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Tag:Ryan Wolfe
Posted on: September 3, 2010 3:43 pm
 

quick notes before the roster cuts

We should start getting news on roster cuts soon.   Last thoughts...


Dunta Robinson had expected to play last night.  The word from Dimitroff was that he was ready to go.  It wasn't health reasons that kept him out -  it was simply that Mike Smith decided to rest him along with John Abraham and Curtis Lofton rather than risk anything happening to the $50 million free agent CB.

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Matt Bryant didn't shank any of his shorter kicks against the Jaguars the way he did that extra point against the Dolphins.  But he still hasn't shown he's reliable from longer distances -  and his troubles from 40+ were why the Buccaneers decided to go another direction in the first place.

I don't think the Falcons are actually LOOKING to replace him right away, but in light of Jason Elam's woes last year, they're likely to stay on top of things a little better in 2010 than they did in 2009.  The most interesting situation is that Kris Brown is now on the open market.

Also, expect to see some of the top rookie prospects become available this weekend.  Atlanta went with Garrett Lindholm, who made the ESPN highlights because of that last second 60+ yarder in the playoffs.  But Lindholm really wasn't among the top 3 or 4 prospects.  The coaches would rather not be forced to go with a rookie, but if it came down to that, at least there are some better ones likely to be available.

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Interesting twist...  Corey Peters wasn't able to play last night.

Since Jonathan Babineaux is out just one game, the Falcons will have to decide whether to keep a fourth DT on the roster for the season opener.  Babs doesn't count towards the roster for that week.  The key question (and no one who actually knows is talking) will be the health status of Peters.

The Falcons typically keep three DTs active, with the fourth as one of the eight inactive players.  So if they keep all four other DTs for the opener, odds are that one of them would have to go when Babs returns for week two.  Best guess is that Trey Lewis has beaten out Vance Walker for the true #4 spot (and possibly even Peters for the #3 spot as well). 

So if Peters is healthy enough to play, the team might keep just Peria Jerry, Lewis and Peters for the opener, with Jamaal Anderson sliding in to DT in the 4-2-5 nickel package or on other passing situations.  That would allow the team to keep an extra WR for the first week, when the status of Michael Jenkins is still uncertain.

The likely odd man out is Walker.  He'd be on the inactive list for the opener anyway, so there wouldn't be that much point in keeping him on the roster just to bump him out a week later.  If Peters is healthy, Walker probably starts the year on the practice squad.

But if it looks like Peters might not be ready to go (and we won't know until well after the rosters are in), they'd need Walker to fill out the rotation.  Peters would start the season as the #4 on the inactive list while he recovers.  Any extra roster spots would have to be squeezed from other units.

I have no info whatsoever on Peters.  Pure guess = he's still questionable, and Walker sticks for the opener.

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Michael Palmer was a go-to guy for Chris Redman last night, and JPW threw a couple to him as well.  He's definitely going to stick, be it on the practice squad or on the main roster.

The sticky part of putting him ahead of Keith Zinger on the roster is that the #3 TE has major blocking and special teams duties.  Those are areas where Zinger stands out. 

The part that didn't make a whole lot of sense was that the commentators referred to Palmer as a kid who needed to add some bulk to make it long term.  Huh???  Okay, he's a youngster.  But he's already bigger than either Zinger or Peelle.  I'll take that remark as random lunacy by our preseason announcers (WXIA's Randy Waters and NFL-N's Brian Baldinger).   If he really does add some upper body strength, look out.  The kid will be a beast.

I'm still not comfortable with the idea of knocking what Dimitroff called the consummate blocker off the roster, but I'll go ahead and fill in Palmer as the #3 TE on my mock roster.  He managed to get open and was targeted throughout the preseason.  Zinger did get on the field, but you'd never know it unless you were specifically looking for him.

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Spencer Adkins got banged up a bit last night.  Unless it's a season-ending thing, I'm not expecting any official word on him until Wednesday.  But I think he has made the roster.  If he's not seriously hurt (it might have just been a cramp) it won't matter that he got banged up - as the #6 LB, he'd be on the inactive list for the first week anyway.

Bear Woods played well this preseason.  I doubt he made the roster, but I'm comfortable filling his name in for a practice squad spot.

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I don't think any of the RB/FB trio nailed down the #5 job.  I haven't seen enough from Dimitri Nance to make me entirely comfortable with him, but I do like his versatility:  he was successful in several short yardage situations, including two touchdown runs, and he did well catching passes out of the backfield.   But he had too many unsuccessful rushing attempts.  He didn't win the job outright.

Antone Smith was the team's leading rusher in preseason, but he messed up several reception opportunities, had a critical fumble last night, and also muffed a kickoff return opportunity.  Saving grace:  he did well picking up a blitz late in the game.  The Falcons are looking for their backup RBs to be capable of pass protection.

Dan Klecko had looked fairly solid throughout the preseason - until halftime last night.  He didn't play all that well in the second half, plus he's a pure fullback (at least on offense - he's also a defensive lineman).  He can block (and tackle), but he can't catch very well and won't get any opportunities to carry the ball.  That makes him as useful as Verron Haynes, though better on special teams - which wouldn't matter as he'd be a fixture on the inactive list until someone got hurt.

And of course the biggest question is whether the team will even keep a fifth runner to start the year.  If they go with just four (preferring to keep an extra wideout while Jenks is banged up or go with an extra offensive lineman or DB for the long haul), I think I'd pick Nance for the practice squad. 

If they go with five, it's a toss-up between Smith and Nance for the roster.  The other would be a strong candidate for the practice squad.

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The next rough decision will be in the secondary.  If Brian Williams is healthy enough for the main roster - and based on last night's game, it looks like he is - the team is carrying six CBs and ten total DBs.  And that's not even counting prospects Dominique Daniels, Rafael Bush and Eric Brock.

Now that safety Matt Giordano is gone, the guy whose chair is getting the hottest should be cornerback Chevis Jackson.  CJack was a disappointment in his second season last year, and he really struggled in coverage throughout the preseason. 

(My take... he's playing way too soft, giving receivers far too much cushion.  He doesn't have the recovery speed for that.  His only chance is to play physical and jam his man at the line.  If he's going to start out five yards off his receiver, he's basically just Chris Houston without the stupid attitude.)

But CJack might still have a chance, as he is a strong contributor on special teams (including a gunner-blocker on the punt return unit).  He might stick with an at-large roster spot specifically for his special teams role.

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Smitty won't comment on Michael Jenkins until the first official injury report on Wednesday.   The unofficial word is that the coaching staff is hoping (but not certain) that he'll be available against the Steelers, or at the very least against the Cardinals in the second game.

At wide receiver, the main guy who opened some eyes last night was Ryan Wolfe, who had two 20+ yard receptions plus a third shorter reception.  (Unfortunately, WXIA's coverage had sideline interviews during two of his three receptions, so he didn't get the attention he deserved from the announcing crew.)

Meanwhile, Brandyn Harvey had received most of the attention among the trio of undrafted receiving prospects.  Harvey had a game he'd rather forget.   Harvey was targeted five times but came away with one reception for only three yards.  He had another catch but pushed off unnecessarily, getting called for an offensive pass interference penalty that killed a drive.  He was also flagged for a holding call downfield that wiped out a long touchdown run by Jerious Norwood.  (Atlanta had to settle for a field goal on that drive - and ended up losing by four points.)

I'm not picking any of the trio to make the roster, and I'm not sure they'll beat out Andy Strickland or other prospects from around the league for a practice squad job either (remember - we don't HAVE to sign our own guys to those spots).  But I'm leaning towards putting Wolfe's name ahead of Harvey's on the list of prospects.  It might not seem right to think the coaching staff will make a decision based on just one game, but that was the ONLY game where Wolfe got real playing time, and he really made the most of it. 

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Brett Romberg stepped up and played better on the o-line last night than in the previous exhibitions.  Key question... is that enough for him to stick around?   He can play guard or center, but was signed mainly to be our backup center last year (ultimately beating out Alex Stepanovich and Ben Wilkerson after Jeremy Newberry decided to retire).

But the Falcons braintrust decided to look elsewhere for its center of the future, drafting Joe Hawley in the fourth round.  Will the team keep them both?  Will Svitek appears to have won the swing tackle position, as he's now the only backup with experience at LT.  Garrett Reynolds and Mike Johnson both play tackle and guard - and both appear to be ahead of both Hawley and Romberg at guard.

So Romberg's best shot would be if the team decides to keep ten offensive linemen - and if they decide to make the tenth man an extra C/G rather than an extra T/G.  If they wanted another T/G, the extra guy would be Jose Valdez, who got his first chance to play LT last night (having previously played RT and RG) and performed quite well.

That one would be a virtual toss-up.  Boudreau likes the idea of keeping ten guys and also likes the idea of being three-deep across the board.  Keeping Romberg as the #10 would achieve that.  But Valdez is a far better long term prospect than Romberg, who has little upside and who is a free agent after this season anyway.

My guess:  they start the season with nine.  Romberg is out, and Valdez starts the year on the practice squad.  Svitek, Reynolds, Johnson and Hawley are the backups.  Valdez gets called up before the end of the season though, regardless of whether or not someone gets hurt. 

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The team's official web site is really driving me nuts.  The new format is bad enough, but it's just plain PATHETIC when a team's very own web site can't get the basic facts right.  Even now, their "official" roster still includes offensive lineman Mark Ortmann (who was briefly signed for depth for the Miami game and was immediately released afterwards) and leaves out CB Dominique Daniels (who got extensive playing time in the second half last night).

Several players have no ages listed, Justin Peelle still has no position, and the rookies are listed as "1" under experience the same as the second year guys.  In other words, Sean Weatherspoon, Corey Peters, etc have the same amount of experience as Chris Owens, John Parker Wilson, Lawrence Sidbury, etc.

JMike, we miss you buddy.  The web site has completely sucked ever since you left.


Posted on: August 8, 2010 11:44 pm
 

Jenks out 4-6 weeks; Glenn Sharpe arrest

Jenks came back for an underthrown ball in the Friday Night Lights scrimmage, landed badly on his shoulder and did not return.  The latest news is that he will be out for up to six weeks.  That means he'll miss the entire preseason and is already a question mark for the opener against the Steelers .

This is our first significant injury of the offseason, and it comes at one of the more shaky positions for the FalconsMichael Jenkins and Roddy White were already slated as the starters with Harry Douglas in the slot as the #3. 

It may be enough to prompt the team to begin the season with six wideouts.  It also makes both Brian Finneran and Kerry Meier important people to watch during the exhibition games as well as all the other prospects, who are *all* contenders for a potential sixth spot.



The scoop:  Thomas Dimitroff says the model for this team is to have two "talls" on the outsides with a smaller, quicker guy like Harry in the slot.  Finn is 6'5", has boatloads of experience and good hands, and has the trust of Matt Ryan to be a go-to guy in clutch third down situations.  Meier is 6'4" and has opened a lot of eyes this offseason.  He was already virtually assured of making the roster and likely even ahead of Finneran for playing time in the rotation.  Brandyn Harvey (6'4") has missed some time this week but has also shown good hands.  Ryan Wolfe is a solid body (lists at 210 pounds on his 6'2" frame) that would fit the bill as well.  He hasn't stood out as much as Meier, but he has certainly had his moments - including a touchdown reception in today's mock game.


How badly will the Falcons miss their #2 WR?   Probably not much. 

That's not a shot at Jenkins.  First off, even if he's out six weeks, four of them would be preseason games.  And if he only misses four weeks, he'll be back in time for the opener.  Second, we're still a run-first offense.  If Mularkey scripts the first twelve plays against the Steelers, the pattern is likely to be run, rollout pass, run, run, screen pass, run, rollout pass, run, run, quick out, rollout pass, run.  The main responsibilities of the wideouts will be to draw attention from the corners and safeties and then to block those same DBs downfield.  If he's the fill-in starter, Finn can handle that role as well as anyone.  

And keep an eye on how well Matt Ryan connects with any of his targets on passes 20 yards or more through the air.  He really struggled with those last year in preseason, and like many of the other Falcons preseason woes from 2009, it carried into the regular season.  (Some others that stood out in preseason:  the defense couldn't get off the field on third down - including giving up first downs vs the run, scrambles, and big yardage on screen plays, the corners frequently got torched, Jason Elam seemed to have a case of the yips, and our running game really didn't look particularly sharp.)

Ryan has said he wants to work on improving his long passing game in camp this season.  If he can't show more than he did this weekend in the scrimmage and mock game, the team might as well move someone like Keith Zinger or Dan Klecko to wideout.  If your WR is primarily a blocker, let it be someone who can knock an opposing DB flat on his back and still catch the occasional roll out pass.




Side note:  the TV and newspaper coverage on Glenn Sharpe's arrest identifies him as a former Falcon who played with the team in 2008 and 2009. 

That's overstating his significance.  Let's clear up the history:  the U of Miami DB was signed for camp as an undrafted free agent in 2008.  He didn't make the roster but was signed as a practice squad player. 

The Falcons had three of their better practice squad guys plucked by other teams during the season (running back Kenneth Darby to the Rams , defensive end Brandon Miller to the Seahawks , and offensive lineman D'Anthony Batiste to the Redskins ).   So at the end of the year, they protected some of their remaining prospects by calling them up to the regular roster to replace injured players. 

(For those who might not be familiar with that tactic...  Eight guys have to be listed as inactive each week.  So late in the season, teams will sometimes take players not seriously injured but too banged up to play the remaining games and put them on injured reserve.  They'll take the open roster spots and bring in practice squad players - either plucking them from other teams, or promoting their own practice squad guys to prevent other teams from signing them.  Practice squad players are always free agents, and the team that holds a guy's rights at the end of the season also holds the rights to him heading into the offseason.  So it's a cheap way for a struggling team to add additional prospects.

A few Falcons-related examples:  at the end of 2007, McKay and interim coach Emmitt Thomas signed lineman Pat McCoy from the Eagles practice squad and also promoted cornerback prospect Brent Grimes from our own squad.  Last season, the Packers had stashed QB prospect Brian Brohm on their practice squad.  In mid-November the Bills signed him to their active roster, and he got his first career start against us in the next to last week of the season.  Also last season, the Cleveland Browns promoted running back Thomas Brown to their active roster in the final week to prevent another team from signing him.  Possibly us, as Thomas Dimitroff still had interest in him.) 

Sharpe was one of three practice squad prospects that the Falcons protected by calliing up to the main roster.  So he was briefly on the main roster at the tail end of the 2008 season, but he did not see action. 

He returned for camp last year but didn't make the team.  He also wasn't a top choice for the practice squad. 

The Falcons wanted to stash fifth round draft pick William Middleton on the squad, but the Buccaneers claimed him off waivers.  So the Falcons re-signed Sharpe to the squad in his place.  A week later, the Bucs dropped Middleton.  The Falcons immediately signed him to the practice squad and dropped Sharpe.  And a week after that, the Jaguars plucked Middleton - and kept him.  Sharpe once again became the replacement on the practice squad.  He then got banged up in practice and was dropped on an injury waiver in late October, with undrafted safety prospect Eric Brock re-signed to the squad in his place.  That ended Sharpe's tenure with the Falcons.

The Saints signed him to their own practice squad during the postseason.  They re-signed him for minicamp, but dumped him before the end of OTAs.  He was not on the roster of any team at the time of his arrest last week.

It's always sad to see any part of the Falcons family in trouble.  But some of the news stories have implied that he played for the team for two seasons.  Just to set the record straight, that's not the case.  He was a practice squad hand for about a season and a half, but he never played other than preseason exhibition games.

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: 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.



 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com