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After running an offense lacking talent in Jackonsville, new OC Dirk Koetter will add his stamp to the Falcons
Brent Grimes and the Atlanta Falcons have yet to reach a long term deal, and as the deadline to sign those deals for franchise tendered players approaches, NFL.com reports that no one expects it to happen, even though it would certainly make sense for both parties.
This, from the ESPN NFC South blog:
The mere fact that Grimes signed his franchise tag in the spring is a pretty strong indication that he's prepared to play for the tender this season and hope for a long-term deal down the road. There aren't any strong indications the Falcons and Grimes are talking about quickly working a long-term deal and the Falcons don't have a lot of salary-cap room to work with. But salary-cap room really shouldn't be a factor if Grimes and the Falcons want to work a deal now.
That was a few days ago and there hasn't been a deal yet.
Drew Brees inked his mega contract. What does this mean for Matt Ryan?
Jerry Rice knows something about wide receivers. So when he says on Sportscenter that Julio Jones should have a breakout season, that should get Falcons fans excited.
"I love this kid," said Rice. "He's awesome. He's big, he's fast. ... I think he's gonna have a breakout season this coming year."
Jones had a solid rookie season out of Alabama, bringing in 54 catches for 959 yards and eight touchdowns, despite missing three games. The Falcons took a risk moving up to select Jones with the No. 6 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, but the move appears to be paying off.
With a new offensive coordinator in Atlanta, PFT believes more short routes could help Jones become a more versatile weapon.
Defensive end Ray Edwards certainly didn't have the successful season many expected in 2011.
Edwards signed a five-year, $30-million contract with Atlanta as a free agent last summer, but had just three sacks in his first season with the Falcons. Now, he's planning for an improved 2012.
In an interview with NFL.com, Edwards said an earlier offseason knee surgery should help his preparation. He had surgery a month before camp last season. This year, he's had months to rest following a surgery early in the offseason.
"I laugh at that because I know how hard I work, I know the work that I put in," Edwards said. "I laugh because somebody's always going to have something to say, good bad or indifferent. Last year I let it get to me because everybody was like, 'He's this, he's not that', so I was putting extra pressure on myself. Now I'm going to play my game and let that speak for itself."
The Falcons sure hope so.
The pick is officially in for the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft and Josh Gordon has been taken off the board earlier than anyone could have expected, going in the second round to the Cleveland Browns. While Gordon was clearly the best prospect in the eight player pool available, it's a surprise just how high the former Baylor wide receiver was taken.
Gordon graded out as a mid-round prospect by most NFL analysts, but the Browns are keen to turn the corner with their offense this season. They drafted Brandon Weeden in the first round to be their new quarterback or at least compete with Colt McCoy as the starter, and nabbed Trent Richardson as their new workhorse running back. The team let Peyton Hillis walk, so there could be all new personnel in the backfield.
The Browns still lacked that go-to receiver and Gordon has the measureables. He's a raw project, so only time will tell. However, the Browns were willing to make the move and they now give up next year's second round choice to do so.
While Drew Brees' ongoing battle for a long term deal with the New Orleans Saints has taken up most of the franchise tag talk around the league, the Atlanta Falcons and corner Brent Grimes don't seem to be anywhere closer to a long term deal after the franchise tagged the free-agent-to-be following the 2011 season.
The AJC breaks down the situation, which in the lull of the offseason doesn't seem to be moving all that fast, mainly because the Falcons are about to hit the cap limit with just under $3 million left.
...the Falcons are too tight up against the cap right now to do a major deal right now. Because of that, it’s reasonable to conclude that they want Grimes to play under the tender and they’ll revisit extension talks during the upcoming season.
Thomas Dimitroff has engineered in-season deals before, but it's likelier that Grimes will have to play out his one-year deal under the franchise tag.
The NFL's supplemental draft is scheduled to take place on Thursday, July 12 at 1 p.m. ET and will afford teams the opportunities to select several players that were ineligible for this year's NFL Draft.
The supplemental draft provides a second path or chance if you will to the NFL and gives teams the opportunity to pick them. However, that opportunity comes at a stiff price as teams who select a player must forfeit its corresponding pick in next year's NFL Draft.
NFL.com will have details of the picks if any players are selected starting at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday. Former Baylor wide receiver Josh Gordon has drawn the most interest and is the player most likely to be selected on Thursday.
Here is a list of the eligible players in the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft:
Quaylon Ewing-Burton, CB, Boise State
Josh Gordon, WR, Utah/Baylor
Adam Harris, RB, Syracuse
Adrian Haughton, OT, Iowa State
Larry Lumpkin, LB, Carson-Newman
Montez Robinson, DE, Georgia
Houston Tuminello, WR, McMurray/Louisiana Tech
Ed Wesley, RB, TCU
Even with the New Orleans Saints having their issues this offseason, dealing with Bountygate and a flurry of suspensions, Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith isn't assuming anything about the fate of his team going into the 2012-13 campaign. Actually, he's only assuming the NFC South will be competitive, with three elite quarterbacks in Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan, and also a young QB in Josh Freeman who could return to his rookie form after a disappointing sophomore season.
This seems like the year for the Falcons to take control of the division, but you won't hear that from Smith:
"I know that the NFC South has been one the most competitive divisions for a number of years," Smith said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Most certainly before I got to the Falcons, there was the worst-to-first story for three or four years. It's very competitive."
SB Nation's Ryan Van Bibber isn't very impressed with the Falcons' defensive unit as only the cornerback position was ranked inside the top 10. Van Bibber continues his position-by-position look from around the league and ranks Atlanta's defensive line No. 21 out of 32 NFL teams.
John Abraham started to show his age last year, but he was still incredibly productive. The 34-year-old's snaps will be limited again this season. Jonathan Babineaux, 30, muddled through a down season in 2011, after missing time early with a knee injury. If both Abraham and Babineaux can be effective, Atlanta's line can make things happen. Ray Edwards really needs to get back the form he had with the Vikings. Rookie Jonathan Massaquoi from Troy could surprise as a situational pass rusher.
Atlanta re-signed John Abraham this offseason and hope that Ray Edwards has healed from the bad knee that bothered him most of last season.
The Atlanta Falcons have until July 16th to make a decision on whether or not to extend cornerback Brent Grimes beyond the one-year franchise tag they placed on him back in April that will pay him $10.2 million for the 2012 NFL season.
If the two sides can't agree to a long-term deal in time, Grimes will become a free-agent in 2013 and will have an opportunity to gauge his value on the open market.
CBS Sports NFL Insider, Jason La Canfora, broke down Grimes -- and other players and teams around the league -- and the Falcons chances of coming to terms and gave the odds of the two sides reaching an agreement at "fair."
But they did just trade for Asante Samuel, and they restructured Robinson's deal in a way that essentially lets them wait and see on him for a year and then could cut ties. So, say six months from now, they may have considerably less money allocated to the corner position than they do right now, and Grimes is going to command top dollar. There isn't a threat of any holdouts or distractions, as Grimes already signed his tender, so if a deal isn't done by mid July it's not the end of the world.
ESPN's Ron Jaworski rates Matt Ryan as the 11th best QB in the NFL. Is this ranking fair?
Atlanta's acquisition of Asante Samuel and re-signing of Brent Grimes has the entire Falcons secondary looking like a strength for new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. SB Nation's Ryan Van Bibber ranks Atlanta's cornerbacks as the No. 5 unit in the league placing them behind the Jets, Ravens, Eagles and Cowboys.
Of the Falcons' unit Van Bibber is most impressed with Grimes along with the addition of Samuel which pushes Dunta Robinson inside.
Grimes put it all together last season, and his name showed up as the league's second-best corner in PFF's rankings, just behind Revis. Thankfully for the Falcons, he signed his franchise tender. Atlanta traded away some magic beans to get Asante Samuel from the Eagles and now has one of the better starting duos in the NFC. The move also allows the team to move Dunta Robinson into the slot role, which is a better fit. Dominique Franks and Chris Owens bring up the rear of the depth chart.
SB Nation NFL writer Ryan Van Bibber continues his position-by-position look at the NFL and this time focuses on the safety position. Van Bibber ranks the Falcons' safety tandem of William Moore and Thomas DeCoud 15th out of the 32-team league.
On Moore, Van Bibber sees an elite level talent with a full year of experience under his belt but he less confident in DeCoud whom he terms the "weak link" in the Falcons revamped secondary.
I believe William Moore can climb into the elite ranks of safeties with a full season of play this year. He had a solid second season in 2011, but was limited by a variety of ailments. Thomas DeCloud is a weak link, but the Falcons were happy enough to give him a five-year contract extension. A better group of corners behind Brent Grimes could help.
Despite recent praise for Atlanta Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon SB Nation's Ryan Van Bibber ranks Atlanta's linebacking unit 23rd out of the 32 team league. Van Bibber acknowledges Weatherspoon's talent in his breakdown but says that the loss of Curtis Lofton to the rival Saints will be felt by the Falcons.
Weakside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is another example of a good player who goes unnoticed because he plays in a 4-3 system. The Falcons will regret letting Curtis Lofton get away. Lofa Tatupu is not an equivalent replacement, setting up a golden opportunity for Akeem Dent.
The pressure will be on this unit and especially Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent to make up for the loss of Curtis Lofton. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's hybrid defensive scheme should help provide Weatherspoon the space and the opportunity to make much more of an impact.
Still trying to gain traction, the reputation of OLB Sean Weatherspoon continues to grow.
The Atlanta Falcons are still trying to regain an identity at the linebacker position following Curtis Lofton's free agency defection to New Orleans. While Sean Weatherspoon figures to be the new leader of the unit, the depth chart is still very shaky.
Reserve linebacker Matt Hansen, who saw some time at safety in the 2011 preseason and looked promising at linebacker in June minicamps, will likely miss all of the preseason with a knee injury. Hansen wasn't considered a contender to start, but instead serve as Weatherspoon's backup at the weakside position.
It's likely that Stephen Nicholas will retain his spot on the outside, leaving Akeem Dent or maybe free agent Lofa Tatupu in the middle to replace Lofton. However, as The Falcoholic points out, depth and backups are still very much in the air, and the Falcons may have to rely once again on perpetual roster casualty Robert James to back up Weatherspoon, and possibly see time on the field for the first time since he was drafted five seasons ago:
...James keeps coming back to these Falcons. He keeps getting released and coming back, surviving to make the roster another year. He's beaten out scores of UDFAs to grab roster spots in the past, and he survived the four-game suspension. Every year, it seems, he spends some time on the active roster, and every year, he's inactive for every game.
The departure of Eric Weems left a hole for the Falcons at kick and punt returner and it still isn't clear what direction the team might take to replace him. One player looking for the opportunity is third-year wide receiver Harry Douglas who is open to taking on the responsibility for the first time since his rookie season. I love it," he said. "I did it my rookie year here. I actually fell in love with it. I'm pretty sure whoever they pick to get the job it's going to be in great hands."
The Falcons have several options and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong hasn't revealed who might be in the lead heading into training camp.
"(Douglas is) obviously a threat to score," Armstrong said. "He has a pretty good chance to be our punt returner. Dominique Franks has the ability to become a punt returner. He did a nice job in college at Oklahoma. James Rodgers, Jacquizz (Rodgers)' brother, has also been pretty solid out here catching the ball clean. He has some experience as a punt returner. It'll be interesting to see what goes on between those three guys."
The return job will be one of the big storylines going into training camp and as the preseason schedule gets underway.
A look at the Falcons running game in 2011, where they were better with just Turner on the field vs. multiple backs
Despite averaging less than 25 points per game over the last three seasons, some of the Atlanta Falcons key players lead the league in some of the most important stats in the NFL according to ProFootballFocus.com and the team website.
Running back Michael Turner was one of the league's best in earning yards after contact and third best over the last three seasons. The rating is based on a formula that includes carries, receptions, forced miss tackles and yards per carry after contact.
"Turner's mark of 2.9 yards per carry after contact leads the league over that time and the numbers both players have maintained despite the volume of touches is truly remarkable," Sam Monson of PFF.com wrote.
Wide receiver Roddy White was singled out as having the second-most targets in the NFL while tight end Tony Gonzalez's drop rate was third best at his position in the NFL.
Newly acquired veteran safety Chris Hope told the AJC that he chose to join the Falcons in part because the team has "all the keys" to make a Super Bowl run, something Hope was a part of with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008.
"They are serious about not just being a good football team. They want to be the best football team. Going out and getting Asante Samuel and signing the guys back from last year was big. Matt Ryan is a great quarterback. [Michael] Turner is a great running back. They have two high-powered receivers in Roddy White and the young guy from Alabama [Julio Jones]. They have all the tools and the keys to be a Super Bowl contender."
Hope will arrive to shore up what's been at times a shaky secondary, and while he might not start, he'll add depth along with rookie Charles Mitchell from Mississippi State. While Asante Samuel, Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson are all veterans at corner, safety has been a young position for the Falcons for some years, another reason why a vet like Hope was brought on:
I feel like they have a great secondary with the addition of Asante Samuel, [Dunta] Robinson, [Brent] Grimes and all of those guys are highly touted and elite corners in my opinion. The safeties that they’ve had the last few years are real good and they are young. With my leadership and my veteran experience, I can just come in and help them out with whatever I can. I feel like I can still play at a high-level. But again, I’ll just do whatever they ask me to do.
New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan had recently expressed concern over the lack of depth behind starting safeties William Moore and Thomas DeCoud entering training camp. Atlanta helped address that problem on Friday when they announced the signing of veteran safety Chris Hope.
Hope was drafted in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has played the last six seasons with the Tennessee Titans and made the Pro Bowl in 2008. He won a Super Bowl with the Steelers in 2005.
Hope is 5-foot-11, 206 pounds with 20 career interceptions. He has over 750 career tackles and appeared in 10 games during the 2011 season.
To make room on the roster for Hope Atlanta released wide receiver Cody Pearcy on Thursday.
Each year the NFL put out their 'top 100' list from the previous season. In what seems to be an unfair move rookie WR Julio Jones was passed over.
The gang over at SB Nation's NFL mothership has their 2012 offseason report on the Falcons, framed (understandably) around Atlanta's inability to advance in the playoffs and their status as either not-quite-elite or the best of the rest.
The report hits all high (read: promising) marks for Atlanta - Julio Jones' offseason progress, the new "wide-open" passing offense, the swindle of a deal that nabbed Asante Samuel from the Eagles and the fresh blood of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. However, when it comes to prognostication, there's that glaring issue of a brutal slate of games:
Whatever sentient being made Atlanta's schedule did not do them any favors. They drew the AFC West, NFC East and the Detroit Lions, and all of those opponents will be a crucial test for an offense determined to rely more and more on the passing game, and the defense will have to keep things close.
But on the bright side, New Orleans is desbribed as being "in a free fall."
Roddy White has been on a team that won the NFC regular season title, but he believes that this year's team is the best he has ever been on.
"We look real good right now, I’m not going to lie," White said of the offense on Wednesday during Atlanta’s minicamp. "The past three or four years, this is the best I’ve been around since I’ve been here and seen the cumulative group on the field."
New coordinators Dick Koetter and Mike Nolan have impressed White with what he's seen on both sides of the ball. The Falcons are coming off of a 10-6 season that resulted in another early exit in the postseason at the hands of the New York Giants.
The Falcons just concluded their offseason minicamp and will rejoin when training camp begins.
While the Atlanta Falcons defense may not have been perfect in 2011, they did excel at stopping the play action pass.
The Atlanta Falcons have released their practice schedule for 2012, with another "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage, as well as a new ongoing practice agreement with the nearby Tennessee Titans.
Looking to establish a little tradition in the dog days of summer, the Atlanta Falcons announced they'll travel north up I-75 to Dalton, Georgia, roughly halfway between Atlanta and Nashville, Tennessee, to scrimmage the Titans on August 6 at Coahulla Creek High School.
The Nashville Tennessean reports that the two teams have been planning the event for years, but the lockout stopped plans in 2011:
Titans coach Mike Munchak and Falcons coach Mike Smith had been working out the details for some time. The two teams also trained together in 2004.
"Going against other teams, in general, is good for your team, especially when you have a young team like we do," Munchak said. "I talked to coach Smith about it last year, but because of the lockout it was too hard to plan something like this."
The Falcons also announced they'll hold another "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage at Peachtree Ridge High School.
For a complete look at the Falcons' preseason practice schedule, check out the AJC's listing here.
The Atlanta Falcons warpped up minicamp on Thursday, the competition on the defensive line is expected to be intense according to head coach Mike Smith, especially at the defensive tackle position.
Smith told the team website that OTA's and minicamp were more for evaluation and he expects things to be even more competitve once practice in full pads begins:
"I think at the defensive tackle there is going to be competition," Smith said. "Again, when you start talking about the defensive line, you're not talking about the four starters, you're talking about the seven starters. That's more of the competition. I think it's pretty evident who the starters are going to be. I think it's going to be more for the guys that are going to be in the rotation and not necessarily taking as many snaps as the guys that start the game, but they will take significant snaps in the ball game."
Based on comments by head coach Mike Smith to the Atlanta Falcons' official team site - and interpreted by outlets like Pro Football Talk - the Falcons seem to be moving towards a by-committee approach towards rushing the ball, which would diminish the number of touches starter Michael Turner would see in 2012.
Dirk Koetter has made numerous comments citing the versatility of depth at playmaker on the Falcons' offense, be it Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones catching the ball, or Turner, Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers all as viable optionsin the backfield:
"We do have a lot of weapons and only one football," he said. "How that shakes out, Matt (Ryan) has confidence in all the guys he’s working with. We have a lot of guys that can make plays. If you were out here (Tuesday) you saw a bunch of different guys making big plays. That’s actually a good problem to have."
The Falcons in 2012 will have a new man calling the shots offensively but Dirk Koetter isn't looking for a new way to reinvent the wheel . He is looking for a way to tweak the offense and to get better results.
"We have proven playmakers at running back, at tight end, at wide receiver and at quarterback. And we've got a nice competitive situation along the offensive line. We do have a good group of guys on offense."
While meeting with the media on Wednesday, Koetter heaped praise on quarterback Matt Ryan and also explained some of his offensive philosophy. The Falcons this season will be looking for explosive plays of which he defines as any run of at least 12 yards and a pass of 16 yards.
"We want explosive plays, whether they're runs or passes," Koetter said, and then he defined his terms. "When I think about explosive plays, I mean 12-yard runs or 16-yard passes. [Those yardage figures are minimums, please note.] Next to turnovers, 12-yard runs and 16-yard passes are the biggest factors in winning. If you have eight of those plays in a game, you'll have a great chance to win."
To get those plays, Koetter wants to put Atlanta's playmakers in space so don't be surprised at all to see a variety of screen plays to people like Roddy White and Julio Jones. Fans might not recognize the screen pass at first given that it wasn't utilized under former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.
The pieces on offense may fit and perhaps Koetter will be the new voice that was needed to get the Falcons' offense to the next level.
Nolan was the defensive coordinator for the Jets when Abraham was drafted in 2000, giving the returning DE a sense of the change coming to the Falcons' unit. Nolan has stated that the Atlanta defense won't undergo an overhaul, but he told the AJC that Abraham is behind his teammates in learning the new system after he missed voluntary OTAs.
"He’s missed some of the OTAs, and we are a little bit at an advance state as far as the language. … Right now, John is kind of going a little bit slower. He’s having to ask more questions because he wasn’t here for those classes. But, nonetheless, John is a good player."
Nolan went on to praise Abraham, and the man himself didn't seem offended by the claims, practically gushing about Nolan's system and management style:
"He drafted me," Abraham said. "That was one of my main reasons for coming back, also. I know what kind of coach he is. I know what kind of guy he is. They do a great job of bringing people around here who have great character and great character coaches. Me and Mike have been friends ever since he drafted me in my rookie year until now. I’m glad to be back with him and glad that we have the opportunity to do some great things together."
The Atlanta Falcons' new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is looking to take the defense to the next level. His plan is to make his players not just more aggressive, but quicker too. That means simpler schemes so players spend less time reading and start reacting to plays much faster. Nolan isn't overhauling the defense--most of the playbook will remain the same--but he is tweaking it just a bit.
"The problem is if a guy is thinking too much on the field because of terminology, he's not playing fast," Nolan said. "That's a lot of what the OTAs and minicamp try to get out of the way."
Nolan emphasized that he will be building his defense around the existing talent, meaning playmakers like defensive end John Abraham and outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon should again factor heavily into the gameplan.
"We'll be a 4-3 and we'll use 3-4 at times, but we'll be primarily a 4-3 because this team is built that way," Nolan said. "You want to play to your player's strengths."
While talk of the Atlanta Falcons' linebacking corps has centered around the departure of leader Curtis Lofton, the ascension of Sean Weatherspoon and the potential changes in Mike Nolan's hybrid 3-4 / 4-3 schemes, the AJC is reporting that Robert James, drafted by Atlanta way back in 2008, might have a shot at seeing consistent time on the field this season.
James has had little success since arriving in the league, missing the 2009 season with a concussion and earning a four-game suspension for a violation of the league performance enhancement policy in 2010. James was waived by the Falcons afterwards, then resigned to the practice squad and appeared in the final game of that season against Tampa Bay. Following preseason in 2011, James was cut again, then resigned to the practice squad again, and saw action on special teams when veteran Mike Peterson went down in December.
John Abraham is the definition of a veteran NFL player - the 34-year-old has played 13 seasons and just resigned with the Falcons for three more years, likely his last in the league. One sticking point of that deal? It's got a relatively low base of $16 million, $7 million of that in roster bonuses reliant on Abe staying healthy in those three seasons.
Hence, when a rookie tight end makes a block Abraham considers questionably low - in a June minicamp practice no less - young Adam Nissley is going to hear about it (courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution):
Abraham, who skipped the voluntary organized team activities, got into a scuffle with rookie tight end Adam Nissley when he went too low on a block.
"What the [expletive] is wrong with you," Abraham said after he pulled off Nissley’s helmet, and the skirmish was broken up.
Welcome to the league, Mr. Nissley. Let's shift that motor down a gear, eh?
The stage was set for the Falcons to show off their latest defensive acquisition in Asante Samuel, but it was the wide receivers who stole the show on the first day in Flowery Branch. A welcome sight was Julio Jones, who looked like a man possessed for much of the day. Working against a variety of CBs he even turned around Samuel in coverage while he sprinted for a nice catch over the middle.
Jones set the tone for most of the day. Matt Ryan and the offense looked in mid-season form, which culminated with the biggest play of the day-- a 40 yard completion to Harry Douglas. Players reported that Ryan had more 'zip' on the ball, which is very encouraging. Ryan had made it a point to increase his arm strength this off-season, and that seems to be paying dividends already.
On the defensive side of the ball it was more about what players were saying, rather than anything stellar we saw on the field. Sean Weatherspoon looked to be taking more of a leadership role, as he comfortably pointed out assignments and motivated his teammates. It's of vital importance that a leader emerge in the linebacking corps following the departure of Curtis Lofton. It's encouraging to hear a young player take the next step.
If you're looking for an idea of how the defense will look in 2012 Kroy Beirmann gave you a pretty good idea:
With two more days of practice including one open to the public we'll get a much better sense over the next 48hrs of how the team will look.
The Atlanta Falcons are bringing in a fresh leg in undrafted rookie kicker Eric Folk who had a standout career at the University of Washington. Folk takes the roster spot of long snapper Corey Adams who was waived last week.
While at Washington Folk connected on all of his 124 PAT attempts and 42 career field goals. His career long is a 53 yarder against Eastern Washington. Folk will compete with incumbent kicker Matt Bryant who also had an excellent season for the Falcons last season.
Bryant missed just two field goal attempts last season and connected on all of his extra point attempts. Atlanta isn't likely to be looking to replace Bryant but can take a closer look at Folk and perhaps even stash him on the practice squad if need be.
After wrapping up OTAs the Atlanta Falcons will hold team mini-camp this week from Tuesday-Thursday.
Entering the offseason it was debatable whether or not Sam Baker would still be a part of the Atlanta Falcons. Yet a good offseason and the return of good health has him back in the team's plans for the offensive line.
Baker struggled in 2011 with a back injury and eventually lost his starting job to Will Svitek. After an additional procedure on his back Baker is ready to put last season firmly in the rear view mirror.
"Man, it was just tough," Baker said. "Just to come out after the lockout and not knowing where your body was at, and then just kind of getting thrown into it. I had a couple of terrible games early on, and that really didn't help either. Then, having some back issues again, it was really, mentally, it was just a roller coaster."
The left tackle position again looks like it is Baker's to lose as the Falcons have few options behind him other than Svitek who looks like plan B at this point. The team drafted Lamar Holmes in the third round but he has yet to practice this offseason due to a foot injury and won't be on the field until training camp starts.
The Atlanta Falcons will start their 2012 minicamp with a tremendous calm compared to rival New Orleans, and less big-picture questions than Carolina and Tampa Bay, but with the albatross of yet another first-round playoff flameout hanging around the franchise.
Pat Yasinskas of ESPN broke down the Falcons three biggest issues heading into minicamps as follows, with all three affected heavily by the arrival of new coordinators Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan:
1. The Offensive Line. There's a mixture of new faces (second-round pick Peter Konz) and reclamation projects (embattled tackle Sam Baker), but both figure to be crucial if Matt Ryan wants to explore Koetter's celebrated deep passing attack
2. The Pass Rush. Yansinskas offers some excitement, especially for fans who wanted Atlanta to go after a high-profile name like Mario Williams in free agency. With John Abraham on one side and slew of suitors on the other, expect something new:
...I think Nolan is going to have to get creative and bring some blitzes to really have much of a chance at disrupting passing games.
3. Jacquizz Rodgers. Fans have heard about this all offseason - the need to limit Michael Turner's carries, the new offensive coordinator's success with speed back (Maurice Jones-Drew) and the need to break with the Falcons' rather vanilla attack of years prior.
The Atlanta Falcons have announced the dates for the team's upcoming minicamp which will take place at the team's Flowery Branch practice facility. Minicamp will open on Tuesday, June 19 and last through Thursday, June 21 and will consist of a morning and afternoon sessions everyday but Thursday. The afternoon portion of the practice will be open to the public.
Here is a look at the full schedule:
Tuesday, June 19
Walkthrough 10:45 a.m. - 11:45 a.m. (Closed to the public)
Practice 3:30 p.m. - 5:20 p.m. (Open to the public; Gates open at 2:30 p.m.)
Wednesday, June 20
Walkthrough 10:45 a.m. - 11:45 a.m. (Closed to the public)
Practice 3:30 p.m. - 5:20 p.m. (Open to the public; Gates open at 2:30 p.m.)
Thursday, June 21
Practice 10:30 a.m. - 12:20 p.m. (Open to the public; Gates open at 9:30 a.m.)
After a re-examination of injured third-round pick Lamar Holmes's toe the Atlanta Falcons have determined that Holmes will be held out until the team begins training camp in late July.
"Lamar Holmes will not participate in the rest of the offseason program. We are going to be very precautionary."
The team is being very cautious with Holmes who's condition is reportedly improving and is out of the walking boot. The Falcons had originally hoped to have Holmes available for the team's mini camp that is scheduled for later this month. Holmes has missed all of rookie camp and all of the OTAs since being drafted by the team.
Like Holmes, defensive tackle Corey Peters has also been ruled out until the start of training camp. Peters has a foot injury that has prevented him from taking part in OTAs and will sideline him from participating in mini camp.
The Atlanta Falcons' coaching staff continues to rave about second-year wideout Julio Jones as the team's OTAs continue this week. Last year's top overall Draft pick also debute a new look, cutting his trademark dreadlocks to give to a cancer charity (quote courtesy of the AJC):
"There is a little less weight on the top of his head with his dreads gone, but he’s had a very good camp for us as you saw today," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "He made some very nice catches and he’s been making those types of catches all through camp."
Meanwhile, 2012 third round pick Lamar Homes will miss the OTAs entirely, and won't be in action until July mini-camps at the earliest with a toe injury. Meanwhile, linebacker Stephen Nicholas practiced with a toe injury, and defensive lineman Cliff Matthews was out with an undisclosed injury.
The Atlanta Falcons continue 2012 OTAs on Wednesday, and though practice (where's Allen Iverson?) isn't particularly exhilarating to fans, there's certainly stories to watch for the Falcons. D. Orlando Ledbetter gave his opinion on five things to look for during OTAs -- and they are certainly worth paying attention to.
Check attendance. Last week, defensive end John Abraham and tight ends Tony Gonzalez and Michael Palmer were not present at the "open" voluntary OTA on May 29. Palmer was on a mission to Serbia. I can't wait to hear more about this from him. We'll certainly share that with you all.
Well, it certainly seems like Palmer had a legitimate excuse for his absence -- not that he needs one. There's no point in being worked up that he, Tony Gonzalez or John Abraham weren't at the voluntary OTA on May 29, it was voluntary after all.
Ledbetter's second story to follow is much more important to the Falcons, and probably much more interesting to Falcons fans.
Watch the cornerback rotation. Coach Mike Smith and Mike Nolan know we are watching and they like playing musical chairs in the name of cross-training. So, I expect to see Asante Samuel at left and right corner. Dunta Robinson was at right corner and in the slot. Grimes stayed at left corner during last week's open session.
Samuel certainly adds a good bit to the secondary, and his presence should allow for the Falcons to do some interesting (read: good) things on defense this year.
For more on the Falcons, be sure to check out The Falcoholic and join the discussion.
There has been little news coming out of Falcons OTAs but a little news has surfaced regarding the team's secondary rotation between Asante Samuel, Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson. As expected Robinson is transitioning to lining up in the slot and has taken the move well.
Grimes and Samuel were both primarily left cornerbacks last season and have rotated on both sides throughout OTAs. However, by the time the season rolls around it is Grimes that is expected to shift to the right side leaving Samuel on the left.
The talent level is high for all three players and that should give the Falcons plenty of versatility with which to move guys around depending on matchups. This situation will be one of the big storylines with the team when they head into training camp.
The Atlanta Falcons announced the signing of their lone remaining unsigned draft pick Jonathan Massaquoi. His signing puts all six of Atlanta's 2012 draft class under contract.
Massaquoi was a fifth round selection by the team out of Troy. At 6-foot-3, 264 pounds, he has worked on dropping some weight in an effort to get more speed on the edge and closer to that of his sophomore season when he recorded 13.5 sacks. The deal was for a reported four-years but the terms were non disclosed. Massaquoi is battling for playing time behind starters John Abraham and Ray Edwards along the Falcons' defensive line.
Massaquoi is the brother of current Cleveland Browns and former University of Georgia standout wide receiver Mohammad Massaqui.
Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters will miss the rest of organized team activities this summer after suffering a foot injury this offseason, but is expected to make his return by the start of training camp in July, the team said.
The specifics of the foot injury and cause of it were unclear, but obviously having Peters back by training camp is a good sign and causes little need to worry about third-round pick from 2010.
Peters made a slight imprint on the Falcons' defense last season, recording three sacks, 33 tackles and six of them for losses. Perhaps the highlights of Peters' season as a starter last year were when he scored a touchdown on a 13-yard fumble return against the Jacksonville Jaguars and had an interception against the Carolina Panthers.
There figures to be a lot of competition for a couple of spots along the Atlanta Falcons' offensive line for the 2012 season but when OTAs began on Tuesday the line was still intact with last season's starters.
Todd McClure was in his familiar center position and was flanked by guards Justin Blaylock and Garrett Reynolds. Sam Baker and Tyson Clabo were holding down the tackle positions. The second unit featured Vince Manuwai and Mike Johnson at guards, Andrew Jackson and Will Sevitek at tackles with Joe Hawley at center.
The third team consisted of second round pick Peter Konz at guard along with Phillip Manley. Tyler Horn lined up at center and Bryce Harris was at tackle. Lamar Holmes is still not practicing because of a foot injury.
There figures to be quite a bit of cross training along the offensive line in the coming days with Konz in particular expected to challenge for a starting job at the guard position.
The newly acquired Asante Samuel wasted little time in making his presence felt to his new teammates. Samuel stepped on the field and instantly began begging quarterback Matt Ryan to throw the ball his way. He ended practice with two interceptions and talked about his first day of practice with his new club.
"That's what you've got to do, put the bull's eye on your shoulder and step up to the table. That's how you get better. If you're talking (trash) and telling them they can't do this and do that, of course they're going to try. You've just got to back it up. If you don't back it up, they're going to clown you."
Samuel's addition will mix up some roles with incumbents Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson still on the roster. The trio however should fit nicely into new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's pressure oriented system.
One of the available jobs up for grabs as OTAs open for the Falcons is the punt/kick returner role that was vacated after Eric Weems signed a three-year deal with the Chicago Bears. Atlanta signed several undrafted free agents that could compete for the job but head coach Mike Smith indicated following rookie camp that the job would likely be filled by someone already on the roster.
Those players on the roster currently that have previous experience include Harry Douglas, Dominique Franks and Brent Grimes. Back-up running back Jacquizz Rodgers could also see his name thrown into the ring.
Douglas performed well in the role during his rookie 2008 season before a knee injury sidelined him the next season. Franks held the return job while in college and got some work there during the preseason last season. James Rodgers appears to be the top candidate among the undrafted free agent crop.
The Falcons stand ready to begin their offseason OTAs today. Here's what fans should be prepared to look for as they get under way.
Over at ESPN.com, John Clayton lists the top ten position battles between rookies and veterans this off-season, with Atlanta Falcons rookie offensive lineman Peter Konz making the list:
10. Falcons second-round pick Peter Konz vs. right guards Mike Johnson, Vince Manuwai and others: Konz, considered the best center in the draft, is viewed as Atlanta's center of the future. The Falcons have veteran Todd McClure on a one-year contract, so Konz can fight his way into a starting job at right guard.
The Falcons drafted Konz, a 6'5 315 center from Wisconsin, with the No. 55 pick in the second round.
The Badgers, who run a traditional pro-style offense built behind a road-grading offensive line, have been one of the premier factories for NFL lineman over the last decade.
Centers are almost never taken in the first round, so Konz's second-round selection indicates how highly he was viewed by the league coming into the draft.
For more coverage of Atlanta's off-season, check out The Falcoholic.
Rookie camp ended for the Falcons on Sunday but the transition from being a college player to a professional continues. Atlanta was the first team to begin its orientation process on Monday putting its rookies through what is being called "Falcons U".
The program will last three days and is designed to help rookies be successful on and off the field and deals with areas such as handling success and failure the right ways. Among the speakers on Monday were owner Arthur Blank and general manager Thomas Dimitroff as well as a presentation from Leadership Success International CEO Dr. Earl Sutter.
Sutter's presentation dealt with practicing positive thinking and also focused on making good decisions during their pro careers. Falcons U will continue on Tuesday and Wednesday with a focus on good financial practices as well as social media tips.
The Atlanta Falcons have signed another one of their 2012 draft picks. The latest is offensive tackle Lamar Holmes who was selected in the third round with the 91st overall selection. Holmes agreed to a four-year contract, but the value of the contract was not available.
Holmes was drafted to help provide some depth at the offensive line position and particularly with short-yardage situation due to his 6-foot-6, 333 pound frame. Holmes is a confident player who thinks he can start right away:
"I do," Holmes said when asked following his selection if he could compete for a starting job with the Falcons. "I feel like I can come in there and be a contributor from Day 1, because I'm going to work and whoever is across from me, I'm going to make them work hard every day, all day."
Holmes became the fifth rookie to sign their rookie deal out of the six players that the Falcons drafted.
The Atlanta Falcons wrapped up rookie mini camp on Sunday and head coach Mike Smith declared the three-day session as a success. In all 46 players attended the camp which gave opportunities for the coaching staff to work up close and personal with the rookies. On the camp, Smith talked about having the ability to ease the rookies into the professional setting without the veteran players around.
"Focusing on the young guys was the most significant difference, you didn't have to worry about anything," Smith said. "Probably the negative thing is that you didn't get an opportunity to compare them to the guys that are actually on your roster. We'll get an opportunity to do that the rest of the offseason. I think it's a nice way to ease the guys in. They don't have to worry about working with the older guys. It's all guys that are on the same playing field in terms of their knowledge of our offense."
Former Indianapolis Colts vice president and general manager Chris Polian is resurfacing in the NFL in a much more subtle and behind the scenes role, now working as a scout for the Atlanta Falcons. This is the word from the National Football Post:
Chris Polian is getting back in the NFL at a grass roots level. After becoming more of an administrator with the Colts in recent years, Polian will be hitting the road in his new role as western regional scout for the Falcons. He'll also be handling some special projects. Good thing for Polian and the Falcons-he still is being paid by Indy for the next two years.
Polian, along with his father Bill Polian who was the team president, was fired after the 2011 season when the Colts posted a 2-14 record in the absence of Peyton Manning due to injury.
Read more about the Atlanta Falcons at The Falcoholic.
The Atlanta Falcons announced on Sunday the signing of three try out players at the close of Rookie minicamp. Former Georgia tight end Aron White, fullback Lee Meisner and wide receiver Kenny Stafford.
White is a 6-foot-4 tight end with soft hands from Georgia where he caught nine passes for 101 yards during his final season in Athens. Stafford is a 6-foot-4 wide receiver from Toledo where he caught 21 passes for 272 yards during the 2011 season. Meisner is a 6-0, 245 pound fullback out of CSU-Pueblo where he had a highly decorated career.
The Falcons also announced the release of defensive tackle Ray Kibble. Those moves left them with 88 players on the active roster which is two below the 90 player limit. Atlanta must still sign third round pick Lamar Holmes and fifth-round selection Jonathan Massaquoi
Earlier on Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons announced that they have signed Wisconsin guard Peter Konz, their second-round selection and first player chosen by the Falcons in the 2012 NFL Draft. Three more members of their 2012 draft class have now also been inked as fifth round draft pick Wisconsin fullback Bradie Ewing, sixth round draft pick Mississippi State safety Charles Mitchell and seventh round draft pick South Carolina defensive tackle Travian Robertson are all now members of the Falcons organization.
The Falcons still have two picks to sign, as third round selection offensive tackle Lamar Holmes of Southern Miss and fifth round pick defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi of Troy have yet to officially sign with the club. The Falcons would like to have both rookies signed in the coming days to complete their 2012 draft class signing process.
Fullback Bradie Ewing has one of the biggest opportunities during rookie camp due to the Falcons' release of fellow fullback Ovie Mughelli. Smith told reporters on Friday that he sees Ewing as a player that is more than a blocker and one that can be effective catching passes coming out of the backfield.
"Bradie is a guy that's very athletic, can adjust and he is a guy that has pretty good hands," Smith said. "He doesn't have the statistics in college, as far as running the football so you think he is just a lead blocker and that's all he does. He does catch the football, catches it very well and he has good hands."
Ewing will compete with former Georgia Tech fullback Mike Cox for the starting job in 2012. Ewing's ability to catch passes out of the backfield could prove to be a valuable safety outlet for Matt Ryan and the Falcons' offense.
Konz was projected to be a late first-round draft pick in the 2012 NFL draft, yet was picked by the Falcons with the 55th overall pick, in the second round. The 55th pick of the 2011 NFL draft, Kansas City offensive lineman Rodney Hudson, was signed to a four-year contract worth $3.5 million that included a $1 million signing bonus.
Konz was selected by the Falcons for his ability to play multiple positions on the offensive line. Playing center and guard could be vital for Atlanta, as injuries to the offensive line in 2011 made focusing on depth a big issue to address in the 2012 draft.
Rookie minicamp is an opportunity for many players to make a name for themselves and to get noticed by the coaching staff. All of those players in camp are looking for an opportunity and defensive tackle Travian Robertson along with Charles Mitchell drew praise from Falcons' head coach Mike Smith following Day 2 of camp.
"Travian is a big, strong defensive tackle. He's more of an anchor point that a move guy. When we were doing our due dillgence in the draft, it's quite apparent that he was strong. You can see that strength not only in the weight room, but also out there on the field."
"Mitchell the safety has done a nice guy. He's probably the guy that's had the toughest experience in the secondary guys because we've thrown a lot at him. He's done a very nice job. I like his movement. First impressions have been very positive for the entire draft class."
Robertson could be an option to help provide some depth in the middle of Atlanta's defensive line. Mitchell had the lone interception of the full-team drills on Saturday.
The Atlanta Falcons will wrap up rookie minicamp on Sunday but the work that the team has put in over the last three days will hopefully carry over into the regular season. Head coach Mike Smith talked about what can be gotten out of rookie minicamp.
"We get an opportunity to expose our guys to our system and we get to do it at a slower pace. That is probably the biggest thing that we get out of it. Then there will we some guys, we've got some guys here that are here on a tryout basis, we get an opportunity to evaluate them. That gives us a chance to see more guys. We have a 90-man roster limit that we have to work with, but we've got an opportunity, at least this weekend, to get exposed to some other guys."
The time is especially important for draft picks and in particular Peter Konz who figures to be in the mix for playing time right away on the Falcons' offensive line.
Georgia is definitely a bit different compared to Wisconsin.
This is just one of the many things that rookie offensive lineman Peter Konz will have to adjust to as a member of the Atlanta Falcons. The rookie was a standout performer as a member of the Wisconsin Badgers as the team's center. The Falcons will rely on his ability to play center, but also to use his physical abilities to play guard as well.
In a recent interview, Konz admits that learning on the fly has been a heavy undertaking:
"They threw us a playbook and said ‘Go memorize it at home. Get in there and learn as much as you can as fast as you can. This is stuff you might’ve had at whatever school you were at, but it’s all different names so you’ve got to memorize a lot." -- Peter Konz
The Falcons have been decimated by injuries to the offensive line in the past, and having players like Konz that are flexible in playing multiple positions can only help head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan progress in 2012 and beyond.
The Atlanta Falcons will begin rookie minicamp on Friday with 46 players expected to report. The list includes a few Falcons veterans along with their entire 2012 Draft class, recently signed undrafted free agents and several try out candidates.
Among those with tryout invites for the weekend are former Georgia tight end Aron White and former Georgia Tech wide receiver Tyler Melton.
Here is a list of the Falcons Rookies expected to report this weekend:
Peter Konz, G/C, Wisconsin
Lamar Holmes, T, Southern Miss
Bradie Ewing, FB, Wisconsin
Jonathan Massaquoi, DE, Troy
Charles Mitchell, S, Mississippi State
Travian Robertson, DT, South Carolina
College Free Agents
Corey Adams, LS, Kansas State
Lamark Brown, WR, Minnesota-Mankato
Michael Calvin, WR, California
Rico Council, LB, Tennessee State
Dominique Davis, QB, East Carolina
Chad Faulcon, S, Montclair State
Robbie Frey, RB, Kutztown
Max Gruder, LB, Pittsburgh
Bryce Harris, T, Fresno State
Jerrell Harris, LB, Alabama
Josh Harris, LS, Auburn
Tyler Horn, C, Miami
Marcus Jackson, WR, Lamar
Ray Kibble, DT, Kansas State
Phillipkeith Manley, G, Toledo
Marty Markett, CB, South Carolina
Adam Nissley, TE, Central Florida
Louis Nzegwu, DE, Wisconsin
Cody Pearcy, WR, Huntingdon
Micanor Regis, DT, Miami
James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State
Pat Schiller, LB, Northern Illinois
Peyton Thompson, CB, San Jose State
Dawson Zimmerman, P, Clemson
For more on the Atlanta Falcons be sure to check out The Falcoholic.
With the draft now in the rear-view mirror, the long road to the start of the 2012 NFL season has begun.
Now that there is a rookie salary cap, all six of the team's draft picks will be in attendance, as there is no longer any reason for rookie's to hold out for a better contract. In addition, six players who were on the practice squad last season will be on hand as well as 34 undrafted free agents.
The vast majority will never seen an NFL snap, but there may be a future star in the mix, as undrafted players like Tony Romo, Miles Austin and Victor Cruz have emerged as Pro Bowlers over the last few years.
For more news and notes on the Falcons offseason, check out The Falcoholic.
On Wednesday, the Atlanta Falcons announced dates for offseason OTAs and minicamps.
The Falcons announced Monday that practice squad tight end Ryan Winterswyk has been placed on the reserve retired list. The list means Winterswyk is retired, but the Falcons control his rights should he decided to return to pro football.
Winterswyk was a three-time All-WAC defensive end at Boise State from 2007-10. He signed with the Falcons as an undrafted free agent in July of 2011, where Atlanta moved to him tight end. Winterswyk did play some tight end at Boise State in 2010 due to some injuries on the team.
He suffered an ankle sprain in training camp and underwent six weeks of rehab. When he returned, he was signed to the practice squad, where he was for the final five weeks of the 2011 season.
Unsigned draft picks count against the 90-man offseason rosters in the NFL, but Winterswyk going on the reserve retired list opens another spot. Last week, the New England Patrios made a similar move, placing veteran offensive tackle Matt Light on the list.
The Atlanta Falcons are reorganizing their team and preparing for the upcoming 2012 season. One of the bullet points for the Falcons game plan in the fall will be a different set of responsibilities for linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.
According to Daniel Cox at the official Atlanta Falcons website, Weatherspoon will be taking on some different roles in the upcoming 2012 season and will be playing a more diverse and important role for the Atlanta defense.
The offseason exit of former middle linebacker and defensive leader Curtis Lofton means some of the leadership on defense will fall on the shoulders of outside linebacker Weatherspoon. On Tuesday, he said the most notable change in his role will be on third downs. This season on the key defensive down, Weatherspoon will be responsible for directing the defense into position and it means a little less celebrating after a key play.
The new responsibilities and increased team role for Weatherspoon show that the team believes in the three-year veteran and will be giving him every opportunity to succeed and help the Falcons.
For all news and information regarding the Atlanta Falcons, please visit The Falcoholic.
"The workouts or phase one, will be voluntary and that’s something that we can’t control," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "Obviously, we’d like to have him in the building, but those are voluntary."
The Falcons placed the franchise tag on Grimes back in March. He has yet to sign the tender, though, as he continues to seek a long-term deal with Atlanta, which the Falcons have stated in the past that they aren't opposed to.
Grimes is not actually required to be at any Falcons team activity until the team's mandatory minicamp begins on June 19.
The Atlanta Falcons announced on Tuesday their offseason schedule for the 2012 season. The schedule includes the team's offseason conditioning program, rookie mini-camp, organized team activities and mini camp.
The offseason program begins on Monday, April 23 and a rookie mini-camp is slated to begin on Friday, May 11 and will last through Sunday, May 13. Organized team activities begin on Tuesday, May 29 and will last through June 15. Head coach Mike Smith will be made available to the media each day following each practice.
The Falcons will meet again beginning on Tuesday, June 19 for veterans mini-camp for three-days of workouts ending on Thursday, June 21.
There is a 10-week window for offseason programs with three different phases that are all spelled out in the new CBA. Phase one covers strength and conditioning or injury rehab. Phase two allows coaches onto the field and makes possible on-field drills but still doesn't allow any team versus team drills. Players are not permitted to wear helmets during Phase two.
The final phase of the offseason allows for up to 10 days of organized team activities. This phase provides more opportunities for instruction and helmets but pads still are not allowed.
Here is a look at the full 2012 offseason schedule:
Offseason Program Begins - Monday, April 23
Rookie Mini-Camp - May 11-13
Organized Team Activities - May 29 - June 15
Mini-Camp - June 19-21
The Falcons will begin their workouts without Grimes, who they placed the franchise tag on this offseason.
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