Posted on: January 14, 2010 6:39 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2010 6:45 pm
Quick recap... whenever you have a turnover in coaching staff, you also tend to have a larger than usual turnover in the roster, as players who were brought in for the previous staff might not fit the schemes of the new staff.
The Falcons went through that turnover in 2007 when Bobby Petrino jettisoned a significant number of Jim Mora's players and faced a repeat in 2008. You can't move forward, build and improve if you're having to constantly patch holes and replace large chunks of your team.
I put together a list of 12 players from the previous three drafts that I felt would be a litmus test for the new regime. If the coaching staff kept most of these players and they continued to develop, the Falcons would be in far better shape than the media imagined.
But if most of them failed to make the roster or tanked during the year, there would simply be too many holes to fill and we'd be in for another awful season. I pegged 8 players as the make or break point - 8 hits meant a good year, while 8 misses would be a disaster.
Here's the list, whether they hit or missed in 2008, and also how they stand after 2009:
1. Jamaal Anderson (1st round, 2007). 2008 result: MISS. Not much explanation needed. While he did all the dirty jobs the coaching staff asked of him and won praise from Smitty and from John Abraham, he was still too young and too inexperienced to matter at all at DE.
How he stands now: if the team adds one more solid DE prospect or free agent, he'll probably be in competition with Chauncey Davis just to hang on to a backup roster spot.
2. Jonathan Babineaux (2nd round, 2005). 2008 result: HIT. His stats weren't quite as good as 2007, but he stepped up and became a full time starter and never missed a game in spite of playing much of the season banged up.
How he stands now: he was hands down our best defensive lineman in 2009, but he's facing a near-certain suspension of at least four weeks in 2010, and possibly longer.
3. Martrez Milner (4th round, 2007). Other than Jamaal, this was the pick that had me screaming at the TV during that draft. He may have fit Petrino's mold, but he was far from the best TE on the board at the time.
2008 result: MISS. He fell out of favor with the new coaching staff over the summer and was quickly released.
4. Jerious Norwood (3rd round, 2006). 2008 result: HIT. As the #2 running back, he had 828 yards from scrimmage and also became the team's kick returner. Can't ask for better than that.
How he stands now: he stands to be a restricted free agent, but he'll become a true free agent if the union gives in and we get a new CBA before March 5. The coaching staff still likes his ability, but he's losing favor with fans over his lack of durability. (My take: keep him, but note that we really need five RB/FBs on the roster rather than just four.)
5. Justin Blalock (2nd round, 2007). Was made an instant starter by the previous coaching staff but struggled as a rookie without a consistent partner at tackle.
2008 result: HIT. He held onto his starting position, and the line allowed just 17 sacks while driving the league's second ranked rushing attack. No problems there.
How he stands now: nobody seems to be eager to move him or replace him anymore. He's getting it done - and still getting better. (It helps that he's finally learned how to pick up a stunt.)
6. Laurent Robinson (3rd round, 2007). 2008 result: MISS. He got banged up in preseason, and the time on the sidelines didn't help. He lasted only five quarters before he tweaked his hamstring, tried to return too soon and hurt it again to end his season. (We got an eerie sense of deja vu watching William Moore in 2009. Hopefully things will work out better with Moore in 2010.)
How he stands now: we gave him away to the Rams. He became their leading receiver before getting hurt again this year. They'll love him in St. Louis, if they can keep him on the field.
7. Chris Houston (2nd round plus extra pick used in trade, 2007). 2008 result: HIT. He became a full starter and played well enough to make us forget about DeAngelo Hall.
How he stands now: he didn't progress well in 2009 and may have lost his starting job. With only one season remaining on his contract anyway, he's facing a make or break year - if he's on the roster at all.
8. Quinn Ojinnaka (5th round, 2006). 2008 result: HIT. He didn't start, but he was solid as a backup. He demonstrated that he could play all five positions on the line if needed and did well when called to fill in at left tackle when both Sam Baker and Todd Weiner were banged up.
How he stands now: another player caught in the CBA trap. It will be interesting to see if he still fits into Smitty's long term plans. He's best at tackle, but this season Atlanta added two more tackles (Will Svitek and Garrett Reynolds) and used Ojinnaka at guard. If Atlanta picks up another interior lineman, The Mighty Quinn might soon be the tenth player in a nine man unit.
9. Jimmy Williams (2nd round plus extra pick used in trade, 2006). I almost left him off the list since he fell out of the team's plans even in 2007, but with two draft picks tied up in him, he was too significant an investment to ignore.
2008 result: MISS. He showed up overweight for minicamp and was a "message" cut even before training camp began.
10. Chauncey Davis (4th round, 2005). 2008 result: HIT. He had 38 total tackles and 4 sacks as a backup, earning a nice new contract and stirring up talk that he should be starting ahead of Jamaal.
How he stands now: in jeopardy. He didn't live up to that fat new contract, failing to beat out Jamaal for the starting job and putting up disappointing numbers this year. Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury are strong threats to move ahead of him on the depth chart. If the coaching staff makes another "message" cut this year (like Williams in 2008 or Kindal Moorehead and Simon Fraser in 2009), he and/or Jamaal may be the sacrificial lambs.
11. Adam Jennings (6th round, 2006). He almost got left off the list since a sixth round pick isn't all that much of an investment. But Petrino wanted to clear a roster spot, making Jennings the return man and ditching Allen Rossum. That raised the stakes a bit.
2008 result: MISS. It's a shame that the final straw came on an awful call by the refs, but he wasn't getting it done as a return man. He still had potential as a backup WR - he had six receptions in two games with Chris Redman at QB late in 2007, with a 10+ yard per catch average. But like Laurent Robinson, he didn't fit the mold of the current staff, so sooner or later he probably would have been shown the door anyway.
12. Stephen Nicholas (4th round, 2007). 2008 result: HIT. He was projected as a starter even in 2008, but that changed when the coaching staff decided to move Keith Brooking back to the weak side. That limited his role to special teams, but he played well and continued his development, which gave the coaches full confidence to use him this season.
How he stands now: a starter and an emerging player with good sideline to sideline range.
That's seven hits and five misses out of the dozen. It didn't quite reach my goal of eight hits, but several undrafted players (particularly Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl, followed by Brent Grimes and seventh rounder Jason Snelling in 2009) plus the large 2008 draft class gave the team a boost.
Even now, enough of that young 2007 roster remains with the team that Dimitroff can now use free agency and draft picks purely to build for the future and to upgrade an already strong lineup. With Brian Williams as the only starter becoming an unrestricted free agent without a new CBA, the Falcons have zero true holes to fill.
It's going to be a fun offseason...
Posted on: October 25, 2009 1:31 pm
The Falcons used more blitzes than they did in the first three weeks, and they also broke out their 3-4 and 3-3-5 nickel formations. Part of it is the same smoke and mirrors concept as last season - we're still undersized on the d-line and young in the secondary. Mixing up packages helps to disguise these potential targets. Part of it is dictated by personnel. With five DEs and only three DTs on the active roster, it makes sense to give some of the DEs a few snaps at DT and give the big guys a little more rest.
The NBC broadcast of the Sunday night game named Jamaal Anderson as a starting defensive tackle. It's true that Jamaal and other defensive ends played snaps in the middle, but it's a stretch to say that the Falcons have moved their struggling young DE in to replace Peria Jerry at the one-technique DT spot.
See it for yourself... here's the log of Falcons defensive line personnel for each play of the game against the Bears.
Side note... for those not familiar with Falcons personnel,
DEs: 55 = John Abraham, 98 = Jamaal Anderson, 71 = Kroy Biermann, 92 = Chauncey Davis, 90 = Lawrence Sidbury
DTs: 95 = Jonathan Babineaux, 93 = Thomas Johnson, 97 = Trey Lewis
LBs: 54 = Stephen Nicholas (also, 53 = Mike Peterson, 50 = Curtis Lofton)
1st defensive series, begins at 13:48 Q1
1st-10, ball at CHI 38 = 98 95 93 55 (listed from Falcons left to Falcons right)
2nd-1, CHI 47 = 98 95 93 55 (blitz: 55 dropped back into coverage, 50 and 54 rushed)
3rd-1, CHI 47 = 98 95 93 92
1st-10, ATL 48 = 55 95 93 98
2nd-6, ATL 44 = 98 95 93 92
3rd-4, ATL 42 = 71 95 55 (3-3-5 nickel; 50 also rushed the passer so four man rush)
1st-10, ATL 36 = 71 98 95 55
1st-10, ATL 24 = 71 98 95 55
2nd-7, ATL 21 = 71 98 95 55
3rd-1, ATL 15 = 98 95 93 92
1st-10, ATL 13 = 98 95 93 92
2nd-9, ATL 12 = 98 93 97 92
3rd-9, ATL 12 = 71 98 95 55
2nd defensive series, begins at 5:02 Q1
1st-10, CHI 37 = 92 93 97 71
2nd-10, CHI 37 = 92 93 97 71 (offensive holding, play doesn't count)
2nd-20, CHI 27 = 92 93 97 71
3rd-12, CHI 35 = 90 71 95 55 (#90 offsides, no play)
3rd-7, CHI 40 = 90 71 95 55 (blitz: 55 drops back, 29 and 50 rush)
3rd defensive series, begins at 0:34 Q1
1st-10, ATL 44 = 92 93 97 71
1st-10, ATL 23 = 98 95 93 55
4th defensive series, begins at 9:03 Q2
1st-10, CHI 37 = 92 93 97 55
2nd-9, CHI 38 = 92 93 97 55
3rd-9, CHI 38 = 71 95 55 (54 also rushes)
1st-10, ATL 46 = 55 93 97 92 (6 man blitz: 55 drops, 53, 50, 26 rush) (SACK)
2nd-13, ATL 49 = 92 93 97 55
3rd-10, ATL 46 = (time out, no play) (ATL had 55 98 95 71 on line before time out)
3rd-10, ATL 46 = 71 95 55 (6 man blitz: 53, 54, 29 rush)
5th defensive series, begins at Q3
1st-10, CHI 19 = 98 95 93 55
2nd-6, CHI 23 = 55 98 95 71 (Blitz: 55 back, 50, 53 rush)
3rd-1, CHI 28 = 98 93 95 92
1st-10, CHI 30 = 71 98 95 55
2nd-11, CHI 29 = 71 98 95 55
3rd-11, CHI 29 = 71 98 95 55
6th defensive series, begins at 10:19 Q3
1st-10, CHI 40 = 98 93 97 92
2nd-13, CHI 37 = 92 98 93 71
3rd-9, CHI 41 = 71 98 95 55 (8-man GRITZ BLITZ)
7th defensive series, begins at 7:14 Q3
1st-10, CHI 40 = 98 93 95 92
2nd-10, CHI 40 = 98 93 95 92
Time out by ATL
1st-10, ATL 48 = 98 95 93 92
2nd-6, ATL 44 = 71 98 95 55 (Wildcat: direct snap to Devin Hester)
3rd-1, ATL 39 = 98 93 95 92
1st-10, ATL 34 = 71 98 95 55
2nd-11, ATL 35 = 71 98 95 55 (6-man blitz: 53, 50 rush)
1st-10, ATL 11 = 71 98 95 92
2nd-10, ATL 11 = 71 98 95 92
3rd-8, ATL 9 = 71 98 95 55
1st-GOAL, ATL 1 = 98 54 97 93 95 90 92 (goal line defense)
2nd-GOAL, ATL 1 = 98 54 97 93 95 90 92 (goal line defense)
3rd-GOAL, ATL 1 = 98 54 97 93 95 90 92 (goal line defense)
8th defensive series, begins at 9:48 Q4
1st-10, CHI 8 = 55 93 95 92
1st-10, CHI 38 = 71 92 95 55
2nd-10, CHI 38 = 71 92 95 55
3rd-8, CHI 40 = 71 95 55 (Blitz - 54, 53 rush) (no play - pass interference on Chris Houston)
1st-10, ATL 37 = 98 93 97 92
2nd-10, ATL 37 = 98 93 97 92 (no play - offensive holding)
2nd-20, ATL 47 = 71 98 95 55 (Blitz - 71 drops back, 53 and 28 rush)
1st-GOAL, ATL 6 = 98 93 97 55
time out, CHI
2nd-GOAL, ATL 2 = 98 97 93 95 90 92 (goal line defense)
3rd-GOAL, ATL 2 = 71 98 95 55 (Blitz - 53, 50 rush)
9th defensive series, begis at 3:06 Q4
1st-10, CHI 12 = 71 98 95 55
2nd-4, CHI 18 = 71 98 95 55
1st-10, ATL 48 = 71 98 95 55
(two minute warning)
1st-10, ATL 35 = 71 92 95 55 (no play, offsides on Kroy Biermann)
1st-5, ATL 30 = 71 92 95 55
1st-10, ATL 24 = 71 92 95 55
2nd-10, ATL 24 = 71 98 95 55 (SACK)
time out, CHI
3rd-17, ATL 31 = 71 95 98 55 (no play - pass interference on Curtis Lofton)
1st-10, ATL 14 = 71 98 95 55
2nd-10, ATL 14 = 71 98 95 55 (no play - false start)
2nd-15, ATL 19 = 71 98 95 55 (no play - offensive pass interference)
2nd-25, ATL 29 = 71 95 55
3rd-25, ATL 29 = 71 95 55
time out, CHI
4th-1, ATL 5 = 71 98 95 92 (no play - false start)
4th-6, ATL 10 = 55 95 98 71
Posted on: September 17, 2009 11:49 pm
Sure, everyone's heard that Matt Ryan missed several deep passes (including two that would have been sure touchdowns), that Jason Elam had a nightmare of a game, that the Falcons rushing game got shut down, that Kroy Biermann emerged as a star, and that John Abraham is still a beast.
Here's a list of ten more observations that you might not have seen on the 11 o'clock news or the highlights shows...
(1) The defense held the Dolphins under 100 rushing yards and under 200 passing yards. All three levels of the defense stepped up, but especially the linebacker corps. Last year, safeties Erik Coleman and Lawyer Milloy had 188 combined tackles. In this game, the three leading tacklers were Curtis Lofton (10 plus 1 assist), Mike Peterson (7 plus a forced fumble and an INT), and Stephen Nicholas (7, including one on special teams). The safeties only had to make two tackles each.
(2) Matt Ryan racked up a QB passer rating of 98 in spite of having what we would consider an off game. He struggled badly with the deep pass in the preseason and again in this first game, but he's deadly accurate with the short stuff. (And even the missed deep attempts helped to stretch the defense.)
(3) The Falcons racked up four sacks on defense - and all were by defensive linemen. The six and seven man blitz packages weren't needed. The front four were able to generate pressure all by themselves. If they can keep that up, allowing the LBs and safeties to defend their zones, this defense will be outright scary by the end of the year.
(4) They didn't give up the big play. Miami had only seven plays that went for more than 10 yards, and only two for more than 20 yards. Both of those were 21 yards. (And one of them was that trick double pass thing.)
(5) The Falcons absolutely stuffed the Wildcat. My tally showed 4 yards on 3 plays before the Dolphins essentially put that package on the shelf for the day.
(6) They also succeeded in defending the screen pass. After repeatedly getting burned by screens throughout the preseason (including 94 yards on 4 screens in the first half by the Chargers), the Falcons held their own on several attempted screens by Miami.
And a few things that need work:
(7) Never mind the under 3 yard average by Michael Turner. A more important problem is that he had 22 rushing attempts, which puts him on a pace for over 350 carries for the season. That's too many. Meanwhile, Jerious Norwood only had two rushing attempts, while Ovie Mughelli and Jason Snelling had none. They need to do a much better job of spreading the load.
(8) The offensive line gave up a pair of sacks and allowed pressure on a few other plays. The first sack was purely a miscommunication. They'll get it together pretty quickly, but they're not where they need to be quite yet.
(9) Atlanta's secondary had zero passes defended. (The entire team had two - one by Mike Peterson and one by Jamaal Anderson.) That's okay against the Dolphin receiving corps, but they'll need to step it up when they face the likes of Wes Welker, Joey Galloway, Ben Watson and Randy Moss in week 3 against the Patriots. By contrast, Miami's DBs broke up several pass attempts by the Falcons.
(10) The defense had good stats, but the old problem of defending the run up the middle against a three WR package is still there. Miami simply didn't attempt it very often. But three of Miami's top ten gains on offense were running plays, and all three were straight up the middle against the nickel defense. (They were also by different ball carriers. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown each had a 14 yard gain, while Polite had a nine yarder.)
Posted on: July 24, 2009 5:59 pm
from a piece found on the Atlanta Falcons web site:
"The offense gets a lot of publicity and notoriety and they deserve that but don't overlook this defense," Lofton said during the offseason. "We have a lot of young guys that started for us last year and really didn't know what they were doing. This year we're into the system and we know what we're doing. I think we're going to shock some people on defense with how good we are."
Builds some extra excitement for training camp, doesn't it?
Fans often overlooked just how young the Falcons defense was last season when watching them play. These kids are so young they can barely get their uniforms on over their Huggies. They're still developing as players, and they weren't bad even last year.
Chris Houston is only 24. Trey Lewis is 24. Jamaal Anderson just turned 23. Stephen Nicholas, Brent Grimes, Jamaal Fudge, David Irons, and Chauncey Davis are all hitting their stride at 26. Even Erik Coleman, the "veteran" of the secondary, is only 27. And then there are 12 more players on defense who were drafted last season or this season.
Watching the preseason games last year, I thought rookie Thomas DeCoud looked a bit lost at safety and blew a few key plays. He showed steady improvement in practice throghout the season and looked GREAT in minicamp and OTAs. He'll get his chance to win the starting job this season.
Brent Grimes still wows everyone in the complex with his athleticism. I know fans think he got beaten by a few deep passes, but the two most significant ones weren't even his primary responsibility. (Keep in mind that in a cover two scheme, there's supposed to be a pair of safeties for the deep zones.) And he had only popped up to the main roster for the final two games of 2007, so opening day was just his third career game as well as his first start. In other words, he was a rookie, just like Chevis Jackson.
If Lofton is right - if Grimes, Jackson, Decoud, Lewis, Anderson, Kroy Biermann, and the rest continue to develop - this team could be downright scary by the end of the season.
Posted on: April 18, 2009 4:35 pm
Of course, everyone who sits on the hillside to watch the team during minicamp will be there to see the newly drafted players, new free agent Mike Peterson, and of course Matt Ryan and Michael Turner.
But like last year, there will be a lot of good stories unfolding with a whole lot of other players on the roster. The Falcons are one of the youngest teams in the league, and the 11-5 record last season is strong evidence that they're stepping up and breaking through.
Jamaal Fudge and Antoine Harris are also noteworthy as his incumbent competition, but right now Decoud is the one to watch most closely.
2) Trey Lewis. He was a diamond in the rough in the 2007 draft, coming from Washburn (ever heard of it?) in the sixth round. He won the starting NT job from Grady Jackson, which led to Petrino's controversial release of our beloved Jabba The Nose Tackle. And then he became one of four players to suffer season-ending injuries in week ten, ultimately missing the entire 2008 season as well.
Other than through game film, our coaching staff hasn't had a chance to evaluate him yet. If he makes the grade, he will be a huge part of our defense. (Even if we draft a new starting nose tackle, Lewis will be part of the rotation - and possibly at both the nose tackle and under tackle positions.)
3) D.J. Shockley. At this time last season, Shockley was still rehabbing from the serious knee injury that erased his 2007 season. But he was still able to work his way back and put up gutsy preseason performances to beat out Joey Harrington for the #3 QB position.
This season, he'll be focusing on football instead of physical rehab. Take note: he'll be competing to take the #2 spot away from Chris Redman, and he'll have a serious shot at doing it.
4) Stephen Nicholas. Nicholas was all set to replace Demorrio Williams as the starting weak side linebacker. But then the Falcons drafted Curtis Lofton in the second round last year. And when Lofton showed he was ready for part time duty as the starting middle linebacker, the coaching staff moved Keith Brooking to the weak side ahead of Nicholas.
The interesting aspect of the competition for starting linebacker jobs is that Nicholas will indirectly compete with Coy Wire. Mike Peterson will take one of the outside starting postions. Which one he plays depends on Nicholas and Wire.
If Nicholas shows he's ready to step up, he'll take the WLB spot and Peterson will play at SLB.
5) Von Hutchins. He was intended to be our experienced corner, bringing stability to that unit last season. But he suffered a broken foot in a freak accident on the first day of training camp and was lost for the season. The team tried Blue Adams but ultimately traded for Domonique Foxworth instead.
Foxworth has moved on to big bucks in free agency, but Hutchins will be back to reclaim the position that was to be his in 2008.
Many fans have expressed a lack of confidence, listing CB as their top desires for the draft. But Hutchins will be the most experienced corner on our roster and figures to hold down one of the three main corner spots.
6) Quinn Ojinnaka. Todd Weiner's retirement was a bit of a surprise, but it may not be a catastrophe. While Weiner was one of the better pass blockers in the league, his ongoing rehabilitation from his 2007 surgery left him as the #3 tackle instead of a starter. Replacing him simply means someone else will have to step up to the #3 OT spot.
Ojinnaka was being groomed by Jim Mora as the team's future right tackle. He played well as the starting left tackle at the end of the 2007 season and as the #4 tackle throughout 2008. He'll be competing with incoming free agent Will Svitek for that #3 tackle spot.
The twist is that Ojinnaka is versatile and can play any position along the line if needed. If Svitek impresses the coaches in camp, Ojinnaka might end up as the primary backup at guard.
7) Renardo Foster. He's another major wild card that the coaches will evaluate for the first time this spring. Smitty saw him first hand in one game in 2007, as Foster's NFL debut came against the Jaguars. (Foster replaced struggling Wayne Gandy in the second half, and the team immediately had success running to the left side behind Foster.)
But he hasn't suited up in a year and a half, and his roster spot was essentially handed to him by his former college coach. We've seen that he has potential, but we don't know if he'll be able to win a roster spot against the serious competition he'll face in camp this summer.
Something to keep in mind: he should be eligible for the practice squad if he doesn't make the roster.
8) Eric Brock. If you like the "out of nowhere" guys (Tommy Jackson, Tony Taylor, Harvey Dahl, Brent Grimes, etc), Brock is someone to watch closely. The Auburn defensive back wasn't drafted at all in 2008. He wasn't even signed by any team as an undrafted free agent.
Instead, the Falcons invited him to minicamp last May as one of eight participants who were just hoping to win an invitation to training camp. Brock passed the audition and was signed for camp - with no one expecting him to make it to September.
But he played well enough to win a practice squad job, and he continued to impress the coaches throughout the season. When Antoine Harris was banged up at the end of the year, Brock was promoted to the main roster.
He already figures to be #5 on the depth chart at safety (behind Erik Coleman, Decoud, Fudge, and Harris) even before the draft. But he's already proven that we should never count him out. He'll have a chance at taking a backup job away from one of the others.
9) Robert James. He was nicknamed "The Beast" in college and was a monster of a tackler. The Falcons drafted him in the early fifth round last year. Unfortunately, he suffered a major concussion, and the doctors would not clear him to participate in preseason. The team instantly put him on the shelf for the year.
The question now is whether he'll be the same after the concussion as the tackling machine he was in college. If so, he's a fine young prospect to develop for the future, and the team will be fairly well set in the linebacking corps.
10) David Irons. He's another one of the Petrino draft choices, which might make him an endangered species. From that draft class, fellow sixth rounders Doug Datish and Daren Stone are already gone, as are fourth rounder Martrez Milner and now third rounder Laurent Robinson, plus undrafted prospects Tony Taylor and Kurt Quarterman.
Irons has been a special teams demon for Atlanta, but he has yet to appear in real game action in the secondary. The return of Von Hutchins potentially drops him to #5 on the CB depth chart. This could be a make or break training camp for him.
Posted on: March 17, 2009 3:35 pm
I started to do a piece on how building/maintaining a roster during the offseason essentially boils down to a really big math problem. Each team has constraints in the form of limited cap space, a defined number of roster spots, practice squad spots, and draft picks. The GM's objective is to get the maximum benefit of the available resources in order to establish the best roster year after year.
To do this, you evaluate what you have and what resources are available, and you move in the direction that will give you the most benefit. Then you evaluate again, make the next move(s), etc.
Several GMs understand the concepts even though most do not define the problem in purely mathematical terms. Thomas Dimitroff and Rich McKay both fall into this category, and head coach Mike Smith is on board with the approach as well.
I'll skip the heavy-duty math and keep this as short as possible. The first step in "The Process" is to form a baseline. You define your potential roster using as few resources (cap space, draft picks) as possible. You fill in any holes with prospects (not draft picks - we're not there yet) or dirt cheap free agents.
Note that this isn't the actual roster. It's just the starting point. And you don't actually have to sign any cheap free agents yet - just knowing they're readily available is enough.
The key is that as soon as you can form a reasonably competent roster, the moves you make from that point forward can all be to improve the team rather than to plug holes. That's when you have the freedom to go in any direction you want in free agency and the draft, and when you can stockpile for the future rather than scramble to keep a roster together for today.
Here's our current potential roster:
Offensive line: Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Harvey Dahl, Tyson Clabo, plus four of Quinn Ojinnaka, Brett Romberg, Nate Bennett, Renardo Foster, Alex Stepanovich, Will Svitek, Michael Butterworth, Ben Wilkerson. (The competition in camp will be extremely tight, so for now I just listed them all. Pick your favorite four and roll with it.)
Two at-large roster spots remain. Key in-house candidates include an extra offensive lineman, Eric Brock at safety, Simon Fraser at DE, Eric Weems and Chandler Williams at WR, or any of several DT or CB prospects.
Something I find very interesting: in general, this baseline is already better than our 2008 opening roster. Considering we haven't even hit the draft yet, that's encouraging. (With the team being so young, even the names that haven't changed are upgrades. For example, Matt Ryan has now started 17 games. Heading into 2008, he had started none. The extra experience will be a major factor for four of our starting offensive linemen, two of our WRs, and too many of our players on defense to name them all.)
One thing that continues to jump out at me is that we don't have a lot of holes to fill. We do have some, and they're certainly important, but there aren't a lot of them. That's a part of why we haven't signed as many no-name free agents as last year. Our baseline is already at a level where there isn't much point to bringing in another dozen or so guys off the street the way we did last season. They would have virtually no chance of beating out the guys we have in house. (And this year, we know it.)
It's also noteworthy that with fairly few roster spots that could be upgraded via the draft, the likelihood of trading away one or more of our draft picks increases. In the last two seasons we made deals to increase our total number of picks and ended up selecting 11 players in each draft. This year, we simply won't have room for another 11 prospects. The extra picks would end up being wasted. We're far more likely to go the other direction, either packaging picks to move up or trading picks out to future drafts. We'd get far more benefit from three really good prospects than our full complement of seven picks scattered throughout the draft.