The Falcoholic Mailbag, July 17th Edition

Kevin C. Cox

The last mailbag before training camp begins.

This may be the last mailbag before training camp hits, which means it's the last one where questions won't be centered on

Does pedigree help with preparation for the NFL rookie year? Trufant seemed to be prepared for his rookie season. Was that more his individual talent, or his family giving him a heads up on what to expect from the NFL competition?

--Scottras

I think it gives you a small but important leg-up. You've got someone (or more than one someone) who has NFL experience, a certain level of success and a ton of knowledge to impart, which means they can sagely answer your questions.

On the other hand, you have to do all the work yourself, you've never personally experienced the rigors of an NFL training camp, preseason and regular season and they're only going to be so useful in regards to understanding the nuances of your playbook. In other words, I think it gives you a small headstart, but not enough to be incredibly significant in terms of your rookie year performance. Desmond Trufant is just that good.

If I don't remember last night, how do I know where my cash went?

Oh, and I’d love to know if any of the fresh faces seem to be fitting in at a slower pace than the others. Does anyone out there look like they’re awkwardly non-involved with the rest of the guys?

--Chris_Wright

Chances are good you were pickpocketed by a gauche fellow in a leather jacket who saw an opportunity after your fourth Fog Cutter, when you stood on top of the bar within his arm's reach and yelled "OH AND I'D LOVE TO KNOW IF ANY FRESH FACES SEEM TO BE FITTING IN AT A SLOWER PACE THAN THE OTHERS!" I'd cancel your credit cards.

As for your second question, I don't know. I turned to Jeanna Thomas, who was in attendance at mini-camp, and her answer was "that's a great question, but not really, everyone was pretty engaged." Jeanna's word is law.

I hope to get a better glimpse of the action at training camp next week.

why

is Matt Ryan so amazing

--DirtyBird2

Hand-squeezes grenades each morning, pours himself a bowl of shrapnel, eats said shrapnel.

Last I heard about Brian Banks, Arthur Blank was so impressed with him that he was trying to find him a career opportunity in Atlanta around the team.

Any updates on what we did, found, or offered him? Additionally how is he doing now and what is he up to?

--Littlegoose

Great question. Banks is by all accounts a terrific person with a triumphant story, albeit one that is deeply tragic in terms of the time he lost in prison. He's currently a spokesman for the California Innocence Project, an effort I'm extremely supportive of, and he's working on a documentary about his life and story. He also spoke at the NFL Rookie Symposium this year, and I'm sure his story will stick with those kids.

To my knowledge, he doesn't currently have a role with the Falcons, but he may have one in the future. Not sure if that was Banks' choice or if the Falcons didn't actually offer him anything, but I'll try to find out.

Dave, I've got a question

Dave, I know that TG is gone and I know that great Tight Ends don’t just grow under a rock. What I don’t understand is why does it seem like the Birds are taking a prehistoric approach to the position in general? What am I missing? It seems like the plan is to just settle back into the ole time mostly blocking TE of yesteryear. It just seems to me that in the NFL today it needs to be more dynamic than what seems to be the plan. Why would we go that route verses finding a TG, Jimmy Graham, Gronk type player?

--Falconitus

I think the Falcons aren't really taking a prehistoric approach so much as we're spoiled by having Gonzalez on the team. Levine Toilolo is potentially a well-rounded player with the size and strength to block, the hands to be a decent receiver and the height to be a red zone threat. He's closer to someone like Scott Chandler with the Bills than he is Gonzo, but those kinds of players are useful and widely utilized across the NFL. You don't need a tight end like Graham if you have quality receivers, but damn, is it a nice perk.

You also have to remember that players like Gronk, Gonzalez, Graham and so forth are fairly rare players. Tight ends with those skill sets and that talent are few and far between, and even if we loosen the definition of that type, I'd wager only about a third of the league actually has that caliber of player right now. Off the top of my head I count the Pats (Gronk), Saints (Graham), Eagles (Ertz), Ravens (Pitta), Coby Fleener/Dwayne Allen (Colts), Jordan Cameron (Browns), Jordan Reed (Redskins), Jared Cook (Rams), Vernon Davis (49ers) and potentially Eric Ebron (Lions). I'm sure I'm forgetting a couple, but the point is that it's not the majority of teams who have great receivers at TE.

Worth noting, too, that Toilolo isn't your classic old-school bulldozing blocker. He can catch, as I said above, and there's enough potential here that he could turn into a quality starter, albeit an in-line tight end.

The Falcons may make a true move tight end a priority again in 2015 and beyond, but much of that will depend on whether they're going to prioritize adding new receivers, as well as Toilolo's development.

Do you honestly see Atlanta (or Panthers and Bucs) competing with the Saints for the NFC South this season? Or do you believe that all of Atlanta’s problems were just injuries

--Nola-Cane

I take questions from Saints fans, too! Grudgingly.

I think any of the three teams mentioned are capable of contending with the Saints for the South. The Saints added Brandin Cooks and their offense should be plenty dynamic, and I expect their defense to be good again, so I've penciled them in as the favorites to win the division. But I don't know if the defense is truly as great as it looked a year ago, and forecasting modest pullback there makes them a little more vulnerable.

The Falcons I think are significantly improved around the lines, which will make them at least competitive in the South. The Bucs look to have a scary young team, albeit one without a good quarterback, which could limit their prospects. And the Panthers have ugly questions along the line and in the receiving corps that have made me predict significant pullback for them in 2014, but a team with a dominant line up front and Cam Newton can still make noise. The South, in other words, should be competitive yet again, and I wouldn't put anyone's name down in pen just yet.

toughness

have we done enough to improve that intangible and highly subjective trait they call "toughness" or are we going to continue turning the other cheek while teams cheap shot matt ryan

The 2013 Falcons were widely derided as a pillowy-soft team that would rather color in rainbows with crayons than protect the star quarterback, so this is an important question. The answer? Yeah, I think so.

It's easy to question a team's toughness when they're racked by injury and playing lousy football, and some of that is valid. By simply adding size and talent to both lines, the Falcons have ensured they'll be stouter at the point of attack, which should lead to less gashings by opposing running backs and fewer sacks for Ryan. When those things start falling into place, the questioning of toughness tends to fly out the window with them. Let's hope.

mailbag questions

Does Goodman look like he gained the weight he needs to be effective in the new system. Do you think dropping Harry Douglas for Andre Johnson would work or could get worked out? And Hageman, do you think he can help make a difference on line. And finally does Maponga look like he has even a glimmer of pass rushing ability?

--Cottinmouf

We'll close out this mailbag with four questions stuffed into one. This is the turducken of mailbag questions this week.

Goodman looks good early, heavier and even stronger. He'll likely not be a starter in 2014, but I expect he'll be a heavy part of the rotation outside and inside in 4-3 sets, and he should be a force against the run.

Dropping Harry Douglas in favor of Andre Johnson just isn't all that realistic, sadly. Johnson is clearly better than Douglas, but he's older, much more expensive and the Falcons would have to surrender real assets to get him, all major stumbling blocks I can't see them hurdling when they still appear to be fond of Douglas.

Hageman is my sleeper for the year ahead, if a second round pick can be a sleeper. I doubt he'll "start" at any point this season, but I could see him getting more snaps than just about anybody else if he progresses well. There's enormous talent here and if he takes to coaching well and learns the playbook, there's no reason he can't start delivering on his promise early.

And finally, Maponga remains a bit of an unknown. I do believe there's talent there, but getting an opportunity and capitalizing on it are different stories altogether. We'll be watching him closely.

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