ATLANTA, GA- With Falcon’s training camp less than two weeks away; the Flowery Branch training facility is poised to become a battlefield to all the newcomers that wish to continue to wear the Atlanta colors at the beginning of September.
The Falcons selected nine payers during this year’s draft but the Falcons also signed a whopping 20 undrafted free agents on May 12, 2014. Sadly most of these young men are simply camp bodies and will not be signed once the season starts; however one or two may squeeze through the cracks. During camp all of the rookies will be fighting for a depth position on the roster.
This could threaten even some returning Falcons that are lower on the totem pole. Take Patrick DiMarco for example, he could be cut at any time since the team would have little to lose seeing as his contract is for a base salary of $570,000 this year, but with no guaranteed money and no dead money. Dead money is the amount that the team would owe a player should the player be traded or released. The salary is performance based and is often time grouped in with the guaranteed money.
Most of the rookies, drafted and undrafted, will receive the same base salary of $420,000. The big difference is in the bonuses and guaranteed money. Jake Matthews signed a four year / $16.43 million contract in which he will receive $10,268,728 from signing bonuses alone. His guaranteed money basically covers his entire deal at $16,429,500. However, not everyone is a first round draft pick and safe under the protective wings of the trainers.
One of the most tumultuous positions in the Falcons camp will be the outside linebacker positions. It’s not much of a secret that Atlanta will be adopting some 3-4 looks this year, with the addition of Tyson Jackson being used to playing in that type of defense. With veteran leader Sean Weatherspoon out for the season and Akeem Dent being shipped to the Houston Texans, the third and fourth starting linebacker positions are seemingly up for grabs in Atlanta.
Last year two undrafted rookies, in Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow, not only made the starting lineup but actually did pretty well and even broke some team records. I myself was touting Bartu in the preseason while the experts saw Paul Worrilow’s potential from a mile away. Now everyone has their eyes on Tyler Starr being a dark horse. The kid has the perfect size for an edge rusher on paper being 6’4 and 250 pounds.
My linebacker predictions
There will be only three players that won’t be threatened for their jobs during this training camp, barring unforeseen injuries. These players will be the veteran Tim Dobbins, acquired from free agency, Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow. I suspect the Falcons will keep six linebackers, out of this current group of potentials, so four of these guys are going to get cut.
Unfortunately these players will be Brenden Daley, Walker May, Jacques Smith and Yawin Smallwood. The real battle here will be between Smallwood and Starr to be honest. The only chance Smallwood has of staying on the roster is if they move Starr to the defensive end position.While Smallwood has great knowledge and instincts, he has been criticized over his overall athleticism. Starr seems to be a great athlete able to chase down quarterbacks and running backs but does not have the strength needed for his size.
Related Article: Atlanta Falcons: Why Tyler Starr was their best pick
In the end I believe that talent will be needed more than a great decision maker for the Falcons, because that’s one of the reasons the team brought in Dobbins, to provide veteran leadership on the field to a group of linebackers in which nobody has over two years of experience. In my opinion, this will be the final breakdown of the linebacker corps.
MLB/ILB: Tim Dobbins, Paul Worrilow, and Marquis Spruill
OLB: Joplo Bartu, Prince Shembo, and Tyler Starr
There is no way the Falcons will have three fullbacks on the 53-man roster in a pass-happy spread offense era of football that has almost eliminated the need for more than one. Yet technically the team has three on board.
Atlanta is attempting to revert back to a more physical style of football and hopefully that will mean more I-formations, lead blocks and success with the power football style near the goal line. The team will need at least two fullbacks to accomplish this. Having only one is asking for a disaster. Take poor Bradie Ewing that was released this year after failing to stay healthy ruined his Falcons career. Weatherspoon is heading down a similar path.
Keep in mind that DiMarco is not safe by any means as I pointed out in his contract earlier before. The battle here boils down to what the team want the fullback to do. The battle will be intense for the position but I think versatility will be the key. Today’s fullback needs to be diverse. DiMarco was a fullback at the University of South Carolina but he also took snaps at the tight end position. On the other hand Roosevelt Nix played defense while at Kent State and will soon expand his game to include roles such as run and pass blocking schemes. Hagens is a true fullback since playing in Miami. He is regarded as a solid run blocker and adept at his position.
My fullback predictions
There could be two reasons for bringing in these guys. Number one is that they are just not happy with DiMarco’s performance for some reason. Reason two is that they just don’t want their lone full back to get complacent and want to seemingly create a battle over the position. In doing so they just might see one of the other guys are better than the incumbent, or maybe not.
This will be one of the most clouded and more complex decisions in my opinion. All three have some type of upside and value. Coming into this off-season I myself was riding very high on Roosevelt Nix making the team. Now, depending on what the team wants, I’m not so sure anymore.
Alas the show must go on. After the toughest fullback training camp Atlanta has seen, in at least the past five years, I believe that Maurice Hagens gets the boot at the end of the day. His blocking skills won’t be enough to overcome his lack of versatility seeing as the team already has a plethora of unused talent at running back to catch from the backfield. Nix was an absolute beast as a defensive tackle in the Mid-American Conference and I still firmly believe he’ll transition as a hybrid player down the line in his career.
Let the games begin as hungry eyes set upon the skills and actions of these young men for the next few and crucial weeks of their lives. Either way, the Atlanta Falcons will surely emerge victorious with an adequate selection of talent forged from the crucible of training camp.