NFC South: D.J. Shockley
Pat Yasinskas: Absolutely. Thanks to other members of our staff for helping to populate the blog over the last few weeks. I chose my time off to coincide with the slowest time of the NFL year, when most coaches, players and front-office types are taking their vacations. I’m back today and most front-office types are back. We’ll be going at full speed from now until the last NFC South team is done playing.
Kevin in Omaha writes: How come there has not been a chat in a while?
Pat Yasinskas: See above. I was taking my down time. We’ll resume with a chat Friday at 1 p.m. ET.
Chris in Tampa writes: Since it looks like Donald Penn won't be playing for us this season what are your thoughts on Demar Dotson possibly being our starting left tackle?
Pat Yasinskas: Hang loose on this one a bit because strange things can happen when it comes to contract negotiations. Penn wants to be paid like a top-flight tackle. He doesn’t quite fit the profile, but is very solid. Both sides might have to give a little, but the bottom line is the Bucs really need Penn on the field. He’s a capable protector of the blind side for Josh Freeman, who is the franchise quarterback. Dotson is unproven and starting him could expose the franchise quarterback to injury. I think something will get done with Penn before the season starts.
Ricky in Los Angeles writes: Hey Pat, are you going to have training camp reports? Especially for the rookies?
Pat Yasinskas: Yes, sir. I’m working on my travel plans for training camp today. But I’ll be spending about three days in camp with the Saints, Falcons and Panthers and even more time with the Bucs because they’re in my backyard. Plus, I’ll be monitoring what’s going at each camp from wherever I’m at.
Greg in Aiken, S.C., writes: With D.J. Shockley being released, do you see the Falcons sitting tight with Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson, or do you see them looking to pick up someone who's been released by another team. I know Redman has had some success when he's been called to step in, but I think he just turned 34, and he has never been very mobile or quick or rush-evasive. Wilson is totally untested.
Pat Yasinskas: I wouldn’t look for any big names, but I do expect the Falcons to add one more quarterback before camp starts. They need another arm to take reps. They’re happy with Redman as an insurance policy behind Matt Ryan and they believe Wilson has the potential to develop into a strong No. 2. But they’re always looking to improve. At the very least, they’ll bring in another quarterback to compete.
Richard in Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Drove out to Purdue yesterday for Drew's book signing. I think I got a small taste of what life is like for you, and I must say that I don't envy your travel schedule. Having to be awake at 4:30 AM certainly didn't help, even with the powerful motivator of 'Meet Drew Brees face-to-face for the first time.' I do envy you your (relatively) frequent interactions with Drew and those like him; as Hokie once noted, Drew Brees is "all that and a bag of chips." The man could not have been nicer, even when he noticeably started to wear down towards the end of the day. Cracked a huge grin at the sight of our 'Finish Strong' shirts, the only ones to be found there yesterday. Simply an amazing day.
Pat Yasinskas: I spent a lot of time with my high school friends while I was off and a frequent question was “are those guys you cover really good guys?’’ In all honesty, I said some will disappoint you, but there also are plenty of great guys. What you see on television is what you get in person with Brees, and that’s a wonderful thing.
Backup quarterback D.J. Shockley was waived Friday after four years with the team. The 2006, seventh-round draft pick has never played in a regular-season game and it was the third time Atlanta has released the former UGA quarterback.
Running back Jonathan Stewart held a free football camp for 180 children in Lacey, Wash., his hometown.
New Orleans Saints
Former punter Mitch Berger is suing his former long snapper, Kevin Houser, over money Berger invested in a film studio.
A thousand Saints fans lined up to meet quarterback Drew Brees at a New Orleans Barnes and Noble as the Super Bowl MVP promoted his new memoir "Coming Back Stronger." Some of those fans showed up Friday night to ensure they'll get a chance to meet Brees.
Brees, while promoting the video game "Madden NFL 11" in New York, said he knows the league will be targeting the Saints this season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Former Carolina guard Keydrick Vincent has signed a two-year deal worth $4.5 million with the Bucs.
The Buccaneers are looking to shore up their picks through Thursday's Supplemental Draft.
New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb reportedly expects to recover from sports hernia surgery in three to four weeks and plans to be ready for training camp. But there’s no need to push Stinchcomb early in camp. The Saints have some young tackles in Charles Brown, Zach Strief and Jermon Bushrod, and it wouldn’t hurt to get them some extra work.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow reportedly had surgery on his right knee recently and that’s why he wasn’t working out with the team Monday. The surgery was supposedly a minor clean-up procedure. But it’s mildly concerning to hear Winslow has had at least five surgeries on the same knee in the past six years.
The Falcons are having a rookies-only camp this week and that’s giving undrafted quarterback Eric Ward some time to showcase his abilities. Sure, there were reasons Ward wasn’t drafted out of Richmond. But when I was at Atlanta’s full minicamp a couple of weeks ago, I liked what I saw out of this kid. Not saying he's ready to challenge Matt Ryan or Chris Redman for the top two jobs, but I think he can compete with John Parker Wilson and D.J. Shockley for the No. 3 job. At worst, Ward might be practice-squad material.
Carolina’s “other’’ rookie quarterback, Tony Pike, threw out the first pitch at the Cincinnati Reds game Monday.
Quarterback Eric Ward and defensive back Daylan Walker received contracts. I think the Ward signing is particularly intriguing. He looked pretty good throwing the ball out there and I think he’ll have a chance to compete with John Parker Wilson and D.J. Shockley for the No. 3 job or at least be a candidate for the practice squad.
Ward played at Richmond and is an Atlanta native and had a prolific college career, throwing for 8,969 yards and 61 touchdowns, while also running for 1,406 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Walker played at Arkansas State and had 152 career tackles with three interceptions.
The list was highlighted by former University of Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockely, who previously has spent time on the regular roster and practice squad.
Center Rob Bruggerman, receiver James Swinton, receiver Andy Strickland, center Blake Schlueter, defensive end Maurice Lucas, running back Antone Smith and guard Jose Valdez also were signed. Lucas and Valdez spent all of the 2009 season on the Atlanta practice squad.
Rather interesting news out of the Falcons on Wednesday as they released local favorite D.J. Shockley from the practice squad.
They signed running back Antone Smith to take his place. Smith had a pretty solid career at Florida State, but has been unable to catch on in the NFL.
The Shockley move is more interesting because a lot of fans thought the former Georgia quarterback had a future in the NFL. He was on the regular roster as the third quarterback last season, but lost the job to rookie John Parker Wilson in the preseason.
When the Falcons brought Shockley back to the practice squad at the start of the season, I thought it meant they still viewed him as a project with some upside. But I think his release is a pretty clear sign the Falcons have given up on Shockley.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
D.J. Shockley is back with the Atlanta Falcons, a day after he was released.
The quarterback was one of eight players signed to the practice squad Sunday, the Falcons announced. In addition to Shockley, the Falcons also signed receiver Troy Bergeron, offensive lineman Michael Butterworth, linebacker Robert James, defensive end Maurice Lucas, cornerback Glenn Sharpe, guard Jose Valdez and defensive tackle Vance Walker were signed to the practice squad.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
Biggest surprise: Wide receiver Eric Weems seemed to have no chance to make the roster at the start of camp. But this former practice-squad player made the most of every chance he got. When Harry Douglas went down early in camp with a knee injury, the Falcons were scrambling for depth at wide receiver while Roddy White was going through a contract holdout. The Falcons brought in veteran Marty Booker and he’s made the team. Booker and Brian Finneran give the Falcons experience behind White and Michael Jenkins. But Weems gives them some young legs and some potential as a return man.
No-brainer: Quarterback D.J. Shockley might have been a local hero, but that didn’t help him when it came to make a decision on his future. Shockley got hopes up with a good performance in the offseason program, but his progress stalled there. Shockley was hugely disappointing when he got playing time in the preseason. That’s why the Falcons elected to go with undrafted rookie John Parker Wilson behind Matt Ryan and Chris Redman.
What’s next: Atlanta has a solid starting offensive line, but the depth is still a bit shaky with Brett Romberg, Will Svitek and Quinn Ojinnaka as the only backup linemen on the roster. The Falcons could look to add one more veteran to give them some flexibility. Even after trading for cornerback Tye Hill earlier this week, the Falcons still could look to upgrade their secondary.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The Falcons have announced their cuts as they got down 53 players.
The following were released: wide receiver Troy Bergeron, running back Thomas Brown, offensive lineman Michael Butterworth, wide receiver Robert Ferguson, linebacker Robert James, wide receiver Aaron Kelly, defensive end Maurice Lucas, cornerback William Middleton, tight end Jason Rader, quarterback D.J. Shockley, offensive guard Jose Valdez, defensive tackle Vance Walker and linebacker Jamie Winborn.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
It's probably going to be a few more hours before NFC South teams announce their roster cuts. But D. Orlando Ledbetter has the news on one popular player who has been told he's being released.
That's quarterback D.J. Shockley. He's been a fan favorite because of his local ties and coaches were excited about Shockley's development in offseason workouts. But that progress didn't seem to transfer over to training camp and Shockley was very disappointing in the preseason games.
This probably means that undrafted rookie John Parker Wilson will make the roster as the third quarterback. But that's not automatic. There's still the possibility the Falcons could go with only Matt Ryan and Chris Redman on the roster and try to get Wilson or Shockley on the practice squad.
Again, stay tuned later this afternoon.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
With the Jeff Jagodzinski situation in Tampa Bay occupying most of my day, plus the challenge of finding out-of-town games on local television, I wasn’t able to watch any of the preseason games involving NFC South teams Thursday night.
So let’s turn to some media members who were at the games for their quick observations and let’s also keep in mind, preseason finales are the least meaningful of all the exhibition games. In other words, don’t read too much into them.
- Daniel Cox writes about how John Parker Wilson might have moved ahead of D.J. Shockley in the battle for Atlanta’s No. 3 quarterback job. He also observed that rookie defensive tackle Peria Jerry and second-year defensive end Kroy Biermann looked particularly good.
- Steve Reed writes that Kenneth Moore got a lot of action for the Carolina Panthers. This is one situation where you can break the rule and read something into a preseason finale. The Panthers were taking a long look at Moore because they seriously are considering using him as their No. 4 receiver and also want him to be part of the return game.
- John DeShazier writes that New Orleans running back Lynell Hamilton, who appears right on the bubble for a roster spot, made a strong final case by accounting for 122 yards of offense.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
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Atlanta Falcons: If Matt Ryan is unavailable, the team's situation is not as desperate as it might seem. Yes, losing Ryan, one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, for any period of time would hurt. But the Falcons could weather a Ryan injury in the short term. Chris Redman is a very capable backup with a fair amount of experience. With a very good offense around him, Redman could step in nicely. He doesn’t have Ryan’s arm or big-play ability, but Redman is the type of quarterback who can manage a game well. It doesn’t hurt that Atlanta’s a run-first team and Michael Turner can make any quarterback look good. D.J. Shockley and John Parker Wilson are battling for the No. 3 job. If either has to play, the Falcons would be in big trouble.
Carolina Panthers: If Jake Delhomme is unavailable, fairweather fans will realize again how good he is. Josh McCown has some experience and some of the same moxie as Delhomme. Same for No. 3 quarterback Matt Moore. But neither has Delhomme’s track record or proven respect in the locker room. McCown and Moore both have some upside, but the Panthers would take a big hit if Delhomme goes down. Forget Delhomme’s disastrous outing in the playoffs last season. He led the Panthers to a 12-4 record before that. When Delhomme went out with an elbow injury in 2007, the Panthers went 7-9 and missed the playoffs.
New Orleans Saints: If Drew Brees is unavailable, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi will go into one huge panic. That would be justified because Brees is one of the league’s best quarterbacks and nobody on the roster is nearly as good. But the Saints have one of the league’s better backup quarterback situations -- at least in the short term. Veteran Mark Brunell is even more experienced than Brees and the Saints have tons of offensive talent. If Brunell had to play a few games, the Saints wouldn’t have a huge drop off. But Brunell is old and brittle and might have problems handling a long season if Brees went out for more than a few games. Third quarterback Joey Harrington still has some talent, but he’s a reclamation project. Harrington’s in a good situation because coach Sean Payton is a great offensive coach. But Harrington probably needs more time in the system before he’s ready to make much of a contribution.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: If Byron Leftwich is unavailable, the Bucs could be better off. Let’s face it: Leftwich is a short-term solution and won the starting job only because the coaching staff viewed him as the safe choice. Leftwich has some experience and a big arm. But he’s not mobile and his technique is awkward. You can make an argument that backup Luke McCown outplayed Leftwich in the preseason. McCown got a lot of work with the first team, so it wouldn’t be hard for him to step back in. But Leftwich and McCown aren’t going to excite many people, including the coaching staff. The Bucs know rookie Josh Freeman is their future, but they want to bring him along slowly. If anything happens to Leftwich in the first half of the season, the Bucs will turn to McCown because the early schedule is brutal and Freeman needs time to develop. But, if there’s an injury in the second half of the season, you’ll probably see Freeman. It might not even take an injury for that to happen.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
I wasn't able to get a television broadcast of Atlanta's 20-13 preseason victory against St. Louis where I live Friday night, but I went for a really long drive and was able to pick up much of the game on satellite radio.
Thanks to the Falcons' radio broadcast team of Wes Durham and Dave Archer, I was able to come up with some audio observations.
- Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and the rest of the first-team offense are ready for the regular season.
- Really cool stat from the radio crew: The last preseason meeting between Atlanta and St. Louis came in 1991. Brett Favre, then an Atlanta rookie, was the starting quarterback for the Falcons.
- According to Durham and Archer, cornerback Brent Grimes played very well. He was around the ball every time it was thrown his way. Then again, he was covering Laurent Robinson, who the Falcons were happy to trade to the Rams.
- D.J. Shockley got to come in at quarterback after Ryan. Can't say he didn't look good because I didn't see it. But it didn't sound too good. Shockley's first pass should have been intercepted, but Will Witherspoon dropped it, according to the radio crew.
- Shockley's next pass was intercepted by James Laurinitis. Looks like another year of Chris Redman as Ryan's backup.
- According to the radio crew, backup running back Jerious Norwood has put on eight pounds of muscle in the offseason. That's great because the Falcons want Turner to cut down on the 376 carries he had last season. But I still would not expect Norwood to get significantly more carries than he did last year. He might get a few more, but you don't want to take the ball out of Turner's hands too much.
- Rookie Lawrence Sidbury had two sacks. The Falcons drafted him for a reason. That reason is to give him playing time if third-year pro Jamaal Anderson continues to stumble.
|Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images|
|Tony Gonzalez needed to be on a contending team and the Falcons needed another weapon for Matt Ryan. Atlanta is counting on the partnership to lead to a title.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
"I don't know why people always talk about 'it,'" Gonzalez said. "I think you can break it down and actually put your finger on it. First of all, he's got great talent and he's willing to work hard. Harder than anybody else. On our first day off of camp last week, he was in here working out at 3:30 on a Sunday. He's always watching film.
"I feel like I'm the same way. That's what makes great players. There's no substitute for it. That is the 'it' factor, you're willing to not just do what everybody else is doing. You're willing to go above and beyond.''
Ten minutes earlier and 30 yards away, Ryan sat in a chair and said basically the same thing about Gonzalez.
"There's no mystery why that kind of stuff happens,'' Ryan said. "It's not just a fluke or anything like that. He works so hard. He puts in the time, works hard in the weight room and on the practice field and takes care of his body. It's been impressive for me to see what it takes to be at that level at your position in this league and being one of the best players in the league.''
Yes, greatness realized and greatness on the verge are colliding in Atlanta this summer. It's no accident. Matchmakers Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff have put Ryan and Gonzalez together in an attempt to give each of them perhaps the only thing they were lacking. Quite simply, Ryan and Gonzalez needed one another.
Ryan needed a tight end to go with running back Michael Turner and receivers Roddy White and Michael Jenkins as he attempts to follow up on an astounding rookie season. In the post-Michael Vick reconstruction of Atlanta, the Falcons give Ryan whatever he wants and needs.
That's why they went out and got the most productive tight end ever. Not thrilled with the prospect of another rebuilding year in Kansas City, Gonzalez said he was contemplating retirement. That all changed when Dimitroff and Smith started talking to the Chiefs about a trade. Atlanta sent its second-round pick in 2010 to Kansas City in exchange for Gonzalez because the future is now for the Falcons, who stunned the world by going 11-5 and making the playoffs last season.
Gonzalez needed a reason to keep playing and, most importantly, he needed a quarterback. You can see the chemistry coming together on the field. You can see it off the field, as the quarterback and tight end have been training-camp roommates and fast friends.
"We have the potential to be the best football team I've ever played on,'' Gonzalez said. "Offensively, we can be better than any team I've played on and that's saying a lot with the teams I played on with Dick Vermeil, Priest Holmes and Eddie Kennison. I loved (quarterback) Trent Green, but Matt's one of those Peyton Manning, Troy Aikman kind of guys. He's got the potential to be one of the best players ever.''
Now, Ryan is throwing to one of the best players ever.
1. Can Atlanta's defense, with five new starters, be as good as the offense?
Yes. Smith got his defense to overachieve in his first season as a head coach and that came without him truly having time to stock his roster with his type of personnel. The Falcons made the playoffs with linebacker Keith Brooking, safety Lawyer Milloy and defensive tackle Grady Jackson serving as stopgaps near the end of their careers.
Those three are gone and so are linebacker Michael Boley and cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who was the only one of the five the Falcons had any interest in keeping. The Falcons drafted defensive tackle Peria Jerry and believe they had some replacements that fit their scheme in linebacker Stephen Nicholas, safety Th
omas DeCoud and cornerback Brent Grimes.
They also signed free-agent linebacker Mike Peterson to take Brooking's place. Peterson, 33, doesn't make the defense any younger, but he spent the best years of his career in Jacksonville, where Smith was his defensive coordinator. Smith likes to talk about the "process'' and the defensive overhaul is the next step. The Falcons put last year's emphasis on building the offense. This year, they're trying to assemble a defense to match it.
|AP Photo/John Bazemore|
|The Falcons need Matt Ryan to continue to improve in his second year.|
2. Are the cornerbacks good enough to stop the top passing games?
A lot of fans seem concerned about a cornerback group that has Chris Houston and Grimes as the starters with rookie Chris Owens and second year pro Chevis Jackson as the top backups.
None of them fit the profile of a true shut-down corner, but Smith and Dimitroff seem to have a lot more faith in this group than their fans do. Houston's not the most physical cornerback around and Grimes' size (5-foot-9, which might be generous) could cause some matchup problems. But the Falcons didn't seem worried enough about either of those things to go out and splurge for a free agent.
That's because Smith and his staff believe they can coach Houston to be more aggressive and they believe Grimes is so athletic that he would have been a first-round pick instead of an undrafted free agent if he were a couple inches taller. The belief is that Grimes can make up for his lack of height with his rare leaping ability (he has a 42-inch vertical jump). Of course, it would only help the corners if John Abraham can produce another year of double-digit sacks and Jamaal Anderson can start showing why he was a top 10 pick in 2007.
3. Will there be a sophomore slump for Ryan?
That's usually a legitimate question when a guy has a remarkable rookie season. But this guy is different than any quarterback to come along in recent years.
Ryan's got an offensive line that showed it could protect him last year. He's got a top-notch runner in Turner, a Pro Bowl receiver in White and a solid possession guy in Jenkins. Add Gonzalez to that and Ryan's only going to get better.
Quietly, the coaching staff is raving about what Nicholas has shown in camp so far. They say he's a completely different player and person than he was last year when he was flying back and forth to Boston to be with his infant son, who was awaiting a heart transplant. Stephen Nicholas Jr. got a new heart in mid-October and is completely healthy now. His father is able to focus completely on football now and the coaches firmly believe he's ready for a breakout season.
It's obvious this is a make-or-break year for Anderson at defensive end. He's got to show something and show it quickly because the Falcons aren't going to be patient much longer. They've got Chauncey Davis, who's ready to play immediately, and rookie Lawrence Sidbury, who has lots of potential, waiting to take over.
The Falcons must be very confident that left tackle Sam Baker is fully recovered from the back surgery that interrupted his rookie season. Atlanta didn't go out and get any other strong alternative and that's significant because Baker is the guy responsible for protecting Ryan's blind side.
It's early yet, but the Falcons believe they might have hit on something when they signed veteran Robert Ferguson after Harry Douglas went down with a season-ending injury early in camp. Ferguson looks like a guy intent on redeeming a career that seemed to be stalled. There's no doubt the Falcons will miss Douglas because they wanted him to stretch the field. But Ferguson and veteran Brian Finneran might give them some quality depth.
The Falcons had planned to let Owens focus solely on playing cornerback as a rookie. But the injury to Douglas leaves the team with a big question mark at punt returner. Owens has return abilities and the Falcons are going to use the preseason to take a look at him in that role.
The Falcons went with Chris Redman as Ryan's backup last season and had D.J. Shockley as their third quarterback. But there's a chance Shockley and Redman could flip roles. Shockley's had a strong camp and has lots of upside. ... The annual speculation that running back Jerious Norwood should get more carries is rolling again. There might be some truth to that because the Falcons don't want Turner handling 376 carries again. But Norwood's still going to be a situational player and his carries aren't going to increase dramatically. ... White's contract holdout didn't seem to set him back. He looks like he's in the best shape of his career. ... Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton was a force as a rookie last year, but the Falcons are going to ask even more from him this year. They want him to be an every-down linebacker. ... A lot of people like to bash the right side of Atlanta's offensive line. It's true that guard Harvey Dahl and tackle Tyson Clabo might not be the most talented guys. But offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and line coach Paul Boudreau do a good job of playing to their strengths. Dahl and Claybo are aggressive as run blockers and Mularkey and Boudreau do a good job of covering up their deficiencies as pass blockers by giving them help and not having Ryan take many deep drops.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- A year ago, the Atlanta Falcons were at least glancing at all four quarterbacks in camp as the potential starter.
With Matt Ryan now firmly established, everyone else is playing for No. 2 this year and it sounds like that part of the competition remains very open. Chris Redman was the backup last year with D.J. Shockley as the No. 3, but their status for this year hasn't been decided. Undrafted rookie John Parker Wilson also is in the mix.
It's safe to assume Ryan will start Saturday's preseason game against Detroit, but coach Mike Smith wouldn't reveal how the order will go after that.
"I will say that all four quarterbacks are going to play," Smith said. "Each will play one quarter. In terms of how that rotation is going to go, I don't really want to divulge that right now and I don't think anybody should read anything into how the rotation takes place."
Keep an eye on Shockley. From what I've seen and heard, he's had a nice camp and at least has a chance to challenge Redman for the backup spot.
"D.J.'s shown he's a lot more familiar in the offense," Smith said. "Remember, last year, he was just a year removed from his ACL, so physically he's moving around a lot better and he's a lot more familiar with what we do in terms of calling plays."
Smith said he's hoping to have a relatively healthy roster for the Detroit game. Only receiver Harry Douglas, who's out for the year with a knee injury, and rookie safety William Moore, who's going to miss a few weeks after knee surgery, have been ruled out at this point.