NFC South: Robert James
Fan favorite: He was a long shot all the way, but Banks was being followed closely by fans. That’s because he had a unique history. Banks spent five years in prison and later was exonerated. Banks’ attempt to make the team was a great story while it lasted. But it may not be completely over. The Falcons reportedly may offer Banks a position working with the team.
What’s next: The Falcons could be combing the waiver wire for offensive line help. Second-year pro Lamar Holmes is unproven at right tackle and the Falcons, who lost projected starter Mike Johnson to injury, might want to bring in an alternative. Even if Holmes plays well, the line still could use more depth. It also is possible the Falcons could bring in a veteran quarterback because backup Dominique Davis never has taken a snap in the regular season.
Players cut: Waived LB Brian Banks, G Theo Goins, DT Neal Huynh, CB Terrence Johnson, S Charles Mitchell, DT Micanor Regis, T Alec Savoie, LB Pat Schiller, K Jeremy Shelley, CB Peyton Thompson, RB Ronnie Wingo, FB Patrick DiMarco, LB Robert James, WR Darius Johnson, CB Jordan Mabin, G Phillipkeith Manley, G Jacques McClendon, WR Martel Moore, DT Adam Replogle and WR James Rodgers. The Falcons also placed QB Sean Renfree and TE Andrew Szczerba on injured reserve.
The Falcons had 1,022 defensive plays and safety Thomas DeCoud was on the field for 1,021 of them, which put him at a team-high 99.9 percent.
Let’s take a look at the playing time percentages for the rest of Atlanta’s defenders:
- Cornerback Dunta Robinson 91.1
- Linebacker Stephen Nicholas 85.42
- Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux 82.09
- Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon 81.12
- Cornerback Asante Samuel 79.45
- Safety William Moore 74.17
- Defensive end John Abraham 71.62
- Defensive end Kroy Biermann 66.73
- Cornerback Robert McClain 59.1
- Defensive tackle Vance Walker 52.05
- Linebacker Akeem Dent 48.73
- Defensive tackle Peria Jerry 48.53
- Defensive tackle Corey Peters 42.47
- Safety Chris Hope 25.34
- Defensive end Ray Edwards 20.25
- Defensive back Dominique Franks 19.86
- Cornerback Christopher Owens 16.63
- Linebacker Mike Peterson 11.35
- Defensive end Cliff Matthews 7.83
- Cornerback Brent Grimes 5.09
- Defensive tackle Travian Robertson 4.6
- Defensive end Lawrence Sidbury 2.94
- Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi 2.64
- Linebacker Robert James 0.68
- Safety Charles Mitchell 0.2
- Safety Julio Jones 0.1
We’ll get to the Buccaneers, Panthers and Saints at some point in the coming days or weeks. But we’re going to take a look at the Atlanta Falcons now since they’re in the playoffs.
Let’s start with Atlanta’s defense. The Falcons had 1,041 defensive snaps. Here’s a list of how man plays each player was on the field for, followed by my thoughts on things that stand out:
- Thomas DeCoud 1,040
- Dunta Robinson 950
- Stephen Nicholas 890
- Jonathan Babineaux 854
- Sean Weatherspoon 846
- Asante Samuel 827
- William Moore 774
- Kroy Biermann 696
- Robert McClain 613
- Vance Walker 539
- Peria Jerry 505
- Akeem Dent 504
- Corey Peters 443
- Chris Hope 262
- Ray Edwards 212
- Dominique Franks 207
- Christopher Owens 177
- Mike Peterson 117
- Cliff Matthews 81
- Brent Grimes 52
- Travian Robertson 47
- Lawrence Sidbury 31
- Jonathan Massaquoi 27
- Robert James 7
- Charles Mitchell 2
- Julio Jones 1
Outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas suffered an ankle injury at Washington and his status for Sunday’s Oakland game remains unclear. Nicholas and fellow outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon have been getting the majority of the playing time. But the Falcons have been leaving middle linebacker Akeem Dent on the field a little more in recent games. Robert James and veteran Mike Peterson also can play the outside.
Defensive tackle Corey Peters has been on the physically unable to perform list with an injury to his foot. The window for him to be eligible to begin practicing comes open next week. Once Peters begins practicing, the Falcons have a three-week window to decide if they want to activate him. Peria Jerry opened the season in Peters’ place and played well at first. But the Falcons have turned more to Vance Walker in recent weeks.
Even Cecil Newton Sr., the father of quarterback Cam Newton, said his son needs to change his demeanor when dealing with adversity. The father agrees that Cam may be pressing too hard, but says he’ll be back strong after the bye.
Jon Beason said he plans to return to middle linebacker after the bye. Rookie Luke Kuechly played well in the middle while Beason was out with an injury in Sunday’s loss to Seattle. Kuechly played the first four games on the outside, but played in the middle in college.
Here’s a new one: Running back DeAngelo Williams took to Twitter to fire back at fantasy owners that are upset with his lack of production. First off, I’m more than a little amazed that, as a professional athlete, Williams has the time to sit around and read what people are saying about him on Twitter. Doesn’t he have more important things to do with his time? Second, I wouldn’t put the blame on Williams for not putting up major numbers. I’d place it on Carolina’s coaching staff, which seems to have no idea how to get maximum production out of its talented backfield.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Veteran linebacker Barrett Ruud was released and cornerback Elbert Mack was re-signed. Ruud, who once was a very productive player in Tampa Bay, was added at the end of the preseason when the Saints had a bunch of injuries at linebacker. But Ruud, who has been slowed by injuries and age in recent years, never made an impact and was limited to duty on special teams.
Bradley Handwerger writes that the Saints got some of their swagger back in Sunday night’s victory. Steve Spagnuolo’s defense suddenly became more aggressive. The defense needs to keep playing that way and the swagger needs to stay if the Saints are going to have any chance of climbing back into the playoff picture.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Cornerback Anthony Gaitor, who missed the first four games with an injury, has returned to practice. Gaitor’s return could make it difficult for Myron Lewis or Leonard Johnson to stay on the roster.
Dory LeBlanc writes that recently-acquired Nate Byham could give the Bucs a true blocking tight end. That’s not the strength of Dallas Clark and Luke Stocker and Byham’s presence could help open holes in a running game that hasn’t been very explosive so far.
With the team deciding to keep only five linebackers, the final spot came down to Robert James and Spencer Adkins. James won, in large part because he showed what general manager Thomas Dimitroff likes to call "urgent athleticism." Translation: James is a better athlete than Adkins and the Falcons think he can make some plays as a backup and on special teams.
A lot of people tend to think of the Falcons as a veteran team and that’s true to some degree. But their real goal is to have a mix of older and younger players and they tried to get younger without any making any dramatic moves this offseason. One way they leaned toward the youth movement was when they elected to go with undrafted rookie Josh Harris as their long-snapper over veteran Joe Zelenka.
Newly-signed backup quarterback Luke McCown has a general idea of coordinator Dirk Koetter’s offense because the two were together in Jacksonville the last three years. But McCown is still learning the language because the Falcons are using different terms than what the Jaguars did.
Coach Ron Rivera said he’s optimistic running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle) can play in Sunday’s opener. Rivera even implied Stewart might practice Wednesday. If Stewart can’t play, that means more carries for DeAngelo Williams and could mean some time at tailback for fullback Mike Tolbert.
Here’s a story that’s off the beaten path. Carolina receiver Steve Smith will take his cleats off and walk barefoot to the locker room at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. Smith will do this to raise money to buy shoes for needy children. But it does have to be pointed out that Smith just returned from a foot infection that caused him to miss part of the preseason.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Bradley Handwerger writes that temporary New Orleans coach Aaron Kromer says he’s following a formula. You can’t argue with that. What Sean Payton did since taking over the Saints in 2006 has worked pretty well for the Saints.
Wide receiver Adrian Arrington said he’s appreciative the Saints kept him on the roster even though he missed the preseason games with an injury. Arrington has a chance to be the No. 4 receiver. But I’ve got a feeling his fate might have been a lot different if rookie Nick Toon didn’t suffer a season-ending injury.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
A lot of people are debating why quarterback Josh Freeman didn’t look sharp in the preseason. Charlie Campbell throws out a theory that makes as much sense as anything else I’ve heard. Campbell writes that Freeman is suffering from a lack of continuity. The Bus changed offensive coordinators before his rookie season ever started. They gave him a quarterbacks coach in 2010 and he had some success then. But Freeman took a big step back in 2011 and that got the whole coaching staff fired. Now, with coach Greg Schiano, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and quarterbacks coach Ron Turner, Freeman is starting from scratch. But, at least this time, he’s got a true No. 1 receiver (Vincent Jackson) and an all-purpose running back (Doug Martin).
Defensive tackle Wallace Gilberry, who was released by the Bucs on Saturday and re-signed Monday, isn’t doing what Amobi Okoye did and attacking Schiano’s character. Instead, Gilberry says he understands the business. Hmm, that might be the reason Gilberry is on the roster and Okoye isn’t.
The offense came out looking explosive, which was the buzzword at the start of last season, but ended up backfiring on the Falcons. Instead, there were jokes about how they weren’t explosive at all. Maybe the jokes will end now. Matt Ryan completed his first five passes for 71 yards, including four to Julio Jones for 57 yards and a touchdown. Jones left the game after the first quarter with six catches for 109 yards.
The climate change on defense also was noticeable. The Ravens went three-and-out on their first drive and the Atlanta defense looked more aggressive than it has in recent years. Almost all of Baltimore’s offensive production came long after the starters left the game.
Lots of fans said the Falcons should have done more in acquiring personnel during the offseason. Maybe they did all they needed by adding the two new coordinators.
Some other observations on the Falcons:
- Don’t be fooled by the final score. The Atlanta offense and defense clearly dominated while the starters were in the game.
- Akeem Dent, who pretty much had been anointed as the starting middle linebacker, suffered an apparent head injury in the second quarter. Dent appeared to hit helmets with the ball carrier. He left the game and was replaced by veteran Mike Peterson. We still don’t know the extent of Dent’s injury, but it’s a concern. Peterson is a nice veteran backup, but I don’t think the Falcons want him starting if Dent is out for a long time. If Dent is going to miss significant playing time, the Falcons could be on the market for a new middle linebacker.
- Speaking of injuries, rookie fullback Bradie Ewing, who is competing for the starting job, went down with a knee injury in the first half. It’s unclear how serious Ewing’s injury is. Mike Cox is his competition at fullback.
- The Falcons have talked a lot about how they believe second-year running back Jacquizz Rodgers can run between the tackles. As if to prove a point, they had Rodgers running up the middle often, including a short touchdown run.
- If you still don’t think Ryan has a strong arm, go back and look at the pass he threw to Jones with 1:49 left in the first quarter. Ryan hit the receiver in stride on a deep out pattern.
- Cornerback Dominique Franks could be on the bubble if he was viewed only as a cornerback. But Franks is getting the first crack at the job as the punt returner and he’s making the most of his opportunity. Franks had a 45-yard punt return in the first quarter, and that could go a long way in keeping him on the roster.
- Linebacker Robert James has been with the Falcons in the past but never has been a factor. He showed some pass-rush skills against Baltimore and that could make him valuable in Nolan’s defense. At 224 pounds, James is undersized, but he has some quickness, which could be very useful as a situational player in the pass rush.
The Falcons have signed receiver Kevin Cone and linebacker Robert James. They also added linebacker Matt Hansen to their practice squad.
With linebacker Stephen Nicholas also injured, the Falcons are expected to start Spencer Adkins in Sunday’s regular-season finale against Tampa Bay. But James has a chance to be active and get some playing time on special teams. With wide receiver Kerry Meier also injured, Cone also has a chance to be active.
A day after waiving Wilson, the Falcons announced he has been signed to their practice squad. Starter Matt Ryan and backup Chris Redman are the only two quarterbacks on the active roster. Wilson served as the team’s No. 3 quarterback last season, but a change in rules allowing 46 active players on game days this season has prompted more teams to keep only two quarterbacks on the regular roster.
Also signed to Atlanta’s practice squad were safety Rafael Bush, receiver Kevin Cone, receiver Drew Davis, guard Andrew Jackson, linebacker Robert James and tackle Jose Valdez. The Falcons still have one unfilled spot on the practice squad.
They released center Brett Romberg and waived safety Rafael Bush, wide receiver Kevin Cone, wide receiver Drew Davis, guard Andrew Jackson, linebacker Robert James, defense end Emmanuel Stephens, tackle Jose Valdez and quarterback John Parker Wilson. The Falcons reached an injury settlement with tight end Ryan Winterswyk.
I’ll be back in a bit with an analysis of Atlanta’s roster.
I’ve stockpiled that from earlier in the day and just collected some links from around the division to bring you up to date on the latest.
- The Panthers have hired former NFL lineman Ray Brown as assistant offensive line coach to work with John Matsko, who was hired last week. Brown has coached previously with San Francisco and Buffalo and spent 20 years playing in the NFL.
- The Falcons have agreed to terms with linebacker Robert James on a two-year contract. James was on Atlanta’s practice squad for much of 2010, but also served a suspension early in the season. He’s been with the Falcons since 2008 and has bounced back and forth between the practice squad and regular roster.
- In this radio interview, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees reflects a bit on the season and is asked about Jay Cutler's knee injury. Brees dealt with a knee injury during the season and played through it. But he is quick to point out he doesn’t know the exact nature of Cutler's injury.
- A medical and legal website decided that Atlanta ranks No. 2 on a list of the most-depressed cities whose teams have never won a Super Bowl. Charlotte also cracks the top 10.
- Tampa Bay center Jeff Faine, who is the team's player representative, isn't optimistic about the labor talks.
Atlanta linebacker Robert James has been suspended the first four games of 2010 for violating NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.
With quarterback Matt Ryan in charge, the Falcons are excited about 2010, writes Tom Pedulla of USA Today.
The Panthers signed third-round pick Armanti Edwards to a four-year deal. The deal is worth $2.5 million and includes a signing bonus just over $710,000.
New Orleans Saints
Former Saints coach John North died Tuesday at age 89.
Former kick returner Michael Lewis is enjoying his new role as a team ambassador for the Saints.
Saints fans are excited about rookie defensive end Junior Galette.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Fifth Down blog of the New York Times has a Buccaneers preview.
In a text message to the Tampa Tribune, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood said he was not involved in the incident that sparked a traffic stop that led to him being held for 13 hours in an Indiana jail Tuesday night.
The Bucs appear to have interest in supplemental draftee and BYU running back Harvey Unga, writes Roy Cummings of the Tribune.
Hauschka previously kicked for Baltimore, where he also served as a kickoff specialist. Atlanta punter Michael Koenen handles kickoffs and he and Bryant both were injured in Sunday’s game. Koenen suffered a concussion and that created a bit of a desperate situation.
The Falcons were forced to have defensive end Kroy Biermann kick off and had backup quarterback Chris Redman prepared to take over punting duties. There remains optimism that Koenen can play in Sunday’s regular-season finale, but Hauschka should help stabilize the situation on special teams.
The Falcons also placed guard Harvey Dahl and cornerback Chris Houston on their practice squad. They also elevated linebacker Robert James from the practice squad to the regular roster.
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
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
A quick trip through the NFC South's local headlines.
There have been some talks about signing quarterback Jake Delhomme to a contract extension. But it doesn't sound like the process is very far along. Delhomme, who is heading into the final year of his contract, is scheduled to take up about $11 million in salary-cap space. The Panthers could free up a lot of space with an extension, but the league's lack of a long-term labor agreement makes any long-term deal a little fuzzy.
Coach John Fox said he could see the proverbial light coming on at the end of receiver Dwayne Jarrett's second season. It better stay on because the Panthers don't have much else behind starters Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad.
Coach Sean Payton said the idea of moving cornerback Usama Young to safety is just a possibility at this point. The Saints don't really need a starter after signing veteran Darren Sharper. But there's growing depth at cornerback and that means the best long-term move for Young's career might be a switch to safety.
Coach Raheem Morris said cornerback Ronde Barber survived the offseason purge of veterans because he's still playing at a high level. Barber did slump early last season, but finished strong. Keeping Barber might not be the most popular move with fans. But Morris, who was the defensive backs coach last year, should have a better idea than anyone what Barber has left.
Defensive tackle Trey Lewis, who hasn't played since 2007 because of two knee surgeries, has been medically cleared to participated in the offseason program. Quietly, this could be a big boost for a team that's looking for help in the middle of the defensive line after the departure of Grady Jackson. Running back Thomas Brown and linebacker Robert James, who each missed their rookie seasons with injuries, also have been cleared to participate.