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Tag:Keith Zinger
Posted on: August 22, 2010 4:15 pm
 

Ten players to watch - end of camp update

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

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

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



1.  Trey Lewis

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

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

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



2.  Steven Hauschka

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

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

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



3.  Kerry Meier

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

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



4.  Lawrence Sidbury

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

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



5.  Keith Zinger

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

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

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



6.  William Moore

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

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

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

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



7.  Quinn Ojinnaka

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

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



8.  Dimitri Nance

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

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



9.  Eric Weems

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

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



10.  Brian Williams

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

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

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




Posted on: July 28, 2010 5:56 pm
 

Ten Players To Watch In Camp, 2010 Edition

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

Ten Players To Watch In Camp

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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



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

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



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

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



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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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



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

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

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

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

Players on the hot seat

The basic Falcons 53-man roster typically consists of 3 QB, 5 RB/FB, 3 TE, 5 WR, 9 OL, 5 DE, 4 DT, 6 LB, 5 CB, 4 S, 1 P, 1 K, 1 LS, and one at-large spot. 

The at-large spot is completely up for grabs and likely to change during the season.  The team briefly had six defensive ends in 2008 and finished the season with ten offensive linemen.  Last season began with six cornerbacks but ended with an extra running back.

The team will naturally make tweaks as needed, such as in 2008 when they carried only 4 runners (with the fifth on the practice squad) in order to start the year with extra depth elsewhere.  But for the most part, that's what we can expect for the 2010 team.

I made a list of what I call the late season 2009 roster.  With injuries and replacements, it's difficult to nail down one set of 53 players as "the" roster.  But these were the players who were aboard for most of November and December.

Eight players from that list are now gone.   Eight incoming or returning players are penciled in as locks to make the roster:  Harry Douglas (assuming he's medically cleared), Peria Jerry, William Moore, Dunta Robinson, Sean Weatherspoon, Corey Peters, Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley.

The catch is that while some are easy one-for-one swaps (Douglas replaces Marty Booker, Sean Weatherspoon replaces Tony Gilbert), others are not (Corey Peters and Mike Johnson replace ????).  There are also many other returning or incoming players that will offer strong competition for roster spots.  And Smitty has already made the first "nobody is safe" reference of the year. 

So the key question is which players from last season are on the hot seat in camp this summer?

I've pegged as many as twenty that are at risk.  I think eight of them are probably safe, but the other twelve are in real danger of losing their roster spots.  Starting with the offense, they are:


1)  Eric Weems.  He made the roster last season for his potential as a return man, not strictly as a wide receiver.  He'll have a good shot at playing a few years in the NFL off of his special teams skills, but the fifth round of the draft may have sealed his fate in Atlanta.  The Falcons drafted potential return man Dominique Franks and potential WR Kerry Meier with their two fifth round picks.

Weems will also have to compete with returning practice squad candidates Troy Bergeron and Andy Strickland plus undrafted free agent Ryan Wolfe and two others just to have a shot at the at-large spot as a sixth WR.  And that DUI arrest in November certainly doesn't help his cause.


2)  Brian Finneran.  While Weems figures to be the first WR replaced, if both Meier and Wolfe stick (or if Bergeron, Strickland, Brandyn Harvey or converted quarterback Tim Buckley amaze the coaches), Finn may have a tough time returning once more.

His latest knee injury isn't anywhere near as bad as the two that sidelined him in consecutive seasons, but he's now 34.  He wasn't all that fast to begin with, so he can't afford to lose a step due to age or injury.


3)  Will Svitek.  He was an interesting addition to last year's roster and played competently as a backup.  But he's not a starting caliber player, and that's not likely to change in camp this year.


4)  Quinn Ojinnaka.  He can play any position on the offensive line.  So can third round pick Mike Johnson.  And the coaching staff chose Svitek to fill in for Sam Baker last season at left tackle.  If Svitek is still the choice at the end of preseason, Ojinnaka may be the one bumped out to make room for Johnson.

Ojinnaka is also the only backup lineman who was not brought into the organization under Smitty and Dimitroff.  I'm not saying Smitty and his staff will play favorites, but it's a factor.  Ojinnaka is a holdover from the Jim Mora days and was drafted because he fit the Alex Gibbs blocking scheme.  Everyone else was hand picked by Smitty and Dimitroff because they fit the current Falcons scheme. 


5)  Brett Romberg.  Yep, three of the four backup linemen are at risk.  Romberg played for Boudreau in St. Louis, and the Rams thought enough of him to start him. He's a solid - and experienced - backup. He's definitely a handy guy to have around.

But Mike Johnson probably takes over the #3 guard role this year, and the arrival of Joe Hawley puts his backup center role at risk.  To date, Romberg hasn't been a real candidate to play tackle, plus the team chose Ojinnaka ahead of Romberg to fill in for Harvey Dahl at guard.

If the team once again keeps only nine total linemen, these three are all at serious risk.  Johnson and Hawley will make the roster, so two guys will have to go to make room for them.  Prospects Jose Valdez and Rob Bruggeman are knocking on the door as well.



6)  Matt Bryant.  The Falcons had a steady-Freddy but aging kicker in Jason Elam to start the 2009 season.  They finished with another in Matt Bryant. 

He's about to turn 35 later this month.  He was 1 for 4 from 40+ yards last season after going 5 of 11 and 6 of 10 from 40+ the previous two seasons with the Buccaneers.  He's rock steady from inside 40, but that means the Falcons would have to get inside the 23-yard line to feel confident in making a field goal.  That's not good.

The team added Steven Hauschka for insurance in the final week of the season, as Bryant came away from the Bills game a bit gimpy.  Hauschka has a strong leg but missed a pair of shorter field goal attempts that cost him his spot with the Ravens.  If he can work out the mechanics, he's a strong contender.

And then there's the rookie, Garrett Lindholm.  He was mainly on the national radar for this:

In the playoffs, no time left, game on the line...


He turned it on his senior year, but his sophomore and junior year stats certainly won't blow you away.  And he definitely needs work on his mechanics if he is to maintain consistency, as you'll see in one of the clips below.   I don't know if he's the answer.  I think I might have preferred signing Damon Duval when we had the chance.

Some highlights (no sound)

Workout results... he made the 49-yarder but missed several shorter ones...

At the very least, Lindholm will add competition.  But my guess is that if Hauschka turns it on, he'll be the man.



7)  Joe Zelenka.  Joe who?  I'm sure many of you don't really care who takes the long snapper job.  But keep in mind that after Mike Schneck went on IR last year, replacement Bryan Pittman, holder Michael Koenen and kicker Jason Elam just couldn't get in sync, costing the Falcons at least one game and chances at winning two more.

Zelenka did well enough as the second replacement, but he hardly has a lock on the position the way Schneck might have had he not decided to retire.  The competition comes from undrafted rookie Justin Drescher, who has plenty of college experience after serving as Colorado's long snapper in all four years. 



8)  Coy Wire.  Frankly, I found it hard to believe he was included in the "On The Fringe" TV series last year.  There was no doubt in my mind that he'd make the roster.  He still has a strong chance this year, but it will be a little more challenging.

The catch is that if Sean Weatherspoon takes over as the starting Will backer, Mike Peterson would then drop down to the #4 overall LB.  So unless the team drops Peterson off the roster completely, Wire would then drop to #5, pretty much limiting him to special teams duty. 

So far, no problem there - he's our special teams captain.  And there isn't a need to drop anyone to make room for 'Spoon, as Tony Gilbert was not re-signed. 

But most teams prefer to have younger guys with upside potential filling those spots on the back end of the roster.  He'd be competing not only with the younger linebacker prospects, but also with the new safeties (Matt Giordano and Shann Schillinger) as special teams players.

I was hesitant to include him on this list, as he was solid as a replacement for Michael Boley in 2008 and has been outstanding on special teams. He's a fine player.  The question is whether the team would continue to keep a guy with zero remaining upside as the #5 LB.



9)  Spencer Adkins.  If Wire does stay aboard as the #5 LB, then Adkins will have to step up big in his second year or face competition for the #6 spot.  He was on the inactive list for most of the season, but the team worked him in on special teams for a few games when the WRs and safeties were so banged up.

The competition will come from 2008 fifth rounder Robert James and from this year's undrafted prospects, Bear Woods and Weston Johnson.

While it seems like a reach for one of the undrafted prospects to unseat a drafted player from the roster, keep in mind that it was considered a big stretch when the Falcons drafted Adkins in the sixth round in 2009 - mainly because of his blazing fast 40 time.  He was otherwise figured to be an undrafted free agent himself.

So once you put their projections on an even footing, there's a lot to be said for the rest of the pack.  Adkins was only a part time player for Miami.  Meanwhile, Weston Johnson was named team captain at Wyoming, while Bear Woods was the leading tackler at Troy.  The competition will be quite real.


10)  Trey Lewis.  Smitty said he was excited to have Lewis back last season, and that Lewis gave the team potential to work in some 3-4 as a package defense.  But it turned out that Lewis was far from full speed in his first season back from two reconstructive knee surgeries.  He spent most of the year as the #4 (inactive) DT, taking the 3-4 package off the table.

On the plus side, he showed as a rookie that when healthy, he can play either DT spot.  He's not strictly a nose tackle.  And his size adds an element that no other DT on the roster can bring.  If his knee will allow him to get back to form, he has a good chance of winning the #4 DT job again this year, serving as the #3 while Babs is out.

But he'll have to turn it up this summer or he'll be off the roster when Babs returns, if not sooner.



11)  Thomas Johnson.  I can't say enough good things about the job he did last season.  He truly was our Out Of Nowhere player for the 2009 season. 

The guy was an undrafted free agent who had already been released by three different teams and hadn't played a game since 2006.  He signed with the Falcons as a futures contract.  He wasn't expected to make the roster at all but ended up as our starting nose tackle.

Now move ahead a year...  Peria Jerry is expected to return, and the team has added Corey Peters.  Johnson is expendable, and he probably has the least potential upside of the backup candidates.  It's a brutal fact of life in the NFL.



12)  Vance Walker.  It shouldn't be a surprise that all three backup DTs are at major risk.  Unless one wins the at-large spot, the Falcons will have two DTs too many after Babs returns from suspension.  And that's not even counting Joe Klecko or Trey Bryant as serious candidates or DEs sliding in to play the middle.

The seventh rounder started the season on the practice squad and is still practice squad eligible.  If all else is equal between the three backup DTs, the coaching staff may try to keep them all for the start of the season by stashing Walker back on the practice squad.





Noteworthy players left off the list:

Brian Williams:  the only reason he's not on the list above is that he wasn't on the late 2009 roster in the first place, so he didn't have a roster spot to lose. 

Otherwise, he might be the most at risk player of all.  He's still far from 100% and won't be back until at least the start of training camp.  If his recovery takes longer, he may end up starting the year on the PUP list or get released on an injury settlement as Von Hutchins was last year.

If he's healthy, his main value (and best chance at making the roster) is that he can play safety as well as CB.  He would likely be the top contender for the #4 safety role. 



Jamaal Anderson, Chauncey Davis:  if the Falcons had brought in a serious DE candidate, it would be obvious that one of these two would have to go.  But the team appears to be standing pat, bringing in only a pair of undrafted candidates to replace Maurice Lucas on the practice squad.

I won't say they're definitely safe, but at least for now there is room to fit all five DEs on the roster.  Unlike the DTs, they aren't in a spot where somebody HAS to go...  yet... 



Chris Owens, Brent Grimes:  the rookie Owens worked his way into the starting rotation, plus he's a Dimitroff prospect.  He isn't going anywhere.  Many fans don't care for Grimes, but he entered the season with just eight total games of experience.  He was essentially a rookie too.  He led the team with six interceptions.  The last time any Falcons player had more was 1998 (Ray Buchanan, with seven).

If Williams isn't healthy or makes the roster as a safety, or if Franks gets the at-large spot as a return specialist, everyone in the room could make the roster.  Only one CB absolutely had to go, and Tye Hill's release settled the question of who it would be.



Justin Peelle, Keith Zinger:  they certainly aren't safe, but the three prospects brought in this season aren't as much of a threat as the incoming DTs or offensive linemen.  While Colin Peek and Michael Palmer are both contenders, the Falcons may choose to start them on the practice squad as they did with Zinger in 2008.



Posted on: January 11, 2010 2:36 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2010 3:15 pm
 

Tracking the draft picks, part two

Recap from the initial piece:  draft picks are important assets in themselves in addition to their potential to become players.

You get seven picks per year to help you increase the value of your roster. If you release a drafted player, the "life" of that draft pick ends.  But if you can trade him or get a compensatory draft pick when he signs elsewhere, you've increased your team's resources and extended the legacy of that draft pick.

The example from the initial piece was that Dan Reeves scooped up DT Ellis Johnson after the Colts released him.  Two years later, McKay traded him for the draft pick he used to select Michael Boley.  In April, Dimitroff will have a compensatory pick from Boley signing with the Giants.  So eight years and two GMs after the Falcons got something for nothing by signing Johnson, they still have a draft pick to show for him.



The Falcons have a few more cases of players who "became" other players.


Many fans still cringe at losing 1999's first rounder Patrick Kerney to free agency after the 2006 season.  The Falcons were mired in salary cap woes for a few years and simply couldn't compete with the megabucks offers that rising young players like Kerney and Kevin Shaffer received from other teams.

And while Petrino made the horrid call of drafting Jamaal Anderson to be the cornerstone of his franchise, at least Kerney didn't completely go to waste.  The Falcons received a third round compensatory pick in 2008 for the loss of Kerney in 2007.  And by then, the hog sooey idiot was off in Arkansas, so he had no influence on how that pick would be used.

That compensatory pick became starting safety Thomas DeCoud.  So while we've been hurting at DE since Kerney's departure, his legacy lives on in the secondary.



Coach Booby also decided he wanted his ex-Louisville player Antoine Harris for his #9 defensive back.  He also made Adam Jennings the return man, which meant former Pro Bowl kick returner Allen Rossum was on the way out.  Rather than having to release him outright, McKay managed to trade Rossum to the Steelers for a future seventh round draft pick.  It wasn't much, but it still beats relasing the player and getting absolutely nothing.

Dimitroff used that draft pick (#232) to get TE Keith Zinger.  Zinger spent the 2008 season on the practice squad and was only the #5 tight end heading into camp.  But he showed tremendous improvement in both blocking and receiving, ultimately beating out Jason Rader and incumbent starter Ben Hartsock for a roster spot.

As the #3 TE, Zinger didn't get many receiving opportunities, mainly appearing on offense as an extra blocker. But he did that role well, and he was also a significant figure on special teams, playing on every special teams unit.

He'll get a little more time working with Matt Ryan and the #2 quarterback this summer.  He might still be a year away from being a significant factor on offense, but he has already shown good potential.  If you're already looking for another TE to replace Tony Gonzalez in a year or two, don't count Zinger out quite yet.



Linebacker Mark Simoneau was the team's third round pick back in 2000.  In March of 2003, Dan Reeves traded Simoneau to the Eagles for a pair of draft picks - a sixth rounder in 2003 and a fourth rounder in 2004. 

Reeves used the sixth rounder to draft Waine Bacon, just one of his many WR busts over the years.  (Reeves may have been a decent coach, but as a personnel head he had ZERO talent for evaluating WR prospects.  But that's a whole separate article in itself.)

McKay used the 2004 fourth rounder (#125 overall) as the throw-in to trigger his first draft trade as Falcons GM.  That pick went to the Colts to move Atlanta's second rounder up to the back end of round one. 
With that pick, the Falcons selected starting WR Michael Jenkins.



And of course there are two more well known players from the 2004 draft who were later traded for draft picks.  I'll hit those next time...



Posted on: September 4, 2009 2:37 am
 

First notes from the Ravens game

I was glad to have the chance to see this one in the Dome.  I travel a lot and miss most of the home games.  The new vid screens are sweet.

I recorded the broadcast but haven't watched it yet.  From my vantage point, I didn't get to see detail of the backup offensive linemen (Adam Speer, Ryan Stanchek, Jose Valdez, Ben Wilkerson, Mike Butterworth) who are in the hunt for the last roster spots and/or practice squad jobs.  I know the mop-up unit as a whole didn't look as good as the regular second unit, but that's obviously no surprise. 
I'll have to watch the broadcast tomorrow to see how well each one of them did individually.  

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

Quick takes from the Dome:  the offensive play calls were way too basic and conservative.  The defense did pull some blitzes, but those seemed pretty tame as well.  The two that I remember most were both delayed blitzes that were too slow in developing to have any chance of success.  Again it felt like the coaching staff kept things simple to evaluate how well the kids did the basics. 

I may change my mind on that one after watching the TV broadcast, but that's how it felt - this was all about evaluations, and the coaches didn't put much effort into actually trying to win this one.  Some fans booed when the team ran on third and long to end the opening drive.  I understand their frustration - everyone in the Dome knew that was the end of the night for the starters, and it felt like the coaches were packing it in just to get them off the field.   

Christopher Owens had a bad game.  A *really* bad game.  I know lots of fans want the Falcons to start him instead of Brent Grimes, but he proved he isn't ready.  He's a fine prospect, but you really don't want rookies or even second year players to start in the secondary if you can avoid it.  (Yes, the Falcons are doing it.  But that's exactly why we've all complained about the secondary for the last two years...)

Chris Houston had another off game.  I'll bet we'll soon start hearing speculation that Tye Hill will replace him instead of Grimes.  Don't blame Houston for that first TD pass though.  Mike Peterson had the coverage on that one and got torched.

I've posted a few times that Keith Zinger struck me in practice as the most improved Falcons player since last season and that I wouldn't be surprised if he landed the #3 job.  I say he nailed it tonight.  Tony Gonzalez starts, Justin Peelle is the #2, and Zinger is the #3.  Considering Zinger was the fifth string TE even for the Rams game, that's a nice accomplishment.  

Robert Ferguson may have lost his roster spot.  Eric Weems stepped up and had another solid game.  Ferguson didn't. 

If the Falcons only keep five WRs, Weems made a pretty strong case that he should be the #5.  Also, Weems and Chandler Williams have been the main candidates (virtually the only candidates) for the punt return job.  So the Falcons will either have to (a) keep six WRs, (b) keep Weems or Williams instead of Ferguson, or (c) find another punt returner that hasn't had many reps in preseason.  After this game, Ferguson can only hope for (a) - and then hope he's the #6 instead of Troy Bergeron or Williams.

Vance Walker has played well enough to win a practice squad spot, but it's tough to say he's going to make the roster.  Thomas Johnson has had the inside track as the fourth DT and has been pretty solid, but Walker also had good game and is getting better every day.  He clearly beat out Tywain Myles and Jason Jefferson, and he's making it extremely tough to cut him.  

The twist is that whoever wins the fourth DT job will be on the inactive list every week unless someone else gets too banged up to play.  If the coaches figure that Walker will have a few more weeks of practice before he sees action, they might choose to keep him rather than risk losing him to another team by putting him on waivers and sending him to the practice squad.

Kroy Biermann bulked up in the offseason and it showed.  He may have been playing against the second unit, but he had a monster game.  (If a second string DE plays lights out against the second unit OL, that still counts as a good performance.)  I say the Falcons will use one of the extra roster spots to keep all five defensive ends. 

Maurice Lucas had a sack tonight, but I don't know if he's earned a practice squad job.  I'm guessing the sack won't make a significant difference - if he hadn't won it already, he still hasn't won't it after this game.

I saw Jamie Winborn make two solid plays and botch one pretty badly.  Offhand, I really don't remember too much from Spencer Adkins or Robert James.  They each had a few tackles but nothing that stood out (either good or bad) in my mind. 

Coy Wire and Tony Gilbert are set as the #4 and #5 LBs.  Winborn probably has the edge for the #6 spot.  Adkins and James are both eligible for the practice squad if they don't make it as a seventh linebacker or beat out Winborn for the sixth spot. 

I'll have to watch the broadcast in detail, but NONE of the backup safeties really jumped out at me during the game live. 

Finally, on the QBs -  John Parker Wilson started out rough and looked a little gun-shy.  But he got it together and had a couple of really solid drives.  He showed he has some solid potential - it was pretty obvious why Mike Mularkey says he really likes the kid. 

I still feel JPW and DJ are both good candidates for the #3 job but that neither of them is ready for real game action.  Bulldog and Crimson Tide fans will feel differently about it, but frankly it doesn't matter which one wins the #3 spot.  If either one of them sees the field this year, it's a disaster.

So it's Redman as the #2 unless the team picks up someone from outside the organization.  And as I mentioned in a thread on the Falcons message board, Smitty was asked point blank after practice yesterday if Redman would be the backup QB again this year.  Smitty dodged the question. 

I thought that was rather interesting.  Considering Redman was highly respected as the backup last season and that Smitty said he had a great game against the Chargers, it's hard to understand Smitty not being willing to say Redman is his #2.  I say the team might be considering an upgrade after the Saturday roster cuts.  This year's #2 QB might be someone not currently in the Falcons organization...

Posted on: August 26, 2009 12:04 am
 

Noteworthy plays from the Rams game

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Here's the breakdown of the play:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 
 

Posted on: August 11, 2009 11:19 pm
 

mock roster, v2.0 (training camp)

I did a mock 53-man roster right before minicamp in May.  We're now a week into training camp, and the team still hasn't posted an official depth chart, so I figured this would be a great time to revisit the list.


Here's the updated projection:

QB) Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, D.J. Shockley

It's still too early to project John Parker Wilson as a keeper, but it's a possibility.  He's had a good camp.  So far he has shown more consistent accuracy than Shockley and a better arm than Redman.  Both Shockley and Redman are in the final years of their contracts, and Redman is carrying a $2.5 million base salary. 

RB) Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Thomas Brown
FB) Ovie Mughelli, Jason Snelling

Verron Haynes is also having a good camp and will make the competition interesting.  The Falcons carried only four backs on the roster for the entire 2008 season, since Jason Snelling did double-duty as the #2 fullback and #3 running back.  Verron Haynes also plays both roles.

I suspect that the team will keep at least five runners this year, and the roles that Norwood, Brown, Snelling and Haynes play on special teams might make a strong argument to keep all six. 


WR) Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Brian Finneran
WR) Marty Booker, Robert Ferguson

Aaron Kelly had a good first week of camp and will still have chances to impress the coaches in preseason.  Likewise, Chandler Williams will have his chances - including returning punts and kickoffs. But the Falcons signed not one but two veteran free agents to replace Harry Douglas, so unless the team keeps six wideouts, they will both have a major uphill battle to crack the roster.  Ditto for Troy Bergeron and Eric Weems.  The other undrafted receivers (Darren Mougey, Bradon Godfrey, and Dicky Lyons) have already been released.


TE) Tony Gonzalez, Ben Hartsock, Justin Peelle

I'm not making any changes here yet, but I suspect that Keith Zinger might be in the hunt for one of the backup TE spots.  He has shown amazing improvement from last preseason to camp this year.  But I'll wait until the second preseason game before dropping either Hartsock or Peelle in favor of Zinger or Jason Raider.


LT) Sam Baker, Will Svitek
LG) Justin Blalock, Quinn Ojinnaka
 C) Todd McClure, Brett Romberg
RG) Harvey Dahl, (Brett Romberg)  
RT) Tyson Clabo, Garrett Reynolds

With the pre-minicamp list, I said it was way too early even to think about naming the backups.  There are still some battles to be won, and it's not certain the team will even keep ten linemen.  (Last season the Falcons started with nine but finished with ten.)

If they keep just nine, Ben Wilkerson is likely the odd man out.  He has progressed nicely as a backup center and guard, but Brett Romberg has more experience and has even won a starting job while playing under line coach Paul Boudreau.  Quinn Ojinnaka can play all five positions on the line and has experience at left tackle (and has performed well when needed).

Mike Butterworth is in the hunt for a backup guard spot as well, but he'd be a long shot - especially if there are only nine linemen.  There are also three undrafted linemen in camp, but they have had so few reps in 2practice that they are likely competing for one or two practice squad jobs.

 


ST) Jason Elam, Michael Koenen, Mike Schneck

Not much of a story here. The only other specialist in camp is rookie long snapper Robert Shiver.  But next season could be interesting, as the team elected to tender Koenen for one year with the franchise tag rather than resign him to a long term deal.


DE) Jamaal Anderson, Lawrence Sidbury
DT) Jonathan Babineaux, Vance Walker
DT) Peria Jerry, Trey Lewis
DE) John Abraham, Chauncey Davis, Kroy Biermann

I'm projecting nine defensive linemen, though the performances of the other DTs will make a strong argument for keeping ten.  (That's unusual, but the Falcons use such frequent rotations that it would make sense to use an extra at-large roster spot on the defensive line.  The team did have ten defensive linemen for a short time last season.)

At this point, the significant candidates for an extra DT spot are Jason Jefferson and Thomas Johnson.  You might remember Jefferson from last year, but he's had a much better preseason this year.  I'm not quite ready to buy into his improvement, so I'm waiting for the exhibition games to see how he does in full contact action before saving him a roster spot.

Johnson is one of the surprises of camp.  He was brought in under a futures contract in January.  He played in 13 games in 2005-2006, was out of football in 2007, went to camp with the Jets last season and is in camp with us this year.  That's not a particularly impressive resume, but the story is he's progressing very well with line coach Ray Hamilton.

LB) Mike Peterson, Coy Wire, Jamie Winborn
LB) Curtis Lofton, Spencer Adkins
LB) Stephen Nicholas, Robert James

The numbers game says that if there are 10 offensive linemen or 6 wide receivers, the extra roster spot will likely come from the linebacker corps.  That would put the squeeze on young prospects Spencer Adkins and Robert James, who are already in heated competition with Edmond Miles and Tony Gilbert for those backup linebacker jobs.


CB) Chris Houston, Chris Owens, Brent Grimes
CB) Chevis Jackson, William Middleton
 S) William Moore, Von Hutchins
 S) Erik Coleman, Thomas DeCoud

Last time around, I projected that Von Hutchins and David Irons would be the cornerbacks who didn't make it.  Irons wasn't cleared for full contact before the start of camp, so he was released with an injury settlement.  The wild card is Hutchins.

He was brought in to add experience to the CB group last year, since Chris Houston (11 games) was the only corner on the roster at the time that had ever started a single game in the NFL. But now the CB group is crowded, and Houston, Jackson and Grimes have more experience behind them. 

But Hutchins was also a safety with the Houston Texans before signing with Atlanta, and the Falcons could use some experience in the safety corps.  So this time around, I'm putting him in as a backup safety and knocking out Jamaal Fudge, Antoine Harris, and Eric Brock.

A key for all of the fringe players is that they'll be competing for at-large roster spots.  The extra wide receivers aren't just competing with the other WR prospects and the receivers ahead of them on the depth chart.  They're also competing with the borderline linebackers, defensive backs, etc, trying to convince the coaches that a sixth WR would be a better way to use a roster spot than a 10th offensive lineman, 7th linebacker, etc. 

And that will make the final roster cuts very, very interesting. 

Also note that the team still might not be finished acquiring players from outside the organization.  Domonique Foxworth, Jason Jefferson, and Jamaal Fudge all came aboard AFTER the roster cuts but before the first game.  It's likely that the Falcons will make a few moves again this season after seeing who gets squeezed out elsewhere.

Posted on: August 8, 2009 12:03 am
 

scrimmage at Brookwood H.S. - 8/07/09

First observation =   wow, the place was packed.  It was pretty obvious that there were more than 10,000 people there, and even at halftime there were more and more and more coming in the gates.  Later, the attendance was announced at over 12,300 !!

They did kickoff / returns and FG drills before the scrimmage part got underway.  Chandler Williams and Jerious Norwood had nice returns.  Interesting sight = Peria Jerry on the kickoff return unit, forming a wedge.

Early on, the defense got the better of the offense.  A series with the 1st team offense was stopped.  Chris Redman later had a pass to Justin Peelle where Brent Grimes single-handedly made the strip, recovery, and return for a defensive TD.

My vote for THE play of the entire scrimmage was by safety prospect Eric Brock.  He made a nice read to see (I think) Robert Ferguson breaking open.  He closed in a heartbeat and timed the hit perfectly to separate the receiver from the ball.  And then he plucked the ball out of the air for a pick.  Obviously no replay, but I think it would go down as an interception rather than a fumble.  (It would be his ball either way though, since he grabbed it before it hit the ground.)   It was SWEET.

You KNEW that sooner or later Matt Ryan would hit Michael Jenkins for a long TD.  They've been doing it in every single practice session.  It came in Ryan's second series, with a 20+ yard pass over the middle for a touchdown.  Chris Owens was the defender in coverage on that play.

The pass rush was disappointing -  not sure if the rule to avoid hitting the QB had something to do with it.  But the one nice pass rush was by everyone's favorite lineman, Jamaal Anderson.  Jamaal flushed Redman from the pocket and forced him to throw the ball away.

Not much happening early in the second "half".  The scrimmage was scheduled for ten series, with each QB getting at least two drives.  Pretty much everyone seems to be playing at least a little bit.  I didn't have a notepad with me, so I wasn't able to track the O-linemen and D-linemen as I would have wanted.  But I know that Fudge and Hutchins got snaps at safety, Owens and Glenn Sharpe got reps at corner, Vance Walker got time at DT, Kroy Biermann, Chauncey Davis, Spencer Adkins, Robert James, etc were all in rotations.  The goal of this thing was to get "game" film to evaluate players, so as many people as possible got as many reps as possible.

In his final series (9th of 10), Redman threw an interception that was caught by Tony Gilbert.  I missed who the intended receiver was.  (Gilbert has been practicing with the first unit offense this week in Curtis Lofton's place.  Lofton is expected back in practice early next week.)  

In the 10th and presumably final series, D.J. Shockley hit Hartsock for a first down.  The next play was a handoff that had a penalty on the defense.  Shockley later hit Chandler Williams to get inside the red zone.  Coy Wire had great penetration to stop Thomas Brown for a loss.  (The coaches had the Bulldog backfield for this drive - Shockley at QB, Brown at RB, and Verron Haynes at FB.  All are ex-UGA.)   After that, it was run, run, run (like I said - Bulldog backfield...) until Brown scored the TD.

BUT...  the show isn't over yet.  Smitty calls for more, with John Parker Wilson running every series of "overtime".  He hit Peelle for roughly 17 yards over the middle with a really nice throw.  I've seen him hit Keith Zinger several times on this exact route in practices this week, so he's obviously already comfortable with that play even though he has to thread the needle to make that throw.

The next snap looked like a busted play.  Not sure what was supposed to happen, but Wilson intentionally threw it away.  I noted this one because it was a good decision by a rookie QB in a clutch situation.  Otherwise it was a non-event.

A little later, Norwood broke loose and took it inside the 15.  Wilson hit Brown at about the 10, but the drive bogged down there.

Smitty kept them going.  The next series wasn't a good one for JPW.  He tried to throw into traffic on the run and was lucky it wasn't picked off -  I'm sure he heard about it immediately and will cringe when he sees it in the film room this week.

Verron Haynes had a nice run on a toss sweep, and then Wilson hit Zinger - just like in practice, except that this time Zinger was allowed to show his stuff.  He looked like Mike Alstott (insert Chris Berman "rumblin', stumblin" on the highlight reel) breaking tackles and taking it inside the 3.  Smitty ended the scrimmage then.

OFFICIALLY, the offense barely edged out the defense in the final score.  But the defense got the better of it for most of the night, and the offense ended up taking it during the unscheduled extra three series.  So take it with a grain of salt -  the defense held their own.

The linebackers looked really good.  I wasn't all that hot on the D-line, though I did note that there wasn't much success running up the middle.  The big runs were all to the outsides.  Now if they can improve the pass rush, they'll have something...

Aaron Kelly didn't have much action in terms of receiving, but he did have some blocking opportunities on run plays.  That (along with special teams during the preseason games) will go a long way towards helping him make the roster.   Chandler Williams had the nice reception from Shockley plus a great showing as a kick returner.  They're both making pretty good arguments for keeping six receivers on the roster. 

The safeties looked pretty good, but I'm not sure why Chris Owens didn't have deep help on the TD pass from Ryan to Jenkins. 

Ryan looked solid.  My favorite play from him was a quarterback keeper on the very first series.  Mixed grades on Redman -  one of the turnovers wasn't his fault, but the other was one he'd want back.  Shockley's first series wasn't much, but he did a fine job with that final "regular" series.  His passes were dead on the money.  And JPW didn't look anything special during the regular drives, but he did a fine job in the extra time at the end.  He hasn't had many reps in the 11 on 11 portions of practices, so it makes sense that he'd get into more of a rhythm with the extra snaps.  And he's helping turn Keith Zinger into one of the stars of training camp.

The simulation at Roam The Dome will reportedly be without pads, so this was the closest thing we'll see to a game until next weekend's action.  I'm looking forward to it...















 
 
 
 
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