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2006 Team Report: Atlanta Falcons

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Quarterbacks

Starter: Michael Vick
Backup(s): Matt Schaub, D.J. Shockley

Starting QB: Michael Vick struggled at times during the 2005 season – a recent story on CNN/SI indicated that his right knee was sore throughout the season, forcing him to wear a brace and limiting his mobility to an extent. Vick reports he is 100% healthy now, and stated “I want to be mobile. I want to be Michael Vick. I want to play my game.” Vick’s rushing numbers were down from his 2004 performance (102/597/6 vs. 120/902/3), while his passing totals were just slightly improved (214/387 for 2412 yards, 15 TDs and 13 interceptions, vs. 181/321 for 2313, 14 TDs and 12 interceptions during 2004). His completion percentage last year (55.29%) was nothing to write home about, which is an ongoing concern with Vick – he has the ability to throw laser-like, incredibly accurate passes, but he doesn’t do so consistently.

Backup QB: Vick has never played a full 16 game slate in any season, so the Falcons need a solid backup plan – his name is Matt Schaub. Schaub tossed 4 TDs and 0 interceptions last when we he was under center, including a solid game vs. New England (18/34 for 298 yards, 3 TDs and 0 interceptions), and ended 2005 with 33/64 for 495 yards, 4 TDs and 0 interceptions. He’s seen enough live NFL action to be a viable plan “B”. D.J. Shockley is an intriguing talent but very raw – luckily he won’t be called upon unless both Vick and Schaub go down to injuries. Shockley will begin his career as a clip-board holder.

Running Backs

Starter: Warrick Dunn
Backup(s): Jerious Norwood [R], DeAndra Cobb, Marlion Jackson
Fullback(s): Justin Griffith

Starting RB: Warrick Dunn had a solid 2005 campaign, with his highest rushing yardage total since joining the Falcons (280/1416/3 rushing, with 29/220/1 receiving), although his TD numbers dropped off last year. He has put up over 1000 yards combined in every season while with the Falcons – despite being 31, Dunn doesn’t show signs of slowing down (he’s played 2 full seasons since 2003, when he could only manage 11 games). With the Falcons decision to traded T.J. Duckett, Dunn is clearly going to be used more in short yardage and goal line situations. Whether he can take that additional pounding and maintain his effectiveness remains in question.

Backup RBs: Jerious Norwood has been impressive in camp, particularly as a pass catcher out of the backfield. As a result, the Falcons hastened T.J. Duckett's departure by trading him to the Washington Redskins, opening the door for rookie Norwood to be Warrick Dunn's primary backup and possible 3rd down back. Norwood has good hands, excellent speed, but needs to show more patience and awareness as a runner. Behind Norwood are 2nd year players DeAndra Cobb and Marlion Jackson. Both have showed flashes in training camp but aren't considered capable replacements should injury require them to step into the lineup.

Fullback: Justin Griffith is a reliable but not prolific receiver out of the back-field (21, 22, and 21 receptions per season over the last three years) – he put up 21/111/3 receiving last year, with 15/65/0 rushing. He’ll probably be somewhere in that neighborhood again this year, although he may rack up more yardage (he averaged 10 yards a catch in 2004, but dropped to 5.3 last season).

Wide Receivers

Starters: Michael Jenkins, Roddy White
Backups: Ashley Lelie, Jerome Pathon, Adam Jennings

Starting WRs: The Falcons are going with a young tandem this season – Roddy White is reportedly working out vigourously, adding muscle mass, and has been practicing regularly with Vick and Schaub. He had a disappointing rookie season marred by a holdout and then a high ankle sprain during the preseason, which necessarily limited his development as a pro. White ended the year with 29/446/3, and had one 100 yard game against Tampa Bay (4/108/0 in week 11) – he does seem to have the potential to be a bona-fide starter. Jenkins stepped up from a poor rookie effort (7/119/0) to post improved numbers in his sophomore season (36/508/3) – he isn’t a superstar yet, but with his size (6’ 4” tall) and 2 years of NFL experience under his belt, Jenkins may be poised for a breakout season.

Backup WRs: Brian Finneran was slotted to be the Falcons' third WR this year, but was lost for the year to a knee injury. That left Jerome Pathon to fill the void until the Falcons executed a 3-team trade with Washington and Denver which netted them Ashley Lelie. Lelie, unhappy with his contract in Denver (and being relegated to 3rd on the depth chart) finds himself in exactly the same spot as a Falcon; third on the depth chart. But it would be foolhardy to think Lelie won't be given a chance to crack the starting lineup as soon as he's comfortable with the playbook. Lelie has unbelievable quickness, but has proven more one-dimensional than scouts hoped coming out of Hawaii. His skinny frame and fear of going over the middle make him more suited as a pure deep threat/decoy; yet he expects to be paid as a full-time starter and impact player. Pathon will provides some veteran depth to the roster as the rest of Atlanta's WR stable is extremely raw and unproven. Johnson was an undrafted rookie signed during 2005 – he hasn’t seen much playing time as of yet. Adam Jennings will probably be mainly a special-teams contributor while he learns how to play at the pro level.

Tight Ends

Starters: Alge Crumpler
Backups: Dwayne Blakely, Eric Beverly

Alge Crumpler led the Falcons in receptions (again) last year, with 65/877/5, following his 2004 effort of 48/774/6. He has a great rapport with Vick and is a huge part of the team’s offense (he accounted for 32% of Vick’s passing yards last season). Blakly has caught 4 passes in each of his first 2 seasons with Atlanta; Beverly is a blocker in the Falcons’ scheme – he didn’t catch a pass last season, and had trouble staying on the field due to injuries.

Place Kicker

Michael Koenen : The Falcons did not re-sign FA Todd Peterson, although no one else has either. They did hire Steve Hoffman as assistant special teams coach. He spent 16 years finding lesser known (even obscure) kickers to kick successfully for Dallas. Michael Koenen, the team’s punter, handled a couple long FG attempts last year and was only a remote possibility to handle placekicking entering this year. He was named the starter for Atlanta’s first preseason game however, and he definitely made a statement. He was 4-of-4 on FGs, and none of them were chipshots (40, 44, 45, and 50 yards). The 40 yarder was the game winner against the Patriots as time expired. But that still doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be handling the placekicking in the regular season. HC Jim Mora Jr. noted, "I have reservations about it. I can't say he won the job. I liked what I saw tonight, but I'm concerned about having a guy do all three jobs. I'll take another week or so to see how he is, see how he feels. The last thing I want to do is wear him out. But with his ability to affect the game, like he did tonight, it's something we have to think long and hard about."

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Allen Rossum; Adam Jennings; Jerious Norwood; DeAndra Cobb; Justin Griffith; Roddy White; DeAngelo Hall

In 2005, CB Allen Rossum once again led the Falcons in kickoff (31 returns, 22.6 avg.) and punt returns, however his numbers were down from 2004 as he battled injuries and missed five games. Sixth round draft pick WR Adam Jennings from Fresno State ranked in the top 20 in return average for both kickoffs (29.0 yards, 7th) and punts (12.4, 17th) last year. RB DeAndra Cobb (16 returns, 22.4 avg.) served as the primary backup last year. Third round draft pick RB Jerious Norwood occasionally returned kickoffs and punts during his career at Mississippi State. Other backups include FB Justin Griffith (8 returns, 18.6 avg.) and speedy CB DeAngelo Hall (16 returns, 22.4 avg.). The team experimented with WR Roddy White in preseason and practices; however he did have any returns last year. His last KRs in a real game were as a sophomore at UAB. During the team’s May minicamp, WR Troy Bergeron, WR Cedric Bonner, WR Jerome Pathon and CB Ahmad Treaudo also practiced on kickoff returns.

Punt Returners: Allen Rossum; Adam Jennings; DeAngelo Hall; Michael Jenkins; Jerious Norwood

Rossum’s punt return average dropped from 12.4 in 2005 to 8.5 last year (17 returns). Rossum was slowed last year by injury. He’ll need to hold off some youthful competition in order to not only keep his KR/PR role, but probably to also remain employed with CB-laden Falcons. With a sore hamstring, he is pacing himself in camp, "If I learned anything, it was that I shouldn't try to push myself so hard and go full-speed all the time out. That's what the coaches told me, and they were right." Adam Jennings has a chance at replacing the aging Rossum as the team’s return specialist. DeAngelo Hall served as the primary backup (8 returns, 10.3 avg.) in 2005. Also available if needed is WR Michael Jenkins (3 returns, 6.3 avg.). The Falcons fell to 27th in team fantasy return points, after having ranked 11th and 5th the two previous years.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: RT Todd Weiner, RG Kynan Forney, C Todd McClure, LG Matt Lehr, LT Wayne Gandy (New Orleans)
Key Backups: T Frank Omiyale, G Ben Claxton, T Quinn Ojinnaka (rookie)

The Falcons offensive line is proof positive that you don’t always need premium talent to be productive. High-quality coaching and superior schemes have enabled the Falcons to run the ball very well despite middling talent along the offensive line. New OL coach Tom Cable comes in from the college ranks (USC) but it is part-time coach Alex Gibbs that drives this bus. The Falcons had a hole at left tackle but filled it nicely this off-season with the acquisition of Wayne Gandy in a trade with the New Orleans Saints. Gandy is a huge upgrade at the position for the club. The interior of the offensive line is in good shape with guard Kynan Forney (48 consecutive starts), guard Matt Lehr (15 starts last season) and center Todd McClure (63 consecutive starts). Forney in particular has developed into a really strong player with a great work ethic. Todd Weiner is a decent player at right tackle with good technique. Ben Claxton is an interesting young guard with good quickness while Quinn Ojinnaka was drafted from Syracuse and may develop into a starter in time. This unit isn’t tremendous but good coaching has done wonders for this group over the past couple of seasons and it will help once again in 2006. Expect more of the same from this unit this season.

Team Defense

Despite playmakers and Pro Bowl players like Patrick Kerney, Keith Brooking and DeAngelo Hall, the Falcons finished in the middle ranks of the NFL in most defensive categories. Injuries to DE Brady Smith and MLB Ed Hartwell pressed the Falcons’ inexperienced depth into service and it showed. The Falcons were also hurt by the inconsistent play of safeties Bryan Scott, Keion Carpenter, and Ronnie Heard. Atlanta finished 22nd overall, but only 26th against the run giving up an obscene 4.7 ypc average. The coaching staff, led by HC Jim Mora, Jr. and DC Ed Donatell, aggressively addressed the defense in the offseason, led by the acquisition of DE John Abraham. He will be expected to wreak havoc in the backfield of opposing offenses. The Falcons also completely overhauled the safety positions, shipping out Bryan Scott and Keion Carpenter in favor of Lawyer Milloy and Chris Crocker. The Falcons also hope to get Hartwell back to stabilize the run defense. Add the valuable experience under fire last year’s young players received to the offseason acquisitions and the prospects for a much improved Falcon defense are bright.

Defensive Line

Starters: RDE John Abraham, LDE Patrick Kerney, UT Rod Coleman, NT Darrell Shropshire
Backups: DE Chauncey Davis, DT Jonathan Babineaux, NT Grady Jackson

Starting DL: A healthy John Abraham will greatly improve a defensive line that struggled after losing Brady Smith to injury early in 2005. Abraham will bring speed and explosiveness to the Falcon pass rush and make the entire line better. The major knock on him in the past has been an inability to stay healthy, but Abraham answered his critics with a 10.5 sack season as a New York Jet last year while playing in all 16 games. The biggest beneficiary from the acquisition of Abraham will be Patrick Kerney. Kerney’s best games often came across from Brady Smith, who kept defenses honest at right end and allowed Kerney to face single blocking schemes. Kerney struggled when moved to left end after Smith’s injury. Kerney could have another top ten season with Abraham at right end. Coleman is the league’s gold standard undertackle right now, having inherited the title from Warren Sapp. He should again be disruptive in run and pass defense. Jackson was brought in during training camp to upgrade the shaky run defense as Chad Lavalais continued to struggle this pre-season.

Backup DL: Davis got most of the playing time at end after Brady Davis was injured. He showed flashes of talent but was inconsistent, especially playing the run. Management really likes him though and he should do better in a situational role this year. Babineaux and Shropshire, who looked much improved this pre-season, will rotate in to keep Jackson fresh.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Keith Brooking, MLB Edgerton Hartwell, BLB Michael Boley
Backups: WLB Demorrio Williams, LB Jordan Beck, LB Ike Reese

Starting LBs: Don’t be too surprised to hear that Michael Boley will start ahead of Demorrio Williams this preseason. Williams struggled to get off blocks as the BLB early last season. After moving to the weak side in the shuffle that followed Hartwell’s injury, teams continued to exploit Williams by running right at him on the weak side. In contrast, Boley was impressive at the point of the attack when pressed into service as the BLB and should only get better. Brooking will move back to the weak side this year. He doesn’t look to be slowing down with age and stood up well after moving to the middle to replace Hartwell. It remains to be seen how well Hartwell recovers from a season ending Achilles tendon injury. Hartwell wasn’t particularly speedy or agile prior to the injury, and he may struggle to regain some base strength and leverage. If healthy, he’ll provide a big lift as an energetic, two-down run stopper.

Backup LBs: Williams is a man without a position for now. He does best when protected from blockers and flowing toward the play. There were offseason rumblings about converting him to safety, but that looks like a dead issue with the acquisitions of Lawyer Milloy and Chris Crocker. There were also rumors that he was available in trade. For now, the Falcons plan to use him as a fourth linebacker in some sets or what is being referred to as a “spy-type” safety. The coaching staff loves Jordan Beck. He is a quick, productive, high energy type player who is hoping to be fully recovered from a broken foot he suffered early last season by training camp. He’ll also provide quality depth. Ike Reese is an aging special teams and nickel player.

Defensive Backs

Starters: RCB Jimmy Williams (r), LCB DeAngelo Hall, SS Chris Crocker, FS Lawyer Milloy
Backups: CB Kevin Mathis, CB Jason Webster, CB Chris Cash (IR), S Omare Lowe, S Cam Newton

Starting DBs: The Falcons were very disappointed with S Bryan Scott last season and moved him to New Orleans in a deal for OT Wayne Gandy. Shortly after acquiring Crocker from Cleveland for a draft pick, the Falcons further addressed the safety position with the signing of Lawyer Milloy. Milloy will be expected to bring veteran leadership and a physical presence to the secondary. Crocker is a smart, willing hitter with good coverage skills. Milloy will play FS and Crocker SS. The alignment looks backwards, but in Ed Donatell’s scheme, the FS is more of an in-the-box run supporting safety, while the SS has deep roving responsibility. Darren Sharper filled the “FS” role in Donatell’s defenses in Green Bay and would be a good comp for Milloy’s responsibilities in 2006. DeAngelo Hall is one of the league’s best young corners and provides physical, big play capability at one corner. Second round corner Jimmy Williams has a leg up on the opposite corner spot after an early camp injury to Jason Webster, who was probably only keeping the slot warm for the rookie anyway. He’s sure to be tested regularly opposite Hall. Williams has the measurables (6'2", 213lb, 4.3 speed), ball skills, and hitting ability to be a solid performer for a long time.

Backup DBs: Webster drops into the nickel role if Williams keeps the starting job. He has average cover skills but should do better in the nickel role where he's less likely to be one-on-one on an elite receiver in the aggressive Falcon scheme. Cash played well in nickel coverages last season before breaking his arm. He was injured yet again in camp and placed on IR for the third time in four seasons. Mathis is recovering from a serious knee injury but should also compete for playing time if healthy. Lowe saw time at both corner and safety in 2005, even starting the final game of the season for DeAngelo Hall. Newton and Lowe will provide depth in the secondary and special teams help.

Last modified: 2006-09-04 09:35:42



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