It's become clear that the Falcons still very much consider themselves to be in "win now" mode. Even after the team jettisoned a number of established veterans this offseason, Atlanta remains poised to do some damage in the regular season and beyond (we hope).
But given that the Falcons cut starters John Abraham, Michael Turner, Dunta Robinson, along with letting Brent Grimes sign with Miami and watching Todd McClure announce his retirement, there are some spots on the roster that need someone to step forward in 2013. Or to rise up, rather (Mr. Jackson insisted).
My five, in no particular order:
Atlanta's most recent free agent signing is perhaps the only established pass-rusher on the roster. And in case the images of Russell Wilson standing in the pocket for ten-plus seconds have escaped your memory, I'm here to remind you of those instances. The Falcons' pass-rush was very hit-or-miss down the stretch. Osi needs to make a lasting impact this season.
This one is a no-brainer. The Falcons traded up in the first to grab Trufant, who will attempt to replace Grimes / Robinson at corner, opposite of Asante Samuel. He looks to be a week-one starter, and should be tested early and often. The season opener against the rival Saints could be a real baptism by fire for Trufant.
OT Sam Baker
Baker has pulled quite the Jekyll/Hide transformation throughout his career with the Falcons. As a rookie, he was a promising young prospect who performed reasonably well. Then his play went downhill, partially due to injury. Then in 2012, he was all like "hey guys, I can start in the NFL, promise *wink*" And so Thomas Dimitroff offered Baker a six-year, $41.4 million contract. The pressure's on for him to live up to that contract. But which Baker will we see?
Nicholas was often labeled the scapegoat on defense last season. He had a tough time covering tight ends down the stretch, and he's never been a staunch run-defender at linebacker. Part of this could relate to the sports hernia surgery he underwent this offseason. The Falcons neither drafted nor signed a veteran linebacker, clearly a sign of support for the 30 year-old journeyman, and they look to rely on him just as much in the upcoming season.
OT Lamar Holmes
In a surprising move, the Falcons released veteran right tackle Tyson Clabo to clear up cap space. In doing so, the team all but painted a billboard in Flowery Branch that reads "Lamar Holmes is our starter." His only competition at that spot looks to be Mike Johnson, who has yet to sniff a starting spot since the Alabama product was drafted in the third round. My money is on Holmes to really impress in camp this summer.
Those are my five. Agree? Disagree? Let's hear it, because I'm not ESPN and thus do not tell you what to think.
The Michael Crabtree conundrum continues to be the biggest piece of news in 49ers-related media. We can try to stir up a frenzy about Nnamdi Asomugha's first practice - and this is pretty cool, granted - but I still think that news pales in comparison to the Crabtree news.
So, since slow offseason is slow, I have been thinking a lot about the state of our receiving corps, including our TEs and our RBs. And, in light of this thinking, I am going to put forth an opinion that will likely be unpopular: I don't think we can adequately fill Crabtree's spot with internal options. The guys on the roster right now have a lot of promise. The potential is really there - but none of them are number one receivers. And, let's be honest, Anquan Boldin isn't either.
The fact of the matter is that there aren't a ton of number one receivers lying around to be snatched up. After extensive research, I have come to the ground-breaking conclusion that there are zero receivers of Michael Crabtree's caliber lying around for us to swoop up. Bummer.
But, this shouldn't stop us from pursing another WR. If we could get somebody of comparable talent to Mr. Boldin - which is to say, if we could have two number two receivers on the team - that would go a long way to helping the offense out. The only option I see as viable in this regard is our old friend Brandon Lloyd.
We had a post a few days ago that proposed this very idea, but it didn't seem to take off. Well, I just want to remind everybody that last year Mr. Lloyd was 89 yards shy of a 1,000 yard season (he had 911 yards). This is off of 74 receptions, making Lloyd a 12.3 yards per catch player (the lowest of his career, so he could potentially build off this). Boldin had 921 yards on 65 receptions for 14.2 yards a catch. They both had 4 TDs. Likely, Boldin is the better player of the two. He is also coming from a Joe Flacco-led team, while Lloyd is coming from the Patriots. But, I do think a one year contract to a guy like Lloyd makes this team much better.
College Baseball: SEC Tournament (ESPN News)
PGA Tour: Crowne Plaza Invitational (GOLF)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Practice (SPEED)
College Baseball: Big 12 Tournament (FCSC)
UEFA Champions League Soccer: Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich (FOX)
NASCAR Nationwide Series: History 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (ABC)
PGA Tour: Crown Plaza Invitational (CBS)
Champions Tour: Senior PGA Championship (NBC)
LPGA Tour: Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic (GOLF)
Motocross: AMA Pro Championship (NBC Sports Network)
MLB Baseball: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds (FSN)
MLB Baseball: Yankees at Rays or Rockies at Giants (MLB Network)
College Baseball: Big Ten Tournament (Big Ten Network)
College Baseball: SEC Tournament (ESPN News)
College Baseball: Big 12 Tournament (FCSC)
Soccer: Chelsea vs. Manchester City (FOXSOC)
Boxing: Carl Froch vs. Mikkel Kessler
MLB Baseball: St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles Dodgers (FOX)
College Baseball: ACC Tournament (NESN)
Arena Football: Philadelphia at Tampa Bay (CBS Sports Network)
Stanley Cup: Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks (NBC)
UFC 160 Prelims (FX)
College Baseball: Big Ten Championship (BTN)
College Baseball: MVC Championship (FCSA)
College Baseball: Big 12 Tournament (FCSC)
NBA Playoff: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies (ESPN)
UFC 160 (PPV)
College Baseball: WCC Championship (ESPNU)
The Jacksonville Jaguars signed Florida State fullback Lonnie Pryor as an undrafted free agent after the 2013 NFL Draft and most, including myself, feel Pryor is essentially a lock to make the final roster. Pryor is a kind of "do-it-all" fullback who has also played running back in the past.
"When you look up the definition of a football player in the dictionary, it has a picture of Lonnie beside it," Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher told an FSU booster club in Jacksonville. "He can run, he can catch, he can block, he can be a team leader, and he affects the guys around him in a positive way. He makes the team better because of his presence on it."
The Jaguars recently released longtime veteran and back up fullback Montell Owens, who's role Pryor should immediately step into, but because of his selfless approach to the game he's earned the praises of his former coach and teammates.
What We Learned: Week Two OTA edition
Here’s what we’ve learned during the first two weeks of Jaguars 2013 organized team activities. 1. The Jaguars are faster. Yes, we’ve gone over the speed thing before – several times since the 2013 NFL Draft, in fact – but this What We Learned is serving as a Week 1-2 wrap for 2013 OTAs, and of all the notable notes about this franchise in late May, that’s it. The Jaguars drafted with speed in mind. Through two weeks of OTAs, it’s apparent they got it.
Five NFL scheme changes to watch: Defense - NFL.com
It's less about scheme and more about identity in Jacksonville. New coach Gus Bradley cut his teeth in Seattle, where the Seahawks thrived on a multiple-front defense that used long, hyper-physical defensive backs to shut down opponents. Jacksonville plans to follow suit. Bradley is fashioning a 4-3/3-4 hybrid attack and hinted this week that end Jason Babin fits in well as a right-side-rushing Leo chess piece. "He has a lot of the traits that we're looking for," Bradley said.
Jimbo Fisher praises Jaguars fullback Lonnie Pryor | jacksonville.com
With a young team facing another transition period, Jacksonville general manager Dave Caldwell and his front office staff are looking to add high-character players to the team’s locker room.Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher believes the Jaguars found one in fullback Lonnie Pryor. Pryor, who signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent earlier this month, was a key member on a Seminoles team that was the first to win an ACC title in seven seasons last December.
Earlier this month, word broke that Jim Harbaugh had been in talks with former Jets and Browns head coach Eric Mangini to fill a consultant role. Nothing appears to have come of this thus far, but there's plenty of offseason left.
It is worth noting, however, that when this news broke, Matt Maiocco reported Coach Harbaugh had also spoken with retired De La Salle football coach Bob Ladouceur. According to Maiocco, Harbaugh spoke with Ladouceur about "the possibility of helping him with ideas concerning team dynamics." Any thoughts on what that might mean?
Coach Ladouceur spent 34 seasons with De La Salle, which is based on Concord, across the Bay and over the Oakland Hills from San Francisco. De La Salle had never had a winning season before Ladouceur arrived, but he turned them into a national powerhouse. From 1992-2004, the team went undefeated, winning 151 straight games. By the time he retired, Ladouceur teams had compiled a record of 399-25-3, and brought home 17 California state championships and seven various "national" championships. Not too shabby.
If you're looking for some light reading material, you can check out this transcript of a speech he gave (PDF). It appears to be directed at other coaches, but I'm not entirely sure. It's pretty lengthy, but it's a holiday weekend, so you've got some time!
I could see how high school coach would be a good guy to have around for team dynamics. With the NFL, players are paid and generally hoped to act as professionals. It doesn't always work, but that's the idea. In college, you've got a lot of players on scholarship, and while it's not quite getting "paid", there are some similarities in the dynamic. For high school football, it strikes me as much more independent given that players are doing it "for the love of the game" and that kind of thing. It seems like a high school coach would have much more to deal with in that "team dynamic". Maybe there is some value to be gained from that kind of insight?
+ A good read about Leon Hall, his selflessness and humbleness, especially when comparing him to the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
+ Former Bengals wide receiver Glenn Holt is hosting the Highest Level Football Camp at Prestonsburg High School in Kentucky. Holt was a coaching assistant for the Cincinnati Bengals during the team's mandatory minicamp last year.
+ Michael Vick declares himself the fastest quarterback in the NFL.
"These guys are young and they’re fast and they’re quick, the thing I do have is a very quick get-up," Vick said. "I really don’t feel like there’s a quarterback in the league who can beat me in a 40-yard dash. If somebody wants to set something up, I’ll be more than glad to accept the challenge. But as of right now I’m going to say me. But Colin Kaepernick is fast and RG3 is fast as well."
Does anyone actually care? Do you care?
+ Pat Kirwin looks at active players around the NFL that are locks (or nearly locks) for Canton. No Bengals, but that's expected for a team this young. Chad Johnson might have an argument, but despite a great career in Cincinnati, it's not a very strong argument at all.
+ Fromer Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young could be facing 11 charges after being arrested four times since early May. Young's approach to his hearing on Friday?
In court Friday, Young, appearing inside a protective cage wearing inmate orange, was addressed by the judge.
"Good morning, sir."
"Can you hear me?"
"Are you Titus Demetrius Young?"
+ St. Louis Rams rookie, undrafted free agent Terrell Brown, tipped the scales at 403 pounds during OTAs this week.
+ The Arizona Cardinals signed Tyrann Mathieu, their third-round pick from the 2013 NFL draft, on Thursday with a signing bonus $400,000 less than slotted. That can be earned through bonuses but Mathieu entering the league's drug testing program means he'll be subject to as many as ten tests per month.
Everybody stop -- hold the phone! Nnamdi Asomugha practiced on Friday, and for me, that's big news. I'm often extremely pessimistic regarding free agent signings and the like .. it's those undrafted free agents I'm crazy about. But with Asomugha, I think he's got a lot to offer and I personally believe he will be the best cornerback on the team next season.
The Philadelphia Eagles used Asomugha wrong in so many ways. He's not a zone corner by any definition and if he can keep himself in shape, I expect him to do very well in man-to-man this season. I'm still excited for Chris Culliver going forward, but Asomugha has a couple good seasons left, I think.
Anyway, we're just going to go with quick links today. I've been making an effort at adding more substance but I'm absolutely swamped tonight. Enjoy the links, folks.
49ers' Crabtree gets encouraging words from Broncos receiver (Press Democrat)
49ers' Reid Soaking it all in at Safety (NBA Bay Area)
From Candlestick to Levi's (CSN Bay Area)
Over the past couple of weeks, the NFL Network has dedicated quite a bit of time and footage dedicated to the Cincinnati Bengals. It's a refreshing change of scenery and a nice turn from the status quo, where the team is often overlooked for bigger-market teams. If you've been watching recently, you would have seen an interesting 1998 game against Barry Sanders and the Detroit Lions, the re-airing of the 2009 "Hard Knocks" documentary, and an incredibly well-done episode of "America's Game", chronicling the 1988 Bengals team.
If you haven't seen it yet (cough, Josh Kirkendall, cough), it can also be seen on YouTube--I'm adding it to this post, so you're welcome. If you're a Bengals fan and don't get chills during some of the footage, then I don't know what's wrong with you. Aside from getting an awesome perspective into who Sam Wyche and Tim Krumrie were, we saw the "Ickey Shuffle" craze. What really caught my eye was the greatness of Boomer Esiason.
Aside from having great leadership skills (Wyche calls him a "Field General"), Esiason led one of the best offenses that the league has ever seen with a lethal combination of a hurry-up approach and an incomparable play-action fake. If you remember this offense, it's crazy how effective that the play-action pass was and it was largely due to Esiason's "disappearing ball trick" that he employed in the play.
In the video below, you'll see the play-action fake in all of its Esiason-like glory at around 16:45 on to about the 17-minute mark:
Krumrie said it best in the documentary when he said: "You had to think. And, the old saying goes, 'every time you think as a football player, you hurt the team." Instead of just lining up and reacting to the play, he (Esiason and Wyche) made you think before you had to do something. 'What is he (Esiason and Wyche) going to do next?'". The key to their offensive success was to have the defense on their heels. The vast majority of the time, they achieved that goal.
Ironically, since Jay Gruden took the reigns as the offensive coordinator back in 2011, he has wanted the unit to have an effective running game and subsequent ability to use the play-action. Having this ability would greatly diminish the pressure on young quarterback Andy Dalton and that is the goal. There is just one problem: the Bengals haven't been able to perform the play action well, much less to the degree that Esiason did.
There are a few key ingredients for the play-action pass to be a success, be it in 1988 or 2013. The Bengals from 25 years ago had all of these ingredients down to perfection. Aside from Boomer's incredible ability to be a magician with the football during the play, every team has the ability to get the other pieces necessary to complete the play action puzzle. Let's review them:
1.) A multi-headed monster in the running game. The Bengals had one of the best running attacks in the league in 1988, where they rushed for a whopping 2,710 yards and a 4.8 yards per carry average. James Brooks and Ickey Woods rushed for almost 2,000 yards between the two of them and combined for 23 rushing touchdowns (Woods had 15, Brooks eight). Stanley Wilson added almost 400 yards on the ground and even the 6'5" Esiason ran for almost 250 yards himself. It was the"thunder and lightning" approach that set so many things up in the passing game. It also helped that the team had a great guard in Max Montoya and arguably the best left tackle to ever play in the NFL in Anthony Munoz.
The 2013 Bengals have their thumper in BenJarvus Green-Ellis and have added a little lightning with Giovani Bernard, Rex Burkhead and even Bernard Scott, if he's able to latch on to the final roster. They made an effort to re-stock the position, so we will see if their reallocation of resources to the position pays off.
2.) Having multiple running backs who can catch out of the backfield. It's been something that I had personally been harping on up to this year's draft--Dalton needs more passing options out of his running back stable. Esiason and the 1988 Bengals had a number of options, be it Brooks, Wilson, Stanford Jennings or even Woods. No one contributed more than Brooks, who had 29 catches and six touchdown receptions on the year and was a double-threat player. Check out the video at around 16:40 and 17:00 and you'll see what Brooks could do in the passing game. Frequently, these backs were covered by slower linebackers, but their wide receiver-like abilities made it a total mismatch. Advantage, Esiason and the Bengals.
The Bengals grabbed a couple of backs in this year's draft that should be able to participate in the passing game in Bernard and Burkhead, but we'll see if they can indeed translate those skills to the NFL. If they can, it will be a huge plus for Dalton and the Bengals in 2013 and beyond.
3.) The ability to use tight ends in the passing game. One of the best tight ends in Bengals history was Rodney Holman and he was instrumental in the team's success from 1988-1990. Though his best statistical season was in 1989, Holman still had a big impact in the team's Super Bowl run. Having a reliable tight end to throw to makes the play-action pass that much easier to run. When you run this play, formations usually have only one or two wide receivers because the offense wants to give the impression that they are running the football. Usually, the tight end(s) on the field would make a quick chip block and run a pattern to the open part of the field. Holman was one of Esiason's favorite targets and was a good blocker as well. There were some capable pass-catchers behind Holman in Eric Kattus and Jim Riggs, though their stats weren't impressive in 1988.
The Bengals have loaded up at the tight end position of late. After spending a 2010 first round selection on Jermaine Gresham, they added another talented fourth-rounder in 2011 with Orson Charles. Then Cincinnati surprised some this year by spending another first-round selection on the athletic Tyler Eifert. A couple of veterans round out the Training Camp roster in Alex Smith and Robert Quinn, making this one of the most talented positions on the team.
Aside from all of those elements, it was Boomer's game of "now you see it, now you don't" (in the words of the narrator in the documentary) that made the play-action successful. Quite honestly, I've never seen the play ran as successfully as the 1988 Bengals did on a regular basis, nor have I seen a quarterback that sold the fake as well as Esiason. And I've watched quite a bit of football over the years.