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Team Report - Atlanta Falcons


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Ryan is especially vested in the improvement of the offensive line, which was the team's weakest unit by the end of last year but heads to camp with a new look.After missing the playoffs by a lot with an ugly 4-12 record last season, head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan will try to get the Atlanta Falcons back in gear when training camp practice begins July 25 at their Flowery Branch, Ga., facility.

The Falcons revamped the front wall and hope it will improve on last year's horrid performance -- 44 sacks allowed and only 77.9 yards rushing per game, worst in the league.

The new line features 2014 first-round draftee Jake Matthews at right tackle along with free-agent signeeJon Asamoah at right guard, Sam Baker back from knee surgery at left tackle and Justin Blaylock at left guard. At center there is a battle between Joe Hawley and Peter Konz.

Matthews already impressed Ryan, who said, "When you watch him, when he knows what he's doing, he's incredibly athletic."

Meantime, the Falcons will also be watching these dramas:


--Center: Last season, Konz opened as the starter in his bid to replace the retired Todd McClure, but he failed miserably. By season's end, Hawley was the starting center. The Falcons appear set to give Konz one more chance to see if he can earn the position. During OTAs, Hawley and Konz were splitting time with the first team with Hawley getting the bulk of the action.


--Sam Baker, LT: After six mostly disappointing seasons, Baker is in a familiar position: coming off a major injury and needing to show he can stay healthy.

The Falcons signed him to a contract extension after he was healthy and effective in 2012, but he lasted just four games in 2013 and wasn't very good when he did play. Baker said he feels healthy thanks in large part to his work with the team's weight and training staff.


--Jacques Smith, LB, Tennessee, undrafted rookie: With the season-ending Achilles injury to Sean Weatherspoon, the Falcons are thin at inside linebacker. Smith, signed as an undrafted rookie from Tennessee, may have a shot to make the roster. He played defensive end and outside linebacker during his Tennessee career, finishing with 92 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks and has been impressive this offseason, showing an excellent burst and ability to diagnosis plays.

NFLDraftScout.com rated Smith as the 55th outside linebacker and projected him as a priority free agent. He is 6-foot-2, 258 and had a 40-yard time of 4.59 4.9 seconds.


--The Falcons believe they solidified their backup quarterback position by trading for T.J. Yates and releasing Dominique Davis.

The Falcons have been living on the edge at the backup quarterback position, should anything happen to Matt Ryan, since parting ways with Chris Redman.

In 2012, they added Luke McCown as quarterback insurance, but didn't re-sign him for 2013. Last season, Davis, a former undrafted player from East Carolina, was the backup quarterback, but played quarterback in only one game.

So basically, after making it through two seasons without an experienced backup, the Falcons pulled the trigger on a trade to land Yates late Wednesday night from the Houston Texans. He has played in 13 NFL games.

The Falcons sent backup linebacker Akeem Dent to the Texans for Yates.

"You always want to have an (experienced) backup quarterback if you can," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "That doesn't always work out, but T.J. has played in games. He's played in big games. He's won a playoff game for the Houston Texans.

"So, he is an experienced player. We look forward to getting him here."

Yates, 27, was forced into action during his rookie season after Matt Schaub and Matt Leinartsustained injuries. He made his first NFL start against the Falcons and led the Texans to a 17-10 victory on Dec. 4, 2011. Yates completed 12-of-25 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown.

In 13 career games with Houston, Yates completed 101-of-166 passes (60.8 percent) for 1,100 yards with three touchdowns, six interceptions, and had a 71.4 passer rating.

Yates played in six games as a rookie in 2011, including five starts, leading the Texans to a 3-3 record by passing for 949 yards on 82-of-134 passing (61.2 percent) with three touchdowns, three interceptions and an 80.7 passer rating.

Davis, 6-3, 210 pounds, was signed by the Falcons as a college free agent following the 2012 NFL draft. After a so-so exhibition season, he served as the team's backup quarterback last season, making his NFL debut at Tampa Bay on November 11, 2013.

He completed 5-of-7 passes before leaving the game because of a knee injury.

"We are always trying to put the most competitive roster in place to give us the best opportunity to win," Smith said. "This was an opportunity that came up for us. We felt like it's going to create a very competitive atmosphere for us where we need to have some competition."

--The Falcons had drafted linebacker Akeem Dent and envisioned him taking over for Curtis Lofton. Atlanta, which was lining up to take on Matt Ryan's hefty contract extension, didn't have enough money to retain Lofton and let him leave during free agency.

However, Dent was not able to fill Lofton's shoes after being made the starter during the 2012 season. Last season, he was benched for not making enough plays.

"We appreciate everything that Akeem Dent has done for us over the last three years," coach Mike Smith said.

--The Falcons signed linebacker Tim Dobbins to a one-year, $855,000 contract. He will serve as a backup linebacker and play on special teams.

With Sean Weatherspoon injured, the Falcons were looking at veteran free-agent linebackers and worked out Dobbins, Nick Barnett and Jonathan Vilma.

Dobbins played for Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan in Miami during the 2010 season.

"Dobbins has a lot of experience," coach Mike Smith said. "He has games under his belt. It's going to be important that we have some guys who have played some games."

Smith appears ready to move ahead with a very youthful linebacker corps that will be backed up mainly by Dobbins.

Second-year players Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow, who were undrafted players last season, have been working with the first-team defense.

Also, Smith said linebacker Prince Shembo will receive a chance to compete for a starting position.

--A key reason the Falcons are not going to sign free-agent linebacker Jonathan Vilma is that they are extremely pleased with the development of Paul Worrilow. Worrilow led the team in tackles last year as an undrafted free agent linebacker from Delaware. He is growing steadily over the offseason."I think it's going to be a good battle with the young linebackers to see who is going to step up," Smith said. "Prince has had a good camp. It's going to be a very good battle for those young guys."

"I'm a lot more comfortable," Worrilow said. "I spend almost every day in here."

--With the retirement of center Todd McClure, the Falcons had a leadership void along the offensive line last season. The team hopes left tackle Sam Baker and left guard Justin Blalock can fill that void this season. "The older guys are going to be leading by example," Blalock said. "We try to do things the right way so that everyone else can see and try to set a standard for what is going to be tolerated in the room."



QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Matt Ryan. Backups - T.J. Yates, Sean Renfree, Jeff Mathews.

Ryan took a licking and kept on ticking last season while under relentless pressure. He was under duress on 37.6 percent of his dropbacks as the Falcons played with a patchwork offensive line. He completed 67.4 percent of his passes in the face of a constant pass rush. The Falcons made it an offseason priority to fix the line so that Ryan can operate in a cleaner pocket. He's shown that when he can step up in the pocket, he can be effective. Ryan has completed 2,093 of 3,288 pass attempts (63.7 percent) for 23,472 yards with 153 touchdowns, 77 interceptions and a 90.6 passer rating during his career. Yates takes over as the backup after being acquired in a trade.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Steven Jackson, FB Patrick DiMarco. Backups - Devonta Freeman, Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith, Josh Vaughn, Jerome Smith, FB Maurice Hagens, FB Roosevelt Nix.

Jackson suffered a soft-tissue injury for the third consecutive season in 2013 and may be nearing the end of his illustrious career. This time it was a hamstring injury. He didn't rush for more than 1,000 yards, snapping a streak of eight consecutive seasons reaching that number. The Falcons appear set to see if there's anything left in the tank. They did draft Freeman out of Florida State and made note of his ability to run between the tackles. Rodgers has been just a guy (3.6 yards per carry) in three seasons. Smith flashed in a backup role last season and Vaughan contributed on special teams. DiMarco is functional as a lead blocker.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Levine Toilolo. Backups - Bear Pascoe, Mickey Shuler, Jacob Pedersen, Brian Wozniak.

The Falcons don't plan to use a move tight end with the retirement of Tony Gonzalez and appear content with Pascoe as a blocking tight end. Toilolo is being groomed to be a red-zone threat. Shuler ran some with the first team in the offseason. Gonzalez averaged 81.8 catches over five seasons with the team. Of his 409 catches, 267 went for first downs (65.2 percent). Ryan believes that a committee of wide receivers and running backs will help fill the void in the passing attack created by Gonzalez's retirement.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Roddy White, Julio Jones. Backups - Harry Douglas, Devin Hester, Drew Davis, Darius Johnson, Geraldo Boldewijn, Julian Jones, Freddie Martino, Bernard Reedy, Tramaine Thompson.

Jones, who underwent a complex right foot surgery, has started to run and should be ready for training camp. White suffered a family tragedy, but appears set to carry on. White came on strong down the stretch after he recovered from a high ankle sprain and a hamstring injury. Douglas stepped up and turned in a 1,000-yard season with the top two receivers hobbled. Hester, Johnson and Davis provide some strong depth at the position.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Sam Baker, LG Justin Blalock, C Joe Hawley, RG Jon Asamoah, RT Jake Matthews. Backups - TLamar Holmes, T Ryan Schraeder, T Terren Jones, C Peter Konz, C James Stone, G Mike Johnson, G Gabe Carimi, G Adam Replogle, G Harland Gunn.

The Falcons mis-assessed the readiness of Konz and Holmes to take over for Todd McClure and Tyson Clabo last season. Coupled with weak play by right guard Garrett Reynolds, who was released, and retread tackle Jeremy Trueblood and the Falcons were leaking oil before most games started. The unit gave up 44 sacks and couldn't open up any holes in the run game as the Falcons were last in the league in rushing at 77.9 yards per game. Asamoah was added in free agency and Matthews was selected sixth overall in the draft. The Falcons are hoping that Baker (knee surgery) can return to good health. New position coach Mike Tice will try to whip the unit into shape.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - RDE Kroy Biermann, DT Tyson Jackson, DT Paul Soliai, LDE Jonathan Babineaux. Backups -- E Osi Umenyiora, E Ra'Shede Hagemen, E Jonathan Massaquoi, E Eguae Nosa, E Malliciah Goodman, E Stansly Maponga, T Peria Jerry, T Corey Peters, T Travian Robertson, T Cliff Matthews, T Donte Rumph.

Determined to find a pass rusher, the Falcons have drafted four defensive ends over the past two drafts. They also added ex-Dolphin Soliai and ex-Chief Jackson to help anchor the unit as the team plans to be multiple and flow from 4-3 to 3-4 fronts. The Falcons were 31st against the rush (135.8 yards per game) last season. They did a lot of experimenting in the offseason as they retained 4-3 tackles Babineaux, Jerry and Peters in free agency. They drafted the mammoth Hageman in the second round to play end in the 3-4. They are hoping to get someone -Biermann, Umenyiora, Massaquoi, Maponga or Goodman - to get some heat on opposing quarterbacks.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Prince Shembo, MLB Paul Worrilow, WLB Joplo Bartu. Backups - OLB Marquis Spruill, OLB Walker May, OLB Jacques Smith, OLB Tyler Starr, ILB Yawin Smallwood, ILB Brenden Daly.

The unit was decimated by the loss of Sean Weatherspoon, who will be out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Shembo will be placed on the fast track to the starting lineup. Worrilow and Bartu ended last season as starters. Both were productive and flashed some ability. The Falcons are looking for linebackers, who can rush off the edge and drop in coverage.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - RCB Desmond Trufant, FS Dwight Lowery, SS William Moore, LCB Robert Alford. Backups - CB Josh Wilson, CB Javier Arenas, CB Robert McClain, CB Ricardo Allen, CB Devonta Glover-Wright, CB Jordan Mabin, S Dezmen Southward, Sean Baker, Kimario McFadden, Kemal Ishmael, Zeke Motta.

Trufant and Alford were the bright spots of last season as rookies. They should benefit from the addition of a seasoned veteran in Wilson, who was signed in free agency. McClain struggled at the nickel-back spot after having a solid campaign in 2012. He'll have to beat out Wilson and Arenas to retain his roster spot. Southward is slated for free safety, but played some in the slot and outside at Wisconsin. He could be matched up on some of the bigger receivers in the division. Until Southward is ready, the Falcons will likely lean on Lowery, while Moore stays at strong safety.

SPECIAL TEAMS: P Matt Bosher, K Matt Bryant, LS Josh Harris, KOR/PR Devin Hester.

Matt Bryant remains clutch. Bosher gets good hang-time on his punts and is a solid kickoff man. Hester should improve the return game as he led the league in kickoff-return yardage last season with the Bears. The Falcons finished 10th in kickoff-return average (24.4 yards) and 20th in punts (8.2 yards) in 2013. The dangerous Hester has returned 13 punts and five kickoffs for touchdowns over his career.


UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)

--TE Chase Coffman (not tendered as UFA).

--LB Omar Gaither (not tendered as UFA).

--T Sean Locklear (not tendered as UFA).

--T Jeremy Trueblood (not tendered as UFA).



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


--T Jake Matthews (1/6): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--DE Ra'Shede Hageman (2/37): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--S Dezmen Southward (3/68): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--RB Devonta Freeman (4/103): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--LB Prince Shembo (4/137); 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--CB Ricardo Allen (5/147): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--LB Marcus Spruill (5/168): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--LB Yawin Smallwood (7/253): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--LB Tyler Starr (7/255): 4 yrs, terms unknown.


--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.


--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.

--LB Tim Dobbins: FA; $855,000/1 yr.

--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.

--TE Bear Pascoe: UFA Giants; 1 yr, terms unknown.

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

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

--QB T.J. Yates (trade Texans).


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

--QB Dominique Davis (released).

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

--LB Akeem Dent (traded Texans).

--FB Bradie Ewing (released).

--CB Dominique Franks: Not tendered as UFA/Ravens; terms unknown.

--TE Tony Gonzalez (retired).

--LB Stephen Nicholas (released).

--G Garrett Reynolds (released).

--CB Asante Samuel (released).

--RB Jason Snelling (retired).

Edited by falcon057
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