It's good news for the Falcons, following a season in which the glaring needs on their roster were exposed, that their coaching staff is responsible for the North Team at this year's Senior Bowl. Coaching the North Team in the Senior Bowl this year gives the Falcons the ability to thoroughly evaluate these players in terms of talent, skill, and perhaps most importantly, how these players respond to NFL coaching. There's always a gap between the speed of the college game and the speed of the pro game, and it's invariably an adjustment for rookies. Responding well to coaching can make all the difference.
Dane Brugler of CBS.com shared his perspective on players who seemed to make an impression during the North Team's practice yesterday, and several of the players he mentioned play positions that the Falcons need to address during this offseason.
Brugler called Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald an "unstoppable force," noting that Donald regularly got the best of offensive guard Cyril Richardson of Baylor. Vaughn McClure of ESPN also liked the looks of Donald, noting that Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox had specifically offered praise to Donald. Brugler noted Donald's burst, athleticism and ability to get leverage. The Falcons need to make some decisions about the defensive tackle position, as Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry are all unrestricted free agents this offseason. Brugler also liked the looks of Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Justin Ellis.
Along the offensive line, Ohio State tackle Jack Mewhort and Clemson tackle Brandon Thomas both made an impression Monday. Brugler says that Mewhort's build make him an ideal tackle, and he performed well in Monday's practice. Thomas, according to Brugler, struggled at tackle, but performed well at guard. Brugler believes that guard is Thomas's more natural position.
It's hard to know what the Falcons will plan to do with the offensive line in 2014, but it's obviously a giant need that must be adequately addressed. With Thomas Dimitroff's recent comments about Garrett Reynolds, it's reasonable to think that right guard may be the first priority along the line, and if so, Thomas, projected to go in the fifth or sixth rounds, might be a viable option for Atlanta in this year's draft.
The Falcons invested two seventh round picks into safeties last season, and Zeke Motta did fill in for Thomas DeCoud during the 2013 season. Safety play, particularly at free safety, was a concern for the Falcons last year. Safety Jimmy Ward out of Northern Illinois made an impression on Brugler at yesterday's practice. Although Brugler did mention that Ward took some bad angles yesterday, he said that Ward adjusted and overcame them. Ward is projected to go in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Here's some Twitter notes of interest:
Zack Martin is starting to sound like everything we hoped Sam Baker could be.— Scott Carasik (@ScottCarasik) January 21, 2014
Minnesota DT Ra'shede Hageman also looking good out there. Huge build. Strong like bull. #SeniorBowl— Jay Adams (@FalconsJAdams) January 21, 2014
Thomas Dimitroff just checked his notes while eyeing Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin.— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) January 21, 2014
Cyril Richardson just bent Aaron Donald over backward in the pit. Was initially beat and just pressed him— Michael Schottey (@Schottey) January 21, 2014
What prospects do you hope the Falcons are keeping an eye on while they prepare for the Senior Bowl?