Miles Traveled to date: 14,892
Firstly, apologies to anyone eagerly anticipating a postcard from Jacksonville on Saturday. While I spent a lot of time at the Jaguars camp, spoke to many players and learned a lot about the team, “technical issues” yesterday meant nothing got written and with the incredibly tight schedule we run on, it unfortunately means we need to move on. In fact, move on to Flowery Branch in Georgia for Falcons camp.
The Atlanta facility, which they use all year round, is about 45 miles Northwest of downtown Atlanta and today, at least, it was pleasant and bearable; mid 80’s, 60% humidity.
After a walkthrough mid-morning, the team’s main practice started at 3:30 PM. This went on to 6:00 PM but there was more of interest in the last 15 minutes (11-on-11) than there was in the preceding two hours and 15 minutes of what was effectively (another) slow-paced walkthrough. This is probably as a result of the scrimmage due tomorrow in Dalton, Georgia with the Titans. Here’s what I picked up:
1) Brand New Day
Every conversation I had somehow came back to the same topic: what’s the new offense like? Everybody seemed fairly pleased with what Dirk Koetter was installing and while it was never said too forcefully, there was a general acceptance that what Mike Mularky ran last year was both overly complex and too conservative. Even with weapons like Jacquizz Rodgers, the Falcons ran the lowest percentage of screens in the NFL (only one to him) and rarely went deep to Julio Jones. Tony Gonzalez mentioned that Matt Ryan was coming to the line of scrimmage with too many options to check off too and at times this was causing issues.
So this year there will be fewer options, a lot more screens, and more deep balls. The Falcons believe they have the offensive weapons to go toe-to-toe with teams and don’t want to beat themselves by failing to use them or being too clever.
The players are happy with the learning curve too. Todd McClure explained the new offense was based on the same terminology they ran previously, it just had a few extra bells and whistles; new additions for Matt Ryan to ensure that this year it wouldn’t be as predictable.
One thing’s for sure, don’t expect the Falcons to have the lowest percentage of screens again this year.
2) Finding Julio
When the Falcons traded up to get Julio Jones, giving up first and fourth round picks to do so, it seemed pretty likely they’d make a huge effort to fully utilize him. While they did try to get him the ball, his 91 targets ranked only 38th among wide receivers and, for a man of his abilities, his 22 targets on passes over 20 yards (ranking 24th) seemed even worse.
From what I saw in this scrimmage, that might be about to change; he ran deep often and was targeted. He pulled in two very deep passes (I estimated about 30 and 40 yards in the air) the first a difficult, juggling, finger-tip grab and the second where he needed to locate the ball and make a superb body adjustment to reel it in.
Expect to see Jones’ targets go up slightly but those over 20 yards increase markedly as the Falcons look to stretch the field using their highly-valued deep threat.
3) Nickel Package
In the 11-on-11 drills I was intrigued to see exactly how the Falcons much talked about three corners lined up against 11 personnel. The word out of Atlanta had Brent Grimes playing RCB with Asante Samuel on the left and Dunta Robinson playing the slot. In a press conference last week Mike Smith had mentioned both had played both left and right previously and in speaking with me prior to practice Samuel suggested they had been switching things up regularly. The proof of it all was going to be on the field I thought and was therefore a little disappointed to find both Grimes and Robinson sitting out 11-on-11 with minor niggles.
The starters were Samuel playing exclusively LCB (and talking enough for the rest of the team put together), Dominique Franks at RCB, and Christopher Owens in the slot. Interestingly, all played well with Franks in particular standing out with two interceptions and Samuel hardly, if ever, targeted. It’s a good position to be in having three solid corners (although there is still much debate in the PFF ranks as to if Robinson fits that category), but to have five might be seen by many as just plain greedy.
- In nickel, Akeem Dent left the field leaving Stephen Nicholas with Sean Weatherspoon at linebacker.
- The OL was very much as expected with Garret Reynolds playing RG and Sam Baker at LT although Joe Hawley rotated with Todd McClure on occasion.
- A player I liked today was WR Kerry Meier. It wasn’t so much any individual play but the weight of small positive contributions.
- Thomas DeCoud was twice beaten deep when he had to pick up wide receivers coming into his area. I’ve often worried about his ability in that part of his play and feel that with DeCoud and William Moore the Falcons effectively have two strong safeties.