The final bell will sound for many players as Atlanta Falcons tomorrow night around 10:30 in the Georgia Dome, even though they may not know yet. Currently, there are 73 players left on the Falcons roster, meaning that twenty players will be getting the “red tag” as they refer to it in baseball. Some of the younger players can hope for a spot on the practice squad, which can be a great way to develop along with having a step above free agents sitting at home. Many of the decisions may by 99% complete, while others may truly come down to the last game. Between OTA’s, training camp, and 3 preseason games, coaches have a pretty good feel for the players on the bubble. This game is entirely a basis for backups who have already made it, but mainly for the many players that reside on the bubble. It’s do or die for many as they fight for their professional lives.
Previewing the actual game may not be extremely relevant as we know that the majority of franchise players will be having a short night. If you’re heading down to the Terror-Dome on a school night you better get there on time if you want to see the likes of Matty Ice, Turner Burner, Roddy, and Gonzo. Even though we don’t know what the Ravens have in store, you have to believe that Flacco, Terrell Suggs, and Ray Lewis won’t be out there long. This night belongs to one last chance for players to stamp a spot on the Falcons 53-man protected roster. A look at the final battles of training camp:
Quarterback #3 – DJ Shockley vs. John Parker Wilson
Last Receiver Spot(s)
Chandler Williams vs. Robert Ferguson vs. Marty Booker vs. Troy Bergeron
The immense competition for the backup receiver spots looked to be one of the most intense when the Falcons opened camp in Flowery Branch, and it surely has not disappointed. Roddy is locked up as a Falcons virtually for his career, Jenks is an easy lock, and Finneran was already a pretty safe bet, but he sealed it with that nice touchdown catch and run against the Chargers, reminding many that he’s still got some game left. The huge surprise of camp has been Eric Weems. The guy came in buried deep on the depth chart after being rotated back and forth from the practice squad and active roster last year. Hometown product Aaron Kelly grabbed all the headlines with his physical skill set and Troy Bergeron was a feel good story waiting to happen, but Weems showed why training is so great as he seemingly has jumped up and stolen a spot, likely as the number 4 receiver. The remaining spot, or spots, gets really interesting. The WR field was already crowded, but the additions of Booker and Ferguson sent it into overdrive. Even though he is 33 years old, Booker has shown flashes of his old production and looks to be a favorite for a spot. His age could also be a great placeholder of sorts for a returning Harry Douglas next year. The battle for the (potential) last spot looks to be between Bergeron and Ferguson. If the coaches are looking for a special teams maven, then Ferguson will likely get the nod, but if they want someone who has serious potential as a pure WR than Bergeron may shock the world and earn a spot. This all may be moot with news that Coach Smith seems to be taking a 6th linebacker, which sets up a 6th receiver spot to be cut. Chandler Williams had a nice camp, but seemingly not good enough.
Odds: Marty Booker 60%, Robert Ferguson 20%, Troy Bergeron 15%, Chandler Williams 5%
How many receivers will the Falcons carry? Who slides in as the number 4 receiver? The number five receiver? Should the Birds keep Ferguson for special teams or is this finally Bergeron’s breakthrough to an NFL roster?
6th LB Spot: Jamie Winborn vs. Robert James vs. Spencer Adkins vs. Waiver Wire
This looked to be a purely two man battle setting up last years 5th round TD draft pick in Robert James against this years 6th round draft pick in Spencer Adkins. One was known as “The Beast” for his serious striking ability and the other as a very raw talent. Then both players got a big shock when Dimitroff signed veteran Jamie Winborn, a special teams maven as well as a sure tackler. None of the three have really jumped up and grabbed the spot. The questions are abound. Even though a touch undersized, do the Falcons start the “process” movement with Robert James at OLB? Or do they play it safe keeping veteran Winborn as an experienced backup in a very fluid and new LB group? Do the Falcons take a chance on developing a raw project in Adkins whose skill set is through the roof? Are theses all for naught when TD hits the waiver wire on Saturday and Sunday? This may be completely still up in the air.
Odds: Jamie Winborn 35%, Robert James 25%, Spencer Adkins 20%, Waiver wire 20%
Last CB Spot – William Middleton vs. Only 5 CB Spots
Chris Houston, Brent Grimes, Chevis Jackson, Chris Owens, and now Tye Hill look to have the 5 standard cornerback spots sewn up, so the question is whether the coaching staff wants to carry 5 or 6 cornerbacks. Last year the roster included 10 total defensive backs, 5 safeties and 5 cornerbacks, so many think that TD, Smitty, & Co. will elect to carry a 6th corner and only 4 safeties, which would be a perfect spot for Middleton to learn, get experience, and develop with the young CB group without being exposed to other teams desires on the practice squad. Not only will the staff potentially not carry 6 corners, they many only carry 9 total DBs this year, safeties included, with the option of even adding another CB after the big cut on Saturday. Middleton has been extremely silent throughout the entire camp, so a practice squad might be on the horizon.
Odds: Practice Squad 55%, Roster Spot 40%, Release 5%
Should the Falcons carry their 5th round draft pick? Has Middleton blown his opportunity to make the active roster? Is the practice squad the best place for Middleton? Should the Falcons leave an open spot for the impending league-wide cuts?
Backup Safety – Eric Brock vs. Antoine Harris vs. Jamaal Fudge
This one may be the most difficult of the entire roster. Each has their own specialty and case why they should make the team. Jamaal Fudge was picked up for a reason by TD last year before the start of the season and is a great run stuffer. Antoine Harris is one of the best special teams players on the entire roster, which favors him where the coaching staff puts spec teams front and center. Eric Brock brings youth, potential, and an overall ability to the table. According to practice squad rules and to the best of knowledge, none of three are eligible for the practice squad. This ones a total crapshoot.
Odds: Antoine Harris 33%, Eric Brock 33%, Jamaal Fudge 33%, Waiver 1%
Who’s your pick for backup safety? Does Harris’ special team play put him over the top? Fudge’s run stuffing ability get him in? Does Brock’s overall ability and potential tip the cards? Should the Birds carry two out of three?
Backup DT Spot: Vance Walker vs. Thomas Johnson vs. Only 4 Spots
It will be extremely hard to see some of these players go, but the NFL’s a business and that’s just the way it is. Dimitroff did a magnificent job of creating competition up and down the roster, and this has caused some really hard decisions on Smitty and Co. Hopefully, it will benefit everyone on the long run. Even though the technical cutdown day is Saturday, some players shouldn’t their hopes up too much until after the waiver wire is analyzed on Sunday, particularly at some positions.