As the Falcons get ready to start their preseason tour this week, there’s so much to be positive about as fans of our beloved team. New coaches, new coordinators, new schemes, new talent, Julio Jones, Asante Samuel, Sean Weatherspoon, and the list goes on and on. However, there’s always some areas that every team has to worry about as preseason starts and the Falcons are surely no exception. Of course we’ll all know a lot more after the preseason games have been completed and the final roster is set, but what concerns you as the Falcons get ready for the Ravens on Thursday?
Bird Cage Take
It never strays far from every single conversation regarding the Falcons. When Coach Smith and Thomas Dimitroff arrived, they had to put together a patchwork line that did a fantastic job with several undrafted and practice squad linemen. It worked pretty well in 2008 and 2010, not so much in 2009, and a complete boat sink in 2011. Justin Blalock and Tyson Clabo are the only things resembling any semblance of consistency. The other three jobs are completely up for grabs, and the likely result will see Sam Baker at left tackle and 35 year old Todd McClure at center. In fact, there’s a distinct possibility that the Falcons OL will look EXACTLY THE SAME if reports are true that Garrett Reynolds is leading the right guard battle. Pat Hill is the new offensive line coach and Thomas Dimitroff drafted Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes with his first two draft picks. Cross-training has seemed to be an abject failure the last few years, but for some reason they remain adamant on doing it. The offensive line can’t be worse than last year, can it? Concern Level – Nightmare Status
The buzzword for the offensive line has been competition. The coaches are looking at all possibilites as they try each linemen at various spots. The idea has always been to get the “five best linemen” on the field at the same time, regardless of position. In fairness, some of the players have played multiple positions in the past, but many fans are growing weary of seemingly trying to fit square pegs in round holes. Even though Mike Johnson did play several positions while at Alabama, he helped the Crimson Tide win an SEC title, National Title, and paved the way for Mark Ingram to win the Heisman at guard, not tackle. Garrett Reynolds exclusively played right tackle in all his days at UNC, not guard. Joe Hawley was drafted in the fourth round as a center, not a guard. The big fear is that despite all the new additions, coaches, and schemes that the problem may still remain: Mike Smith and his offensive line philosophy. Concern Level - Pretty Distressed
Even at peak strength and full health, defensive tackle was still somewhat precarious with only Corey Peters being the rising star in the middle and seeing Jonathan Babineaux start to decline as he’s hit the 30 year old age. The hope was that Babineaux would return to his excellent form and pair with Peters in a new dynamic defense under Mike Nolan. Vance Walker and Peria Jerry were hoped to be excellent rotational players and provide some rush. Travian Robertson will likely make the team, but is still a project. There’s not a whole lot of girth to any of those listed above, with a few even weighing well under 300 lbs (Babineaux and Jerry). Not only is Corey Peters out for the entire training camp, but Vance Walker just came down with an injury and depending on Peria Jerry is not the best option to say the least. This should be a high priority for any veterans that get released when cuts come down. Concern Level – Bordering on Panic
The Falcons always wanted Akeem Dent to win the middle linebacker job and Dimitroff drafted him as such in the third round in 2011, which many believed to be a reach. TD seems to have hedged his bets well in not allowing Lofton to dictate an outrageous contract for being a really good tackler and not much else. They brought in Lofa Tatupu, which was always a low risk, potentially high reward venture. If nothing else, Tatupu’s experience would come in handy for insurance purposes. Sadly, Tatupu never made it to camp by suffering a major injury in the weight room. Like a comfortable shoe, the Falcons elected to bring back fan favorite Mike Peterson for one more go and it does make a ton of sense with him being a fantastic leader and his ability to play all linebacker positions. The big question is Dent and can he rise up and take hold of the job instead of just winning it by default. If recent UGA players coming to the NFL are any indication, Dent will surely benefit from proper development and coaching. Concern Level - Just a Little Anxious
Get out to a lead, than let opponent come roaring back. Can’t put away inferior teams. Can’t play two halves of complete football. Hyper-conservative, grinding offense. Soft-zone defense that allows aircraft carrier-sized holes. Sound familiar? As our longtime Cage Member Ken Strickland poignantly called it…”Smittyball.” Falcons fans have continued to wring their hands and get that uneasy feeling when their Birds play. Of course you’re never going to win every game and you can’t always beat your opponents by 30 points, but fans want intensity, creativity, and above-all a “no take prisoners” attitude from their football team.
Fans want their Birds to dictate their will on offense, defense, and special teams and finally gain some sort of killer instinct. The past has been consumed with allowing the opponent to dictate terms, tempo, and will. The Falcons would get a lead or play a good half and simply try to sit on leads and run out the clock. However rare, the defense did occasionally show signs of some aggression. The offense was never a threat to be a high-powered offense. It’s time for Smith to show that he can change as well because you can have all the new coaches, players, and schemes in the world and it won’t make a bit of difference if the philosophy from the head coach stays the same. Concern Level - Justifiably Paranoid
1) Leadoff: what’s your areas of concern as preseason approaches?
2) Give your list of concerns on the entire Falcons team and rank them if you choose.
3) Will you need medication to help you deal with this prospective offensive line?
4) What should the opening day starting OL be?
5) What worries you more: left tackle or right guard?
6) What’s your opinion on cross-training the offensive line?
7) Are you worried about a very fragile defensive tackle position?
8.) Can Akeem Dent rise to the occassion at MLB?
9) Could the Falcons actually become an aggressive team?
10) Will Smittyball be thrown out, reduced, or is it alive and well?