Do Falcons Have a Player Development Problem?

Poor Draft Picks or Coaching Issue?

Has Bier Been Under-utilized? (AP)

Thanks to Big Ray, WR, & Paddy O for their inspiration on this new post. Before diving into each of the Falcons soon-to-be free agents and whether they should sign or ship them, thought it an interesting idea to see how the Falcons have done with developing the players that have been drafted the last four years.

Has the coaching staff done a poor job of developing players, or at least failed to give them a legitimate change? Or have the draft picks simply been below par. It’s obviously a hard thing to figure out with limited knowledge for us fans, but it’s been frustrating never knowing if the Falcons had some quality players that were never given a chance to shine or if the picks just weren’t that good.

A Coaching Issue or…….

On one side of the coin is the belief that this Falcons coaching staff, led by Smith’s hyper-conservative philosophy on all fronts, have been entirely too cautious and slow in their player development. It seems that the Falcons have drafted some seemingly good prospects who have shown flashes of ability, only never to be seen or heard from again.

They also have had a maddening tendency to keep some of the same players on the practice squad for several years in a row, giving the illusion that they like something about them, but never giving them a legit chance to make the team or prove their worth. They have rarely put in rookies for clean-up time to get live snaps and experience. There have also been instances of players having good rookie campaigns only to completely regress and sometimes not even make the roster.

Poor Draft Picks or…….

Perhaps it’s simply a case of Thomas Dimitroff and his staff just making less-than-stellar draft picks that either had a limited ceiling, wasn’t a good fit, or just couldn’t progress for whatever reason. For instance, there’s no way you can blame the coaching staff for Sam Baker or Peria Jerry’s injury issues. They were well-documented when Dimitroff selected them. Although doing a pretty good job overall, the Falcons GM has certainly had his share of head-scratchers.

Various Reasons

Sometimes, no one’s necessarily at fault and it’s just a case of bad timing, the player’s work ethic, or having established starters already on the roster. Maybe the draft picks progression just hit a wall or an injury sidelined an otherwise bright future.

**The idea is to look at draft picks known more for their developmental value which tend to be draft picks 3rd round and later**

Harry Douglas – WR (2008 – 3rd Round)

This one obviously still has a chance to turn out well for the Falcons, but there’s a chance HD could go somewhere else and realize his true potential. The coaching staff surely can’t be blamed for Douglas getting injured in his 2nd year and he had a fantastic rookie campaign due to the Birds giving #83 chances to make plays.

HD Gone? (C.Compton/AJC)

That being said, though, the Falcons, in particular Mike Mularkey, did an extremely poor job of integrating Harry Douglas into the offense and definitely under-utilized Douglas when he was healthy last year and especially this season with him to go along with Roddy White and Julio Jones. Two examples here: Douglas looked fantastic in preseason and almost single-handedly brought back the Birds to win the game against the Saints at home. Those were only a few examples because otherwise he was non-existent in Mike Mularkey’s offense. Sure will hate to see him go elsewhere and be great.

Chevis Jackson – CB (2008 – 3rd Round)

Jackson is one of the more puzzling players to figure out. He was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2008 NFL Draft from LSU and had a very good rookie year. Jackson essentially became the Falcons nickel cornerback and recorded 31 tackles, 5 passes defensed, and returned an interception 95 yards for a touchdown, making it the second longest interception return in franchise history. Jackson even had an interception in the playoffs against Arizona that season.

Even though the future looked bright, Jackson just couldn’t replicate his rookie form and had limited playing time in 2009 and was cut the following season. Jackson never caught on with any other team and was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots, and Denver Broncos in 2010 and the Carolina Panthers this year. The coaching staff surely doesn’t seem at fault on this one since 4 other teams passed on him as well. Hard to think it was a terrible pick since he did have some decent success as a rookie. This one’s a puzzle.

Robert James – LB (2008 – 5th Round)

This is an example of the Falcons wanting to hang onto a guy, but evidently never progressing enough to warrant a serious look on the big stage. Part of James issues including him receiving a ban for illegal substances, but even then he’s been hanging around the practice squad forever. He can either play or he can’t and the Falcons have had 4 years to gauge that, but yet he still remains on the practice squad.

Kroy Biermann – DE/LB (2008 – 5th Round)

Biermann has obviously become a mainstay on the Falcons roster and he’s done everything the Falcons have asked of him. Thought by many of being a potential 3-4 type outside linebacker at 240 lbs, the Falcons evidently saw him as a pure 4-3 DE. He answered by adding almost 20 lbs and even had 2 sacks as a rookie and then 5 sacks in year 2. Biermann started 14 games at DE in 2010, but only came away with 3 sacks.

Biermann only recorded 2.5 sacks with limited sacks this year. Biermann has shown that he has athletic ability, taking two interceptions for touchdowns in consecutive years and both of them came on pretty spectacular plays. Biermann is potentially poised to leave the Falcons this year and perhaps have success as a 3-4 OLB elsewhere. The coaches shouldn’t take all the blame for a player regressing, but their rigidity in not being creative or trying players at different positions or trying different looks is their fault.

Christopher Owens – CB (2009 – 3rd Round)

Chris Owens Not Developed Correctly? (AJC)

No one has taken more flack than Owens after the Debacle in the Dome, where he became a scapegoat for many in what was a complete team and coaching meltdown. It was a shock when Dimitroff selected him in the third round and many thought him a major reach. Owens eventually took over one of the starting cornerback positions and played pretty darn well, nabbing two interceptions and stabilizing the secondary down the stretch for the Falcons to break the back-to-back curse.

Owens was relegated to the nickel role with the signing of Dunta Robinson and was eventually beat out by veteran Brian Williams. Owens skill was on display this year where he ran down several players with pure heart and speed. He can hit and tackle very well and seemed to play well in the playoff game in New York. Owens definitely has a future in Atlanta and may have been a victim of the ultra-soft zone defense. If he does much better under Mike Nolan, than coaching and schemes will have been the fault. If not, he probably was a reach after all.

Lawrence Sidbury – DE (2009 – 4th Round)

Sidbury is the biggest example of questions regarding this staff’s development of players. Sidbury was a unquestionably great pick for the fourth round and many draft experts thought he was a steal. He saw limited action as a rookie, but managed to collar a sack and even scored a touchdown against the Bills. The future looked very bright for Mr. Sidbury.

Than he evidently became a ghost in 2010, only appearing in 6 total games and even then he was relegated to special teams. Most of the times, he was on the inactive list. No injury was ever disclosed and fans were absolutely perplexed. Many thought he was on the bubble to even make the team in 2011. So what does he do this season? He nabs 4 sacks in very limited snaps. Sidbury always had ability and it’s just very strange what has happened with his development. How do you go from showing flashes and promise as a rookie to rarely seeing the field to showing great promise again in year 3 getting 4 sacks in limited time?

William Middleton – CB (2009 – 5th Round)

On the surface, it’s easy to say that this was just a bad pick, one of Dimitroff’s famous head-scratchers. Many fans thought it was a reach, even for the 5th round. Even draft junkies hadn’t even heard of Middleton and they had just drafted Chris Owens a few rounds earlier. He didn’t even make the team as a developmental player and that’s saying something considering the fluidity and shakiness of the Falcons secondary since 2008.

However, he caught on with the Jacksonville Jaguars and has played in 39 games for the Jaguars, including starts. Middleton even nabbed an interception to go along with 38 combined tackles. Now, the Jaguars secondary shouldn’t be considered the pinnacle of excellence, but they were one of the better statistically ranked defenses in the NFL. Middleton could start for one of the better defenses, but couldn’t make it as the #5 cornerback to develop in Atlanta?

Garrett Reynolds – OT (2009 – 5th Round)

Dpes Reynolds Still Have a Future on OL? (AJC)

Reynolds got his big chance this year and couldn’t hold the right guard position. Reynolds was always a project anyway, but if you’ve ever gone to see him up close at Flowery Branch, you’ll quickly see him as he is a giant among men. He played right tackle exclusively in college at UNC and in high school, so his best chance seemed to be at RT. It never made that much sense him working at right guard with his height and frame and inexperience at guard, regardless of their affinity for cross-training.

Reynolds is obviously still on the roster and may still figure into the Falcons future, but this kind of goes into the Falcons rigidity in philosophy. With the problems on the offensive line, could the offensive staff not have tried Tyson Clabo at right guard and allowed Reynolds to play his natural position at RT? The coaching staff shouldn’t get most of the blame, but their limited flexibility should be called into question and like most players, could Reynolds not got some live snaps in 2009 and 2010? It is encouraging that all OL spots are open for competition for 2012.

Spencer Adkins – OLB (2009 – 6th Round)

Adkins was always a project, but Dimitroff loved his speed and upside for the future, while earning his living on special teams. Adkins has been around for 3 years and has never gotten any legitimate snaps at OLB in all those years. He was even in doubt of making the roster in 2011. Adkins only received his first start after all other options had been exhausted.

While only getting limited action, Adkins looked pretty darn good with few snaps. One play in particular against Tampa Bay, he took on and fought off several blocks to get to the running back for a tackle-for-loss in the backfield. Luckily, the Falcons still have him, but chalk this one up as a failure in development and chances to get this guy some live snaps.

Vance Walker – DT (2009 – 7th Round)

If the coaching staff gets criticism for not developing certain players correctly, they should get proper credit for the ones they do well with. Vance Walker has been one of the most pleasant and surprising picks under Dimitroff. Taken in the 7th round, Walker has worked his way to be a very solid player in the Falcons defensive line rotation and looks to continue to be that way in the future.

Corey Peters – DT (2010 – 3rd Round)

Peters Definitely a Bright Spot (AJC)

Like Vance Walker, the coaching staff deserves credit for the development of Peters as a bona fide starter at defensive tackle to go alone with Jonathan Babineaux. Although a big shock to fans when drafted, Peters has been one of the best and most consistent picks of the Dimitroff Era. He has even fought off former 1st round pick Peria Jerry to retain his starting role and only looks to get better as his career continues.

Mike Johnson – OL (2010 – 3rd Round)

One of the more disappointing picks to develop so far. Many though Johnson was a future starter on the offensive line, only to get injured early on in training camp and never recover. Certainly, the coaching staff can’t help him getting hurt, but they also likely knew they wouldn’t keep Blalock, Dahl, and Clabo all together in 2011.That’s another failure of getting younger guys playing time with real minutes.

Joe Hawley – OL (2010 – 4th Round)

Hawley had his lumps for sure this year, but did fairly decent considering he was moved from starting center on opening day to taking over right guard for Garrett Reynolds. Hawley did get some snaps as a rookie and maybe that helped him some this season. It never appeared that Hawley would be anything other than the Falcons future center, but maybe his talent led the coaches to move him to RG. Either that or the coaching staff were in desperation.

Dominique Franks – CB (2010 – 5th Round)

The Falcons appear to have played this one right with Franks being ready to take over a potential opening at one of the cornerback positions with the likely departure of Brent Grimes in free agency. Franks was always thought to be a good pick in the 5th round, but found his chances extremely limited as a rookie, even after he took in one interception in only two appearances. It looks as though it will work out, but its also another strange disappearance of a player that showed a lot of promise.

Kerry Meier – WR (2010 – 5th Round)

The coaching staff doesn’t get blame on Meier since he’s struggled to stay healthy as a pro, but even when he was healthy he never got any chances. Meier is yet another player to look really good in preseason only to disappear during the regular season.

Shann Schillinger – S (2010 – 6th Round)

No fault on the coaches staff here as Schillinger appears to not been the greatest of picks and only seemed to have special teams ability and not much more. Looks to be on the outside looking in when roster cuts come down this fall.

Akeem Dent – LB (2011 – 3rd Round)

Dent Really a ST Player Only? (AJC)

Still one of the most puzzling picks of the Dimitroff Era. Like Julio Jones, there’s not questioning the player they selected, only where he was taken. The Falcons were set at the time with Curtis Lofton being the stalwart at MLB and the idea was that Dent would be a special teams maven. It was hard to believe the Falcons were so set with their roster that they could afford to spend 3rd round draft picks on special teams players alone. There’s a thought going around that Dimitroff was hedging his bets on Lofton seeking a maximum contract. In that case, there would be no downside for Dent getting snaps at middle linebacker. There were no such chances and we wonder again…..why?

Jacquizz Rodgers – RB (2011 – 5th Round)

Rodgers had a very good rookie campaign, but many wonder how much more successful he could have been if he had been integrated properly and more often in the running and passing game. Like several other players, Rodgers would have several great runs or catches in a game only to never be heard from again. Seems like a pattern.

Matt Bosher – K/P (2011 – 6th Round)

The coaching staff get credit for Bosher’s development for no other reason than sticking with him during his initial struggles. There was no other option after they parted ways with Michael Koenen.

Andrew Jackson – OL (2011 – 7th Round)

Yet another one of the mysteries regarding the offensive linemen development. Even though Jackson did have an injury history in college, many thought he could challenge for playing time and certainly a roster spot especially after reports of a good training camp. Jackson was initially put on the practice squad and than elevated to the 53 man roster due to injury. Coaching staff shouldn’t get too much criticism on not immediately developing a 7th round pick, but this adds to the long list of curious OL developments.

Cliff Matthews – DE (2011 – 7th Round)

Matthews has the potential to have a great future with the Falcons and even though he’s a 7th round draft pick, he looked pretty darn good in preseason. And of course since he looked so good in preseason, he was never heard from again during the season. This continues a similar pattern with defensive ends: see Lawrence Sidbury.

Other Notables:

Chris Houston – CB

The Falcons traded Houston to the Lions for a sixth round draft pick and at the time seemed like a great deal. Problem is that Houston just had an excellent year in Detroit and verged on a potential Pro Bowl year. Hard to understand how the coaching staff doesn’t get some blame here.

Jose Valdez – OL

Valdez was a practice squad hero that many fans were just waiting for him to not only break into the 53 man roster, but challenge for playing time. He looked really good in preseason, but was never selected to the gameday roster, but rather held on the practice squad for 3 years. He was recently taken by the Minnesota Vikings and added to their gameday roster. Now, there’s no sense in claiming he was a big loss, but it belies the point on this coaching staff deciding whether the guy can play or not. If you like his potential than coach him up and if you don’t then replace him with someone who can develop.

Antone Smith – RB

Smith has made the Falcons roster two years in a row, but has been specifically limited to special teams where he’s done well. Smith has shown in preseason to have excellent speed and agility, but of course he’s seen no carries whatsoever during the regular season. Again, either the guy can play and is worth developing or get someone who can.

Your Turn

-So, does this coaching staff have a player development problem or were many of the players simply poor or mediocre draft picks?

-What’s your thoughts on each of the above candidates: coaching issues, poor picks, or other?

651 comments Add your comment


January 30th, 2012
11:47 pm

First – to say that I agree, especially regarding Lawrence Sidbury and Harry Douglas.

R Brown

January 31st, 2012
12:57 am

D3 – Spot on. Can’t see anything you posted to push back on. Good stuff. To answer the question of whether it’s the coaches and/or picks, I have to cop out and say a lot of both. Your points made on some players such as HD, Sidbury and JR disappearing after showing they can perform is particularly telling. As for the picks noted above, I don’t see a lot of future Pro-Bowlers except, believe it or not, Bosher and I was ready to run that guy out of town on a rail early in the season. Shows you what I know. I have to admit, TD just might have gotten that one right after all.


January 31st, 2012
1:07 am

Mr. Arthur Blank, I hope this is a make it or break it year 2012 for Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff Era. If the Falcons make the playoffs and lose again you should fire these two stooges immediately. If this group of coaches and GM can’t win here in Atlanta maybe it’s time to make some changes. Making the playoffs the past few years is a huge accomplishment but what good is it to make the playoffs and never win or make it to the big dance “Super Bowl”!!!! Do something Mr. Blank. Do something. Hell bring back Dan Reeves.


January 31st, 2012
1:34 am

If TD truly came from the New England/Bill Belick school of football player development would have been high on the list of prioirties. Successfull teams like NE, Pitt, Philly and Baltimore develop players and are rarely caught without having someone to replace a injured or retired player. The Falcons need to develop the talent, to go with the scheme that they want to play.


January 31st, 2012
1:51 am

Should have fired them both this year, Mike and Thomas. They have taken the Falcons as far as they can take them. Its time to move on. I cant understand why you wouldnt make an offer to Tony Sparano as offensive coordinator and Mike Singletary as defensive coordinator. They would have made the team better. We have too much talent to not have a good support staff for our players.


January 31st, 2012
2:11 am

I miss Chris Houston he had all the potential in the world. He was victim of poor play calling and afew bad interference calls from the refs. Akeem Dent spells the demise of the Curtis Lofton era smh I KNOW TD BETTER SIGN AT LEAST ONE OUR TWO BEST PLAYERS ON DEFENSE!!! If Dent can replace Lofton then PAY GRIMES!! If Dent cant step in immediately SIGN LOFTON!!


January 31st, 2012
2:33 am

Really appreciate your not holding back and telling it like it is D3. It almost seems to me that it’s not only a matter of not developing players, but an unwillingness to simply play them. As you pointed out sometimes when given a shot they did very well only to never be heard from again. Ultimately Smitty has to take responsibility for this and it only remains to be seen if there will be a pattern change we new coordinators. I also liked your point about Reynolds and not giving him a chance to play his natural position. What did we have to lose?


January 31st, 2012
3:28 am

There are several great examples there, D3, and kudos for the hard work at scouting all of these guys. This attention to detail is what makes the Cage the best Falcons blog bar none.

The one that screams the loudest to me is Rodgers. This guy runs with spirit and heart and broke tackles and can catch, yet the coaching staff elects to limit his snaps and rush Turner more than any other back in the NFL, never sending in “the change up”. If that isn’t a textbook example of bull-headed coaching policies, I really don’t know what is. As far as we know, he isn’t injury prone like Norwwod, of course, we can’t be sure, because he barely touched the ball….(57 carries, 205 yards, 3.6 average rushing, but a lot of that was in “clean up” mode when they were rushing him into the line to run the clock, or to pick up a first down…15 of those 57 rushes were for 1st downs. Receiving: 21 rec., 188 yards, 9 yds../rec.) Let’s put that in perspective; Turner had over 300 attempts last season…why? Rodgers is a THREAT. His receiving average yards alone is just a yard shy of Tony Gonzalez for pity’s sake. Snelling was equally anemic, with only 44 attempts, but again, decent receiving totals.

It has been stated on this blog A LOT that Turner is like a pacifier for Mike Smith and crew. In the context of this blog article, I think it’s safe to say that this attitude permeates the coaching staff and prohibits the development of potential players, ans the coaches are TOO SCARED to take that safety device away and see what develops.

It has also been stated A LOT, not just on this blog, either, that the Falcons currently play “not to lose”, or play “with nervous energy”, or even “scared”. This is proof. They stick with only the familiar, and hope that it keeps working. Of course, this means against the better staffed of coached teams, we’re doomed to lose, because they don’t play that way, and they’re pretty frikkin’ good at spotting repeating tendencies.

Great article, D3, keep it up!


January 31st, 2012
4:41 am

Off topic: Just checked on the article by DOL on Glenn Thomas being the possible QB coach…yet ANOTHER ex-Jacksonville guy who is NOT QUALIFIED for the job.

I’m going to say it right now; IF they hire this guy, Smith is G-O-N-E, and he knows it. Consider it from a business perspective:

If he manages to win just 9 games next year, he will have compiled one of the best 5-year coaching records EVER, especially for a rookie Head Coach, he will have NO TROUBLE finding another position, he might be picked up in a day.

If the Falcons have hit the ceiling with this guy and his coaching style, they will move on (hopefully FORWARD) without him. Smith probably knows this, so why not watch out for your buddies, that way, when you are out the door, you have them covered too. Look, Head Coaching in the NFL is a BRUTAL business, even with success, you can be shown the door (see Tony Dungy, for one example). Smitty knows this, so he is being a stand-up guy for his friends and acquaintances. Nothing wrong with that.

Sucks for the team, though. More on Thomas; ex-receivers coach in the NFL, in college, he was HEAVY on the run game (sigh, the message is getting clearer…people expecting “vertical passing” might be sorely disappointed in 2012….) Bottom line: totally unqualified to be an NFL QB coach, except that he happened to coach with Smith in Jacksonville.

That being said, it isn’t final yet. And for the sake of the team and MR2, let’s hope it never is.

[...] Do Falcons Have a Player Development Problem? Jackson never caught on with any other team and was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots, and Denver Broncos in 2010 and the Carolina Panthers this year. The coaching staff surely doesn't seem at fault on this one since 4 other teams … Read more on Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]


January 31st, 2012
6:10 am

I think your’e on to something D-Ledbetter. It would appear that injuries and bad coaching is the root of this player development issue. Now being said that, I think Mike Smith job should be on the line if he doesn’t win a play-off game.


January 31st, 2012
6:42 am

I’ve gone from being a Boudreau supporter to glad he’s gone. The cross training issue still irks me. It looked like he’d created a line that were jacks of all trades and masters of none. If we just put an end to the silly cross training alone we’ll be better off. It’s an idea that works well in the manufacturing world where the jobs can become a bit tedious after a while. But, football’s not manufacturing. Keeping three hundred pound gorillas from ripping the arms from your quarterback should be exciting enough for anybody.

When Smith came to Atlanta, he said that he needed to study his players, determine what they did well , and ask only that they do what they’re good at. I think this is a sound philosophy , and I’d extend it to the coaches as well. What in Mularkey’s background led us to believe that he was the man direct a wide open multi faceted offense. In short, nothing. Mike’s a good coach, but he is what he is. He’s Pittsburgh power football guy. He’s good good at what he doe’s, but I think he was asked to do things he wasn’t particularly good at. I like good old southern barbeque, just don’t ask the dudes at Dreamland to whip you up a soufflé. I promise you it want be pretty.

Looking back to last season, it seems that we got locked out and never really got loaded. There’s nothing wrong with Falcons that Superman and the Incredible Hulk couldn’t easily fix. The sad part’s that neither will be available when we pick in the second round. Free agency is a pretty pricey way to build a team. we’re not going to draft or sign our way out of this sorry mess. Good teams don’t get to draft at the top of the first round every year. they have to consistently develop late round picks and no name free agents into stars. the good news is that we’re not a bad football team, we’re just not a great team.

This weekend the great teams will settle the issue of who’s the greatest team. the Falcons will watch on TV and try to figure out what the hell went wrong. We have to hope our new coaches are up to it because I don’t see where we’re going to get much improvement from the personnel.

Ronnie Dobbs

January 31st, 2012
7:08 am

Was Bosher REALLY a case of development or was he just getting used to the NFL? You said it yourself, there were no other options. I don’t believe inclusion by proxy counts for development.

I’ve never seen an NFL Punter go from 35 Y/P (August) to 50+ Y/P (December) and be able to rationally attribute it to his coach and/or team.

Atlanta Native

January 31st, 2012
7:35 am

Great research and well said D3 (as usual). I agree with the previous posts. I’ve been very critical of the coaching and will remain there. Agreed that some of TD’s picks were head scratchers, but if a player is not put in a position to utilize his talents – it’s not the players fault. MM must have had something against the players on the depth chart – HD, JR even KM. Same thing for BVG. I for one am ecstatic both of those bone heads are gone. We’ll see if MS has learned from past mistakes soon.


January 31st, 2012
7:46 am

What’s up Cage Fam… EXCELLENT topic!! The TeePee has to pause and think about this one.
Going to be a fine debate with this one.

Leave it to Big Ray and WR to start trouble…..LOL. Just kidding, my brothers from other mothers.


January 31st, 2012
8:25 am

Will start with the coaching issue. D3 used a very telling word in his opening remarks about Mike Smith. The word was conservative. Conservative…let’s take a look at the word. It means cautious, prudent, discreet. Hmmmmmm?

When hired, Mike Smith was seen a a safe hire. He came into troubled waters with no baggage and a presumed reputation as a solid, effective NFL defensive coordinator. His first “power” statement was the we, the Falcons, would win by running the ball effectively and by playing solid defense. So what does he do to address those points. First, with an assist from management, seeks a power running back around which to build his attack. Michael Turner’s signing was seen as a coup and a sign that FINALLY, the Falcons could possibly mean business. Next, he hired an experienced OC and proven QB guru, Mike Murlarkey and Bill Musgrave respectively, to effective groom/develop our QB of the future. It was well known that the Falcons and the Dolphins were in intense battle for the right to take the best QB in the draft in 2008, Matt Ryan. Again, the Falcons seemed to have righted the troubling seas and we looking like a team getting its act together.

Defensively, his supposedly strong suit, Smitty made no moves as he would take a year to evaluate the personnel on hand. He hand picked a unproven linebackers coach as his DC. While effective at the college level, this gentleman had no NFL pedigree. This was troubling to many but everyone was willing to look past it for now because the offense all of a sudden seems to have the promise we had been longing for. We had a QB that seemed to be a REAL QB, we still had our potent rushing attack, and many, myself included, thought our anemic passing game would now take off.

The first year, all looked well. The young team grew quickly and shocked the world with its rapid rise from the outhouse to the penthouse. A playoff berth was secured and the Falcon Nation rejoiced.


January 31st, 2012
8:28 am

Paddy O needs some recognition for the “focus” or “lack of focus” by the Falcons’ coaching staff on player development. He consistently posted and kept the subject out front on how players would make a good play and then disappear for the rest of the game, for multiple games, and sometimes to never be seen again for the season.


January 31st, 2012
8:35 am

Going to start with the draft picks.

I for one, am a STAUNCH supporter of Thomas Dimitroff. I think that the Falcons are damned lucky to have him as their GM. Football is the lifeblood of this man. He has spent his entire professional life scouting and evaluating football players. He cut his teeth in Canada and with various NLF teams as a scout before landing his big ticket with the New England Patriots. The Patriots were in a state of disarray before Scott Pioli and Bill Belicheck arrived in 2000. Fortune began to turn around slowly and in 2002, Pioli and Belicheck attracted the young scout to Patriot Way to become director of scouting. His keen eye for talent would pair with a determined front office to land some of the best talent in the FA and draft markets. In short order, the Patriot Way was the best organization in the NFL, winning back to back Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004 with players that TD was instrumental in bring to the big board for Pioli/Belicheck to grade and/or select.


January 31st, 2012
8:40 am

In Atlanta, the wheels had come off the wagon. The Falcons had gone through 2 coaches in less than 18 months, one of which bolted like a thief in the night for a college team, and had seen their franchise star arrested on felony charges. The team was in shambles. Looking for direction, Arthur Blank, shocked and embarassed, sought the counsel of many wise NFL executives such as Ron Wolf and Ernie Accorsi. It was Accorsi that recommended that TD to Blank.

Once secured with his man as GM, AB would then set his eyes on his next coach. Conservative and prudent in his own right, AB would settle on Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mike Smith. Note the two key words here; they are referenced early in the text of the post by D3. Conservative….both on the parts of Mike Smith and Arthur Blank. This hire was made to ensure that there would be no more DRAMA in the ATL anytime soon. But drama there would be..


January 31st, 2012
8:48 am

The Whiz Kid, TD, went right to work. Given a mandate by his new head coach and owner that we would be a power rushing team, he went out and secured the biggest FA prize in the 2008 free agent market, RB Michael Turner. Pundits around the leaguye praised the move and looked highly at the young aggressive GM in ATL as a rising star and force to deal with. After all, he had roots in the Patriot Way. Fans in ATL began to take notice. Could something be in the works here finally?

Meanwhile, Smith, cautious and prudent (aka conservative) hired a proven OC, Mike Murlarkey, and RETAINED a proven QB coach in Bill Musgrave. Smith was well aware of Musgrave’s abilities as Musgrave was the OC in Jacksonville during 2003 adn 2004 while Smith was the DC. So coaching on the offensive side seemed to be in tact. The foundation was set offensively so the team went into the draft and selected their QB of the future, Matt Ryan. All seemed well.


January 31st, 2012
8:51 am

Defensively, the Falcons were a team that had no real identity. Smith, supposedly a defensive minded teacher, was the head of a Jacksonville defense that had earned a reputation as tough, physical, and attacking. So when he selected a coach with only ONE YEAR at the NFL level, that year being a linebackers coach, to run his ATL defense, it sent shock waves around the region. His choice, was most known for two things, his UGA defenses AND his quick demise at Ga. Southern University as head coach.


January 31st, 2012
8:54 am

Defensively, the Falcons were a poster child of inconsistency. Smith, a coordinator with one of the leagues most consistent defenses, seemed just the man to correct this shortfall. But his first defensive hire caught a lot of folks by surprise. He hired, as his DC, a coach with ONE YEAR of NLF experience, that being a LB coach. Until that, the man had, as his highlights, a successful stint at UGA as a coordinator AND a pitchfork dismissal from Georgia Southern as its football coach after ONE year. Now, he was tasked with building/managing an NFL defense in ATL. Hmmmmmm..


January 31st, 2012
9:00 am

All started well. The offense and what some called a weak schedule in 2008 masked some key issues. The young QB and the FA running back surprised all with their inspired play. The Falcons made the playoffs, completing a journey from the outhouse to the penthouse. Excitement abound now and the future looked great.

In the second year, the team went after another key element. They drafted heavily on defense; some said they were trying to find BVG’s type of players. Adding Tony Gonzalez, TD brough another weapon to an offense that had seen the emergence of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, and Roddy White. Mad Mike had things rolling in the ATL as the offense used the same script to finish the season with a winning record. Narrowly missing the playoffs, the Falcons for the first time, had back to back winning seasons. Ohhhhhhhh the joy of it all.


January 31st, 2012
9:04 am

But in year three, the foundation begin to show some cracks. Inconsistencies in offensive play calling began to emerge. But once again, lady luck and what many called a soft schedule again, allowed the Falcons to finish with the league’s best record. Offensively, we again looked well. MR2 posted career numbers, RW84 did the same, Turner was second in the league in rushing, and we seemed ready for for the world. We clinched our THIRD consecutive winning season, a division title, and a first round bye. Things had not been this exciting in the ATL since the magical 1998 Super Bowl team.

But the wave of excitement was about to turn into a devasting tsunami. The Green Bay Packers, a wild card team and a SIXTH seed, would come into the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons, after an extra week of rest and so-called preparation, would play one of the most embarssing games in recent memory.

And the wheels would begin to wobble significantly on the wagon.


January 31st, 2012
9:11 am

Season four would start with the disconnect. In three years, the Falcons would go from a team that wanted to run the ball and control the game (prudent, conservative) to one that needed to get explosive. Conflict NUMBER ONE. This went against all that we had come to expect from Mike Smith. Conflict NUMBER TWO. It became public knowledge that Mike Smith, at times, would overrule the calls of his OC. Conflict THREE. The defense, while showing some improvement, and considering the investments made over the last two years via FA and the draft, was regressing in a major way, especially in the secondary.

There seems to be no cohesion. As season four rolled along, the team often looked lost and out of any signficant groove. Against the “elite tier” teams, Mike Smith and staff looked outmatched and left looking for answers. Conservative and prudent had become a joke to most fans. Cries for change begin to grow louder. Even the owner, when his face was shown on the Jumboscreen or the small screens at home, seemed lost at times as to what was going on.

Trouble was brewing in Paradise. And after each miscue, each bad performance, Smitty would say the same old refrain. We did not play well, we did not coach well, we did not focus. Fans grew even more restless as many saw that talent was being wasted away in an exercise of incompetent and ineffective coaching.


January 31st, 2012
9:21 am

Prudent…cautious. Mike Smith does not take chances. He goes with the order as it is set. For example, Corey Peters saw action only because Peria Jerry and Trey Lewis were hurt. Peters turned in a hell of a season as a rookie. Yet, despite his superior and UNEXPECTED fine work, he was actually in competition with Jerry who had shown NOTHING in his limited work before injury.

Harry Douglas was making major strides as a slot receiver before a serious knee injury ending his second season. He has never been given that type of attention again in the offense despite showing flashes of explosiveness on several occasions. Smith or Murlarkey. DISCONNECT.

Jason Snelling came into the NFL and the Falcons from a west coast offense. He was VERY solid as a receiving threat out of the backfield while at Virginia. Mad Mike managed to intergrete him into the passing attack in 2010 when Snelling caught 44 passes. Last season, that number was cut in half as the Falcons tried to “push” the ball down the field in a more “explosive fashion. DISCONNECT.

Big Ray

January 31st, 2012
9:25 am

D3 ,

Damn fine write up. Truly good stuff, as always. I’m glad to play a small part in your literary inspiration, lol.

I’ll get back with some more opinion later. For the moment, I’m enjoying everybody’s comments, and of course…. SW’s discertation.


January 31st, 2012
9:26 am

Smith’s cross training approach. The ATL Offensive line is not a collection of perennial Pro Bowl players. It is a quilt; a patchwork that has done, for the most part, what it was tasked to do. It was built to run the football and sustain a intermediate passing attack.

Sam Baker, injury prone while at USC, was rated MUCH higher than he should have been. The Falcons, sensing a need to get a LT to protect their franchise QB, moved up to get him. Move has not pained out. Garrett Reynolds, Joe Hawley, and Andrew Jackson all are quality OL personnel that achieved respectable success at their tackle, center, and guard positions. Except for Reynolds, they are smaller undersized guys more suited for the zonbe blocking scheme than the power attack.


January 31st, 2012
9:30 am

Fast and attacking defensive personnel? Chevis Jackson, Chris Owens, Robert “the Beast” James, Dominque Franks; all came out into the draft with reputations as attacking, aggresive defenders only to be lost on the depth charts here or only see the light of day in emergency situations.

Hell, Franks was an OUTSTANDING kickoff and punt returner for OU but we let Weems take over the position when he was outperformed by not only Franks but Douglas. DISCONNECT.


January 31st, 2012
9:37 am

SW…the “whiz-Kid” reference is a shot by me at his inexperience, which shows in his upstart attitude that does hinder the team at times. I.e., I think that he tries very hard to show his mentors and idols that his way is just as good or better. The ball was forced to JJ last season, and in a large way, it made the offense look off-balance, yeah, there were other huge issues, but that one was not needed. He went head-to-head with Belichick with that one as to who was right and who was wrong, and we’ll have to wait and see if the lack of draft picks hurt the Falcons, and what kind of receiver JJ turns out to be. We gave up a LOT to get him.
He also whiffed on some other pretty significant moves…Sam Baker, I’ll give him a 50% on, because he got injured and was never the same afterwards. Jerry, inexcusable mistake, take a look at some other Defensive names the Falcons could have picked up later on on that board and start shaking your head.. Clay Matthew, Jarius Byrd are two Pro-Bowl level impact players that come to mind. Dunta in free agency….ok, we’ll finally get to see him play man-to-man coverage and check it out…but when your number of fines is comparable to your interception total, you got issues. He seems to be icing the cake in the last two years when it still ain’t cooked yet. The two founding things that make playoff winners, Offense and Defensive lines, are in BIG trouble Our O-Line can’t run or pass block or move with agility or…let’s face it ….anything., and our D-Line is also out-muscled and can generate no pressure. BIG problems.
All that being said….TD is a pretty damned good GM. He makes more smart moves than dumb ones. Douglas, Ryan, Turner, Lofton, Spoon, Reynolds, and so on. Not shabby.
The Falcons had nowhere to go but up, but give TD credit for rebuilding them and not letting them wallow in misery for more years to come. Luckily, Ryan turned out to be a stud, and solidified the most important position on the field.
In the end, though, TD is young as a GM, and needs a bit of wisdom to get us and him where we want to go, and that starts with addressing real issues and not personal agendas regarding what the team needs.
If I had my wish, JJ will end up as one of the best and most legendary receivers of all time, with White right along with him. It just isn’t there yet, and certainly not enough to justify the offensive stalls we saw last year. With JJ, we scored a lot less points…I’m sure that wasn’t the idea. Hard fact, but it’s damned true. And it cost us a ton of draft picks. That is always bad.
Remember Hershel Walker to Minnesota? This is not quite as epic, but it’s in the neighborhood. They traded away 8 draft picks, us 5. It’s pretty gutting. The previous trade gave Minnesota a running game for a couple of seasons, but brought them ultimately nothing. And it built the Cowboys 90’s dynasty. The whole damned thing. So far, we got a couple of “explosive” plays. And no playoff wins. Or “signature” wins. Or draft picks this year. Ouchie.
I guess time will tell if JJ is “all that” or not. In the meantime, I gotta agree with Belichick…I wouldn’t have done that either.


January 31st, 2012
9:38 am

Could go on but will state this. The Mike Smith hire was a stablizing element for a franchise in trouble. I love what he has done here in ATL to set the franchise on the right course.

But it is time now for him and TD to sit down and discuss the TRUE direction of this franchise. Taking OL personnel from the WAC/MWC does not favor a power rushing attack. Taking undersized DTs, some of which have a continuing history of injuries, does not help establish a dominate pass rush.
Over paying for cornerbacks that are LOST in both performance and scheme will not help a unit that already SUCKED in pass defense. DISCONNECT

Changing the plays of your offensive coordinator is a disconnect. Misusing 230 pound plus running backs is a disconnect. Failing to throw screens or slant routes; failing to truly assess the talents and abilities of your quarterback and WRs…disconnect.

Well, three of the four potential issues are gone. The OL’s toughness questions should be addressed by the fiery Pat Hill. The defensive lack of cohesion should be addressed by the proven Mike Nolan. Smitty himself, cruising in his SUV from McDonalds to the Branch with breakfast in hand, stated that Koetter has the respect and trust of his peers around the league…well, he had better given the FAR SUPERIOR talent in ATL he has to work with.

So if there is a DISCONNECT in 2012, where will the fingers point? Only one way to point….CMS.


January 31st, 2012
9:41 am

Trademark, I used your “whiz-kid” remark in a positive light. Dude is a brilliant evaluator of talent. And I think that the tools are in place to effectively take this team to the next level. It is up to the coaches to do three key things:

1) Understand and EXPLOIT the talents on the roster
2) Keep the focus on your area of responsibility ensuring its preparedness in the BIG picture
3) Hold ALL personnel, coaches included, accountable at ALL times

TD has no clue!

January 31st, 2012
9:44 am

Poor Draft Picks or Coaching Issue? Both. Your list above proves it. TD has no clue and neither does Smith.


January 31st, 2012
9:47 am

Again, I think that TD is an outstanding GM. And I agree with you. He has had a few miscues. What GM has not. But the Falcons are hampered by a lack of a cohesive coaching vision MUCH more than anything the GM is giving them in terms of talent.

Willie Middleton was not given a chance in ATL to do anything but play mop up in the preseason. In the last two years, he has managed nine starts in Jacksonville. What did Mel Tucker see that we did not.

We cut Dmitri Nance and he went to Green Bay. He did nothing of note there and was released. And what do we do? We sign dude to a futures contract. Come on, man. Jose Valdez, a beast at both tackle and guard, was NEVER, NEVER given a chance on the field in real time action despite having the look of a upstart in the playoffs. At 325 pounds and with THREE years on the PS, you mean to tell me that he could not have at least been given the chance when we put Hawley in their at RG?


January 31st, 2012
9:49 am

Mad Mike and Smitty did not see eye to eye. And BVG was totally lost as an NFL coordinator. And that disconnect, that lack of vision, hurt this team. And it may well have stunted the development of several components that we now stand to lose.


January 31st, 2012
9:50 am

Great post, D3.

Subjectively, it seems to me that the better teams in the league have more players that are household names, or “stars”, if you will, known for excelling at their given position. But in the case of the Falcons, we never seem to hear about the performances of anyone but Ryan, White, Turner, and Gonzalez, which says to me that either the players mentioned in this post 1) aren’t performing, or 2) aren’t given the chance to perform. I’m sure it’s a mixture of both, but I’m leaning towards the latter. The Saints have all kinds of weapons on offense that are used regularly. The Giants have a number of pass rushers that can make life hell for a QB. Don’t we have the same number of players as these teams? If so, why don’t we ever see them? Yes, we have a player development problem–players can’t develop if they don’t play.

Overall scheme has been the main reason for the predictability of the Falcons this season, and leaning too heavily on the same personnel while ignoring potential assets is a part of that. It makes the team look like not simply an open book, but one with a ton of blank pages.

R Brown

January 31st, 2012
9:52 am

Ronnie Dobbs – I again think it’s both. I have to give credit to TD for picking the guy and I’m NOT the only one who thought he was a bust in the beginning. So, hat’s off to TD for that one.

Bosher missed a lot of camp and contact with the coaches, particularly the strength coaches to get that kicking leg right. Heck, the lockout started a lot of teams and players off in the negative. I do think the coaches had something to do with his development just for sticking with the guy if nothing else. They must have known what they had because I don’t recall any word all season of the Falcons auditioning other kickers.


January 31st, 2012
9:57 am

Alvin Reynolds was fired…for what? Tim Lewis was retained for what? Were not BOTH of them responsible for that pathetic secondary we saw too damned often this year?

Boudreau was fired despite putting together a patchwork offensive line that STILL allows Turner to be among the leagues’ leading rushers and saw Ryan post career highs in yards and TDs. He was hit WAY too much I will give you that but he also spent a lot of time in that pocket. Again, the Falcons rapidly transitioned from a run first team to a team that would rely heavily on the pass. And this OL was not meant for that. And it showed. This is what should have been and guess what, it ended up just like advertised. Injuries derailed the process.

LT: Sam Baker
LG: Justin Blalock
C: Todd McClure
RG: *Garrett Reynolds
RT: Tyson Clabo

Free agency stole away road-grading right guard Harvey Dahl, but GM Tom Dimitroff did well to retain Blalock and Clabo, keeping the unit mostly intact. This line will be relied on for protection more than ever with Atlanta’s offensive philosophy gravitating to the pass. Reynolds has never started a game, but has a nasty reputation, goes a legit 6-foot-8, 317, and has been taught how to bend. The reserves are short on experience, but long on promise. Joe Hawley is the heir apparent at center, and Mike Johnson is a game-ready fallback option if Reynolds flops. Swing tackle Will Svitek has the most career starts of the reserves (six). He’s also a tight end in jumbo packages


January 31st, 2012
10:00 am

R Brown

You make a very important point there with the OTAs and mini camps missed last season. For all the veterans that we have (Abe, Pete, Gonzo, Turner, McClure), the Falcons, are for the most part, a very young team. Experience and leadership are growing in some players but that time together, especially for the OL and DL, given the additions/subtractions, would have been critical and crucial to stability.


January 31st, 2012
10:00 am

R Brown — Thanks for the kind words. This has been an issue with many of us since day 1. The refusal of this coaching staff to get young players live minutes. Sure, they’ve had some success with some players, but overall, many guys have shown promise only to disappear. Very, very frustrating.

JWS — If your first time in Cage, then welcome. I think that TD gets a little more of a pass than Smith on this one. He drafts many players that have worked out pretty well, either here or elsewhere. TD doesn’t control how often the players get playing time and are developed.

John — Welcome if this is your first time posting. Agreed. Those other teams do a fantastic job of drafting and developing their players. I’ll add two more: Packers and Saints. Packers were able to go on their SB run due to their younger players getting PT in blowouts. Same goes for Saints. Saints have always gotten players playing time and figured out ways to get them the ball, especially on offense. Guys like Chris Ivory, Pierre Thomas, Lynell Hamilton, Lance Moore, and Marques Colston are just a few names that were unheralded, got a chance, and have done a great job when given the chance. Compare that to us and we can’t even get guys who HAVE proven to be good more opportunities.

Ken Strickland

January 31st, 2012
10:09 am

Virtually every new HC, OC or DC wants to make their mark and have the type of players, their type of players, that will make their particular style of ball and approach work best, especially established coaches like Nolan. So, as good as players like MLB CLofton and CB BGrimes have been, it’s possible he might decide he wants a different type of player at their position, regardless of how productive they were in the old system.

In the case with CB BGrimes, Nolan might decide he wants a more physical CB that can challenge and redirect the bigger WRs coming off the line. That would make Franks and Wall the obvious choice over Grimes. With CLofton, Nolan might favor a more versatile MLB, one with more speed, quickness and cover ability, even if he has less run stopping ability. Nolan might intend to blitz a whole lot more than our previous DC, which could mean he has no intention of relying on our 4 down linemen to generate the bulk of our pass rush.

That could mean he’d prefer a younger, quicker, faster and more athletic DE like LSidbury starting at RDE rather than JAbraham. The decisions on who we resign and who gets to start will depend on Nolan’s expectations for the future, not any rememberances of the past. Different schemes and approaches often require a different focus and different implimentation, which usually requires different talent. What other proof does one need than the Eagles total failure to get no better than average production out of a top 2 and a top 5 cover CB, simply because they didn’t fit the scheme the Eagles forced upon them.

So don’t be surprised if the Falcons allow certain high profile and previously highly productive players to walk. It just might be a case of our OC and/or DC wanting to free up money to sign players that will solidify areas/positions that are more important to their particular scheme and/or approach. After all, a pass 1st OFF wouldn’t make acquiring a go to RB a higher priority than acquiring a go to receiver, and the opposite would be true for a run 1st OFF.


January 31st, 2012
10:13 am

K Strick, I for one will not be surprised to see certain high profile guys let go. I am honestly looking forward to it and anticipating it. I think Grimes, Abraham, and Peterson will top the list of released or allowed to sign elsewhere. Sam Baker is also on his way out the door. As much as I hate to say so, I think McClure is done as well.

Changes, some of them major and shocking, are on the radar screen. Stay tuned.

Ken Strickland

January 31st, 2012
10:18 am

Also, I believe a number of the players we do resign, like maybe RB JSnelling, CB BGrimes, MLB CLofton, DEs JAbraham and KBiermann etc, will be signed to 1yr contracts. With the likelihood of us employing what could end up being drastically different schemes and approaches, TD might want to see how these players fit those schemes and approaches before making any long term committment. The Philly situation might factor into that decision very heavily.

R Brown

January 31st, 2012
10:24 am

SW – So are you sounding the “rebuild” bell because if those moves happen as you, K-Strick and others alluded too coupled with a new coaching staff, it sure sounds like where we’re headed. And if it is, can we even expect 9 wins next season.

Ronnie Dobbs

January 31st, 2012
10:28 am

R Brown “They must have known what they had because I don’t recall any word all season of the Falcons auditioning other kickers.”

He was a damn good kicker in college, that’s for sure. Maybe it was the lockout or just getting used to the NFL. Whatever the case, I hope he continues to progress. When your rookie punter puts up numbers better than Donnie Jones and Shane Lechler in the final months of the season, there is a lot to look forward to.

Paddy O

January 31st, 2012
10:33 am

D3- when you read the entire list – it appears that there is either a horrible disconnect at Flowery Branch – draft picks that were not properly developed – or, TD really is a bit of a tasmanian devil at draft time. Quite a few of our draft picks that have not gotten a lot of play time, even when we have a substantial lead or are losing by a ton, is explained how? Rookie coach not having a complete grasp of his total job? Which is what we frequently call the Falcon Apprenticeship program. When you combine this with our playoff record, it makes a fan who wants to consistently challenge for the Super Bowl nervous. Of course, Dallas in the early years of Landry had problems in the playoffs, so I do have quite a bit of patience.


January 31st, 2012
10:35 am

Ron Brown – think of the ineptitude of the coaching staff at the beginning of the season. How anyone could come into a situation as we had and do a good job as a rookie baffles me. When Bosher was kicking short, look what the rest of the team was doing.

Ken Strickland

January 31st, 2012
10:37 am

SEMINOLE WARRIOR-Once again we agree. It no secret that our old OC and DC were going to be fired, and their replacements would be tasked with the responsibility of correcting what was wrong with our OFF and DEF. Sometimes a scheme and/or philosophy change isn’t enough. Sometimes a change or shift in personnel is also required.

I could definitely see OC Koetter deciding that upgrading LT, OC, and/or RG are the most significant issues that we need to address. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t be surprised to see us resign JSnelling and then trade or release MTurner to free up the money to make those OL upgrades. The thinking would be, if we upgraded our OL and got better production from it, we wouldn’t have to over pay, or over rely, on a declining one dimensional RB like MTurner.

Ken Strickland

January 31st, 2012
10:40 am

R BROWN-We’re not REBUILDING, just upgrading in certain areas, including schemes, coaches and approach.

Hamad Meander

January 31st, 2012
10:42 am

I’ve been pretty critical of the Falcon’s drafts over the years, mostly thinking that the picks were made before their value. The player that I think I was most excited about when they picked him was Sidbury Jr. He seemed to fit that mold of perfect size and freakish speed to be a true force in the pass rush. My feeling, as I believe a lot of you agree, is that if he was put in for more snaps, he would be more successful. It just doesn’t seem like he has been given the opportunity to shine.

I’m not going to go into all the players, but on defensive backs, I feel that Owens was in over his head coming from Div.IAA to the NFL, Chevis wasn’t quick enough to play CB, Middleton (hindsight is 20/20) might have been let go too early, Houston was horrible here, but plays big in Detroit (those things are going to happen) and Schillinger was picked when I thought there were a few bigtime players still on the board that played bigtime college ball.