Posted on: August 19, 2010 6:41 am
For entire first half:
Stephen Nicholas, Curtis Lofton, Sean Weatherspoon at LB
Brent Grimes, Chris Owens at CB
Chevis Jackson as nickel CB
Erik Coleman, Thomas DeCoud at S
The Falcons played basic 4-3 (or 4-2-5 in nickel package) for the entire game.
Note... this time around, I kept the player numbers consistent to track the substitutions rather than keeping track of left side vs right side. So the linemen aren't necessarily listed in order from left to right.
First defensive series
98 95 97 55
71 95 91 55
71 95 91 55
Second defensive series
98 95 97 55
98 95 97 55
71 95 91 55
(Babs and Abraham are done for the night)
Third defensive series
71 99 97 92 for eight plays
90 99 98 71 (3rd down, 6 man blitz, sack)
Fourth defensive series
71 91 98 90 for all six plays
Fifth defensive series
96 97 99 92
96 91 93 92
96 91 93 92
96 91 99 92
96 91 99 92
96 91 99 92
96 91 99 92
96 91 98 90
96 91 98 90
71 91 98 90 for six plays
Dominique Franks, Chevis Jackson at CB
Shann Schillinger, Rafael Bush at S
Spencer Adkins, Bear Woods, Robert James at LB
Chris Owens as the nickel CB
Stephen Nicholas played some LB in nickel package
Sixth defensive series
71 91 99 92
71 91 99 90
71 91 99 90
71 91 99 90
(note: Daylan Walker replaced Jackson for one play at CB)
Seventh defensive series
96 91 97 90 all four plays
Eighth defensive series
64 97 99 92
64 97 99 92
90 97 99 92
Ninth defensive series
90 93 99 96
90 93 99 96
90 93 97 96
90 99 97 96
Tenth defensive series
Weston Johnson in at LB with Woods, Adkins
90 97 93 64
90 97 93 64
90 97 99 64
90 97 93 64
90 97 93 64
90 97 93 64 Rajon Henley dinged
90 97 93 96
90 97 99 96
90 97 99 96
90 97 99 96
90 93 99 96
90 93 99 96
90 93 99 96
90 97 99 96
90 97 99 96
Jamaal Anderson played 18 snaps; 3 at DE and 15 at DT, all in the first half
Kroy Biermann played 28 snaps; 24 in first half
Lawrence Sidbury played 42 (!) snaps; 15 in first half
Chauncey Davis played 19 snaps; 15 in first half
Emmanuel Stephens played 26 snaps; 9 in first half
Rajon Henley played 8 snaps; 0 in first half
Corey Peters played 31 snaps; 23 in first half
Trey Lewis played 33 snaps; 12 in first half
Vance Walker played 33 snaps; 14 in first half
Thomas Johnson played 14 snaps; 2 in first half
note: TJ wasn't 100% coming into the game; coaching staff intended to use him sparingly and in short rotations
Posted on: May 13, 2010 2:59 am
The first thing that jumps out about the rookies is that 2010 is looking like the deepest draft year we've seen in a long time. I haven't finalized a list of the top 32 or 35 names for a "mock eighth round" yet, but I do believe that the top undrafted prospects this year will have more NFL success than the sixth or seventh rounders from 2007 or 2005. Maybe even better than the fifth rounders.
For the Falcons, even the tryout kids looked good in minicamp. The top two made the grade and got signed. More might have been signed, but the team only had two available roster spots.
One of those was SW DeKalb / University of Richmond QB Eric Ward. I posted the NFL Draft Scout dot com blurb on him in the misc notes thread before minicamp. He needs to work on going through his reads faster, learning the offense, etc, but he has all the attributes you'd want in a QB project - strong arm, pretty good accuracy, leadership (led Richmond to the FCS national championship in 2008), etc, etc.
The odd thing is that the Falcons now have five QBs on the roster. It's not surprising for teams to carry four heading into training camp, but five is a little unusual. If all five are still around at the end of July, it's likely that the team will have two sets of two working drills with the WRs while the fifth works with the RBs or TEs.
The alternative... this could be the end of the line for D.J. Shockley. He may once again be competing for his football life during OTAs.
Early call: Ward makes the practice squad.
Dan Klecko is indeed working with the RBs, at least for now. If that continues during OTAs, he's a real contender for the #2 FB spot (formerly held by Verron Haynes).
There are three candidates for that #5 spot in the offensive backfield. Klecko is a pure fullback (outside of the fact that he also plays on the defensive line). Antone Smith is a pure running back. Dimitri Nance is a Jason Snelling-like hybrid. Smith and Nance are both strong prospects, and Klecko has a few Superbowl rings for his past work at fullback.
Early call: it's a three way toss-up. Give the initial edge to Nance for his versatility, but any of the three could take the job. In training camp, Nance and Smith will have to show they can block.
It's not just Kerry Meier and Ryan Wolfe. Brandyn Harvey and Tim Buckley (the Alcorn State QB that the Falcons are playing at WR) will also be people to watch in camp. And the returning Falcons prospects (Eric Weems, Troy Bergeron, Andy Strickland) are stepping up their own game in the face of the added competition.
Atlanta had a whole bunch of prospects in camp last year to try to replace Laurent Robinson. It didn't go so well, and the front office was already working out free agents even before Harry Douglas got hurt.
This year's group may not be speed demons, but they have great hands. They also have good size: Harvey is 6-4, 205. Wolfe is 6-2, 210. Meier is 6-2, 224. Added bonus: Mularkey might be able to work in some trick plays or Wildcat stuff with them, as Meier and Buckley are both former QBs.
Early call: Weems gets replaced. Meier makes the roster. If Harvey, Wolfe and Buckley show something in the preseason games, Brian Finneran gets replaced too.
Not too much to say about the offensive and defensive lines, as minicamp and OTAs are strictly non-contact. We won't get a real look at their skills until training camp opens at the end of July.
The one thing I will note about the offensive linemen is that these guys are BIG. The days of the Alex Gibbs zone-blocking scheme are obviously long gone. I won't knock it - that system was the ONLY way the team could have gone in 2004 to have a chance of being competitive up front. It paid off, as that team went 11-5 and made it to the NFC Championship game. But even Bobby Petrino knew we had to get bigger up front once that system was out the door.
No more 285 pound tackles or 275 pound centers. Our starting five: Sam Baker lists at 6-5, 312. Justin Blalock = 6-4, 333. Todd McClure = 6-1, 301. Harvey Dahl = 6-5, 308. Tyson Clabo = 6-6, 332. Backups: Garrett Reynolds = 6-7, 310. Mike Johnson = 6-5, 312. Quinn Ojinnaka = 6-5, 305. Will Svitek = 6-6, 300. Jose Valdez (guard prospect) = 6-6, 310.
The only players under 6-4 or under 300 pounds are the backup centers and center prospects. And even they are bigger than the centers we had in the past. Brett Romberg and Joe Hawley are 298 and 297 pounds. A few years ago, McClure had to bulk up just to get up to 290.
Early call: we keep nine linemen, just like last season and the start of the 2008 season. Unless someone gets hurt, the starters will be the same as last year. Garrett Reynolds, Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley take three of the four backup spots. I'll give Quinn Ojinnaka the early nod for the last spot, beating out Will Svitek and Brett Romberg.
It was meaningless without contact, but Lawrence Sidbury and Kroy Biermann showed some intensity during minicamp. They know the team is counting on them to join John Abraham as a trio of pass rush DEs. As had been reported earlier, Jamaal Anderson has bulked up a bit for more duty as a swing DE/DT. He's still listed at 283, but best guess is that he's now around 290-292.
Early call: the roster will have the same five DEs as last year. Jamaal will still be the "official" starter, but don't read too much into that - it only means he'll be out there for the first play at 1st and 10. Beer Man and El Sid will get the bulk of the pass rush reps.
Not much to say about the DT spots. Peria Jerry did some rehab work but was limping afterwards. Jonathan Babineaux was held out with a shoulder problem. Thomas Johnson got banged up in one session and was held out of two others. And it's already May and we haven't heard a peep about Babs' case going to trial. His suspension is a certainty, but it might not come at the start of the year. That would make things really, really awkward for the coaching staff at the DT spots.
Early call: the team will keep telling us Jerry is right on schedule with his rehab work and will be ready for the start of training camp. But when July 29 comes around, they'll have him take it easy for the first week and may even sit him out the first preseason game.
If the commish waits until after the trial to suspend Babs, we go with four DTs. Only one of Trey Lewis, Thomas Johnson, and Vance Walker will make the initial roster. Lewis would be the most likely if he plays like he's healthy, but he'll have to step it up and prove himself. So I'll give the early nod to Walker instead.
At linebacker, Sean Weatherspoon worked some at both OLB spots in minicamp and did well for his first time out. Spencer Adkins and Robert James stepped up strongly too.
Last year's trio of undrafted LB prospects (Derek Nicholson, Brock Christopher, Rashad Bobino) didn't make the practice squad. Bear Woods and Weston Johnson hope to do better this year. Woods may be the most interesting personality of this year's rookie prospects. He wants to become a minister after his football days are over.
Here's a good look at why he's nicknamed "Bear"...
Early call: Mike Peterson's roster spot is safe, as he's the best candidate for the #2 MLB spot as well as rotating at either OLB spot. But 'Spoon likely starts right away. If Adkins and James keep it up, the coaches may use the last at-large roster spot to keep all seven LBs.
I was very happy that the team re-signed Brian Williams. I noted at the time that his real value isn't at CB but as extra depth at safety. (Hmmm... would you rather have Williams or Charlie Peprah as your #4?)
Later, the Falcons signed Matt Giordano in free agency, drafted Shann Schillinger, and signed prospects Rafael Bush and Gabe Derricks as undrafted free agents. That fourth safety spot will be a nice battle during training camp.
It's tough to say whether this year's group of contenders for the #4 spot is better than last year's group (which included returning safeties Antoine Harris and Jamaal Fudge, plus prospects Marcus Paschal and Eric Brock). They're competing for a spot that will hopefully be a fixture on the inactive list.
But there's an odd similarity in that the most experienced contender is a CB who also plays safety and who is attempting to return from injury. This year it's Williams. Last year, it was Von Hutchins.
Giordano is the only one of this year's crop after Williams that has any NFL experience at all. Dimitroff is really stoked about Schillinger, noting he's "a safety slash special teams guy with a lot of speed and a lot of toughness". D-Led is really big on prospect Rafael Bush. And D-Led has been right more often than not lately, so I have to take him seriously and keep an eye on his guy.
Early call: Schillinger beats out Giordano and makes the roster. Williams won't be ready to go in September and will get the injury waiver just like Hutchins did last season.
Things only get interesting at CB if someone gets hurt or if Williams shows up healthy for camp and can make all the changes of direction required at cornerback. Otherwise, there are seven other CBs on the roster to fill five positions. Two of them are undrafted free agents: Dominique Daniels and Daylan Walker, the other walk-on from minicamp that got signed.
Early call: without Williams being 100%, it's a no-brainer. Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes, Chris Owens, Chevis Jackson, Dominique Franks take the five roster spots. Daniels and Walker are simply competing to make it to training camp.
Too early to say anything yet on the specialists. Michael Koenen has his spot locked up already, but the long snapper and place kicker spots are up for grabs.
Early call: I'll give the May nod to Justin Drescher at long snapper just to get his name out there. He really is a contender to make the roster, while incumbent Joe Zelenka was really only our #3 choice last season. And I'll roll with Steven Hauschka at PK, just to point out to D-Led that Matt Bryant isn't a shoo-in and to note that rookie Garrett Lindholm will have to step up and win the job. It isn't his for the taking. But in truth, the jobs could go to any of the three kickers and either of the long snappers.
There are candidates all over the board for the last roster spot. It could easily be a seventh LB, tenth DB, sixth WR, tenth offensive lineman, tenth defensive lineman, or sixth RB/FB. The player will make the roster mainly for his performance on special teams. It won't get as much attention from the local media as the battle for the 4th safety spot, 4th DT spot, etc, but it may be the most strongly contested spot on the entire roster.
Early call: I'll make life easier on the coaches and go with Robert James as a seventh linebacker, beating out the extra DT or offensive lineman. The other likely contenders are Shann Schillinger (if Matt Giordano wins the #4 safety spot) or an extra WR out of Wolfe / Harvey / Buckley / Bergeron.
Bottom line... the main thing I noted about the roster heading into 2009 was that it was the deepest Falcons roster I could remember. They needed every bit of that depth.
And since no one left in free agency and only long snapper Mike Schneck retired, this year's roster moves and drafts have all been for upgrades rather than mere replacements. The 2010 roster will be even deeper than last year's version. That's just plain scary.
Tags: Atlanta, Bear Woods, Brandyn Harvey, Brian Williams, Brian Williams, Dan Klecko, Dimitri Nance, Eric Ward, Falcons, Garrett Lindholm, Jamaal Anderson, Justin Drescher, Kerry Meier, Kroy Biermann, Lawrence Sidbury, Matt Giordano, Michael Koenen, Peria Jerry, Robert James, Ryan Wolfe, Sean Weatherspoon, Shann Schillinger, Steven Hauschka, Tim Buckley
Posted on: May 6, 2010 3:41 pm
The basic Falcons 53-man roster typically consists of 3 QB, 5 RB/FB, 3 TE, 5 WR, 9 OL, 5 DE, 4 DT, 6 LB, 5 CB, 4 S, 1 P, 1 K, 1 LS, and one at-large spot.
The at-large spot is completely up for grabs and likely to change during the season. The team briefly had six defensive ends in 2008 and finished the season with ten offensive linemen. Last season began with six cornerbacks but ended with an extra running back.
The team will naturally make tweaks as needed, such as in 2008 when they carried only 4 runners (with the fifth on the practice squad) in order to start the year with extra depth elsewhere. But for the most part, that's what we can expect for the 2010 team.
I made a list of what I call the late season 2009 roster. With injuries and replacements, it's difficult to nail down one set of 53 players as "the" roster. But these were the players who were aboard for most of November and December.
Eight players from that list are now gone. Eight incoming or returning players are penciled in as locks to make the roster: Harry Douglas (assuming he's medically cleared), Peria Jerry, William Moore, Dunta Robinson, Sean Weatherspoon, Corey Peters, Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley.
The catch is that while some are easy one-for-one swaps (Douglas replaces Marty Booker, Sean Weatherspoon replaces Tony Gilbert), others are not (Corey Peters and Mike Johnson replace ????). There are also many other returning or incoming players that will offer strong competition for roster spots. And Smitty has already made the first "nobody is safe" reference of the year.
So the key question is which players from last season are on the hot seat in camp this summer?
I've pegged as many as twenty that are at risk. I think eight of them are probably safe, but the other twelve are in real danger of losing their roster spots. Starting with the offense, they are:
1) Eric Weems. He made the roster last season for his potential as a return man, not strictly as a wide receiver. He'll have a good shot at playing a few years in the NFL off of his special teams skills, but the fifth round of the draft may have sealed his fate in Atlanta. The Falcons drafted potential return man Dominique Franks and potential WR Kerry Meier with their two fifth round picks.
Weems will also have to compete with returning practice squad candidates Troy Bergeron and Andy Strickland plus undrafted free agent Ryan Wolfe and two others just to have a shot at the at-large spot as a sixth WR. And that DUI arrest in November certainly doesn't help his cause.
2) Brian Finneran. While Weems figures to be the first WR replaced, if both Meier and Wolfe stick (or if Bergeron, Strickland, Brandyn Harvey or converted quarterback Tim Buckley amaze the coaches), Finn may have a tough time returning once more.
His latest knee injury isn't anywhere near as bad as the two that sidelined him in consecutive seasons, but he's now 34. He wasn't all that fast to begin with, so he can't afford to lose a step due to age or injury.
3) Will Svitek. He was an interesting addition to last year's roster and played competently as a backup. But he's not a starting caliber player, and that's not likely to change in camp this year.
4) Quinn Ojinnaka. He can play any position on the offensive line. So can third round pick Mike Johnson. And the coaching staff chose Svitek to fill in for Sam Baker last season at left tackle. If Svitek is still the choice at the end of preseason, Ojinnaka may be the one bumped out to make room for Johnson.
Ojinnaka is also the only backup lineman who was not brought into the organization under Smitty and Dimitroff. I'm not saying Smitty and his staff will play favorites, but it's a factor. Ojinnaka is a holdover from the Jim Mora days and was drafted because he fit the Alex Gibbs blocking scheme. Everyone else was hand picked by Smitty and Dimitroff because they fit the current Falcons scheme.
5) Brett Romberg. Yep, three of the four backup linemen are at risk. Romberg played for Boudreau in St. Louis, and the Rams thought enough of him to start him. He's a solid - and experienced - backup. He's definitely a handy guy to have around.
But Mike Johnson probably takes over the #3 guard role this year, and the arrival of Joe Hawley puts his backup center role at risk. To date, Romberg hasn't been a real candidate to play tackle, plus the team chose Ojinnaka ahead of Romberg to fill in for Harvey Dahl at guard.
If the team once again keeps only nine total linemen, these three are all at serious risk. Johnson and Hawley will make the roster, so two guys will have to go to make room for them. Prospects Jose Valdez and Rob Bruggeman are knocking on the door as well.
6) Matt Bryant. The Falcons had a steady-Freddy but aging kicker in Jason Elam to start the 2009 season. They finished with another in Matt Bryant.
He's about to turn 35 later this month. He was 1 for 4 from 40+ yards last season after going 5 of 11 and 6 of 10 from 40+ the previous two seasons with the Buccaneers. He's rock steady from inside 40, but that means the Falcons would have to get inside the 23-yard line to feel confident in making a field goal. That's not good.
The team added Steven Hauschka for insurance in the final week of the season, as Bryant came away from the Bills game a bit gimpy. Hauschka has a strong leg but missed a pair of shorter field goal attempts that cost him his spot with the Ravens. If he can work out the mechanics, he's a strong contender.
And then there's the rookie, Garrett Lindholm. He was mainly on the national radar for this:
In the playoffs, no time left, game on the line...
He turned it on his senior year, but his sophomore and junior year stats certainly won't blow you away. And he definitely needs work on his mechanics if he is to maintain consistency, as you'll see in one of the clips below. I don't know if he's the answer. I think I might have preferred signing Damon Duval when we had the chance.
Some highlights (no sound)
Workout results... he made the 49-yarder but missed several shorter ones...
At the very least, Lindholm will add competition. But my guess is that if Hauschka turns it on, he'll be the man.
7) Joe Zelenka. Joe who? I'm sure many of you don't really care who takes the long snapper job. But keep in mind that after Mike Schneck went on IR last year, replacement Bryan Pittman, holder Michael Koenen and kicker Jason Elam just couldn't get in sync, costing the Falcons at least one game and chances at winning two more.
Zelenka did well enough as the second replacement, but he hardly has a lock on the position the way Schneck might have had he not decided to retire. The competition comes from undrafted rookie Justin Drescher, who has plenty of college experience after serving as Colorado's long snapper in all four years.
8) Coy Wire. Frankly, I found it hard to believe he was included in the "On The Fringe" TV series last year. There was no doubt in my mind that he'd make the roster. He still has a strong chance this year, but it will be a little more challenging.
The catch is that if Sean Weatherspoon takes over as the starting Will backer, Mike Peterson would then drop down to the #4 overall LB. So unless the team drops Peterson off the roster completely, Wire would then drop to #5, pretty much limiting him to special teams duty.
So far, no problem there - he's our special teams captain. And there isn't a need to drop anyone to make room for 'Spoon, as Tony Gilbert was not re-signed.
But most teams prefer to have younger guys with upside potential filling those spots on the back end of the roster. He'd be competing not only with the younger linebacker prospects, but also with the new safeties (Matt Giordano and Shann Schillinger) as special teams players.
I was hesitant to include him on this list, as he was solid as a replacement for Michael Boley in 2008 and has been outstanding on special teams. He's a fine player. The question is whether the team would continue to keep a guy with zero remaining upside as the #5 LB.
9) Spencer Adkins. If Wire does stay aboard as the #5 LB, then Adkins will have to step up big in his second year or face competition for the #6 spot. He was on the inactive list for most of the season, but the team worked him in on special teams for a few games when the WRs and safeties were so banged up.
The competition will come from 2008 fifth rounder Robert James and from this year's undrafted prospects, Bear Woods and Weston Johnson.
While it seems like a reach for one of the undrafted prospects to unseat a drafted player from the roster, keep in mind that it was considered a big stretch when the Falcons drafted Adkins in the sixth round in 2009 - mainly because of his blazing fast 40 time. He was otherwise figured to be an undrafted free agent himself.
So once you put their projections on an even footing, there's a lot to be said for the rest of the pack. Adkins was only a part time player for Miami. Meanwhile, Weston Johnson was named team captain at Wyoming, while Bear Woods was the leading tackler at Troy. The competition will be quite real.
10) Trey Lewis. Smitty said he was excited to have Lewis back last season, and that Lewis gave the team potential to work in some 3-4 as a package defense. But it turned out that Lewis was far from full speed in his first season back from two reconstructive knee surgeries. He spent most of the year as the #4 (inactive) DT, taking the 3-4 package off the table.
On the plus side, he showed as a rookie that when healthy, he can play either DT spot. He's not strictly a nose tackle. And his size adds an element that no other DT on the roster can bring. If his knee will allow him to get back to form, he has a good chance of winning the #4 DT job again this year, serving as the #3 while Babs is out.
But he'll have to turn it up this summer or he'll be off the roster when Babs returns, if not sooner.
11) Thomas Johnson. I can't say enough good things about the job he did last season. He truly was our Out Of Nowhere player for the 2009 season.
The guy was an undrafted free agent who had already been released by three different teams and hadn't played a game since 2006. He signed with the Falcons as a futures contract. He wasn't expected to make the roster at all but ended up as our starting nose tackle.
Now move ahead a year... Peria Jerry is expected to return, and the team has added Corey Peters. Johnson is expendable, and he probably has the least potential upside of the backup candidates. It's a brutal fact of life in the NFL.
12) Vance Walker. It shouldn't be a surprise that all three backup DTs are at major risk. Unless one wins the at-large spot, the Falcons will have two DTs too many after Babs returns from suspension. And that's not even counting Joe Klecko or Trey Bryant as serious candidates or DEs sliding in to play the middle.
The seventh rounder started the season on the practice squad and is still practice squad eligible. If all else is equal between the three backup DTs, the coaching staff may try to keep them all for the start of the season by stashing Walker back on the practice squad.
Noteworthy players left off the list:
Brian Williams: the only reason he's not on the list above is that he wasn't on the late 2009 roster in the first place, so he didn't have a roster spot to lose.
Otherwise, he might be the most at risk player of all. He's still far from 100% and won't be back until at least the start of training camp. If his recovery takes longer, he may end up starting the year on the PUP list or get released on an injury settlement as Von Hutchins was last year.
If he's healthy, his main value (and best chance at making the roster) is that he can play safety as well as CB. He would likely be the top contender for the #4 safety role.
Jamaal Anderson, Chauncey Davis: if the Falcons had brought in a serious DE candidate, it would be obvious that one of these two would have to go. But the team appears to be standing pat, bringing in only a pair of undrafted candidates to replace Maurice Lucas on the practice squad.
I won't say they're definitely safe, but at least for now there is room to fit all five DEs on the roster. Unlike the DTs, they aren't in a spot where somebody HAS to go... yet...
Chris Owens, Brent Grimes: the rookie Owens worked his way into the starting rotation, plus he's a Dimitroff prospect. He isn't going anywhere. Many fans don't care for Grimes, but he entered the season with just eight total games of experience. He was essentially a rookie too. He led the team with six interceptions. The last time any Falcons player had more was 1998 (Ray Buchanan, with seven).
If Williams isn't healthy or makes the roster as a safety, or if Franks gets the at-large spot as a return specialist, everyone in the room could make the roster. Only one CB absolutely had to go, and Tye Hill's release settled the question of who it would be.
Justin Peelle, Keith Zinger: they certainly aren't safe, but the three prospects brought in this season aren't as much of a threat as the incoming DTs or offensive linemen. While Colin Peek and Michael Palmer are both contenders, the Falcons may choose to start them on the practice squad as they did with Zinger in 2008.
Tags: Atlanta, Bear Woods, Brent Grimes, Brett Romberg, Brian Finneran, Brian Williams, Chauncey Davis, Chris Owens, Corey Peters, Coy Wire, Dominique Franks, Eric Weems, Falcons, Garrett Lindholm, Jamaal Anderson, Joe Hawley, Joe Zelenka, Justin Drescher, Justin Peelle, Keith Zinger, Kerry Meier, Matt Bryant, Mike Johnson, Peria Jerry, Quinn Ojinnaka, Ryan Wolfe, Spencer Adkins, Steven Hauschka, Thomas Johnson, Trey Lewis, Vance Walker, Weston Johnson, Will Svitek
Posted on: April 30, 2010 6:04 pm
Smitty and Dimitroff both commented at the Combine that they liked the personnel they had on the ends and attributed part of the problem with the pass rush to Peria Jerry getting hurt.
We know that Peria Jerry alone can't be the plan for improving our dismal (one of the bottom five in the league) pass rush. So what else do we have to look forward to this season?
I don't believe that the cornerback play buys more time for the pass rush. (D-Led and I are on opposite sides of the fence on that one.) The problem is that if the primary receivers aren't open, the QB turns to the TE or the dump-off to the RB. We got torched more in the gaps between the LB and safety zones last year than we did by wideouts against our cornerbacks.
But there's another way Dunta Robinson can have a big impact on our run defense as well as the pass rush. Watch carefully in the preseason exhibition games. If it turns out that the Falcons can reliably leave Robinson alone against top receivers, without safety help, that will free up the defense to play more cover one rather than cover two.
That will make a world of difference. We played a lot of cover one in 2008 and again last season. It wasn't intentional. The Falcons wanted to keep both safeties deep in cover two mode to protect the infant cornerbacks, but the deficiencies in the middle of the line forced the team to bring up a safety on a regular basis to help with run defense.
It hurt the secondary, because Chris Houston was a liability when left alone in single coverage. He had to give up jamming his man at the line and instead leave a large cushion, because if his receiver got past him, it would have been an instant touchdown. The hope is that Robinson can play more aggressively, with confidence that his man won't get away from him.
If he can pull it off, the team can use the cover one to its advantage. The safety on his side will be the one to line up short. (It might be dictated by where the receivers line up, so both safeties would have to be able to take on either the SS or FS role.) That will make the safety available for run support, and it will also allow him to blitz or to take over the zone coverage for a blitzing linebacker.
Presto - instant improved pass rush. Five rushers is better than four.
And it's actually nothing new for the Falcons, since we've been doing the same thing for the last two years anyway. The difference is that without Chris Houston being our top CB left alone to cover a top receiver, we might be more successful with it.
The team's other approach is to improve the pass rush from the inside out. In 2003-2006, the Falcons had strong pass rushing DTs in Ellis Johnson and then Rod Coleman. We haven't had a strong attack from the middle since the last time Coleman managed to stay healthy for a season.
The hope is that a rotation of Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry and Corey Peters can turn up the heat in two ways - getting more sacks themselves and drawing extra attention from the offense away from the ends.
We'll have to keep our fingers crossed on that one. Jerry and Peters are unproven players, Jerry has significant injury concerns, and Babs is facing suspension.
And finally, the DE positions... Dimitroff says he believes John Abraham still has plenty left in his tank and should be in for a good year. He also really likes the development of Kroy Biermann and wants to see what Lawrence Sidbury can do this season.
The word is that Jamaal Anderson has been working to bulk up for this season. He'll likely play the end spot in running situations and slide in to the middle as part of the nickel or other sub packages. No mention yet of how often we might use those 3-3-5 or 3-4 packages.
No word at all about Chauncey Davis. When asked, Dimitroff says he's "another versatile player that can make contributions". But it seems pretty clear that El Sid and Beer Man are the real hopes for the team at DE this year.
Interesting situation to watch this summer will be whether Jamaal still appears to have a starting spot or whether Biermann moves into the starting lineup in his place. Biermann was listed at 246 when drafted but dropped to around 241 by the start of his rookie season. He bulked up to 260 last season.
And the top question for the early part of the regular season will be how the DT rotation will work with Babs out. That could be the prime opportunity to slide Jamaal inside.
We might see an early season nickel front four of Biermann, Anderson, Jerry and Abraham, with Robinson, Chris Owens and Brent Grimes as the three corners, Lofton and Nicholas as the LBs (with the rookie Sean Weatherspoon coming off for the extra CB), Thomas DeCoud as the lone deep safety and William Moore playing up in a SS role.
So how would this be better than 2009? (a) Robinson instead of Houston. (b) Stephen Nicholas instead of Mike Peterson. (c) Jerry instead of Thomas Johnson. (d) more experience for Brent Grimes and Chris Owens. (e) more blitzes from Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nicholas or William Moore.
If we can blitz more frequently (Smitty practically forgot the meaning of the word in the second Panthers game), get the slower Mike Peterson off the field for passing downs, and keep a safety up without losing much in coverage on one side, we should indeed have a more effective pass rush in 2010.
Posted on: January 14, 2010 6:39 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2010 6:45 pm
Quick recap... whenever you have a turnover in coaching staff, you also tend to have a larger than usual turnover in the roster, as players who were brought in for the previous staff might not fit the schemes of the new staff.
The Falcons went through that turnover in 2007 when Bobby Petrino jettisoned a significant number of Jim Mora's players and faced a repeat in 2008. You can't move forward, build and improve if you're having to constantly patch holes and replace large chunks of your team.
I put together a list of 12 players from the previous three drafts that I felt would be a litmus test for the new regime. If the coaching staff kept most of these players and they continued to develop, the Falcons would be in far better shape than the media imagined.
But if most of them failed to make the roster or tanked during the year, there would simply be too many holes to fill and we'd be in for another awful season. I pegged 8 players as the make or break point - 8 hits meant a good year, while 8 misses would be a disaster.
Here's the list, whether they hit or missed in 2008, and also how they stand after 2009:
1. Jamaal Anderson (1st round, 2007). 2008 result: MISS. Not much explanation needed. While he did all the dirty jobs the coaching staff asked of him and won praise from Smitty and from John Abraham, he was still too young and too inexperienced to matter at all at DE.
How he stands now: if the team adds one more solid DE prospect or free agent, he'll probably be in competition with Chauncey Davis just to hang on to a backup roster spot.
2. Jonathan Babineaux (2nd round, 2005). 2008 result: HIT. His stats weren't quite as good as 2007, but he stepped up and became a full time starter and never missed a game in spite of playing much of the season banged up.
How he stands now: he was hands down our best defensive lineman in 2009, but he's facing a near-certain suspension of at least four weeks in 2010, and possibly longer.
3. Martrez Milner (4th round, 2007). Other than Jamaal, this was the pick that had me screaming at the TV during that draft. He may have fit Petrino's mold, but he was far from the best TE on the board at the time.
2008 result: MISS. He fell out of favor with the new coaching staff over the summer and was quickly released.
4. Jerious Norwood (3rd round, 2006). 2008 result: HIT. As the #2 running back, he had 828 yards from scrimmage and also became the team's kick returner. Can't ask for better than that.
How he stands now: he stands to be a restricted free agent, but he'll become a true free agent if the union gives in and we get a new CBA before March 5. The coaching staff still likes his ability, but he's losing favor with fans over his lack of durability. (My take: keep him, but note that we really need five RB/FBs on the roster rather than just four.)
5. Justin Blalock (2nd round, 2007). Was made an instant starter by the previous coaching staff but struggled as a rookie without a consistent partner at tackle.
2008 result: HIT. He held onto his starting position, and the line allowed just 17 sacks while driving the league's second ranked rushing attack. No problems there.
How he stands now: nobody seems to be eager to move him or replace him anymore. He's getting it done - and still getting better. (It helps that he's finally learned how to pick up a stunt.)
6. Laurent Robinson (3rd round, 2007). 2008 result: MISS. He got banged up in preseason, and the time on the sidelines didn't help. He lasted only five quarters before he tweaked his hamstring, tried to return too soon and hurt it again to end his season. (We got an eerie sense of deja vu watching William Moore in 2009. Hopefully things will work out better with Moore in 2010.)
How he stands now: we gave him away to the Rams. He became their leading receiver before getting hurt again this year. They'll love him in St. Louis, if they can keep him on the field.
7. Chris Houston (2nd round plus extra pick used in trade, 2007). 2008 result: HIT. He became a full starter and played well enough to make us forget about DeAngelo Hall.
How he stands now: he didn't progress well in 2009 and may have lost his starting job. With only one season remaining on his contract anyway, he's facing a make or break year - if he's on the roster at all.
8. Quinn Ojinnaka (5th round, 2006). 2008 result: HIT. He didn't start, but he was solid as a backup. He demonstrated that he could play all five positions on the line if needed and did well when called to fill in at left tackle when both Sam Baker and Todd Weiner were banged up.
How he stands now: another player caught in the CBA trap. It will be interesting to see if he still fits into Smitty's long term plans. He's best at tackle, but this season Atlanta added two more tackles (Will Svitek and Garrett Reynolds) and used Ojinnaka at guard. If Atlanta picks up another interior lineman, The Mighty Quinn might soon be the tenth player in a nine man unit.
9. Jimmy Williams (2nd round plus extra pick used in trade, 2006). I almost left him off the list since he fell out of the team's plans even in 2007, but with two draft picks tied up in him, he was too significant an investment to ignore.
2008 result: MISS. He showed up overweight for minicamp and was a "message" cut even before training camp began.
10. Chauncey Davis (4th round, 2005). 2008 result: HIT. He had 38 total tackles and 4 sacks as a backup, earning a nice new contract and stirring up talk that he should be starting ahead of Jamaal.
How he stands now: in jeopardy. He didn't live up to that fat new contract, failing to beat out Jamaal for the starting job and putting up disappointing numbers this year. Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury are strong threats to move ahead of him on the depth chart. If the coaching staff makes another "message" cut this year (like Williams in 2008 or Kindal Moorehead and Simon Fraser in 2009), he and/or Jamaal may be the sacrificial lambs.
11. Adam Jennings (6th round, 2006). He almost got left off the list since a sixth round pick isn't all that much of an investment. But Petrino wanted to clear a roster spot, making Jennings the return man and ditching Allen Rossum. That raised the stakes a bit.
2008 result: MISS. It's a shame that the final straw came on an awful call by the refs, but he wasn't getting it done as a return man. He still had potential as a backup WR - he had six receptions in two games with Chris Redman at QB late in 2007, with a 10+ yard per catch average. But like Laurent Robinson, he didn't fit the mold of the current staff, so sooner or later he probably would have been shown the door anyway.
12. Stephen Nicholas (4th round, 2007). 2008 result: HIT. He was projected as a starter even in 2008, but that changed when the coaching staff decided to move Keith Brooking back to the weak side. That limited his role to special teams, but he played well and continued his development, which gave the coaches full confidence to use him this season.
How he stands now: a starter and an emerging player with good sideline to sideline range.
That's seven hits and five misses out of the dozen. It didn't quite reach my goal of eight hits, but several undrafted players (particularly Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl, followed by Brent Grimes and seventh rounder Jason Snelling in 2009) plus the large 2008 draft class gave the team a boost.
Even now, enough of that young 2007 roster remains with the team that Dimitroff can now use free agency and draft picks purely to build for the future and to upgrade an already strong lineup. With Brian Williams as the only starter becoming an unrestricted free agent without a new CBA, the Falcons have zero true holes to fill.
It's going to be a fun offseason...
Posted on: January 11, 2010 2:36 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2010 3:15 pm
Recap from the initial piece: draft picks are important assets in themselves in addition to their potential to become players.
You get seven picks per year to help you increase the value of your roster. If you release a drafted player, the "life" of that draft pick ends. But if you can trade him or get a compensatory draft pick when he signs elsewhere, you've increased your team's resources and extended the legacy of that draft pick.
The example from the initial piece was that Dan Reeves scooped up DT Ellis Johnson after the Colts released him. Two years later, McKay traded him for the draft pick he used to select Michael Boley. In April, Dimitroff will have a compensatory pick from Boley signing with the Giants. So eight years and two GMs after the Falcons got something for nothing by signing Johnson, they still have a draft pick to show for him.
The Falcons have a few more cases of players who "became" other players.
Many fans still cringe at losing 1999's first rounder Patrick Kerney to free agency after the 2006 season. The Falcons were mired in salary cap woes for a few years and simply couldn't compete with the megabucks offers that rising young players like Kerney and Kevin Shaffer received from other teams.
And while Petrino made the horrid call of drafting Jamaal Anderson to be the cornerstone of his franchise, at least Kerney didn't completely go to waste. The Falcons received a third round compensatory pick in 2008 for the loss of Kerney in 2007. And by then, the hog sooey idiot was off in Arkansas, so he had no influence on how that pick would be used.
That compensatory pick became starting safety Thomas DeCoud. So while we've been hurting at DE since Kerney's departure, his legacy lives on in the secondary.
Coach Booby also decided he wanted his ex-Louisville player Antoine Harris for his #9 defensive back. He also made Adam Jennings the return man, which meant former Pro Bowl kick returner Allen Rossum was on the way out. Rather than having to release him outright, McKay managed to trade Rossum to the Steelers for a future seventh round draft pick. It wasn't much, but it still beats relasing the player and getting absolutely nothing.
Dimitroff used that draft pick (#232) to get TE Keith Zinger. Zinger spent the 2008 season on the practice squad and was only the #5 tight end heading into camp. But he showed tremendous improvement in both blocking and receiving, ultimately beating out Jason Rader and incumbent starter Ben Hartsock for a roster spot.
As the #3 TE, Zinger didn't get many receiving opportunities, mainly appearing on offense as an extra blocker. But he did that role well, and he was also a significant figure on special teams, playing on every special teams unit.
He'll get a little more time working with Matt Ryan and the #2 quarterback this summer. He might still be a year away from being a significant factor on offense, but he has already shown good potential. If you're already looking for another TE to replace Tony Gonzalez in a year or two, don't count Zinger out quite yet.
Linebacker Mark Simoneau was the team's third round pick back in 2000. In March of 2003, Dan Reeves traded Simoneau to the Eagles for a pair of draft picks - a sixth rounder in 2003 and a fourth rounder in 2004.
Reeves used the sixth rounder to draft Waine Bacon, just one of his many WR busts over the years. (Reeves may have been a decent coach, but as a personnel head he had ZERO talent for evaluating WR prospects. But that's a whole separate article in itself.)
McKay used the 2004 fourth rounder (#125 overall) as the throw-in to trigger his first draft trade as Falcons GM. That pick went to the Colts to move Atlanta's second rounder up to the back end of round one.
With that pick, the Falcons selected starting WR Michael Jenkins.
And of course there are two more well known players from the 2004 draft who were later traded for draft picks. I'll hit those next time...
Posted on: October 25, 2009 1:31 pm
The Falcons used more blitzes than they did in the first three weeks, and they also broke out their 3-4 and 3-3-5 nickel formations. Part of it is the same smoke and mirrors concept as last season - we're still undersized on the d-line and young in the secondary. Mixing up packages helps to disguise these potential targets. Part of it is dictated by personnel. With five DEs and only three DTs on the active roster, it makes sense to give some of the DEs a few snaps at DT and give the big guys a little more rest.
The NBC broadcast of the Sunday night game named Jamaal Anderson as a starting defensive tackle. It's true that Jamaal and other defensive ends played snaps in the middle, but it's a stretch to say that the Falcons have moved their struggling young DE in to replace Peria Jerry at the one-technique DT spot.
See it for yourself... here's the log of Falcons defensive line personnel for each play of the game against the Bears.
Side note... for those not familiar with Falcons personnel,
DEs: 55 = John Abraham, 98 = Jamaal Anderson, 71 = Kroy Biermann, 92 = Chauncey Davis, 90 = Lawrence Sidbury
DTs: 95 = Jonathan Babineaux, 93 = Thomas Johnson, 97 = Trey Lewis
LBs: 54 = Stephen Nicholas (also, 53 = Mike Peterson, 50 = Curtis Lofton)
1st defensive series, begins at 13:48 Q1
1st-10, ball at CHI 38 = 98 95 93 55 (listed from Falcons left to Falcons right)
2nd-1, CHI 47 = 98 95 93 55 (blitz: 55 dropped back into coverage, 50 and 54 rushed)
3rd-1, CHI 47 = 98 95 93 92
1st-10, ATL 48 = 55 95 93 98
2nd-6, ATL 44 = 98 95 93 92
3rd-4, ATL 42 = 71 95 55 (3-3-5 nickel; 50 also rushed the passer so four man rush)
1st-10, ATL 36 = 71 98 95 55
1st-10, ATL 24 = 71 98 95 55
2nd-7, ATL 21 = 71 98 95 55
3rd-1, ATL 15 = 98 95 93 92
1st-10, ATL 13 = 98 95 93 92
2nd-9, ATL 12 = 98 93 97 92
3rd-9, ATL 12 = 71 98 95 55
2nd defensive series, begins at 5:02 Q1
1st-10, CHI 37 = 92 93 97 71
2nd-10, CHI 37 = 92 93 97 71 (offensive holding, play doesn't count)
2nd-20, CHI 27 = 92 93 97 71
3rd-12, CHI 35 = 90 71 95 55 (#90 offsides, no play)
3rd-7, CHI 40 = 90 71 95 55 (blitz: 55 drops back, 29 and 50 rush)
3rd defensive series, begins at 0:34 Q1
1st-10, ATL 44 = 92 93 97 71
1st-10, ATL 23 = 98 95 93 55
4th defensive series, begins at 9:03 Q2
1st-10, CHI 37 = 92 93 97 55
2nd-9, CHI 38 = 92 93 97 55
3rd-9, CHI 38 = 71 95 55 (54 also rushes)
1st-10, ATL 46 = 55 93 97 92 (6 man blitz: 55 drops, 53, 50, 26 rush) (SACK)
2nd-13, ATL 49 = 92 93 97 55
3rd-10, ATL 46 = (time out, no play) (ATL had 55 98 95 71 on line before time out)
3rd-10, ATL 46 = 71 95 55 (6 man blitz: 53, 54, 29 rush)
5th defensive series, begins at Q3
1st-10, CHI 19 = 98 95 93 55
2nd-6, CHI 23 = 55 98 95 71 (Blitz: 55 back, 50, 53 rush)
3rd-1, CHI 28 = 98 93 95 92
1st-10, CHI 30 = 71 98 95 55
2nd-11, CHI 29 = 71 98 95 55
3rd-11, CHI 29 = 71 98 95 55
6th defensive series, begins at 10:19 Q3
1st-10, CHI 40 = 98 93 97 92
2nd-13, CHI 37 = 92 98 93 71
3rd-9, CHI 41 = 71 98 95 55 (8-man GRITZ BLITZ)
7th defensive series, begins at 7:14 Q3
1st-10, CHI 40 = 98 93 95 92
2nd-10, CHI 40 = 98 93 95 92
Time out by ATL
1st-10, ATL 48 = 98 95 93 92
2nd-6, ATL 44 = 71 98 95 55 (Wildcat: direct snap to Devin Hester)
3rd-1, ATL 39 = 98 93 95 92
1st-10, ATL 34 = 71 98 95 55
2nd-11, ATL 35 = 71 98 95 55 (6-man blitz: 53, 50 rush)
1st-10, ATL 11 = 71 98 95 92
2nd-10, ATL 11 = 71 98 95 92
3rd-8, ATL 9 = 71 98 95 55
1st-GOAL, ATL 1 = 98 54 97 93 95 90 92 (goal line defense)
2nd-GOAL, ATL 1 = 98 54 97 93 95 90 92 (goal line defense)
3rd-GOAL, ATL 1 = 98 54 97 93 95 90 92 (goal line defense)
8th defensive series, begins at 9:48 Q4
1st-10, CHI 8 = 55 93 95 92
1st-10, CHI 38 = 71 92 95 55
2nd-10, CHI 38 = 71 92 95 55
3rd-8, CHI 40 = 71 95 55 (Blitz - 54, 53 rush) (no play - pass interference on Chris Houston)
1st-10, ATL 37 = 98 93 97 92
2nd-10, ATL 37 = 98 93 97 92 (no play - offensive holding)
2nd-20, ATL 47 = 71 98 95 55 (Blitz - 71 drops back, 53 and 28 rush)
1st-GOAL, ATL 6 = 98 93 97 55
time out, CHI
2nd-GOAL, ATL 2 = 98 97 93 95 90 92 (goal line defense)
3rd-GOAL, ATL 2 = 71 98 95 55 (Blitz - 53, 50 rush)
9th defensive series, begis at 3:06 Q4
1st-10, CHI 12 = 71 98 95 55
2nd-4, CHI 18 = 71 98 95 55
1st-10, ATL 48 = 71 98 95 55
(two minute warning)
1st-10, ATL 35 = 71 92 95 55 (no play, offsides on Kroy Biermann)
1st-5, ATL 30 = 71 92 95 55
1st-10, ATL 24 = 71 92 95 55
2nd-10, ATL 24 = 71 98 95 55 (SACK)
time out, CHI
3rd-17, ATL 31 = 71 95 98 55 (no play - pass interference on Curtis Lofton)
1st-10, ATL 14 = 71 98 95 55
2nd-10, ATL 14 = 71 98 95 55 (no play - false start)
2nd-15, ATL 19 = 71 98 95 55 (no play - offensive pass interference)
2nd-25, ATL 29 = 71 95 55
3rd-25, ATL 29 = 71 95 55
time out, CHI
4th-1, ATL 5 = 71 98 95 92 (no play - false start)
4th-6, ATL 10 = 55 95 98 71
Posted on: October 5, 2009 5:54 pm
Before the salary cap system began, players didn't become unrestricted free agents until after they had reached six years of league tenure. With the salary cap, that time dropped to four years.
Also, the maximum length of the rookie contract for all players drafted after the first round is four years. (For guys in the first half of the first round, it's six years. It's five years for the back half of the first round.)
Put it together, and it means that the initial contract is the maximum length of time you can count on keeping your drafted prospects. Dealing with that is an interesting aspect of personnel that teams approach in different ways.
One ramification is with the draft itself. Many teams passed on drafting Curtis Martin because the scouts at the time said he'd probably only last a few seasons before wearing out. That didn't stop Bill Parcells from selecting him in the third round for the Patriots. Parcells explained that it didn't matter, because four years was as long as you could count on keeping the guy anyway.
The flip side is that top draft prospects now receive contracts out of proportion with the rest of the league. If the kids need more than average development time, it's a disastrous use of a high draft pick.
The obvious example for the current Falcons roster is Jamaal Anderson, who is in his third season and has yet to show anything to prove he was worth a first round pick. An even better case is Brady Quinn, who is also in his third season. He was selected in the back half of round one (#22 overall), so the Browns only have him for two more years before he's a free agent.
Likewise, Tarvaris Jackson and Brodie Croyle were second and third round selections by the Vikings and Chiefs. Both are still works in progress - but they were both drafted in 2006, so this is year four for both of them. They're free agents at the end of the season, so those teams may end up with very little total return for their first day draft picks.
The other ramification is that since the specific players won't necessarily remain past the first contract, the draft pick should be treated as an asset unto itself. Whether the player ultimately makes it in the NFL is one thing, but if the team can get ongoing returns through trades or free agency, then the GM has done a fine job of asset management.
For now I'll just hit one example, but it's a pretty good one since it ties together the personnel moves of Dan Reeves, Rich McKay and Thomas Dimitroff:
Ellis Johnson was a first round selection by the Indianapolis Colts in 1995. He played with them for seven years but was released in the summer before the 2002 season.
Dan Reeves needed another DT to help rest Ed Jasper. He scooped up Johnson, who then racked up 7 sacks in 2002 and 8 in 2003. (By comparison, all Falcons defensive tackles combined had only 6 in 2007 and 6.5 last year.) Note that Reeves got him as an off the street free agent - picking him up did not cost the Falcons a draft pick or anything in trade.
But Johnson wasn't sure he wanted to play for a rebuilding team under Jim Mora in 2004 and talked about retirement rather than playing another season for Atlanta. New general manager Rich McKay traded him that summer to the Denver Broncos for the ever-popular "unspecified" draft pick, which turned out to be a fifth rounder the following year. (Johnson appeared in 13 games for Denver in 2004, making 16 total tackles with 3 sacks and an interception - and then retired at the end of the season.)
McKay used Denver's draft pick to select linebacker Michael Boley. Boley started 53 of the 64 games of his four year rookie contract and played in every game. He was a defensive star of the horrid 2007 team, racking up 109 total tackles, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions and 7 passes defensed.
He fell out of favor with the new Falcons coaching staff last season and was allowed to leave via free agency. But the story doesn't end there. The Giants signed him to a big enough contract that the Falcons will receive a compensatory draft pick in the 2010 draft. That pick will likely come at the end of the fifth round. (It may end up at the end of the fourth round, but I'm not getting my hopes up too high on that one.) Compensatory draft picks can't be traded, but the team is allowed to trade its own fifth or sixth round picks while keeping the compensatory pick.
So for now, Atlanta has the extra firepower to trade for additional personnel if necessary, and Thomas Dimitroff will have an extra Falcons player in the draft next April. And it all goes back to Dan Reeves scooping up a guy released by the Colts plus Rich McKay talking the Broncos out of a fifth rounder for a guy who was ready to retire.