Tag:Ovie Mughelli
Posted on: April 24, 2012 1:50 am
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Pre-draft notes: running back / fullback

The overriding factor in every decision a general manager makes is the salary cap.

The cap isn't just about profit and loss.  It also serves as the league's best tool for maintaining a competitive balance, by forcing teams to focus on asset allocation.

Think of it this way:  you're the GM of a brand new expansion team, and you're allowed to try to sign any players you want from any team.   You have the ability to sign Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady as your three quarterbacks.   Is that a good idea?

The answer would be a definite NO.   You'd have at least $40 million in cap space (and probably over $50 million) tied up at the quarterback position, and only one of them could play at any time.  You'd only have $70 to $80 million left to spend on the other 50 players on your roster.  Good luck getting a defense, receivers, and blockers with that low of a budget.

That's where asset allocation comes in.  You can't have everything.  You have a limited supply of magic cookies, and you have to figure out where to use them.

So what does this have to do with the Falcons and the offensive backfield?  

Over the offseason, our braintrust had to make a lot of key decisions about the team's cap dollars.  And one of the biggest decisions was whether to stay with the power running game.  Starting RB Michael Turner and starting FB Ovie Mughelli carry some hefty salary cap costs.  Do we stay with our Pro Bowl backfield for one more year, or clear the roster and free up cap dollars to use elsewhere (such as at left tackle)?


My take:   the team publicly stated its commitment to Turner for this season.  Let's take them at their word and assume Turner stays. 

In cap terms, it makes sense.  Turner's signing bonus counts $2.5 million per season against the cap.  He's signed through 2013.  If the team trades or releases him before June, they would have to count both the 2012 and 2013 portions of that bonus against this year's cap.  They'd lose Turner and still face a $5 million cap cost.  If they keep him, they'd pay his $5 million salary and count the 2012 portion of his bonus.  The cap cost would be $7.5 million.

Keeping the team's offensive workhorse would only cost an extra $2.5 million of cap space.  Might as well have him stick around.

It's not as obvious with Mughelli, as the team would free up $3 million by dropping him.  Other fullbacks would be much cheaper.  But Atlanta's offensive production last season really dropped off the shelf after Mughelli went on IR.  The coaching staff knows how important he is to their power attack.  So if they're going to keep Turner, they could quite easily opt to keep Ovie for one more year as well.

It's a different story next year though -  Mughelli will be a free agent, and moving Turner next year would free $5 million of cap space.  I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see them both gone from the picture in 2013.  But for now, it looks like they're still going to be our starters in the offensive backfield.



Another item to consider:   we've heard that the team wanted Dirk Koetter at OC largely because of his thorough knowledge of the vertical passing attack.

Well, you can't work a strong vertical attack when you're playing a "22" package (two RBs and two TEs, with only one wide receiver on the field), as the Falcons often did in 2010-2011.   To get vertical, you're almost forced to go with more single-back formations.  And that means less of Turner, Ovie, or both.

Turner hasn't been much of a receiving threat out of the backfield.  He could pass block, but the team has stressed for a couple of years now that they really need to balance the load a bit more.  They *want* to get him off the field more frequently if they can.

Mughelli might be interesting as the lone back.  He can be effective catching passes out of the backfield, and he's the best blocker we have among our runners.  He'd certainly love a few more opportunities to carry the ball.  If he stays, he might see action as the lone back.

Jason Snelling would be ideal in a single back set, which may have been one reason why the team put a priority on resigning him.  He can run inside, catch passes, lead block, and pass protect.  He's not a speedster, but he's otherwise perfect for a team wanting to implement a four vertical attack. 

Jacquizz Rodgers has demonstrated that he's quite willing to throw his body against an incoming blitzer, but the results have often been painful (yet hilarious) to watch.  Hopefully Koetter would take an alternate approach and use him as the hot man for the outlet pass instead of making him a kamikaze pilot.   With his speed, he's a weapon - and that can be just as effective as blocking.  If a blitzer runs past him after the quarterback, a screen or hot pass would have Rodgers off to the races. 



The other big question is whether we keep four total runners on the roster (as we did for the entire 2008 season) or go with five (as we have most of the time since then). 

The obvious follow-up is if Koetter wants five, do we have the fifth man already in house or do we need to find him in the draft?  The in-house candidates:  

Antone Smith has held the #5 spot for the last two seasons.  In two seasons on the roster, he has a grand total of ONE rushing attempt -  for negative three yards.  He also has zero pass receptions, making him pretty much a waste of a roster spot.  The coaching staff opted to keep him in 2010 because of his speed.  But he was a disaster in the passing game in preseason, leading many fans to wonder whether the team kept the wrong man.  He turned it on in the final preseason game to save his roster spot last year, but afterwards appeared only on special teams -  or on the inactive list.

Dimitri Nance came to camp as an undrafted free agent in 2010 and was the main alternative to Smith.  The Falcons opted to try to stash Nance on the practice squad.  He didn't last long before the Packers signed him away.  He was available this offseason, and Atlanta quickly scooped him back up for camp. 

Based on what we saw of him in the 2010 preseason, he was a decent inside runner and could catch.  He needed more work on his reads in pass protection -  possibly an issue of trying to learn the offense as an undrafted rookie.  He doesn't have tremendous speed but does have versatility.  If he turns it on in preseason, he's likely to beat out Smith this time around.

Mike Cox is a pure fullback.  He came aboard when Mughelli went on IR last season.  Mixed grades on his effectiveness.  He didn't know much of the offense, so the team wasn't able to use him in as many situations as they could Mughelli or Snelling.  If nothing else, he does have experience.



My take:  I'm not sure I'd keep any of these three as the fifth man, though I'd let them all compete for the job in camp.  Nance needs to show he can block.  Smith needs to show he can run routes and catch.  Cox needs to show he can learn the whole offense and be more than just a pure lead blocker.

I wouldn't make RB a draft priority, but I'd consider it in the later rounds.  I'd definitely add at least one RB as an undrafted free agent.  The ideal guy would either be someone versatile like Snelling or a speedster who has KR experience and who would be deadly on the screen pass.  Atlanta thought it had Noel Devine as an undrafted free agent last year.  Someone like that would do.

This year's potential crop of undrafted runners doesn't seem to be as strong as last year's.  The other side of that coin:  by the end of August, there will likely be several candidates from last year's college class available as free agents or waiver pickups. 

I would generally prefer to go with five runners rather than four, as the team ran into trouble in 2009 when several players got banged up. 

But if the right candidate can be found for the practice squad (and if we can keep him -  we lost Kenneth Darby in 2008 and Nance in 2010), going with four would allow the team to carry an extra player elsewhere, such as an extra receiver or a DB for special teams. 

The fifth man could also be someone doubling up from another unit -  such as a backup TE lining up at the h-back spot in a spread package.



The big picture:   to quote the old song, a change is gonna come.  But not yet.    RB really shouldn't be an area of need for this draft.  


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: November 1, 2009 1:20 pm
 

best guesses on this week's injured Falcons

first a quick recap of the injury reports this week:

Jerious Norwood still isn't practicing.  Antoine Harris (knee) and Ovie Mughelli (calf) did get back onto the practice field but were limited all week.

The bad news is the rest of the list -  Jason Snelling (hamstring) and Thomas Johnson (calf) were both out all week, while Jonathan Babineaux (ankle), John Abraham (foot) and Chris Owens (shoulder) were limited all week.  Sam Baker tweaked his ankle in practice and was limited on Fri/Sat.  Kroy Biermann hurt his neck in practice on Friday and missed practice yesterday.  
That's ten Falcons including five starters who are officially listed as QUESTIONABLE for the game against the Saints.  The team is even more banged up now than they were heading into the game against the CowboysTony Gilbert and Mike Schneck were also on the injury report but were not limited in practice and are PROBABLE.



The main "coin flip" cases will be Biermann and Ovie.  The team thinks they'll be available but won't get final clearance on either of them until late tomorrow afternoon.  If they're cleared to play, they'll be on the active list - even if they're extremely limited. 

Best guesses on everyone else:   Norwood and Snelling will not play.  Verron Haynes might even start, and we'll get a really good look at Aaron Stecker.  Abraham, Babs and Baker will all play and will all start.  Thomas Johnson will be out.  Trey Lewis will start, Vance Walker will get his first career game backing up Babs, and we'll see more of Jamaal Anderson and Chauncey Davis sliding into the middle in pass rush situations.  Antoine Harris is close but will be held out again this week.  Owens will probably be available, but (partly depending on Biermann) the team may choose to sit him and play Spencer Adkins for special teams instead.  Schneck and Gilbert will play.


Posted on: October 19, 2009 2:30 pm
 

the injuries are starting to build

The Falcons come off an 11-5 season under their new coach and new GM, and they start the year with a scorching hot 6-2 record. 

Yes, I know they've only played five games and are now 4-1.  That was a flashback to 2005.  The problem then was that injuries were building up throughout that early run.  And by midseason, a whole lot of backups (and in some cases, backups to the backups) were getting a whole lot of playing time.

The result... the Falcons won only two games in the second half of the season and finished 8-8, missing the playoffs.

This year's initial roster had much better depth.  But you can only go two or three deep at any position when you're limited to a 53-man total and a 45-man game day active roster.  So regardless of how deep you are coming out of the gate, if you get multiple injuries at one position, it's a problem.

This year, the Falcons had their bye in week four.  Atlanta is now two weeks into a stretch of thirteen straight games without a rest.  And the injuries are starting to pile up.
It didn't get as much attention as when Brian Williams or Jerious Norwood went out, but Atlanta also lost backup safety William Moore... again.  Moore left the game with another hamstring problem.  It's turning into the same situation the team had with Laurent Robinson last year.  Robinson played well in 2008 - for a grand total of five quarters at WR.  But he missed a lot of preseason and early season action with an injury, then tweaked his hamstring, and then re-injured it the moment he returned to practice.  Now it's happening with Moore.  Hopefully the Falcons won't give up on their second round DB and give him away in a bad trade the way they did their third round WR.

The catch - Antoine Harris is still out with his knee injury, not practicing at all last week.  So the Falcons don't have a healthy backup safety on the roster at all.  And the main guy who would sub at safety in an emergency...  Brian Williams.   Uh oh.

The usual practice is for the team to wait until Wednesday to talk about the extent of injuries, since that's when the first official injury report of the week gets released.  It also fits the team's regular schedule, since the injured players would normally spend most of the day with medical staff.  Smitty wouldn't have the latest info until after he meets with the media.  (That's by design - it's simple to deflect questions when you really don't have any info.)  And Tuesday is the team's day off, so the Wednesday afternoon Q&A after practice is the first time the word gets out.

But this week may be treated a little differently since the trade deadline is tomorrow.  The team's own front office absolutely HAS to know ASAP if Norwood and Williams will be out for the year or an extended time so that they can have a day to work the phones and make a deal if needed.  And if Smitty has that info (or if Daryl Ledbetter or another writer thinks about it and manages to corner Dimitroff), the team is usually pretty good about at least summarizing it.

So there's a chance we'll hear something after this afternoon's press time - especially if it's really bad news.

Now for a little what-if... 

(a) suppose Norwood's hip flexor thing is major and he's headed to IR.  The option that would probably be the fan favorite is that Thomas Brown is still available.  While Mughelli is out, that would leave the team with a four-back group similar to last year.  Verron Haynes would be the principal fullback with Jason Snelling doing double-duty as backup RB and backup FB.  Brown would take Norwood's spot as a backup RB.

(b) if Brian Williams is gone, the CB situation isn't that much of a problem.  The team is already carrying six CBs on the roster anyway.  We'd be back to Brent Grimes, Chris Houston, and Chevis Jackson as the main three.  That's what the team was planning to do all along anyway.  And if those three struggle, it's still only a matter of time before Tye Hill is ready for action.  Domonique Foxworth became a starter in week eight last year. 

The real question is what to do at safety without Williams being available.  Moore is banged up.  Harris is banged up.  William Middleton cross-trained at safety, but he's now with the JaguarsLawyer Milloy is now with the Seahawks.

At this point, it might be for the best if Moore's hamstring problem is serious enough for the team to put him on the shelf for the year.  It's clear he won't be playing in the secondary anytime soon.  If he's healthy, he can work special teams.  But considering he missed all but one week of training camp, all of preseason, has had only three weeks of full participation in practice, and is out from practice again for the forseeable future, it's hard to imagine the team would give him the responsibility of being the last line of defense in the backfield anytime in 2009.

If he's on the shelf (by that I mean if the team puts him on IR), that would free up the roster spot for someone else who really could play the defensive backfield if necessary.

The three names that come to mind right away are the three Falcons who didn't make the final roster cut.  That's intentional - it's not that I'm playing favorites, but that if you need a guy who could step in immediately, the obvious choice is someone who spent all training camp and preseason in your system.  The good news is that they're all available.

Jamaal Fudge also knows Smitty's defenses after playing for Smith and DB coach Alvin Reynolds in Jacksonville.  And he was the guy Smitty turned to last year when Lawyer Milloy was too banged up to play the final regular season game.  He'd be the most likely candidate.

Von Hutchins is still available too.  He wasn't healthy enough for full duty in the secondary during preseason, but he was getting really close.  He's had two more months to recover, while everyone else in the league has had two months of contact to get banged up.  If he's now back to about 90%, that would put him roughly on par with everyone else.  He'd be capable of being a backup.  Keep in mind that half his career starts were at safety rather than CB, and that he got more playing time at safety in camp this year than at CB anyway.  He's had the reps.  He'd be a strong choice - if he's physically up to playing condition.

The other issue was that he signed a pretty big free agent contract here before the 2008 season.  It would have been tough for the team to carry his base salary purely as a backup role - especially if he couldn't beat out Grimes or Jackson for the nickel corner job.  But that's out of the way now.  The team is free to re-sign him to a smaller contract that will fit within the salary cap.

And I said there were three ex-Falcons...  the third is Eric Brock, the camp walk-on who made the practice squad and ended the season on the roster last year.  Even if the team re-signed Fudge or Hutchins or made a trade for another safety, they should still consider bringing Brock back to the practice squad ASAP.  They need the depth.
 

 
 
 
 
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