NFL Nation: Brian Finneran
- By my count, six current NFL receivers are older than Burress, who turns 34 in August: Terrell Owens (37), Derrick Mason (37), Donald Driver (36), Brian Finneran (35), Hines Ward (35) and Brandon Stokley (35 in June);
- Thirty players have caught at least 50 passes in a season at age 34 or older, according to Pro Football Reference; Jerry Rice, Isaac Bruce and Bobby Engram accomplished the feat for current NFC West teams;
- Burress caught 35 passes for 454 yards and four touchdowns over 10 games for the New York Giants in 2008, his last season before serving a jail term on a weapons charge; St. Louis Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo was the Giants' defensive coordinator that year, giving the NFC West one solid connection to Burress;
- Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm and Ray Horton are among the Arizona Cardinals coaches who were with the Pittsburgh Steelers before Burress signed with the Giants in 2005, giving the NFC West another connection;
- These types of connections can sometimes explain why teams do not pursue players; they know the bad as well as the good;
- My initial feel is that Burress probably will not land in this division; Burress has played his entire career, from high school to the NFL, for teams in the East; I doubt he'll seek out a team in the West after spending two years away from his family;
- Burress wore a Philadephia Phillies hat upon his release Monday, and the Eagles were the team considered most likely to sign him in a survey of ESPN.com bloggers;
- The Rams' situation at receiver remains unsettled; bringing in Burress for a visit could make sense; the Cardinals' situation at receiver is more defined, and at least one Arizona-based reporter is saying there's no chance the Cardinals will sign him; I tend to agree and do not see the need, either;
- Burress is five years older than any receiver on the Rams' roster and nine years older than the team's receivers on average, a potential consideration as the team decides how Burress would fit into the equation;
- The Rams have previously resisted adding older receivers, passing on Owens and Moss over the last couple of seasons; Mark Clayton, who turns 29 in July, is the oldest receiver on the roster;
- Seattle has been aggressive in considering unlikely options, making low-risk bets on Mike Williams, Reggie Williams, LenDale White and others; the team would ideally like to go with younger players at this stage;
- Please let me know if you've seen anything, anywhere, suggesting the San Francisco 49ers would have interest; I do not see a great fit as the team establishes a new program under a first-year coach.
Would you want Burress on your favorite team?
They’re calm, methodical and live firmly in a world where public expectations almost always are toned down in a calculated attempt to avoid disappointments. So why was it every time Kerry Meier’s name came up during the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans earlier this week, Dimitroff and Smith sounded -- by their standards -- giddy? They sounded like the clock had been pushed ahead a month and they had just drafted Meier. Or they sounded like they did last year when they really did draft Meier.
Two very mature and understated men couldn’t help themselves from sounding like kids with a new toy when they talked about the guy they drafted in the fifth round (No. 165 overall) last year. Their eyes lit up and their voices carried an extra decibel of excitement when they talked about their hopes for Meier this year.
“He’s a guy who has a really large number of the attributes that translate into success in the NFL,’’ Smith said.
Meier has yet to do a thing in his NFL career, but Smith and Dimitroff expect that to change quickly. They drafted Meier as a wide receiver out of Kansas last year, but they believe they drafted much more than a wide receiver. Meier is one of those guys who can do just about anything on the football field.
He played some quarterback in college. He also made a quick and smooth switch to receiver and put up some huge numbers. He even held for extra points and field goals and served as a backup punter. When the Falcons drafted Meier last year, there was even some talk about him having the ability to play some at H-back or tight end.
All that potential is still there, but the Falcons have yet to have the chance to see it in an NFL game. Drafted only a week after his older brother, Dylan, died in a hiking accident on a family outing, Meier’s rookie season ended before it started. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the preseason and spent the season on injured reserve.
The Falcons aren’t getting regular reports on Meier during the lockout because teams aren’t allowed to have contact with players. But the last medical update on Meier is a big part of the reason Smith and Dimitroff are so excited about his prospects for the upcoming season.
“Kerry has done an outstanding job with his rehabilitation,’’ Smith said. “When we had our end-of-year physicals, Kerry was way ahead of schedule.’’
The mere fact Smith is giving injury updates in March is hugely significant. This is a guy, who like most coaches, usually talks about injuries only in the broadest of terms and the fact he’s saying Meier is way ahead of schedule must mean the receiver could step onto the field at whatever moment the lockout ends.
Yes, the next bigger receiver could be the next big thing in Atlanta’s offense. Let’s make it clear the Falcons aren’t looking at Meier as the speed receiver so many people think they need. That’s not his game.
He’s 6-foot-2 and 224 pounds and never has been known for his downfield speed. The Falcons can fill that role with Harry Douglas, if the receiver continues to progress from the knee injury that kept him out for the 2009 season or they can go out and draft a speed guy.
Meier’s role isn’t nearly as one-dimensional. The Falcons view him as the jack-of-all-trades receiver veteran Brian Finneran has been. Finneran’s a potential free agent and isn’t likely to be offered a contract to return. That’s because the Falcons believe Meier can do all the things Finneran did and more.
In the short term, the Falcons want to use Meier in a receiver group in which Roddy White is the total package, Michael Jenkins is a complementary player who excels as a possession receiver and blocker and Douglas, Eric Weems and whoever might come in the draft, will compete for the slot-receiver spot.
The plan is to let Meier play a variety of roles to maximize his versatility. Smith isn’t about to give away the playbook, but it’s not hard to imagine Meier getting some time at receiver on running downs or lining up at H-back or tight end. He’s also likely to be a regular on special teams. Heck, it’s not anywhere near a stretch to picture Meier taking on another of Finneran’s former roles -- lining up on defense at safety and using his height to knock down Hail Mary passes or his strength to make an open field tackle in a pinch.
“Kerry and his family went through such a difficult time last summer and then he got hurt,’’ Smith said. “In that kind of situation, a lot of guys would have gone into a shell and just disappeared. Kerry never did. He just threw himself into his rehabilitation and he’s been absolutely hammering it.’’
The long-term plans for Meier could be even more significant. The Falcons believe he can be much more than just a Finneran clone. They view him as a guy who, over time, could develop into a starter because he can do many of the same things Jenkins can do.
But that’s down the road. For now, the Falcons just want to get Meier back on the field and into their offense.
“We got a look at his skill set in training camp and in the preseason games he played in last year,’’ Dimitroff said. “This is a guy we think can really help us in a lot of ways. We want him back. We want him back because we think he can be a very integral part of our offense.’’
Get ready to start hearing a lot more about this. According to the league and its teams, franchise tags can be assigned starting Thursday. According to the NFL Players Association, franchise tags cannot be used – at least until there is a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, which could take months.
I just went through all my contract stuff and I’m seeing three prime candidates. Again, there is some uncertainty here because there is no labor agreement and the way any potential deal is structured could play a big role in deciding if some players are restricted or unrestricted free agents.
But the three guys that could come into play are Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams, Tampa Bay offensive guard Davin Joseph and Tampa Bay linebacker Barrett Ruud. Each team can only use a franchise tag on one player, if they chose to use it at all.
We don’t know the price of 2011 franchise tags, but we can look back to 2010 as a reference point. The tag for a running back was $8.2 million. For an offensive lineman, it was $10.7 million. For a linebacker, it was $9.7 million.
Let’s take a look at the significant players for each team who currently are not under contract for 2011 and see how this might play into the situation with franchise tags. Again, some players may fall into the category of restricted free agents, depending on how a potential labor agreement is structured.
Atlanta: Mike Peterson, Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl, Jerious Norwood, Jason Snelling, Brian Williams, Justin Blalock, Brian Finneran, Matt Bryant, Michael Koenen, Stephen Nicholas, Brent Grimes and Eric Weems.
Summary: Grimes is coming off a breakout season and likely will be classified as a restricted free agent. Most of the veterans on this list are role players and wouldn’t be considered for the franchise tag. The two long-shot exceptions could be kicker Bryant and punter Koenen. The Falcons used the franchise tag on Koenen in 2009 and let him play for the restricted free agent tender last year. The 2010 franchise tag for punters and kickers was $2.8 million. I have a tough time seeing general manager Thomas Dimitroff using a franchise tag on a punter or kicker. The Falcons don’t really have any need to use the tag.
Tampa Bay: Ronde Barber, Barrett Ruud, Cadillac Williams, Davin Joseph, Stylez G. White, John Gilmore, Maurice Stovall, Jeremy Trueblood, Quincy Black, Tim Crowder and Adam Hayward.
Summary: The Bucs should have a ton of cap room to work with, so they should be able to handle a franchise tag easily. But it remains to be seen if they want to use it on either of the two realistic candidates: Joseph or Ruud. Joseph is a guy they want to keep in the middle of their offensive line, but they might be able to work a long-term deal that would be a lot more cap friendly. Ruud has made it clear to the Bucs for two years that he would like a long-term contract. That’s never happened. Maybe he’s just not in their long-range plans.
New Orleans: Jonathan Goodwin, Scott Shanle, Roman Harper, Darren Sharper, Jimmy Wilkerson, Lance Moore, Jermon Bushrod, Pierre Thomas, Anthony Hargrove, Courtney Roby, David Thomas, Remi Ayodele, Heath Evans and Carl Nicks.
Summary: The Saints have more than 20 potential free agents and even the guys I singled out above aren’t huge stars. Nicks is probably the best player on the list. But he has three years of service in and almost certainly would qualify as a restricted free agent in any new agreement. Goodwin’s a good player, but I think the Saints would rather take their chances on working a new deal with him than using the franchise tag on a center.
Carolina: Thomas Davis, Matt Moore, DeAngelo Williams, Jeff King, Richard Marshall, James Anderson, Ryan Kalil, Charles Johnson and Dante Rosario.
Summary: Kalil and Johnson are key players, but they could end up as restricted free agents. Williams is the key guy. The Panthers have depth at running back with Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson. But Stewart has had durability issues and Williams is a playmaker on a team that needs all the offense it can get. Maybe the Panthers try to work a long-term deal with Williams, but they might try to protect him in the short term by using the franchise tag.
What it means: The Falcons played their most complete game of the season. They showed resilience by bouncing back after surrendering a late touchdown and the lead for the first time all game. Atlanta continued to show its ability to win in the Georgia Dome. That could come in handy come playoff time. Speaking of that, the Falcons are 7-2 and firmly in control of first place in the NFC South.
Heroes: Matt Ryan and Roddy White. The dynamic duo hooked up on a touchdown pass with 20 seconds to save the game.
Near goats: White and Harry Douglas. Each receiver was unable to come up with catchable passes late in the game. White, who came into the game without having dropped a pass this season, dropped two balls that looked very catchable.
Good-luck sign: When wide receiver Brian Finneran lines up at safety at the end of a game, you know the Falcons are winning. At 6-foot-5, Finneran's out there only to knock down any Hail Mary passes.
What's next: The Falcons will travel to St. Louis to play the Rams on Nov. 21.
Jenkins suffered a shoulder injury in the preseason and the initial word was that he would be ready for the start of the season. But Jenkins missed the first five games.
“He has been medically cleared,’’ Smith said. “He had been cleared only to practice over the last three weeks. Michael Jenkins has gotten the final clearance from the medical staff and will be participating in the ballgame this weekend.’’
Smith sounded like he plans to insert Jenkins right back into his spot as the No. 2 starting receiver opposite Roddy White. Harry Douglas had been starting, with Brian Finneran and Eric Weems also getting play time. But the Falcons ideally want to use Douglas as the slot receiver. Although Jenkins never has put up prolific numbers, he’s viewed as a dependable possession receiver and also is considered one of the league’s top receivers when it comes to run blocking.
“I think it is going to allow Matt (Ryan) and our offense to distribute the ball a little bit differently. I think now when they try to take certain segments of our offense away, we’re going to have more options. Michael has been champing at the bit over the last three weeks.’’
That time frame means it’s possible Jenkins might not be healthy for the start of the regular season and could boost third-year pro Harry Douglas into the starting lineup. Ideally, the Falcons like to use Roddy White as their No. 1 receiver and Jenkins is a complementary player as the No. 2 receiver. He doesn’t put up flashy numbers, but is a solid possession receiver and a strong blocker in the running game. The Falcons had been planning to use Douglas as the slot receiver.
The Jenkins injury could change things. Rookie Kerry Meier and veteran Brian Finneran now have chances to take on more significant roles. It’s also possible the Falcons could look to sign another receiver.
"You are always concerned anytime any of your players goes down with an injury," said Falcons coach Mike Smith. "One thing I am certain of is that Michael will work very hard with our athletic performance staff and our training staff to get back out on the field as soon as possible."
Let's break down the highlights in a memorable draft for the division:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers doubling up on defensive tackles and wide receivers. The Bucs used their first two picks on defensive tackles, taking Gerald McCoy in the first round and Brian Price early in the second. They are instant starters and the Bucs picture second-year pro Roy Miller joining them in the rotation. That probably means the end for last year’s starters Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims, but that’s a good thing. The Bucs ranked last in the league in run defense last season and they got no pass rush from the interior. McCoy and Price can stuff the run and create a surge in the middle. That’s going to free up middle linebacker Barrett Ruud to make plays and help the defensive ends generate a better pass rush.
The Bucs also followed a similar theme at wide receiver, taking Arrelious Benn in the second round and Mike Williams in the fourth. It may be a lot to expect two rookies to instantly start at wide receiver, but it could happen here. That’s mainly because the Bucs have very little other talent at the position. At worst, Benn’s an instant starter. Williams is a bit of a gamble because he’s had some off-field issues, but Tampa Bay was willing to take a chance because of his physical skills. There’s risk involved, but Williams has better upside than any of Tampa Bay’s receivers, including Benn. Quarterback Josh Freeman needed some new targets and the Bucs went out and got them.
The Carolina Panthers traded away their second-round pick in 2011 to take Armanti Edwards in the third round. This is a curious move by a regime that has to win this year because Edwards is a project. He was a quarterback at Appalachian State, but the Panthers plan to use him as a receiver and a return man. Edwards might be able to make a quick impact as a return man.
But he’s going to need time to develop as a receiver. That’s time coach John Fox and Marty Hurney might not have.
Most surprising move
Those are traits the Panthers generally stay away from, but Carolina is desperate. Besides, the Panthers have a locker room filled with strong leaders (Jon Beason, Jordan Gross, etc.) and there’s no room for “me-first" guys, except for receiver Steve Smith. Clausen will have to conform to have a chance. Carolina’s offensive system also will limit Clausen’s opportunities to take chances. Fox and coordinator Jeff Davidson want a guy who is mainly a game manager, but who also can make a play here and there.
File it away
Technically, Kerry Meier was drafted as a wide receiver by the Atlanta Falcons with a compensatory pick at the end of the first round. Realistically, Meier is a flat-out football player. He started off his career as a quarterback at Kansas and had some early success. But an injury cost him his starting job and he moved to wide receiver in 2007. All Meier did was go out and set a school record for career receptions. He played all three receiver positions, got some work as a fullback and H-back, served as the holder on place kicks and even still got some time as a backup quarterback. If Meier sounds a bit like Brian Finneran, he should. Finneran’s done a little bit of everything for the Falcons throughout his career. With Finneran getting older, Meier has the potential to help the Falcons in a lot of different areas.
Yes, the workout was in Atlanta, so logistics weren’t an issue for the Falcons. But I think they must be looking hard at Thomas if they sent so many people to watch. They already should have a good read on this guy since he’s in their own backyard, but this is a sign that they’re doing extra homework.
Drafting a receiver wouldn’t be a total surprise for Atlanta. Dimitroff admits the Falcons draft for need and defensive end and linebacker seem to be the needs everyone talks about. But there also is a need at receiver.
Roddy White is firmly established as the No. 1 receiver. Michael Jenkins has been the other starter, but he’s somewhat of a role player. In the long term, Thomas could be an upgrade at No. 2. The Falcons still have high hopes for Harry Douglas, but he’s coming back from a major knee injury and projects more as a slot receiver. Veteran Brian Finneran is also in the mix, but he’s more of a situational player.
Thomas is in the Jenkins mold. He’s a bigger receiver -- 6-foot-2 and 229 pounds. He’s not a burner, but he’s tough to tackle and can make things happen after the catch. The best stat I saw on him is that he averaged 25 yards a catch last season. Thomas isn’t known for his blocking, which is perhaps Jenkins’ biggest strength. But he has the size and can be taught to become an effective blocker. He’s also born and raised in Georgia and the Falcons like that kind of thing -- see Dunta Robinson and, in the past, Keith Brooking.
Yes, the Falcons may still go with defense first, but don’t rule this one out. Keep in mind, this team is built around quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons try to give him all the toys he needs to succeed.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
ATLANTA -- A few quick observations at halftime:
- Jake Delhomme’s been fine for Carolina. No interceptions yet.
- Warning to Carolina fans: Your bigger problem might be your defense.
- Warning to Atlanta fans: Yeah, your offense is very good. But the defense isn’t looking nearly as good as it did against Miami last week. If you want to win the division, you’ve got to at least play a little defense.
- At the moment, I’d say New Orleans has the best defense in the NFC South. Seriously.
- Atlanta’s Jerious Norwood is out with a head injury and it doesn’t look like he’ll come back into this game. Jason Snelling’s doing pretty well as backup running back.
- Carolina linebacker Na’il Diggs left the game with an injury. James Anderson has been playing in his place.
- John Kasay’s still got some leg. He made a 50-yard field goal near the end of the first half.
- That two-minute drill by the Falcons at the end of the first half was made into a one-minute drill by Matt Ryan. The guy was flawless on that series. By the way, first time in his career that Ryan has three touchdown passes in the first half of a game.
- How about the Falcons putting Brian Finneran at safety on the Hail Mary at the end of the first half? He knocked it down.
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.
|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 Thomas 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
- The Bucs will leave it up to kicker Matt Bryant to decide whether he'll play in Sunday's game against the Packers. Bryant's infant son died Wednesday. Safety Sabby Piscitelli is the team's emergency kicker, but it's unlikely he would be the choice if Bryant doesn't play. Shane Andrus is an option if the Bucs bring in a fill-in kicker.
- Receiver Joey Galloway could miss his second straight game due to injury. Galloway again missed practice, increasing the chances he'll sit out Sunday's game against Green Bay.
- Rookie left tackle Sam Baker missed practice and has had an assortment of tests for what was believed to have been a concussion. His status for Sunday's game with the Panthers is uncertain. Todd Weiner, get ready to meet Julius Peppers.
- Receiver Laurent Robinson said he'll miss Sunday's game at Carolina because of a sprained knee. That means Harry Douglas, Brian Finneran and Adam Jennings could get more playing time.
- Add starting center Jonathan Goodwin to New Orleans' massive injury list. Goodwin didn't practice because of a hamstring injury. Cornerback Aaron Glenn already has been ruled out for Sunday.
- Carolina is healthier than it's been all season. Return man Ryne Robinson declared himself ready to go and left guard Travelle Wharton, who sat out the last two games with an injury, practiced again.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
After a quiet training camp, second-round pick Dexter Jackson probably earned the top return job with an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown against Houston.
Receiver Brian Finneran, who's trying to make the team after two years of injuries, helped his cause by catching a touchdown pass.
Deuce McAllister and Mike McKenzie put to rest any lingering questions about their health with strong performances in the preseason finale.
The early word on backup quarterback Matt Moore is that he has a shin bruise. But more tests will be performed today. If Moore's out for any period of time, Brett Basanez will be elevated to the No. 2 job behind Jake Delhomme.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Cornerback Mike McKenzie will get his first game action tonight since tearing his ACL late last season. With McKenzie back in the lineup, rookie Tracy Porter will start on the other side and Randall Gay will be the nickelback. That's probably the same lineup the Saints will use in the regular season.
With a bunch of injuries at wide receiver, Saturday night's game could be crucial for second-year pro Dwayne Jarrett. After a horrible rookie year, Jarrett came on strong in training camp. A good outing tonight could put him in the good graces of the coaching staff. With Steve Smith suspended for the first two regular-season games and uncertainty about some of the injured receivers, Jarrett possibly could have a chance to open the season as a starter.
Quarterback Jeff Garcia is expected to make his preseason debut tonight. But don't be surprised if his appearance is brief. The Bucs want Garcia to get an opportunity to work on his timing. But they don't want to risk Garcia aggravating his injury or suffering a new one. They also want to get Chris Simms some playing time to showcase him for a possible trade. Garcia can work on his timing in practice. Don't be surprised if he's only in for a few series.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The veteran receiver was released Tuesday in a move that surprises no one and probably should have come before training camp. The Falcons held onto Horn this long because they were worried about the possibility of having injuries to their other receivers and there was also some hope another team might approach them about a trade for Horn.
Neither scenario played out and the performance of the other receivers in camp only made Horn more expendable. The Falcons are set with Roddy White, Laurent Robinson and Michael Jenkins as their top three receivers. Third-round pick Harry Douglas is going to stick. There's probably only one other roster spot available and that will come down to veteran Brian Finneran and Adam Jennings, who is a return man.
Horn still can contribute and will end up somewhere in the league. Gee, a 36-year-old player with a big name ... think Tampa Bay might be interested?
But Horn didn't fit in Atlanta's rebuilding process. He knew it and he previously asked to be set free. The Falcons agreed and, now, they've got to hope there are a bunch of team's interested in Horn. The Falcons owe Horn $2.5 million in guaranteed money, but, if he signs elsewhere, they would be off the hook for whatever salary he earns.
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