As mentioned several times before, competition throughout the entire Falcons roster has been and will be heated, intense, and fierce since the start of training camp. The vicious competition will not be limited to starting spots such as Defensive Tackle or Strong Safety. Some of the more concentrated battles will be those backup positions where players are fighting tooth and nail simply to earn a spot on the 53-man protected roster. Many of these players will be fighting for their professional lives in many instances.
A Special Teams Must
Although they may not be asked to contribute on offense or defense in a major role, they must exhibit a great versatility and tenacity on special teams. In the Falcons case, they must prove they can play for special teams Coach Armstrong, who demands toughness, speed, and most importantly hitting. Atlanta’s special teams proved to be one of the best in the NFL last year (setting a new NFL record for least amount of punt return yards against them in a single season, with 49 yards). So this will be harder than normal fight, not one simply based on offensive or defensive play-making ability in the advent of an injury.
Only 6 LB’s?
Using the assumption that Wire and, maybe Gilbert, look to be pretty solid favorites to make the squad, that will leave several players fighting like mad to not hear the words “coach wants to see you, bring your playbook”. Outside of Peterson, Lofton, Nicholas, and Wire, a look at the candidates in the fight:
Tony Gilbert – #51
Height: 6′0, Weight: 248, Age: 29, 5 years NFL experience
Bio – Known as a special teams stud. Tied for sixth in Jacksonville Jaguars team history with 38 Special Teams tackles. Played in all 16 games in 3 years (2004 – 2006). Played MLB at UGA under current D-Coordinator Brian Van Gorder. Has big advantage of making team since he can backup Lofton in the middle, but also slide over to one of the outside spots in a pinch. Earned a spot on last year’s 53-man protected roster
Spencer Adkins – #59
Height – 5′11, Weight – 230 lbs, 40-Time: sub 4.5, 30 reps x 225
Bio – Undersized linebacker that never developed at Miami after a highly productive high school career. Huge upside with loads of potential, but is very, very raw. Will definitely be a long-term project. Wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine. Lacks assignment discipline.
Robert James – #51
Height – 5′10, Weight – 218, 40-Time: 4.72, 22 reps x 225
Bio – Athletic Outside Linebacker that had an excellent senior campaign two years ago. Breaks down well, sheds blocks in a fluid manner. Has a quick change of direction. Shows above average pass coverage skills despite height. Not an exceptionally tough linebacker. Gave an impression of apathy towards his football career coming out of ASU. Falcons waived James after concussion sidelined him for season, but they opted to retain his rights.
Edmond Miles – #43
Height – 6′0, Weight – 243, 40-Time: 4.64,
Bio – Played in all games on special teams for the Miami Dolphins in 2007, becoming the first rookie to lead the team in spec teams tackles. Bounced around between Miami, New York, and signed with Falcons in late April. Projects as a serious long-shot to make roster over more well-known and established linebackers.
Jamie Winborn – #49
Height – 5′11, Weight – 230, Age – 30
Bio – In 92 career games (32 starts), has logged 407 tackles (105 solo), 10.0 sacks, three interceptions, 23 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
An accomplished special-teamer who has recorded 46 career tackles covering kicks.
In 2004, ranked third on the 49ers defense with 104 tackles while being nominated by the team for the Ed Block Courage Award after returning from an injury the previous season.
Big Battle – James vs. Adkins
Assuming Peterson, Lofton, Nicholas, and Wire are fairly set in stone to make the roster, the battle looks to 5 players fighting for two spots. It may really be for one spot since Tony Gilbert played for Brian Van Gorder at UGA, and for both Van Gorder and Smith in Jacksonville. He knows the schemes and has good relationships with both men. Also a special teams ace, which is an absolute must to win the spot. Rashad Bobino was cut with the signing of Winborn, and looked to be the main competition for Gilbert. The big battle looks to be between two of Thomas Dimitroff’s later round draft picks, Spencer Adkins drafted in the 6th round of ‘09 and Robert James drafted in the 5th round of ‘08. Adkins seems to have an advantage in pure raw talent with his size, speed, and outright hitting ability. James gives up 10 pounds and an inch height to Adkins, but has spent a year in the system and also is known as a huge hitter. Edmond Miles looks to be longshot to displace Gilbert or two of Dimitroff’s own draft picks.
Must Get Younger
One thing is for certain, the Falcons will have to get younger at the linebacker position very soon, because besides James and Adkins, the Falcons are very long in the tooth at the position. Peterson, Wire, & Winborn are all over 30, and Gilbert is right at the mark, at the age of 29. Is it a lock that the Falcons draft an OLB with their first pick in next year’s draft? Here’s a look at some potentials in that department:
-Travis Lewis (Oklahoma) 6′2, 232; 16 TFL, 4 INT, 144 Tackles
-Sean Weatherspoon (Missouri) 6′1, 235; 37 TFL, 295 Tackles, 3 INT, 9 Sacks
-Sergio Kindle (Texas) 6′4, 242; 12 Sacks 21 TFL 93 Tackles
1) Who will win the final one or two spots in the LB corps?
2) Is Gilbert a suitable backup or should they look younger on the waiver wires?
3) Does James size hurt him in the competition?
4) Adkins lack of production at Miami a concern?
5) Is it a lock to draft OLB first next year?
Next Post Preview: Is Chris Houston a Legit #1 Corner?