The Atlanta Falcons can be a hard team to figure out. They tout their draft picks but then don't give them much playing time, leaving you to wonder if they're building a terrifying footballing contraption or losing faith in them.
You want an example? I got an example.
Lawrence Sidbury looked promising in 2009, enough so that I made some embarrassing predictions about what he could do in 2010. With John Abraham looking older in 2009 and Kroy Biermann not formally seizing the starting job, I thought El Sid could get plenty of snaps and show off his pass rushing chops. I even predicted seven sacks for him, because I accidentally put a pair of rose-colored glasses on over the rose-colored glasses I was wearing to help me see through my rose-colored contact lenses.
Instead, El Sid did...nothing.
That's not an exaggeration, either. For the purposes of NFL statisticians, he had no tackles, no sacks, no impact on the field while playing defense. In his freshman campaign, you'll recall the talented but raw Sidbury actually picked up a sack. In 2010, he couldn't have produced numbers with an abacus.
What happened? For one thing, the Falcons put him squarely on the depth chart behind John Abraham, who stayed on the field through eye-gougings, injured legs and at least one Mothra attack. For another, the Falcons were comfortable with Kroy Biermann and Jamaal Anderson on the other side, which pushed Sidbury to fourth on the pecking order.
There's a sense, too, that the Falcons would rather have their projects sit and learn than get their hands dirty before they're a finished product. We've seen the same thing with Spencer Adkins at linebacker and Garrett Reynolds at offensive tackle, guys who arrived in Atlanta full of promise but have yet to do anything on the field. From a fan's perspective, that approach is frustrating largely because we're never going to know if a guy is going to explode on the scene the next season or get cut.
So what lies ahead for El Sid? That's going to depend on what the Falcons do in the draft and free agency, though I'm willing to bet they're targeting a defensive end to start opposite Abraham. If Sidbury is truly the heir apparent for Abraham, he may not see the field in any meaningful capacity until 2012, at which time he'll have three years of practice and the Falcons' scheme under his belt. It'll be sink or Sid time.
For 2011, I would expect him to actually get a few reps and perhaps post a couple of sacks. That'd be positive progress, and it would go a little way toward shining a light on what type of player the Falcons have in Sidbury.
Until then, it's all unknown.