Tag:William Moore
Posted on: October 30, 2011 2:35 pm
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Looking ahead... free agency

One of the rare weeks where I'm in Atlanta for the weekend, and naturally it's our bye week...  Oh well.  That makes it a pretty good time to take a look at this coming offseason. 

The Falcons had it easy with free agency heading into the 2009 and 2010 seasons, as the team was loaded with young players locked under contract.  But the pendulum swung the other way this season and will be full tilt this coming offseason.

John Abraham will be a free agent.  So will Brent Grimes, since we only tendered him as a RFA this year.   Ditto for Eric Weems.  The team only resigned Jason Snelling for a one year deal.  He's a free agent again this year too.  Same story with linebacker Mike Peterson.

Tony Gonzalez is in the final year of his contract.  So are Todd McClure and Chris Redman, plus Joe Zelenka (long snappers are people too).  And so are the second and later rounders from the 2008 draft:  Curtis Lofton, Thomas DeCoud, Kroy Biermann, and Harry Douglas
And except for DE Ray Edwards, who inked a long term deal, all of our new Falcons are only signed for this season:  Kelvin Hayden, James Sanders, Brett Romberg, Reggie Kelly, Kirk Chambers, Mike Cox.

That's 19 unrestricted free agents on the current 53-man roster.  Yikes...



At quarterback, Matt Ryan is still here.  But John Parker Wilson is already a free agent -  all practice squad members are free agents who could be plucked at any time.  It's not a good sign for his future that the team chose to expose him rather than keep him on the roster.  And Redman will turn 35 before the start of training camp next year.  He may still have another year or two left in the tank, but I wouldn't depend on it.   So figure at least one new quarterback - and maybe two - in our future next year.

At running back, the Falcons are in reasonable shape for 2012 - mainly because serviceable running backs are so easy to come by, and because the backups are still so underused.  (Michael Turner has 138 carries going into the bye.  The other RB/FBs have a combined total of 24.)  Antone Smith has yet to carry the ball this year at all.  He's likely to be a fringe player once again next summer.

At tight end, Michael Palmer is an exclusive rights free agent.  That means the team can simply renew his contract, which makes him the only tight end they have locked in at all.  Gonzalez has said he feels like he can play a few more years.  He has also said before that he'd like to end his career with the Chiefs, so there's no telling whether he'd resign with Atlanta.  Practice squad players Marquez Branson (injured) and Tommy Gallarda are likely to be here for camp on futures contracts.  But we'll probably need more -  I wouldn't expect to see Kelly back for another season.

At wide receiver, I would guess that Douglas wouldn't be too difficult to resign.  Roddy White and Julio Jones are both here long term, and Kerry Meier is still under contract and likely to be more involved in his second year back from ACL surgery.  The interesting question is whether one of the prospects might challenge for a roster spot.  The front office reversed course last season.  Instead of going for big guys with good hands but who are slow as molasses, the team started looking at speedsters.  D.J. Davis and Kevin Cone are both lightning quick, and they're both getting a chance to learn the offense on the practice squad. 

(I'm thrilled to see the change - finally.  Too bad they couldn't have gone that route back in 2009, when we really could have used a speedster.  Our scouts had seen Johnny Knox at the Texas vs The Nation game - but after trading away Laurent Robinson, Dimitroff left Knox sitting on the draft board to take cornerback William Middleton instead.)

For all the fuss about how Atlanta's offensive line would supposedly be devastated by free agency this season, we turned out to be overloaded instead.  McClure is getting banged up pretty hard this year, and it's the final year of his contract.  Don't be surprised if Ol' Mud Duck hangs up the cleats.  But except for fill-ins Romberg and Chambers, everyone else is under contract at least through 2012.  (One caveat:  Sam Baker may be on one of those option or voidable years.)   And there's already extra depth in the pipeline, as both Andrew Jackson and Jose Valdez are still sitting on the practice squad.  

Specifically at center, Romberg would be likely to resign.  He came aboard this season as a street level free agent.  He's mainly working as a backup guard right now, but he's a natural center and was here previously as the #2 behind McClure.  He became expendable last year when the team drafted Joe Hawley.  Now he'd be a pretty obvious choice to bring back as Hawley's backup. 

At DE, we're in trouble.  Both Abraham and Biermann will be free agents.  Can we even afford to sign both?  We'd need at least one of them returning to supplement the remaining trio of Edwards, Lawrence Sidbury, and Cliff Matthews - and Sidbury will be a free agent after next season.   If we're going to stick with the current 4-3 scheme, the DE position will continue to need attention every year.

At DT, we're set.  Vance Walker will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and if he's still here, Carlton Powell would be a restricted free agent after 2012.  But the trio of Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry won't be free agents until 2014.

At linebacker, resigning Lofton will be a priority.  But otherwise, Peterson is the only free agent this year, and Spencer Adkins is the only one set to become a free agent next year. 

At cornerback, the question is whether we'd be able to hang on to Grimes at all.  He was hoping for a long term deal this year but only got a tender.  He's coming off a Pro Bowl appearance and continuing to make highlight reel plays.  If he hits the open market, somebody is bound to offer him the big bucks, as the Ravens did with Domonique Foxworth a few years back.   Hayden will also be a free agent this offseason, and Chris Owens will be entering the final year of his contract.   The team has already started preparing for 2012 by keeping undrafted rookie Darrin Walls on the roster, while Dominique Franks also continues to develop.

One potential scenario:  Grimes bolts for the big bucks, but the team resigns Hayden.  Even before the draft, that gives Atlanta a quintet of Dunta Robinson, Hayden, Owens, Franks and Walls.   Throw in few futures contract or two - perhaps bringing Kamaal McIlwain in for another run at training camp - and the group as a whole would at least be no worse off than in 2009 and 2010.

At safety, Decoud and Sanders are both free agents.  That leaves William Moore (who will be in the final year of his contract) and Shann Schillinger as the only safeties locked in.  The team opted to expose Rafael Bush to the practice squad instead of Walls, and he has already been plucked away.  Suaesi Tuimaunei is getting a chance to learn the system as the replacement for Bush on the practice squad.   He's an intriguing possibility as a long term project, but he won't be ready for real action in 2012.  At least one more safety will be a must. 




Posted on: October 30, 2011 2:35 pm
 

Looking ahead... free agency

One of the rare weeks where I'm in Atlanta for the weekend, and naturally it's our bye week...  Oh well.  That makes it a pretty good time to take a look at this coming offseason. 

The Falcons had it easy with free agency heading into the 2009 and 2010 seasons, as the team was loaded with young players locked under contract.  But the pendulum swung the other way this season and will be full tilt this coming offseason.

John Abraham will be a free agent.  So will Brent Grimes, since we only tendered him as a RFA this year.   Ditto for Eric Weems.  The team only resigned Jason Snelling for a one year deal.  He's a free agent again this year too.  Same story with linebacker Mike Peterson.

Tony Gonzalez is in the final year of his contract.  So are Todd McClure and Chris Redman, plus Joe Zelenka (long snappers are people too).  And so are the second and later rounders from the 2008 draft:  Curtis Lofton, Thomas DeCoud, Kroy Biermann, and Harry Douglas
And except for DE Ray Edwards, who inked a long term deal, all of our new Falcons are only signed for this season:  Kelvin Hayden, James Sanders, Brett Romberg, Reggie Kelly, Kirk Chambers, Mike Cox.

That's 19 unrestricted free agents on the current 53-man roster.  Yikes...



At quarterback, Matt Ryan is still here.  But John Parker Wilson is already a free agent -  all practice squad members are free agents who could be plucked at any time.  It's not a good sign for his future that the team chose to expose him rather than keep him on the roster.  And Redman will turn 35 before the start of training camp next year.  He may still have another year or two left in the tank, but I wouldn't depend on it.   So figure at least one new quarterback - and maybe two - in our future next year.

At running back, the Falcons are in reasonable shape for 2012 - mainly because serviceable running backs are so easy to come by, and because the backups are still so underused.  (Michael Turner has 138 carries going into the bye.  The other RB/FBs have a combined total of 24.)  Antone Smith has yet to carry the ball this year at all.  He's likely to be a fringe player once again next summer.

At tight end, Michael Palmer is an exclusive rights free agent.  That means the team can simply renew his contract, which makes him the only tight end they have locked in at all.  Gonzalez has said he feels like he can play a few more years.  He has also said before that he'd like to end his career with the Chiefs, so there's no telling whether he'd resign with Atlanta.  Practice squad players Marquez Branson (injured) and Tommy Gallarda are likely to be here for camp on futures contracts.  But we'll probably need more -  I wouldn't expect to see Kelly back for another season.

At wide receiver, I would guess that Douglas wouldn't be too difficult to resign.  Roddy White and Julio Jones are both here long term, and Kerry Meier is still under contract and likely to be more involved in his second year back from ACL surgery.  The interesting question is whether one of the prospects might challenge for a roster spot.  The front office reversed course last season.  Instead of going for big guys with good hands but who are slow as molasses, the team started looking at speedsters.  D.J. Davis and Kevin Cone are both lightning quick, and they're both getting a chance to learn the offense on the practice squad. 

(I'm thrilled to see the change - finally.  Too bad they couldn't have gone that route back in 2009, when we really could have used a speedster.  Our scouts had seen Johnny Knox at the Texas vs The Nation game - but after trading away Laurent Robinson, Dimitroff left Knox sitting on the draft board to take cornerback William Middleton instead.)

For all the fuss about how Atlanta's offensive line would supposedly be devastated by free agency this season, we turned out to be overloaded instead.  McClure is getting banged up pretty hard this year, and it's the final year of his contract.  Don't be surprised if Ol' Mud Duck hangs up the cleats.  But except for fill-ins Romberg and Chambers, everyone else is under contract at least through 2012.  (One caveat:  Sam Baker may be on one of those option or voidable years.)   And there's already extra depth in the pipeline, as both Andrew Jackson and Jose Valdez are still sitting on the practice squad.  

Specifically at center, Romberg would be likely to resign.  He came aboard this season as a street level free agent.  He's mainly working as a backup guard right now, but he's a natural center and was here previously as the #2 behind McClure.  He became expendable last year when the team drafted Joe Hawley.  Now he'd be a pretty obvious choice to bring back as Hawley's backup. 

At DE, we're in trouble.  Both Abraham and Biermann will be free agents.  Can we even afford to sign both?  We'd need at least one of them returning to supplement the remaining trio of Edwards, Lawrence Sidbury, and Cliff Matthews - and Sidbury will be a free agent after next season.   If we're going to stick with the current 4-3 scheme, the DE position will continue to need attention every year.

At DT, we're set.  Vance Walker will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and if he's still here, Carlton Powell would be a restricted free agent after 2012.  But the trio of Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry won't be free agents until 2014.

At linebacker, resigning Lofton will be a priority.  But otherwise, Peterson is the only free agent this year, and Spencer Adkins is the only one set to become a free agent next year. 

At cornerback, the question is whether we'd be able to hang on to Grimes at all.  He was hoping for a long term deal this year but only got a tender.  He's coming off a Pro Bowl appearance and continuing to make highlight reel plays.  If he hits the open market, somebody is bound to offer him the big bucks, as the Ravens did with Domonique Foxworth a few years back.   Hayden will also be a free agent this offseason, and Chris Owens will be entering the final year of his contract.   The team has already started preparing for 2012 by keeping undrafted rookie Darrin Walls on the roster, while Dominique Franks also continues to develop.

One potential scenario:  Grimes bolts for the big bucks, but the team resigns Hayden.  Even before the draft, that gives Atlanta a quintet of Dunta Robinson, Hayden, Owens, Franks and Walls.   Throw in few futures contract or two - perhaps bringing Kamaal McIlwain in for another run at training camp - and the group as a whole would at least be no worse off than in 2009 and 2010.

At safety, Decoud and Sanders are both free agents.  That leaves William Moore (who will be in the final year of his contract) and Shann Schillinger as the only safeties locked in.  The team opted to expose Rafael Bush to the practice squad instead of Walls, and he has already been plucked away.  Suaesi Tuimaunei is getting a chance to learn the system as the replacement for Bush on the practice squad.   He's an intriguing possibility as a long term project, but he won't be ready for real action in 2012.  At least one more safety will be a must. 




Posted on: August 22, 2010 4:15 pm
 

Ten players to watch - end of camp update

Most fans attend practices and watch preseason games to see the first units and the top draft picks.  But the real stories of camp are deeper down the roster.  There are 80 players in every training camp vying for only 53 roster spots. 

For the last three seasons, I've presented a top ten list of key players involved in these competitions.  Some are established players in jeopardy of losing their jobs if they don't come through.  Others are prospects on the rise or lesser known players that have an opportunity to step up and make more significant contributions.

This morning's special teams practice session marked the official end of training camp for the Falcons.  Here's an update on how this year's list of players to watch has fared:



1.  Trey Lewis

Reason he made the list:  the Falcons have six DTs (not even counting Jamaal Anderson) and probably just four roster spots for the big men to fill.  Of the three fringe players competing for the last spot, Lewis is the top story. 

End of camp update:  he's looking much better than he did in 2009, with Smitty noting that his play was one of the few bright spots in Thursday's otherwise dismal showing against the Patriots

He's still in jeopardy, but his current level of play, versatility (can play either DT spot - acted as a sub at UT for Rod Coleman in 2007) and size (listed as our largest defensive player at 316 pounds) will make it tough for Smitty to send the Turk his way.



2.  Steven Hauschka

Reason he made the list:  of the three kickers (including Michael Koenen) Atlanta had in camp, Hauschka was the primary unknown factor.  The team already knows what Matt Bryant and Koenen can/can't do, making Hauschka the wild card in the contest and the most important one to watch.

End of camp update:  the media reports say that Matt Bryant won the kicking battle.  A more accurate description would be that Hauschka lost it.  He was the younger candidate with the theoretically stronger leg.  But his longer field goal attempt against the Chiefs came up short, and his kickoffs lacked depth and weren't particularly strong for hang time.

Never mind that he couldn't outdo the struggling Bryant on field goals.  When it became clear he wasn't going to beat out Koenen for kickoffs, that sealed his fate.  The Falcons would still make a move to bring in another kicker if Bryant gets the yips like Jason Elam last year. But at least for now, Hauschka isn't it.



3.  Kerry Meier

Reason he made the list:  the top three WRs were essentially set in stone (Roddy White and Michael Jenkins as the starters, with Harry Douglas in the slot as the #3) even before camp, but the Falcons need to improve their depth at the position.  The fifth rounder from Kansas was the top candidate for the fourth WR spot.

End of camp update:  he had an outstanding camp, but he hurt his knee on a special teams play late in the Patriots game.  Like Douglas last year, he's out for the season.



4.  Lawrence Sidbury

Reason he made the list:  the Falcons didn't draft a DE or sign one in free agency.  They're putting all their chips on Kroy Biermann as a second threat along with John Abraham and Sidbury to step up as a third potent pass rushing end.

End of camp update:  so far, so good.  What El Sid needs most is experience, as he only played a bit over 100 total snaps last season.  He'll have far more snaps than that in preseason (he's on the field more than any other d-lineman), and so far he's doing pretty well.



5.  Keith Zinger

Reason he made the list:  he was the team's most improved offensive player in camp last summer, and if he stepped up again this year, he'd nail down a backup spot (forcing the prospects to start on the practice squad) and potentially even challenge for the #2 spot.

End of camp update:  so far, he has been nearly invisible.  He's watching Michael Palmer stand out this year exactly the way Zinger stood out last season, when he moved from #5 on the depth chart to win the #3 spot - beating out one of Dimitroff's top free agent signings (Ben Hartsock, signed to replace Alge Crumpler) in the process.

The battle isn't over yet, but Zinger has opened the door for Palmer to take the third TE job.



6.  William Moore

Reason he made the list:  it's the second season for the second rounder, and the public had yet to see him in action in camp or preseason.  He even missed minicamp after overworking his shoulder in the weight room.

End of camp update:  I expressed doubts earlier about all the media speculation that he'd challenge Erik Coleman for the starting job. His 2009 season was a lost cause, and he just didn't have the reps to trust him on the last line of defense. 

And he still doesn't -  we've finally been able to watch him in a few practices, but he missed minicamp (overworked his shoulder in the weight room) and has missed time during camp plus both preseason games so far this year.  He still hasn't faced NFL competition - in real games, exhibition games or even combined practices. 

The coming exhibition against the Dolphins will be his first time on the field for the Falcons.  He's still a talented prospect, but he's still a long way from being ready for action in the secondary when it counts.



7.  Quinn Ojinnaka

Reason he made the list:  the Falcons have a whole lot of talented linemen competing for what appears to be one opening on the roster.  Ojinnaka is the most intriguing story among them.

End of camp update:  he's getting time at multiple positions along the line, including left tackle.  The Falcons are definitely testing out his versatility.  The Mighty Quinn is very much in the hunt for that ninth backup line spot.



8.  Dimitri Nance

Reason he made the list:  all three candidates for the #5 RB/FB spot are interesting "stories", but Nance is the most intriguing as a potential Jason Snelling type hybrid RB/FB.

End of camp update:  not bad so far.  He has shown good ability in the power running game plus receiving ability out of the backfield.  If he can demonstrate some blocking skills, he's likely to be the guy.  One catch:  due to the Michael Jenkins injury and situations at other positions, the team may start out the season with just four runners.  Even if he wins the job, he could be starting the season on the practice squad.



9.  Eric Weems

Reason he made the list:  drafting Meier and Dominique Franks put Weems in jeopardy of losing both of his roles on the team.  He entered camp knowing he didn't have a secure roster spot and would have to step up to win a place on the team.

End of camp update:  the injury to Meier means that unless the team brings in new blood, Weems and Brian Finneran simply have to hold off Troy Bergeron, Andy Strickland, and the three undrafted rookies to win the #4 and #5 spots.  He's also the top KR/PR from camp.  His chances of holding his spot are much better now than they were a month ago.



10.  Brian Williams

Reason he made the list:  if he can make a successful return from injury, he spices up the competition for the DB positions considerably. 

End of camp update:  he hasn't appeared in preseason yet, but we did get to see him practice, with his first full participation coming in the joint sessions with New England on the final open day of camp.  He's slated to appear in these next two exhibitions.  I'm still particularly interested to see whether the coaching staff gives him playing time at safety. 

Key question: whether he'll be healthy enough after the Jaguars exhibition to keep on the roster.  The team had similar hopes for Von Hutchins last season, but Hutchins ended up being an injury settlement case when he wasn't ready to go at the end of preseason.  Williams is only now getting his first full contact this week.




Posted on: July 28, 2010 5:56 pm
 

Ten Players To Watch In Camp, 2010 Edition

Players report tomorrow, and practices start Friday morning. So once again, it's time to list....

Ten Players To Watch In Camp

Most fans will sit on the hillside to watch stars like Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez, Michael Turner and Roddy White, or to get a first look at prize free agent Dunta Robinson or first round draft pick Sean Weatherspoon

But the real stories of camp are deeper into the roster.  Here are a few, in no particular order:


1. Trey Lewis -  The big man did get back onto the field last season, but he didn't have the explosiveness that he had before his injury.  This season he'll be looking to get back into top form, hoping to save his job. 

And the team could use him - the potential suspension of Jonathan Babineaux will likely press rookie Corey Peters into a starting role, so the #4 DT will begin the season as the third man in rotation.  Lewis is capable of playing both DT positions and also opens up the possibility of mixing in a 3-4 package.  If he can step up and regain his form, he'll answer a lot of questions for the coaches.  If not, he won't make the roster at all.


2. Steven Hauschka -  Obviously no Falcons fan would want to see a repeat of last year's kicking woes.  The team replaced the struggling Jason Elam with Matt Bryant, then added Steven Hauschka as a late insurance policy.  With undrafted rookie Garrett Lindholm already out of the picture, Hauschka and Bryant will battle it out for the kicking job.

Bryant is frighteningly accurate from short range, but unreliable from beyond 40 yards.  Hauschka has a strong leg but is still young and inexperienced, and he went through a bad stretch that cost him his job with the Ravens last season.  Of the two, Hauschka is the one to watch.  The team already knows exactly what Bryant can (and more importantly, can't) do.  So the decision is really riding on Hauschka's performance in camp and preseason.


3. Kerry Meier -  Last season the Falcons gave away Laurent Robinson and failed to sign or draft a replacement (including passing up Johnny Knox to draft William Middleton instead).  It came back to bite them when Harry Douglas suffered a season-ending knee injury in front of over 1200 fans during a practice session last summer.  Veteran free agent Marty Booker had nothing left in the tank, and free agent Robert Ferguson plus a handful of undrafted free agents failed even to make the roster.

The team hopes this year's crop will add more depth, starting with compensatory fifth round draft pick Meier.  If he can learn the offense quickly, he'll be a fourth productive receiver along with Douglas, Roddy White, and Michael Jenkins, giving the WR corps the extra depth it lacked last year.  That would leave Brian Finneran, Eric Weems, Troy Bergeron and another trio of undrafted rookies to battle for the #5 spot and a potential #6 spot.



4. Lawrence Sidbury -  The glaring hole in this year's draft class is that the Falcons didn't select a defensive end (or even sign Brandon Lang as an undrafted prospect).  The coaching staff is putting its chips on Sidbury and Kroy Biermann joining John Abraham as the team's outside pass rush.  Biermann has already shown he's up to it, but Sidbury is still an unknown.

This is a question mark area that the coaching staff will watch closely.  Jamaal Anderson has bulked up to move inside and will mainly be at DE for run defense.  Chauncey Davis was a disappointment last year.  If the DEs falter in preseason, we may see a late move to add some extra help, as the team did in landing Domonique Foxworth in 2008 and Brian Williams in 2009.



5. Keith Zinger -  The Falcons signed a pair of interesting undrafted tight end prospects this season in Michael Palmer and Colin Peek.  The immediate speculation is that these guys will challenge for the #3 TE job and bump Zinger off the roster.

Not so fast...  Zinger showed impressive development last summer, catching balls across the middle and in traffic.  He's already known for his blocking skills (Dimitroff refers to him as the prototype blocking tight end) and is a key figure on every special teams unit.  If he continues to develop his receiving skills this summer, he'll hang onto the job and force the kids to start out on the practice squad.  It hinges on Zinger's performance, so he's the one to watch.



6. William Moore -  He had a surgical procedure last summer that kept him out of training camp and preseason.  He overdid it in the weight room, and the team held him out of minicamp this year.  So this will be the first chance for the public to get a good look at the highly touted 2009 second rounder.

The speculation is that he'll challenge Erik Coleman for the starting job opposite Thomas DeCoud.  I'm not so sure about that, as Moore's rookie season was virtually a total loss.  He has no experience and close to zero reps in practice.  He might be able to work his way into some playing time, and he'll likely challenge for a starting job in 2011.  But it's a bit much to expect that he'll be ready to start against the Steelers in week one of 2010.


7. Quinn Ojinnaka - six of last year's nine offensive linemen (including three starters) are potential free agents after this season.  The other three are the aging Todd McClure, the fragile Sam Baker, and the inexperienced Garrett Reynolds.  So the team went into this draft looking to add depth, not so much for 2010 but to have the next wave of players ready for 2011 and beyond.

The Falcons started 2008 and 2009 with nine offensive linemen.  If we fill in the five starters as all making the team, and then add 2009 draft choice Reynolds and this year's third and fourth rounders Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley to the list, that leaves only one remaining roster spot available.  Ojinnaka, Brett Romberg, and Will Svitek are all on the hot seat - and three returning practice squad prospects are also competing for that ninth job.

The key player to watch will be Ojinnaka.  Smitty has noted that he could play any position on the line, plus he has experience at the key left tackle position.  If all other things are relatively equal between the three returning backups, his versatility and experience may be the tiebreaker.  He doesn't have a lock on the roster spot by any means, but Svitek and Romberg will have to step up and beat him out.



8. Dimitri Nance -  he may not be the best known of the Falcons undrafted free agents, but he has a real shot at making the roster.  Atlanta went through the 2008 season with only four backs (including fullback Ovie Mughelli), but even five backs weren't enough for the injury-plagued 2009 season.  Verron Haynes and Aaron Stecker aren't returning, which leaves the #5 job up for grabs.  The contenders are practice squad runner Antone Smith, free agent defensive lineman/fullback Dan Klecko, and Nance.

Any of the three could win the job.  Klecko is a pure fullback, but that would allow the team to shift Jason Snelling away from the #2 FB spot and into a full time RB role.  Smith is a pure RB, while Nance is more of a Snelling-like hybrid.

The main one to watch will be Nance.  If he can adapt to the offense and show some blocking skills - particularly in pass protection - he'll be a strong contender to win the job.



9. Eric Weems -  The practice squad prospect filled in well for Harry Douglas in the return game, but he didn't get on the field much as a wide receiver.  And now the Falcons have drafted Kerry Meier at receiver plus Dominique Franks as a potential return man.

Weems is still hard-nosed and versatile.  He earned his way onto the team last season.  But he will have to step up his game to hold onto his roster spot.



10. Brian Williams -  He certainly wasn't the greatest cornerback, but he added some badly needed experience to the Falcons secondary last season.  The team went 4-1 while he was able to play, so it worked.

But this season, the first question is whether he'll be able to get into playing condition at all.  And if he's cleared to participate in the scrimmage and exhibition games, the more interesting question is whether the Falcons will work him at cornerback or at safety.

The team is already loaded at corner with Robinson, Brent Grimes and Chris Owens set to take the top three spots, plus Chevis Jackson and Franks as backups.  They have Coleman, Decoud and Moore at safety, plus free agent Matt Giordano, sixth rounder Shann Schillinger and a few undrafted DB prospects. 

If Williams is somehow able to play, a likely scenario is that he beats out Giordano for the #4 safety spot while Schillinger takes the remaining at-large roster spot for special teams play.  But the question is how close to 100% Williams will be at the end of preseason.  We've heard upbeat comments from Smitty and Dimitroff, but we heard the same last year about Von Hutchins.
Posted on: April 30, 2010 6:04 pm
 

first look at the pass rush

Smitty and Dimitroff both commented at the Combine that they liked the personnel they had on the ends and attributed part of the problem with the pass rush to Peria Jerry getting hurt.

We know that Peria Jerry alone can't be the plan for improving our dismal (one of the bottom five in the league) pass rush.  So what else do we have to look forward to this season?

I don't believe that the cornerback play buys more time for the pass rush.  (D-Led and I are on opposite sides of the fence on that one.)  The problem is that if the primary receivers aren't open, the QB turns to the TE or the dump-off to the RB.  We got torched more in the gaps between the LB and safety zones last year than we did by wideouts against our cornerbacks.

But there's another way Dunta Robinson can have a big impact on our run defense as well as the pass rush.  Watch carefully in the preseason exhibition games.  If it turns out that the Falcons can reliably leave Robinson alone against top receivers, without safety help, that will free up the defense to play more cover one rather than cover two.

That will make a world of difference.  We played a lot of cover one in 2008 and again last season.  It wasn't intentional.  The Falcons wanted to keep both safeties deep in cover two mode to protect the infant cornerbacks, but the deficiencies in the middle of the line forced the team to bring up a safety on a regular basis to help with run defense.

It hurt the secondary, because Chris Houston was a liability when left alone in single coverage.  He had to give up jamming his man at the line and instead leave a large cushion, because if his receiver got past him, it would have been an instant touchdown.  The hope is that Robinson can play more aggressively, with confidence that his man won't get away from him.

If he can pull it off, the team can use the cover one to its advantage.  The safety on his side will be the one to line up short.  (It might be dictated by where the receivers line up, so both safeties would have to be able to take on either the SS or FS role.)   That will make the safety available for run support, and it will also allow him to blitz or to take over the zone coverage for a blitzing linebacker.

Presto - instant improved pass rush.  Five rushers is better than four.

And it's actually nothing new for the Falcons, since we've been doing the same thing for the last two years anyway.  The difference is that without Chris Houston being our top CB left alone to cover a top receiver, we might be more successful with it.



The team's other approach is to improve the pass rush from the inside out.  In 2003-2006, the Falcons had strong pass rushing DTs in Ellis Johnson and then Rod Coleman. We haven't had a strong attack from the middle since the last time Coleman managed to stay healthy for a season.

The hope is that a rotation of Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry and Corey Peters can turn up the heat in two ways - getting more sacks themselves and drawing extra attention from the offense away from the ends.

We'll have to keep our fingers crossed on that one.  Jerry and Peters are unproven players, Jerry has significant injury concerns, and Babs is facing suspension.


And finally, the DE positions...  Dimitroff says he believes John Abraham still has plenty left in his tank and should be in for a good year.  He also really likes the development of Kroy Biermann and wants to see what Lawrence Sidbury can do this season.

The word is that Jamaal Anderson has been working to bulk up for this season.  He'll likely play the end spot in running situations and slide in to the middle as part of the nickel or other sub packages.  No mention yet of how often we might use those 3-3-5 or 3-4 packages.

No word at all about Chauncey Davis.  When asked, Dimitroff says he's "another versatile player that can make contributions".  But it seems pretty clear that El Sid and Beer Man are the real hopes for the team at DE this year.

Interesting situation to watch this summer will be whether Jamaal still appears to have a starting spot or whether Biermann moves into the starting lineup in his place.  Biermann was listed at 246 when drafted but dropped to around 241 by the start of his rookie season.  He bulked up to 260 last season. 

And the top question for the early part of the regular season will be how the DT rotation will work with Babs out.  That could be the prime opportunity to slide Jamaal inside.

We might see an early season nickel front four of Biermann, Anderson, Jerry and Abraham, with Robinson, Chris Owens and Brent Grimes as the three corners, Lofton and Nicholas as the LBs (with the rookie Sean Weatherspoon coming off for the extra CB), Thomas DeCoud as the lone deep safety and William Moore playing up in a SS role.

So how would this be better than 2009?  (a) Robinson instead of Houston.  (b) Stephen Nicholas instead of Mike Peterson.  (c) Jerry instead of Thomas Johnson.  (d) more experience for Brent Grimes and Chris Owens.   (e) more blitzes from Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nicholas or William Moore.

If we can blitz more frequently (Smitty practically forgot the meaning of the word in the second Panthers game), get the slower Mike Peterson off the field for passing downs, and keep a safety up without losing much in coverage on one side, we should indeed have a more effective pass rush in 2010.




Posted on: March 7, 2010 6:44 pm
 

The sweet thing about re-signing Brian Williams

Think back to the first few weeks of the 2009 season - the games against the Dolphins, Panthers, Patriots, 49ers and Bears.

The Falcons had Erik Coleman and first time starter Thomas DeCoud at safety.  Antoine Harris and William Moore were the backups on the roster.  So what would the team have done if one of the starters got hurt or if Decoud faltered?

Moore was still banged up himself, considered on a day to day basis for practice and on the inactive list for games.  He did eventually get in a couple of games strictly on special teams before tweaking the hamstring again.  But even if he had been back to health, he had missed the entire preseason.  There's no way the coaching staff would have wanted to put him on the field as our last line of defense.

Harris wouldn't have been a much better option.  Yes, the coaching staff jokingly refers to him as a Swiss Army knife for his versatility.  He was a solid contributor on special teams.  But he would have been a major liability if the team had been forced to start him in the secondary.

The answer was that before his injury in the fourth quarter of week six, Brian Williams was our game day backup at safety.  Yes, he was our starting cornerback, and he slid inside to cover the slot receiver in the nickel package.  But if a starting safety had been hurt, he would have been the replacement.  Brent Grimes would have taken over at cornerback, with Chevis Jackson stepping in as the nickel.

Williams is expected to be cleared to play medically.  The question is whether he'll be able to pivot and make the sudden changes of direction needed to play the cornerback spot.  The first year back from an ACL injury is usually not so hot.  So while he adds depth at corner, his knee is still a red flag if he's forced to start.  Dunta Robinson is the team's answer at cornerback, not Williams.

Still, the Falcons still have the issue of the #4 safety to address.  He might be the perfect answer for that spot.  Moore is a year behind in his development.  With Williams on board, it won't be a problem if Moore needs a year to learn the defense in practice the same way Decoud did in 2008.  If a starter gets hurt, Williams can be the one to step in.  Like last year, he may be listed at cornerback, but he could easily be our de facto backup safety.

A side benefit:  it would also allow the team to keep an extra cornerback, meaning that Tye Hill or Chris Houston might have a chance to stick on the roster.  We've seen how they are both fish out of water in our zone system, but if new DB coach Tim Lewis can work hard with them in camp, they just might surprise us.  Once upon a time they both had the talent to become top draft picks.  The potential is there. If nothing else, one or both might at least become trade bait for a future draft pick.

So never mind the cornerback spot.  The sweet thing about re-signing Williams is that it upgrades the backup safety position.  If the Falcons are to make a run for a trophy this year, they need to have all depth and skill issues across the board nailed down.  This could easily be the answer at safety.

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: September 24, 2009 4:59 pm
 

notes before the Patriots game

Don't expect to see Jerious Norwood on the field this weekend.  He hasn't practiced all week.  Otherwise, everyone is fully participating.  The remaining Falcons are essentially at full health.

For the Patriots, Wes Welker did not practice on Wednesday due to a knee problem and was limited today.  Jerod Mayo is still out from his own knee situation.  The Patriots haven't given out any information on how long Mayo is expected to be sidelined, but I don't think the Falcons will see him on the field.  New England has a bunch of other guys limited this week, but I'm guessing they'll all play - including Welker.

One positive side to the injury to Peria JerryTrey Lewis will DEFINITELY be on the 45-man active roster and in the rotation.  The significance is that Lewis is the team's nose tackle for their 3-4 package.  That part of the defensive playbook was put on the shelf for the first two games since the team elected to keep Lewis on the inactive list.  But with Lewis on the field, the team can throw some blitzes at Tom Brady that the Pats will not have seen before from game film.

The alignment we might see:  Lewis, Jonathan Babineaux and Jamaal Anderson in three point stances as the down linemen, with John Abraham and one of the linebackers rushing from the second level.

First guess at the inactive list = John Parker Wilson (third QB), William Moore (hamstring), Vance Walker, Jerious Norwood (head), Will Svitek, Garrett Reynolds, Spencer Adkins, Tye Hill.

At some point, Tye Hill and William Moore will replace other players on the active list (possibly Christopher Owens and Lawrence Sidbury), but there's a strong chance the Falcons will wait until after the bye to start working them.  Moore is practicing, and I'm told he's at about 85-90% health - which is where a lot of players are after two weeks of full contact anyway.  But he's still way behind on his reps and would be limited to special teams duty if he got on the field.  There's not much advantage to putting him in and taking out one of the other guys from those units, so Moore is likely to stay on the inactive list for this game.

It's a lot closer with Hill.  He's essentially ready for man coverage assignments.  The question is whether he has the playbook down well enough to trust him with the zone schemes, where one slip can quickly become a touchdown for the opposing team.  (Imagine him releasing Randy Moss to a safety who isn't there.  Not a pretty thought...)

But considering the Patriots have three dangerous WRs and a dangerous tight end, it's possible that the Falcons will elect to go with more man coverage combined with blitz packages.  (There isn't much to lose since Brady, Welker and Watson can rip the soft zone to shreds anyway.)  If so, activating Hill would be a very good move.  Personally, I'd start him in place of Chris Houston.


 
 
 
 
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