Tag:Jose Valdez
Posted on: April 22, 2012 4:19 pm

Pre-draft notes: offensive line

The first question....  should we really be bummed out about our line heading into the new season?  No doubt, their play left a lot to be desired last season.  They had three pretty good years in 2008-2010 but then fell flat in 2011. 

The verdict from our braintrust was that it was a coaching issue as much as a personnel issue.  Line coach Paul Boudreau was sacked.  On the personnel side, the right guard position was identified as the weakest link in the chain.  Vince Manuwai was signed to plug that gap.

My take:  I agree with the decision.  Boudreau was a highly experienced coach who did well in 2008-2010, but he really dropped the ball badly last year.  Our linemen simply weren't well prepared and didn't play fundamentally sound football.  They were up high all season, getting no leverage and getting pushed back into the backfield.  Michael Turner typically had first contact a yard behind the line.  If he made three yards after contact, that was still only good enough for a two yard gain.

I suspect that Boudreau had a hand in going with two older journeymen (no upside) rather than two of our own prospects last year.  Throw in the awful idea to play Sam Baker at right guard when he had only had one full practice after his back surgery, and the decision to make a coaching change seems pretty obvious.

And Manuwai is an upgrade over any of Kynan Forney, Harvey Dahl, Garrett Reynolds or Joe Hawley at the right guard position.  Great move there.  Manuwai and Clabo provide a whole lot of beef on the right side.

Second question:   what's the answer at left tackle?   The team has publicly stood behind Sam Baker, noting that he played through injury all year.   (Key:  he was experiencing back problems even in preseason.  He tried to play through it, was horrible, and finally opted to have surgery when it became obvious that he wasn't capable of getting the job done otherwise.)

Fortunately, Will Svitek stepped up in Baker's absence last year and showed that he can be a competent left tackle.  He may not be Pro Bowl material, but his play (including utterly shutting down Jared Allen) was good enough to put him above average among starting LTs.  If it comes down to it, we do have a Plan B.

Many of us want to see an upgrade in free agency, particularly Marcus McNeill.  And yes, McNeill backed up by Svitek does have a pretty sweet sound to it.  But will it happen? 

My take:   don't count on it.  The odds are against it.  McNeill is visiting many other teams and will likely have other options.  Even if we move out Baker to clear cap room, we'll be hard pressed to fit McNeill under the cap.  Another team could easily outspend us and land the free agent.

As for Baker, never mind his skill level.  We're talking about a 300-pound man who makes a living throwing his body into other large people and has already had two back surgeries in the last four years.  Do we really expect him to hold up the entire season without more health concerns?

I wouldn't bet on it.  But I do have confidence in Svitek.  I'd hope that the team would forget about trying to work Mike Johnson at guard and let him practice at tackle instead.  He has the potential to be our future left tackle -  he did pave the way for a national championship at Alabama at LT, after all.  If Baker ended up on IR, Svitek backed up by Johnson could work, *if* the coaches do practice Johnson at tackle.

Third question...   do we use one of those top draft picks on a lineman? 

A lot of "big name" mock drafts now have the Falcons going with an offensive lineman at the #55 pick.  We're talking about a late second rounder here, so just about anything is possible.  But I wouldn't be so hasty as to identify the OL as the most likely area that Dimitroff will target with our top pick. 

Under Mike Smith, the Falcons have tried to go with nine offensive linemen on the roster when possible.  Counting Baker and Jackson, we currently have ten.   Even if Baker does become a cap casualty or lands on IR in preseason, someone else would have to go to make room for an incoming rookie -  who would spend 2012 and likely 2013 on the bench anyway.

So suppose we did take a second round lineman to groom as a future LT.  The most likely casualty would be that Jackson returns to the practice squad this season.  Johnson would be worked as a backup guard rather than potentially returning him to tackle (where he played at Alabama).

If we get the right guy, he might be an upgrade.  But would it be enough of an upgrade to be worth spending the second or third round pick?   Probably not.  We have more obvious needs elsewhere, and Dimitroff openly admits he's a needs-based GM in the draft.

My take:  the main roster is probably fine as it is.  Where we really need to reload is on the practice squad.  We lost Rob Bruggeman when we opted to bring back Boudreau favorite Brett Romberg.  We lost Jose Valdez to our former QB coach when we opted to sign Kirk Chambers rather than promote Valdez.  If Jackson makes the main roster, the developmental pool will be empty.

So look for plenty of undrafted free agents and perhaps a late rounder (such as the compensatory pick).  But I do hope that Dimitroff will address more important needs with the earlier picks.

The big picture...  the whole thing really hinges on Pat Hill doing a better job preparing his men than Boudreau did last year.  If Hill can get it done, we'll be fine.   One potential combination:  we might end up with Svitek, Justin Blalock, Joe Hawley, Manuwai and Tyson Clabo as the starting five, backed up by Johnson, McClure, Jackson and Reynolds.

That's actually a pretty darn good group.  But it still depends on new coach Pat Hill having them ready to go.  Even in December, last year's team looked like it was still in preseason mode.  Hill will have to have them much more prepared this year.

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: October 28, 2011 12:54 am

Bye week roster moves

I guess everyone has heard by now that Ovie Mughelli is lost for the season after getting injured against the Lions.  The Falcons have signed free agent fullback Mike Cox to take his roster spot. 

Mike's younger brother Lucas (also a Georgia Tech fullback) was with the Falcons during training camp, as was Thor Merrow, former Buford HS player and son of former Falcon defensive standout Jeff Merrow.

(Side note:   I thought about Jeff and Thor this week when I saw the McDonald's commercials for the current run of the McRib.  The first time they rolled out the McRib nationally was 1982.  And they also had a local promotion going on at the time where you would get a glass featuring three Falcons players if you ordered a medium soft drink:

see the commercial here 

So around this time in 1982, I tried out the McRib and had a soda with it.  I'm pretty sure Jeff Merrow was one of the players on that glass, which was every bit as fragile as it looks in the commercial.  The Falcons glasses I had all got broken in the dishwasher by 1984 or 1985, making them the dishware equivalent of Jerious Norwood.

Instead of Lucas or Thor, we signed the older Cox sibling.  He didn't come with a McRib or a commemorative glass.) 

Mike was previously with the Kansas City Chiefs.   He has 32 games of total experience, including 15 starts.  He's primarily a lead blocker -  occasionally taking a pass out of the backfield and only rarely getting a carry.   He has the size that the Falcons are looking for, listing at 6-0, 252.  The team was after the old school pure lead blocker rather than the new hybrid TE/FB/H-back types, and that's exactly what we got.

Noteworthy:  in addition to Cox, the Falcons also worked out a bunch of other fullbacks.  The list includes former Falcons Verron Haynes and Dimitri Nance, plus former Saints and Rams fullback Mike Karney, former Dolphins back Lousaka Polite and former Ravens back Jason McKie.

Offensive lineman Mike Johnson would probably rather forget 2011.  The second year player from Alabama had hoped to win a starting job, or at the very least to get off the inactive list on a regular basis.  Instead, the lockout took away his minicamp and OTA reps.  A concussion in training camp cost him two weeks of practice and a couple of exhibition games, putting him squarely behind Garrett Reynolds in the competition to replace Harvey Dahl at left guard.

And then he finally got his first career game on the active roster last weekend against the Lions, as Sam Baker was banged up and inactive.  He even got to play on special teams.   Unfortunately, the only memorable thing about the event was that he got banged up -  and is now on IR.  Coach Smith has had limited press contact this week and hasn't specified the injury, but it's apparently an ankle or foot issue, and NOT another concussion.

When I first heard the news, I had expected to hear the team would promote one of the practice squad linemen (Jose Valdez or Andrew Jackson) to replace him.  Instead, the Falcons have signed free agent tackle Kirk Chambers.

The scoop on Chambers:  he's already 32 years old, so he's not part of the team's long term plans.  He's a stop-gap measure only.  He was with the Lions in training camp but didn't make the team.  He was on the Bengals roster last year but was one of their inactive backups.  But in 2009, he started nine games at RT for the Bills, so he does at least have some experience at tackle.

If it were up to me, I would have promoted Valdez instead.  If Baker is still unavailable after the bye week, I'd have as much or more faith in Valdez stepping in for Tyson Clabo or Will Svitek as I would in any newcomer.   Valdez has the size and has shown the skill, versatility, and tenacity during his time in Atlanta.  But most of all, he knows the system -  he could be ready to step in a lot quicker than someone new to the organization.

That would have also freed up a practice squad spot to bring in another prospect - perhaps bringing back Bear Woods or Kamaal McIlwain, or adding another TE prospect as a head start for next year's training camp.  (Reggie Kelly isn't a long term solution to ANYTHING.) 

But I don't have any inside sources for info anymore, so frankly I have no idea how close the coaching staff actually came to promoting either of the squad linemen.   Apparently Chambers had a good enough workout that the team decided he'd get the first crack at replacing Johnson.

Posted on: September 3, 2010 3:43 pm

quick notes before the roster cuts

We should start getting news on roster cuts soon.   Last thoughts...

Dunta Robinson had expected to play last night.  The word from Dimitroff was that he was ready to go.  It wasn't health reasons that kept him out -  it was simply that Mike Smith decided to rest him along with John Abraham and Curtis Lofton rather than risk anything happening to the $50 million free agent CB.


Matt Bryant didn't shank any of his shorter kicks against the Jaguars the way he did that extra point against the Dolphins.  But he still hasn't shown he's reliable from longer distances -  and his troubles from 40+ were why the Buccaneers decided to go another direction in the first place.

I don't think the Falcons are actually LOOKING to replace him right away, but in light of Jason Elam's woes last year, they're likely to stay on top of things a little better in 2010 than they did in 2009.  The most interesting situation is that Kris Brown is now on the open market.

Also, expect to see some of the top rookie prospects become available this weekend.  Atlanta went with Garrett Lindholm, who made the ESPN highlights because of that last second 60+ yarder in the playoffs.  But Lindholm really wasn't among the top 3 or 4 prospects.  The coaches would rather not be forced to go with a rookie, but if it came down to that, at least there are some better ones likely to be available.


Interesting twist...  Corey Peters wasn't able to play last night.

Since Jonathan Babineaux is out just one game, the Falcons will have to decide whether to keep a fourth DT on the roster for the season opener.  Babs doesn't count towards the roster for that week.  The key question (and no one who actually knows is talking) will be the health status of Peters.

The Falcons typically keep three DTs active, with the fourth as one of the eight inactive players.  So if they keep all four other DTs for the opener, odds are that one of them would have to go when Babs returns for week two.  Best guess is that Trey Lewis has beaten out Vance Walker for the true #4 spot (and possibly even Peters for the #3 spot as well). 

So if Peters is healthy enough to play, the team might keep just Peria Jerry, Lewis and Peters for the opener, with Jamaal Anderson sliding in to DT in the 4-2-5 nickel package or on other passing situations.  That would allow the team to keep an extra WR for the first week, when the status of Michael Jenkins is still uncertain.

The likely odd man out is Walker.  He'd be on the inactive list for the opener anyway, so there wouldn't be that much point in keeping him on the roster just to bump him out a week later.  If Peters is healthy, Walker probably starts the year on the practice squad.

But if it looks like Peters might not be ready to go (and we won't know until well after the rosters are in), they'd need Walker to fill out the rotation.  Peters would start the season as the #4 on the inactive list while he recovers.  Any extra roster spots would have to be squeezed from other units.

I have no info whatsoever on Peters.  Pure guess = he's still questionable, and Walker sticks for the opener.


Michael Palmer was a go-to guy for Chris Redman last night, and JPW threw a couple to him as well.  He's definitely going to stick, be it on the practice squad or on the main roster.

The sticky part of putting him ahead of Keith Zinger on the roster is that the #3 TE has major blocking and special teams duties.  Those are areas where Zinger stands out. 

The part that didn't make a whole lot of sense was that the commentators referred to Palmer as a kid who needed to add some bulk to make it long term.  Huh???  Okay, he's a youngster.  But he's already bigger than either Zinger or Peelle.  I'll take that remark as random lunacy by our preseason announcers (WXIA's Randy Waters and NFL-N's Brian Baldinger).   If he really does add some upper body strength, look out.  The kid will be a beast.

I'm still not comfortable with the idea of knocking what Dimitroff called the consummate blocker off the roster, but I'll go ahead and fill in Palmer as the #3 TE on my mock roster.  He managed to get open and was targeted throughout the preseason.  Zinger did get on the field, but you'd never know it unless you were specifically looking for him.


Spencer Adkins got banged up a bit last night.  Unless it's a season-ending thing, I'm not expecting any official word on him until Wednesday.  But I think he has made the roster.  If he's not seriously hurt (it might have just been a cramp) it won't matter that he got banged up - as the #6 LB, he'd be on the inactive list for the first week anyway.

Bear Woods played well this preseason.  I doubt he made the roster, but I'm comfortable filling his name in for a practice squad spot.


I don't think any of the RB/FB trio nailed down the #5 job.  I haven't seen enough from Dimitri Nance to make me entirely comfortable with him, but I do like his versatility:  he was successful in several short yardage situations, including two touchdown runs, and he did well catching passes out of the backfield.   But he had too many unsuccessful rushing attempts.  He didn't win the job outright.

Antone Smith was the team's leading rusher in preseason, but he messed up several reception opportunities, had a critical fumble last night, and also muffed a kickoff return opportunity.  Saving grace:  he did well picking up a blitz late in the game.  The Falcons are looking for their backup RBs to be capable of pass protection.

Dan Klecko had looked fairly solid throughout the preseason - until halftime last night.  He didn't play all that well in the second half, plus he's a pure fullback (at least on offense - he's also a defensive lineman).  He can block (and tackle), but he can't catch very well and won't get any opportunities to carry the ball.  That makes him as useful as Verron Haynes, though better on special teams - which wouldn't matter as he'd be a fixture on the inactive list until someone got hurt.

And of course the biggest question is whether the team will even keep a fifth runner to start the year.  If they go with just four (preferring to keep an extra wideout while Jenks is banged up or go with an extra offensive lineman or DB for the long haul), I think I'd pick Nance for the practice squad. 

If they go with five, it's a toss-up between Smith and Nance for the roster.  The other would be a strong candidate for the practice squad.


The next rough decision will be in the secondary.  If Brian Williams is healthy enough for the main roster - and based on last night's game, it looks like he is - the team is carrying six CBs and ten total DBs.  And that's not even counting prospects Dominique Daniels, Rafael Bush and Eric Brock.

Now that safety Matt Giordano is gone, the guy whose chair is getting the hottest should be cornerback Chevis Jackson.  CJack was a disappointment in his second season last year, and he really struggled in coverage throughout the preseason. 

(My take... he's playing way too soft, giving receivers far too much cushion.  He doesn't have the recovery speed for that.  His only chance is to play physical and jam his man at the line.  If he's going to start out five yards off his receiver, he's basically just Chris Houston without the stupid attitude.)

But CJack might still have a chance, as he is a strong contributor on special teams (including a gunner-blocker on the punt return unit).  He might stick with an at-large roster spot specifically for his special teams role.


Smitty won't comment on Michael Jenkins until the first official injury report on Wednesday.   The unofficial word is that the coaching staff is hoping (but not certain) that he'll be available against the Steelers, or at the very least against the Cardinals in the second game.

At wide receiver, the main guy who opened some eyes last night was Ryan Wolfe, who had two 20+ yard receptions plus a third shorter reception.  (Unfortunately, WXIA's coverage had sideline interviews during two of his three receptions, so he didn't get the attention he deserved from the announcing crew.)

Meanwhile, Brandyn Harvey had received most of the attention among the trio of undrafted receiving prospects.  Harvey had a game he'd rather forget.   Harvey was targeted five times but came away with one reception for only three yards.  He had another catch but pushed off unnecessarily, getting called for an offensive pass interference penalty that killed a drive.  He was also flagged for a holding call downfield that wiped out a long touchdown run by Jerious Norwood.  (Atlanta had to settle for a field goal on that drive - and ended up losing by four points.)

I'm not picking any of the trio to make the roster, and I'm not sure they'll beat out Andy Strickland or other prospects from around the league for a practice squad job either (remember - we don't HAVE to sign our own guys to those spots).  But I'm leaning towards putting Wolfe's name ahead of Harvey's on the list of prospects.  It might not seem right to think the coaching staff will make a decision based on just one game, but that was the ONLY game where Wolfe got real playing time, and he really made the most of it. 


Brett Romberg stepped up and played better on the o-line last night than in the previous exhibitions.  Key question... is that enough for him to stick around?   He can play guard or center, but was signed mainly to be our backup center last year (ultimately beating out Alex Stepanovich and Ben Wilkerson after Jeremy Newberry decided to retire).

But the Falcons braintrust decided to look elsewhere for its center of the future, drafting Joe Hawley in the fourth round.  Will the team keep them both?  Will Svitek appears to have won the swing tackle position, as he's now the only backup with experience at LT.  Garrett Reynolds and Mike Johnson both play tackle and guard - and both appear to be ahead of both Hawley and Romberg at guard.

So Romberg's best shot would be if the team decides to keep ten offensive linemen - and if they decide to make the tenth man an extra C/G rather than an extra T/G.  If they wanted another T/G, the extra guy would be Jose Valdez, who got his first chance to play LT last night (having previously played RT and RG) and performed quite well.

That one would be a virtual toss-up.  Boudreau likes the idea of keeping ten guys and also likes the idea of being three-deep across the board.  Keeping Romberg as the #10 would achieve that.  But Valdez is a far better long term prospect than Romberg, who has little upside and who is a free agent after this season anyway.

My guess:  they start the season with nine.  Romberg is out, and Valdez starts the year on the practice squad.  Svitek, Reynolds, Johnson and Hawley are the backups.  Valdez gets called up before the end of the season though, regardless of whether or not someone gets hurt. 


The team's official web site is really driving me nuts.  The new format is bad enough, but it's just plain PATHETIC when a team's very own web site can't get the basic facts right.  Even now, their "official" roster still includes offensive lineman Mark Ortmann (who was briefly signed for depth for the Miami game and was immediately released afterwards) and leaves out CB Dominique Daniels (who got extensive playing time in the second half last night).

Several players have no ages listed, Justin Peelle still has no position, and the rookies are listed as "1" under experience the same as the second year guys.  In other words, Sean Weatherspoon, Corey Peters, etc have the same amount of experience as Chris Owens, John Parker Wilson, Lawrence Sidbury, etc.

JMike, we miss you buddy.  The web site has completely sucked ever since you left.

Posted on: August 19, 2010 1:34 am

offensive personnel - Chiefs preseason game

Initial kick return unit = Eric Weems (KR) with Ovie Mughelli, Stephen Nicholas, Brett Romberg, Corey Peters, Justin Peelle, Kerry Meier, Jason Snelling, Sean Weatherspoon, Chris Owens, ? (Kroy Biermann?)

1st offensive series: starters, with Brian Finneran replacing Michael Jenkins

(my note:  2 TE formations were effective in power running game, with extra TE sometimes acting as a fullback rather than blocking at the end of the line)

2nd offensive series:  Michael Turner is finished, but Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White are still in.  Still the first unit offensive line and regular receivers, with Weems as 3rd WR.

(my note:  Matt Ryan ran some no-huddle on this drive, including plays with a single back.  The running game bogged down without the fullback.)

3rd offensive series:  Chris Redman in at QB.  Brett Romberg in at center.  Rest of starting linemen still in game.  Now seeing Antone Smith and Dimitri Nance at RB.  Snelling now playing FB.

(my note:  the line sure made a mess of this series.  Looked to me like Nance may have missed a play call on 3rd and 15.  I was expecting him to stay in and block, but he went out on a short route instead.)

first PUNT COVERAGE unit:  Michael Koenen and Joe Zelenka as specialists, Dominique Franks and Shann Schillinger as the gunners, with Kroy Biermann, Kerry Meier, Weatherspoon, Mughelli, Snelling, Nicholas, and Finneran.

4th offensive series:  still the other starters and Romberg on the line.

5th offensive series:  new line from left to right = Will Svitek, Mike Johnson, Joe Hawley, Garrett Reynolds, Quinn Ojinnaka.  I wasn't expecting to see QO at RT.


6th offensive series:  still Redman at QB.  Dan Klecko now in at FB. Romberg back at center.  Ojinnaka slides to RG, with Jose Valdez coming in at RT.  Looks like it will be Smith and Nance the rest of the way at RB.

(my note:  Snelling did lead blocking for Smith and Nance in the first half but had no FB for his own carries after Mughelli came out.  Keep an eye to see whether the running game perks up again with a FB in the remaining preseason games.)

7th offensive series:  John Parker Wilson now in at QB.  Hawley and Reynolds return at C and RG, respectively.  Kerry Meier and Troy Bergeron are the main two receivers at this point, with Michael Palmer at TE, Keith Zinger coming in as the second TE, and Brandyn Harvey as third receiver.

(my note:  JPW looks good.) 

8th offensive series:  Quinn Ojinnaka now at LT, Blake Schlueter at LG, Rob Bruggeman at RG.  Still Hawley and Valdez at C and RT.  Bergeron and Meier are the main two WRs, with Andy Strickland and Harvey getting some reps as well.

9th offensive series:  Ryan Wolfe getting some snaps as 3rd WR, with Robbie Agnone getting in as a second TE.

last PUNT:  Brandyn Harvey and Antone Smith were the gunners.

Posted on: March 21, 2010 2:00 am

pro day / private workout updates

The news is now out that the Falcons did private workouts with the two TCU linebacker prospects, Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington. 

But the big news is that Sean Weatherspoon himself reported that his Wednesday morning workout with the Falcons was "stellar".  He was stoked about it (including the part where Atlanta's staff put him through Q&A on the whiteboard) and got on the phone with former and possible future teammate William Moore soon afterwards.  He really thinks Atlanta may be the team that takes him.

Also, here's an interesting interview with 'Spoon from before Wednesday's workout:


WR Freddie Barnes of Bowling Green was somehow left off of the Combine invite list, in spite of leading the galaxy in receiving yards this season, becoming a one-man show at the Humanitarian Bowl, and also being an offensive hero of the East-West Shrine Game.

So his pro day workout was the first chance teams had to see him in the Combine-style drills.  The one knock on him has always been a supposed lack of speed.  He reportedly ran the 40 at his pro day at about 4.60.

According to the sports blog of Bowling Green's newspaper, the Falcons were one of fourteen NFL teams attending his workout.  Many of us love the guy.  We don't know how the Falcons feel, but at least they were interested enough to be one of those fourteen teams.  That's good enough for me.  At least he's on our radar.

Hassers has already posted (on the Falcons message board) that the Falcons are holding workouts with several of the top center prospects.  Daryl Ledbetter at the AJC will be happy to note that Florida's center Maurkice Pouncey is now one of them.  (After two weeks of insisting that we'll be taking Pouncey with the #19 pick, D-Led has finally come back to earth and switched to 'Spoon in this weekend's update to his mock.) 

Various reports also have Atlanta personnel attending the pro days of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Alabama, Missouri State, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Michigan State, Missouri State, Virginia, Temple, Middle Tennessee State, West Virginia, Marshall, and Fresno State.  I'll let you draw your own conclusions on who we might have been scouting at each of those workouts.

I haven't confirmed yet whether we attended the other southeastern school pro day workouts (Clemson, Florida, FSU, etc).  To my knowledge our scouts and/or others were scheduled to attend pretty much all of them, but I don't have 100% certainty yet.

One that has been confirmed:  the Falcons did NOT attend Tennessee State's workout.  In the past they had shown interest in safety prospect Anthony Levine.  But according to the Bears beat writer, we didn't show for his pro day:


Other private workout news has the Falcons conducting or scheduling workouts with Indiana OT Roger Saffold, Penn St. linebacker Sean Lee, and unconfirmed reports on working out a couple of TE prospects.

Brandon Graham did not participate in Michigan's pro day due to a hamstring problem but has another workout session scheduled (along with CB Donovan Warren) for April 8.

Haven't heard if Atlanta was there to see LeGarrette Blount, but he reportedly made nice improvements in his 40 time.  His time at the Combine was above 4.8, and he was timed in the mid 4.6 range in his pro day workout.  That's not blazing speed, but it's certainly good enough for a guy who is billed as a power runner.

Coming up next week =  the Mississippi and North Carolina schools, plus Miami, Notre Dame, Arizona State, the Iowa and Nevada schools, and Boise St.   The official pro days run through April 1.  Several prospects have scheduled their own individual pro days for the following week.

Also coming up early next week (possibly even Monday around noon) -  the announcement of the compensatory picks.  We'll find out if Domonique Foxworth got us a fourth rounder or a third, and we'll also find out if we got that late seventh rounder.


So...  we're looking at several potential #19 prospects, several linebackers, centers, and tight ends.  A few WRs and o-linemen seem to be in the mix as well.  To this point, we haven't gone out of our way to look at DEs or RBs at all.

The TE thing suggests the Falcons might indeed be looking to upgrade the backups.  Keith Zinger came on pretty strong last summer in camp and played well on special teams this past season.  The coaching staff also values Justin Peelle for his combination of blocking skills for the run game and catching ability.  But Peelle is getting up there in age. 

I had expected the team to wait until 2011 to find a replacement, but the rumored workouts and pro day interest suggest it might happen this year.

A mild surprise is that we haven't heard a peep about RB prospects yet.  The Falcons do have Antone Smith on the practice squad, but there's still an opening on the roster -  Michael Turner, Ovie Mughelli, Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood were the only four runners on the roster in 2008, and last season showed the need for additional depth. 

Never mind the fan talk about ditching Norwood.  There's already a need for one more runner even with him on board, as the replacement for Verron Haynes.  (Aaron Stecker doesn't count since he was a mid-season fill-in anyway.)   We *know* the Falcons need one more regardless, so it's odd that we haven't heard about much interest in anyone in the backfield.

One possible reason may be that it isn't particularly tough to scout RBs.  With defensive players, you need to put them through the paces on their coverage skills, lateral movement, etc.  With the RBs, nearly everything you need to see is readily available in game film.  Interviews happened throughout the Combine and various all-star game practice weeks, so the team's files could easily be complete on most of the potential RB candidates.

Looking at centers was pretty much expected.  I'm certainly not on board with D-Led's man-crush on Pouncey at #19, but I do think a mid-round center is a likely happening.  As we all know, Todd McClure is one of only two Falcons remaining from the Dan Reeves era.  He showed a nice rejuvenation in 2008 but struggled to hold the point at times in 2009.  Backup Brett Romberg was a nice acquisition, and Quinn Ojinnaka has prepared for emergency duty at center. 

But Romberg isn't particularly young, and Ojinnaka isn't ready for real work in the middle yet.  The Falcons had Ben Wilkerson in 2007-2008, with line coach Paul Boudreau converting him primarily to guard.  When the team elected to keep only nine offensive linemen instead of ten, Wilkerson was the odd man out.

Just to make the run-down complete, we do still have two other centers from our own practice squad last year.  Rob Bruggeman and Blake Schlueter were just extra hands to snap the ball for the scout team in 2009, but Boudreau/Smitty wanted to bring *both* of them back for a shot at the roster this year. 

The main thing Bruggeman lacks is experience, having only received significant playing time in his senior season in college.  With Schlueter, the main question is size.  When he came aboard the practice squad (as Bruggeman's injury replacement), he listed at only 279 pounds. 

I'm not anticipating anything significant from them in 2010, and I don't think the Falcons are either.  But I will note that with offensive linemen, it's frequently true that the biggest difference between early round draft picks and the late round / undrafted prospects is development time rather than true potential.  Practice squad guys haven't made it yet, but it doesn't mean they're completely out of a team's plans.  (In particular, keep an eye on G/T Jose Valdez this summer.  If he takes a step forward in his development, he may ultimately replace Romberg or Ojinnaka for 2011.)

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