez has played outside. 



But I digress...  here's the pre-exhibition version of the mock 53-man opening day roster and practice squad:



Quarterback:  Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, John Parker Wilson

Running back:  Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Jason Snelling

Fullback:  Ovie Mughelli, Dan Klecko

Tight End:  Tony Gonzalez, Justin Peelle, Keith Zinger

Wide Receiver:  Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas, Kerry Meier, Brian Finneran

Offensive line, starters:  Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Harvey Dahl, Tyson Clabo

Offensive line, backups:  Will Svitek, Mike Johnson, Garrett Reynolds, Joe Hawley (Quinn Ojinnaka = suspended)

Defensive end:  John Abraham, Jamaal Anderson, Kroy Biermann, Lawrence Sidbury, Chauncey Davis

Defensive tackle:  Peria Jerry, Corey Peters, Trey Lewis, Thomas Johnson (Jonathan Babineaux = suspended)

Linebacker:  Mike Peterson, Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nicholas, Sean Weatherspoon, Coy Wire, Spencer Adkins (Robert James = suspended)

Cornerback:  Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes, Chris Owens, Chevis Jackson, Dominique Franks

Safety:  Erik Coleman, Thomas DeCoud, William Moore, Brian Williams, Shann Schillinger

Specialists:  Matt Bryant, Michael Koenen, Joe Zelenka


Practice squad:  RB Dimitri Nance, WR Brandyn Harvey, TE Michael Palmer, OL Jose Valdez, DE Emmanuel Stephens, DT Vance Walker, LB Bear Woods, S Rafael Bush



Notes on the three suspended players: 

After the game against the Steelers, the coaching staff will evaluate the film and make the decision:  either Trey Lewis or Thomas Johnson will have to go.

For this list, Quinn Ojinnaka isn't making the roster anyway.  But the team will wait the extra week while he is suspended (he won't count towards the roster) before making the move.  Odds are that another team will pick him up off of waivers, so they'd rather wait in case someone gets hurt rather than lose him prematurely.

Robert James is out four weeks.  At the moment, he wouldn't make the roster anyway - but that could easily change if he plays well in the four exhibition games.  He's locked in a battle for the #6 LB spot with Spencer Adkins.

Adkins has blazing speed, but can he really play linebacker?  He's improving in practice, but so is James. It will be a close call between them, and the team will wait the full four weeks to see how Adkins progresses before making the final decision.



Unusual inclusions: 

Brian Finneran is listed as making the initial roster because Michael Jenkins is likely to be unavailable for the opener.  But otherwise, Finn is in that Old Yeller stage.  We love him, but he's old, slow, and injury prone.  Sooner or later it will be time for Smitty to put him down.  It's only a question of when. 

At that point, add one of the prospects to the roster, with at least one more on the practice squad.



The media speculation is that Brian Williams is a strong contender for the starting CB spot.  I have my doubts about that.  The guy hasn't even been cleared for contact in practice yet.  It's a tall order to expect him to beat out Grimes, Owens, Jackson and Franks in just four weeks.  He may not be ready to play at all - Von Hutchins was farther along at this point last season but ended up being released with an injury settlement.

For now, I'll go along with Smitty's reassurances that he'll be ready to go in September.  But I'm putting him in as a safety rather than the overcrowded CB position. 



Chauncey Davis is still on the list, but he's on the hot seat.  In terms of playing time, Biermann passed him last season and Sidbury is likely to do it this season.  Davis has a very high salary for a #5 DE, which makes him expendable.

Emmanuel Stephens has come on strong in camp and will try his best to take that spot away from Davis.  If Davis continues to underachieve and Stephens cranks it up, it just might happen. 

But for now, Davis gets the benefit of the doubt. For his efforts, Stephens makes the practice squad list.




Noteworthy cuts:

Eric Weems faces competition at WR and also at PR/KR.  But Jerious Norwood, Dominique Franks, and others can also handle the return jobs, so Weems will have to win his roster spot purely on his skills at WR.  He may be the odd man out before opening day.


Brett Romberg is one of Boudreau's guys.  But his primary position is center.  McClure is still the starter, and the Falcons just drafted Hawley as the center of the future.  Romberg can also play guard, but so can Mike Johnson, Garrett Reynolds, Hawley, and practice squad prospect Jose Valdez.  In four weeks the music stops, and Romberg doesn't have a chair.


Quinn Ojinnaka is a holdover from the Jim Mora days.  He's still around because of his versatility, but it should be noted that he wasn't brought here specifically because he fit Smitty/Mularkey/Boudreau's prototype for a lineman. 

The team needs a reliable backup at left tackle.  Last season, Svitek was Boudreau's choice as the #2 ahead of Ojinnaka.  So at least for now, pencil in Svitek as the guy.  Ojinnaka will have to step up and win the job.  Otherwise, as of the Tuesday following the Steelers game, you'll not see nothing of The Mighty Quinn.



Jose Valdez is still practice squad eligible.  He's coming on strong, but the team has no vested interests at risk here (meaning no draft pick involved - if they lose him, all they've lost is an undrafted practice squad prospect).  So they'll likely try to stash him back on the squad for another season, calling him up if someone gets hurt.

Vance Walker is also practice squad eligible.  He's not likely to last the season without being plucked by another team.  For that matter, he might not even clear waivers for the Falcons to put him on the squad in the first place.  But they'll try.

Robert James is still eligible for the squad as well, but he's suspended for the first four weeks.  If he and Adkins both do well in preseason, look for Adkins to win the roster spot with James being added to the practice squad in week five.

Matt Giordano was a strong contender to replace Antoine Harris, Charlie Peprah and Jamaal Fudge as a special teams oriented backup safety.  But drafting Shann Schillinger turns up the heat on Giordano.  And if Brian Williams does get added to the mix at safety, it's no contest.  Who would you rather keep as your # 4 -  a veteran who has never made it playing in the secondary and has only been a special teamer for his entire career, or a veteran who can start at either cornerback or safety if needed?  Giordano loses out to both Schillinger and Williams.




Posted on: July 28, 2010 5:56 pm
 

Ten Players To Watch In Camp, 2010 Edition

Players report tomorrow, and practices start Friday morning. So once again, it's time to list....

Ten Players To Watch In Camp

Most fans will sit on the hillside to watch stars like Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez, Michael Turner and Roddy White, or to get a first look at prize free agent Dunta Robinson or first round draft pick Sean Weatherspoon

But the real stories of camp are deeper into the roster.  Here are a few, in no particular order:


1. Trey Lewis -  The big man did get back onto the field last season, but he didn't have the explosiveness that he had before his injury.  This season he'll be looking to get back into top form, hoping to save his job. 

And the team could use him - the potential suspension of Jonathan Babineaux will likely press rookie Corey Peters into a starting role, so the #4 DT will begin the season as the third man in rotation.  Lewis is capable of playing both DT positions and also opens up the possibility of mixing in a 3-4 package.  If he can step up and regain his form, he'll answer a lot of questions for the coaches.  If not, he won't make the roster at all.


2. Steven Hauschka -  Obviously no Falcons fan would want to see a repeat of last year's kicking woes.  The team replaced the struggling Jason Elam with Matt Bryant, then added Steven Hauschka as a late insurance policy.  With undrafted rookie Garrett Lindholm already out of the picture, Hauschka and Bryant will battle it out for the kicking job.

Bryant is frighteningly accurate from short range, but unreliable from beyond 40 yards.  Hauschka has a strong leg but is still young and inexperienced, and he went through a bad stretch that cost him his job with the Ravens last season.  Of the two, Hauschka is the one to watch.  The team already knows exactly what Bryant can (and more importantly, can't) do.  So the decision is really riding on Hauschka's performance in camp and preseason.


3. Kerry Meier -  Last season the Falcons gave away Laurent Robinson and failed to sign or draft a replacement (including passing up Johnny Knox to draft William Middleton instead).  It came back to bite them when Harry Douglas suffered a season-ending knee injury in front of over 1200 fans during a practice session last summer.  Veteran free agent Marty Booker had nothing left in the tank, and free agent Robert Ferguson plus a handful of undrafted free agents failed even to make the roster.

The team hopes this year's crop will add more depth, starting with compensatory fifth round draft pick Meier.  If he can learn the offense quickly, he'll be a fourth productive receiver along with Douglas, Roddy White, and Michael Jenkins, giving the WR corps the extra depth it lacked last year.  That would leave Brian Finneran, Eric Weems, Troy Bergeron and another trio of undrafted rookies to battle for the #5 spot and a potential #6 spot.



4. Lawrence Sidbury -  The glaring hole in this year's draft class is that the Falcons didn't select a defensive end (or even sign Brandon Lang as an undrafted prospect).  The coaching staff is putting its chips on Sidbury and Kroy Biermann joining John Abraham as the team's outside pass rush.  Biermann has already shown he's up to it, but Sidbury is still an unknown.

This is a question mark area that the coaching staff will watch closely.  Jamaal Anderson has bulked up to move inside and will mainly be at DE for run defense.  Chauncey Davis was a disappointment last year.  If the DEs falter in preseason, we may see a late move to add some extra help, as the team did in landing Domonique Foxworth in 2008 and Brian Williams in 2009.



5. Keith Zinger -  The Falcons signed a pair of interesting undrafted tight end prospects this season in Michael Palmer and Colin Peek.  The immediate speculation is that these guys will challenge for the #3 TE job and bump Zinger off the roster.

Not so fast...  Zinger showed impressive development last summer, catching balls across the middle and in traffic.  He's already known for his blocking skills (Dimitroff refers to him as the prototype blocking tight end) and is a key figure on every special teams unit.  If he continues to develop his receiving skills this summer, he'll hang onto the job and force the kids to start out on the practice squad.  It hinges on Zinger's performance, so he's the one to watch.



6. William Moore -  He had a surgical procedure last summer that kept him out of training camp and preseason.  He overdid it in the weight room, and the team held him out of minicamp this year.  So this will be the first chance for the public to get a good look at the highly touted 2009 second rounder.

The speculation is that he'll challenge Erik Coleman for the starting job opposite Thomas DeCoud.  I'm not so sure about that, as Moore's rookie season was virtually a total loss.  He has no experience and close to zero reps in practice.  He might be able to work his way into some playing time, and he'll likely challenge for a starting job in 2011.  But it's a bit much to expect that he'll be ready to start against the Steelers in week one of 2010.


7. Quinn Ojinnaka - six of last year's nine offensive linemen (including three starters) are potential free agents after this season.  The other three are the aging Todd McClure, the fragile Sam Baker, and the inexperienced Garrett Reynolds.  So the team went into this draft looking to add depth, not so much for 2010 but to have the next wave of players ready for 2011 and beyond.

The Falcons started 2008 and 2009 with nine offensive linemen.  If we fill in the five starters as all making the team, and then add 2009 draft choice Reynolds and this year's third and fourth rounders Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley to the list, that leaves only one remaining roster spot available.  Ojinnaka, Brett Romberg, and Will Svitek are all on the hot seat - and three returning practice squad prospects are also competing for that ninth job.

The key player to watch will be Ojinnaka.  Smitty has noted that he could play any position on the line, plus he has experience at the key left tackle position.  If all other things are relatively equal between the three returning backups, his versatility and experience may be the tiebreaker.  He doesn't have a lock on the roster spot by any means, but Svitek and Romberg will have to step up and beat him out.



8. Dimitri Nance -  he may not be the best known of the Falcons undrafted free agents, but he has a real shot at making the roster.  Atlanta went through the 2008 season with only four backs (including fullback Ovie Mughelli), but even five backs weren't enough for the injury-plagued 2009 season.  Verron Haynes and Aaron Stecker aren't returning, which leaves the #5 job up for grabs.  The contenders are practice squad runner Antone Smith, free agent defensive lineman/fullback Dan Klecko, and Nance.

Any of the three could win the job.  Klecko is a pure fullback, but that would allow the team to shift Jason Snelling away from the #2 FB spot and into a full time RB role.  Smith is a pure RB, while Nance is more of a Snelling-like hybrid.

The main one to watch will be Nance.  If he can adapt to the offense and show some blocking skills - particularly in pass protection - he'll be a strong contender to win the job.



9. Eric Weems -  The practice squad prospect filled in well for Harry Douglas in the return game, but he didn't get on the field much as a wide receiver.  And now the Falcons have drafted Kerry Meier at receiver plus Dominique Franks as a potential return man.

Weems is still hard-nosed and versatile.  He earned his way onto the team last season.  But he will have to step up his game to hold onto his roster spot.



10. Brian Williams -  He certainly wasn't the greatest cornerback, but he added some badly needed experience to the Falcons secondary last season.  The team went 4-1 while he was able to play, so it worked.

But this season, the first question is whether he'll be able to get into playing condition at all.  And if he's cleared to participate in the scrimmage and exhibition games, the more interesting question is whether the Falcons will work him at cornerback or at safety.

The team is already loaded at corner with Robinson, Brent Grimes and Chris Owens set to take the top three spots, plus Chevis Jackson and Franks as backups.  They have Coleman, Decoud and Moore at safety, plus free agent Matt Giordano, sixth rounder Shann Schillinger and a few undrafted DB prospects. 

If Williams is somehow able to play, a likely scenario is that he beats out Giordano for the #4 safety spot while Schillinger takes the remaining at-large roster spot for special teams play.  But the question is how close to 100% Williams will be at the end of preseason.  We've heard upbeat comments from Smitty and Dimitroff, but we heard the same last year about Von Hutchins.
Posted on: May 6, 2010 3:41 pm
 

Players on the hot seat

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.



Posted on: February 6, 2010 12:18 am
 

Offseason pipe dream scenario, v1.0

Something that frequently comes up on the message board...  should the Falcons fill a particular need by signing a free agent or drafting a top prospect.  Well, why not do both? 

As an example, that's what the Patriots did to fill their hole at DT in 2004.  They traded to pick up Ted Washington from the Bears and drafted Vince Wilfork.  Washington only played 10 games for New England, but that bought them enough time to get Wilfork up on the defense and ready to step into the starting role.

That same mentality could work well for Atlanta this offseason.  If the team can sign its own free agents (particularly Brian Williams, Chris Redman and long snapper Mike Schneck) and RFAs (eight total, including seven that may become unrestricted free agents if a new CBA is reached in the next four weeks), there will be zero true holes on the roster and only a handful of positions in need of upgrades.

To show how the sign-one-and-draft-one approach COULD work, here's my own current pipe dream scenario (Pipe Dream v 1.0) for the offseason:

Over the next two weeks, the Falcons re-sign Chris Redman, Brian Williams, and Mike Schneck.  They work out deals with RFAs Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl, Jerious Norwood and tender Quinn Ojinnaka, Jamaal Fudge and Charlie Peprah.

Rather than repeating the franchise tag on Michael Koenen, they save the cash and sign Anthony Rocca.  (I *love* footy, so I have to throw a bone to the AFL guys - even though I usually rooted against Rocca's team for most of his career.  Nothing against Koenen though.  He might be the best punter in the NFL.)

They also re-sign Brian Finneran, Marty Booker, Von Hutchins and David Irons for competition in camp.  (Note that Hutchins played safety with the Texans as well as CB and that Irons was a demon on special teams.) 

In free agency, they sign Aaron Kampman (Packers) to a three-year deal including a large incentive bonus based on sacks in the 2010 season.

In the draft, they trade down in the first and land an extra third rounder.  They draft DE Brandon Graham with the late first rounder, package their fifth and sixth rounders to trade up if needed to snag LB Daryl Williams and CB Donovan Warren in the third, take WRs Jacoby Ford (Clemson) and Freddie Barnes (Bowling Green) with the fourth round and first compensatory pick, and take FB Rashawn Jackson and injured LB O'Brien Schofield with the other two compensatory picks.

Sign two kickers - Brett Swenson (Michigan State) and Joshua Shene (Ole Miss) as undrafted free agents.  Other undrafted free agents are DTs Travis Ivey (Maryland) and Kade Weston (UGA), offensive linemen Cord Howard (Ga Tech) and Sean Allen (East Carolina), and WR Kelton Tindal (the Newberry kid who will be playing in the Texas Vs The Nation game tomorrow).

Up to this point, everything listed is well within reason.  Aaron Kampman is expected to hit the open market.  Our own free agents are believed to want to return.  Hutchins, Irons, and Rocca are already available.  The draft picks are all within reach based on current CBS rankings.  (The one exception is Schofield - he's still listed higher in the rankings, but he tore his ACL in Senior Bowl practice and won't play a single snap in 2010.  He should fall off the draft board entirely by the start of April.)

Here's the final touch - which many here might not like, but it's *my* pipe dream scenario...  

Offer the Jaguars a package of Jonathan Babineaux, Eric Weems, Chris Houston, Jamaal Anderson AND Chauncey Davis for John Henderson.  What the heck - throw in Tye Hill and Antoine Harris if they like.

The Jags get a younger DT (Babs) for one near the end of his career (Henderson) who hasn't always been on the best terms with the coaching staff.  They also get a return man, a potential starting CB and potential backup DEs as throw-ins.  They might not want all of those players, but they can give them a look in OTAs and training camp and then trade or release the ones they don't want.  Babineaux and Weems alone should be a decent return for Henderson.  The rest is gravy.

Atlanta cleans house (ditching a pot smoker, a DUI, and several players who won't make the roster anyway) and gets a solid, front-line big man who already knows Smitty's defense to head our DT corps.

Projected 53-man roster:    ( / = competition for roster spot)

QB = Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, John Parker Wilson / D.J. Shockley 
RB = Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Jason Snelling
FB = Ovie Mughelli, Rashawn Jackson
TE = Tony Gonzalez, Keith Zinger, Justin Peelle
WR = Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas, Jacoby Ford, Freddie Barnes
OL =  Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl
OL backups = Quinn Ojinnaka, Brett Romberg, Will Svitek, Garrett Reynolds (plus 2 or 3 more on practice squad)
DE = John Abraham, Aaron Kampman, Kroy Biermann, Brandon Graham, Lawrence Sidbury
DT = John Henderson, Peria Jerry, Vance Walker, Thomas Johnson, Trey Lewis
LB = Mike Peterson, Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nicholas, Daryl Washington, Coy Wire, Spencer Adkins / Robert James, (Schofield on IR)
CB = Brian Williams, Brent Grimes, Chris Owens, Donovan Warren, Chevis Jackson
S = Thomas DeCoud, Erik Coleman, William Moore, Von Hutchins / Eric Brock / Jamaal Fudge
PK = open competition between all four candidates
P = Anthony Rocca
LS = Mike Schneck
(KR candidates = Jerious Norwood, Harry Douglas, Jacoby Ford, Brent Grimes)
(PR candidates = Harry Douglas, Jacoby Ford, Brent Grimes, Freddie Barnes)

Championship?
Posted on: December 15, 2009 12:37 am
 

Farewell to Finn...

The significant injury of the week was Brian Finneran. He once again has an injured knee.

The good: it won't require surgery. It's nothing like the two knee injuries that knocked him out for consecutive seasons.

The bad: since there are only three weeks left in the season, it's a season-ending injury. The team put him on IR today to free up a roster spot. No word yet on who will be signed or called up to fill that roster spot.

(I'm still hopeful we might see a former Falcon brought back to the nest, but my understanding is that the team will work out several players tomorrow and make the decision in time to have someone signed by the time practice starts on Wednesday.)

The ugly: this season is it for his contract. He'll be a free agent, but he's 33, has a long history of injuries, and isn't the least bit fast even when he's healthy. Unless Mora brings him in for the Seahawks, there won't be a lot of demand for him.

Smitty will want him back here at least for training camp, so we'll probably get to see him next summer. But I'm not so hot on his chances of making next year's roster. With Harry Douglas returning, Finn would be at best the #4 - and that's assuming Eric Weems doesn't jump ahead of him by the end of camp and also that the Falcons don't land another WR in next year's draft.

The catch is that his chances of making the team as the #5 or potential #6 would depend more on his special teams abilities as his receiving ability. He has been a good special teams player in the past, but the team's recent emphasis on speed has brought in a lot of tough competition for those special teams roles.

For 2010, he wouldn't be one of the top two choices as a return man either on punts or kickoffs. He wouldn't be one of the top four choices as a gunner. If he can get back to full speed quickly, he might still be a solid candidate as a gunner blocker and also part of the kickoff coverage unit. But he'll have to beat out a whole new crew of young, fast players in those roles to earn his spot. That will be a tall order for the tall receiver. He can still do those jobs, but there are likely to be other players who can do those jobs better.

Unfortunately, we may have just seen his final game as a Falcon and possibly as an NFL receiver.
Posted on: October 3, 2009 10:04 pm
 

Ten observations from the first three games

Just filling the void of the early bye week with this one...


After three weeks, we've seen some interesting signs - both good and bad.  Here are ten observations, in no particular order:


Tony Gonzalez is everything we hoped he'd be.  Wow...


The young secondary isn't as bad as we feared, but they still have a long way to go.  Brian Williams and Tye Hill may prove to be our CBs of the near future.  And yes, I'll go ahead and say it: I'm not expecting to see Chris Houston in a Falcons uniform beyond 2010, if he even lasts that long.  


Jason Snelling can play.  It's scary to think that Petrino actually cut him to make room for (gulp) Artose Pinner, who was allegedly Petrino's short yard specialist.   Yeah, right... nice move, Coach Booby.  Snelling is much better all around and excels in short yardage situations.  He can block and catch passes out of the backfield too.


The Falcons are still overusing Michael Turner.  For heaven's sake Smitty, give the man more rest.  350+ carries a season is too many.


Eric Weems is getting it done as a return man.  If he keeps this up he'll stick on the roster purely for his special teams play, regardless of whether he ever blossoms as a wideout.  (And as hard as he's been working the last two years, I'm not ready to count him out even at WR.)


We're still undersized in the middle of the d-line, with or without Peria Jerry.  I hoped our braintrust would have solved this problem by now.  The smoke and mirrors approach to disguising it can only go so far, as the Falcons saw in the wild card loss to the Cardinals.


The preview rags all said the linebacker group would be a problem. HA! Stephen Nicholas, Mike Peterson and Curtis Lofton are looking pretty good early on. (While I'm picking on the previews, the so-called professional analysts also unanimously claimed the Falcons had depth problems on the o-line.  Who comes up with this nonsense, and have any of these guys ever even been to the complex??) 


Any questions about whether Chauncey Davis would take away Jamaal Anderson's starting job are now officially moot.  They're both duds. (Kroy Biermann is part of the answer, but even with his added bulk he's still too small for a lot of snaps in run defense. The Eagles game will be a big test for him.  The Philadelphia o-line pancaked him non-stop in last year's game.)


Thomas DeCoud is turning into a beast.  In camp and preseason LAST year, he looked lost - hesitating, misreading plays, and missing open field tackles.  This year he's coming on strong and showing that he truly deserves the starting spot.  Even if William Moore had been healthy all preseason, Decoud probably would have won the job. 


We have weapons beyond belief on the offensive side of the ball, but the play calling has suddenly become more conservative than the FOX News Channel.  And this three man rush prevent defense has got to go. It almost cost the team the game against the Panthers.  Sooner or later it will turn a W into an L.  If we're going to put an end to this back-to-back thing, we can't afford to let games slip away.

Posted on: September 4, 2009 2:37 am
 

First notes from the Ravens game

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...

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com