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: February 6, 2010 12:18 am
Something that frequently comes up on the message board... should the Falcons fill a particular need by signing a free agent or drafting a top prospect. Well, why not do both?
As an example, that's what the Patriots did to fill their hole at DT in 2004. They traded to pick up Ted Washington from the Bears and drafted Vince Wilfork. Washington only played 10 games for New England, but that bought them enough time to get Wilfork up on the defense and ready to step into the starting role.
That same mentality could work well for Atlanta this offseason. If the team can sign its own free agents (particularly Brian Williams, Chris Redman and long snapper Mike Schneck) and RFAs (eight total, including seven that may become unrestricted free agents if a new CBA is reached in the next four weeks), there will be zero true holes on the roster and only a handful of positions in need of upgrades.
To show how the sign-one-and-draft-one approach COULD work, here's my own current pipe dream scenario (Pipe Dream v 1.0) for the offseason:
Over the next two weeks, the Falcons re-sign Chris Redman, Brian Williams, and Mike Schneck. They work out deals with RFAs Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl, Jerious Norwood and tender Quinn Ojinnaka, Jamaal Fudge and Charlie Peprah.
Rather than repeating the franchise tag on Michael Koenen, they save the cash and sign Anthony Rocca. (I *love* footy, so I have to throw a bone to the AFL guys - even though I usually rooted against Rocca's team for most of his career. Nothing against Koenen though. He might be the best punter in the NFL.)
They also re-sign Brian Finneran, Marty Booker, Von Hutchins and David Irons for competition in camp. (Note that Hutchins played safety with the Texans as well as CB and that Irons was a demon on special teams.)
In free agency, they sign Aaron Kampman (Packers) to a three-year deal including a large incentive bonus based on sacks in the 2010 season.
In the draft, they trade down in the first and land an extra third rounder. They draft DE Brandon Graham with the late first rounder, package their fifth and sixth rounders to trade up if needed to snag LB Daryl Williams and CB Donovan Warren in the third, take WRs Jacoby Ford (Clemson) and Freddie Barnes (Bowling Green) with the fourth round and first compensatory pick, and take FB Rashawn Jackson and injured LB O'Brien Schofield with the other two compensatory picks.
Sign two kickers - Brett Swenson (Michigan State) and Joshua Shene (Ole Miss) as undrafted free agents. Other undrafted free agents are DTs Travis Ivey (Maryland) and Kade Weston (UGA), offensive linemen Cord Howard (Ga Tech) and Sean Allen (East Carolina), and WR Kelton Tindal (the Newberry kid who will be playing in the Texas Vs The Nation game tomorrow).
Up to this point, everything listed is well within reason. Aaron Kampman is expected to hit the open market. Our own free agents are believed to want to return. Hutchins, Irons, and Rocca are already available. The draft picks are all within reach based on current CBS rankings. (The one exception is Schofield - he's still listed higher in the rankings, but he tore his ACL in Senior Bowl practice and won't play a single snap in 2010. He should fall off the draft board entirely by the start of April.)
Here's the final touch - which many here might not like, but it's *my* pipe dream scenario...
Offer the Jaguars a package of Jonathan Babineaux, Eric Weems, Chris Houston, Jamaal Anderson AND Chauncey Davis for John Henderson. What the heck - throw in Tye Hill and Antoine Harris if they like.
The Jags get a younger DT (Babs) for one near the end of his career (Henderson) who hasn't always been on the best terms with the coaching staff. They also get a return man, a potential starting CB and potential backup DEs as throw-ins. They might not want all of those players, but they can give them a look in OTAs and training camp and then trade or release the ones they don't want. Babineaux and Weems alone should be a decent return for Henderson. The rest is gravy.
Atlanta cleans house (ditching a pot smoker, a DUI, and several players who won't make the roster anyway) and gets a solid, front-line big man who already knows Smitty's defense to head our DT corps.
Projected 53-man roster: ( / = competition for roster spot)
QB = Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, John Parker Wilson / D.J. Shockley
RB = Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Jason Snelling
FB = Ovie Mughelli, Rashawn Jackson
TE = Tony Gonzalez, Keith Zinger, Justin Peelle
WR = Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas, Jacoby Ford, Freddie Barnes
OL = Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl
OL backups = Quinn Ojinnaka, Brett Romberg, Will Svitek, Garrett Reynolds (plus 2 or 3 more on practice squad)
DE = John Abraham, Aaron Kampman, Kroy Biermann, Brandon Graham, Lawrence Sidbury
DT = John Henderson, Peria Jerry, Vance Walker, Thomas Johnson, Trey Lewis
LB = Mike Peterson, Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nicholas, Daryl Washington, Coy Wire, Spencer Adkins / Robert James, (Schofield on IR)
CB = Brian Williams, Brent Grimes, Chris Owens, Donovan Warren, Chevis Jackson
S = Thomas DeCoud, Erik Coleman, William Moore, Von Hutchins / Eric Brock / Jamaal Fudge
PK = open competition between all four candidates
P = Anthony Rocca
LS = Mike Schneck
(KR candidates = Jerious Norwood, Harry Douglas, Jacoby Ford, Brent Grimes)
(PR candidates = Harry Douglas, Jacoby Ford, Brent Grimes, Freddie Barnes)
Posted on: January 27, 2010 12:46 pm
The short version of the CBA talks = nothing's happening. At least nothing good. We're now 90% likely (and rising) to have 2010 as an uncapped year. (We're also starting to feel the possibility of a lockout/strike in 2011. It's getting ugly.)
But... if we assume that we will actually have NFL Football in 2011, the odds are that the new deal will restore the salary cap system regardless of which side "wins". This uncapped year is probably a one shot deal. That's something teams will have to consider when approaching this year's free agency market.
Now that the draft season is underway, the chatter regarding the Falcons usually centers around the cornerback and defensive end positions and the first round draft pick.
Those are fun discussions, but there are other areas occupying the minds of Atlanta's front office and coaching staff as well. They've already started on two of them at the staff level by replacing the secondary coach and sacking the head trainer.
We're now within five weeks of the start of free agency, so the real roster changes around the league will begin soon. With that in mind, here are five roster issues facing our Falcons that have NOT received much attention yet:
(1) Backup quarterback. Other positions are more popular topics of conversation, but for the next five weeks no spot on the roster is more important than the #2 QB.
Chris Redman is an unrestricted free agent. He had one rough outing but put in a respectable performance this season. He demonstrated that he's capable of stepping in at a moment's notice and running the offense effectively.
To put his 2009 performance in context, he finished the season with a higher QB rating (78.4) than many other better known backup and even starting quarterbacks - including Chad Pennington, Derek Anderson, Daunte Culpepper, Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller, Matt Leinart, Trent Edwards, Jay Cutler, Jake Delhomme, Matt Hasselbeck, JaMarcus Russell, Kerry Collins, Todd Collins, and Charlie Frye.
In other words, he's a legit candidate for ANY team wanting a solid #2 - and he's a better option than many teams have as starters. If he decides to test the waters to learn his real market value rather than re-sign early, he WILL attract interest from around the league.
That leaves us with a big, big problem. John Parker Wilson and D.J. Shockley are our only backups under contract, and neither has played a single NFL game.
ALTERNATIVES: The Falcons would want a veteran presence. If Wilson or Shockley could somehow emerge and become the #2, that's fine - but the team would still want experience for the #3. Unfortunately, nothing out there jumps out as a better alternative than re-signing Redman. He already knows the offensive scheme. He's familiar with the receivers here. And he's proven that he CAN step in and run Mularkey's scheme. That might be an issue with any other potential #2 out there.
So, let's hope our front office decides to throw enough money at Redman to keep him from testing the open market.
(2) Punter. Michael Koenen is a gem. But he's also the second highest paid punter in the NFL (behind only Shane Lechler, who signed a multi-year deal last season to remain with the Raiders), and the Falcons have already used the franchise tag once to hang on to him. That's pretty scary when you consider he hasn't even hit true free agency yet.
The guy is fabulous. But the question is whether we can justify spending $2.7 million or more on a punter.
If so, now would be a GREAT time to lock him in with a long term deal, since the team could front-load the contract and avoid most of the cap hit in future seasons after the next CBA kicks in.
And if not, now is an equally good time to start looking at cheaper alternatives, so that the extra money could be used to sign guys at other positions. There are plenty of adequate punters out there that could be had for $500k or less.
ALTERNATIVES: punter is one of the few positions where you really don't mind going with a rookie. The playbook isn't particularly thick. There will be several undrafted free agents this April, and there are still plenty of candidates from last year floating around.
But just for giggles, allow me to be the first to tell you about a certain 32-year old rookie free agent who is available right now. His name is Anthony Rocca.
Sound familiar? His brother (Saverio Rocca) is currently the punter for the Eagles. And like his older brother Sav, Anthony Rocca has made his career up to now playing Aussie Rules.
I've been wondering for years if this guy would hang up the boots and come to the U.S. He has by far the strongest leg of any of the Australian players that have made the switch. And when the AFL season wrapped up in September, he finally did announce his retirement - and has reportedly been training in American football since then, intending to follow Sav to the NFL.
He'll make a GREAT punter for somebody. Sav Rocca and Ben Graham are both doing fairly well, and he's got a much, much better leg than either of them.
(3) Offensive line depth. I have not heard this first-hand from the Nasty Boys themselves, but I'm told that Tyson Clabo and Harvey Dahl aren't thrilled with this year-by-year tender stuff. It's not the money that's rubbing them the wrong way. It's the uncertainty over whether they're really part of the team's plans for 2011 and beyond. RFA tender offers are only one year contracts.
And consider the rest of the unit, which featured just nine total players on the main roster. Key backup Quinn Ojinnaka is another "limbo" restricted free agent likely to be tendered this season. Justin Blalock, Will Svitek and Brett Romberg all have contracts that expire after 2010. Todd McClure isn't getting any younger.
So if the Falcons tender the three RFAs now, we could be facing a nearly complete turnover of our line - including the backups - after the end of the 2010 season. While it's not an immediate crisis, it's a serious issue that the team should start to handle immediately.
Are the Nasty Boys the long term future of our right side? If so, sign them to long term deals and get it out of the way.
ALTERNATIVES: if our coaching staff views The Village Idiots (Boudreau's nickname for Atlanta's line) as merely stop-gap measures until better players can take over, the tender thing really is the way to go for now. It would work, but the O-line would have to be a serious draft priority, with at least one early round and one late round prospect joining the fold.
I suspect our braintrust is happy with Clabo/Dahl and that at some point this year we'll hear about efforts to lock them in long term. And personally, I'd still like to see how they'd do if they switched places, using Clabo's size at guard and Dahl's agility at tackle.
(4) Life without Babs? The 2009 Falcons were much improved at DT in spite of losing Peria Jerry after only two weeks. Thomas Johnson became the team's Out Of Nowhere man, beginning the year as a futures contract prospect and finishing it as a starter. Vance Walker improved throughout camp, earned a promotion from the practice squad to the regular roster, and ended up performing well with significant playing time. Trey Lewis wasn't in top form, but he worked his way back into action after a pair of major knee reconstruction surgeries.
But the clear star of the Falcons defensive line this season was Jonathan Babineaux. Babs was banged up for much of the season yet started every game, notched 47 total tackles (second among the d-linemen in spite of the bad shoulder), and led the team with 6 sacks.
There's just one catch... he's now facing a felony possession charge. Depending on the outcome of his legal case, the team may be without him for at least half the season. Even if he's acquitted, he's likely to face at least a four game suspension under the league's controlled substance policy.
If the team is planning on releasing him, they haven't given any indication of yet. Quite the contrary - Dimitroff's comments in one press session suggest that Babs has a future here in Atlanta. All the same, the Falcons will have to make preparations now for a potential lengthy suspension.
Everyone else in the DT group has question marks too. Was Johnson a one-year flash that has already reached his maximum potential? Will Peria Jerry be able to return to form after his injury? And after getting hurt three times last summer, can he stay healthy for a season? Is Walker ready for starting duty? Will Lewis step up and play like the beast he was before his 2007 injury?
ALTERNATIVES: the best bet is probably to stand pat and simply rearrange the roles of various players if needed. The Falcons play a three man rotation at DT. They have four candidates in hand, not counting the DEs taking reps in the middle on passing downs. So while Babs would be a noticeable loss, there are at least enough bodies available to continue without him. They aren't stars, but they're at least competent when healthy.
And the remaining DTs have enough versatility that any two could be paired together. Peria Jerry was the starting NT, but he really has the build and skill set of a three-technique under tackle. Trey Lewis clearly has the NT build, but he also filled in at UT when Rod Coleman was out early in the 2007 season. Thomas Johnson can fill in at either DT position. Vance Walker hasn't been asked to play NT yet, but he probably could if needed.
Scary thought: If Trey Lewis steps up this year and Peria Jerry is fully recovered by the start of the season (both Smitty and Dimitroff have said they expect him back), they might play some in tandem - giving us the Jerry-Lewis DT line. (Insert rim shot here.)
If so... Lewis would command a double-team. So would Jerry. That would make it difficult to contain John Abraham and Kroy Biermann on the ends, and it would make blitzing a lot easier for the linebackers or the nickel corner.
In other words, keep your fingers crossed that they're both at full speed in training camp. They could make our pass rush surprisingly effective next season. Lewis really was a monster early in his rookie year, and we saw what a difference having Jerry in the middle made for Abe and Biermann in the season opener.
(5) WE NEED A KICKER. We can talk about the inexperienced cornerbacks and the lack of pass rush all day long. But we all know that the failures in the kicking game cost us a few wins and made the difference in the Falcons not making the playoffs.
No other single position on the roster needs to be addressed this offseason more than place kicker. It isn't necessarily hard to address or expensive in terms of contract or draft picks.
But the Falcons have no area of need that is more important. They MUST solve this problem.
Smitty noted in the postseason press conference that when the team signed Matt Bryant and Steven Hauschka, both were signed for 2010 as well as the remainder of 2009. Well gosh, that's great. Between the two of them we'll certainly have our kicker, right?
Bryant has only made 16 of 26 field goals from 40-49 yards over the last four seasons. He went 0 for 2 from that range after replacing Jason Elam. Oh, and he'll turn 35 in May.
The Ravens let Hauschka go in midseason when his accuracy proved to be only marginally better than that of Elam. With two half-seasons (eight games last year, nine this year) of experience, he's an unproven commodity and is off to a really shaky start.
He might come through with more experience. After all, Matt Prater turned out okay - which is why the Broncos let Elam slip away to us in the first place. Hauschka has a strong leg and would be able to handle kickoff duty as well as field goal attempts. The question is whether the 2010 Falcons should be the team that serves as his proving grounds.
Since they're both under contract, we might as well give them both a shot at winning the job in camp. But the Falcons need to bring in someone else as well.
ALTERNATIVES: While teams carry only one kicker during the season, they typically use two or even three in the offseason. Until September, that makes it tougher to bring in many of the street free agents on the verge of breaking through and sticking on a roster. And those Aussie Rules guys are punters, not place kickers. Can't help you there...
The best bet will probably be to use the seventh round compensatory pick - or even bite the bullet and use the sixth round pick - on one of the top kicking prospects in the draft. Three of them (Alabama's Leigh Tiffen, Michigan State's Brett Swenson, and Ohio State's Aaron Pettrey) have been invited to the Combine. A few others (such as Hunter Lawrence from Texas and Joshua Shene from Ole Miss) will get serious attention during their Pro Day workouts.
Most teams prefer not to use draft picks on specialists, but the Falcons otherwise have very few holes to fill on the roster. With potentially eight picks in hand, the team can afford to use a late pick (the last compensatory pick is likely to be in the #230-240 overall range)on the position that might have put them into the postseason this year.
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: 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: September 19, 2009 3:07 am
I posted the play by play defensive line personnel for last year's week two game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I don't track it for every single game, but I do from time to time just to get a feel for the Falcons defensive scheme.
In the season opener against the Miami Dolphins, it should be noted that while Jamaal Anderson was officially the starter, it was Kroy Biermann that got the bulk of the reps in passing situations. Anderson mainly played on first and second downs.
Chauncey Davis was re-signed under the promise that he would be in serious competition for the starting job. Based on playing time, it looks like he's been relegated to the #4 DE spot.
Also, this year's fourth round draft pick Lawrence Sidbury was on the active roster. He mostly played special teams, but he did get on the field for the last two defensive plays. That was an interesting time to make his debut - his first play was with the Dolphins going for it on fourth down.
Last season the team masked its defensive line weaknesses by mixing up schemes, throwing in a variety of blitzes, 3-4 alignments, 3-3 nickel packages, etc. They played Jamaal Anderson as the nose tackle in the 3 man front, occasionally brought Stephen Nicholas up to the line, and did other unusual personnel moves - including the seven man Gritz Blitz.
At least for this game, the Falcons stuck with the four man front and rarely blitzed. They did mix things up between man coverage and zone coverage assignments, but for the most part they stuck with the cover two and the four man rush.
Here's the defensive line personnel for each play:
First defensive series
1-10 MIA 32 = 98 94 95 55
2-07 MIA 35 = 71 94 95 55
3-05 MIA 37 = 71 94 95 55 = Kroy Biermann forced fumble
Second defensive series
1-10 MIA 12 = 55 94 95 98
2-10 MIA 12 = 71 94 95 55 = pass complete, 10 yard gain
1-10 MIA 22 = 98 94 95 55
2-08 MIA 24 = 71 94 95 55
3-05 MIA 27 = 71 94 95 55
1-10 MIA 33 = 71 94 93 55 = 14 yard run up middle vs nickel
1-10 MIA 47 = 98 94 93 71
2-08 MIA 49 = 98 94 93 71
3-04 ATL 47 = 71 94 95 55 = sack by Abraham
2nd quarter, Third defensive series
1-10 MIA 14 = 98 93 94 92
2-06 MIA 18 = 98 94 93 92 = pass complete, 16 yard gain
1-10 MIA 34 = 98 94 93 92 = direct snap to Ronnie Brown
2-06 MIA 38 = 98 93 94 92 = Pat White in game, runs
3-06 MIA 38 = 55 94 95 71
Fourth defensive series
1-10 MIA 36 = 98 94 93 92
2-03 MIA 43 = 98 94 93 92 = Pat White incomplete pass
3-03 MIA 43 = 71 94 95 55 = the "leg" catch - pass complete, 15 yds
1-10 ATL 42 = 55 93 95 71
2-05 ATL 37 = 55 93 95 71 = trick play double pass, 21 yard gain
1-10 ATL 16 = 98 95 93 55 = Peterson forced fumble, Williams return
Fifth defensive series
1-10 MIA 18 = 71 94 95 55
End of first half
3rd quarter, Sixth defensive series
1-10 MIA 16 = 98 94 95 55 = 9 yard run up middle vs nickel
2-01 MIA 25 = 98 94 95 55
3-05 MIA 21 = 71 94 95 55
Seventh defensive series
1-10 MIA 26 = 98 94 95 55 = Jamaal flushes QB, Abraham sack
2-10 MIA 26 = 92 94 95 55
3-09 MIA 27 = 92 94 95 71 = sack by Biermann
Eighth defensive series
1-10 MIA 20 = 98 94 93 92
2-11 MIA 19 = 98 94 93 92
3-05 MIA 25 = 55 94 93 71 = pass complete, 14 yard gain
1-10 MIA 39 = 98 93 94 92
2-06 MIA 43 = 98 94 93 92
1-10 ATL 49 = 98 94 93 92
2-02 ATL 41 = 98 94 95 71
1-10 ATL 38 = 98 94 95 71
2-09 ATL 37 = 98 94 95 71 = nullified by offensive pass interference
2-19 ATL 47 = 92 95 93 55 = interception by Peterson
Ninth defensive series
1-10 MIA 14 = 92 95 93 55 = 14 yard run up middle vs nickel
1-10 MIA 28 = 92 95 93 55 = Lofton forced fumble
4th quarter, Tenth defensive series
1-10 MIA 28 = 98 93 95 92
2-05 MIA 33 = 98 93 95 92 = pass tipped by Jamaal
3-05 MIA 33 = 71 95 93 55
Eleventh defensive series
1-10 MIA 24 = 98 94 95 92
2-10 MIA 24 = 98 94 95 92
3-10 MIA 24 = 71 94 95 55 = pass complete, 21 yard gain
1-10 MIA 45 = 71 94 95 55 = pass complete, 10 yard gain
1-10 ATL 45 = 71 94 95 55
2-05 ATL 40 = 71 94 95 55
1-10 ATL 31 = 71 94 93 55 = Peria Jerry banged up, does not return
2-05 ATL 26 = 71 95 93 55 = Abraham offsides, no play
1-10 ATL 21 = 71 93 95 55 = TD pass nullified by holding, no play
1-20 ATL 31 = 71 95 93 55
2-13 ATL 24 = 98 95 93 71
3-04 ATL 15 = 98 95 93 71
4-04 ATL 15 = 98 95 93 90 = only a three man pass rush
1-09 ATL 09 = 98 95 93 90 = TD pass to Ricky Williams
Posted on: August 26, 2009 12:04 am
Smitty referred to the Lions game as "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly". The second preseason game had more of the same.
The TV graphics and announcers all said that Todd McClure started but noted later that Brett Romberg had come in at center. Actually, Romberg was there from the beginning. The rest of the starting offensive lineup was the regular cast - Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo on the front line.
The Falcons completely owned the Rams for the first two offensive series. The first drive had a heavy dose of Michael Turner, who then took the rest of the game off. The second was heavy on passes and used a lot of no-huddle offense.
The second defensive series had Peria Jerry come in to replace Lewis.
3:22 remaining Q1, Rams ball, 1st and 10 at STL 17 (first play of the drive) - this one got attention because Brent Grimes dropped an interception. He jumped too soon when he should have backpedaled a little more (he didn't recognize the pass was a total duck) and couldn't hold on to it in the air. Other details of the play: the Falcons only rushed the front four. Both DEs were collapsing the pocket, but Babs and Jerry were both beaten by single blockers. Side note - the intended receiver was a former prospect of ours, TE Daniel Fells.
2:44 Q1, Rams ball, 3rd and 10 at STL 17 - Atlanta blitzes, but it isn't effective. The mechanics of the failed pass rush: Abraham drops back into coverage. Coy Wire and Chevis Jackson both rush the passer. The other linemen do a twist, with each moving to their right while Jackson and Wire rush on the left side. All three defensive linemen are beaten easily by single blockers. The twist leaves the RT free to block Wire, and the running back picks up Jackson.
1:25 Q1, Rams ball, 2nd and 10 at STL 36 - John Abraham does a stunt, faking outside but then swings to his left to rush from the inside of the line. Babineaux breaks off into short coverage. HE HAS CONTAIN RESPONSIBILITY. Grimes is in zone coverage, shadowing Laurent Robinson.
Kyle Boller has no one open, sees space to his left (since Abe was coming in the middle) and breaks from the pocket. Laurent Robinson sees him take off and runs to the middle to block Babineaux.
Let that sink in for a moment... the WR who didn't fit into Atlanta's plans because he wasn't physical enough and couldn't block took on the starting DT and took him completely out of the play.
Grimes initially continued shadowing Robinson (that was his responsibility - Boller could still pull up and throw the ball) but then ran after the QB. He couldn't prevent him from turning the corner, and Boller picked up the first down.
The announcers made Grimes look bad, saying he was the one who lost contain. Cut the kid some slack - it wasn't his responsibility.
14:56 Q2, Rams ball, 3rd and 10 at ATL 40. The Falcons got really lucky on this play, which SHOULD have gone for a Rams touchdown. It was a play designed to attack the cover two, and the Falcons had a mishap at the start.
The Rams were in a 3 WR set. The Falcons were in their cover two nickel package with Chevis Jackson on the slot receiver on the same side (defensive right side, offensive left side) as Grimes, who was lined up on (him again) Laurent Robinson. Chris Owens (starting in place of Chris Houston) was on the receiver on the opposite side.
I have no idea what Jackson was trying to do, but he initially broke inside as if trying to jump a slant route. His receiver ran right past him, and Jackson chased after him all the way down the middle of the field - from five yards behind him.
On the other side, Owens released his man (also running deep) to the safety in the deep zone (Thomas DeCoud). When Robinson entered the deep zone, Grimes started to release him as well. But the safety on his side (Erik Coleman) wasn't there. Instead, he had run to the middle of the field to pick up Jackson's man.
Both safeties ended up on the defensive left side of the left hash mark, with no safety at all on the right half of the field. That's not supposed to happen.
Grimes chased after Robinson, but there's no way he was going to catch up. Fortunately the ball was badly overthrown. At the end of the play, Grimes looked back at his teammates as if asking what the heck happened.
The end result was good, but file that one under "The Ugly".
Baldinger pointed out the obvious fact that Booker should have caught the ball, but what we didn't see on the Atlanta broadcast was that Laurinaitis might not have made the pick cleanly. The ball definitely touched the ground as he came down with it, and it's questionable whether he had full control until after it touched. One shot looked like he momentarily didn't have it.
The guys in the St. Louis production truck showed it repeatedly on their broadcast, but Trent Green was busy rambling on about what a ball hawk Laurinaitis is and didn't get the hint that the play might be challenged. The Atlanta broadcast only showed the replay from the overhead camera, so Falcons fans had no idea the play was so close.
I mention it for two reasons. First, this was the longest completion for any Falcons QB so far this preseason - and it was wiped out by a silly penalty. Second, the coaching staff evaluates the film, not the box score. Shockley has had a bunch of passes that haven't counted as completions. The stats look horrible, but the film is much better.
The defensive line for the series had Sid and Jamaal Anderson at DE with Peria Jerry and Trey Lewis in the middle. Jamaal drops into coverage while Curtis Lofton rushes. (It's not a blitz since there were still only four pass rushers. Atlanta is mixing things up a bit so that the offense won't know who's coming and who's in coverage.)
Trey Lewis draws a double team. (He did that for most of the night.) Sidbury stunts, coming inside of Lewis while Lofton rushes around the end. Lofton gets there first but misses the sack. The QB steps up into the pocket and right into Sid Vicious, who beat his inside blocker with that spin move of his. (If you're not familiar with it, look up Sidbury on YouTube.)
2:12 Q2, Rams ball, 2nd and 9 at ATL 28. Follow that one up with one Grimes would rather forget. He didn't have his assignment and was out of position, leaving Burton wide open for a short catch. And then he too failed to make the tackle, allowing Burton to run for the first down.
Hey, at least our DBs were being consistent...
14:20 Q3, Rams ball, 2nd and 11 at STL 15. There had to be a mixup on the coverage assignments on this one. TE Daniel Fells was absurdly wide open. (None of the regulars were on the field for this entire series - Wire, Gilbert and James were the LBs with Owens and Middleton at corner and Harris and Brock at safety.)
10:13 Q3, Falcons ball, 2nd and 8 at ATL 29. This was the sack/fumble.
Ben Hartsock was the TE on the right side. He went out for a short curl route. The Rams overloaded that side of the line, with two rushers coming free.
Shockley had to know he had to throw it to the hot receiver. The big question is WHO was supposed to be the hot read? If you check the replay, Shockley looked immediately to Jason Rader (TE on the left side) and started a throwing motion. But Rader didn't turn around in time. Shockley tucked it and instantly got hit and stripped.
(Hmmm.... could the "Tuck Rule" have applied here?)
9:30 Q3, Rams ball, 2nd and 8 at ATL 20. Brock Berlin hits the 20 yard TD pass. chris Owens actually had decent coverage, but he had no safety help. Eric Brock was up short (probably by design, playing run support) and not in position to help on the play.
Shockley drops back to pass and no one is open. He sees daylight in the middle - and for the first time this preseason, he decides to run for it.
Unfortunately, he's playing behind the backup offensive line. The DT (Scott) sheds his block and tackles Shockley just as he hits the hole.
It didn't work out, but it was a pretty good decision. The opportunity was there, and it was safer than risking an interception.
This one is Fudge's play he'd like to forget. He's beaten by Bajema for a short completion and then can't make the tackle, allowing Bajema to run for the first down and keep the drive alive. (Hmmm... sound familiar? Same play, different corner, cheap movie...) William Middleton comes over to make the tackle, but only after a 16 yard gain on 3rd and 15.
14:55 Q4, Falcons ball, 3rd and 8 at ATL 25. John Parker Wilson is now in at QB. His first pass was off target, overthrowing Chandler Williams. This one was slightly behind Eric Weems, but close enough for Weems to make the play. Weems got his hands on it but couldn't catch it, instead tipping it up for it to become an interception. Maybe these things don't ONLY happen to D.J. Shockley...
Zinger has only played TE with the mop-up unit, but keep him in mind as a contender for the #3 TE spot. He has done well with what little opportunity he's had on offense, and more importantly he plays on every single special teams unit (including forming the wedge with Brett Romberg on kickoff returns).
5:34 Q4, Falcons ball, 1st and 10 at STL 32. Jason Snelling breaks off a 23 yard run to take it inside the 10.
The four Rams RBs had a grand total of 60 yards rushing for the whole game. Snelling had 61 all by himself.
Give due credit all around - Atlanta's defensive line and linebackers got it done on run defense. Oh, and we have some pretty darn good running backs of our own. Snelling's a beast, and he's competing to be the freaking THIRD STRING running back.
For those of us old enough to remember the days of Haskel Stanback and Bubba Bean, that's enough to give us goosebumps.
1:54 Q4, Rams ball, 1st and 10 at ATL 38. This is the one exception to the excellent run defense. 4th string RB Kenneth Darby (a fine prospect who was plucked off of Atlanta's practice squad last season) charged straight up the middle for 21 yards.
The Rams were in a 3-WR formation, with the Falcons playing their nickel package. It was EXACTLY the same situation as last year, when Grady Jackson would leave the field on nickel situations and teams could plow right through the middle.
Here's the breakdown of the play:
DT Tywain Myles (who wasn't expected to play in this game) lined up on the left guard. Vance Walker lined up just outside the right guard. The defensive ends (Sidbury and Willie Evans) lined up on the TE and outside the left tackle.
At the snap, the right guard let Walker get penetration on the OUTSIDE (away from the play) and moved downfield to block one linebacker (Tony Gilbert). The left tackle and tight end blocked the defensive ends, with the idea of allowing them around the outsides (again, away from the play) but protecting the inside. The right tackle was free to move downfield and block the other linebacker (Robert James).
The center blocked to his left, completely bulldozing Tywain Myles. The left guard pulled and sealed off the right side, preventing Walker from getting back into the play before the runner got through the line.
With the WRs either blocking or running the CBs away from the play and both LBs blocked by offensive linemen, the first guys with a shot at Darby were the two safeties (Von Hutchins and Eric Brock) - who were both lined up in deep zones for pass protection against the 3-WR set. They both made the play at first contact, but that was 21 yards downfield.
What they didn't mention was the call by Brian VanGorder. He sent seven rushers after the QB.
Yep... with the game on the line, the Rams in a spread formation (3 WRs plus TE split off on the right side) and his mop-up defense on the field, VanGorder dialed up the Gritz Blitz. WOW...
It would otherwise seem insane to leave Jamaal Fudge, Glenn Sharpe, Tony Tiller and Eric Brock all in one-on-one matchups in the red zone. Von Hutchins, the only experienced DB on the field, was one of the blitzers. (I'm sure VanGorder did that on purpose, just to throw the kids into the deep end of the pool.) But considering the opponent was a fourth string rookie QB, it wasn't a bad idea.
The QB (Keith Null, from West Texas A&M) got spooked and threw a bad pass for the pick. Two receivers had separation (Fudge was well behind his man on a short crossing route), but Null threw the ball straight to Eric Brock. Game over.
Tags: Atlanta, Brent Grimes, Brett Romberg, Chauncey Davis, Chevis Jackson, Chris Owens, D.J. Shockley, Daniel Fells, Eric Brock, Falcons, Jamaal Fudge, James Laurinaitis, Jason Snelling, Jonathan Babineaux, Keith Null, Keith Zinger, Kenneth Darby, Laurent Robinson, Lawrence Sidbury, Marty Booker, Rams, Trey Lewis, Von Hutchins
Posted on: March 17, 2009 3:35 pm
I started to do a piece on how building/maintaining a roster during the offseason essentially boils down to a really big math problem. Each team has constraints in the form of limited cap space, a defined number of roster spots, practice squad spots, and draft picks. The GM's objective is to get the maximum benefit of the available resources in order to establish the best roster year after year.
To do this, you evaluate what you have and what resources are available, and you move in the direction that will give you the most benefit. Then you evaluate again, make the next move(s), etc.
Several GMs understand the concepts even though most do not define the problem in purely mathematical terms. Thomas Dimitroff and Rich McKay both fall into this category, and head coach Mike Smith is on board with the approach as well.
I'll skip the heavy-duty math and keep this as short as possible. The first step in "The Process" is to form a baseline. You define your potential roster using as few resources (cap space, draft picks) as possible. You fill in any holes with prospects (not draft picks - we're not there yet) or dirt cheap free agents.
Note that this isn't the actual roster. It's just the starting point. And you don't actually have to sign any cheap free agents yet - just knowing they're readily available is enough.
The key is that as soon as you can form a reasonably competent roster, the moves you make from that point forward can all be to improve the team rather than to plug holes. That's when you have the freedom to go in any direction you want in free agency and the draft, and when you can stockpile for the future rather than scramble to keep a roster together for today.
Here's our current potential roster:
Offensive line: Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Harvey Dahl, Tyson Clabo, plus four of Quinn Ojinnaka, Brett Romberg, Nate Bennett, Renardo Foster, Alex Stepanovich, Will Svitek, Michael Butterworth, Ben Wilkerson. (The competition in camp will be extremely tight, so for now I just listed them all. Pick your favorite four and roll with it.)
Two at-large roster spots remain. Key in-house candidates include an extra offensive lineman, Eric Brock at safety, Simon Fraser at DE, Eric Weems and Chandler Williams at WR, or any of several DT or CB prospects.
Something I find very interesting: in general, this baseline is already better than our 2008 opening roster. Considering we haven't even hit the draft yet, that's encouraging. (With the team being so young, even the names that haven't changed are upgrades. For example, Matt Ryan has now started 17 games. Heading into 2008, he had started none. The extra experience will be a major factor for four of our starting offensive linemen, two of our WRs, and too many of our players on defense to name them all.)
One thing that continues to jump out at me is that we don't have a lot of holes to fill. We do have some, and they're certainly important, but there aren't a lot of them. That's a part of why we haven't signed as many no-name free agents as last year. Our baseline is already at a level where there isn't much point to bringing in another dozen or so guys off the street the way we did last season. They would have virtually no chance of beating out the guys we have in house. (And this year, we know it.)
It's also noteworthy that with fairly few roster spots that could be upgraded via the draft, the likelihood of trading away one or more of our draft picks increases. In the last two seasons we made deals to increase our total number of picks and ended up selecting 11 players in each draft. This year, we simply won't have room for another 11 prospects. The extra picks would end up being wasted. We're far more likely to go the other direction, either packaging picks to move up or trading picks out to future drafts. We'd get far more benefit from three really good prospects than our full complement of seven picks scattered throughout the draft.