Posted on: November 10, 2009 3:08 pm
It's Tuesday, which is the team's day off now that we're back to a "normal" weekly routine. A few notes before we head into the second half of the season...
The inside word on Thomas Brown: the Falcons still love the kid.
It seemed really strange that the team brought in two running backs (Antoine Smith for the practice squad in addition to Aaron Stecker for the roster) and that Brown wasn't one of them... not to mention the fact that Brown wasn't part of the original practice squad.
The reason is that the news reports from the roster cut deadline didn't give us all the details. Thomas Brown and Von Hutchins weren't ordinary releases/waivers. They were injury settlements, just like with David Irons at the start of training camp. Under league rules, teams can't re-sign players released under injury settelements until mid-November. So they didn't sign Brown to the practice squad because they couldn't. And while they were able to re-sign Jamaal Fudge and bring promising prospect Eric Brock back to the practice squad, Von Hutchins has been off limits.
I fully expect to see Brown in a Falcons uniform again. Not certain about Hutchins, but it's quite possible we'll see him come back as well.
On other banged-up Falcons: unless he gets hurt in practice, Jason Snelling will return this weekend against the Panthers. Thomas Johnson is expected to return to practice this week. The team hopes he'll also be able to play, but it's not certain.
Sam Baker aggravated the same ankle he's been having problems with for the last several weeks. The story with him this week will probably be the same as last week - he might be cleared to play, but whether the team would (or even should) choose to play him is another question entirely. Will Svitek certainly showed last week that he's a competent replacement. He plays with fire like the Nasty Boys on the right side of the line. Falcons radio announcer Wes Durham joked that he learned from the best, doing an internship this year at the firm of Clabo & Dahl, and that he plays right through the last millisecond of the whistle.
The big concern this week is Brian Finneran. There haven't been any official announcements or comments on him at all yet.
Much ado about a doo-doo: no word yet on formal complaints being filed about DeAngelo Hall's claims the Falcons tried to do him wrong on the sideline, though obviously we know the league is reviewing it.
Forget all the talk. There won't be any significant action against Smitty or Jeff Fish or even LaRon Landry of the Redskins.
The hit was late, and it drew a flag. Case closed. It wasn't a vicious hit, and Landry left the area immediately (and even made peace with the Falcons while doing so). There was plenty of yelling and some pushing, similar to what happens all the time when tempers flare up on the field. But there was no major incident, and the only remotely significant item was the extra bump by Albert Haynesworth which drew the second flag.
The whole thing was a non-event, and the only reason anyone is talking about it at all is that ex-Falcon MeAnJello made all those insane post-game comments.
If any thing does come out of it, the most likely actions are a small fine against Albert Haynesworth and possibly some action against Hall for both instigating the situation and that obscenity-laced diatribe.
Looking ahead to the second half of the season... the Falcons were 5-3 at this point last year too. They're now coming off the four game stretch that they simply needed to survive, and they came away 2-2 in those four games. They did exactly what they had to do.
I won't say the rest of the schedule is easier in terms of the opponents, but other aspects of it do get better. There are no more west coast trips or pre-scheduled Monday night games (still subject to flex scheduling) to mess up the travel and practice routines. Also, we're now done with three of the four games against teams coming off of byes.
In the meantime, the young guys in the secondary have gotten some valuable experience, two new acquisitions (Tye Hill and Aaron Stecker) have stepped in very well, and some of the young d-linemen (particularly Kroy Biermann and Vance Walker) are also stepping up.
That will give the Falcons a boost in the second half. We have better depth than many teams out there, and injuries are piling up all over the league - not just here. If we can avoid injuries to significant players, we'll have an edge down the stretch.
Posted on: October 19, 2009 2:30 pm
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 Jaguars. Lawyer 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.
Posted on: August 8, 2009 12:03 am
First observation = wow, the place was packed. It was pretty obvious that there were more than 10,000 people there, and even at halftime there were more and more and more coming in the gates. Later, the attendance was announced at over 12,300 !!
They did kickoff / returns and FG drills before the scrimmage part got underway. Chandler Williams and Jerious Norwood had nice returns. Interesting sight = Peria Jerry on the kickoff return unit, forming a wedge.
Early on, the defense got the better of the offense. A series with the 1st team offense was stopped. Chris Redman later had a pass to Justin Peelle where Brent Grimes single-handedly made the strip, recovery, and return for a defensive TD.
My vote for THE play of the entire scrimmage was by safety prospect Eric Brock. He made a nice read to see (I think) Robert Ferguson breaking open. He closed in a heartbeat and timed the hit perfectly to separate the receiver from the ball. And then he plucked the ball out of the air for a pick. Obviously no replay, but I think it would go down as an interception rather than a fumble. (It would be his ball either way though, since he grabbed it before it hit the ground.) It was SWEET.
You KNEW that sooner or later Matt Ryan would hit Michael Jenkins for a long TD. They've been doing it in every single practice session. It came in Ryan's second series, with a 20+ yard pass over the middle for a touchdown. Chris Owens was the defender in coverage on that play.
The pass rush was disappointing - not sure if the rule to avoid hitting the QB had something to do with it. But the one nice pass rush was by everyone's favorite lineman, Jamaal Anderson. Jamaal flushed Redman from the pocket and forced him to throw the ball away.
Not much happening early in the second "half". The scrimmage was scheduled for ten series, with each QB getting at least two drives. Pretty much everyone seems to be playing at least a little bit. I didn't have a notepad with me, so I wasn't able to track the O-linemen and D-linemen as I would have wanted. But I know that Fudge and Hutchins got snaps at safety, Owens and Glenn Sharpe got reps at corner, Vance Walker got time at DT, Kroy Biermann, Chauncey Davis, Spencer Adkins, Robert James, etc were all in rotations. The goal of this thing was to get "game" film to evaluate players, so as many people as possible got as many reps as possible.
In his final series (9th of 10), Redman threw an interception that was caught by Tony Gilbert. I missed who the intended receiver was. (Gilbert has been practicing with the first unit offense this week in Curtis Lofton's place. Lofton is expected back in practice early next week.)
In the 10th and presumably final series, D.J. Shockley hit Hartsock for a first down. The next play was a handoff that had a penalty on the defense. Shockley later hit Chandler Williams to get inside the red zone. Coy Wire had great penetration to stop Thomas Brown for a loss. (The coaches had the Bulldog backfield for this drive - Shockley at QB, Brown at RB, and Verron Haynes at FB. All are ex-UGA.) After that, it was run, run, run (like I said - Bulldog backfield...) until Brown scored the TD.
BUT... the show isn't over yet. Smitty calls for more, with John Parker Wilson running every series of "overtime". He hit Peelle for roughly 17 yards over the middle with a really nice throw. I've seen him hit Keith Zinger several times on this exact route in practices this week, so he's obviously already comfortable with that play even though he has to thread the needle to make that throw.
The next snap looked like a busted play. Not sure what was supposed to happen, but Wilson intentionally threw it away. I noted this one because it was a good decision by a rookie QB in a clutch situation. Otherwise it was a non-event.
A little later, Norwood broke loose and took it inside the 15. Wilson hit Brown at about the 10, but the drive bogged down there.
Smitty kept them going. The next series wasn't a good one for JPW. He tried to throw into traffic on the run and was lucky it wasn't picked off - I'm sure he heard about it immediately and will cringe when he sees it in the film room this week.
Verron Haynes had a nice run on a toss sweep, and then Wilson hit Zinger - just like in practice, except that this time Zinger was allowed to show his stuff. He looked like Mike Alstott (insert Chris Berman "rumblin', stumblin" on the highlight reel) breaking tackles and taking it inside the 3. Smitty ended the scrimmage then.
OFFICIALLY, the offense barely edged out the defense in the final score. But the defense got the better of it for most of the night, and the offense ended up taking it during the unscheduled extra three series. So take it with a grain of salt - the defense held their own.
The linebackers looked really good. I wasn't all that hot on the D-line, though I did note that there wasn't much success running up the middle. The big runs were all to the outsides. Now if they can improve the pass rush, they'll have something...
Aaron Kelly didn't have much action in terms of receiving, but he did have some blocking opportunities on run plays. That (along with special teams during the preseason games) will go a long way towards helping him make the roster. Chandler Williams had the nice reception from Shockley plus a great showing as a kick returner. They're both making pretty good arguments for keeping six receivers on the roster.
The safeties looked pretty good, but I'm not sure why Chris Owens didn't have deep help on the TD pass from Ryan to Jenkins.
Ryan looked solid. My favorite play from him was a quarterback keeper on the very first series. Mixed grades on Redman - one of the turnovers wasn't his fault, but the other was one he'd want back. Shockley's first series wasn't much, but he did a fine job with that final "regular" series. His passes were dead on the money. And JPW didn't look anything special during the regular drives, but he did a fine job in the extra time at the end. He hasn't had many reps in the 11 on 11 portions of practices, so it makes sense that he'd get into more of a rhythm with the extra snaps. And he's helping turn Keith Zinger into one of the stars of training camp.
The simulation at Roam The Dome will reportedly be without pads, so this was the closest thing we'll see to a game until next weekend's action. I'm looking forward to it...
Posted on: November 30, 2008 11:35 am
As the 2008 regular season winds down, more and more posts on the Falcons message board are looking ahead to free agency and the draft, sizing up the team's likely targets and areas of need.
One key thing to remember: this is one of the youngest teams in the NFL this decade, not just this season. The Falcons have 31 players - including 11 starters - that are age 26 or younger. This is important for two reasons. First, many of these young guys are still developing and will improve naturally with experience. A few areas that might be perceived as weak points for the team may not be liabilities next season. Those positions wouldn't necessarily be targets for the draft, because the newly drafted players would have to go through the same growing pains as our current players did last year and this year.
Second, every player coming in next season will have to replace someone currently on the roster. We don't have a whole lot of guys who are likely to retire, we really don't have that many free agents in key roles, and Dimitroff is working to sign our potential free agents early to avoid having them hit the open market. The team will have quite a few currently injured guys returning, plus we have more solid prospects on our practice squad than most teams. I'm expecting at least 10 players from those lists to be with the Falcons in minicamp next season and competing for roster spots.
So if you'd like to play GM and start designing your 2009 roster, keep those players in mind.
Here's a rundown by unit:
Quarterback: Ryan, Redman, Shockley. No issues there at all, and all three are under contract for 2009. Feels nice, doesn't it? One catch - both Redman and Shockley are free agents after next season. Expect the team to pick up a fourth guy for camp next year to compete with them and perhaps a developmental project for the practice squad.
Running back / fullback: Turner, Mughelli, Norwood, Snelling, Brown, Barclay. The team is likely to carry five players in this unit. Snelling was a hybrid RB/FB who dropped some weight this season to focus on the RB role - but ended up with the FB#2 duty as well as the RB#3 role. With Brown returning, he may bulk back up to focus on fullback.
Receiver / tight end: White, Jenkins, Hartsock, Robinson, Douglas, Peelle, Finneran, Zinger, Rader, Weems, Chandler Williams, Noriaki Kinoshita. The WR side of this unit is loaded with Jenkins already re-signed. The only question is whether the team will keep five or six on the roster next season.
Tight end will be a significant issue. The team doesn't have a true receiving tight end, and Mularkey will likely want an upgrade for a blocker. Note that Peelle is a free agent at the end of the season. Zinger, like all practice squad players, is a free agent even now. Rader is a stop-gap who is in his third stint with the team this season. Best guess: the team will aim for three TEs on the roster next season. Re-signing Peelle is likely but won't be considered a top priority. Likely scenario = Hartsock + drafted TE + Peelle.
Offensive line: Baker, Blalock, McClure, Dahl, Clabo, Ojinnaka, Wilkerson, Stepanovich, Weiner, Batiste, Foster, McCoy. Wilkerson (center/guard) is a free agent, while Dahl and Clabo are restricted free agents. Gandy will also be available if needed but isn't likely to return.
This unit has a lot of what-ifs. Let's simplify it with a kind of worst-case scenario. Suppose that Clabo, Dahl, and Wilkerson all sign elsewhere. In that case, the Falcons still have Baker, Blalock, and McClure starting on the left side and at center, with Stepanovich holding down the backup center role.
Weiner has played fairly well in spite of being far from 100% back from his rehab. He'll be better next season after another winter of rest and rehab. Ojinnaka can play either guard spot or either tackle spot and is ready to step up as a starter. Batiste, Foster, and McCoy would all challenge for the first-unit jobs.
That's nine solid prospects already in house. The team would be in pretty good shape even without anyone else. If we could hang on to at least one of Clabo or Dahl, it would be a sweet bonus. The coaching staff may elect to bring in someone new via free agency or the draft to add competition, but it certainly shouldn't be considered a weakness or a top priority.
Defensive end: Abraham, Anderson, Davis, Biermann, Fraser, Evans. Abraham, Anderson, and Biermann appear to be locks. Chauncey Davis is a free agent. He'll get attention from other teams, and keeping him may be difficult if he isn't signed before he hits the open market on March 1. Evans is a practice squad prospect hoping to break through and win a regular roster spot as a backup.
A late rounder here for competition is a strong possibility, but the spot might also be handled on the cheap in free agency. In particular, if Brandon Miller becomes available again at the end of the season, there's a strong chance Atlanta will bring him back.
Defensive tackle: Babineaux, Moorehead, Lewis, Jefferson, Parker, Grady Jackson. The nose tackle will be a high priority position for this offseason. The team is well stocked at UT with Babineaux and Moorehead. But with Grady likely to retire (and not capable of playing every down even if he returns), the team needs answers in the form of run-stuffing big men. Lewis may become the starter, but that still leaves an opening as his backup.
The only in-house candidate is practice squad signing J'Vonne Parker. It's possible that they may be the guys for the job, but Vital and Dimitroff are almost certain to bring in some new blood. I've mentioned it before, but it's worth repeating. For Smitty's defensive scheme to work here, we have to have the big men in place. We don't necessarily have to have a 350-pound Jabba The Lineman, but a pair of guys in the 320 ballpark would help the entire defense.
At the moment, when Grady is off the field we have nobody on the line that even tops 300. In run situations, the opposing offense can match up one on one on our linemen, leaving one offensive lineman plus a tight end and a lead blocker free to block the linebackers. That's a big part of why our safeties lead the team in tackles. It puts extra pressure on the safeties to make plays against the run, which leaves them vulnerable to play fakes. That in turn leaves the corners vulnerable. We've had a lot of big play passes against us where the young corners appeared to have been burned but were actually playing their double coverage assignments - expecting help from safeties who weren't there. It may seem odd, but a key to getting improved play from Brooking, Boley, Coleman, Grimes, Houston, and Chevis Jackson is to get the nose tackle resolved so that everybody else can focus on their own jobs rather than having to cover for our lack of size in the middle of the front line.
Linebacker: Boley, Lofton, Brooking, Nicholas, Wire, Gilbert, James. The only four bodies locked in for 2009 are Brooking, Lofton, Nicholas, and James. The team has not kept a linebacker on the practice squad at all this season. James returns from IR next season, but he's a prospect that hasn't played a single snap. He'll be the equivalent of a newly drafted player.
Suffice to say this unit will need extra depth even if Boley re-signs. Wire has played well and can also play safety in an emergency. Look for the team to try to retain him.
Secondary: Houston, Foxworth, Hutchins, Jackson, Grimes, Irons, Coleman, Milloy, Decoud, Harris, Fudge, Brock, Sharpe. This will be an interesting unit to watch. It is overloaded with bodies already, but there are still depth issues. Milloy and Foxworth are free agents while Fudge is a restricted free agent. Hutchins will return from IR, making the CB side very crowded. The wild card is Foxworth. He was acquired mainly as an insurance policy but has quickly developed into our best defender. If the team can re-sign him, the primary CB spots will be held by Houston, Foxworth, and Hutchins at the start of minicamp, with Jackson, Grimes and Irons competing to take those jobs away and also to hang on to what will probably be two roster spots. Someone will have to go even if the team doesn't pick up anyone new in free agency.
Safety will be the greater concern. The team drafted Decoud to groom as the heir apparent to Milloy, and they already released Daren Stone and Deke Cooper to save a roster spot for the third rounder. The whisper in the wind is that he probably won't be ready to step in as a starter next season. That makes it more likely the team will give Milloy an extension or bring in another safety, probably via free agency rather than the draft. And just like at cornerback, the wild card is Foxworth. The coaches may try to solve several problems at once by moving him to safety.
Specialists: Elam, Koenen, Schneck. Koenen will be a free agent. He is one of the more precise and reliable punters out there, and since he also kicks off, the team is very likely to re-sign him rather than try to replace him.