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  1. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Sam Baker adjusted his helmet with both hands, took a deep breath, then hunched down in his stance while eyeing Osi Umenyiora to his left. The Atlanta Falcons left tackle, back from last year's season-ending knee surgery, hopped back with a quickness to block the rushing Umenyiora's path, then thwarted Umenyiora's rushing angle with a quick 1-2 counter of hands slaps. Yes, it was just a drill between teammates at training camp. But the way offensive line coach Mike Tice applauded Baker's effort showed the offseason tutelage paid off. Tice rode Baker about tweaking his pass set to help protect quarterback Matt Ryanbetter. Specifically, it's been about Baker setting more straight back rather than out toward the defensive end. Baker's previous method made him more susceptible to inside moves. "He's actually changed it up quite a bit," Baker said of Tice revamping his set. "That's good because, going against a guy like Osi every day, he'll kind of get you into bad habits because he's so elusive and has a bunch of different moves. "What (Tice) wants is a consistent set with a change-up every once in a while. But it's been really good for me." Baker's play was really good two seasons ago, when he started all 16 games and helped keep Ryan upright during a 13-3 season and NFC Championship game appearance. But he wasn't foolish enough to overlook the shortcomings in his game even back then, particularly in terms of his set. "I think I didn't change it up enough," Baker said. "I think I got real predictable with a lot of things. At one point, it was a lot of people that were knowing what (I) was doing. So, that's why I think (Tice) is going to help me a lot. He's such a good teacher. He'll tell you, 'Hey, this is what the problem is. This is how we're going to fix it.'" Coach Mike Smith emphasized the importance of guys like Baker perfecting their sets in preparation for the regular season. Remember, Ryan was the most pressured quarterback in the league last season as he was sacked a career-high 44 times. "To me, it's the key to being a good pass blocker," Smith said. "Everybody talks about the feet. It's not always about the feet. It's about the ability to set based on where the quarterback is going to be. And you also have to factor in where the defensive end is aligned. I think it does take an understanding of angles. It also takes an understanding of hand placement when you meet the rusher at the intersection point. "I think it's very, very critical. I think it's often overlooked. ... The technical part of pass blocking is probably more important than anything. Sometimes, guys who are lesser athletes have been outstanding pass blockers because they understand angles and they understand hand placement." Perfecting technique is the first step in Baker settling back in at left tackle. The other is remaining healthy coming off a significant left knee surgery. Baker seems to be moving fine after missing 12 games last season, primarily due to his knee. Initially, he was concerned about the results following surgery. "It was a patella repair, so it was one of those things where when I talked to Dr. (James) Andrews, he wasn't quite sure how it was going to go," Baker said. "But I feel good." Baker hasn't worn a brace to start camp and didn't wear one much of the offseason. "I always felt like it reduces the range of motion, with as much running as we do," Baker said. "It really hasn't been a problem up to his point. "
  2. The $100 million question for Matt Ryan June, 24, 2014 7:30 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com Matt Ryan is not one to be consumed by outside opinion. True to his character, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback brushed off any notion about feeling added pressure since becoming a $100 million quarterback. Ryan signed a five-year extension last July worth a maximum value of $103.50 million, a contract that included a then-record $58 million guaranteed. His salary-cap numbers for the next five seasons are $17,500,000, $19,500,000, $23,750,000, $23,750,000 and $21,650,000. Critics wonder if Ryan was worth the investment based on a 1-4 postseason record. Then came last year’s 4-12 implosion, a drop-off which, in all fairness, was far beyond Ryan’s control. Such skepticism about Ryan is often expressed on local talk radio or in the Twitter universe. "I don’t worry about it too much," Ryan told ESPN.com. "I think it’s one of those things ... you understand playing this position, the stuff that comes with it. And that’s one of those things that comes with it. "I’m a big believer in if you’re worrying about that stuff, you’re not worrying about the right stuff. I have to be concerned with what I’m doing on the field, what I’m doing in the weight room, and how I’m preparing myself in the meeting rooms. And I feel like if you do that stuff and you’re concentrating on improving in those areas, then all the other stuff ends up taking care of itself. And that’s kind of the way I’ve approached it." Falcons coach Mike Smith bristled when asked about the increased scrutiny his quarterback now faces based on the team’s hefty investment. "Well, I don’t see added pressure," Smith said. "We’re all compensated. We have a job. Really, it’s nobody’s business, in my opinion, what a person makes. We don’t know what you make. We don’t know what other people make. And it really should be nobody’s business. But unfortunately, that’s not the way it is in the NFL. "When you’re a starting quarterback in the NFL, it doesn’t really matter what your compensation is. You’re supposed to do the same thing regardless of what team you’re on: win. And the market is the market. I don’t really ever look at it and think about what the guy is being paid. We should focus on what we can control, and that’s doing the best we can to win." Ryan realizes winning a Super Bowl could solidify his place among the league’s elite quarterbacks. The Falcons believe Ryan can guide them back to playoff contention, provided he remains upright. Such is why they invested in the offensive line, bringing in free-agent right guard Jon Asamoah and drafting right tackle Jake Matthews. Throw in the return of top receiver Julio Jones and an improved running game and Ryan should have enough to around him to get the Falcons back in the playoff conversation -- provided the defense holds up. However the season unfolds, the $100 million quarterback won’t put added pressure on himself. "I dealt with that with my rookie contract, too," said Ryan, who initially signed a six-year, $72 million rookie deal that included $34.75 million guaranteed. "Coming in, it was the same time of whatever you want to call it -- pressure. And I’ve been of the belief that if I just try and do my job, do my business the right way, work as hard as I possibly can, all that other stuff takes care of itself." Smith appreciates Ryan’s approach. "Matt doesn’t think about that stuff," Smith noted. "Like I’ve said, there are two people that are held responsible for wins and losses and that’s the quarterback and the head coach. "It doesn’t really matter what your salary is. That’s the way it is. And you’re held responsible for the outcomes. Unfortunately, you get credit when you win and you get [blamed] when you lose. But it’s all part of being a starting quarterback and head coach in the NFL." http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcsouth
  3. Day 2 of Falcons minicamp a bit fiesty June, 18, 2014 Jun 18 9:45 PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com 5 8 Comments0 Email Print FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The second day of the Atlanta Falcons' three-day minicamp got pretty interesting toward the end. Left tackle Sam Baker, who missed a large part of last season with a knee injury, was red in the face coming off the field after a skirmish toward the end of practice. Apparently, Baker got into it with outside linebacker Jonathan Massaquoi, and a few others jumped in after it started. When asked what happened, Baker said he didn't know. Baker and Massaquoi engaged in a little shoving match after the first minicamp practice on Tuesday. The Falcons have preached all offseason about being bigger, tougher, and stronger. Maybe a little tension in practice isn't such a bad thing. Head coach Mike Smith didn't exactly discourage it. "Concern me? No," Smith said. "You want your guys to keep their composure, but there are going to be times that tempers flare. We talked about competition. We want it to be competitive. Thought it was a competitive practice." Here are a few other items from Wednesday's practice plus five players to watch on Thursday's final day of minicamp: William Moore was excused from Wednesday's practice for personal reasons, Smith said. Robert McClain stepped in at right cornerback and made some plays with Desmond Trufant resting on the sideline. Trufant got some treatment on his calf during Tuesday's practice, so it must have lingered. Undrafted receiver Bernard Reedy from Toledo continued to impress with his ability to dart down the field and catch the deep ball. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound speedster wowed some of his defensive teammates with a quick cut after a catch. Tight end Levine Toilolo made a nice leaping grab in the red zone near the end of practice, showing the skills that should make him a legitimate scoring threat come the regular season. Rookie outside linebacker Tyler Starr earned some praise from his veteran teammates for his relentless rush. Nickel back Javier Arenas had an interception. Rookie safety Dez Southward also had one off a tipped pass. Defensive line coach Bryan Cox was hard on outside linebacker Stansly Maponga throughout the day. That tells me Cox sees the potential in Maponga. Roddy White, who is resting during minicamp, said he was barred from throwing passes to his fellow receivers during individual drills, as he did Tuesday. White joked that he would be bored for the rest of camp. FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH THURSDAY 1. Josh Wilson, CB: The veteran is getting a chance to compete at the nickel back spot with McClain and Arenas. McClain and Arenas made their presence known the first two days. Now it's Wilson's turn. 2. Prince Shembo, ILB: The Falcons brought Jonathan Vilma in for a workout but didn't sign him or any other veteran. They obviously have faith in their young linebackers following Sean Weatherspoon's season-ending Achilles tear. Shembo might have the biggest upside of them all and needs to show it going into training camp. 3. Ra'Shede Hageman, DE: All the fans have asked about Hageman's progress, but he hasn't been too noticeable just yet. But that could be a good thing, too, because it means he's not making blatant mistakes, either. 4. Darius Johnson, WR: Johnson made a strong impression as an undrafted signee last year. With another undrafted receiver, Reedy, earning recognition, Johnson might want to step up his game so he's not forgotten. 5. Peter Konz, C: Konz was supposed to get a chance to compete for the starting job at center, but Joe Hawley is a lock, barring injury. Now the coaches are starting to give Mike Johnson reps at center. Konz already lost his starting job. Could he lose out as the backup, too?
  4. http://espn.go.com/n...cipate-minicamp Coach excuses WR Roddy White Updated: June 17, 2014, 6:40 PM ETBy Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White will not participate in the team's mandatory minicamp this week, coach Mike Smith said following Tuesday's first day of the three-day camp. "We're going to hold Roddy out through the rest of our minicamp, and he'll be ready to go with us in training camp," Smith said. "We just felt like he needed to get some rest. He worked with us four days. We wanted to see where he was at. He worked extremely hard, so we're going to give him some time and let some of these young guys work." White was excused from the bulk of organized team activities after his younger brother, Tyrone Moore Jr., was shot to death back at home in South Carolina. White addressed the shooting following Tuesday's practice. "It's always hard for me to deal with," White said. "Every day, I think about him. Just being the older brother, when you grow up in a single-parent home, you're trying to raise your little brother and he's always around you. It's difficult because it's always a piece of you always missing, always gone. That's been really frustrating for me; when you go through hard times, go through difficult times and things like that. But it's important to just remember him and just try to do things that he would do. He was a very happy guy, always smiling and things like that. Charismatic. I just keep those things with me. I've got tons of pictures in my house that I keep around, so he's always going to be with me on and off the football field through the rest of my life." White praised his coaches and teammates, particularly fellow receivers Julio Jones andHarry Douglas, for supporting him through such a difficult time. "It was a real emotional time for me," White said. "And for them to help me get through that was tremendous. And I really appreciate everything they've done for me to this point. ... We always think about football and things like that. Family always come first in that circumstance. Just for those guys to just be around and just help me through this time right now, man, is very, very special. There's going to always be a place in my heart that I keep those guys because they've done such a good job to this point." With White out for minicamp, the Falcons will be without their top two receivers until training camp. Jones is being held out after undergoing right foot surgery last year. Jones stood on the sideline and watched practice and caught a few passes from Douglas before practice began. "I feel great," Jones said. "I'm back doing the little things that I used to do. I'm back to the old Julio. I feel like I'm actually stronger now because I've been doing back squats; getting my quads stronger. Muscles in my hamstrings. That might have been a problem as well ... to balance my strength in my quads, my hamstrings, my glutes, everything to make sure everything is equal so I don't put that amount of force and pressure on the outside of my foot." Jones seems to be walking normally and looked fine running routes during OTAs. As for White, he did wear a compression sock on his left leg Tuesday, but he wore the same sock when he participated at the end of OTAs. Last year, he was slowed by ankle and hamstring injuries. White is expected to sign a contract extension before the start of the regular season. He is signed through 2014 and has a cap number of $6.35 million this season.
  5. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/5835/jackson-welcomes-backfield-competition Jackson welcomes backfield competition May, 28, 2014 MAY 28 7:15 PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson, with his powerful legs and broad shoulders, always looks ready to deliver punishment rather than absorb it. But Jackson, who turns 31 on July 22, understands his body won't hold up forever. And he knows for as long as he plays, they'll be younger guys brought in to push him for carries. [+] Enlarge AP Photo/John BazemoreSteven Jackson says there's a good give and take between him and the young running backs."We're talking about Year 11 and right now, the way that the trend is going for the running backs, that's a long time," Jackson said. "So I want to make sure that not only do I stay mentally sharp, I stay physically sharp because year in and year out, you have young guys coming in and everybody wants to be the starting running back." This year, the Falcons drafted Florida State's Devonta Freeman in the fourth round with the thought of developing him into the future, three-down back. During a glimpse at rookie minicamp, Freeman showed his elusiveness and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Regardless, Jackson's not looking over his shoulder. "I love it. It feeds me," Jackson said of competition. "I think we learn a lot from each other. It's an honest tradeoff. Those young guys learn from, you know, my experience over the years -- what I can help them on the field, what I can convey to them that a coach possibly may not be able to understand and see it through their eyes. "At the same time, they bring that youthfulness. They bring that edge to me to make sure that I stay sharp and that I don't get complacent. It's a fair tradeoff. And our room, as a core, I think we all get along. I think we all work together well. And it's going to be great going into the season." Jackson didn't have to share reps with Freeman during Wednesday's organized team activities because Freeman was excused for the NFLPA rookie premiere. Jackson has been around Freeman enough to get a feel for the rookie's demeanor and ability. "Very humble kid," Jackson said of Freeman. "In his humbleness, you can see he's eager and ready to go. Very shifty. Able to run inside and outside. Everything that you read about him in the stat sheet and his bio is true. And I've just been impressed with him these last two days that I've been with him." The Falcons suffered miserably in the run game last season, finishing dead last at just 77.9 yards per game while averaging less than 4 yards per carry. A healthy Jackson, the addition of Freeman, and a major makeover on the offensive line could lead to a more substantial run game in 2014.
  6. Falcons offseason wrap-up May, 22, 2014 By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Atlanta Falcons' offseason moves. Best move: Drafting offensive tackle Jake Matthews. He is an NFL-ready player with sound technique and strong NFL bloodlines. The Falcons sorely needed stability along the offensive line to help protect Matt Ryan and revive a listless rushing attack. Matthews will be solid for years to come. Adding Matthews and free-agent guard Jon Asamoah should keep the offensive line from being pushed around as often as last season. Riskiest move: Not securing a proven pass-rusher in free agency or a promising one via the draft. Instead, the Falcons beefed up with run-stuffers in Paul Soliai, Tyson Jackson, and rookie Ra'Shede Hageman, although Hageman could be a key figure in terms of pressuring quarterbacks and batting down balls at the line of scrimmage. The Falcons are counting on their outside linebackers to provide the rush while the defensive front keeps the offensive line occupied. Most surprising move: Drafting Wisconsin safety Dez Southward in the third round. Sure, Southward has the potential to develop into a dependable player, but he was projected to go lower in the draft and really doesn't do anything spectacular. The Falcons cut starting free safety Thomas DeCoud with thoughts of upgrading the position. There's no guarantee they did so with the additions of Southward and unknown veteran Dwight Lowery. Underrated move: Something tells me that getting running back Devonta Freeman in the fourth round of the draft is really going to pay off. Freeman looked faster than advertised and caught the ball extremely well in shorts during rookie minicamp. Likely starter Steven Jackson recently tweeted about how competition would be a good thing. Well, Freeman's possible emergence could help elevate Jackson's game. http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcsouth
  7. Friday, May 2, 2014 Caught in the draft: Taylor Lewan By Vaughn McClure We conclude a week-long series on the top prospects the Atlanta Falcons are likely to consider with the sixth overall pick or higher with a look at Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan. Brady Hoke admires Lewan. The Michigan Wolverines head coach knows Lewan turned back a tremendous opportunity when the offensive tackle decided to return to school for a fifth season. "We had a discussion right after the (2012 season) bowl game, we talked about ... he probably would have been the first guy taken, to be honest with you," Hoke said. "The tackle (Eric) Fisher went (first overall) to Kansas City. But No. 1, Taylor wanted to come back and win a championship. He wanted to come back and be a leader because he knew we were going to be really, really young up front, offensively. I think he also knew that there was a development. Getting stronger in the upper body was one of the things we talked about, and just continuing the maturity process." Despite some off-the-field issues that have been tied to Lewan, including a pending case on misdemeanor assault charges, Hoke fully supports his former player. "He’s an awfully special young man to me," Hoke said. "I’m very proud of him. He has continued to grow, in my opinion, every day." Mean streak: On the field, there’s no doubt about Lewan’s approach: He’s nasty. At one point, maybe he was a little too nasty. "Through his career at Michigan, he probably went over the line early in his career a couple of times," Hoke said. "As far as him wanting to finish every play and compete for 60 minutes against the guy and at the end, that guy having the respect for him on how he competed on every play is something that he prides himself in." When Hoke talked about Lewan going over the line, the coach made sure to clarify he was talking about a younger, less mature Lewan. "This is really before we got here," said Hoke, who took over at Michigan in January of 2011. "He had a few penalties after the ball was whistled dead, let’s put it that way. As far as you getting him to understand that dumb penalties hurt the team -- there’s going to be some that are uncontrollable -- he just plays with an intensity about him." Next in line: The Wolverines have produced their share of high-caliber offensive linemen, including first-round picks Jake Long, Steve Hutchinson, and Jeff Backus along with second-rounder John Jansen. Hoke, who was an assistant coach at Michigan from 1995-2002, views Lewan as a mix of them. "There are characteristic things as well as physical things that, to me, Taylor has a little bit of all of them," Hoke said. "He’s got a little bit of (Jon) Runyan's nastiness. He’s got the footwork, and always thought Jansen and Long had great footwork when you look at pass sets and those kinds of things. Hutchinson and Backus were pretty good road-graders, even though Hutchinson was a guard. You can see Taylor and his bend being able to do that also." The 6-foot-7-inch Lewan weighs 309 pounds. At the NFL combine, he had 29 reps in the bench press and ran the fastest 40 time among offensive lineman at 4.87 seconds. "From his physical standpoint, his length and all those things are impressive," Hoke said. "But his athleticism and his explosiveness on the line of scrimmage and his ability to play with great leverage and his bend. He’s got very good feet. When you look at the pass protections and then staying on guys and finishing from the mentality that he has, he’s a guy who plays offensive tackle but really has a defensive mentality about how he wants to compete." Check the film: Top draft prospect Jadeveon Clowney, the defensive end from South Carolina, became a national sensation when he put that big hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl two seasons ago. But Hoke believes Lewan made a statement in the same game. "The South Carolina film against Clowney, I think he played really a great football game," Hoke said of Lewan. "That was a test. That was a challenge. It really kind of told you about his preparation that he put in and his competitive nature." Hoke also pointed to this past season’s game against Ohio State, during which the Buckeyes squeezed out a 42-41 win. "This last year, he wore many hats," Hoke said. "We had a true freshman tight end lined up next to him and a true freshman offensive guard. He had a little more responsibility than most guys who are playing with a group of veterans. He did everything that he could, from a leadership standpoint and a teaching standpoint, to help those guys understand the offensive scheme and the nature of playing [as] an offensive lineman at the University of Michigan."
  8. Wednesday, April 16, 2014 Time for Falcons to get a look at tackles By Vaughn McClure Don't be surprised if Auburn tackle Greg Robinson's name surfaces in relation to workouts or visits conducted by the Atlanta Falcons over the next week or so. The Falcons definitely could target an offensive tackle if they keep the sixth overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft. And they've reportedly already worked out top tackle prospects Jake Matthewsfrom Texas A&M and Taylor Lewan from Michigan, so Robinson naturally would be next up in the workout circuit. The Falcons also continue to bring in top players for visits, and Matthews has a visit scheduled for next week. So it would only make sense for both Robinson and Lewan to make the trek to Atlanta, too, if they haven't already. ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay believe the Falcons will take Matthews with the sixth pick, although Kiper's opinion could change when his latest mock draft appears this week. At least one mock draft, posted this week by NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, has Robinson falling to the Falcons at No. 6 with the St. Louis Rams taking Matthews with the second overall pick. There also has been talked this week of Robinson being worthy of consideration as the first overall pick, currently held by the Houston Texans. However it all unfolds, the Falcons will have options. Protection still seems to be issue that needs to be addressed first over adding another pass-rusher, although Buffalo's Khalil Mack would be hard to pass up if he falls to No. 6. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney should be the top pick and likely won't fall to the Falcons. He is expected to visit Atlanta in the next few weeks, but don't count on him being a Falcon. Matthews, Robinson or Lewan would be the safe bets.
  9. The Atlanta Falcons are sure to take a close look at a number of top prospects before the May 8 NFL draft, including players they've already seen up close recently. [+] Enlarge Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsMinnesota defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman is on the radar of the Falcons, who feel he can fit into any defensive scheme. Last week, they conducted a private workout with Minnesota defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman, according to league source. Hageman was on the North team coached by the Falcons at this year's Senior Bowl. He spent a lot of time with new Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox. During the Senior Bowl week, Falcons head coach Mike Smith raved about how Hageman had the talent to play in any defensive scheme. With the Falcons moving toward a 3-4-based setup, Hageman could project as a defensive end in such a system. Some experts say he's too tall, a 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, to play defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme. Whatever the case, Cox certainly took an interest in Hageman at the Senior Bowl. At one point, he rode Hageman about running behind for a meeting with a team. Cox's tough love symbolized the potential he sees in the talented linemen. Hageman, who has drawn comparisons to John Henderson, has been projected as a late first- or early second-round pick. The Falcons seem destined to address their need for either an offensive tackle or pass rusher if they keep the sixth overall pick. They own the fifth pick (37th overall) in the second round. It makes you wonder if they might consider Hageman if he's still on the board by then, although safety is likely to be a more pressing need if one doesn't fall out of the sky soon. Getting bigger and tougher up front has been the Falcons' theme this offseason. On the defensive side, it meant the additions of nose tackle Paul Soliai and run-stuffing defensive endTyson Jackson. If Corey Peters isn't recovered from an Achilles' injury by the start of the season, the Falcons could need another young body up front at the other defensive end spot. Hageman, a converted tight end, still is viewed as a raw talent although he'll enter the league as a 24-year-old rookie. Skeptics say he gets stood up too many times at the line of scrimmage. Hageman comes from a rough background, having bounced around foster homes before being adopted, as detailed in this excellent piece written by ESPN's Adam Rittenberg.
  10. Falcons have to get run game going The Atlanta Falcons lost a solid player when running back Jason Snelling decided to retire on Tuesday. But now, it's time for them to move forward. Snelling, a former seventh-round pick from Virginia, was a rather productive player over the last seven seasons. He showed his value running the ball, catching passes out of the backfield, and performing on special teams. You almost knew he was going to score off the shovel pass when the Falcons put him in during goal-line situations. His three touchdown receptions in 2013 were the most for any Falcons running back. Only Snelling knows why he decided to call it quit at the age of 30 -- he cited family reasons -- but he had a pretty good shelf life for a player at that position. No matter if Snelling was in the mix or not, the Falcons knew they had to find a way to ignite their running game for the 2014 season. They finished dead last in the league with an average of 77.9 rushing yards per game in '13. So how do they improve? For starters, veteran bruiser Steven Jackson will be counted upon more heavily to pick up the tough yards after battling a hamstring injury for a good part of last season. Jackson, who turns 31 in July, showed signs of his old self in the second half of last year. The Falcons expect Jackson to keep that momentum going as they look to establish more offensive balance. The next step will be improving the offensive line to help pave holes for Jackson and the other running backs. New offensive line coach Mike Tice won't tolerate seeing his guys get pushed back, as they were most of last season. The Falcons need to add a veteran right guard and probably draft an offensive tackle in order to get tougher up front. Then there are the guys Steven Jackson: Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith. Rodgers had 1,248 all-purpose yards and gave the offense a change of pace, although he was probably called upon too much in short-yardage situations. Smith averaged a whopping 29 yards per carry on his five attempts, including a 50-yard touchdown sprint. Coach Mike Smith promised Smith would get more touches, but an increased role never truly evolved. Smith works hard on special teams and probably deserves more touches on offense. Of course, the Falcons are likely to draft a running back to throw into the mix. West Virginia's Charles Sims, projected third-round pick, already has gotten some attention from the Falcons. However it all unfolds, the Falcons will miss some of the aspects Snelling brings in terms of being a reliable back. But if the others perform up to expectations, he won't be missed as much.
  11. Friday, February 21, 2014 Dimitroff: No offers to free agents yet! Link: http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/print?id=4054 By Vaughn McClure INDIANAPOLIS -- Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said the team has yet to extend any contract offers to its own impending free agents. The group includes defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry along with offensive linemen Mike Johnson, Joe Hawley, Jeremy Trueblood and Sean Locklear, tight end Chase Coffman, linebacker Omar Gaither and cornerback Dominique Franks. "We have not made any decision as of yet," Dimitroff said Friday at the NFL combine. "Again, we're still in the recalibration mode right now. Coming here and leaving the combine having viewed the next class will give us much more of an idea of where we're going with our moves." The aforementioned players become unrestricted agents on March 11 after 4 p.m. The Falcons are allowed to negotiate with representatives of free agents from other teams on March 8. In other contract news, Dimitroff didn't commit to giving receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White contract extensions before the start of the 2014 season, although such deals are expected to be made at some point. Dimitroff said the emphasis right now is the unrestricted free agents. "The guys who are under contract right now, they're our focus, they're always going to be our focus, but we're trying to figure out where we're going to go before we dig into restructuring, renegotiating or adding on to contracts," Dimitroff said. Both Jones and White are signed through 2014. Here are a few more items from Dimitroff's press conference: •Dimitroff once again reiterated he is open to trading up in the draft, as he first stated during the Senior Bowl. The Falcons currently have the sixth overall pick. •Dimitroff also reiterated he has no plans of talking Tony Gonzalez out of retirement. Gonzalez has signed on as an analyst with CBS. •Dimitroff said he anticipated getting "two to three" compensatory draft picks this year.
  12. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/3497/o-line-self-evaluation-garrett-reynolds O-line self-evaluation: Garrett Reynolds January, 15, 2014 JAN 15 8:00 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com As he stood on the sideline in street clothes for the season finale against Carolina, Atlanta Falcons offensive guard Garrett Reynolds looked over to a reporter during pregame warm-ups and shrugged his shoulders. Reynolds wasn't exactly sure how to explain falling from starting right guard to being inactive to end the season. The demotion spoke to his struggles throughout the 2013 campaign. With Reynolds due to count more than $1.5 million against the salary cap in 2014, his days with the Falcons seem likely to be over. Reynolds understands the reality of the business, although he has kept a positive outlook throughout. "It is hard not being a starter,'' Reynolds said. "Your role changes throughout the year. It says a lot about you ... sometimes, things don't work out how you want them to, but what you do then says a lot about you. I just kept coming to work and tried to keep getting these guys ready as can be. It's not about me. It's about the team and the team doing well.'' Here's Reynolds' self-evaluation of the ‘13 season: Garrett Reynolds Position: right guard Age: 26 Contract status: Signed through 2014 ($1,578,750 cap number in ‘14) 2013 games played/starts: 15/10 Snaps: 682 Overview: Reynolds, a former fifth-round draft pick from North Carolina, started the first nine games of the season at right guard before benched in favor of demoted starting center Peter Konz. Reynolds briefly regained his starting spot but was benched again in favor of Konz. The 6-foot-9, 310-pound Reynolds got pushed back way too many times. His inability to block consistently became clearly evident early in the season, particularly against the New York Jets. Reynolds played just eight snaps over the last five games, mainly as the extra lineman in the heavy package. Reynolds' self-evaluation: "For me, I have to keep working on some things. I've been playing for a couple of years so I have learned a lot, but I still struggle with just sitting on a bull rush sometimes. So, that's something that I have to continue work on.'' Thursday: Justin Blalock
  13. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/3462/offensive-line-self-evaluation-joe-hawley Offensive line self-evaluation: Joe Hawley January, 13, 2014 JAN 13 8:00 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com Joe Hawley doesn’t want his last memory in an Atlanta Falcons uniform to be that forgettable bad snap against Carolina in the season’s final game. The center and former fourth-round draft pick from UNLV is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11. Hawley drew high praise from head coach Mike Smith when he supplanted Peter Konz as the starting center and made an immediate impact in terms of keeping the pocket clean for quarterback Matt Ryan. Did the undersized Hawley (6-foot-3, 302 pounds) show enough to be the team’s center of the future? "I hope that they give me that opportunity,’’ Hawley said. "I think I’ve proven that I belong as a starting center in this league. Hopefully they’ll give me a chance to come back and show that I’m that guy.’’ Here’s Hawley's self-evaluation of the 2013 season: Joe Hawley Position: center Age: 25 Contract status: Unrestricted free agent 2013 games played/starts: 16/7 Snaps: 539 Overview: Hawley started the season as the extra lineman in the heavy package. He surpassed Konz as the starting center in Week 11 at Tampa Bay and then really opened eyes with a strong showing against the Saints in Week 12 while facing a tough defensive front. More than anything, Hawley brought a little bit of an edge to a line that needed to show more toughness. Hawley's self-evaluation: "Personally, I’m happy with the way I stepped in and played. Obviously, we didn’t get the outcome we wanted as a team. I competed in training camp for the starting job. I didn’t get it. I kept working every week like I was the starter. I wanted to show them that I was ready when the opportunity was presented. So when I got the opportunity, nothing really changed. I just went out there and did what I knew I could. I felt like I played well. Obviously, I need to work on getting everybody on the same page together and getting the line to work better together. But, I thought I played well.’’ Tuesday: Lamar Holmes
  14. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/3472/offensive-line-self-evaluation-lamar-holmes O-line self-evaluation: Lamar Holmes January, 14, 2014 JAN 14 8:00 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com It remains unclear what role offensive tackle Lamar Holmes will play for the Atlanta Falconsin 2014, if he has a role at all. The organization firmly believed Holmes had Pro Bowl potential going into this past season. He didn't show too many signs of such promise. With even team owner Arthur Blank calling for more toughness along the offensive line, Holmes could be on the outside looking in, depending on what acquisitions the Falcons make this offseason. Sam Baker seems to be on solid ground, provided he comes back healthy off a knee injury. The Falcons could add a tackle via free agency, although it's unlikely to be a high-priced player. And there is still speculation on whether the Falcons might target Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews or Auburn tackle Greg Robinson with the sixth overall pick. Holmes hopes to remain in the mix somewhere. "Whatever role that's given to me, I'll just embrace it and run with it,'' Holmes said. "Hopefully I'll have a major role and be a focal point on this offensive line.'' Here's Holmes self-evaluation of the 2013 season: Lamar Holmes Position: tackle Age: 24 Contract status: Signed through 2015 ($703,400 cap number in 2014) 2013 games played/starts: 16/15 Snaps: 1,052 Overview: Holmes, a former third-round draft pick, was thrust into the starting lineup during his second season after Mike Johnson suffered a season-ending dislocated left ankle and fibula fracture. Holmes admitted being out of shape at the start of the season but worked on his conditioning throughout. He began the season as the starting right tackle, came off the bench for one game against New England and finished the season as the starting left tackle due to Baker's season-ending injury. Holmes showed a few flashes but took a significant step back against Brian Orakpo of the Washington Redskins in Week 15. Holmes' self-evaluation: "I progressed throughout the year. Each game, I progressed and got better and better and better. Hopefully, I can continue to get better in the offseason; get stronger and get more knowledge of the game. I just need to continue to get better.'' Wednesday: Garrett Reynolds
  15. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/3452/offensive-line-self-evaluation-ryan-schraeder O-line self-evaluation: Ryan Schraeder January, 12, 2014 JAN 12 10:00 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com As he walked into retirement, Hall of Fame-bound tight end Tony Gonzalez made sure to point out one Atlanta Falcon he thought had a bright future: Ryan Schraeder. The young right tackle was well aware of Gonzalez’s kind words. ``It means a lot coming from a guy who I idolized growing up in Kansas,’’ Schraeder said of Gonzalez, who started his career with Kansas City. ``To be his teammate and pick up little things from him, obviously he’s done a lot of things right so there was a lot to learn from him. Hopefully I can live up to his expectations.’’ Being singled out by Gonzalez is part of the reason Schraeder believes he should be the team’s right tackle of the future. ``I definitely do feel that,’’ Schraeder said. ``I’m confident in my ability. I love the game. And I feel like it’s a role I can grow into. I’m just looking forward to getting right for next season and getting ready to go.’’ Here’s Schraeder’s self-evaluation of the 2013 season: Ryan Schraeder Position: right tackle Age: 25 Contract status: Signed through 2015 ($585,677 cap number in 2014) 2013 games played/starts: 13/4 Snaps: 306 Overview: Schraeder, an undrafted rookie from Valdosta State (Ga.), took over the starting role at right tackle late in the season after showing promise as the jumbo tight end. His performance against a rather strong San Francisco 49ers defensive front drew rave reviews from the coaches. It made you wonder why he didn’t get a chance to start ahead of Jeremy Trueblood earlier in the season. Schraeder definitely has a mean streak in him and is full of confidence. The 6-foot-7, 300-pound Schraeder is yet another project for new offensive line coach Mike Tice. Schraeder’s self-evaluation: ``I just have to get bigger, stronger; improve my technique. I have to work my tail off and good things will happen. There were a lot of positives, a couple of negatives. And [the negatives] suck because it hurts when it affects the game. You just want to do better. I feel like I’ve taken some big steps, gone against some good players. And I feel confident in my ability. Just have to keep working and getting better.’’ Monday: Joe Hawley
  16. http://espn.go.com/b...on-harland-gunn Offensive line self-evaluation: Harland Gunn JAN 11 11:0 By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com NT No one expected much from Harland Gunn during the 2013 season, so it was a bonus when the Atlanta Falcons offensive guard showed an ability to run block late in the season. http://a.espncdn.com...ansparent=falseGunn In fact, he probably showed more promise than any other right guard at season’s end, with Garrett Reynolds losing his starting job to demoted centerPeter Konz, then Konz losing reps to Gunn. Not to say Gunn is the answer at the position. He still has a lot of growing to do. He might, however, be a player new offensive line coch Mike Tice can develop and get the best out of. Here’s Gunn's self-evaluation of his limited playing time in ’13: Harland Gunn Position: guard Age: 24 Contract statuss: Signed through 2014 ($570,000 cap number in 2014) 2013 games played/starts: 3/0 Snaps: 93 Overview: Gunn was inactive for the first 13 games before the coaching staff decided it was time to give him a long look. The former undrafted player from Miami (Fla.) actually made an immediate impact as a blocker, though Gunn wasn’t quite ready for prime time after watching from the sideline so long. Since Gunn is inexpensive, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Falcons kept him around for depth. But he’s probably not ready to be a starter despite some positive signs. Gunn’s self-evaluation: "I felt like it was an awesome experience; it was a great learning experience, especially how it all played out. Of course I didn’t play in the earlier parts of the season, but I played in the last parts of it. I got to get some last-minute experience. It was a great deal for me to take everything that I learned from playing in the last few games and carry that into the offseason with my training and getting my skills better and really coming out next year and being a true contributing player to the team. Game experience is everything in this league. You get to learn guys, learn how the game is played, learn the tempo of it. "One thing I’m really focusing on this offseason is this is a passing league, so, as always, I’m going to get bigger, faster, and stronger. But I really want to focus on my skills and honing in on how focused I am with my skill work and executing.’’ Sunday: Ryan Schraeder
  17. http://espn.go.com/b...from-pcl-injury Free-agent-to-be Jerry still recovering January, 10, 2014 JAN 10 3:35 PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com Atlanta Falcons Falcons defensive tackle Peria Jerry, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent, is recovering from a posterior cruciate ligament knee sprain suffered in the season finale, according to a league source familiar with Jerry’s status. http://a.espncdn.com...ansparent=falseJerryIt is unclear what grade of sprain Jerry suffered, but PCL sprains typically take four-to-six weeks to heal. Such injuries usually don’t require surgery. In a sense, that’s good news for Jerry. It doesn't appear to be a serious injury that would significantly alter his standing should he draw any type of interest on the open market. However, Jerry hasn’t performed up to first-round expectations, in large part, due to injury. He played in two games as a rookie in 2009 before suffering a season-ending knee injury. This past season, he endured a toe injury throughout the season but played in all 16 games, starting 14. Jerry had a base salary of $905,000 in 2013 and counted $2.10 million against the salary cap. He had 33 tackles and 3.5 sacks and showed flashes in the final game against Carolina prior to exiting with the knee injury. Of course, the Falcons want better production from the defensive line as a whole, so changes are expected up front. If the Falcons can keep Jerry for a reasonable price, he might get another chance at living up to his first-round potential. The Falcons are highly unlikely to overpay for him. Jerry isn’t the only Falcons defensive lineman headed to free agency. Defensive tacklesJonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters also have expiring contracts. General manager Thomas Dimitroff recently praised Babineaux and expressed a desire to keep the 32-year-old veteran, and Babineaux was the most consistent defensive line performer this in terms of pressure. Peters, 25, suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the second-to-last game and is recovering after surgery. The ability of players, such as Terrell Suggs and Michael Crabtree, to quickly recover from Achilles injuries is a positive sign for Peters moving forward. Peters was second on the team with five sacks, behind defensive end Osi Umenyiora (7.5). The Falcons are likely to have their new defensive line coach evaluate the entire group before deciding which players will be let go or brought back, although the front office might already have those plans mapped out. Defensive line coach Ray Hamilton was fired after the end of the season, leaving a void on the staff. A source told ESPN.com the Falcons were in the process of interviewing former Tampa Bay assistant coach Bryan Cox for the defensive line coach position. Cox was designated as the Bucs' pass rush specialist but was not retained by new coach Lovie Smith. The Falcons previously requested permission to interview Cleveland Browns defensive line coach Joe Cullen, but Cullen joined Smith and the Buccaneers. Jerry, Babineaux, and Peters officially become free agents on March 11 after 4 p.m. ET.
  18. Edit: I made a mistake in reading the tweet. I apologize. He is in the running for OL coach. Edit 2: I was actually a few minutes late in posting my incorrect thread. Please visit the other thread if you'd like. @vxmcclure23: Don't be surprised if Mike Tice is named the new offensive line coach for the Atlanta Falcons.
  19. http://espn.go.com/b.../_/id/3269/3269 JAN 2 2:00 PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com RECOMMEND1 TWEET11 COMMENTS1 EMAIL PRINT Arrow indicates direction team is trending. Final Power Ranking: 26 Preseason Power Ranking: 4 Biggest surprise: Paul Worrilow came to the Falcons as an undrafted rookie from Delaware just trying to make an impression on special teams. Injuries at linebacker gave him an opportunity to step into the lineup, and he proceeded to earn a starting job. His back-to-back 19-tackle performances against Carolina and Seattle made doubters start to take him seriously. Worrilow's ability to play multiple linebacker positions impressed the coaching staff. He reached double digits in tackles in six straight games from Weeks 9 to 14. He has become a better blitzer and improved his coverage skills, although Worrilow would be the first to say he still has a long way to go. Biggest disappointment: The offensive line as a whole. Although the group lost Todd McClure to retirement, Tyson Clabo to the Miami Dolphinsand Mike Johnson to a preseason injury, the line was expected to show improvement throughout the season. Such wasn't the case, at least not until the year was nearly over. Losing left tackleSam Baker to season-ending knee surgery didn't help, although Baker obviously wasn't the same player he was last season before being placed on injured reserve. Tackles Lamar Holmes andJeremy Trueblood, guard Garrett Reynolds and center Peter Konz were all benched at some point during the season. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter helped cover up the line's inability to pass block consistently by asking quarterback Matt Ryan to take shorter drops and deliver the ball quicker. But the Falcons couldn't mask the line's inability to run block. The Falcons have to upgrade the line either through free agency or the draft. Biggest need: While the offensive line definitely needs to be addressed, the Falcons have an equally pressing need on the other side of the ball. Opposing quarterbacks had it rather easy this season as the Falcons failed to generate much of a pass rush. General manager Thomas Dimitroff no doubt has done his homework on possible pass-rushers capable of having an immediate impact as a disruptive force. Free agency could be an option, but the name most talked about is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the most physically gifted player in the draft. But draft positioning might be an issue if the Falcons desire to add Clowney. Dimitroff has rolled the dice in moving up in the draft before (seeJulio Jones). Team MVP: Is there any doubt? Tony Gonzalez opted not to retire in order to chase that elusive Super Bowl ring. When the Falcons became the first team to be eliminated from playoff contention, Gonzalez didn't sulk or regret his decision. He simply continued to go out and perform at a high level every day, showing the younger players what true professionalism is all about. Gonzalez played through the pain of a nagging toe injury and didn't miss a game. The only time he truly rested was when the Falcons went with an extra tackle and asked him not to block on certain plays. Despite facing double-teams throughout the season, the 37-year-old Gonzalez continued to find ways to get open and be the sure-handed receiver he's always been. The offense will miss his unique skills. The team will miss his galvanizing leadership. GRADING THE ATLANTA FALCONS Position Grade Analysis Quarterbacks Although Matt Ryan surpassed Steven Bartkowski to become the Falcons' career leading passer with 23,472 yards, Ryan would be the first to say he failed to reach expectations after signing a six-year, $103 million contract. He threw a career-high 17 interceptions and was sacked a career-high 44 times. Running Backs New acquisition Steven Jackson was slowed by an early-season hamstring injury but ran with more authority toward the end of the season. Still, the Falcons as a whole didn't provide enough balance with the running game and finished dead last in the league in rushing at 77.9 yards per game. Wide Receivers Losing Julio Jones to a season-ending foot injury severely depleted the group. Harry Douglas stepped up with his first 1,000-yard season, but he was far from flawless. And Roddy White didn't find his rhythm until the end of the season while battling ankle and hamstring injuries. He did catch 43 passes for 502 yards and two touchdowns over the final five games. Tight Ends Retiring tight end Tony Gonzalez was the only true constant on offense as he finished second on the team with 83 catches and first with eight touchdown receptions. He wasn't called upon to block a lot, and the Falcons could have used a true blocking tight end. Contributions from rookie Levine Toilolo and Chase Coffman were minimal. Offensive Line Allowing Ryan to be sacked the third-most times in the league was one thing, but the line also struggled to open any holes in the running game. The fact that left guard Justin Blalock was the only regular starter not to get benched was telling. An overhaul is needed, although rookie right tackle Ryan Schraeder has some upside. Defensive Line The Falcons allowed opponents to convert 45.93 percent on third down, and an ineffective pass rush had a lot to do with it. In terms of sacks per pass play, the Falcons ranked 25th of 32 teams. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux was the only consistent performer, but his pressure didn't result in sacks. Linebackers This grade should be incomplete based on the season-ending injury suffered by Kroy Biermann and the eight games Sean Weatherspoon missed due to injury. Undrafted rookies Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu exceeded expectations but still made mistakes. Vets Stephen Nicholas and Akeem Dent lost their starting jobs, partly due to injury. Secondary Safety William Moore was solid and came up with some big turnovers and first-round cornerback Desmond Trufantdisplayed his star potential. But as a whole, the group contributed to the Falcons, surrendering 41 plays of 25-plus yards, including 26 plays of 40-plus yards. Safety SafetyThomas DeCoud admitted tackling was an issue for him. Special Teams Matt Bosher was solid as a punt returner, Matt Bryant was fairly reliable as a kicker and Antone Smith was a beast in coverage. But the Falcons needed to break a few long ones in the return game, although Robert McClain was close. Penalties hurt too. Coaching The grade could have been lower, but Mike Smith and crew did the best with what they had based on significant injuries and inexperience. Smith also motivated his players enough not to quit, even after being the first team eliminated from playoff contention. Coordinators Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan will be back next season but need to tweak some things. Failures on the lines led to the Falcons' parting ways with offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn and defensive line coach Ray Hamilton.
  20. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/3153/w2w4-falcons-vs-panthers W2W4: Falcons vs. Panthers December, 28, 2013 DEC 28 8:00 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com Although the Atlanta Falcons' final game of 2013 is all about one individual, there will be plenty of other aspects of the game worth monitoring. Here is what to watch for as the Falcons attempt to spoil the Carolina Panthers’ chances of winning the NFC South title: Tony, Tony, Tony: As Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalezexited practice Friday afternoon, he told the person chatting on the phone with him that he just finished his final NFL practice. Then Gonzalez assured the caller he wouldn’t renege on that statement. Yes, Gonzalez’s illustrious 17-year career will come to a close Sunday. And there is sure to be plenty of hype surrounding his final Georgia Dome appearance. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Gonzalez tear up a bit based on the magnitude of the moment and the likely reception he’ll receive throughout Sunday’s game. Gonzalez has 40 people coming to town for the festivities. "It’s going to be a little emotional,’’ Gonzalez said. He deserves a hero’s sendoff. Baby steps: Ryan Schraeder drew rave review from the coaching staff for his strong performance against Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith and the San Francisco 49ers’ pass rush. Now the rookie right tackle has to build off that momentum and put together another solid outing against another one of the best defensive fronts in football. "It’s a real tough machup for him this week against Carolina,’’ offensive line coach Pat Hill said of Schraeder. The Falcons actually did a solid job against Carolina’s defensive line in Week 9, holding the Panthers to one sack. Schraeder is likely to square off against left defensive end Charles Johnson, who has nine sacks. Chip off the block: Speaking of Carolina’s pass rush, right defensive end Greg Hardyactually leads the team with 11 sacks, meaning the Panthers have a lethal pair along with other players capable of getting to Falcons QB Matt Ryan. Against the 49ers, the Falcons seemed to do an inordinate amount of chipping, using running backs and tight ends to get chip blocks on the pass-rushers. Will offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter do the same Sunday? "You’ve probably seen more of it than you think, you just probably didn’t notice it,’’ Koetter said of how he’s utilized chipping this season. "Chipping on great pass-rushers, that’s a mainstay in the NFL these days. … It did jump out in the last game because between Drew Davis, Tony [Gonzalez], Steven Jackson, Jacquizz [Rodgers], and Jason [snelling], there were multiple good shots. It definitely helped in our protection.’’ Free for all: Sunday could be the last game in a Falcons uniform for players such as defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry, both of whom are set to become unrestricted free agents. Babineaux has proven his worth all season, leaving the Falcons to decide whether they want invest in a 32-year-old defensive lineman. Jerry should get more opportunities inside after Corey Peters’ season ended prematurely due to an Achilles’ injury. Some veteran players under contract beyond this season might have to make a lasting impression on Sunday, too, or else their Falcons futures could be in doubt.
  21. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/3062/falcons-offensive-line-finally-shows-progress Falcons' offensive line shows progress December, 25, 2013 DEC 25 8:00 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons' coaching staff got an early Christmas gift Monday night: improved play on the offensive line. No, it was not a strong enough performance to wipe out every bad memory from this season. But it was an encouraging sign from a unit that was expected to be dominated by a San Francisco 49ers front seven touted as arguably the best in the NFL. Falcons coach Mike Smith hasn’t singled out the play of an offensive lineman too often this season. Tuesday afternoon, he singled out three. Although quarterback Matt Ryan did a masterful job improvising at times, his pocket was clean for the most part, which helped him complete a career-high 37 passes. He was sacked just once and was able to go deep more than he had all season. "The interior of the pocket was a little more stout," Smith said. "I thought that we did a very good job with scheming, with chipping, helping and having backs chip out, tight ends chip out before they went into their routes. "The two tackles [Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder], they had tough draws. I thought they handled it well. I thought Matt [had a] very good pocket as well. And I really feel, after watching the tape on the ride back and watching it this morning, that Joe Hawley did a nice job cleaning the pocket up." Hawley has been solid at center since taking the starting job away from Peter Konz, so his performance wasn’t that shocking. But Holmes held his own at left tackle against pass-rush demon Aldon Smith, while right tackle Schraeder did the same against Ahmad Brooks. Schrader fared well against Smith, too. Holmes had a couple of false starts in the first half, but he settled down in the second half and competed with Smith. Bad technique seemed to cause Schraeder to fall on his back during one play, but he quickly shook it off. "I thought Ryan Schraeder continued to show improvement, as an undrafted rookie getting his second start on 'Monday Night Football,'" Smith said. "I thought he did a nice job. He battled. He battled against a very good front seven." The Falcons need to find five players capable of battling each and every week. Hawley looks like a keeper at center, while left guard Justin Blalock has been the only offensive lineman to keep his starting job throughout the season. Schraeder continues to show promise as the right tackle of the future, while the Falcons hope to get left tackle Sam Baker back healthy next season after knee surgery. The coaches still believe Holmes has a bright future despite his obvious struggles. And the fact that Harland Gunn played 45 snaps at left guard against the 49ers, compared with 27 for Konz, is telling in terms of Konz’s status after losing his job at center. If the line manages to string together back-to-back strong performances, the coaches truly would have something to build upon. And the Falcons finish the season against another one of league’s top defensive fronts in the Carolina Panthers.
  22. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/2415/falcons-hope-not-to-be-in-tight-spot-when-gonzalez-exits Falcons grooming Gonzalez's replacement December, 3, 2013 DEC 3 8:00 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com When Atlanta Falcons tight end Levine Toilolo reached high to snare a 12-yard reception in the second quarter Sunday, a team radio announcer said Toilolo looked like a young Tony Gonzalez. That's the whole point. The Falcons drafted the 6-foot-8, 264-pound Stanford rookie in the fourth round with hopes of grooming him to be the tight end of the future. Gonzalez is set to retire at season's end, so the Falcons have to start preparing Toilolo to assume the primary tight end role. "Just improvement,'' Toilolo said of his goal the rest of the season. "There are some things I saw on film [a few] weeks ago. I mean, blocking. That's something that I want to be able to be counted upon with this team: in the running game and in the passing game. "Just becoming more consistent, too. I want to be someone whom the team can trust, regardless of the situation. That's something that is going to be big for me as the rest of the season progresses.'' The Falcons have no plans of taking away Gonzalez's touches as he finishes up his Hall of Fame career. And he has no plans of allowing a nagging toe injury to keep him off the field. But at the same time, head coach Mike Smith talked about the possibility of using more two-tight end sets to get Toilolo and Chase Coffman more involved alongside Gonzalez. Such was the case with Toilolo's catch against the Bills. Gonzalez spread out wide left as Toilolo lined alongside left tackle Lamar Holmes. Gonzalez drew double coverage, and Toilolo had an obvious, one-on-one mismatch with 6-1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Gonzalez was the first to congratulate Toilolo after the catch. He continues to tutor both Toilolo and the veteran Coffman on a daily basis. Gonzalez was asked what he hopes to instill in his understudies. "Hopefully it's the habits; the routine,'' Gonzalez said. "I'm a big believer in the routine. In fact, I don't think I'd be here if I didn't have that routine. It means going out there and doing the same thing every day. And it means getting like at least 100 catches a day. It's working on your footwork. It's being obsessed with the fundamentals and the small details that go into being the best football player that you can be. "Everybody has talent at this level. And what separates you is consistency and doing it well day in and day out. And it starts every single day. I mean, you can't take one day off. Hopefully, that's something that they've figured out. It's what's worked for me. And I know it can work for them.'' Toilolo gained more recognition from the team when he dropped a touchdown pass against the New England Patriots in Week 4 but came back the very next week and a hauled in a touchdown against the New York Jets. Two of his 11 catches this season have resulted in scores. As for Coffman, he's been the forgotten man in the tight end equation primarily due to an early-season knee injury. Although his contract expires at the end of the season, he hopes to make a late-season impression. People forget Coffman set an NCAA record at Missouri for career receptions by a tight end with 247. "It is my contract year and I would like to stay here,'' Coffman said. " But if not, they're always telling us, 'Every 31 other teams in the NFL are always looking at film.' That's what I'm trying to put out there so I can continue my career.''
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