Tag:Lawrence Sidbury
Posted on: March 17, 2012 4:21 pm
 

Falcons resign Abraham

I know everyone wanted Mario Williams or some other (younger) beast.  But let's get real -  we can't afford it.  I'm surprised we could even afford Abraham.  Apparently he came way down on his asking price. 



The bottom line on getting John Abraham back is that our pass rush will at least not be any worse than it was last year.  So should we still feel down about our defensive line?  

The coaching staff has told us that Ray Edwards played through injury all season and wasn't 100%.  At this point, comments from our coaching staff and front office don't carry as much weight as they did in 2008.  I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm ready to stop listening completely and blow off everything they say during the offseason.

But we know Edwards had knee surgery before last season (and missed training camp because of it), so that part of it is easy enough to believe.  Will he be another beast in 2012?  Probably not.  But he should be better this year than he was last year.  That part should be a minor upgrade.

I'd say the major upgrade is Mike Nolan.  Changes to the scheme will help all our defensive linemen.  Of course, that's the big unanswered question -  whether Nolan can get more out of Abraham, Edwards, Kroy Biermann, Lawrence Sidbury and Cliff Matthews than Brian VanGorder did. 

I frequently wanted to smash hotel TV screens watching BVG's idiotic blitz designs.  I can't help but think that whatever tweaks Nolan makes to the defense, they'll have to be improvements.  Smitty and Dimitroff both raved that "the arrow was up" with BVG. 

But then again, they poured massive resources into the defense for years, and the best that BVG could do was get the defense to middle of the pack - with a far below average pass rush.  So chalk all that praise up to simple kindness for those who have moved on.  That's Arthur Blank's way, and it's the way of his organization. 

Can Sidbury and Matthews step up?  El Sid finally got to play last year and excelled in limited playing time.  I'm looking forward to seeing how he does in Nolan's scheme.  The coaching staff was also stoked about Cliff Matthews in training camp last year.  But naturally, they stuck him on the inactive list even after he returned from his preseason injury, just like they had done with Sidbury in 2010.  It's rather difficult for these guys to pressure opposing QBs when they're stuck on the bench.

My take:  we actually DO have the pieces in place for a decent pass rush.  It's simply up to our new DC to put those pieces together and make it work. 

Two elements that I'm hoping we'll see in Nolan's scheme:  press coverage and the dime package.  Assuming we land another competent DB to pull off the dime package, both of those items could help Atlanta's defense significantly.

In particular, jamming receivers might do wonders for Kroy Biermann.  KB had been among the league leaders in QB hits and pressures in 2010, but he has remained one step shy of getting the QB on the ground.  If the DBs can prevent the receivers from getting into their routes cleanly, that buys an extra second for the pass rush to get to the QB.  (For those new to the board, that's the cornerstone principle behind the "Tampa Two" defense.)

It might also help Chris Owens.  Think back to his rookie season.  When injuries to Chris Houston and Brian Williams forced the team to start Brent Grimes and Owens, they had the kiddies play aggressively and press.  Owens stood out as an impressive rookie playing in that style.  But in 2010, the team went back to BVG's favorite pillow-soft cushions.  Give a slot receiver 8+ yards of open space, and all Owens could do was play follow-the-leader.  He was awful. 

He'll be playing the final year of his rookie contract this season, and his career is pretty much on the line.  Let him play the aggressive style that worked for him in college and in his rookie season here.



The benefit of the dime package would be that each eligible receiver (including TEs and RBs) would have a man lining up on him (which works hand in hand with press coverage), one extra safety would be in reserve over the top, and there would still be five defenders to rush the passer on a blitz.  Alternately, the team could go with a four man rush, assign the LB to the running back, and keep a second safety back for a standard cover two shell. 

This is a key element of the Texans defense.  They don't even bother with the nickel package.  They go straight from their base package to a dime package, with four defensive linemen, one linebacker, and the six DBs.  It was extremely effective for them last season.



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: August 19, 2010 6:41 am
 

Defensive personnel - Chiefs preseason game


For entire first half:

Stephen Nicholas, Curtis Lofton, Sean Weatherspoon at LB
Brent Grimes, Chris Owens at CB
Chevis Jackson as nickel CB
Erik Coleman, Thomas DeCoud at S

The Falcons played basic 4-3 (or 4-2-5 in nickel package) for the entire game.

Note... this time around, I kept the player numbers consistent to track the substitutions rather than keeping track of left side vs right side.  So the linemen aren't necessarily listed in order from left to right.

First defensive series

98 95 97 55
71 95 91 55
71 95 91 55

Second defensive series

98 95 97 55
98 95 97 55
71 95 91 55

(Babs and Abraham are done for the night)

Third defensive series

71 99 97 92 for eight plays
90 99 98 71 (3rd down, 6 man blitz, sack)

Fourth defensive series

71 91 98 90 for all six plays

Fifth defensive series

96 97 99 92
96 91 93 92
96 91 93 92
96 91 99 92
96 91 99 92
96 91 99 92
96 91 99 92
96 91 98 90
96 91 98 90
71 91 98 90 for six plays

(halftime)


Dominique Franks, Chevis Jackson at CB
Shann Schillinger, Rafael Bush at S
Spencer Adkins, Bear Woods, Robert James at LB
Chris Owens as the nickel CB
Stephen Nicholas played some LB in nickel package


Sixth defensive series

71 91 99 92
71 91 99 90
71 91 99 90
71 91 99 90

(note: Daylan Walker replaced Jackson for one play at CB)


Seventh defensive series

96 91 97 90 all four plays

Eighth defensive series

64 97 99 92
64 97 99 92
90 97 99 92

Ninth defensive series

90 93 99 96
90 93 99 96
90 93 97 96
90 99 97 96

Tenth defensive series

Weston Johnson in at LB with Woods, Adkins

90 97 93 64
90 97 93 64
90 97 99 64
90 97 93 64
90 97 93 64
90 97 93 64 Rajon Henley dinged
90 97 93 96
90 97 99 96
90 97 99 96
90 97 99 96
90 93 99 96
90 93 99 96
90 93 99 96
90 97 99 96
90 97 99 96





Jamaal Anderson played 18 snaps; 3 at DE and 15 at DT, all in the first half

Kroy Biermann played 28 snaps; 24 in first half
Lawrence Sidbury played 42 (!) snaps; 15 in first half
Chauncey Davis played 19 snaps; 15 in first half
Emmanuel Stephens played 26 snaps; 9 in first half
Rajon Henley played 8 snaps; 0 in first half

Corey Peters played 31 snaps; 23 in first half
Trey Lewis played 33 snaps; 12 in first half
Vance Walker played 33 snaps; 14 in first half
Thomas Johnson played 14 snaps; 2 in first half

note:  TJ wasn't 100% coming into the game; coaching staff intended to use him sparingly and in short rotations


Posted on: 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 13, 2010 2:59 am
 

what we learned from minicamp

The first thing that jumps out about the rookies is that 2010 is looking like the deepest draft year we've seen in a long time.  I haven't finalized a list of the top 32 or 35 names for a "mock eighth round" yet, but I do believe that the top undrafted prospects this year will have more NFL success than the sixth or seventh rounders from 2007 or 2005.  Maybe even better than the fifth rounders.

For the Falcons, even the tryout kids looked good in minicamp.  The top two made the grade and got signed.  More might have been signed, but the team only had two available roster spots.




One of those was SW DeKalb / University of Richmond QB Eric Ward.  I posted the NFL Draft Scout dot com blurb on him in the misc notes thread before minicamp.   He needs to work on going through his reads faster, learning the offense, etc, but he has all the attributes you'd want in a QB project -  strong arm, pretty good accuracy, leadership (led Richmond to the FCS national championship in 2008), etc, etc.

The odd thing is that the Falcons now have five QBs on the roster.  It's not surprising for teams to carry four heading into training camp, but five is a little unusual.  If all five are still around at the end of July, it's likely that the team will have two sets of two working drills with the WRs while the fifth works with the RBs or TEs.

The alternative...  this could be the end of the line for D.J. Shockley.  He may once again be competing for his football life during OTAs.

Early call:  Ward makes the practice squad.



Dan Klecko is indeed working with the RBs, at least for now.  If that continues during OTAs, he's a real contender for the #2 FB spot (formerly held by Verron Haynes). 

There are three candidates for that #5 spot in the offensive backfield.  Klecko is a pure fullback (outside of the fact that he also plays on the defensive line).  Antone Smith is a pure running back.  Dimitri Nance is a Jason Snelling-like hybrid.  Smith and Nance are both strong prospects, and Klecko has a few Superbowl rings for his past work at fullback.

Early call:  it's a three way toss-up.  Give the initial edge to Nance for his versatility, but any of the three could take the job.  In training camp, Nance and Smith will have to show they can block.




It's not just Kerry Meier and Ryan WolfeBrandyn Harvey and Tim Buckley (the Alcorn State QB that the Falcons are playing at WR) will also be people to watch in camp.  And the returning Falcons prospects (Eric Weems, Troy Bergeron, Andy Strickland) are stepping up their own game in the face of the added competition. 

Atlanta had a whole bunch of prospects in camp last year to try to replace Laurent Robinson.  It didn't go so well, and the front office was already working out free agents even before Harry Douglas got hurt. 

This year's group may not be speed demons, but they have great hands.  They also have good size:  Harvey is 6-4, 205.  Wolfe is 6-2, 210.  Meier is 6-2, 224.  Added bonus:  Mularkey might be able to work in some trick plays or Wildcat stuff with them, as Meier and Buckley are both former QBs.

Early call:  Weems gets replaced.  Meier makes the roster.  If Harvey, Wolfe and Buckley show something in the preseason games, Brian Finneran gets replaced too. 




Not too much to say about the offensive and defensive lines, as minicamp and OTAs are strictly non-contact.  We won't get a real look at their skills until training camp opens at the end of July.

The one thing I will note about the offensive linemen is that these guys are BIG.  The days of the Alex Gibbs zone-blocking scheme are obviously long gone.  I won't knock it - that system was the ONLY way the team could have gone in 2004 to have a chance of being competitive up front.   It paid off, as that team went 11-5 and made it to the NFC Championship game.  But even Bobby Petrino knew we had to get bigger up front once that system was out the door. 

No more 285 pound tackles or 275 pound centers.  Our starting five:   Sam Baker lists at 6-5, 312.  Justin Blalock = 6-4, 333.  Todd McClure = 6-1, 301.  Harvey Dahl = 6-5, 308.  Tyson Clabo = 6-6, 332.  Backups:  Garrett Reynolds = 6-7, 310.  Mike Johnson = 6-5, 312.  Quinn Ojinnaka = 6-5, 305.  Will Svitek = 6-6, 300.   Jose Valdez (guard prospect) = 6-6, 310.

The only players under 6-4 or under 300 pounds are the backup centers and center prospects.  And even they are bigger than the centers we had in the past.  Brett Romberg and Joe Hawley are 298 and 297 pounds.  A few years ago, McClure had to bulk up just to get up to 290.

Early call:  we keep nine linemen, just like last season and the start of the 2008 season.  Unless someone gets hurt, the starters will be the same as last year.  Garrett Reynolds, Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley take three of the four backup spots.   I'll give Quinn Ojinnaka the early nod for the last spot, beating out Will Svitek and Brett Romberg.




It was meaningless without contact, but Lawrence Sidbury and Kroy Biermann showed some intensity during minicamp.  They know the team is counting on them to join John Abraham as a trio of pass rush DEs.  As had been reported earlier, Jamaal Anderson has bulked up a bit for more duty as a swing DE/DT.  He's still listed at 283, but best guess is that he's now around 290-292.

Early call:  the roster will have the same five DEs as last year.  Jamaal will still be the "official" starter, but don't read too much into that - it only means he'll be out there for the first play at 1st and 10.  Beer Man and El Sid will get the bulk of the pass rush reps.




Not much to say about the DT spots.  Peria Jerry did some rehab work but was limping afterwards.  Jonathan Babineaux was held out with a shoulder problem.  Thomas Johnson got banged up in one session and was held out of two others.  And it's already May and we haven't heard a peep about Babs' case going to trial.  His suspension is a certainty, but it might not come at the start of the year.  That would make things really, really awkward for the coaching staff at the DT spots. 

Early call:  the team will keep telling us Jerry is right on schedule with his rehab work and will be ready for the start of training camp.  But when July 29 comes around, they'll have him take it easy for the first week and may even sit him out the first preseason game. 

If the commish waits until after the trial to suspend Babs, we go with four DTs.  Only one of Trey Lewis, Thomas Johnson, and Vance Walker will make the initial roster.  Lewis would be the most likely if he plays like he's healthy, but he'll have to step it up and prove himself.  So I'll give the early nod to Walker instead.




At linebacker, Sean Weatherspoon worked some at both OLB spots in minicamp and did well for his first time out.  Spencer Adkins and Robert James stepped up strongly too. 

Last year's trio of undrafted LB prospects (Derek Nicholson, Brock Christopher, Rashad Bobino) didn't make the practice squad.  Bear Woods and Weston Johnson hope to do better this year.  Woods may be the most interesting personality of this year's rookie prospects.  He wants to become a minister after his football days are over.

Here's a good look at why he's nicknamed "Bear"...

Early call:  Mike Peterson's roster spot is safe, as he's the best candidate for the #2 MLB spot as well as rotating at either OLB spot.  But 'Spoon likely starts right away.  If Adkins and James keep it up, the coaches may use the last at-large roster spot to keep all seven LBs.




I was very happy that the team re-signed Brian Williams.  I noted at the time that his real value isn't at CB but as extra depth at safety.  (Hmmm... would you rather have Williams or Charlie Peprah as your #4?)  

Later, the Falcons signed Matt Giordano in free agency, drafted Shann Schillinger, and signed prospects Rafael Bush and Gabe Derricks as undrafted free agents.  That fourth safety spot will be a nice battle during training camp.

It's tough to say whether this year's group of contenders for the #4 spot is better than last year's group (which included returning safeties Antoine Harris and Jamaal Fudge, plus prospects Marcus Paschal and Eric Brock).  They're competing for a spot that will hopefully be a fixture on the inactive list.

But there's an odd similarity in that the most experienced contender is a CB who also plays safety and who is attempting to return from injury.  This year it's Williams.  Last year, it was Von Hutchins.

Giordano is the only one of this year's crop after Williams that has any NFL experience at all.  Dimitroff is really stoked about Schillinger, noting he's "a safety slash special teams guy with a lot of speed and a lot of toughness".   D-Led is really big on prospect Rafael Bush.  And D-Led has been right more often than not lately, so I have to take him seriously and keep an eye on his guy.

Early call:  Schillinger beats out Giordano and makes the roster.  Williams won't be ready to go in September and will get the injury waiver just like Hutchins did last season. 





Things only get interesting at CB if someone gets hurt or if Williams shows up healthy for camp and can make all the changes of direction required at cornerback.  Otherwise, there are seven other CBs on the roster to fill five positions.  Two of them are undrafted free agents:  Dominique Daniels and Daylan Walker, the other walk-on from minicamp that got signed.

Early call:  without Williams being 100%, it's a no-brainer.  Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes, Chris Owens, Chevis Jackson, Dominique Franks take the five roster spots.  Daniels and Walker are simply competing to make it to training camp. 




Too early to say anything yet on the specialists.  Michael Koenen has his spot locked up already, but the long snapper and place kicker spots are up for grabs.

Early call:  I'll give the May nod to Justin Drescher at long snapper just to get his name out there.  He really is a contender to make the roster, while incumbent Joe Zelenka was really only our #3 choice last season.  And I'll roll with Steven Hauschka at PK, just to point out to D-Led that Matt Bryant isn't a shoo-in and to note that rookie Garrett Lindholm will have to step up and win the job.  It isn't his for the taking.  But in truth, the jobs could go to any of the three kickers and either of the long snappers. 




There are candidates all over the board for the last roster spot.  It could easily be a seventh LB, tenth DB, sixth WR, tenth offensive lineman, tenth defensive lineman, or sixth RB/FB.  The player will make the roster mainly for his performance on special teams.  It won't get as much attention from the local media as the battle for the 4th safety spot, 4th DT spot, etc, but it may be the most strongly contested spot on the entire roster.

Early call:  I'll make life easier on the coaches and go with Robert James as a seventh linebacker, beating out the extra DT or offensive lineman.   The other likely contenders are Shann Schillinger (if Matt Giordano wins the #4 safety spot) or an extra WR out of Wolfe / Harvey / Buckley / Bergeron.




Bottom line...  the main thing I noted about the roster heading into 2009 was that it was the deepest Falcons roster I could remember.  They needed every bit of that depth.

And since no one left in free agency and only long snapper Mike Schneck retired, this year's roster moves and drafts have all been for upgrades rather than mere replacements.   The 2010 roster will be even deeper than last year's version.  That's just plain scary.



Posted on: April 30, 2010 6:04 pm
 

first look at the pass rush

Smitty and Dimitroff both commented at the Combine that they liked the personnel they had on the ends and attributed part of the problem with the pass rush to Peria Jerry getting hurt.

We know that Peria Jerry alone can't be the plan for improving our dismal (one of the bottom five in the league) pass rush.  So what else do we have to look forward to this season?

I don't believe that the cornerback play buys more time for the pass rush.  (D-Led and I are on opposite sides of the fence on that one.)  The problem is that if the primary receivers aren't open, the QB turns to the TE or the dump-off to the RB.  We got torched more in the gaps between the LB and safety zones last year than we did by wideouts against our cornerbacks.

But there's another way Dunta Robinson can have a big impact on our run defense as well as the pass rush.  Watch carefully in the preseason exhibition games.  If it turns out that the Falcons can reliably leave Robinson alone against top receivers, without safety help, that will free up the defense to play more cover one rather than cover two.

That will make a world of difference.  We played a lot of cover one in 2008 and again last season.  It wasn't intentional.  The Falcons wanted to keep both safeties deep in cover two mode to protect the infant cornerbacks, but the deficiencies in the middle of the line forced the team to bring up a safety on a regular basis to help with run defense.

It hurt the secondary, because Chris Houston was a liability when left alone in single coverage.  He had to give up jamming his man at the line and instead leave a large cushion, because if his receiver got past him, it would have been an instant touchdown.  The hope is that Robinson can play more aggressively, with confidence that his man won't get away from him.

If he can pull it off, the team can use the cover one to its advantage.  The safety on his side will be the one to line up short.  (It might be dictated by where the receivers line up, so both safeties would have to be able to take on either the SS or FS role.)   That will make the safety available for run support, and it will also allow him to blitz or to take over the zone coverage for a blitzing linebacker.

Presto - instant improved pass rush.  Five rushers is better than four.

And it's actually nothing new for the Falcons, since we've been doing the same thing for the last two years anyway.  The difference is that without Chris Houston being our top CB left alone to cover a top receiver, we might be more successful with it.



The team's other approach is to improve the pass rush from the inside out.  In 2003-2006, the Falcons had strong pass rushing DTs in Ellis Johnson and then Rod Coleman. We haven't had a strong attack from the middle since the last time Coleman managed to stay healthy for a season.

The hope is that a rotation of Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry and Corey Peters can turn up the heat in two ways - getting more sacks themselves and drawing extra attention from the offense away from the ends.

We'll have to keep our fingers crossed on that one.  Jerry and Peters are unproven players, Jerry has significant injury concerns, and Babs is facing suspension.


And finally, the DE positions...  Dimitroff says he believes John Abraham still has plenty left in his tank and should be in for a good year.  He also really likes the development of Kroy Biermann and wants to see what Lawrence Sidbury can do this season.

The word is that Jamaal Anderson has been working to bulk up for this season.  He'll likely play the end spot in running situations and slide in to the middle as part of the nickel or other sub packages.  No mention yet of how often we might use those 3-3-5 or 3-4 packages.

No word at all about Chauncey Davis.  When asked, Dimitroff says he's "another versatile player that can make contributions".  But it seems pretty clear that El Sid and Beer Man are the real hopes for the team at DE this year.

Interesting situation to watch this summer will be whether Jamaal still appears to have a starting spot or whether Biermann moves into the starting lineup in his place.  Biermann was listed at 246 when drafted but dropped to around 241 by the start of his rookie season.  He bulked up to 260 last season. 

And the top question for the early part of the regular season will be how the DT rotation will work with Babs out.  That could be the prime opportunity to slide Jamaal inside.

We might see an early season nickel front four of Biermann, Anderson, Jerry and Abraham, with Robinson, Chris Owens and Brent Grimes as the three corners, Lofton and Nicholas as the LBs (with the rookie Sean Weatherspoon coming off for the extra CB), Thomas DeCoud as the lone deep safety and William Moore playing up in a SS role.

So how would this be better than 2009?  (a) Robinson instead of Houston.  (b) Stephen Nicholas instead of Mike Peterson.  (c) Jerry instead of Thomas Johnson.  (d) more experience for Brent Grimes and Chris Owens.   (e) more blitzes from Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nicholas or William Moore.

If we can blitz more frequently (Smitty practically forgot the meaning of the word in the second Panthers game), get the slower Mike Peterson off the field for passing downs, and keep a safety up without losing much in coverage on one side, we should indeed have a more effective pass rush in 2010.




Posted on: October 25, 2009 1:31 pm
 

Falcons defensive line rotations vs Bears

The Falcons used more blitzes than they did in the first three weeks, and they also broke out their 3-4 and 3-3-5 nickel formations.  Part of it is the same smoke and mirrors concept as last season - we're still undersized on the d-line and young in the secondary.  Mixing up packages helps to disguise these potential targets.  Part of it is dictated by personnel.  With five DEs and only three DTs on the active roster, it makes sense to give some of the DEs a few snaps at DT and give the big guys a little more rest. 

The NBC broadcast of the Sunday night game named Jamaal Anderson as a starting defensive tackle.  It's true that Jamaal and other defensive ends played snaps in the middle, but it's a stretch to say that the Falcons have moved their struggling young DE in to replace Peria Jerry at the one-technique DT spot.

See it for yourself...  here's the log of Falcons defensive line personnel for each play of the game against the Bears.



Side note... for those not familiar with Falcons personnel,

DEs:   55 = John Abraham, 98 = Jamaal Anderson, 71 = Kroy Biermann, 92 = Chauncey Davis, 90 = Lawrence Sidbury
DTs:   95 = Jonathan Babineaux, 93 = Thomas Johnson, 97 = Trey Lewis   
LBs:   54 = Stephen Nicholas (also, 53 = Mike Peterson, 50 = Curtis Lofton)




1st defensive series, begins at 13:48 Q1

1st-10, ball at CHI 38 =  98 95 93 55  (listed from Falcons left to Falcons right) 
2nd-1, CHI 47 = 98 95 93 55  (blitz:  55 dropped back into coverage, 50 and 54 rushed)
3rd-1, CHI 47 = 98 95 93 92
1st-10, ATL 48 = 55 95 93 98
2nd-6, ATL 44 = 98 95 93 92
3rd-4, ATL 42 = 71 95 55  (3-3-5 nickel; 50 also rushed the passer so four man rush)
1st-10, ATL 36 = 71 98 95 55  
1st-10, ATL 24 = 71 98 95 55
2nd-7, ATL 21 = 71 98 95 55
3rd-1, ATL 15 = 98 95 93 92
1st-10, ATL 13 = 98 95 93 92
2nd-9, ATL 12 = 98 93 97 92
3rd-9, ATL 12 = 71 98 95 55



2nd defensive series, begins at 5:02 Q1

1st-10, CHI 37 = 92 93 97 71
2nd-10, CHI 37 = 92 93 97 71  (offensive holding, play doesn't count)
2nd-20, CHI 27 = 92 93 97 71
3rd-12, CHI 35 = 90 71 95 55  (#90 offsides, no play)
3rd-7, CHI 40 = 90 71 95 55  (blitz:  55 drops back, 29 and 50 rush)



3rd defensive series, begins at 0:34 Q1

1st-10, ATL 44 = 92 93 97 71 
1st-10, ATL 23 = 98 95 93 55



4th defensive series, begins at 9:03 Q2

1st-10, CHI 37 = 92 93 97 55
2nd-9, CHI 38 = 92 93 97 55
3rd-9, CHI 38 = 71 95 55   (54 also rushes)
1st-10, ATL 46 = 55 93 97 92 (6 man blitz:  55 drops, 53, 50, 26 rush) (SACK)
2nd-13, ATL 49 = 92 93 97 55
3rd-10, ATL 46 = (time out, no play) (ATL had 55 98 95 71 on line before time out)
3rd-10, ATL 46 = 71 95 55  (6 man blitz:  53, 54, 29 rush)



5th defensive series, begins at Q3

1st-10, CHI 19 = 98 95 93 55
2nd-6, CHI 23 = 55 98 95 71 (Blitz:  55 back, 50, 53 rush)
3rd-1, CHI 28 = 98 93 95 92
1st-10, CHI 30 = 71 98 95 55
2nd-11, CHI 29 = 71 98 95 55
3rd-11, CHI 29 = 71 98 95 55



6th defensive series, begins at 10:19 Q3

1st-10, CHI 40 = 98 93 97 92
2nd-13, CHI 37 = 92 98 93 71
3rd-9, CHI 41 = 71 98 95 55  (8-man GRITZ BLITZ)



7th defensive series, begins at 7:14 Q3

1st-10, CHI 40 =  98 93 95 92
2nd-10, CHI 40 =  98 93 95 92
Time out by ATL
1st-10, ATL 48 = 98 95 93 92
2nd-6, ATL 44 = 71 98 95 55  (Wildcat: direct snap to Devin Hester)
3rd-1, ATL 39 = 98 93 95 92
1st-10, ATL 34 = 71 98 95 55
2nd-11, ATL 35 = 71 98 95 55 (6-man blitz: 53, 50 rush)
1st-10, ATL 11 = 71 98 95 92
2nd-10, ATL 11 = 71 98 95 92
3rd-8, ATL 9 = 71 98 95 55
1st-GOAL, ATL 1 = 98 54 97 93 95 90 92 (goal line defense)
2nd-GOAL, ATL 1 = 98 54 97 93 95 90 92 (goal line defense)
3rd-GOAL, ATL 1 = 98 54 97 93 95 90 92 (goal line defense)



8th defensive series, begins at 9:48 Q4

1st-10, CHI 8 =  55 93 95 92
1st-10, CHI 38 = 71 92 95 55
2nd-10, CHI 38 = 71 92 95 55
3rd-8, CHI 40 = 71 95 55  (Blitz - 54, 53 rush) (no play - pass interference on Chris Houston)
1st-10, ATL 37 = 98 93 97 92
2nd-10, ATL 37 = 98 93 97 92 (no play - offensive holding)
2nd-20, ATL 47 = 71 98 95 55 (Blitz - 71 drops back, 53 and 28 rush)
1st-GOAL, ATL 6 = 98 93 97 55
time out, CHI
2nd-GOAL, ATL 2 = 98 97 93 95 90 92 (goal line defense)
3rd-GOAL, ATL 2 = 71 98 95 55 (Blitz - 53, 50 rush)



9th defensive series, begis at 3:06 Q4

1st-10, CHI 12 = 71 98 95 55
2nd-4, CHI 18 = 71 98 95 55
1st-10, ATL 48 = 71 98 95 55
(two minute warning)
1st-10, ATL 35 = 71 92 95 55 (no play, offsides on Kroy Biermann)
1st-5, ATL 30 = 71 92 95 55
1st-10, ATL 24 = 71 92 95 55
2nd-10, ATL 24 = 71 98 95 55 (SACK)
time out, CHI
3rd-17, ATL 31 = 71 95 98 55 (no play - pass interference on Curtis Lofton)
1st-10, ATL 14 = 71 98 95 55
2nd-10, ATL 14 = 71 98 95 55 (no play - false start)
2nd-15, ATL 19 = 71 98 95 55 (no play - offensive pass interference)
2nd-25, ATL 29 = 71 95 55
3rd-25, ATL 29 = 71 95 55
time out, CHI
4th-1, ATL 5 = 71 98 95 92 (no play - false start)
4th-6, ATL 10 =  55 95 98 71




Posted on: September 19, 2009 3:07 am
 

Defensive line rotations, week one

I posted the play by play defensive line personnel for last year's week two game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  I don't track it for every single game, but I do from time to time just to get a feel for the Falcons defensive scheme.

In the season opener against the Miami Dolphins, it should be noted that while Jamaal Anderson was officially the starter, it was Kroy Biermann that got the bulk of the reps in passing situations.  Anderson mainly played on first and second downs. 

Chauncey Davis was re-signed under the promise that he would be in serious competition for the starting job.  Based on playing time, it looks like he's been relegated to the #4 DE spot.

Also, this year's fourth round draft pick Lawrence Sidbury was on the active roster.  He mostly played special teams, but he did get on the field for the last two defensive plays.  That was an interesting time to make his debut - his first play was with the Dolphins going for it on fourth down.
Last season the team masked its defensive line weaknesses by mixing up schemes, throwing in a variety of blitzes, 3-4 alignments, 3-3 nickel packages, etc.  They played Jamaal Anderson as the nose tackle in the 3 man front, occasionally brought Stephen Nicholas up to the line, and did other unusual personnel moves - including the seven man Gritz Blitz.

At least for this game, the Falcons stuck with the four man front and rarely blitzed.  They did mix things up between man coverage and zone coverage assignments, but for the most part they stuck with the cover two and the four man rush.

Here's the defensive line personnel for each play:



First defensive series

1-10 MIA 32 = 98 94 95 55
2-07 MIA 35 = 71 94 95 55
3-05 MIA 37 = 71 94 95 55 = Kroy Biermann forced fumble

Second defensive series

1-10 MIA 12 = 55 94 95 98
2-10 MIA 12 = 71 94 95 55 = pass complete, 10 yard gain
1-10 MIA 22 = 98 94 95 55
2-08 MIA 24 = 71 94 95 55
3-05 MIA 27 = 71 94 95 55
1-10 MIA 33 = 71 94 93 55 = 14 yard run up middle vs nickel
1-10 MIA 47 = 98 94 93 71
2-08 MIA 49 = 98 94 93 71
3-04 ATL 47 = 71 94 95 55 = sack by Abraham

2nd quarter, Third defensive series

1-10 MIA 14 = 98 93 94 92
2-06 MIA 18 = 98 94 93 92 = pass complete, 16 yard gain
1-10 MIA 34 = 98 94 93 92 = direct snap to Ronnie Brown
2-06 MIA 38 = 98 93 94 92 = Pat White in game, runs
3-06 MIA 38 = 55 94 95 71

Fourth defensive series

1-10 MIA 36 = 98 94 93 92
2-03 MIA 43 = 98 94 93 92 = Pat White incomplete pass
3-03 MIA 43 = 71 94 95 55 = the "leg" catch - pass complete, 15 yds
1-10 ATL 42 = 55 93 95 71
2-05 ATL 37 = 55 93 95 71 = trick play double pass, 21 yard gain
1-10 ATL 16 = 98 95 93 55 = Peterson forced fumble, Williams return

Fifth defensive series
1-10 MIA 18 = 71 94 95 55
End of first half

3rd quarter, Sixth defensive series

1-10 MIA 16 = 98 94 95 55 = 9 yard run up middle vs nickel
2-01 MIA 25 = 98 94 95 55
3-05 MIA 21 = 71 94 95 55

Seventh defensive series

1-10 MIA 26 = 98 94 95 55 = Jamaal flushes QB, Abraham sack
2-10 MIA 26 = 92 94 95 55
3-09 MIA 27 = 92 94 95 71 = sack by Biermann

Eighth defensive series

1-10 MIA 20 = 98 94 93 92
2-11 MIA 19 = 98 94 93 92
3-05 MIA 25 = 55 94 93 71 = pass complete, 14 yard gain
1-10 MIA 39 = 98 93 94 92
2-06 MIA 43 = 98 94 93 92
1-10 ATL 49 = 98 94 93 92
2-02 ATL 41 = 98 94 95 71
1-10 ATL 38 = 98 94 95 71
2-09 ATL 37 = 98 94 95 71 = nullified by offensive pass interference
2-19 ATL 47 = 92 95 93 55 = interception by Peterson

Ninth defensive series

1-10 MIA 14 = 92 95 93 55 = 14 yard run up middle vs nickel
1-10 MIA 28 = 92 95 93 55 = Lofton forced fumble

4th quarter, Tenth defensive series

1-10 MIA 28 = 98 93 95 92
2-05 MIA 33 = 98 93 95 92 = pass tipped by Jamaal
3-05 MIA 33 = 71 95 93 55

Eleventh defensive series

1-10 MIA 24 = 98 94 95 92
2-10 MIA 24 = 98 94 95 92
3-10 MIA 24 = 71 94 95 55 = pass complete, 21 yard gain
1-10 MIA 45 = 71 94 95 55 = pass complete, 10 yard gain
1-10 ATL 45 = 71 94 95 55
2-05 ATL 40 = 71 94 95 55
1-10 ATL 31 = 71 94 93 55 = Peria Jerry banged up, does not return
2-05 ATL 26 = 71 95 93 55 = Abraham offsides, no play
1-10 ATL 21 = 71 93 95 55 = TD pass nullified by holding, no play
1-20 ATL 31 = 71 95 93 55
2-13 ATL 24 = 98 95 93 71
3-04 ATL 15 = 98 95 93 71
4-04 ATL 15 = 98 95 93 90 = only a three man pass rush
1-09 ATL 09 = 98 95 93 90 = TD pass to Ricky Williams





 
 
 
 
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