Countdown to Training Camp: DAY 1 — Special Teams

Falcons punter Michael Koenen will also handle the kickoff chores. (Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com)

Falcons punter Michael Koenen will also handle the kickoff chores. (Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com)

Birdland – The players report this morning, after moving in and going to a series of meetings, they’ll hit the field at 8:30 a.m.  Friday.

Who is going to be the team's primary return man in 2010?

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This is the 10th and final installment of a position-by-position analysis in the “COUNTDOWN TO TRAINING CAMP 2010.”

We’ve already looked at the defensive line, linebackers, cornerbacks, safeties, offensive line, tight ends, wide receivers, running backs and quarterbacks.

The key special teams players are up today.

THE REALLY BIG QUESTION: Can kicker Matt Bryant beat back a challenge from Steven Hauschka?

Last season, the kicking situation was problematic and led to the eventual retirement of Jason Elam, the former Brookwood High alum who had an historic and extremely productive career.

Matt Bryant was signed on Dec. 1 and made 7 of 9 field goals, including a 51-yarder against Buffalo.

Hauschka opened last season as Baltimore’s kicker. He has a live leg.

Michael Koenen was retained as the punter.

There figures to be some stiff competition for the kickoff and punt return jobs.

FIVE GOALS FOR THE SPECIAL TEAMS

Atlanta Falcons receiver Eric Weems (14) catches the go-ahead touchdown during an NFL preseason football game against the San Diego Chargers at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Atlanta Falcons receiver Eric Weems (14) catches the go-ahead touchdown during an NFL preseason football game against the San Diego Chargers at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

  1. Stabilize the field goal kicking unit.
  2. Continue to win the field position battle.
  3. Take the punt coverage unit back up to an elite level after some slippage last season.
  4. Get a touchdown or two in the return game. The Falcons did not return a punt or a kickoff for a score last season.
  5. Find some head-hunters from the reserves on the roster.

Here’s a look at the key special teams spots:

Michael Koenen, Punter: Averaged 42.6 yards per punt last season and continued his great directional punting.

Matt Bryant, PK: Revived his career with a stint in the United Football League (UFL).

Steve Hauschka, PK:  Will have to control his live leg  if he’s going to unseat Bryant.

Joe Zelenka, LS: Set to enter his 12th season in the league.

Eric Weems, KR and PR (incumbent): Will face competition from Jerious Norwood, Harry Douglas and rookie Dominique Franks.

Date, Practice Times (public availability)

Friday, July 30 — Practice 8:30 – 10:10 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:25 p.m. (open to the public).

Saturday, July 31 — Practice 8:30 – 10:10 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:50 p.m. (open to the public).

Sunday, August 1 — Practice 9:35 – 10:30 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:55 p.m. (open to the public).

Monday, August 2 — Practice 8:30 – 10:40 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:25 p.m. (closed to the public).

Tuesday, August 3 — Practice 8:30 – 10:40 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 4:40 p.m. (closed to the public).

Wednesday, August 4 — Practice 1:30 – 3:40 p.m. (open to the public).

Thursday, August 5 — Practice 8:30 – 10:40 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:25 p.m. (closed to the public).

Friday, August 6 — Practice 10:15 – 11:55 a.m. (open to the public)

Falcons Allstate All-Access “Friday Night Lights”

Team Scrimmage at North Gwinnett High School – 7:30 p.m. (open to the public)

Saturday, August 7 — Mock Game at Flowery Branch – 12:00 p.m. (open to the public)

Sunday, August 8 — No Practice.

Monday, August 9 — Practice 8:30 – 10:40 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 4:40 p.m. (open to the public). COMBINED PRACTICES WITH JACKSONVILLE.

Tuesday, August 10 — Practice 8:30 – 10:40 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:50 p.m. (open to the public). COMBINED PRACTICES WITH JACKSONVILLE.

Wednesday, August 11 — Practice 8:30 – 10:40 a.m. (closed to the public); practice 3:45 – 4:40 p.m. (closed to the public).

Thursday, August 12 — Practice 8:50 – 10:55 a.m. (closed to the public); practice 5:15 – 6:15 p.m. (closed to the public).

Friday, August 13 — Preseason Week 1 vs. Kansas City 8 p.m.

Saturday, August 14 –No Practice.

Sunday, August 15 — Practice 9:30 – 11:35 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:25 p.m. (open to the public).

Monday, August 16 — Practice 8:30 – 10:40 a.m. (closed to the public); practice 3:45 – 4:40 p.m. (closed to the public).

Tuesday, August 17 — Practice 8:30 – 10:55 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:35 p.m. (open to the public). COMBINED PRACTICES WITH NEW ENGLAND.

Wednesday, August 18 — Practice 10:15 – 11:35 a.m. (closed to public).

Thursday, August 19 — Preseason Week 2 vs. New England 8 p.m.

Friday, August 20 — No Practice.

Saturday, August 21 — 9:30 a.m. – 11:35 a.m. (closed to the public); 3:45 p.m. – 5:25 p.m. (closed to the public).

Sunday, August 22 — 9:35 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. (closed to the public)

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49 comments Add your comment

west

July 29th, 2010
7:10 am

glad that there is competition for PK; the FO has changed the entire thinking of this team

Ken Strickland

July 29th, 2010
7:45 am

When JNorwood was returning kicks, he and Devin Hester, were the NFL’s most feared kick returners and HDouglas was one of the most feared punt returners. That’s when our special teams were are their best. To me, it would make far more sense to have JNorwood returning kicks rather than covering them.

Because of his value as our #1 slot receiver, and the presence of DFranks and EWeems, I wouldn’t use WR HDouglas on special teams. The concern for improving our special teams, especially our kick and punt coverage, just might solidify WR BFinneran’s chances of making the team. After all, he’s been one of our most versatile and productive special teamers the last few yrs.

With our OFF getting back on track, along with the added depth, having a dependable FG kicker is vital. With a solid OFF that can consistently get you inside the 30yd line, accuracy in a FG kicker becomes far more important than distance. We definitely have the the talent and depth to make a Super Bowl run this yr. The only thing that might get in the way is our youth and lack of experience.

With us possibly losing 2-3 of our 4 FA OLinemen, and with us likely getting high compensatory picks for losing them, can you imagine how awsome we’ll be next yr having all those draft picks to fill whatever need we feel we might have? I see us drafting a TE, to replace TGonzalez, an OLinemen or 2, to replace the FA OLinemen we’ll lose, and an OLB or 2, to replace the possible loss of OLB’s CWire and/or MPeterson.

head-mo-fo

July 29th, 2010
7:46 am

Its important that we improve our place kicking and special teams play overall. We dropped 3 games last year due to poor special teams play (mainly place kicking) and if we want to make the playoffs we will need to win a couple of close games.

I think Eric Weems performed to the best of his abilities last year. Honestly, it simply appears that his days are numbered with the return of a healthy Jerious Norwood on kickoffs and the return of a health Harry Douglas to return punts (and be re-claim his 3rd WR spot).

Jerious is a homerun threat on kickoffs.
Harry is a homerun threat in the punt game.
We have not seen Franks in action.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by sandtonyo wells, D. Orlando Ledbetter. D. Orlando Ledbetter said: Countdown to Training Camp: DAY 1 — Special Teams http://bit.ly/aDibfv [...]

robertussen

July 29th, 2010
8:14 am

eric weems did a good job returning last year. why is he no on the list. i think it will be between him and franks. douglas may not be ready for return duty with the repaired knee. norwood wasn’t as good as weems last year. i says its his job until someone takes it form him.(as long as he makes the roster)

CTK

July 29th, 2010
8:21 am

Head mo fo and Ken, you are right about Jerious’ kick off returns. He was excellent in that position, in spite of White’s holding penalties.

robertussen

July 29th, 2010
8:22 am

hey ken, if we do loose line men like you said, the compensatory picks wouldnt be rewarded until the following year. so not next year but the year after.

FalconTransplant

July 29th, 2010
8:29 am

To Ken Stickland

If we loose those FA at the end of this year it won’t be until the 2012 draft that we wil realize a Comp Pick for thier value. Any Comp pick awarded during this years draft (2011) would be for FA’s we lost during this off season. which I don’t believe we had any value that left.
And then thiers whatever collective bargining agreement before then that is signed and the stipulations that may follow.

Boo the Falcons!!!

July 29th, 2010
8:46 am

No TO?
BOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

North FLA Falcon

July 29th, 2010
8:54 am

Shouldn’t Finneran also be considered as a possible punt/kick returner?

Paddy

July 29th, 2010
9:01 am

North FLA Falcon….Finneran couldn’t win a 40yrd dash if he was the only participant. Great guy hope he makes the team but not a threat to go deep.

Kane337

July 29th, 2010
9:04 am

What happened to our Long Snapper that was so good (that you never heard his name) before he got hurt in the middle of last season?

rekingball

July 29th, 2010
9:07 am

What Paddy said. Yeah.

ToccoaBird

July 29th, 2010
9:09 am

DLed whats the latest on spoon?

rekingball

July 29th, 2010
9:09 am

Didn’t the long snapper retire also?

robertussen

July 29th, 2010
9:10 am

im pretty sure mike snchect (i know its spelled wrong…..way wrong) retired after his injury

rekingball

July 29th, 2010
9:13 am

Catman

July 29th, 2010
9:22 am

I think the Saints fans should be worried, because Drew Brees is on the cover of Madden this year and you know what that means. “The Madden Curse”

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

July 29th, 2010
9:36 am

Spoon Update??? has this greedy sob signed yet?

PMC

July 29th, 2010
9:37 am

This is the scariest part of this team. Place Kicking. Koenan is a stud, he’ll be a stud on kickoffs… there are 3 or 4 guys that can return amply.

Matt Bryant???? REALLY? who was cast out of Tampa Bay????

Steven Hauschka who couldn’t make it in Baltimore after being handed the keys???

There are hundreds of kickers out of work and I have almost no confidence in our place kickers right now. This has been a constant sore spot for this team almost year in year out for the better part of 5 years or so now outside of a good year from Jason Elam and being saved by The Great Dane a couple of times.

They have improved in so many areas…It would be ashamed to lose games because of an unreliable kicker.

This may be the most important battle in training camp

PMC

July 29th, 2010
9:39 am

Also… Long Snapper was not exactly solid for this team last season… they could use some help there too.

Bird Dog

July 29th, 2010
9:46 am

Bryant did a good job after he was picked up last year.

Misses Mike Kenn

July 29th, 2010
10:20 am

Bryant wasn’t cast out of Tampa. He was injured to start the season, and the team went with the guy that was healthy.

Paddy

July 29th, 2010
11:00 am

Dr. Ken, believe you are the only Falcon fan that thinks Spoon is a greedy sob!

ReddJonn68

July 29th, 2010
11:07 am

@ Paddy People like Ken don’t deserve a response, I don’t hear him talking about quoir boy Tebow. Everyone knows the agents are to blame.

Boo the Falcons!!!

July 29th, 2010
11:09 am

I bet TO could have kicked FG had WE signed him

ReddJonn68

July 29th, 2010
11:18 am

If anybody wants to call Spoon greedy check the blog roll, Tebow singed a 3 yr deal with Jockey but hasn’t signed his football contract yet. Talk about morales & values, gimme a break.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

July 29th, 2010
11:30 am

Paddy/ReddJonn- i completely agree, all 1st round picks except Dez Bryant has yet to sign a contract..this is BS!! Last year with Peria Jerry, we never had this issue. I’m telling you…the mindset of the agents and this younger generation of players is drastically changing for the worse. whatever happen to the honor of playing in the NFL. now it’s all about how $$ i’ll make first. pathetic.

De la soul

July 29th, 2010
11:36 am

Team, what’s up with the training camp installment on the “coaches”. We also need to see improvements from their department.

SeenThisB4

July 29th, 2010
11:44 am

Boo the Falcons!!!: If TO can’t even catch his flight to the bengirls camp, it’s a pretty good indication that he won’t catch on with their final roster. The falcants might still be able to pick him up when the waive him. Keep your fingers crossed! LOL!

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 29th, 2010
11:53 am

Kane337 — Michael Schneck retired after the season.

ToccoaBird — No Spoon update yet. Working on that.

Sick & Tired Of Being Sick & Tired

July 29th, 2010
11:55 am

Special teams play last year definitely hurt the Falcons in a few games so any improvement is welcomed. The defense, on paper, appears to be slightly improved and the offense…..only time will tell if everyone can stay healthy and Mularkey stops being predictable with the play calling. The team seemed to maintain a better rhythm when Ryan was allowed to audible at the line as oppose to the plays being called by Mularkey.

Northern Bird

July 29th, 2010
12:39 pm

Dr Ken, The owner’s make a ton of $$$ off the backs of their players > the players have a right to their share of that revenue. Most of these guys spend half their lives preparing for a professional career in the NFL, when they get there they need to be getting whatever guranteed cash they can given the contracts aren’t guranteed. These players get hurt and are dropped like a dirty shirt.
If they weren’t collecting the big checks, the owner’s would just be pocketing a greater percentage of that cash.

ReddJonn68

July 29th, 2010
12:41 pm

Hey D.O. L. went to lunch my oldest son txt me & said you were on ESPN talkin bout them Birds. I hope you put it down about those Falcons.

Zone4FalcFan

July 29th, 2010
12:42 pm

Guys what you all fail to realize is that it isn’t Spoon sitting at the table ironing out the contract agreement. Nor was it Roddy last year. It is the greedy agents that try and get as much as they can because the more the player makes the more the agent makes. If it was up to Spoon I bet he would play free. The guy just loves the game.

Section 108

July 29th, 2010
12:52 pm

Our season last year could have been glorious had Elam not choked. Forget CB’s, DL’s – FG is the most important aspect we have to turn around this season

rekingball

July 29th, 2010
12:58 pm

I can’t blame an NFL player for trying to get the maximum of what they are worth.
When these players NFL playing days are over, they are going to be feeling the effects of the punishment their bodies have taken, more and more as each year passes by.

waynester

July 29th, 2010
1:45 pm

NorthernBird
Your point about the amount of work that goes into preparing for an NFL career is well worth repeating, but Blank had to put in a lot of years work to make enough $$ to pay the men to play. It’s all relative–it takes the focused dedication of folks from lots of different specialties to make a championship caliber franchise. The league has been needing to get this deal done for some time now, especially dealing with former players medical needs. Instead of scrapping over a half percent or so of overall revenue both sides need to be focused on growing the pie–so that everyone’s incomes rise league-wide without these protracted labor fights. The League has made a concerted effort to boost the shakier franchises like the last 5 years or so with the Saints, now with the “rise up”campaign for ATL. Similar efforts are underway in HOU and I’m not sure what they’re going to do about JAX, unless they or STL move to LA. Let’s just hope they hammer it out quickly…..

PMC

July 29th, 2010
2:02 pm

Um, no one is greedy here. The signing process is slotted. None of the teams were eager to sign their first round picks really early this year. Spoon is doing the best he can to get into camp and get a contract. He’s got to do his duty to himself and his family to get the best deal he can get on his first contract and then play his behind off to get the next one. The Falcons need him and he needs the Falcons.

ToccoaBird

July 29th, 2010
2:08 pm

I just hope it gets done. I think spoon is going to be a great player for the falcons for years to come.

1911A1

July 29th, 2010
2:13 pm

Dr. Bilgewater – you are aware, aren’t you, that it’s the AGENTS that drive the last minute holdouts, not the players themselves.

RockyMtnFalcon

July 29th, 2010
2:58 pm

Falcons Football is Finally Here!!!!! GO FALCONS!!!! Have a productive and SAFE training camp and season! I will be watching every game vial NFL Ticket. This mis-placed Falcon Fan is So very excited about the up coming season. Good Luck, and to all you guys and gals that have tickets to at least one game….I am so frickin’ jealous!!! Have fun!

Hot Bird

July 29th, 2010
3:07 pm

Come on Falcons …The Spoon and that Matty Ice need to score more goals than Tom Brady and that Manning guy this year.This is gonna be our year to winn that Cup

Ken Strickland

July 29th, 2010
3:18 pm

CTK/ROBERTUSSEN/FALCONFAN-You are all correct, and thanks for the correction.

Hamp

July 29th, 2010
3:26 pm

I agree the agents drive if a player is in early or not. But what I don’t understand is that the slot is pretty much set and even to booth the raiders signed the eight pick so you got contracts ahead and contracts below. Memo to Spoon’s agent get this BLEEP done!!! GO Falcons

Hamp

July 29th, 2010
3:29 pm

Meant to Boot. Don’t wanna have PROF creep up and pencil whip me!

Hot Bird

July 29th, 2010
3:48 pm

Sorry- I was just told that we need t.d.s’ instesd of goals. I’m new to Atlanta and even newer to football. A friend told me I could learn very much about it here where y’all talk football. So come on Atlanta and lets score a bunch of t.d.’s this year

Chop Buster

July 29th, 2010
8:14 pm

Weems needs to grow a pair and run down that field like he’s got no fear! He’s starting to pull an Allen Rossum…Dear in the Headlights scared $hitless. We just need someone with a Kamikaze mentality to go all out on each KR/PR.

Thriller from Manilla

July 30th, 2010
2:00 pm

Norwood is too frail to return kicks, if they need him for the entire season which will be the first in his career they have to use him in spot situations and not chance it on special teams. Franks and Weems can handle those jobs.