Atlanta Falcons: Are Birds Thin at Outside Linebacker?

What to Expect Outside of Spoon

Set w/ Spoon, but After? (AJC)

There’s a ton of questions surrounding the Falcons defense in 2012. They have 3 legit NFL starting cornerbacks they must try and keep happy. Mike Nolan is bringing a very new defense to Atlanta. It will be interesting seeing how the defensive end rotation shakes out and of course there’s the battle for middle linebacker after the sour grapes departing of Curtis Lofton. One area that may not be at the forefront for many fans is the issue of outside linebacker. Yes, their emerging leader of the defense and one of the best young talents is Sean Weatherspoon at OLB. Spoon looks to take his level to an even higher level under Nolan. However, some questions arise after Weatherspoon on the depth chart.

Awaiting Nicholas’ “Breakout”

Stephen Nicholas has been a big case of unrealized potential. Nicholas got his big chance when he earned the starting nod at outside linebacker in 2009 and had his best statistical year of his career, racking up 80 tackles, collaring 3 sacks (which led all non defensive linemen that year), 3 passes defensed, and 1 forced fumble. He gave way several times in 2010 to Sean Weatherspoon and Mike Peterson as starters in 2010, but still managed to collar 78 tackles, but with no sacks. Last year saw Nicholas get injured and only play in 10 total games, starting 8 of them. Nicholas is still battling the toe injury that has kept him out recently. To many fans delight, Nicholas came back for a pretty reasonable price (5 year, $17.5 million) when he was due to become a free agent in 2011. Problem is that time is starting to run out on Nicholas getting his “breakout” that many has seen with his seeming potential since he just turned 29.

Adkins and…..

Spencer Adkins stats won’t overwhelm you, but he did show some flashes in the very few appearances he made with injuries to Nicholas and Mike Peterson late in the season and in the playoffs. He may have not stood out as a playmaker, but he didn’t do outright terrible either. He’s always been reported to have major talent and upside, but that he was a major project.

Nicholas Running Out of Time (AJC)

As a 6th round draft pick back in 2009, he’s made the outright active roster every year since and has been excellent on special teams. With the Falcons usually keeping 6 linebackers, it’s hard to believe Adkins won’t make the roster after starting in the playoffs, only being 24, and showing some of that long talked about upside.

Robert James is a story of “had potential, but never realized” if there ever was. It’s a wonder he’s still on the team in some form or fashion, but he is. James was drafted in the same class as Matt Ryan and Harry Douglas, but has not seen the field in live game action since. He has bounced around between the practice squad and off for several years now.

He went through injury issues and then he was suspended for violating the league’s drug policy and (to known knowledge) has never officially made the active roster. The fact is that James hasn’t even made the 53-man roster in 4 years of possibilities. It’s hard to imagine 2012 finally being James breakthrough when he’s 28 years old with tons of younger talent abound.

The UDFA’s

Assuming the Falcons keep 4 outside linebackers as they have in the Mike Smith Era and figuring that Weatherspoon, Nicholas, and Adkins take up 3 of those spots, there appears to be one spot available for someone. There is a plethora of talent at outside linebacker from the undrafted free agent pool including Max Gruder, Pat Schiller, Matt Hansen, and Jerrell Harris. Taking the belief that an actual spot will be open and someone like Robert James won’t fill it or Mike Peterson is brought back, there’s a very good opportunity for one of these players to make the team mainly for special teams work, but could also grow into more in the future.

Even though it’s still a longshot, the Falcons top brass haven’t shied away from keeping undrafted free agents to make the active roster, including John Parker Wilson and Michael Palmer, among others. It’s hard to gauge which LB’s stick out since they’re all lumped in the same pool. In terms of stats, Pat Schiller and Max Gruder project as the favorites with their versatility and overall athleticism being able to tackle, cover, rush the passer, and force fumbles. Jerrell Harris comes from the best pedigree as a member of a Nick Saban coached Crimson Tide member who won 2 national championships while at Tuscaloosa. Finally, the linebacker who’s looked the best so far has been underdog pick Matt Hansen who wowed at mini-camp, picking off many passes and looking very fluid.

Ultimately, the candidate who offers the best prowess on special teams and has the most upside will win the spot. That’s all assuming that a spot will even be there. It’s a very distinct possibility that Mike Nolan and Co. will decide to keep all 6 defensive ends, using one or more of them as DE/OLB hybrids, and keep only 5 true LBs.

The Defensive End Hybrid Debate

In an interview during mini-camp, Mike Nolan may have confirmed what many fans have thought since his hiring: that even though the 4-3 will be the base defense, that fans can expect several 3-4 looks in 2012. He also was quoted as saying that all the defensive ends currently on the roster would be standing up as OLB’s in his pure 3-4 defenses. The numbers for the roster have stayed fairly consistent during the Mike Smith Era, with only a few changes here and there. Overall, the Falcons have kept 5 DT’s, 5 DE’s, and 6 LB’s, and 10 DB’s (6 CB’s + 4 S) on the roster. The big question is, with so many supposedly young and talented DE’s, who would be cut or move more to an OLB type role.

Edwards Probably Won't, but Biermann Maybe @ OLB (AJC)

Ray Edwards comes in at the heaviest defensive end at 268, so he’ll likely stay at defensive end in a 4-3 or move to a 5 technique DE in a 3-4. John Abraham certainly can play with his hand up and drop back into coverage, as Brian Van Gorder’s fetish proved, but in general, Abraham has made his hay with his hand in the dirt. That doesn’t mean that Abraham won’t play in a standup / OLB role, but that most of his snaps will be at defensive end.

Kroy Biermann appears one of the likely candidates to move into an OLB type role. Coming out of Montana as a rookie, Biermann was 241 lbs. Most scouting projections actually had him playing as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Biermann, being the excellent team guy that he is, gained up to 260 lbs to play defensive end and has had mixed results there. He has shown the athleticism needed with his pass deflection, interception, and subsequent rumble for defensive touchdown. He did it in 2010 against Cleveland and 2011 vs. Chicago. He’s listed now as 255 and definitely looks lighter than he used to in mini-camp and OTA’s. Even though he has shown he can play defensive end, outside linebacker might be his new position.

Lawrence Sidbury was one of the most athletic defensive ends to come out of the 2009 draft and hasn’t disappointed while showing flashes as a Falcon. Many have wondered if Sidbury could make the transition to a standup OLB if needed or desired. He’s 6’2, and listed at 261, but came out of Richmond at 266. Many are hoping for big things from Sidbury this year with his athletic ability and pass-rushing skills. Sidbury’s right up there with Biermann as a candidate for a hybrid mix.

New draft pick Jonathan Massaquoi has also undergone a transformation like Biermann. However, instead of gaining weight, Mass has dropped weight, down 15 lbs from 275 back to 260. The 5th round draft pick is very similar to Sidbury in build, height, and weight. He has shown a knack for getting after the QB and getting back to his original weight has helped in the process. Massaquoi will probably be seeing looks standing up and with his hand on the ground.

Finally, there’s the curious case of Cliff Matthews. Matthews showed some glimpses last preseason and of course was never seen or heard from again under Smith and Van Gorder’s previous defense. Matthews is 6’4, but his weight remains a mystery. NFL.com has him listed as 268 lbs, closer to Ray Edwards. Atlanta Falcons most current roster listing has him at 257. Much like Abraham, Sidbury ,and Massaquoi, Matthews may see looks at both spots. Matthews likely has the biggest uphill battle to make the active roster if they decide to go with only 5 defensive ends.

Conclusion

The past four years have had the Falcons keeping 6 linebackers, specifically 4 outside linebackers, but this might be the year for a change. Spoon and Nicholas are obvious locks and it’s hard to think that Adkins won’t make the team for his 4th consecutive year. There are a few options the Falcons can take regarding the roster. One, they can go with their standard 5 defensive ends and 6 linebackers and that would leave someone like Cliff Matthews on the outside looking in while an undrafted free agent like Pat Schiller or Max Gruder make the roster.

Cliff Matthews Looks Pretty Big Here (AJC)

Second, they can decide that their defensive ends are simply too talented to let go and will keep all 6 defensive ends and having one of them, Biermann perhaps, work mainly as an OLB. They would then have to drop one of the LB spots to 5 instead of 6 (3 OLBs and 2 MLBs). Finally, they could maneuver the numbers elsewhere, such as dropping the 5th running back, 5th wide receiver, 3rd tight end, or 5th defensive tackle.

With the hiring of Mike Nolan and his desire for an attack minded defense, it makes the most sense to keep all 5 defensive ends with their talent, pass-rushing skills, and upside. Stephen Nicholas’ injury issues are starting to get worrisome, so moving a guy like Biermann to outside linebacker makes a ton of sense and all the while gives a ton of versatility in looks and possibilities. As the New York Giants have shown, you can never have too many players that can get after the QB. It’s just too logical not to keep all the talent at defensive end, rather than keep a 6th linebacker, likely an undrafted free agent, just for the sake of it.

Bird Cage Compatriots Turn

1) Are the Falcons in a good place in terms of OLB depth?

2) Outside of Spoon, is there cause for concern?

3) Is time running out on Nicholas’ “breakout?”

4) Can any of the undrafted free agents take the 6th LB spot?

5) Should the Falcons keep 6 DE’s/5 LBs or 5 DE’s/6 LB’s?

6) Which of the current DE’s will get the most OLB looks?

7) Should Biermann start working exclusively at OLB?

8) Who makes the roster at LB and DE?

126 comments Add your comment

WR

June 22nd, 2012
12:08 pm

Yeah D3, its that dead zone time of year again, and again personally I’m as excited as ever for this year’s version of the Falcons, but I probably say that every year.

The difference, it appears or seems the Falcons get it, meaning, the front office in the coaching staff are on the same page. Turning around a perennial loser probably was hard enough, raising fan expectations was probably even harder, well, the Falcons and us fans are here now, so now what.

So on to the questions I have:

Is Konz the real deal, no matter where he plays, C or G, can he add the protection the Falcons have been lacking at either position.

What will the offense be like, sure, a new OC supposedly is more vertical friendly, and its said he will finally implement a very lacking screen game, but how far will he go, will he truly finally utilize all the weapons at the disposal of the offense.

Then defensively, the biggest acquisition to most probably is Nolan, will he really help improve the D, is the talent we believe is there, is it truly in place. As for FA’s, will there ever be an FA that just takes a position under this regime, sorry but this regime has often shown a lot of loyalty towards what they already have. Will the focus, or oversight change to where they just really want to put the best eleven guys on the field. There’s probably many more questions to ponder, but I’ve been away from the cage for so long, these just happen to be the questions I ask to get my feet wet all over again.

Big Ray

June 22nd, 2012
12:08 pm

http://blogs.ajc.com/atlanta-falcons-blog/2012/06/21/video-qa-with-offensive-coordinator-dirk-koetter/?cxntfid=blogs_atlanta_falcons_blog

Q: How are the guys picking up the offense?

A: The guys are doing great. They study hard. We have an excellent coaching staff that does a great job in the meeting room of teaching these guys. These guys are really able to take it from the class room onto the field. Because coach [Mike] Nolan has been giving us a bunch of tough looks defensively — a lot of the problems that you’re going to face during the season our defense has been showing us those problems. That’s great when you see it in practice, so now you’re not seeing it for the first time live.

Clearly Nolan is our biggest offseason pickup. Clearly. The number of ways he is helping this team is just fantastic. And nobody’s even been in pads yet.

Q: Is there any concern about Mike Turner not hitting the hole fast enough in those short yardage situation?

A: Mike has been a very consistent player since he’s been here. [He’s had] back-to-back 1,300-yard seasons. We need to keep Mike healthy so that he’s as good at the end of the season as he is in the front of the season. The way this roster has been built, we have some other backs that are very capable. We have good competition in the backfield. I like our backfield situation. Mike Turner is at the head of the class. But, you know, we’re going to need all of those guys.

Coach speak? Yeah. But sometimes it’s good to hear. For instance, it’s nice to see Koetter dodge the question because…well, if you ask me…that means he knows it’s an issue, otherwise he’d say “no, Turner hits the hole just fine.” So he knows about if from watching film and that the use of other RBs to a significant degree is going to help the offense a lot. Not only that, but he’ll know by now that Turner up the middle or off tackle twice in a row before trying to heave a pass through a 9 inch window towards the sideline, is NOT the way to go.

Q: How much of a meeting of the minds was required between you and quarterback Matt Ryan?

A: Matt and I have spent a lot of time [together], when it became legal. We spent a lot of time watching tapes together. That is one of the good things I like most about Matt. Matt will look you in the eye and tell you how he sees it and how he thinks, and not B.S. you. By the same token, I can tell him what I think, what I see and what the coaching staff sees. He takes coaching well, but he also gives good feedback. You can’t ask for better than that. I feel like Matt and I are going to be on the same page, will be on the same page and are on the same page.

It’s refreshing to hear this right away. Not only are they having the relationship that all QBs and OCs should have, but Ryan is stepping up and telling the OC precisely what he thinks…and the OC is actually listening instead of having this “yeah, but I know better so let’s just do what I want to do” attitude. Now all we need is for Smitty to stay the F out of the way of this, and let it flow.

P Phil

June 22nd, 2012
12:09 pm

Biggest question is when the Falcons will cut or trade Sam Baker. Worst OL last year by far. He should never step foot on the field again in a Falcons uniform period.

Wings

June 22nd, 2012
12:10 pm

Big Ray – “So he knows about if from watching film and that the use of other RBs to a significant degree is going to help the offense a lot. Not only that, but he’ll know by now that Turner up the middle or off tackle twice in a row before trying to heave a pass through a 9 inch window towards the sideline, is NOT the way to go. ”

The KEY to a prolific Falcons offense in 2012

John Waynesworld

June 22nd, 2012
12:11 pm

Thanks D3. You keep us going feeding the Cage heading into the last break…

1) Who’s getting the #4 and #5 WR spots? Probably Kerry Meier and Kevin Cone. Michael Calvin has a good chance, as well as Quizz’ brother and the speedy underdog Cody Pearcy, but I think because last year Koetter only had 2 WRs on his roster under 6 feet tall he will use size and height as a factor (or as a tie-breaker). I’m personally rooting for Pearcy because he reminds me of Tim Dwight. I hope they give him enough reps to compete for a spot and don’t just remand him to the PS because of his potential.

2) How many DLs will we keep: 10 or 11? Eleven, but probably one spot will be taken from the linebackers as most of our DEs will have to play both DE & OLB positions.

3) Who’s the breakout star waiting in the wings? Well if they have been “waiting in the wings” that means they have already been here, so the rookies are out of this discussion. Kerry Meier is an easy guess, but I’ll go defense and say Lawrence Sidbury.

4) Will any of the UDFA’s make the active roster? I am hoping Pearcy makes the team as a wildcard (KR/PR/WR) and if James Rodgers is all that I’ve heard he would be a fine add. I would lean toward TE Aron White, but I wasn’t entirely impressed with him at Georgia (maybe not his fault, it could have been the “Bobo factor”). On defense Max Gruder and Chad Faulcon are my dark horses and I love their names. Nolan’s reference of not having depth at Safety might be a warning to slower Schillinger, so speedsters Faulcon and even Tuimaunei may have a chance to crack the roster.

5) How truly dysfunctional were our coordinators and their respective game plans / strategies? To put it simply, Mularkey was a stubborn, arrogant and unimaginative dinosaur in the passing game, and Van Gorder was frankly over his head in the NFL. As is the case with many molders of men (and not coordinators of professional men), Brian is a fine coach who was made for the college game.

joewhite

June 22nd, 2012
12:11 pm

Falcons offense will be better all around but the defense will be up there amongs the lead leaders

LRD

June 22nd, 2012
12:11 pm

JW summed it up rather nicely, in regards to Meier. Took the words away from me.
I would say our Coordinators were dysfunctional as they were so predictable.
More than anything from Koetter is I want that unpredictability of our offense.
I was talking to 2 other fans yesterday and both brought up the fact if Koetter relies on turner burning , we are in a heap of trouble.

Cannot wait for the July camps!!

Die Hard Falcon

June 22nd, 2012
12:12 pm

Good questions D3. I’ll try my hand at them:

1)I think Kerry Meier & James Rodgers will get the 4 & 5 spots at WR. I think Meier has just had a string of bad luck to start his career, he’s primed. James Rodgers is a gadget guy, I think his versatility will be the reason he’ll make the cut, in the return game, special teams and I could see him playing some RB or reverses, I could really envision him being an all around value player, somebody the patriots would love if we didn’t, like a Danny Woodhead or something.

2)I see us keeping 11, 6 DE’s & 5 DT’s. To take a stab at who: DE’s: Abe, Kroy, El Sid, Ray Edwards, Massaquoi, and I’ll make a risky pick and say Nzegwu over Matthews as the 6th. DT’s: Babs, Peters, Jerry, Vance Walker, and Travian Robertson.

3)I think Harry Douglas will have the biggest boost in production, I think Julio will improve but I see the biggest or most improved (statistically) will be HD.

4)Yes, I see James Rodgers & Louis Nzegwu making the roster, although I could easily see Cliff Matthews instead of Nzegwu and then keeping him on the PS. (I know, I’m hedging). Otherwise, maybe Chad Faulcon as a darkhorse if Schillinger gets cut.

5)I think the offense really lacked a screen game to slow down the pass rush, that to me was the biggest weakness, that and not having enough underneath or inside passing designed to get YAC. Defensively, I’d say we are going to see a much improved and top 10 unit, especially on 3rd down! (God help us)!

Go Falcons!!!

John Waynesworld

June 22nd, 2012
12:13 pm

Two other UDFAs I forgot to mention…LaMark Brown and Dominique Davis. LaMark because of the buzz he has already caused with his good play, and Dominique because of multiple reports of John Parker Wilson regressing. Brown could dominate in ST, being a former running back, and adding Davis could open up some offensive possibilities not seen in this town for a while. Besides, as roster changes go, replacing a 3rd string QB would be like a tree falling in the woods.

darrell starks

June 22nd, 2012
12:16 pm

Football is slow right now D3 but the clock is ticking fast.

GO FALCONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

D3

June 22nd, 2012
12:19 pm

Here’s a really good review from mini-camp from our friend Jenna Thomas over at the Falcoholic…….

http://www.thefalcoholic.com/2012/6/22/3110338/looking-back-at-falcons-minicamp

darrell starks

June 22nd, 2012
12:26 pm

My top 10 players on Falcons

1. Spoon LB

2. JJ WR

3. Abraham DE

4. Asante CB

5. Roddy WR

6. Ice Man QB

7. Blalock LG

8. Turner RB

9. Tony TE

10. Moore SS

GO FALCONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hamad Meander

June 22nd, 2012
12:27 pm

We might be thin at linebacker, but we aren’t ‘thin’ at running back! Ha ha ha – couldn’t resist.

As long as we have three capable linebackers, I think we are fine. Spoon and Nick are solid and above average performers, and we have several hybrid types that could move to linebacker if necessary. It’s a heck of a lot easier to find OLB than DE, DT, or CB, so I’m not worried.

With the 53 man roster, it’s hard to be really deep at any one position. I think we can go into this season with the guns we have and be ok. If we switch to a 3-4, then Biermann and Massoqoui will move to linebacker.

LRD

June 22nd, 2012
12:31 pm

SPOOOOON wiht the sack. SPOOOON wiht the INT. SPOOOOOON picks up fumble for TD.
(couldnt help myself)

darrell starks

June 22nd, 2012
12:33 pm

I told you guys watch out for Jonathan Massaquoi, would like to see him loose 15pounds to plug him in at outside LB.

MASSAQUOI, DENT, SPOON

IS THE FUTURE.

GO FALCONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

D3

June 22nd, 2012
12:38 pm

Why? Just WHY???????…………….

They have to sort out the all-comers competition at right guard. Garrett Reynolds looked good taking most of the snaps with the first-team, but he’ll have to hold off rookie Peter Konz, veteran Vince Manuwai, Joe Hawley and Mike Johnson.

Also, I just pencil in Todd McClure at center, but old Mud Duck is not going to play forever. Eventually, Hawley or Konz will take over at center.

Jesus H. Christo…………….why is Garrett Reynolds even working at RG? Go look at the game tape the first 3 games and you’ll see quickly if Reynolds needs to be there or not. If Konz is not in the starting lineup, than I’m afraid get ready for the S.O.S. You can have all the skill players in the world and it won’t make a hill of beans with a $hitty OL.

I just can’t understand the McClure thing. Great leadership, yeah, yeah, yeah. Why is he any different from Keith Brooking, Lawyer Milloy, Erik Coleman, or Mike Peterson? Experience for the sake of sacrificing talent is just GD stupid to me. Ugghhhhhhhhhh. This OL debate drives me CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

LRD

June 22nd, 2012
12:53 pm

D3. Maybe Reynolds worked on his skills and foot speed during the offseason? Maybe for what Koetter wants to do, he is a better fit? Could it be a sign less up the middle turner rolling down the hill style offense?
Still early…..

darrell starks

June 22nd, 2012
1:11 pm

Unca' Bob

June 22nd, 2012
2:27 pm

D3,

I wouldn’t get too excited one way or the other for now. They are practicing against very humid air, but air nontheless.

Hamad Meander

June 22nd, 2012
2:35 pm

D3 – I’m with ya there. What in the world is Garret Reynolds at 6′13″ working at guard? He should be working on his footwork and being backup tackle, not guard. We need those wider, shorter linemen at guard and center. Please don’t tell me we go into this season without our 2nd or 3rd round picks starting. It was imperitive that one or both of those guys be of immediate impact.

Konz has to start. Whether it be guard, center, or wide receiver, he has to start.

caleb

June 22nd, 2012
2:57 pm

need to resign mike peterson

JB Falcon

June 22nd, 2012
3:01 pm

HM, I’m with yoy on Reynolds at WR, expecially at 6′ 13″! :)

Ken Strickland

June 22nd, 2012
3:18 pm

Ken Strickland

June 22nd, 2012
3:42 pm

With Nolan’s intent on using a number of 3-4 formations, which will have a few of our DEs functioning as LBs, we might not carry as many traditional LBs as we have in the past. I’m with D3 on the RJames issue. I’m almost certain he won’t make the active roster. We might carry only Weatherspoon, Nicholas, Tatupu, Dent, and Adkins on the active roster.

I really believe James Rogers has the inside track on making the roster as our 5th WR. While he doesn’t have the speed of the other WRs possess, he provides much more versatile. Besides, with JJones, RWhite and HDouglas, we can stretch the field against anyone, and therefore aren’t hurting for any need for additional speed.

JB Falcon

June 22nd, 2012
4:23 pm

Ken, I’m glad you said #5 spot for Rogers because I think Meier has earned the 4th. Do you think Rogers can out run and out jump Cone? The WR’s were not effected so much buy the new “no contact” OTA’s as the rest of the team so we have seen enough to start guessing and predicting.

As per your last link, the biggest question is the OL and the screwed up new “no contact” OTA’s have left us with nothing so far. How can you judge how good a lineman is without contact? The action will start next month and we’ll be able to see who has what.

JB Falcon

June 22nd, 2012
4:38 pm

This link pretty well sums up where we are right now and what me can maybe expect.

http://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/top_story_lines_heading_into_falcons_camp/11063846

WR

June 22nd, 2012
5:12 pm

I’m not overly concerned about the Falcons LB corps. Of course we know about Spoon, but many forget Adkins was an athletic raw specimen coming out of Miami. We probably didn’t even expect him to touch the field outside of preseason for until year 4. Instead, he filled in big time down the stretch for Nicholas, and in my opinion took the job. Consider, as hot as the Giants got to win toward the latter part of the season and ultimately win the SB, defensively, not one team, except our own Atlanta Falcons, shut them down for 3 quarters until the ATL D just gave in with nothing coming from the O. Adkins was one of the starting OLBs for that game, he was the starting OLB for multiple games before that game during the later stages of the season. Adkins has always been considered physically gifted, just look at his scouting report, his problem was putting it all together, judging by last season, check, he may be the surprise of the defense.

Then consider, the Falcons have made it know they will utilize some 3-4 alignments. Within that alignment you obviously have Biermann, then there’s Sidbury, and Massaquoi, so virtually the Falcons are already 5 deep on OLBs and that’s not including Nicholas, or some other OLB or DE that might may the roster in that role or hybrid role. The birds will be fine at OLB.

Big Ray

June 22nd, 2012
5:15 pm

If there is only one or two reasons to like Dirk Koetter, here they are:

Five months on the job, Koetter already is crazy about Matt Ryan. Asked if the quarterback who has yet to engineer a postseason victory is cut from championship cloth, Koetter said: “Absolutely. Absolutely. The guy has everything you want and more.

“A lot of guys can throw it around the park, but I’m impressed by his work ethic, his dedication, his leadership — the way he talks to his teammates — and the way he handles the amount of pressure he’s under. He’s an excellent communicator. As an offensive coordinator, you love a quarterback who’s a good communicator.”

OK, there’s Koetter’s answer to one hot-button question. (Yes, Ryan is good enough.) As for the other:

His offense will incorporate screen passes. (Unaccountably, Mularkey’s did not.) “I just think the screen should be a part of any offense,” Koetter said. “I’ve been a big believer in screens my whole life. It’s a way to slow down a pass rush, and it’s a way to get the ball to your playmakers in space. I tell our guys, ‘Think of a screen pass as a punt return.’”

That does not — bad joke coming — mean Koetter’s offense will necessarily feature more screens than a mall cineplex. Yardage-wise, he’s agnostic. “I don’t care if Matt has to scramble for 12 yards,” he said, and that’s because he cares most about yards gained in chunks.

“We want explosive plays, whether they’re runs or passes,” Koetter said, and then he defined his terms. “When I think about explosive plays, I mean 12-yard runs or 16-yard passes. [Those yardage figures are minimums, please note.] Next to turnovers, 12-yard runs and 16-yard passes are the biggest factors in winning. If you have eight of those plays in a game, you’ll have a great chance to win.”

Ok. I like him.

Big Ray

June 22nd, 2012
5:28 pm

While Smith liked having an offseason, he was clearly not happy with the non-contact rules.

“We’ve got to address a number of areas,” Smith said. “The two areas where I think we’re going to have the most competition and the biggest battles will be on the offensive and defensive lines. We have depth at both of those positions. I think it’s going to be interesting to evaluate those guys. We’ve got somewhat of an evaluation process through theses OTAs and minicamp.”

Basically, Smith wants to see some pads popping. They have to know if Sam Baker is fully recovered or if they have to go into scramble mode and try to find a veteran or get one of the younger players ready.

No doubt. I don’t blame Smitty for not liking the non-contact rules. Who would? I hope we can plug things at LT via free agency if Sam I Am can’t live up to the…cough, cough…hype….

Smith is anticipating that the battle at defensive tackle will be fierce. Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters will have to battle to retain their spots. But Smith looks at the defensive line as have seven starters because of their rotational system. Peria Jerry and Vance Walker will have to earn their playing time.

WTF is Radio talking about? Peters and Babs are the best DTs we have. Where’s the competition? Peria Jerry? Write that off now. Vance is a nice player, but he’s always been a backup with us. The rook DT? He couldn’t possibly know the system that well. Give me a break. The competition, if there really is one, will be at DE. And I don’t see that one as a competition since some guys will get to play standing up. Now THAT will be interesting.

I’ll get to the rest of that article later….

Ken Strickland

June 22nd, 2012
6:01 pm

JB FALCON-I’m more pleased with OL coach Hill’s approach to our OL. He’s said many times that he can’t wait to start teaching FUNDAMENTALS. He’s taking over an OL that did everything one way and one way only. There were no muliple blocking schemes or techniques, just man on man power blocking. That’s why Blalock and Clabo, our 2 biggest, strongest, and most physical OLinemen were our only consistent OLinemen.

None of this was lost on Smitty and TD, which is why we drafted and signed OLinemen that were bigger, stronger, and more physical. Unlike Mularkey, Koetter is going to do everything he can to protect MRyan. He’ll use screens, quick hitting routes that gets the ball out of his hands quicker, he’ll spread the DEF, run traps to take advantage of the DLs aggressiveness, and keep the DEF off balance with his play calling.

I guarantee he’ll have counter plays to attack DEFs that try to take advantage of what we might do, like they did so successfully with Mularkey and his no backup plan. Even if MTurner wears down by seasons end it won’t really matter, considering Koetter, unlike Mularkey, has enough sense to utilize Snelling when or if that happens.

Unca' Bob

June 22nd, 2012
7:06 pm

Big Ray,

“The competition, if there really is one, will be at DE. And I don’t see that one as a competition since some guys will get to play standing up. Now THAT will be interesting.”

Indeed it will. The Biermann is an interesting case, but, the one that is compelling to me is El Sid. Lets review his Combine numbers.

28 reps
35″ vert.
6-3
266 lbs
10′.00″ bj=’s burst
4.53 40
1.53 10 yd split=’s burst

As WR pointed out, he could be the second fastest LB we have behind S Adkins…Just a thought.

Firsttimer

June 22nd, 2012
9:02 pm

D3-Here are my thoughts on your questions.
1.Yes 2.No 3.No 4.Yes 5.5 DE’s/5LB’s or cut from another position 6.Probably Bierman, (though I would prefer Sidbury) 7.Yes
However it turns out I want the best eleven out there at the sound of opening whistle.

D3

June 23rd, 2012
9:29 am

Great Saturday Cage Brethren! — Still up in here in Tennessee and I see that it’s getting ready for some scorching days back in Metro ATL. So now we enter the final “dead zone” stage of Falcons and Football. The Cage is committed to whet your appetite for our Beloved Birds and help you get through these next 34 some odd days.

The OLB Situation

I had no idea that Stephen Nicholas was as old as he was. I mean, I figured 27 or 28, but 29! This dude is running out of opportunities quicker than politicians are of telling the truth. I’ve been one of Nicholas’ biggest defenders. Like so many other D players (DRob, DeCoud, etc) I felt that Brian Van Softee held back many of their best assets and just couldn’t use their abilities to their best.

I always felt that Nicholas had great potential to get after the QB, but was never put in those positions. I thought he played pretty admirable last year, but surely wasn’t a difference-maker. My belief was that he was never put in positions to show off his skills (speed, pass-rushing skills, etc) and suffered from the Ultra Soft-cheese zone ran by Van Gorder. I was happy when we kept him because I thought, if nothing else, he gives us a solid starter at a reasonable price, and now we may truly see his potential under Nolan.

However, with all of that said, Nicholas is running out of chances to have his “breakout” season. In theory, this is going to have to be the year, because if we don’t see something this year and we don’t move a guy like Biermann more exclusively to OLB instead of DE, than we’ll have to think of the future. I like Adkins a lot and really do think he has a future here in Atlanta, but I see him as more of a middle-LB. That being said though, Elvis Dumervil was only only 5′11 and had like 16 something sacks under Nolan. Point is that Nicholas has got to shake the injury bug or his chances are going to grow thinner and thinner. Like Peria Jerry, at some point you simply have to move on.

Back more in a little while……….

D3

June 23rd, 2012
9:38 am

Big Ray

June 23rd, 2012
9:54 am

Unca Bob ,

Oh, you are so right. I hope this really springs El Sid loose, might work for Massaqoui as well.

Biermann….I figured playing without and hand in the dirt will really help him, but it remains to be seen if he can use his quickness and retain focus. He seemed unfocused for a lot of last year. I realize I was wrong in comparing him to Patrick Kearny. He is no Patrick Kearny….

Big Ray

June 23rd, 2012
10:04 am

Meanwhile, back to this:

http://blogs.ajc.com/atlanta-falcons-blog/2012/06/22/atlanta-falcons-5-things-we-learned-from-minicamp/?cxntfid=blogs_atlanta_falcons_blog

3. The defense will be unpredictable on third downs. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan threw the kitchen sink at the offense during minicamp. He clearly has a mandate to improve the third down defense. “We feel that it’s an honor that he feels he can rush seven or eight guys and he has confidence in his guys on the back end,” Robinson said. “Pressure means the ball is coming out fast. That will give us an opportunity to make a lot of plays. We are ready for the opportunity.”

Thak God. We were a predictable disaster on defense on 3rd downs….ALL LAST SEASON.

“We are gelling as a secondary,” Robinson said. “That’s the most important thing to us. We are learning each other. Myself, Grimes and Asante, we are learning how to play with each other. That was the most important thing going into training camp. We are getting comfortable with each other and we are having fun. That was the biggest thing.”

I’ll be happier knowing Dunta’s not on the outside anymore, and will get to be more effectively physical against slot guys and what not.

4. Julio Jones is going to the Pro Bowl. The second-year wide receiver is starting to look very polished. “It’s great, not only spending time with [wide receivers coach Terry] Robiskie, but with Matt [Ryan],” Jones said. “Just connecting on balls and knowing where I supposed to be at, at the right time and right depth. That’s very critical for me.”

That and a dose of health. If you think he had major flashes last season, get ready for lightning bolts up the defense’s arse. No more jealousy of watching other teams have WRs that make long bomb catches or tough ones over the middle for 15+ yards, like Marques Colston, Larry Fitzgerald, Megatron, etc. We’ve got our own.

5. The Falcons will be fine at middle linebacker. Both Lofa Tatupu and Akeem Dent looked at home while rotating with the first team defense. It looks like either one of them will be able to replace Curtis Lofton’s tackling skill in the middle. “Akeem is a young player that we’re hoping just continues to mature and get better and better,” Nolan said. “Hopefully that’s happening. He’s done a real good job out here. Lofa is a dependable guy that’s a veteran, who has some pelts on the wall. He’s done an outstanding job and he gets a lot of respect from the players around him because of that. He’s also a willing player as far as the young guys go. He’s not a selfish older player, where it’s all about him. He’s been a leader. He’s been to the Pro Bowl. He’s been to the Super Bowl. He’s done a lot of things. He remains the same guy, only a little bit older. That will be an interesting thing to watch as far as competition goes.”

There was a time when it seemed that Lofton would be the premiere and distinguished leader of the Falcon defense for years to come. Not so anymore. Not only does this speak well of Dimitroff’s drafting and FA moves, it shows that a real NFL DC makes a much bigger difference than a run stuffing LB.

In fact, relying on Lofton to make the defense do what it needs to do is akin to relying on Turner to make the offense go. In both cases, the team has been held back by the limitations of the player…but that hasn’t been the player’s fault….

Big Ray

June 23rd, 2012
10:41 am

On the subject of this actual blog…..

Should we even be worried about being thin at OLB? If you ask me, the presence of Mike Nolan will cover that.

If we were to remain in a vanilla 4-3 defense, via the genius of the former Falcons DC, then yes…I’d be worried. But because we are going to use some 3-4 hybrid looks, that actually bolsters our LB corps in a way.

Stehen Nicholas – Loved him when he was healthy. Showed a nose for the ball and some speed. However, Spencer Adkins has some speed too (more) and it seems that with his age, experience with the team, and once again…the presence of Nolan…Adkins has his best shot of making a serious play at being more involved.

Nicholas will have to stay healthy and productive, or he’ll lose time to Adkins and Nolan’s variety of schemes.

Robert James – hang it up, he’s done.

UDFA LBs – Each guy is a long shot, but I think we all knew that. Still, one of them making the cut would be a pleasant surprise. But only if it’s a legitimate ploy to take and develop a truly good project. We don’t need any more situations where guys stay on the practice squad for 3-4 years. Enough of that BS. Mold ‘em or send ‘em home.

the DE/LB hybrid debate – What debate? Smitty has finally come right out and said that we’re gonna be surprised who will be playing with a hand in the dirt, and who will be standing up. The only question is….who will it be, and when?

In an interview during mini-camp, Mike Nolan may have confirmed what many fans have thought since his hiring: that even though the 4-3 will be the base defense, that fans can expect several 3-4 looks in 2012. He also was quoted as saying that all the defensive ends currently on the roster would be standing up as OLB’s in his pure 3-4 defenses.

Say what you want, but I see that last sentence as a very revealing statement. Not only does it reveal Nolan’s likely preference for the 3-4, but it’s quite possible that we finally do move to that formation in a year or two. Even if we don’t, the addition of several 3-4 looks will help. But here’s the real kicker – if every DE on this squad would have been an OLB in Nolan’s 3-4 defense (in other words, if Smitty didn’t have the reins to this team in hand…sorry, but I’m gonna take it that far), then that says something about either the kind of players we are drafting, or the way they are being utilized. Yes, that type of argument again. I know which way I’m leaning on that one….

But here we go –

Guys better in a three point stance: Ray Edwards, Abe, Cliff Matthews.

Guys better standing up: Kroy Biermann, Lawrence Sidbury, Jonathon Massaquoi

Guys who could go either way: Sidbury, Massaquoi

Cliff Matthews is indeed a bit of a mystery. However, it’s not his weight that’s the question. Matthews has the height that you like to see in a DE (6′4″). He looks like he probably has the weight. But the true trick here is the strength. Abe has good strength to go with his quickness, and Edwards is even stronger than Abe. If Matthews is at least as strong as Abe and has some moves to go along with it, he’s fine…and may even fit as a tall OLB. But I’m still thinking he’s better as a DE.

We’ll see.

D3

June 23rd, 2012
11:59 am

Big Ray — Great points as always. How was the PA vaca, btw? I think you’re dead on where the DE’s fit. Biermann looks lighter than he’s ever been (or at least in a while) and to be honest he was never really a true DE, he only did his best to convert to one because the DC and HC refused to fit their scheme to the player’s abilities and forced a square peg in a round hole (thanks BVG and MM!). After all, Biermann is only like 13-14 lbs heavier than Spoon and is the same height as Nicholas.

I agree that Mass and El Sid could go either way. They are almost identical in terms of size, weight, and frame, and both can get after the QB. I’ve said since Nolan was hired that El Sid could very well find himself as the biggest beneficiary of Nolan’s hiring and wouldn’t put it past him to see a year like Elvis Dumervil and Cameron Wake, two unknown guys who blew the H– up under Nolan. Of course I could be wrong. I suppose Abe could fit in that category too, but I think he prefers his hand on the ground and Nolan will likely acquiese, considering his mantra of “playing to the player’s strengths” (something unheard of by our former coordinators).

Ray Ed will definitely be playing with his hands down, no question about it. Gauging from his words both before the season, during, and the off-season, he was NO FAN of Brian Van Softees defense, and who can argue with him. I think we finally have our mystery solved with Mr. Matthews. A picture says a thousand words and that dude, from the pic above, ain’t no 257 lbs. H—, he looks bigger AND taller than Ray Edwards.

True DE’s and possible 5 techniques: Ray Ed and Mr. Matthews (Travian Robertson can lplay 5 technique as well)

True Hybrids: El Sid, Mass, and maybe Abe

More OLB than DE: Bier Truck.

Big Ray

June 23rd, 2012
1:19 pm

D3 ,

Thanks for keeping us alive in the dead of summer!

The PA vacation was pretty good…until we all got sick on the last day, and came home sick. Ugh….oh well, these things happen.

You’ve got Biermann pegged. He’s better off at a lighter weight than he tried to play at DE, which likely hampered some of his mobility. That, and as I was saying with Cliff Matthews, the issue is strength. Biermann is not weak by any stretch of the imagination, but….it was clear he wore down at the DE position as the season went on.

Remember how he started fast, but faded by the time the season was about halfway through? That’s a product of two things – not having the strength to play a particular position all season long, and playing at a weight that is not optimal for you. Thanks to Nolan’s vision, both situations go away.

Matthews is clearly taller than Edwards, but I think he may be similar in weight as well. Again, the question is how strong he is. He seemed strong enough to me during the preseason last year. However, given the possible edge rush demons we may have in Massaquoi/Sid/Bier Truck, it may be quite tough for Matthews to retain a spot on the 53 man roster. Or will it? We have a new talent evaluator in Nolan…there could be surprises when training camp cuts begin…

Drew

June 23rd, 2012
2:57 pm

I love how his 8 turned into a cool guy with sunglasses haha Go Falcons!

JB FALCON

June 23rd, 2012
4:49 pm

Big Ray, D3, my what a great discussion to be having. In years past we used to wonder who could play what position the best and now we have a fantastic stable of DE/Hybrids that the thought of cutting even one of them is unthinkable. How do you pick out which diamond you want to throw away? If we put even one of them on the practice squad to keep him, some other team will grab him the next day. This may be a dead zone but the players that hit the weight room during this time will be the players who make the team. Especially amongst the DE’s. If this were the Derby there wouldn’t be a horse length between the winner and the loser.
D3, you were correct about the heat awaiting your return. I saw a small shrub chasing my dog around the back yard today!

Ken Strickland

June 23rd, 2012
7:35 pm

Big Ray

June 23rd, 2012
7:44 pm

JB ,

It’s just great to know that we do in fact have talent, and that it can now be utilized. I am excited to hear the players be so verbally enthused about what Nolan has them doing. It’s so uplifting to hear.

And man, are you right about the weight room. I think guys will be more motivated to do their best under Nolan. I think it’s clear in the way they are approaching things (Massaquoi losing weight as instructed, Biermann getting back down to the weight he’s best at, etc).

And suddenly the defense has a swagger with the addition of Samuel, something you gotta believe Sean Weatherspoon will absolutely thrive in.

Big Ray

June 23rd, 2012
7:58 pm

Ken ,

That last link says it all.

And NO, I don’t mean that it says Koetter is a savior, a genius, or a messiah of any type. It means his head and his heart are in the right place.

Mularkey’s heart was obviously elsewhere (another city, another team, another time, another place) and Lord only knows where dude’s head was.

But Koetter’s is right where it needs to be – with the Falcons offense and with the team’s starting QB. What a difference that will make. Really, to sum it all up, trusting Ryan to run the no huddle (call plays) will mean everything to us. Anybody watching the games last season saw how masterful he was (how few mistakes he made, how many plays he made) when he was in the no huddle.

And like the article says, it was all the same plays (with the exception of a few), just called at the right times. It allowed our offense to get into a rhythm and actually score TDs. There was nothing methodical and ponderous about it, it just flowed . You can’t hope for better than that.

JB FALCON

June 23rd, 2012
8:18 pm

Okay Big Ray, It’s your call, or if it was, TD says we can’t keep all of them. You have to decide. I know we don’t know enough at this time but, just for fun. You have to tell one of these DE’s that he isn’t good enough. (You have to trim down one officer) ? :)

Ken Strickland

June 23rd, 2012
8:19 pm

When Nolan was 1st announced as our DC everyone was really excited, but when Koetter was announced as our OC, everyone seemed to be negative. Now it appears everyone is excited about both of or coordinators. Knowledge always eliminates ignorance.

I am officially predicting that our OFF and DEF will be dominant by the time we come out of our bye week.

Ken Strickland

June 23rd, 2012
8:23 pm

BIG RAY-Say it isn’t so. Say you haven’t been affected by the same vision of hope that’s already hit me.

JB FALCON

June 23rd, 2012
8:53 pm

“I am officially predicting that our OFF and DEF will be dominant by the time we come out of our bye week.” KS
Come on man! The Bye week? Why be so pessimistic? Every other NFL team is going to come out with new schemes, players, etc. I say we start out kickin’ A and takin’ names!

JB FALCON

June 23rd, 2012
8:56 pm

Ken, ain’t neither one of us Spring Chickens. Now is the time to go all in!

Ken Strickland

June 23rd, 2012
9:40 pm

JB FALCON-If you’ll notice, I said our OFF and DEF will be DOMINANT after the bye week. We can still come out winning in the beginning, but we won’t be dominant until we’ve had enough experience mastering our respective systems and schemes.