Falcons training camp is in full swing, and the team looks solid so far. Already, we can see a difference in the intensity of the defense, which is a much-needed shift. Matt Ryan does look stronger and more accurate, and his chemistry with receivers seems to be solid. All in all, the team looks good so far, and from Sunday to yesterday, there’s been improvement each day across the board. For specifics on players and performances, hit the jump.
The Falcons are obviously set with their starter in Matt Ryan (although another fan at camp on Sunday told me that the team should have brought in Tim Tebow to compete with Ryan for the starting job. I was literally speechless, and that almost never happens.) Chris Redman should be set as Ryan’s backup. Rojohombre is not flashy or exciting, but he’s got a veteran presence, and he’s a serviceable backup.
I am not a huge fan of John Parker Wilson or his propensity for playing poorly in preseason. As is standard, the Falcons have a college free agent QB in camp this season (known as a "camp arm" in some circles) named Dominique Davis. Davis, from Eastern Carolina University, impressed me in minicamp, and in my opinion, he has outplayed Wilson in training camp in terms of pocket presence and accuracy. Keep an eye on Davis throughout the preseason. If he can perform well in those game situations, it is possible that he would replace JPW as QB3.
Michael Turner has looked like Michael Turner in camp. No huge surprises here. He does look slimmer than he did going into last season, which makes sense, considering he is not coming off of a groin surgery this year.
Beyond this, it gets a little more interesting. Also in camp are Antone Smith, Dimitri Nance, and Robbie Frey. Frey has not made much of an impression on me, and he looked injured yesterday, as he was not in full gear and did not participate fully in practice. Antone Smith has been on the roster for the past couple of seasons, and has primarily participated on special teams. You may remember Dimitri Nance from the 2010 preseason, in which he generally impressed.
The Falcons do have three fullbacks in camp this year, as it is no easy task to replace Ovie Mughelli. The player who has the edge to secure the starting job, in my opinion, is fifth round draft pick Bradie Ewing, because why would they draft a fullback and then cut him in favor of someone else? That just seems wasteful. However, also in camp is Mike Cox, who took over last season after Mughelli was injured, and he has looked good in camp. Lee Meisner, a college free agent from Colorado State-Pueblo, has looked great in camp, but I do not see him winning a roster spot due to the circumstances.
Obviously, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas are established at the top three receiver spots on the final roster. Roddy has looked solid in camp, and I’ve seen very few drops. Julio has been phenomenal in camp thus far. Because of his size and his ability, it is difficult for even our elite cornerbacks to defend Jones. And Harry Douglas is incredibly fast, despite bulking up a little.
If you have been following training camp news at all, you’ve heard the name Kevin Cone. Cone has sure hands, speed and size. And, you may remember Kerry Meier, who has been on the active roster and has been a key special teams player. Considering that Coach Smith said that special teams abilities will be a key factor in determining the final WR spots, Meier and Cone, who both have experience on the active roster as special teams contributors. have the edge, in my opinion.
This may disappoint fans of James Rodgers, brother of Jacquizz, who has had a solid camp performance and is getting some reps as a kick and punt returner. Rodgers is quick and has sure hands. His size makes him evasive. Of the other receivers in camp, Drew Davis and newcomer Tim Toone have made the biggest impression on me.
Let me preface this by saying that Tony Gonzalez looks every bit as great as he has over the past few seasons. On Sunday, a fan next to me yelled, "I’m taking the 5%, Tony!" referring to the 5% chance that Gonzalez will return for another season. I think many of us feel the same way.
I have been very impressed with the rest of the tight ends the Falcons currently have in camp. Michael Palmer had a banner day on Monday, with some very impressive catches. Tommy Gallarda has also impressed throughout training camp so far. Personally, I have been impressed with college free agent LaMark Brown, although my husband thinks his size is a detriment. He is the shortest and the lightest of the tight ends, but he has very good receiving abilities--since he was a WR in college, this is not shocking. We will have a better chance to assess his blocking abilities in preseason games. For all of you Bulldogs out there, Aron White has also had a solid training camp so far.
What I’ve seen from the offensive line so far in camp is a lot of work on technique, which is really important, especially after a season in which many of the starters looked at times like they had never played the position before that particular moment. In 11-on-11 drills, they’ve held up well against defensive pressure.
This, in my estimation, is the most pressing need for improvement on the field for the coming season. So little at training camp happens at full speed, or even close to full speed, which makes it difficult to assess progress. We will have a better idea of where this unit stands after the first preseason game, which, to my extreme delight, is this coming Thursday.
Kroy Biermann has looked really comfortable in Mike Nolan’s schemes. I think Biermann may actually be a big factor this season.
John Abraham looks solid so far. Speaking of Abe, this is a great article from ProFootballFocus.com detailing some strengths and weaknesses for the Falcons in 2012. Abe is listed as a strength. I would tend to agree.
The exciting battle we were all expecting for the MLB position was voided with the release of Lofa Tatupu, and it appears that Dent will be the starter. Dent still needs some development at the position, but I do see veteran players, particularly Mike Peterson, coaching him up on the field.
Spencer Adkins and Stephen Nicholas have both looked solid. This is great news for Nicholas, since he missed mini-camp with an injury. Nicholas has actually been pretty fiesty in 11-on-11 drills, which has been fun to watch.
Sean Weatherspoon is settling in as the Falcons’ defensive leader. He has the personality and the drive for it. He is definitely setting the tone for the intense Falcons defense we’re seeing on the training camp field.
Mike Nolan does some really interesting things with safeties in his schemes. I think William Moore and Thomas DeCoud will be huge factors for the 2012 defense, and in camp so far, they both look prepared. I have enjoyed seeing Chris Hope settle in at safety. He’s not flashy, but he will provide solid veteran depth at the position, which the Falcons needed.
I cannot overstate how excited I am about the Falcons CB trio; Brent Grimes, Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson. Before you groan about Dunta, please know that he’s working out of the slot, and he looks fantastic. This was his strength in Houston, and the reason the Falcons acquired him, so it’s nice to see him actually in a role in which he can excel.
Grimes has looked fantastic in camp. His vertical jump is basically super-human. Yesterday, he deflected a pass intended for Roddy White, and Roddy initially looked irritated, but then had to congratulate Grimes, saying, "Good job, man."
I officially love Asante Samuel. Much has been said about his attitude and swagger, and he is definitely helping to set that tone for this new-look Falcons defense. But Samuels doesn’t just talk--he backs it up on the field. He provides guidance and correction to the younger guys. He looks like he gives every rep 100%.
With Eric Weems gone, this position could mean a roster spot for a guy who might not otherwise secure one. I’ve been Harry Douglas, Brent Grimes, Dominique Franks, James Rodgers, Tim Toone and Antone Smith take return reps. Franks looked exceptional during preseason last year, and Rodgers has shown promise. Douglas looks great, but I’m not crazy about risking injury to a receiver who should be a legitimate offensive weapon this season. Preseason games will give us a better idea of who is best suited for this role.
I will be at Friday Night Lights tonight, so if there is anything you want to know, please tell me. Also, if you’re not able to come to Friday Night Lights, I encourage you to stream it on AtlantaFalcons.com.