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Team Report - Atlanta Falcons


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Team Report - ATLANTA FALCONS

10 hours ago The SportsXchange

INSIDE SLANT

Over the offseason, the Atlanta Falcons talked about being able to show more grit and toughness in 2013, especially in the trenches.

They signed eight free agents, but the key additions were in the trenches on both sides of the ball. In addition to the signees, they replaced coaches at those positions.

Quarterback Matt Ryan applauded the addition of two offensive linemen -- guard Jon Asamoah and guard/tackle Gabe Carimi.

In 2013, the Falcons allowed pressure on 37.6 percent of their dropbacks, according to profootballfocus.com. After film review, the offensive line was credited with giving up 32 of the 44 sacks. The quarterback was hit 42 times and hurried 190 times. On 710 dropbacks, the pass protection broke down on 264 plays.

"We have some adjustments to make on the offensive line, with two new coaches at that position," Ryan said. "Some of the things that we need to work out are communication-type things and how we are going to identify certain things."

The Falcons own the sixth pick in the draft and will be in position to add to the offensive line's talent base. Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan are widely considered the top three tackles in the draft.

"We're not naive, those guys have taken some heat," Ryan said. "They've had to answer questions and tough questions all of last season and through the offseason season so far. They've taken it as a challenge and have been in there working as hard as they possibly can."

The offensive line additions all have blemishes on their records.

Asamoah lost his starting job to journeyman Geoff Schwartz last season in Kansas City. Carimi, a former first-round pick, has been released by two teams and new offensive line coach Mike Tice's units have been shaky.

In his seven seasons as an offensive line coach, Tice's unit was ranked in the top 10 in sacks allowed three times. In 2010, his Chicago Bears line led the league with 56 sacks. In 2011, his Chicago line gave up 49 sacks, fifth in the league. In 2001, his Minnesota line gave up 47 sacks, which ranked seventh in the league.

Defensively, the Falcons add some girth in defensive tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson. Both can gobble up blockers and should allow the linebackers room to flow to the ball better.

The Falcons spent $80.5 million to secure three free agents, when they added Soliai ($33 million), Jackson ($25 million) and Asamoah ($22.5 million). Carmi, a former first-round pick, was a castoff from Tampa Bay and had also been previously cut by Chicago.

Smith believes the Falcons are already on their way to rebounding from a 4-12 season, which is just a year removed from when the franchise was playing in just its third NFC championship game.

"I wish somebody would ask me do you think we're going to make the playoffs, because if they did, I'd tell you 'yes,'" Smith said. "You want to be a relevant football team in November and December. I can't look into a crystal ball, but we've got the men in that room. We've got the men in the coaching locker room. We've got the men in the personnel department that are going to supply us with the players that we need."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Falcons are expected to lock up wide receiver Julio Jones at some point in the future.

The Pro Bowl wide receiver, who is recovering from foot surgery, is still working with the training staff. Falcons coach Mike Smith was not specific when asked if the team would exercise the fifth-year option in Jones' rookie contract.

"Again, I'm not going to talk about specific contractual situations," Smith said. "I do know this, Julio Jones is going to be an Atlanta Falcon for a long, long time."

Smith said the Falcons are expecting to have Jones back for the beginning of the regular season.

"Julio is participating with our athletic performance department," Smith said. "With (trainer) Marty Lauzon and his group. He will be able to get out on the field and do some walkthrough stuff with us when we start going.

"Our focus with Julio is one thing and that's having him prepared for our opener, which I'm sure we'll get the date in the next couple of days. I believe the schedule will be coming out in the next couple of days. But that's what our focus is.

"He's progressing well. We're not going to do anything to hinder his time-frame in terms of getting back to work with us."

--The Falcons started their offseason training program Monday (April 21).

"I think everybody is excited to get back to work," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. "We've got an unbelievable turnout for the first two days of the offseason. I'm excited about it."

There were no reports of anyone being out of shape or drastically overweight.

"Guys look like they are in really good shape, which isn't a surprise," Ryan said. "We've had a ton of guys up here training for a while. After last season, after the way things unfolded, I think that everybody is ready to move on to 2014 and are excited that all that stuff is done and that we're on to the beginning of this year."

--Ryan gave a veiled injury update on left tackle Sam Baker and wide receiver Julio Jones, two key offensive cogs. Both missed most of last season with a knee and foot injuries, which required surgery.

"I think both of those guys are key for our football team," Ryan said. "Sam looks good. He looks like he's in really good shape. ... both of those guys look good. My initial impression is that both of those guys look good."

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

TEAM NEEDS

OFFENSIVE TACKLE: When Sam Baker has been healthy and played the entire season, the Falcons have gone 13-3 each time in 2010 and 2012. Last season, backups Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder received a lot of playing time but didn't show enough to project out as fulltime starters in the league. The Falcons need Baker to return to good health and then get some respectable play from the right tackle position from Holmes, Schrader or Mike Johnson, who was the projected starter before he was lost to injury. Fortifying the offensive line is key to the return to respectability in the NFC.

DEFENSIVE END: The Falcons' leading sacker was Osi Umenyiora last season with 7.5 sacks. He will be used in a designated pass rusher role in 2014. The Falcons need to improve their ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and will certainly look at options in the second round of the draft. They have scouted just about every major college defensive end heading into the draft.

TIGHT END: With the great Tony Gonzalez retiring, the Falcons don't have a pass-catching tight end on the roster. They view Levine Toilolo as more of a Y or blocking tight end. He could develop into a red-zone threat. Over five seasons with the Falcons, Gonzalez averaged 81.8 catches, 837.4 yards and seven touchdowns.

PERSONNEL TRACKER

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--TE Chase Coffman played in 10 games last season and won't be re-signed.

--CB Dominique Franks was a contributor on special teams and provided depth in the secondary. He's young and has experience as a nickel back.

--LB Omar Gaither was signed as insurance last season as the team took on injuries at the linebacker spot. He may be a valuable veteran reserve.

--T Sean Locklear was signed as insurance last season, but never saw the field. He's not likely to return.

--T Jeremy Trueblood started 10 of 15 games last season, but the team is looking to upgrade the position. He is not expected to return.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

--WR Drew Davis (tendered $570,000) was a valuable reserve who will compete for a backup spot in training camp.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--S Jonathan Babineaux: Potential UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.

--C/G Joe Hawley: Potential UFA; $6.5M/2 yrs, $3M guaranteed.

--LB Justin Hickman: Potential ERFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--DT Peria Jerry: UFA; terms unknown.

--T/G Mike Johnson: Potential RFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--CB Robert McClain: RFA tendered at $1.431M with 7th-round pick as compensation); $1.431M/1 yr.

--DT Corey Peters: Potential UFA; $1M/1 yr.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--CB Javier Arenas: UFA Cardinals; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--G Jon Asamoah: UFA Chiefs; $22.5M/5 yrs, $8M guaranteed.

--OL Gabe Carimi: FA Buccaneers; $850,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.

--WR/KR Devin Hester: UFA Bears; 3 yrs, terms unknown.

--DT Tyson Jackson: UFA Chiefs: $25M/5 yrs.

--S Dwight Lowery: FA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--DT Paul Soliai: UFA Dolphins; $33M/5 yrs, $14M guaranteed.

--CB Josh Wilson: UFA Redskins; 1 yr, terms unknown.

PLAYERS LOST

--WR Kevin Cone: Not tendered as ERFA/Dolphins; terms unknown.

--S Thomas DeCoud (released/post-June 1 designation)

--FB Bradie Ewing (released).

--TE Tony Gonzalez (retired).

--LB Stephen Nicholas (released).

--G Garrett Reynolds (released).

--CB Asante Samuel (released).

--RB Jason Snelling (retired).

http://sports.yahoo....17990--nfl.html

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Who is Justin HIckman?

It is nice looking at the new additions to the squad and seeing all the waste cut from the roster. I think it is funny that SportsXchange does not mention Carimi as a candidate to battle for the RT position under 'Strategy and Personnel.' They also seem convinced that the first round pick will go to an OT. I personally believe that it will but I wonder if they have some insider knowledge...

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Who is Justin HIckman?

I think that was a mistake in this article to have him included as a re-signed Falcons player. He is not listed on the Falcons roster, nor listed in any 2013 or 2014 player transactions. I believe Justin Hickman is still with the Colts.

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