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 Wolfe. Brandyn 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.