Tag:Jason Snelling
Posted on: April 24, 2012 1:50 am
  •  
 

Pre-draft notes: running back / fullback

The overriding factor in every decision a general manager makes is the salary cap.

The cap isn't just about profit and loss.  It also serves as the league's best tool for maintaining a competitive balance, by forcing teams to focus on asset allocation.

Think of it this way:  you're the GM of a brand new expansion team, and you're allowed to try to sign any players you want from any team.   You have the ability to sign Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady as your three quarterbacks.   Is that a good idea?

The answer would be a definite NO.   You'd have at least $40 million in cap space (and probably over $50 million) tied up at the quarterback position, and only one of them could play at any time.  You'd only have $70 to $80 million left to spend on the other 50 players on your roster.  Good luck getting a defense, receivers, and blockers with that low of a budget.

That's where asset allocation comes in.  You can't have everything.  You have a limited supply of magic cookies, and you have to figure out where to use them.

So what does this have to do with the Falcons and the offensive backfield?  

Over the offseason, our braintrust had to make a lot of key decisions about the team's cap dollars.  And one of the biggest decisions was whether to stay with the power running game.  Starting RB Michael Turner and starting FB Ovie Mughelli carry some hefty salary cap costs.  Do we stay with our Pro Bowl backfield for one more year, or clear the roster and free up cap dollars to use elsewhere (such as at left tackle)?


My take:   the team publicly stated its commitment to Turner for this season.  Let's take them at their word and assume Turner stays. 

In cap terms, it makes sense.  Turner's signing bonus counts $2.5 million per season against the cap.  He's signed through 2013.  If the team trades or releases him before June, they would have to count both the 2012 and 2013 portions of that bonus against this year's cap.  They'd lose Turner and still face a $5 million cap cost.  If they keep him, they'd pay his $5 million salary and count the 2012 portion of his bonus.  The cap cost would be $7.5 million.

Keeping the team's offensive workhorse would only cost an extra $2.5 million of cap space.  Might as well have him stick around.

It's not as obvious with Mughelli, as the team would free up $3 million by dropping him.  Other fullbacks would be much cheaper.  But Atlanta's offensive production last season really dropped off the shelf after Mughelli went on IR.  The coaching staff knows how important he is to their power attack.  So if they're going to keep Turner, they could quite easily opt to keep Ovie for one more year as well.

It's a different story next year though -  Mughelli will be a free agent, and moving Turner next year would free $5 million of cap space.  I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see them both gone from the picture in 2013.  But for now, it looks like they're still going to be our starters in the offensive backfield.



Another item to consider:   we've heard that the team wanted Dirk Koetter at OC largely because of his thorough knowledge of the vertical passing attack.

Well, you can't work a strong vertical attack when you're playing a "22" package (two RBs and two TEs, with only one wide receiver on the field), as the Falcons often did in 2010-2011.   To get vertical, you're almost forced to go with more single-back formations.  And that means less of Turner, Ovie, or both.

Turner hasn't been much of a receiving threat out of the backfield.  He could pass block, but the team has stressed for a couple of years now that they really need to balance the load a bit more.  They *want* to get him off the field more frequently if they can.

Mughelli might be interesting as the lone back.  He can be effective catching passes out of the backfield, and he's the best blocker we have among our runners.  He'd certainly love a few more opportunities to carry the ball.  If he stays, he might see action as the lone back.

Jason Snelling would be ideal in a single back set, which may have been one reason why the team put a priority on resigning him.  He can run inside, catch passes, lead block, and pass protect.  He's not a speedster, but he's otherwise perfect for a team wanting to implement a four vertical attack. 

Jacquizz Rodgers has demonstrated that he's quite willing to throw his body against an incoming blitzer, but the results have often been painful (yet hilarious) to watch.  Hopefully Koetter would take an alternate approach and use him as the hot man for the outlet pass instead of making him a kamikaze pilot.   With his speed, he's a weapon - and that can be just as effective as blocking.  If a blitzer runs past him after the quarterback, a screen or hot pass would have Rodgers off to the races. 



The other big question is whether we keep four total runners on the roster (as we did for the entire 2008 season) or go with five (as we have most of the time since then). 

The obvious follow-up is if Koetter wants five, do we have the fifth man already in house or do we need to find him in the draft?  The in-house candidates:  

Antone Smith has held the #5 spot for the last two seasons.  In two seasons on the roster, he has a grand total of ONE rushing attempt -  for negative three yards.  He also has zero pass receptions, making him pretty much a waste of a roster spot.  The coaching staff opted to keep him in 2010 because of his speed.  But he was a disaster in the passing game in preseason, leading many fans to wonder whether the team kept the wrong man.  He turned it on in the final preseason game to save his roster spot last year, but afterwards appeared only on special teams -  or on the inactive list.

Dimitri Nance came to camp as an undrafted free agent in 2010 and was the main alternative to Smith.  The Falcons opted to try to stash Nance on the practice squad.  He didn't last long before the Packers signed him away.  He was available this offseason, and Atlanta quickly scooped him back up for camp. 

Based on what we saw of him in the 2010 preseason, he was a decent inside runner and could catch.  He needed more work on his reads in pass protection -  possibly an issue of trying to learn the offense as an undrafted rookie.  He doesn't have tremendous speed but does have versatility.  If he turns it on in preseason, he's likely to beat out Smith this time around.

Mike Cox is a pure fullback.  He came aboard when Mughelli went on IR last season.  Mixed grades on his effectiveness.  He didn't know much of the offense, so the team wasn't able to use him in as many situations as they could Mughelli or Snelling.  If nothing else, he does have experience.



My take:  I'm not sure I'd keep any of these three as the fifth man, though I'd let them all compete for the job in camp.  Nance needs to show he can block.  Smith needs to show he can run routes and catch.  Cox needs to show he can learn the whole offense and be more than just a pure lead blocker.

I wouldn't make RB a draft priority, but I'd consider it in the later rounds.  I'd definitely add at least one RB as an undrafted free agent.  The ideal guy would either be someone versatile like Snelling or a speedster who has KR experience and who would be deadly on the screen pass.  Atlanta thought it had Noel Devine as an undrafted free agent last year.  Someone like that would do.

This year's potential crop of undrafted runners doesn't seem to be as strong as last year's.  The other side of that coin:  by the end of August, there will likely be several candidates from last year's college class available as free agents or waiver pickups. 

I would generally prefer to go with five runners rather than four, as the team ran into trouble in 2009 when several players got banged up. 

But if the right candidate can be found for the practice squad (and if we can keep him -  we lost Kenneth Darby in 2008 and Nance in 2010), going with four would allow the team to carry an extra player elsewhere, such as an extra receiver or a DB for special teams. 

The fifth man could also be someone doubling up from another unit -  such as a backup TE lining up at the h-back spot in a spread package.



The big picture:   to quote the old song, a change is gonna come.  But not yet.    RB really shouldn't be an area of need for this draft.  


Posted on: October 30, 2011 2:35 pm
 

Looking ahead... free agency

One of the rare weeks where I'm in Atlanta for the weekend, and naturally it's our bye week...  Oh well.  That makes it a pretty good time to take a look at this coming offseason. 

The Falcons had it easy with free agency heading into the 2009 and 2010 seasons, as the team was loaded with young players locked under contract.  But the pendulum swung the other way this season and will be full tilt this coming offseason.

John Abraham will be a free agent.  So will Brent Grimes, since we only tendered him as a RFA this year.   Ditto for Eric Weems.  The team only resigned Jason Snelling for a one year deal.  He's a free agent again this year too.  Same story with linebacker Mike Peterson.

Tony Gonzalez is in the final year of his contract.  So are Todd McClure and Chris Redman, plus Joe Zelenka (long snappers are people too).  And so are the second and later rounders from the 2008 draft:  Curtis Lofton, Thomas DeCoud, Kroy Biermann, and Harry Douglas
And except for DE Ray Edwards, who inked a long term deal, all of our new Falcons are only signed for this season:  Kelvin Hayden, James Sanders, Brett Romberg, Reggie Kelly, Kirk Chambers, Mike Cox.

That's 19 unrestricted free agents on the current 53-man roster.  Yikes...



At quarterback, Matt Ryan is still here.  But John Parker Wilson is already a free agent -  all practice squad members are free agents who could be plucked at any time.  It's not a good sign for his future that the team chose to expose him rather than keep him on the roster.  And Redman will turn 35 before the start of training camp next year.  He may still have another year or two left in the tank, but I wouldn't depend on it.   So figure at least one new quarterback - and maybe two - in our future next year.

At running back, the Falcons are in reasonable shape for 2012 - mainly because serviceable running backs are so easy to come by, and because the backups are still so underused.  (Michael Turner has 138 carries going into the bye.  The other RB/FBs have a combined total of 24.)  Antone Smith has yet to carry the ball this year at all.  He's likely to be a fringe player once again next summer.

At tight end, Michael Palmer is an exclusive rights free agent.  That means the team can simply renew his contract, which makes him the only tight end they have locked in at all.  Gonzalez has said he feels like he can play a few more years.  He has also said before that he'd like to end his career with the Chiefs, so there's no telling whether he'd resign with Atlanta.  Practice squad players Marquez Branson (injured) and Tommy Gallarda are likely to be here for camp on futures contracts.  But we'll probably need more -  I wouldn't expect to see Kelly back for another season.

At wide receiver, I would guess that Douglas wouldn't be too difficult to resign.  Roddy White and Julio Jones are both here long term, and Kerry Meier is still under contract and likely to be more involved in his second year back from ACL surgery.  The interesting question is whether one of the prospects might challenge for a roster spot.  The front office reversed course last season.  Instead of going for big guys with good hands but who are slow as molasses, the team started looking at speedsters.  D.J. Davis and Kevin Cone are both lightning quick, and they're both getting a chance to learn the offense on the practice squad. 

(I'm thrilled to see the change - finally.  Too bad they couldn't have gone that route back in 2009, when we really could have used a speedster.  Our scouts had seen Johnny Knox at the Texas vs The Nation game - but after trading away Laurent Robinson, Dimitroff left Knox sitting on the draft board to take cornerback William Middleton instead.)

For all the fuss about how Atlanta's offensive line would supposedly be devastated by free agency this season, we turned out to be overloaded instead.  McClure is getting banged up pretty hard this year, and it's the final year of his contract.  Don't be surprised if Ol' Mud Duck hangs up the cleats.  But except for fill-ins Romberg and Chambers, everyone else is under contract at least through 2012.  (One caveat:  Sam Baker may be on one of those option or voidable years.)   And there's already extra depth in the pipeline, as both Andrew Jackson and Jose Valdez are still sitting on the practice squad.  

Specifically at center, Romberg would be likely to resign.  He came aboard this season as a street level free agent.  He's mainly working as a backup guard right now, but he's a natural center and was here previously as the #2 behind McClure.  He became expendable last year when the team drafted Joe Hawley.  Now he'd be a pretty obvious choice to bring back as Hawley's backup. 

At DE, we're in trouble.  Both Abraham and Biermann will be free agents.  Can we even afford to sign both?  We'd need at least one of them returning to supplement the remaining trio of Edwards, Lawrence Sidbury, and Cliff Matthews - and Sidbury will be a free agent after next season.   If we're going to stick with the current 4-3 scheme, the DE position will continue to need attention every year.

At DT, we're set.  Vance Walker will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and if he's still here, Carlton Powell would be a restricted free agent after 2012.  But the trio of Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry won't be free agents until 2014.

At linebacker, resigning Lofton will be a priority.  But otherwise, Peterson is the only free agent this year, and Spencer Adkins is the only one set to become a free agent next year. 

At cornerback, the question is whether we'd be able to hang on to Grimes at all.  He was hoping for a long term deal this year but only got a tender.  He's coming off a Pro Bowl appearance and continuing to make highlight reel plays.  If he hits the open market, somebody is bound to offer him the big bucks, as the Ravens did with Domonique Foxworth a few years back.   Hayden will also be a free agent this offseason, and Chris Owens will be entering the final year of his contract.   The team has already started preparing for 2012 by keeping undrafted rookie Darrin Walls on the roster, while Dominique Franks also continues to develop.

One potential scenario:  Grimes bolts for the big bucks, but the team resigns Hayden.  Even before the draft, that gives Atlanta a quintet of Dunta Robinson, Hayden, Owens, Franks and Walls.   Throw in few futures contract or two - perhaps bringing Kamaal McIlwain in for another run at training camp - and the group as a whole would at least be no worse off than in 2009 and 2010.

At safety, Decoud and Sanders are both free agents.  That leaves William Moore (who will be in the final year of his contract) and Shann Schillinger as the only safeties locked in.  The team opted to expose Rafael Bush to the practice squad instead of Walls, and he has already been plucked away.  Suaesi Tuimaunei is getting a chance to learn the system as the replacement for Bush on the practice squad.   He's an intriguing possibility as a long term project, but he won't be ready for real action in 2012.  At least one more safety will be a must. 




Posted on: March 23, 2010 1:54 pm
 

thoughts on the compensatory picks...

It's nice to see that the Falcons are now one of the teams that "gets it" when it comes to compensatory picks.

An example of a team that missed the boat and cost themselves a good pick:  the Cardinals lost Antonio Smith in free agency in 2009 and would have received a third round pick this year.  But they also signed backup running back Jason Wright - and gave him a contract large enough to count.

(side note:  Wright was one of our undrafted rookie signings in 2004 and ended up appearing in two games for the Falcons that year.)

Wright carried the ball THREE times for the Cardinals in 2009.  He wasn't injured or anything - he was on the active roster for every game.  They simply didn't use him.   But because the timing and salary made him count as part of the magic formula, Arizona had as many significant free agents coming as they did going.  So to get those three carries last year, the Cardinals lost out on a third round pick this year.

The alternative:  when you're in line to receive a good compensatory pick, wait until after the official free agency period ends (shortly before training camp begins) to sign those fringe guys.  Or sign players who were released by their previous teams, since they don't count.

(Before anybody jumps on this thinking I'm saying teams should build their entire offseason strategies around comp picks, I'm not saying that at all.  Last year's big free agents like Albert Haynesworth or T.J. WhosYourMama certainly were worth it.  I'm referring to the borderline guys -  players like Antoine Harris or Tony Gilbert from last year's Falcons roster.  You wouldn't be willing to give up a third rounder to sign a guy like Charlie Peprah, would you?  That's pretty much what Arizona did.) 

The Cardinals could just as easily have found a suitable fifth or sixth player for their backfield off the street, as an undrafted rookie, off of waivers after preseason roster cuts, or plucked from another team's practice squad.  Atlanta signed Verron Haynes and later Aaron Stecker that way and added Antone Smith to the practice squad without costing ourselves a compensatory pick.    

Other Falcon additions that didn't count:   Will Svitek, Marty Booker, and Robert Ferguson (who lost out to Eric Weems and Brian Finneran for the last WR spots).  Booker and Ferguson were signed after Harry Douglas was injured, but the team had already scheduled visits and workouts for free agent WRs (including Ferguson) even before HD's injury.   Also: OL Jeremy Newberry (who promptly retired) and LB Jamie Winborn (who lost out to Gilbert and Spencer Adkins for the final LB spots). 

Our own Lawyer Milloy was signed by the Seahawks after the end of the official free agency period, which is why he didn't count towards the Falcons possibly receiving another pick.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Falcons will NOT be in line for a compensatory pick next year.  We didn't lose any free agents this year that mattered.  Chris Redman, Brian Williams, and Brian Finneran all re-signed.  This is the perfect year to sign anyone we want to fill in the gaps.

So have no fear over the signing of Matt Giordano or any other player we might sign over the next month or two.  We're not throwing away future comp picks by signing them.   Bring 'em on! 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One other question that has yet to be answered...   will there even be comp picks in next year's draft?  Compensatory picks came in with the early free agency.  This year's comp picks are tied to last year's signings, so they're still in the system even though 2010 is an uncapped year.  But comp picks for next year might depend on the terms of the next CBA.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You may have seen a note on the Falcons web site or perhaps a mention in some other article elsewhere that the team had previously received a grand total of eight compensatory picks and that this year's draft will bring the total to ten.

One note to add is that in the early days of the system, the compensatory picks could be traded.  Atlanta's first compensatory pick was acquired by trade.  It was a third rounder that actually had been awarded to the Broncos.  We received it as part of the package for trading Mike Pritchard to the Broncos.

Our personnel head at the time, Ken Herock, used that third rounder to draft Alai Kalanuvalu.  It's yet another in the long list of classic Falcons draft picks.  Kalanuvalu didn't even make the roster.
 
Otherwise, the Falcons never had higher than a seventh round compensatory pick through the remainder of the Ken Herock years or through the Dan Reeves years in spite of losing a few big names to free agency. 

Half of our comp picks have come in the last five years.  Under McKay and now Dimitroff, the Falcons have received 4th and 7th rounders in 2007 (for the loss of Kevin Shaffer and Barry Stokes in 2006), a 3rd rounder in 2008 (for losing Patrick Kerney in 2007), and now 3rd and 5th rounders (for losing Domonique Foxworth and Michael Boley in 2009).

The pick for Kevin Shaffer ended up wasted on Martrez Milner, but the seventh rounder that year became Jason Snelling.  And the pick for Patrick Kerney was used to take Thomas Decoud. 

And Shaffer himself was the product of one of our earlier comp picks - a seventh rounder in 2002.  The other two Dan Reeves comp picks were used to take WRs Rondel Menendez and Quentin McCord.  Reeves certainly did a better job drafting offensive linemen than wide receivers....



Posted on: November 10, 2009 3:08 pm
 

miscellaneous notes - 11/10/2009

It's Tuesday, which is the team's day off now that we're back to a "normal" weekly routine.  A few notes before we head into the second half of the season...




The inside word on Thomas Brown:  the Falcons still love the kid.

It seemed really strange that the team brought in two running backs (Antoine Smith for the practice squad in addition to Aaron Stecker for the roster) and that Brown wasn't one of them...  not to mention the fact that Brown wasn't part of the original practice squad.

The reason is that the news reports from the roster cut deadline didn't give us all the details.  Thomas Brown and Von Hutchins weren't ordinary releases/waivers.  They were injury settlements, just like with David Irons at the start of training camp.  Under league rules, teams can't re-sign players released under injury settelements until mid-November.  So they didn't sign Brown to the practice squad because they couldn't.  And while they were able to re-sign Jamaal Fudge and bring promising prospect Eric Brock back to the practice squad, Von Hutchins has been off limits.

I fully expect to see Brown in a Falcons uniform again.  Not certain about Hutchins, but it's quite possible we'll see him come back as well.




On other banged-up Falcons:   unless he gets hurt in practice, Jason Snelling will return this weekend against the PanthersThomas Johnson is expected to return to practice this week.  The team hopes he'll also be able to play, but it's not certain. 

Sam Baker aggravated the same ankle he's been having problems with for the last several weeks.  The story with him this week will probably be the same as last week - he might be cleared to play, but whether the team would (or even should) choose to play him is another question entirely.  Will Svitek certainly showed last week that he's a competent replacement.  He plays with fire like the Nasty Boys on the right side of the line.  Falcons radio announcer Wes Durham joked that he learned from the best, doing an internship this year at the firm of Clabo & Dahl, and that he plays right through the last millisecond of the whistle.  

The big concern this week is Brian Finneran.  There haven't been any official announcements or comments on him at all yet.





Much ado about a doo-doo:   no word yet on formal complaints being filed about DeAngelo Hall's claims the Falcons tried to do him wrong on the sideline, though obviously we know the league is reviewing it. 

Forget all the talk.  There won't be any significant action against Smitty or Jeff Fish or even LaRon Landry of the Redskins.

The hit was late, and it drew a flag.  Case closed.  It wasn't a vicious hit, and Landry left the area immediately (and even made peace with the Falcons while doing so).  There was plenty of yelling and some pushing, similar to what happens all the time when tempers flare up on the field.  But there was no major incident, and the only remotely significant item was the extra bump by Albert Haynesworth which drew the second flag.

The whole thing was a non-event, and the only reason anyone is talking about it at all is that ex-Falcon MeAnJello made all those insane post-game comments.

If any thing does come out of it, the most likely actions are a small fine against Albert Haynesworth and possibly some action against Hall for both instigating the situation and that obscenity-laced diatribe.   





Looking ahead to the second half of the season...  the Falcons were 5-3 at this point last year too.  They're now coming off the four game stretch that they simply needed to survive, and they came away 2-2 in those four games.  They did exactly what they had to do.

I won't say the rest of the schedule is easier in terms of the opponents, but other aspects of it do get better.  There are no more west coast trips or pre-scheduled Monday night games (still subject to flex scheduling) to mess up the travel and practice routines.  Also, we're now done with three of the four games against teams coming off of byes.

In the meantime, the young guys in the secondary have gotten some valuable experience, two new acquisitions (Tye Hill and Aaron Stecker) have stepped in very well, and some of the young d-linemen (particularly Kroy Biermann and Vance Walker) are also stepping up.

That will give the Falcons a boost in the second half.  We have better depth than many teams out there, and injuries are piling up all over the league - not just here.  If we can avoid injuries to significant players, we'll have an edge down the stretch.





Posted on: November 1, 2009 1:20 pm
 

best guesses on this week's injured Falcons

first a quick recap of the injury reports this week:

Jerious Norwood still isn't practicing.  Antoine Harris (knee) and Ovie Mughelli (calf) did get back onto the practice field but were limited all week.

The bad news is the rest of the list -  Jason Snelling (hamstring) and Thomas Johnson (calf) were both out all week, while Jonathan Babineaux (ankle), John Abraham (foot) and Chris Owens (shoulder) were limited all week.  Sam Baker tweaked his ankle in practice and was limited on Fri/Sat.  Kroy Biermann hurt his neck in practice on Friday and missed practice yesterday.  
That's ten Falcons including five starters who are officially listed as QUESTIONABLE for the game against the Saints.  The team is even more banged up now than they were heading into the game against the CowboysTony Gilbert and Mike Schneck were also on the injury report but were not limited in practice and are PROBABLE.



The main "coin flip" cases will be Biermann and Ovie.  The team thinks they'll be available but won't get final clearance on either of them until late tomorrow afternoon.  If they're cleared to play, they'll be on the active list - even if they're extremely limited. 

Best guesses on everyone else:   Norwood and Snelling will not play.  Verron Haynes might even start, and we'll get a really good look at Aaron Stecker.  Abraham, Babs and Baker will all play and will all start.  Thomas Johnson will be out.  Trey Lewis will start, Vance Walker will get his first career game backing up Babs, and we'll see more of Jamaal Anderson and Chauncey Davis sliding into the middle in pass rush situations.  Antoine Harris is close but will be held out again this week.  Owens will probably be available, but (partly depending on Biermann) the team may choose to sit him and play Spencer Adkins for special teams instead.  Schneck and Gilbert will play.


Posted on: October 19, 2009 2:30 pm
 

the injuries are starting to build

The Falcons come off an 11-5 season under their new coach and new GM, and they start the year with a scorching hot 6-2 record. 

Yes, I know they've only played five games and are now 4-1.  That was a flashback to 2005.  The problem then was that injuries were building up throughout that early run.  And by midseason, a whole lot of backups (and in some cases, backups to the backups) were getting a whole lot of playing time.

The result... the Falcons won only two games in the second half of the season and finished 8-8, missing the playoffs.

This year's initial roster had much better depth.  But you can only go two or three deep at any position when you're limited to a 53-man total and a 45-man game day active roster.  So regardless of how deep you are coming out of the gate, if you get multiple injuries at one position, it's a problem.

This year, the Falcons had their bye in week four.  Atlanta is now two weeks into a stretch of thirteen straight games without a rest.  And the injuries are starting to pile up.
It didn't get as much attention as when Brian Williams or Jerious Norwood went out, but Atlanta also lost backup safety William Moore... again.  Moore left the game with another hamstring problem.  It's turning into the same situation the team had with Laurent Robinson last year.  Robinson played well in 2008 - for a grand total of five quarters at WR.  But he missed a lot of preseason and early season action with an injury, then tweaked his hamstring, and then re-injured it the moment he returned to practice.  Now it's happening with Moore.  Hopefully the Falcons won't give up on their second round DB and give him away in a bad trade the way they did their third round WR.

The catch - Antoine Harris is still out with his knee injury, not practicing at all last week.  So the Falcons don't have a healthy backup safety on the roster at all.  And the main guy who would sub at safety in an emergency...  Brian Williams.   Uh oh.

The usual practice is for the team to wait until Wednesday to talk about the extent of injuries, since that's when the first official injury report of the week gets released.  It also fits the team's regular schedule, since the injured players would normally spend most of the day with medical staff.  Smitty wouldn't have the latest info until after he meets with the media.  (That's by design - it's simple to deflect questions when you really don't have any info.)  And Tuesday is the team's day off, so the Wednesday afternoon Q&A after practice is the first time the word gets out.

But this week may be treated a little differently since the trade deadline is tomorrow.  The team's own front office absolutely HAS to know ASAP if Norwood and Williams will be out for the year or an extended time so that they can have a day to work the phones and make a deal if needed.  And if Smitty has that info (or if Daryl Ledbetter or another writer thinks about it and manages to corner Dimitroff), the team is usually pretty good about at least summarizing it.

So there's a chance we'll hear something after this afternoon's press time - especially if it's really bad news.

Now for a little what-if... 

(a) suppose Norwood's hip flexor thing is major and he's headed to IR.  The option that would probably be the fan favorite is that Thomas Brown is still available.  While Mughelli is out, that would leave the team with a four-back group similar to last year.  Verron Haynes would be the principal fullback with Jason Snelling doing double-duty as backup RB and backup FB.  Brown would take Norwood's spot as a backup RB.

(b) if Brian Williams is gone, the CB situation isn't that much of a problem.  The team is already carrying six CBs on the roster anyway.  We'd be back to Brent Grimes, Chris Houston, and Chevis Jackson as the main three.  That's what the team was planning to do all along anyway.  And if those three struggle, it's still only a matter of time before Tye Hill is ready for action.  Domonique Foxworth became a starter in week eight last year. 

The real question is what to do at safety without Williams being available.  Moore is banged up.  Harris is banged up.  William Middleton cross-trained at safety, but he's now with the JaguarsLawyer Milloy is now with the Seahawks.

At this point, it might be for the best if Moore's hamstring problem is serious enough for the team to put him on the shelf for the year.  It's clear he won't be playing in the secondary anytime soon.  If he's healthy, he can work special teams.  But considering he missed all but one week of training camp, all of preseason, has had only three weeks of full participation in practice, and is out from practice again for the forseeable future, it's hard to imagine the team would give him the responsibility of being the last line of defense in the backfield anytime in 2009.

If he's on the shelf (by that I mean if the team puts him on IR), that would free up the roster spot for someone else who really could play the defensive backfield if necessary.

The three names that come to mind right away are the three Falcons who didn't make the final roster cut.  That's intentional - it's not that I'm playing favorites, but that if you need a guy who could step in immediately, the obvious choice is someone who spent all training camp and preseason in your system.  The good news is that they're all available.

Jamaal Fudge also knows Smitty's defenses after playing for Smith and DB coach Alvin Reynolds in Jacksonville.  And he was the guy Smitty turned to last year when Lawyer Milloy was too banged up to play the final regular season game.  He'd be the most likely candidate.

Von Hutchins is still available too.  He wasn't healthy enough for full duty in the secondary during preseason, but he was getting really close.  He's had two more months to recover, while everyone else in the league has had two months of contact to get banged up.  If he's now back to about 90%, that would put him roughly on par with everyone else.  He'd be capable of being a backup.  Keep in mind that half his career starts were at safety rather than CB, and that he got more playing time at safety in camp this year than at CB anyway.  He's had the reps.  He'd be a strong choice - if he's physically up to playing condition.

The other issue was that he signed a pretty big free agent contract here before the 2008 season.  It would have been tough for the team to carry his base salary purely as a backup role - especially if he couldn't beat out Grimes or Jackson for the nickel corner job.  But that's out of the way now.  The team is free to re-sign him to a smaller contract that will fit within the salary cap.

And I said there were three ex-Falcons...  the third is Eric Brock, the camp walk-on who made the practice squad and ended the season on the roster last year.  Even if the team re-signed Fudge or Hutchins or made a trade for another safety, they should still consider bringing Brock back to the practice squad ASAP.  They need the depth.
 

Posted on: 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: August 26, 2009 12:04 am
 

Noteworthy plays from the Rams game

Smitty referred to the Lions game as "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly".  The second preseason game had more of the same. 

Here are details for some of the significant plays.  If you still have the video recorded (from either the Falcons feed live or the Rams feed via the NFL Network replay), please check them out...

 

The TV graphics and announcers all said that Todd McClure started but noted later that Brett Romberg had come in at center.  Actually, Romberg was there from the beginning.  The rest of the starting offensive lineup was the regular cast - Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo on the front line.

The Falcons completely owned the Rams for the first two offensive series.  The first drive had a heavy dose of Michael Turner, who then took the rest of the game off.  The second was heavy on passes and used a lot of no-huddle offense.

The starting defensive line featured Chauncey Davis and John Abraham at DE with Babineaux and Trey Lewis at DT.  Lewis did a fine job of drawing double teams. 

The second defensive series had Peria Jerry come in to replace Lewis.

3:22 remaining Q1, Rams ball, 1st and 10 at STL 17 (first play of the drive) - this one got attention because Brent Grimes dropped an interception.  He jumped too soon when he should have backpedaled a little more (he didn't recognize the pass was a total duck) and couldn't hold on to it in the air.  Other details of the play:  the Falcons only rushed the front four.  Both DEs were collapsing the pocket, but Babs and Jerry were both beaten by single blockers.  Side note - the intended receiver was a former prospect of ours, TE Daniel Fells.

2:44 Q1, Rams ball, 3rd and 10 at STL 17 - Atlanta blitzes, but it isn't effective. The mechanics of the failed pass rush:  Abraham drops back into coverage.  Coy Wire and Chevis Jackson both rush the passer.  The other linemen do a twist, with each moving to their right while Jackson and Wire rush on the left side.  All three defensive linemen are beaten easily by single blockers.  The twist leaves the RT free to block Wire, and the running back picks up Jackson. 

Meanwhile, Laurent Robinson (remember him?) beats Chris Owens for a 19 yard gain.

1:25 Q1, Rams ball, 2nd and 10 at STL 36 - John Abraham does a stunt, faking outside but then swings to his left to rush from the inside of the line.  Babineaux breaks off into short coverage.  HE HAS CONTAIN RESPONSIBILITY.  Grimes is in zone coverage, shadowing Laurent Robinson.

Kyle Boller has no one open, sees space to his left (since Abe was coming in the middle) and breaks from the pocket.  Laurent Robinson sees him take off and runs to the middle to block Babineaux.

Let that sink in for a moment... the WR who didn't fit into Atlanta's plans because he wasn't physical enough and couldn't block took on the starting DT and took him completely out of the play.

Grimes initially continued shadowing Robinson (that was his responsibility - Boller could still pull up and throw the ball) but then ran after the QB.  He couldn't prevent him from turning the corner, and Boller picked up the first down.

The announcers made Grimes look bad, saying he was the one who lost contain.  Cut the kid some slack - it wasn't his responsibility.

14:56 Q2, Rams ball, 3rd and 10 at ATL 40.  The Falcons got really lucky on this play, which SHOULD have gone for a Rams touchdown. It was a play designed to attack the cover two, and the Falcons had a mishap at the start.

The Rams were in a 3 WR set.  The Falcons were in their cover two nickel package with Chevis Jackson on the slot receiver on the same side (defensive right side, offensive left side) as Grimes, who was lined up on (him again) Laurent Robinson.  Chris Owens (starting in place of Chris Houston) was on the receiver on the opposite side.

I have no idea what Jackson was trying to do, but he initially broke inside as if trying to jump a slant route.  His receiver ran right past him, and Jackson chased after him all the way down the middle of the field - from five yards behind him. 

On the other side, Owens released his man (also running deep) to the safety in the deep zone (Thomas DeCoud).  When Robinson entered the deep zone, Grimes started to release him as well.  But the safety on his side (Erik Coleman) wasn't there.  Instead, he had run to the middle of the field to pick up Jackson's man. 

Both safeties ended up on the defensive left side of the left hash mark, with no safety at all on the right half of the field.  That's not supposed to happen.

Grimes chased after Robinson, but there's no way he was going to catch up.  Fortunately the ball was badly overthrown.  At the end of the play, Grimes looked back at his teammates as if asking what the heck happened.

The end result was good, but file that one under "The Ugly".


13:57 Q2, Falcons ball, 2nd and 15 at ATL 19.  Everyone saw the first interception on the highlights.  After a false start by Tyson Clabo, Shockley throws a pass to Marty Booker.  Booker can't make the catch, and James Laurinaitis makes the interception off of the tip.

Baldinger pointed out the obvious fact that Booker should have caught the ball, but what we didn't see on the Atlanta broadcast was that Laurinaitis might not have made the pick cleanly. The ball definitely touched the ground as he came down with it, and it's questionable whether he had full control until after it touched. One shot looked like he momentarily didn't have it.

The guys in the St. Louis production truck showed it repeatedly on their broadcast, but Trent Green was busy rambling on about what a ball hawk Laurinaitis is and didn't get the hint that the play might be challenged.  The Atlanta broadcast only showed the replay from the overhead camera, so Falcons fans had no idea the play was so close.
 
Smitty didn't challenge.  I don't know if the call would have been reversed, but he certainly had grounds to throw the red flag.


12:10 Q2, Falcons ball, 3rd and 8 at ATL 21.  Shockley throws a perfect strike to Justin Peelle for a 23 yard completion on the right side.  But both offensive tackles were lined up too far off the ball, so the play got erased by the penalty for illegal formation.

I mention it for two reasons.  First, this was the longest completion for any Falcons QB so far this preseason - and it was wiped out by a silly penalty.  Second, the coaching staff evaluates the film, not the box score.  Shockley has had a bunch of passes that haven't counted as completions.  The stats look horrible, but the film is much better.


9:00 Q2, Rams ball, 3rd and 16 at 50 yard line. (Lawrence Sidbury gets his first sack as a Falcon.) 

The defensive line for the series had Sid and Jamaal Anderson at DE with Peria Jerry and Trey Lewis in the middle.  Jamaal drops into coverage while Curtis Lofton rushes.  (It's not a blitz since there were still only four pass rushers.  Atlanta is mixing things up a bit so that the offense won't know who's coming and who's in coverage.)

Trey Lewis draws a double team.  (He did that for most of the night.)  Sidbury stunts, coming inside of Lewis while Lofton rushes around the end.  Lofton gets there first but misses the sack.  The QB steps up into the pocket and right into Sid Vicious, who beat his inside blocker with that spin move of his.  (If you're not familiar with it, look up Sidbury on YouTube.)


5:00 Q2, Rams ball, 3rd and 10 at STL 34.  This one's a play Chevis Jackson would rather forget.  Ronald Curry beats him on a short pass.  No big deal, but Jackson then misses the tackle - allowing Curry to get the first down and keep the drive alive.

2:12 Q2, Rams ball, 2nd and 9 at ATL 28.  Follow that one up with one Grimes would rather forget.  He didn't have his assignment and was out of position, leaving Burton wide open for a short catch.  And then he too failed to make the tackle, allowing Burton to run for the first down.

Hey, at least our DBs were being consistent...

14:20 Q3, Rams ball, 2nd and 11 at STL 15.  There had to be a mixup on the coverage assignments on this one.  TE Daniel Fells was absurdly wide open.  (None of the regulars were on the field for this entire series - Wire, Gilbert and James were the LBs with Owens and Middleton at corner and Harris and Brock at safety.)

10:13 Q3, Falcons ball, 2nd and 8 at ATL 29.  This was the sack/fumble. 
The play was ugly from the outset.  Atlanta was in a 2 TE, single back set, but Jason Snelling shifted to a slot receiver position, leaving no one in the backfield for protection.  The Rams blitzed.  Can you see the train wreck in this picture?

Ben Hartsock was the TE on the right side.  He went out for a short curl route.  The Rams overloaded that side of the line, with two rushers coming free.

Shockley had to know he had to throw it to the hot receiver.  The big question is WHO was supposed to be the hot read?  If you check the replay, Shockley looked immediately to Jason Rader (TE on the left side) and started a throwing motion.  But Rader didn't turn around in time.  Shockley tucked it and instantly got hit and stripped.

(Hmmm.... could the "Tuck Rule" have applied here?)

 

9:30 Q3, Rams ball, 2nd and 8 at ATL 20.  Brock Berlin hits the 20 yard TD pass.  chris Owens actually had decent coverage, but he had no safety help.  Eric Brock was up short (probably by design, playing run support) and not in position to help on the play.


4:55 Q3, Falcons ball, 3rd and 8 at STL 15.  The Falcons get into the red zone and promptly try two straight runs up the middle.  Now it's 3rd and 8.

Shockley drops back to pass and no one is open.  He sees daylight in the middle - and for the first time this preseason, he decides to run for it. 

Unfortunately, he's playing behind the backup offensive line.  The DT (Scott) sheds his block and tackles Shockley just as he hits the hole.

It didn't work out, but it was a pretty good decision.  The opportunity was there, and it was safer than risking an interception.


3:16 Q3, Rams ball, 3rd and 15 at STL 35.  I'm really only including this play to mention the defensive personnel.  Safety Jamaal Fudge played the nickel cornerback role for the remainder of the game, while Von Hutchins played safety.

This one is Fudge's play he'd like to forget.  He's beaten by Bajema for a short completion and then can't make the tackle, allowing Bajema to run for the first down and keep the drive alive.  (Hmmm... sound familiar?  Same play, different corner, cheap movie...)  William Middleton comes over to make the tackle, but only after a 16 yard gain on 3rd and 15.

14:55 Q4, Falcons ball, 3rd and 8 at ATL 25.  John Parker Wilson is now in at QB.  His first pass was off target, overthrowing Chandler Williams.  This one was slightly behind Eric Weems, but close enough for Weems to make the play. Weems got his hands on it but couldn't catch it, instead tipping it up for it to become an interception.  Maybe these things don't ONLY happen to D.J. Shockley...

Well, apparently they really do only happen to Shockley, even when they happen to someone else.  Check out the box score of the game on NFL.com, and also find the start of the fourth quarter on the play-by-play listing.  You won't believe it.  

The play by play shows that Wilson came in at QB and that Wilson threw the incompletion to Williams.  But then it lists Shockley as the QB that threw the INT on the pass intended for Weems.  And the box score lists the INT under Shockley, plus there's an extra pass attempt and INT included in Shockley's preseason stats.

Jeff Van Note said at halftime that Shockley is having "buzzard's luck" this preseason.  That wasan interesting and polite way of saying he isn't getting much help from his teammates, who have dropped over 15% of his throws so far.  But when the league starts putting someone else's interceptions in your stats, that's just silly.  How snakebit can you get???



8:33 Q4, Falcons ball, 2nd and 9 at ATL 38.  With his best pass of the preseason, John Parker Wilson hits a leaping Keith Zinger over the middle for 15 yards.

Zinger has only played TE with the mop-up unit, but keep him in mind as a contender for the #3 TE spot.  He has done well with what little opportunity he's had on offense, and more importantly he plays on every single special teams unit (including forming the wedge with Brett Romberg on kickoff returns). 

 

5:34 Q4, Falcons ball, 1st and 10 at STL 32.  Jason Snelling breaks off a 23 yard run to take it inside the 10.

The four Rams RBs had a grand total of 60 yards rushing for the whole game.  Snelling had 61 all by himself.

Give due credit all around - Atlanta's defensive line and linebackers got it done on run defense.  Oh, and we have some pretty darn good running backs of our own.  Snelling's a beast, and he's competing to be the freaking THIRD STRING running back.

For those of us old enough to remember the days of Haskel Stanback and Bubba Bean, that's enough to give us goosebumps.

 

1:54 Q4, Rams ball, 1st and 10 at ATL 38.  This is the one exception to the excellent run defense.  4th string RB Kenneth Darby (a fine prospect who was plucked off of Atlanta's practice squad last season) charged straight up the middle for 21 yards.

The Rams were in a 3-WR formation, with the Falcons playing their nickel package.  It was EXACTLY the same situation as last year, when Grady Jackson would leave the field on nickel situations and teams could plow right through the middle.

Here's the breakdown of the play:

DT Tywain Myles (who wasn't expected to play in this game) lined up on the left guard.  Vance Walker lined up just outside the right guard.  The defensive ends (Sidbury and Willie Evans) lined up on the TE and outside the left tackle. 

At the snap, the right guard let Walker get penetration on the OUTSIDE (away from the play) and moved downfield to block one linebacker (Tony Gilbert).  The left tackle and tight end blocked the defensive ends, with the idea of allowing them around the outsides (again, away from the play) but protecting the inside. The right tackle was free to move downfield and block the other linebacker (Robert James).

The center blocked to his left, completely bulldozing Tywain Myles. The left guard pulled and sealed off the right side, preventing Walker from getting back into the play before the runner got through the line.

With the WRs either blocking or running the CBs away from the play and both LBs blocked by offensive linemen, the first guys with a shot at Darby were the two safeties (Von Hutchins and Eric Brock) - who were both lined up in deep zones for pass protection against the 3-WR set. They both made the play at first contact, but that was 21 yards downfield.


0:50 Q4, Rams ball, 4th and 6 at ATL 13.  The highlight film shows the interception.  The announcers raved about how important it was for the Falcons to step up and make a play.

What they didn't mention was the call by Brian VanGorder.  He sent seven rushers after the QB. 

Yep... with the game on the line, the Rams in a spread formation (3 WRs plus TE split off on the right side) and his mop-up defense on the field, VanGorder dialed up the Gritz Blitz.  WOW...

It would otherwise seem insane to leave Jamaal Fudge, Glenn Sharpe, Tony Tiller and Eric Brock all in one-on-one matchups in the red zone.  Von Hutchins, the only experienced DB on the field, was one of the blitzers.  (I'm sure VanGorder did that on purpose, just to throw the kids into the deep end of the pool.)  But considering the opponent was a fourth string rookie QB, it wasn't a bad idea. 

The QB (Keith Null, from West Texas A&M) got spooked and threw a bad pass for the pick.  Two receivers had separation (Fudge was well behind his man on a short crossing route), but Null threw the ball straight to Eric Brock.  Game over.

 
 

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