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Duff Man's Preseason Preview


Duff_Man
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My buddies and I write our teams' (Falcons, Seahawks, Steelers, Browns, Eagles, Redskins) previews right before camp every year. We do this to completely waste company time and for fun. Here's what I wrote about the Falcons. What did I miss? What am I off-base with? Enjoy, and feedback is appreciated...

2009 Atlanta Falcons Camp Preview

2008 was a miracle year for the Falcons. New coach, new GM, complete overhaul of the offense…all signs pointed to a 2-14 season (Sporting News picked the Falcons to possibly go WINLESS). But something miraculous happened…they made all the right moves and went 11-5 in what can only be called one of the most amazing turn-arounds in NFL history. Savvy draft picks, a couple of FAs, and it all worked beautifully. What does 2009 hold? Let’s take a look…

Defense

D-Line

Bringing Back: Jonathan Babineaux, John Abraham, Jamaal Anderson, Chuncey Davis, Trey Lewis, Kroy Biermann

Added: Lawrence Sidbury ®, Peria Jerry ®, Vance Walker ®

Subtracted: Grady Jackson

Synopsis: The D-Line looks to have improved over last year. The Falcons did a good job to re-sign Babineaux and Davis (two depth/regular rotation guys) and then drafting to solidify things. Peria Jerry looks to be a Warren Sapp-type of player with a great attitude and non-stop motor in the middle. They also drafted Vance Walker, a DT who was regarded as a steal by many in the 7th round. This will bring a great spark to the middle of the line, which was a weakness in 2008. Also drafted was the steal of the draft, Lawrence Sidbury. Sidbury is a ‘tweener DE/LB that is a total speed rusher. His moves getting to the QB are lightning fast. NFL training is only going to make him better. Check out his bowl appearances here: Youtube. Sidbury will be a major player in camp, as will Kroy Biermann. As I said in last year’s preview, watch out for this kid. In a limited role last year, Kroy shook it up with over 20 tackles and 2 sacks. He’s another all-effort DE/LB guy that can play all over the field. These guys are important for another reason: keeping Abraham fresh. In 2008, Abe had a career year (and a pro-bowl snub) after recording 16.5 sacks. He did this while playing 2-3 downs a series. The coaches did a fantastic job of rotating guys into the line and it kept Abe healthy and effective. On the other side of the line, we have Jamaal Anderson. Jamaal is in one of those “boom or bust” years. He had two sacks last year and rarely made any pressure on opposing QBs. His run defense was pretty good, but his pass rush technique is lacking. If he doesn’t produce this year, he’ll be walking after the season.

Overall: If they remain healthy and Jerry and Sidbury work out, this could be the breakout group of the defense in 2009. They will all get significant playing time in a regular rotation of defensive linemen. Outside of Abe, the line will be young, fresh, versatile, and hungry.

Linebackers

Coming Back: Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nicholas, Robert James, Coy Wire

Added: Mike Peterson, Spencer Adkins ®

Subtracted: Keith Brooking

Synopsis: It’s no secret that this is the biggest question mark in the defense. In 2008, it was clear that Keith Brooking had lost a step and when he didn’t opt to retire, the Falcons had no choice but to let him walk. Replacing Brooking will be Mike Peterson. Some say he is too old and not as good as he used to be. Thing is, he didn’t start half of last year because he openly questioned Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville and fell out of favor. Peterson will step in with his old D-Coordinator (Mike Smith) and play significant downs in Atlanta. He is poised for a “comeback” year on the weakside. One thing is for sure: he’s an upgrade over Brooking. Manning the middle will be 2nd year man Curtis Lofton. Lofton stepped right onto the field and played brilliantly in his rookie year. He has the speed, range and tackling that you look for in a true MLB. He’ll go for over 100 tackles in 2009. At the SLB, it looks as if the job is Stephen Nicholas’ to lose. Nicholas has been a rotational player/special teams ace who can either be a great success or miserable failure. If he has a good camp, he could be an impact player. Rotating in and out of the LB core will be Cedar Cliff’s own Coy Wire (the team’s hardest worker), Robert James (an injury machine, but an animal if he is healthy), and draftee Spencer Adkins (most likely a special teamer). Also rotating in will be Biermann and Sidbury in certain situations.

Overall: Shaky last year, and shaky again this year. At least it will be fun to see the young guys grow up in a trial by fire.

Secondary

Coming Back: Chris Houston, Brent Grimes, Erik Coleman, Von Hutchins, Antoine Harris, Chevis Jackson, Thomas Decoud

Added: Chris Owens ®, William Moore ®, William Middleton ®

Subtracted: Dominique Foxworth, Lawyer Milloy, David Irons

Synopsis: I hardly even know what to make of this crew. The loss of Foxworth really hurt. He played lights-out after coming in from Denver in 2008. He was the perfect compliment to Chris Houston on the other side of the field. Houston has the one CB spot wrapped up, but the other side will be a totally open competition. Competing for that other spot will be Brent Grimes (an awesome athlete who is really too small for CB. Also, went to Shippensburg!), Von Hutchins (coming off a bad injury from last year), Chevis Jackson (2nd year guy who is a true cover-2 corner), and Chris Owens (a college superstar in his rookie year). My gut tells me that it goes to Chevis, with Hutchins, Owens and Grimes backing up. Either way, it could be a trying year.

At safety, Milloy will be a big loss. Not necessarily in ability (which diminished last year), but in his leadership. He may have lost a step, but he was the QB of the defense and a true locker room leader. Replacing him will be rookie William Moore. Moore was a top-10 prospect in the 2008 draft…except he stayed at Mizzou. His stock dropped slightly and the Falcs grabbed him in Rd 2. He is a studly SS, but he is a rookie. It remains to be seen how that will work out. At FS, Erik Coleman is easily the most underrated Falcon. He plays like a safety/CB combo. Great range. Plays all over. He’s cemented as a starter. Rotating in will be 2nd year man Thomas Decoud, who has good moments, but is not ready for primetime yet.

Overall: If I see Brent Grimes starting, I know this will be a really rough year. He is all heart, but he just doesn’t have the size. If one of the youngsters breaks out, they could be solid, but I think this unit is still a year away. Of course…solid D-Line play could make them look better. Lots of question marks.

Defense Overall: A strong year by the D-Line could mask a lot of issues. Problem is, I think as a whole they need one more draft and one more year to blossom. I don’t think they got worse in 2009, but I am not sure they are better. Defense will be ranked over 20th in the NFL unless the young guys really play out of this world.

Offense

O-Line

Coming Back: Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Harvey Dahl, Tyson Clabo, Todd McClure

Subtracted: Todd Weiner (retired)

Added: Jeremy Newberry (just retired), Garrett Reynolds ®

Synopsis: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This unit was nothing short of fantastic in 2008. They allowed a franchise low 16 sacks on the year and helped the running game flourish. Sam Baker came in as a rookie and showed he is the future at LT. Justin Blalock has become a solid LG and is only in his 3rd year. Todd McClure is a great team leader, but is getting a little old. Luckily he probably has 2 more good years left on him. The right side of the line was basically thrown together in camp last year, but it worked out. Harvey Dahl is a scrappy maniac who can really plow the road, and Harvey Dahl is serviceable at RT, although probably the weakest link in the chain.

Overall: Not only did they allow a franchise record low in sacks in 2008, but they also committed a league-low in penalties. Another year like that and they will have another offensive explosion. Biggest issue: can Sam Baker stay healthy?

Quarterback

Coming Back: Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, DJ Shockley

Subtracted: Michael Vick

Added: John Parker Wilson ®

Synopsis: Unless you lived under a rock, you know that Matt Ryan had what some would call the greatest rookie season by a QB in the history of the NFL. Strong, smart, accurate, a true leader, and unflappable. Matt stepped in and played an insane season. He is obviously the starter and will most likely be for the next 10 years. Chris Redman is a serviceable backup, but you really don’t want him in a whole lot. Shockley may lose his spot to Wilson if he plays well. Not a whole lot of drama here.

Overall: If Ryan improves this year, it will be just plain scary for opposing defenses. He has all the weapons, and a fearless competitive attitude. Good to see the Falcons catch a break for once.

Running Back

Coming Back: Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Jason Snelling, Ovie Mughelli, Thomas Brown

Subtracted: None

Added: Verron Haynes

Synopsis: The Falcons have a deadly 1-2 punch with the power of Turner and the deadly speed of Norwood. In 2008, they were a fantastic tandem who were breaking franchise records. Many doubted Turner’s ability to carry the load, but he silenced all critics early and often. The upside of Turner is that his odometer is so low that he has a 5-year run in him. His understudy, Norwood, is a lightning fast, shifty nightmare for opposing defenses. He can never carry the load, but he can definitely fill in and make a huge impact. He will line up at QB, WR, KR or RB. At FB, Ovie Mughelli is a monster. Terrific blocker and underrated runner. At the backups, Snelling is a truck who had some flashes. Thomas Brown is a player the coaches rave about, but we never got to see him in 2008…he was injured all year. Verron Haynes will be cut most likely.

Overall: Barring injury, this is all set in stone. Turner and Norwood are great and really get the job done. Could see more of a load for Norwood and Snelling this year.

Wide Receiver

Coming Back: Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas, Brian Finneran, Eric Weems

Added: Aaron Kelly ®

Subtracted: None

Synopsis: Roddy White finally “got it” in 2007 and it carried over to an incredible 2008. He stopped clubbing and partying and dedicated himself to his job and became a monster WR. He’s a true #1 who is always open and has developed great hands. Right now he is in some ugly contract negotiations, so keep an eye on that. Opposite Roddy is Michael Jenkins. Jenkins has blossomed into a great #2 WR. Early on, he looked like a bust, but he has finally evolved into a great complimentary WR. Good speed, good hands, tall, and a great blocker. Could be looking at 700-900 yards this year. At the slot is my absolute favorite player…2nd year man Harry Douglas. Harry has all the things you want in a WR. He’s smart, has a great personality, fantastic IQ, loves the game and is just talented. Watch for Harry to have a great little year in 2009 both on punt returns and receiving. With all the weapons around him, he’ll be open a LOT. Remember his name. Battling it out in camp will be veteran Brian Finneran (Villanova!), Eric Weems, and rookie Aaron Kelly. I can almost guarantee that Finneran sticks, mainly because he is crafty, tall, and has taught the young guys a lot about the game. Weems saw very limited duty last year, but when he was in, he made things happen. Kelly went undrafted, but was apparently a talent at Clemson. I think he gets the axe.

Overall: They’re an A+ group. You’ll hear all of their names a good bit in 2009. Only issue: Roddy’s contract. Will he try hard or quit?

Tight End

Coming Back: Justin Peele, Jason Rader, Ben Hartsock

Added: Tony Gonzalez

Lost: None

Synopsis: The one weak link on offense last year was just transformed into its greatest strength. Peele played admirably in 2008 and was good. But, if you can add Tony Gonzalez, you have to do it. Yeah, he’s old, but I am already hearing “best player on the field” when referring to him. He’s got 2-3 good years left. Tony will open up everything on offense and make life very easy for Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Michael Turner, etc. He won’t put up 90 catches, but he’ll be a true force. Other than Tony, Peele and Hartsock are great blockers.

Overall: Going to be the key addition of 2009.

Offense Overall: They will be insane this year. Every position is a real weapon. With the awesome play calling of Mike Mularkey, you’re going to see every person get involved and they will score in LOADS. That’s a good thing since the defense will give up 25 points per game. Tough to say who will be the standout, but keep an eye on Harry Douglas for a bump in stats. This will be a fun year to watch the Falcons on offense.

Special Teams

Coming Back: Jason Elam, Michael Koenen, Harry Douglas, Jerious Norwood

Added: Who knows

Subtracted: None

Overall: Elam is great, Koenen is very good. Douglas is a phenom at PR, and Norwood is a very good KR, although they may replace him with Thomas Brown there to keep him more fresh. The Coverage teams were setting NFL records last year, so look for another solid effort this year.

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