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Was just looking at the Falcons depth chart at the safety spot, and I can't help but wonder how things are going to shake out.
Mind you, I'm not talking about the starters. Chris Crocker and Lawyer Milloy, barring injury, are your starting free and strong safety, respectively, for the Falcons on September 10 at Carolina.
What I'm talking about is that, with all the interesting competitions heading into the Falcons 2006 training camp, backup safety may be as compelling as any.
First, you've got Omare Lowe. Lowe switched back to safety this offseason from corner, which he played at the end of 2005 when an injury to DeAngelo Hall thrust him into the lineup. Lowe was a demon on teams last year for the Falcons, leading Atlanta with 15 solo and 16 total special teams tackles.
Backing up strong safety currently is Cam Newton. Newton, originally a non-roster invitee to Atlanta's 2005 mini camp, earned a spot on the roster last year with an undeniable nose for the football, and impressive athletic ability. He saw action in six contests and finished with three solo special teams stops.
One player who's not listed as a safety right now but may be before training camp concludes is veteran defensive back Kevin Mathis. Mathis, you may remember, didn't play a snap for the Falcons in 2006. He was the Falcons player ejected along with Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter prior to the Falcons Monday Night opener last year, and in the week of practice after the Eagles contest as the Falcons prepared for the Seahawks, Mathis suffered a serious knee injury that forced the Falcons to place him on injured-reserve.
2005 wasn't exactly a banner year for Kevin Mathis. But if Mathis can regain his prior form, and show himself to be the same heads-up, gutsy playmaker that he has been for the Falcons since joining the Birds in 2002, I'd have to think the Falcons will be hard-pressed to part ways with him. The only question would be, what position would he play?
What makes all three of these backup safeties (and one potential backup in Mathis) attractive candidates to the Falcons coaching staff is they all have special teams experience.
Still, don't count out the rookies. During Organized Team Activities, Nick Turnbull, Chris Reis and Ryan Bowers have all displayed the kind of athleticism and work ethic that you love to see from players at any position.
Turnbull is out of Florida International, where he set the school record for interceptions with 16 for 303 yards. A big guy at 6-2, 216, Turnbull played the part of centerfielder to perfection during his days in the Sun Belt Conference.
Reis, a local product out of Georgia Tech, split time at the Institute of Technology as a linebacker and safety and proved impressive at both, finishing as one of Tech's top tacklers in each of the pas three seasons.
Bowers got the least amount of time in front of the coaches during OTAs and mini camp, but that might do him more good than harm, considering he was playing in NFL Europe. Bowers was a special teams standout for the Thunder across the Atlantic this spring, finishing with more than 10 total special teams tackles -- five in one contest alone.
As easy as it is to get excited about all this competition and about how the rookies have performed thus far, it's important to realize that what we've seen to this point has been a precursor to the important audition to come. And a precursor clad in just shorts, jerseys and helmets at that.
And also remember in this competition for the reserve safety spots, then there's always the bigger, perhaps more important question: how many safeties do the Falcons keep on the roster? I realize at this point I can offer you more questions than answers, but that's the nature of it. Sadly, only starting on July 27th will we finally start to see how things are really going to shake out.
Is it September 10 yet? I'll even settle for July 27 when training camp starts. What about August 11 -- the Falcons first preseason game?
Nope. It's June 26. But then, you probably already knew that.
You might be curious to know that right now, all the Falcons rookies are staying in the same hotel and are moved as a group by van on a daily basis from the Falcons facility, to their current place of residence.
When they first got here for their inaugural mini camp, the Falcons roughly 20 rookies actually stayed in the dormitories built to house the Falcons during training camp, but after that weekend stint were moved into the hotel they currently inhabit.
I can't imagine it's too far removed from the dorm lifestyle they've had for the past few years.
This place is bustling with activity. No, seriously. No doubt a lot of you think that, 'Hey, it's the offseason, the office might as well be closed.' Yeah. Right.
I'd wager to say that the office is busier now than it is during the regular season. Why? Well, let me attempt to elaborate.
During the regular season, things are chaotic around here, but it's a regimented kind of chaos. As in, I can tell you what I'm doing every hour of every work day during the regular season.
However, right now during the offseason, myself and my front office compatriots are hustling to make sure that when we get to the season, everything can be regimented. In other words, we're setting everything up so it can run like clockwork.
The sales department is busy, well, selling. The folks in event marketing are busy hammering away at the Falcons Landing schedules for the coming season, in addition to the game day entertainment for each of the Falcons 10 home games in 2006. Freddie is working on his skits for the coming year (you can help him brainstorm, in fact). And the merchandise folks are making sure Falcons 365 -- both online and in-store -- is going to have all the gear it needs at the right times during the course of the season, never mind the months leading up to and after it.
And don't even get me going on community relations and public relations. I don't think those folks have an offseason.
But as you might imagine, no one else around here really does either. Which makes things all the more exciting.
Was just looking at the NFL training camp reporting dates on NFL.com.
I found it interesting that the Falcons are among several teams that actually train at their team headquarters.
All told, there are 12: the Browns, Broncos, Texans, Jaguars, Dolphins, Patriots, Chargers, Lions, Rams, 49ers, Redskins and, of course, the Falcons.
What I also found interesting is that three of those teams: the Texans, Jaguars and Patriots, train at their stadium. Meaning, their team headquarters is actually housed in the stadium in which they play. I like that set-up.
There are two NFL training camp locations that, to me, hit a littler closer to home. I went to Oglethorpe University, located in northern Atlanta, which just so happens to be a part of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. We call it the SCAC. Let's hear it for acronyms.
It just so happens that two NFL training camps are held at SCAC schools. The Indianapolis Colts hold theirs at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, located near Terra-Haute, Indiana. And the New Orleans Saints just announced that his year they will hold their training camp at Millsaps College, which is located in Jackson, Mississippi.
Way to go, my D-III brethren.
But enough about small institutions of higher learning. Let's talk Falcons football.
It's Monday, June 26. What does that mean regarding the 2006 offseason? It means that the Falcons veterans are no longer required to work out. The Falcons offseason conditioning program, in essence, is over for them. Now, that's not to say that if any veteran wanted to hop in to 4400 Falcon Parkway sometime between now and training camp to get a lift and run in that they couldn't. But I'd bet you, by and large, that the Falcons vets are taking this next month to decompress, to relax -- to do the things that, come Falcons training camp (which starts on July 27), they won't be able to do.
For the Falcons rookies, however, it's a different story. Considering the Falcons veterans got a several week jump on the rooks considering the offseason conditioning program began before the youngest Falcons were ever on the roster, for the next three weeks, the Falcons rookies get to have make-up workouts. They'll be here essentially four days a week. And when they're not lifting, they're running. And when they're not running, they're lifting. And when they're not lifting or running, they're in the film room with their respective position coaches.
Ahh, the glamorous life of an NFL rookie.
Thursday, June 14:
Just published the Freddie Mac Show. This may be the best one to date. Maybe simply because they seem to get longer and longer.
NFL Films is in the building right now and we've got all kinds of former Falcons making their way through headquarters, like Jamal Anderson, Jesse Tuggle, Chuck Smith and the like.
But I'll get more into why they're here at a later date.
Just got back from the Falcons locker room, where we filmed the latest installment of the Freddie Mac Show.
Seems like they keep getting better and better.
This time around, McCrary harassed the Falcons equipment room staff, then roamed around the locker room for a bit.
Which brings me to another point about Ryan Bowers, which I just now found out. The Falcons rookie safety has done some modeling for the likes of Armani, and also made an appearance or two on the daytime soap opera Guiding Light.
I smell an Atlantafalcons.com feature coming on...
I know, what about the actual football side (player movement and the like)? Well, I'm getting to that.
The most recent points of note on the football side pretty much all have to do with NFL Europe.
First, the return of the last of the Falcons reps in NFL Europe after they played in the 2006 World Bowl.
Linebacker Derrick Ballard, running back Diamond Ferri and safety Ryan Bowers all played for Amsterdam in the '06 NFL Europe League championship bout against the Frankfurt Galaxy. They arrived at the beginning of this month.
Ballard and Ferri had played all 10 NFLEL regular season contests with the Admirals, but how Bowers ended up on the Admirals roster is rather interesting, if only to me.
Bowers had played the final seven games of the '06 NFLE season as a jack of all trades (safety, kick returner, special teams gunner) for the Berlin Thunder after spending the first three weeks in Europe on the Thunder practice squad.
After wrapping up his seventh and final game for the Thunder, before he could pack his bags, NFLE came calling.
There is a provision in NFL Europe that allows for the shifting of players from one team to another. My guess is this has to do with team needs, and maybe even goes so far as to increase the playing time of guys who might be reserves on other teams, but who could see more PT on another.
As near as I can reason with Bowers, the Admirals lost a key component when starting safety Cory Peebles suffered an injured shoulder in Amsterdam's final regular season game. When Peebles was deemend out for the World Bowl, they were in need of another safety. Someone who could play special teams.
Enter Ryan Bowers. Bowers was re-allocated to the Admirals on Tuesday, May 23 -- four days before the World Bowl.
But more on Diamond Ferri, now. As some of you may know, after a solid season in Europe this past spring, Ferri was unable to play in the World Bowl. He was struck with a horrible case of what the Admirals characterized as the intestinal flu, and was sidelined for the contest.
He was waived-injured by the Falcons not too long after his arrival stateside.
The Falcons instead opted to go with an NFL Europe running back who they had watched light the Admirals on fire in the World Bowl when they signed game MVP Butchie Wallace.
Wallace tore up the Admirals to the tune of 143 yards on 18 carries and one touchdown, helping spearhead the Galaxy's 22-7 victory.
Doing a little research on Wallace, I noticed that he's a Marshall alum who was originally signed by the Vikings in 2004, meaning that his career with the Thundering Herd overlapped with fellow-Falcon and Marshall alum Chris Crocker.
Wallace spent the entire 2004 season on the Vikings practice squad, and the last half of 2005 on Minnesota's practice squad. But come the beginnings of 2006, Wallace's contract expired and he was selected by the Frankfurt Galaxy in NFL Europe's annual free agent player draft.
Watching Wallace a handful of times in practice, I couldn't help but notice his nice, fluid sprinting form. Looks like he has a track background the way he runs with only his toes touching the turf.
When the Falcons signed Wallace, they also signed a cornerback who teamed with Wallace on the Galaxy this past season in NFL Europe. Alford started all 10 games for Frankfurt across the Atlantic, finishing fourth on the team in total tackles with 34 stops (32 solo) and also registering four passes defensed and two solo special teams stops.
Earlier in his football playing days, however, Alford was in a rare circumstance. He began his collegiate career at Middle Georgia College in 2001, but was forced to transfer the following season. Why, you ask? Because Middle Georgia disbanded their football program. Pretty rough.
But he transferred to Vanderbilt and finished his career in the SEC with 77 total tackles and four interceptions from 2003-04.
Originally signed by the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted rookie free agent in May of 2005, Alford was released by the Ravens just prior to the start of the regular season and spent the year out of football.
It's been a lean month and a half for the likes of MO's Weblog. I have no explanations, no thoughts on that. Never mind ruminations, inferences, deductions or other things that go bump in the philosophical night.
What I can tell you about, however, is just how much of a topsy-turvy month and a half we've had around here. Football and front office.
But let's go ahead and stick to recent items, shall we? Good. Glad you agree.
Most recently -- only last Tuesday, in fact -- the Falcons announced that former Pro Scout Ray Farmer had accepted the post of Director of Pro Scouting with the Kansas City Chiefs.
During my past three seasons with the Falcons, I had the pleasure of getting to know Farmer relatively well. But even with my limited knowledge of the Duke alum, I believe it fair to say that they don't come a whole more athletic or intelligent than Ray Farmer.
A 1996 graduate of the aforementioned Durham, North Carolina institution, Farmer was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round (121st selection overall) of the '96 Draft. A linebacker by trade, Farmer had an exemplary career for the Blue Devils, setting the NCAA career mark for blocked PATs with eight -- a mark he still holds along with the NCAA record for blocked PATs in a season with five in 1993.
After playing in a total of 30 games his first two NFL seasons and collecting roughly 40 total tackles in addition to two sacks, one interception, four passes defensed and a forced fumble, Farmer's career was cut short by a knee injury suffered in the Eagles contest on September 13, 1998 against, ironically, the Atlanta Falcons.
Even though the injury cut short his playing career, you could still see his athleticism around here, when he'd nonchalantly do something physically impressive.
I recall one time after practice in the Falcons indoor facility, Farmer grabbed a regulation Wilson NFL football, got on both his knees at the 50-yard line and let it fly, throwing the ball over the cross bar and hitting the wall a few feet behind it by using nothing but his right arm, right shoulder and back. Like it was nothing.
But I guarantee you it wasn't his impressive physical ability that gave him the edge when he was up for the Falcons Pro Scout job in 2001, or when the Chiefs courted him this spring.
Something tells me that it had something to do with his mental wares.
In my several football-related discussions with Farmer, it became obvious to me that -- much like the rest of the Falcons scouting department -- he's a rare individual. A highly intelligent individual who is also an excellent communicator. One who can take the most complex, the most intricate of thoughts and express them in simple, clear, concise manner.
I only wish I could recall a specific instance.
I also remember enjoying debating/arguing with Farmer on multiple occasions, especially when the NFL Draft and free agency period rolled around.
Like any die hard fan of the feather, I had my own agenda for the team. 'Why don't we look at this player?' or, 'What's the story with this guy?' or, 'If I had to pick our first-rounder right now, it'd be...'
We ran the entire gamut, and he'd graciously humor my incessant questioning, sometimes agreeing with my assessments, but more oft than not squelching my opinions lightening me on subjects ranging from things like why scouts aren't nearly so obsessed with measurables as fans are, and the kinds of characteristics the Falcons look for at certain positions. Those to name a few.
As you can no-doubt tell from my above portrayal, Farmer will be missed. We here at 4400 Falcon Parkway wish him all the best. That is, unless his team is playing the Atlanta Falcons.
But just because Farmer has flown the coup doesn't mean the Falcons are without a Pro Scout. In fact, just after the Falcons announced Farmer's departure, they announced the promotion of Shepley Heard from Pro Scouting Assistant, to full-fledged Pro Scout. Heard has spent the last year immersed in the Falcons scouting system, learning under Farmer and Falcons Director of Pro Scouting Les Snead.
If you were curious, Heard played defensive back at Central Oklahoma University, and was a graduate assistant at Texas A&M before joining the Falcons last year.
He may not be able to throw a football more than 60 yards on his knees, but having spoken with him at length, it's plain to see he knows what he's doing and that the Falcons scouting department won't skip a beat.
Okay, so I'm getting an early start today.
My cube neighbor is back. Was back yesterday, in fact. Hamzah Ahmad, who handles the logistics of everything related to Falcons Landing -- the Falcons pre-game fan destination -- also handles the game operations for the Georgia Force. And he just so happens to be situated to my right here in the Falcons marketing department.
So where was Hamzah? Glad you asked.
Recognized by the Arena Football League for the superb job that he does, Hamzah was chosen to assist the AFL in producing this year's Arena Bowl. In other words, Hamzah spent the past eight days in Las Vegas. Rough job. But I suppose someone's got to do it.
He's not here right now. But then, not many people are.