How Many and Who Will Make the Cut?
Cage Brothers and Sisters, the true Dead Zone is upon us. There is literally nothing going on for the next 4-5 weeks and it’s a tough time for us football fans. These next few weeks will be an excellent time to look at some of the more interesting training camp battles to come. First one up is a traditional fan favorite, perhaps due to the fact that it’s one of the biggest unknowns every year for the final 4th and 5th spots. And the advent of several undrafted free agents that have done well the last few years, including Drew Davis, Kevin Cone, and Darius Johnson. This year is particularly interesting considering the fact that Julio Jones may not be full strength by the start of the season and Roddy White will be turning 33 this November and he suffered a lingering injury the entire 2013 campaign. This battle will be even more intriguing this year than normal. A look at the receiver battle to come………….
Julio Jones broke the screw in his foot and he’s very confident about getting back to normal, the “Old Julio” he called it. But the reality is that he suffered a major injury very early in the season and even if he’s ready to suit up for the opening Saints game, that will have been almost a full year since he will have played in a live NFL game (assuming he won’t play at all in the preseason). Throw in the fact that Roddy White had a lingering injury for the entire season after getting hurt in preseason and there’s definite cause for concern up and down the depth chart.
Falcons Quickly Aging @ Wide Receiver
Julio Jones is 25 and in the prime of his career. But the same can’t be said for the majority of the rest of the group at wide receiver. Roddy White is currently 32 and will turn 33 in November. Harry Douglas is set to eclipse the 30 age mark in September, and newly signed WR and return man Devin Hester also will move up to 32 years of age. Behind them, there’s a whole lot of unknowns. There have been a few glimpses here and there with Drew Davis and Darius Johnson, but can one of them step up in a big way when some of the older guys decline or become injured?
The 4th and 5th spots have been a luxury the Falcons haven’t needed with White, Jones, and Douglas, not to mention having the best TE to ever play the game the last few years, but the Falcons will either have to cultivate one of these guys to take on a bigger role or will have to get players through the draft sooner rather than later.
The Argument to Keep 6 Wide Receivers
The Falcons have never kept more than 5 receivers on their 53 man roster in the Smith / Dimitroff Era. That very likely will come to an end in 2014, or at least it should. The reasons are many to keep an extra WR this year, and a few have been mentioned above. Roddy White will turn 33 this season. Julio Jones will have not played in a real NFL game in almost a full year. Harry Douglas and Devin Hester will be over the 30 age mark this fall. Normally, keeping 5 receivers would be fine, but technically Hester will be considered a WR, even though he really is just a return specialist. This year it seems prudent to keep an extra receiver instead of that extra linebacker or defensive back.
Is Harry Douglas the Replacement for Tony Gonzalez?
Technically, Levine Toilolo will be the replacement at tight end. But anyone who expects the former Stanford Cardinal to even get half of the 80 catches that Gonzalez averaged as a Falcon might be in for a shock. Some believe that Douglas will see a larger role as the Falcons move away from depending on the tight end and more on the slot receiver in passing situations, particularly after HD went over 1,000 yards receiving filling in for Jones and White.
Is Hester’s Role on Offense Just Lip Service?
The Falcons coaching staff claim that Devin Hester will have a role on offense and isn’t only a return man, but will see some touches on offense. Frankly, he should for the contract he received at the ripe old age of 31 (soon to be 32). But despite all the talk, it’s hard to believe that Hester will work his way into the lineup very much on offense with White, Jones, and Douglas. Dirk Koetter and, to a lesser extent, Mike Smith should find ways to get the explosive playmaker on the field with the top 3 with the idea of “pick your poison” with all the speed available. But most fans will believe it when they see it.
Drew Davis Still the Favorite?
Very quietly, the former Oregon Duck has done it the hard way and secured himself a spot on the Falcons receiver depth chart. He signed on as an undrafted free agent in 2011, was released and then signed to the practice squad. He came back in 2012 and came up short again and once again went to the practice squad. However, this time, he was promoted to the 53 man roster only a week later. He’s been solidly on the depth chart since. The first year, he only made a handful of appearances, but he did manage his first touchdown of his career.
Davis made the most of Jones and White’s absence, hauling in 16 receptions for 256 yards and 2 touchdowns. And that technically included on 3 games started. To put his 3 total touchdowns in perspective, that’s half the total amount that Harry Douglas has scored in 5 full seasons. It really feels that Davis could possibly be in line as a replacement for Roddy White going forward if he can continue his progress. Theoretically, Davis’ spot may not be safe, but it’s hard to believe the Falcons letting go of someone they’ve cultivated and developed on their own. If they only keep 5 receivers, Davis would almost have to be the 5th.
Is Darius Johnson on the Outside Looking In?
Like Davis, Johnson came in as an undrafted free agent and made the most of his opportunity. Small in stature, but showing a great ability for making plays in preseason, Johnson didn’t make the 53 man roster initially, but he did make the practice squad. When Julio Jones was injured, Johnson was promoted to 53 man roster and even overtook Kevin Cone for snaps. The former SMU man did pretty good, catching 22 passes for 210 yards and 1 touchdown. His best game came vs. the Saints with 6 catches for 67 yards, but that was overshadowed by a very costly fumble on a drive the Falcons could have won the game.
Whether Coach Smith lost faith in Johnson due to the fumble or not, he didn’t catch many passes thereafter. Assuming Jones, White, and Douglas are healthy, they’re locks for the top 3 spots. Devin Hester will occupy a spot as a WR, even though he’s mainly a returner. In theory, Johnson could unseat Davis as the 5th wide receiver, but that seems unlikely. And it’s not necessarily a certainty that he’d be the preference if they do keep 6 receivers. He’ll be facing a strong competition from speedy UDFA Bernard Reedy, who had a really good mini-camp, and newly signed Courtney Roby, known mainly for his special teams play. With Smith’s fetish for special teams, it probably will come down to how well they do in that area.
Could Bernard Reedy Make the Jump?
It’s been a long tradition for receivers to catch on as undrafted free agents and eventually make the jump up to the 53 man roster (Davis, Kevin Cone, Darius Johnson). Could Reedy supplant Johnson? They’re almost identical in their small stature, even though Reedy is a little smaller and it’s hard to believe the Falcons would carry both. He’ll have his work cut out for him, but for every Darius Johnson and Drew Davis, there’s twice as many Brandon Harveys, Michael Calvins, and Cody Pearcys. Reedy could do it, but it’s most likely he’s destined for the practice squad first.
As always, the Falcons pack their rosters full for training camp, but little by little they start dwindling down. The Falcons have Trumaine Johnson, Freddie Martino, Julian Jones, and Geraldo Boldewijn as well. The best these guys can probably hope for is to snag a practice squad spot and work that way. One guy to keep an eye on is Boldewijn. He’s 6’4, 220 and runs a 4.52. That size and speed can’t be taught.
Why Did Falcons Sign Roby?
This one really doesn’t make a lot of sense, other than just bringing guys for competition and training camp. They waived Dominique Croom, and went and signed Roby. The former Saint hasn’t played in a few years and surely they don’t count on him being kept purely for his special teams play. It seems impossible to imagine Roby will be with the Falcons when the season starts, but Smith loves his special teams.
Questions for The Cage………….
1) Are you concerned about Julio’s healthy?
2) Concerned about Roddy White’s age?
3) What will Harry Douglas’ role be this year?
4) Should the Falcons carry 5 or 6 wide receivers?
5) Will Devin Hester actually get some looks on offense? Should he?
6) Has Drew Davis essentially locked himself a spot?
7) Will Darius Johnson make it on the 53 man roster?
8) Chance for Reedy, Boldewijn or other UDFA’s to make the jump?
9) Why did the Falcons sign Courtney Roby?