Tag:Von Hutchins
Posted on: February 6, 2010 12:18 am
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Offseason pipe dream scenario, v1.0

Something that frequently comes up on the message board...  should the Falcons fill a particular need by signing a free agent or drafting a top prospect.  Well, why not do both? 

As an example, that's what the Patriots did to fill their hole at DT in 2004.  They traded to pick up Ted Washington from the Bears and drafted Vince Wilfork.  Washington only played 10 games for New England, but that bought them enough time to get Wilfork up on the defense and ready to step into the starting role.

That same mentality could work well for Atlanta this offseason.  If the team can sign its own free agents (particularly Brian Williams, Chris Redman and long snapper Mike Schneck) and RFAs (eight total, including seven that may become unrestricted free agents if a new CBA is reached in the next four weeks), there will be zero true holes on the roster and only a handful of positions in need of upgrades.

To show how the sign-one-and-draft-one approach COULD work, here's my own current pipe dream scenario (Pipe Dream v 1.0) for the offseason:

Over the next two weeks, the Falcons re-sign Chris Redman, Brian Williams, and Mike Schneck.  They work out deals with RFAs Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl, Jerious Norwood and tender Quinn Ojinnaka, Jamaal Fudge and Charlie Peprah.

Rather than repeating the franchise tag on Michael Koenen, they save the cash and sign Anthony Rocca.  (I *love* footy, so I have to throw a bone to the AFL guys - even though I usually rooted against Rocca's team for most of his career.  Nothing against Koenen though.  He might be the best punter in the NFL.)

They also re-sign Brian Finneran, Marty Booker, Von Hutchins and David Irons for competition in camp.  (Note that Hutchins played safety with the Texans as well as CB and that Irons was a demon on special teams.) 

In free agency, they sign Aaron Kampman (Packers) to a three-year deal including a large incentive bonus based on sacks in the 2010 season.

In the draft, they trade down in the first and land an extra third rounder.  They draft DE Brandon Graham with the late first rounder, package their fifth and sixth rounders to trade up if needed to snag LB Daryl Williams and CB Donovan Warren in the third, take WRs Jacoby Ford (Clemson) and Freddie Barnes (Bowling Green) with the fourth round and first compensatory pick, and take FB Rashawn Jackson and injured LB O'Brien Schofield with the other two compensatory picks.

Sign two kickers - Brett Swenson (Michigan State) and Joshua Shene (Ole Miss) as undrafted free agents.  Other undrafted free agents are DTs Travis Ivey (Maryland) and Kade Weston (UGA), offensive linemen Cord Howard (Ga Tech) and Sean Allen (East Carolina), and WR Kelton Tindal (the Newberry kid who will be playing in the Texas Vs The Nation game tomorrow).

Up to this point, everything listed is well within reason.  Aaron Kampman is expected to hit the open market.  Our own free agents are believed to want to return.  Hutchins, Irons, and Rocca are already available.  The draft picks are all within reach based on current CBS rankings.  (The one exception is Schofield - he's still listed higher in the rankings, but he tore his ACL in Senior Bowl practice and won't play a single snap in 2010.  He should fall off the draft board entirely by the start of April.)

Here's the final touch - which many here might not like, but it's *my* pipe dream scenario...  

Offer the Jaguars a package of Jonathan Babineaux, Eric Weems, Chris Houston, Jamaal Anderson AND Chauncey Davis for John Henderson.  What the heck - throw in Tye Hill and Antoine Harris if they like.

The Jags get a younger DT (Babs) for one near the end of his career (Henderson) who hasn't always been on the best terms with the coaching staff.  They also get a return man, a potential starting CB and potential backup DEs as throw-ins.  They might not want all of those players, but they can give them a look in OTAs and training camp and then trade or release the ones they don't want.  Babineaux and Weems alone should be a decent return for Henderson.  The rest is gravy.

Atlanta cleans house (ditching a pot smoker, a DUI, and several players who won't make the roster anyway) and gets a solid, front-line big man who already knows Smitty's defense to head our DT corps.

Projected 53-man roster:    ( / = competition for roster spot)

QB = Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, John Parker Wilson / D.J. Shockley 
RB = Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Jason Snelling
FB = Ovie Mughelli, Rashawn Jackson
TE = Tony Gonzalez, Keith Zinger, Justin Peelle
WR = Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas, Jacoby Ford, Freddie Barnes
OL =  Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl
OL backups = Quinn Ojinnaka, Brett Romberg, Will Svitek, Garrett Reynolds (plus 2 or 3 more on practice squad)
DE = John Abraham, Aaron Kampman, Kroy Biermann, Brandon Graham, Lawrence Sidbury
DT = John Henderson, Peria Jerry, Vance Walker, Thomas Johnson, Trey Lewis
LB = Mike Peterson, Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nicholas, Daryl Washington, Coy Wire, Spencer Adkins / Robert James, (Schofield on IR)
CB = Brian Williams, Brent Grimes, Chris Owens, Donovan Warren, Chevis Jackson
S = Thomas DeCoud, Erik Coleman, William Moore, Von Hutchins / Eric Brock / Jamaal Fudge
PK = open competition between all four candidates
P = Anthony Rocca
LS = Mike Schneck
(KR candidates = Jerious Norwood, Harry Douglas, Jacoby Ford, Brent Grimes)
(PR candidates = Harry Douglas, Jacoby Ford, Brent Grimes, Freddie Barnes)

Championship?
Posted on: November 10, 2009 3:08 pm
 

miscellaneous notes - 11/10/2009

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 PanthersThomas 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 injuries are starting to build

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for a little what-if... 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: August 26, 2009 12:04 am
 

Noteworthy plays from the Rams game

Smitty referred to the Lions game as "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly".  The second preseason game had more of the same. 

Here are details for some of the significant plays.  If you still have the video recorded (from either the Falcons feed live or the Rams feed via the NFL Network replay), please check them out...

 

The TV graphics and announcers all said that Todd McClure started but noted later that Brett Romberg had come in at center.  Actually, Romberg was there from the beginning.  The rest of the starting offensive lineup was the regular cast - Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo on the front line.

The Falcons completely owned the Rams for the first two offensive series.  The first drive had a heavy dose of Michael Turner, who then took the rest of the game off.  The second was heavy on passes and used a lot of no-huddle offense.

The starting defensive line featured Chauncey Davis and John Abraham at DE with Babineaux and Trey Lewis at DT.  Lewis did a fine job of drawing double teams. 

The second defensive series had Peria Jerry come in to replace Lewis.

3:22 remaining Q1, Rams ball, 1st and 10 at STL 17 (first play of the drive) - this one got attention because Brent Grimes dropped an interception.  He jumped too soon when he should have backpedaled a little more (he didn't recognize the pass was a total duck) and couldn't hold on to it in the air.  Other details of the play:  the Falcons only rushed the front four.  Both DEs were collapsing the pocket, but Babs and Jerry were both beaten by single blockers.  Side note - the intended receiver was a former prospect of ours, TE Daniel Fells.

2:44 Q1, Rams ball, 3rd and 10 at STL 17 - Atlanta blitzes, but it isn't effective. The mechanics of the failed pass rush:  Abraham drops back into coverage.  Coy Wire and Chevis Jackson both rush the passer.  The other linemen do a twist, with each moving to their right while Jackson and Wire rush on the left side.  All three defensive linemen are beaten easily by single blockers.  The twist leaves the RT free to block Wire, and the running back picks up Jackson. 

Meanwhile, Laurent Robinson (remember him?) beats Chris Owens for a 19 yard gain.

1:25 Q1, Rams ball, 2nd and 10 at STL 36 - John Abraham does a stunt, faking outside but then swings to his left to rush from the inside of the line.  Babineaux breaks off into short coverage.  HE HAS CONTAIN RESPONSIBILITY.  Grimes is in zone coverage, shadowing Laurent Robinson.

Kyle Boller has no one open, sees space to his left (since Abe was coming in the middle) and breaks from the pocket.  Laurent Robinson sees him take off and runs to the middle to block Babineaux.

Let that sink in for a moment... the WR who didn't fit into Atlanta's plans because he wasn't physical enough and couldn't block took on the starting DT and took him completely out of the play.

Grimes initially continued shadowing Robinson (that was his responsibility - Boller could still pull up and throw the ball) but then ran after the QB.  He couldn't prevent him from turning the corner, and Boller picked up the first down.

The announcers made Grimes look bad, saying he was the one who lost contain.  Cut the kid some slack - it wasn't his responsibility.

14:56 Q2, Rams ball, 3rd and 10 at ATL 40.  The Falcons got really lucky on this play, which SHOULD have gone for a Rams touchdown. It was a play designed to attack the cover two, and the Falcons had a mishap at the start.

The Rams were in a 3 WR set.  The Falcons were in their cover two nickel package with Chevis Jackson on the slot receiver on the same side (defensive right side, offensive left side) as Grimes, who was lined up on (him again) Laurent Robinson.  Chris Owens (starting in place of Chris Houston) was on the receiver on the opposite side.

I have no idea what Jackson was trying to do, but he initially broke inside as if trying to jump a slant route.  His receiver ran right past him, and Jackson chased after him all the way down the middle of the field - from five yards behind him. 

On the other side, Owens released his man (also running deep) to the safety in the deep zone (Thomas DeCoud).  When Robinson entered the deep zone, Grimes started to release him as well.  But the safety on his side (Erik Coleman) wasn't there.  Instead, he had run to the middle of the field to pick up Jackson's man. 

Both safeties ended up on the defensive left side of the left hash mark, with no safety at all on the right half of the field.  That's not supposed to happen.

Grimes chased after Robinson, but there's no way he was going to catch up.  Fortunately the ball was badly overthrown.  At the end of the play, Grimes looked back at his teammates as if asking what the heck happened.

The end result was good, but file that one under "The Ugly".


13:57 Q2, Falcons ball, 2nd and 15 at ATL 19.  Everyone saw the first interception on the highlights.  After a false start by Tyson Clabo, Shockley throws a pass to Marty Booker.  Booker can't make the catch, and James Laurinaitis makes the interception off of the tip.

Baldinger pointed out the obvious fact that Booker should have caught the ball, but what we didn't see on the Atlanta broadcast was that Laurinaitis might not have made the pick cleanly. The ball definitely touched the ground as he came down with it, and it's questionable whether he had full control until after it touched. One shot looked like he momentarily didn't have it.

The guys in the St. Louis production truck showed it repeatedly on their broadcast, but Trent Green was busy rambling on about what a ball hawk Laurinaitis is and didn't get the hint that the play might be challenged.  The Atlanta broadcast only showed the replay from the overhead camera, so Falcons fans had no idea the play was so close.
 
Smitty didn't challenge.  I don't know if the call would have been reversed, but he certainly had grounds to throw the red flag.


12:10 Q2, Falcons ball, 3rd and 8 at ATL 21.  Shockley throws a perfect strike to Justin Peelle for a 23 yard completion on the right side.  But both offensive tackles were lined up too far off the ball, so the play got erased by the penalty for illegal formation.

I mention it for two reasons.  First, this was the longest completion for any Falcons QB so far this preseason - and it was wiped out by a silly penalty.  Second, the coaching staff evaluates the film, not the box score.  Shockley has had a bunch of passes that haven't counted as completions.  The stats look horrible, but the film is much better.


9:00 Q2, Rams ball, 3rd and 16 at 50 yard line. (Lawrence Sidbury gets his first sack as a Falcon.) 

The defensive line for the series had Sid and Jamaal Anderson at DE with Peria Jerry and Trey Lewis in the middle.  Jamaal drops into coverage while Curtis Lofton rushes.  (It's not a blitz since there were still only four pass rushers.  Atlanta is mixing things up a bit so that the offense won't know who's coming and who's in coverage.)

Trey Lewis draws a double team.  (He did that for most of the night.)  Sidbury stunts, coming inside of Lewis while Lofton rushes around the end.  Lofton gets there first but misses the sack.  The QB steps up into the pocket and right into Sid Vicious, who beat his inside blocker with that spin move of his.  (If you're not familiar with it, look up Sidbury on YouTube.)


5:00 Q2, Rams ball, 3rd and 10 at STL 34.  This one's a play Chevis Jackson would rather forget.  Ronald Curry beats him on a short pass.  No big deal, but Jackson then misses the tackle - allowing Curry to get the first down and keep the drive alive.

2:12 Q2, Rams ball, 2nd and 9 at ATL 28.  Follow that one up with one Grimes would rather forget.  He didn't have his assignment and was out of position, leaving Burton wide open for a short catch.  And then he too failed to make the tackle, allowing Burton to run for the first down.

Hey, at least our DBs were being consistent...

14:20 Q3, Rams ball, 2nd and 11 at STL 15.  There had to be a mixup on the coverage assignments on this one.  TE Daniel Fells was absurdly wide open.  (None of the regulars were on the field for this entire series - Wire, Gilbert and James were the LBs with Owens and Middleton at corner and Harris and Brock at safety.)

10:13 Q3, Falcons ball, 2nd and 8 at ATL 29.  This was the sack/fumble. 
The play was ugly from the outset.  Atlanta was in a 2 TE, single back set, but Jason Snelling shifted to a slot receiver position, leaving no one in the backfield for protection.  The Rams blitzed.  Can you see the train wreck in this picture?

Ben Hartsock was the TE on the right side.  He went out for a short curl route.  The Rams overloaded that side of the line, with two rushers coming free.

Shockley had to know he had to throw it to the hot receiver.  The big question is WHO was supposed to be the hot read?  If you check the replay, Shockley looked immediately to Jason Rader (TE on the left side) and started a throwing motion.  But Rader didn't turn around in time.  Shockley tucked it and instantly got hit and stripped.

(Hmmm.... could the "Tuck Rule" have applied here?)

 

9:30 Q3, Rams ball, 2nd and 8 at ATL 20.  Brock Berlin hits the 20 yard TD pass.  chris Owens actually had decent coverage, but he had no safety help.  Eric Brock was up short (probably by design, playing run support) and not in position to help on the play.


4:55 Q3, Falcons ball, 3rd and 8 at STL 15.  The Falcons get into the red zone and promptly try two straight runs up the middle.  Now it's 3rd and 8.

Shockley drops back to pass and no one is open.  He sees daylight in the middle - and for the first time this preseason, he decides to run for it. 

Unfortunately, he's playing behind the backup offensive line.  The DT (Scott) sheds his block and tackles Shockley just as he hits the hole.

It didn't work out, but it was a pretty good decision.  The opportunity was there, and it was safer than risking an interception.


3:16 Q3, Rams ball, 3rd and 15 at STL 35.  I'm really only including this play to mention the defensive personnel.  Safety Jamaal Fudge played the nickel cornerback role for the remainder of the game, while Von Hutchins played safety.

This one is Fudge's play he'd like to forget.  He's beaten by Bajema for a short completion and then can't make the tackle, allowing Bajema to run for the first down and keep the drive alive.  (Hmmm... sound familiar?  Same play, different corner, cheap movie...)  William Middleton comes over to make the tackle, but only after a 16 yard gain on 3rd and 15.

14:55 Q4, Falcons ball, 3rd and 8 at ATL 25.  John Parker Wilson is now in at QB.  His first pass was off target, overthrowing Chandler Williams.  This one was slightly behind Eric Weems, but close enough for Weems to make the play. Weems got his hands on it but couldn't catch it, instead tipping it up for it to become an interception.  Maybe these things don't ONLY happen to D.J. Shockley...

Well, apparently they really do only happen to Shockley, even when they happen to someone else.  Check out the box score of the game on NFL.com, and also find the start of the fourth quarter on the play-by-play listing.  You won't believe it.  

The play by play shows that Wilson came in at QB and that Wilson threw the incompletion to Williams.  But then it lists Shockley as the QB that threw the INT on the pass intended for Weems.  And the box score lists the INT under Shockley, plus there's an extra pass attempt and INT included in Shockley's preseason stats.

Jeff Van Note said at halftime that Shockley is having "buzzard's luck" this preseason.  That wasan interesting and polite way of saying he isn't getting much help from his teammates, who have dropped over 15% of his throws so far.  But when the league starts putting someone else's interceptions in your stats, that's just silly.  How snakebit can you get???



8:33 Q4, Falcons ball, 2nd and 9 at ATL 38.  With his best pass of the preseason, John Parker Wilson hits a leaping Keith Zinger over the middle for 15 yards.

Zinger has only played TE with the mop-up unit, but keep him in mind as a contender for the #3 TE spot.  He has done well with what little opportunity he's had on offense, and more importantly he plays on every single special teams unit (including forming the wedge with Brett Romberg on kickoff returns). 

 

5:34 Q4, Falcons ball, 1st and 10 at STL 32.  Jason Snelling breaks off a 23 yard run to take it inside the 10.

The four Rams RBs had a grand total of 60 yards rushing for the whole game.  Snelling had 61 all by himself.

Give due credit all around - Atlanta's defensive line and linebackers got it done on run defense.  Oh, and we have some pretty darn good running backs of our own.  Snelling's a beast, and he's competing to be the freaking THIRD STRING running back.

For those of us old enough to remember the days of Haskel Stanback and Bubba Bean, that's enough to give us goosebumps.

 

1:54 Q4, Rams ball, 1st and 10 at ATL 38.  This is the one exception to the excellent run defense.  4th string RB Kenneth Darby (a fine prospect who was plucked off of Atlanta's practice squad last season) charged straight up the middle for 21 yards.

The Rams were in a 3-WR formation, with the Falcons playing their nickel package.  It was EXACTLY the same situation as last year, when Grady Jackson would leave the field on nickel situations and teams could plow right through the middle.

Here's the breakdown of the play:

DT Tywain Myles (who wasn't expected to play in this game) lined up on the left guard.  Vance Walker lined up just outside the right guard.  The defensive ends (Sidbury and Willie Evans) lined up on the TE and outside the left tackle. 

At the snap, the right guard let Walker get penetration on the OUTSIDE (away from the play) and moved downfield to block one linebacker (Tony Gilbert).  The left tackle and tight end blocked the defensive ends, with the idea of allowing them around the outsides (again, away from the play) but protecting the inside. The right tackle was free to move downfield and block the other linebacker (Robert James).

The center blocked to his left, completely bulldozing Tywain Myles. The left guard pulled and sealed off the right side, preventing Walker from getting back into the play before the runner got through the line.

With the WRs either blocking or running the CBs away from the play and both LBs blocked by offensive linemen, the first guys with a shot at Darby were the two safeties (Von Hutchins and Eric Brock) - who were both lined up in deep zones for pass protection against the 3-WR set. They both made the play at first contact, but that was 21 yards downfield.


0:50 Q4, Rams ball, 4th and 6 at ATL 13.  The highlight film shows the interception.  The announcers raved about how important it was for the Falcons to step up and make a play.

What they didn't mention was the call by Brian VanGorder.  He sent seven rushers after the QB. 

Yep... with the game on the line, the Rams in a spread formation (3 WRs plus TE split off on the right side) and his mop-up defense on the field, VanGorder dialed up the Gritz Blitz.  WOW...

It would otherwise seem insane to leave Jamaal Fudge, Glenn Sharpe, Tony Tiller and Eric Brock all in one-on-one matchups in the red zone.  Von Hutchins, the only experienced DB on the field, was one of the blitzers.  (I'm sure VanGorder did that on purpose, just to throw the kids into the deep end of the pool.)  But considering the opponent was a fourth string rookie QB, it wasn't a bad idea. 

The QB (Keith Null, from West Texas A&M) got spooked and threw a bad pass for the pick.  Two receivers had separation (Fudge was well behind his man on a short crossing route), but Null threw the ball straight to Eric Brock.  Game over.

 
 

Posted on: August 11, 2009 11:19 pm
 

mock roster, v2.0 (training camp)

I did a mock 53-man roster right before minicamp in May.  We're now a week into training camp, and the team still hasn't posted an official depth chart, so I figured this would be a great time to revisit the list.


Here's the updated projection:

QB) Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, D.J. Shockley

It's still too early to project John Parker Wilson as a keeper, but it's a possibility.  He's had a good camp.  So far he has shown more consistent accuracy than Shockley and a better arm than Redman.  Both Shockley and Redman are in the final years of their contracts, and Redman is carrying a $2.5 million base salary. 

RB) Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Thomas Brown
FB) Ovie Mughelli, Jason Snelling

Verron Haynes is also having a good camp and will make the competition interesting.  The Falcons carried only four backs on the roster for the entire 2008 season, since Jason Snelling did double-duty as the #2 fullback and #3 running back.  Verron Haynes also plays both roles.

I suspect that the team will keep at least five runners this year, and the roles that Norwood, Brown, Snelling and Haynes play on special teams might make a strong argument to keep all six. 


WR) Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Brian Finneran
WR) Marty Booker, Robert Ferguson

Aaron Kelly had a good first week of camp and will still have chances to impress the coaches in preseason.  Likewise, Chandler Williams will have his chances - including returning punts and kickoffs. But the Falcons signed not one but two veteran free agents to replace Harry Douglas, so unless the team keeps six wideouts, they will both have a major uphill battle to crack the roster.  Ditto for Troy Bergeron and Eric Weems.  The other undrafted receivers (Darren Mougey, Bradon Godfrey, and Dicky Lyons) have already been released.


TE) Tony Gonzalez, Ben Hartsock, Justin Peelle

I'm not making any changes here yet, but I suspect that Keith Zinger might be in the hunt for one of the backup TE spots.  He has shown amazing improvement from last preseason to camp this year.  But I'll wait until the second preseason game before dropping either Hartsock or Peelle in favor of Zinger or Jason Raider.


LT) Sam Baker, Will Svitek
LG) Justin Blalock, Quinn Ojinnaka
 C) Todd McClure, Brett Romberg
RG) Harvey Dahl, (Brett Romberg)  
RT) Tyson Clabo, Garrett Reynolds

With the pre-minicamp list, I said it was way too early even to think about naming the backups.  There are still some battles to be won, and it's not certain the team will even keep ten linemen.  (Last season the Falcons started with nine but finished with ten.)

If they keep just nine, Ben Wilkerson is likely the odd man out.  He has progressed nicely as a backup center and guard, but Brett Romberg has more experience and has even won a starting job while playing under line coach Paul Boudreau.  Quinn Ojinnaka can play all five positions on the line and has experience at left tackle (and has performed well when needed).

Mike Butterworth is in the hunt for a backup guard spot as well, but he'd be a long shot - especially if there are only nine linemen.  There are also three undrafted linemen in camp, but they have had so few reps in 2practice that they are likely competing for one or two practice squad jobs.

 


ST) Jason Elam, Michael Koenen, Mike Schneck

Not much of a story here. The only other specialist in camp is rookie long snapper Robert Shiver.  But next season could be interesting, as the team elected to tender Koenen for one year with the franchise tag rather than resign him to a long term deal.


DE) Jamaal Anderson, Lawrence Sidbury
DT) Jonathan Babineaux, Vance Walker
DT) Peria Jerry, Trey Lewis
DE) John Abraham, Chauncey Davis, Kroy Biermann

I'm projecting nine defensive linemen, though the performances of the other DTs will make a strong argument for keeping ten.  (That's unusual, but the Falcons use such frequent rotations that it would make sense to use an extra at-large roster spot on the defensive line.  The team did have ten defensive linemen for a short time last season.)

At this point, the significant candidates for an extra DT spot are Jason Jefferson and Thomas Johnson.  You might remember Jefferson from last year, but he's had a much better preseason this year.  I'm not quite ready to buy into his improvement, so I'm waiting for the exhibition games to see how he does in full contact action before saving him a roster spot.

Johnson is one of the surprises of camp.  He was brought in under a futures contract in January.  He played in 13 games in 2005-2006, was out of football in 2007, went to camp with the Jets last season and is in camp with us this year.  That's not a particularly impressive resume, but the story is he's progressing very well with line coach Ray Hamilton.

LB) Mike Peterson, Coy Wire, Jamie Winborn
LB) Curtis Lofton, Spencer Adkins
LB) Stephen Nicholas, Robert James

The numbers game says that if there are 10 offensive linemen or 6 wide receivers, the extra roster spot will likely come from the linebacker corps.  That would put the squeeze on young prospects Spencer Adkins and Robert James, who are already in heated competition with Edmond Miles and Tony Gilbert for those backup linebacker jobs.


CB) Chris Houston, Chris Owens, Brent Grimes
CB) Chevis Jackson, William Middleton
 S) William Moore, Von Hutchins
 S) Erik Coleman, Thomas DeCoud

Last time around, I projected that Von Hutchins and David Irons would be the cornerbacks who didn't make it.  Irons wasn't cleared for full contact before the start of camp, so he was released with an injury settlement.  The wild card is Hutchins.

He was brought in to add experience to the CB group last year, since Chris Houston (11 games) was the only corner on the roster at the time that had ever started a single game in the NFL. But now the CB group is crowded, and Houston, Jackson and Grimes have more experience behind them. 

But Hutchins was also a safety with the Houston Texans before signing with Atlanta, and the Falcons could use some experience in the safety corps.  So this time around, I'm putting him in as a backup safety and knocking out Jamaal Fudge, Antoine Harris, and Eric Brock.

A key for all of the fringe players is that they'll be competing for at-large roster spots.  The extra wide receivers aren't just competing with the other WR prospects and the receivers ahead of them on the depth chart.  They're also competing with the borderline linebackers, defensive backs, etc, trying to convince the coaches that a sixth WR would be a better way to use a roster spot than a 10th offensive lineman, 7th linebacker, etc. 

And that will make the final roster cuts very, very interesting. 

Also note that the team still might not be finished acquiring players from outside the organization.  Domonique Foxworth, Jason Jefferson, and Jamaal Fudge all came aboard AFTER the roster cuts but before the first game.  It's likely that the Falcons will make a few moves again this season after seeing who gets squeezed out elsewhere.

Posted on: June 14, 2009 2:13 pm
 

miscellaneous notes - 6/14/09

This is without a doubt the most dull period of the football year.  That's why the media has been going on endlessly about a particular felon.  I think they KNOW we're tired of hearing about him, but there's absolutely nothing else going on right now.

But I'll try...  here's a quick roundup for everyone who's way beyond "get over it already" on the never-ending saga of our ex-QB...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This coming week is the end of OTAs.  After that, the NFL rookie symposium is at the end of the month, and training camps start in mid to late July.  Atlanta's camp will be one of the last to get underway -  officially starting August 1 with two weeks of fury before the first exhibition game. 

It's the number of practice sessions that is limited by league rules, not the number of days of camp.  So the team isn't necessarily cutting itself short by waiting until August to get it going.  They are still allowed to have one more minicamp before training camp begins.  Some other teams have held the extra minicamp, and others have skipped it.  Smitty scheduled it last year but elected to cancel it and give players some extra rest before the real camp.  This year the Falcons haven't even scheduled it. 



OTAs are officially non-contact, but things can - and do - get a bit "chippy".  Smitty ended Wednesday's practice early after a THIRD fight broke out in just that one practice session.  Here's the news flash:  Tyson Clabo and Harvey Dahl were NOT the ones starting any of the scuffles. 



The word so far is that the young WR prospects are all doing fairly well, but that the "real" tests will come in the contact drills in training camp.  Khalil Jones has been fighting a strained quad, but he's expected to be fine when camp opens. 

For the WRs and all the other rookies and young prospects, the main point of OTAs is to help them transition from minicamp to training camp.  In minicamp, the schemes and formations were thrown at them in a flurry, and the coaches fully expected the rookies to be overwhelmed by it all.  OTAs are kind of a mini-minicamp.  Instead of two practice sessions a day, it's three practices a week.  They're repeating the basic drills from minicamp so that the kids can get the routine down.  Instead of having their minds on things like getting lined up in the right place, they're starting to focus on what their basic responsibilities are in a football sense -  for this particular formation, here are your basic reads, and this is your assignment, etc.  The goal is for them at least to know the program so they can keep up with the veterans in training camp and get the most out of it.



The pre-season magazines are starting to hit the newsstands.  Pro Football Weekly's magazine now has the Yahoo Sports name on the cover.  Both PFW and Lindy's project the Panthers to win the division, followed by the Falcons and Saints in a tie (one of them projects a 9-7 record for both teams) with the Buccaneers in the basement. 

Both magazines have the standard inch-deep analysis that frankly makes them not worth buying.   I'll save you the fifteen bucks and give you the thought process that goes into those rankings:  Carolina won the division and is still a good team, so put them in first.  Atlanta made the wild card, and "everybody knows" the Saints were supposed to win the division but were ravaged by injuries.  Tampa has a new coach, so obviously they have to be in disarray and will automatically be in last place.

Oh, and if you're wondering what great insights the preview mags have to say about the Falcons...    Matt Ryan is a fine young quarterback.  Michael Turner is a powerhouse.  Roddy White has emerged as a true #1 receiver.  The offensive line is coming together.  Tony Gonzalez is a heck of an addition.  There are some questions on defense with so many new players taking on starting jobs.  The Falcons focused on defense in the draft.  The special teams unit and the coaching staff are pretty good.




Back to the defense...  Alvin Reynolds is working to cross train the DBs, especially the projected backups.  In particular, the cornerbacks have been getting work at the safety spot.  Keep in mind that a goal of our cover two system is to end up with "interchangeable" safeties.  Instead of a strong safety and free safety, you basically have a left side guy and a right side guy.  With that in mind, guys like Von Hutchins, David Irons, and William Middleton might fit into Atlanta's plans at safety as much or more than at corner.

The most interesting one of the bunch will be Von Hutchins.  He was signed to be our nickel corner last year and give our secondary a little extra experience.  He had just become a starter for the Texans the season before, and has a total of 16 career starts.  That's not much, but heading into camp last summer our entire CB group had a grand total of 11 career starts - all by Chris Houston.  But now Houston has 28 total starts, Chevis Jackson has 17 games as the nickel back, and even Brent Grimes has 6 starts plus 2 games as the nickel. 

But here's the kicker...  half of Hutchins' career starts were at safety rather than at corner.  If the Falcons do end up choosing to use him as a safety, he has more game experience at the position than either Jamaal Fudge or Antoine Harris.  A safety unit of Erik Coleman, William Moore, Von Hutchins, and Thomas DeCoud has an interesting sound to it...




I've repeatedly said Jamaal Anderson is too young to give up on him so soon.  There's no doubt that drafting a 21-year old kid with only one season of experience at his position at #8 was a questionable move.  But to want to declare him a total bust and get him off the roster is equally questionable.  If you weren't aware of just how young he his, here's an amusing twist -  Jamaal Anderson and this year's fourth round DE pick Lawrence Sidbury were born on the same day.



The other youngster at DE, Kroy Biermann, has bulked up since training camp last year.  I suspect that those of you who regularly go to practices during training camp will notice the difference.  A few other defensive guys who have been noticed in OTAs...  Jason Jefferson has stepped it up a bit.  He knows that with Trey Lewis returning and Vance Walker getting drafted on top of Peria Jerry, he's on the bubble.  He's working his tail off to hang on to his roster spot.  Another DT stepping up is prospect Thomas Johnson, one of the players signed to a futures contract in early January. 



On the offensive line, all of last year's starters are projected to start again this season.  The consistency will help, as four of the five are still younger, developing players.  As a rookie in 2007, Justin Blalock seemed to have a different LT to work with every week (Gandy, Renardo Foster, Weiner, Terrance Pennington in practice, and finally Quinn Ojinnaka).  He went into last year with a season behind him and worked with Sam Baker plus stints with Weiner and Ojinnaka.  If Baker can stay healthy this year, the extra experience will help Blalock as much as Baker.



The backup OL competition got a bit more interesting at the end of May.  Quinn Ojinnaka was arrested on a domestic charge similar to the situation behind Michael Boley's arrest last year.  He's the most versatile offensive lineman on the roster - he can play all five positions if needed, and he has as much game experience at LT as anyone on the team.  But legal troubles are a taboo in the organization now, and the players with off field issues have tended to vanish from the roster.  



I hit this before in a response on another thread...   like many teams, the Falcons offset the lower offseason roster limit (80 players as of 2008, as opposed to 90 players plus exemptions for NFL Europe guys in 2007) by taking advantage of the fact that draft picks don't count towards the roster limit until they sign.  The team will have to release at least two players between now and the end of July.  Those players will almost certainly be prospects rather than established players.  Or to put it another way, if you know their names, they're probably safe. 

And it's possible that the early cuts will be brought back for another look later on.  That happened last year too.  It's not that the players have necessarily washed out, but simply that the new 80-man limit won't allow the Falcons to bring everyone to camp at once. 


Posted on: April 18, 2009 4:35 pm
 

Ten returning Falcons I want to see in minicamp

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.


Here are ten that I'm really looking forward to watching in minicamp:


1)  Thomas DeCoud.  He was a third round pick last year, but he wasn't ready to step into a starting role right away as he struggled to learn the Falcons defensive schemes and missed a few key plays in preseason as a result.  But he's had a full year of practice now, and this will be his second camp.  Right now, he's penciled in as the leading candidate to replace Lawyer Milloy.  That may change after the draft, after the next wave of free agents become available in June, or in a preseason trade.  But all the same, he's a fairly high draft prospect from last season who will be in the spotlight in minicamp. 

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: November 30, 2008 11:35 am
 

looking ahead to 2009

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.

 

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