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Tag:Mike Johnson
Posted on: April 22, 2012 4:19 pm
 

Pre-draft notes: offensive line

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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



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

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

Posted on: October 28, 2011 12:54 am
 

Bye week roster moves

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

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




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

see the commercial here 

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

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




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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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


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



Posted on: August 19, 2010 1:34 am
 

offensive personnel - Chiefs preseason game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(halftime)

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

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

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

(my note:  JPW looks good.) 

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

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

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

Posted on: 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.



 
 
 
 
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