Stock Up, Stock Down for Key Atlanta Falcons Heading into Camp
With new offensive and defensive coordinators calling the team's plays for the first time in five years, there will be some big changes abound when the Atlanta Falcons open their 2012 training camp at their headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia less than two weeks from now.
Be they rookies, newly signed veteran free agents, or long-time members of the team, a fresh set of eyes will be overlooking the players' progress on both sides of the ball come July 26.
But a number of Falcons will be under more scrutiny than others when the full pads finally come on.
Let's examine the stock values of some of those Falcons as they prepare for camp.
Stock Up: Ray Edwards
Now a year removed from a knee injury that hampered his first season in Atlanta, Ray Edwards has great reason to be happy heading into camp.
Not only is he now healthy, but Edwards will also gets a chance to start fresh under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who is looking to make some big improvements to the team.
Among them? A more aggressive D.
"Last year we had a lot of drop-back with us, but now it's just getting after the quarterback and making things happen," said Edwards on the NFL Network's "NFL Total Access" on July 12 (via atlantafieldreport.com).
Indeed, we can expect to see Atlanta's defensive line attack the quarterback a lot more in 2012 and beyond than in years past.
And none stands to gain more from that than Edwards after the expensive 2011 free agent pick-up managed just 3.5 sacks in his debut year for the Falcons.
Stock Down: Sam Baker
The Atlanta Falcons decided to give former first-round pick Sam Baker another shot at the starting job after his 2011 campaign ended on the bench following a combination of poor play and injuries.
Now just days away from training camp, it doesn't look as though he's making the best of impressions.
When asked about the left tackle position in a Q&A, new Falcons offensive line coach Pat Hill had this to say (via atlantafalcons.com):
You can’t get anything out of playing in shorts and T-shirts now, and that’s the great thing about pro football. We get a training camp and four practice games. In college, you don’t get that. Here, there’s a lot of time to sort that out. There’s a lot of things that are going to happen between now and September 9 in Kansas City. It’s going to be very competitive. It’s going to be great competition. My belief is I want to get the best five on the field, wherever they may fit.
As harmless as that comment may seem, it certainly isn't giving Baker any praise. Don't be surprised if Baker losing his hold on the starting spot is one of those many things to happen between now and the Falcons' season opener.
And considering Baker was ranked the seventh-worst pass-blocking tackle from 2009 through 2011 in Pro Football Focus' recent report, don't be surprised if Baker returns to the bench sooner rather than later.
Stock Up: Matt Bosher
Like many punters, Matt Bosher rarely gets the recognition he deserves.
But that's exactly what he is getting today.
A sixth-round draft pick in last year's draft, Bosher managed a punting average over 40 yards just once through the first seven weeks of the season.
But everything changed in the second half of the year.
Bosher's punting average ranged over 40 yards in all but one of the Falcons' last nine games of the regular season, hitting the 50-yard mark in five of them.
The reason for his slow start?
Last year's lockout, says Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.
"Bosher suffered the most from the lack of OTAs and minicamp because we knew there were some things that we needed to address with him, but by the rules, we couldn’t get to him, we couldn’t address his issues, so we had to do it during the season,” Armstrong told Atlantafalcons.com in June.
Bosher will remember 2011 as the year he turned a disastrous start into an excellent finish, but now with a full season under his belt and a full offseason to work with, 2012 could become the season he sees that excellence all year long.
Stock Down: Shann Schillinger
Shann Schillinger isn't the most widely-known Falcon, but as the back-up safety to the somewhat injury-prone William Moore and the somewhat inconsistent Thomas DeCoud, he holds quite an important position.
But he might not hold that position much longer.
The Falcons recently added ten-year veteran safety Chris Hope to the roster via free agency after Mike Nolan said in June he didn't see much depth at that position (via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
Now with Hope, rookie Charles Mitchell and undrafted free agent Chad Faulcon in the mix, Schillinger might be the odd man out come training camp following two lackluster seasons in Atlanta (zero starts, 19 tackles).
Stock Up: Julio Jones
Like Matt Bosher, Julio Jones is another second-year pro who finally has a full offseason to work with.
Jones just happens to be making a lot more headlines because of it.
Jones has received rave reviews for his performance in offseason activities so far this year, earning the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's 'coveted' MVP minicamp award after "routinely putting on a catching clinic out...in practice," (via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
But that's nothing compared to what the great Jerry Rice thought of him:
“I love this kid,” said Rice on ESPN's Sportscenter on July 11 (via Profootballtalk.com). “He’s awesome. He’s big, he’s fast…I think he’s gonna have a breakout season this coming year.”
Quite the prediction from pro football's best receiver of all time.
But with the rookie season Jones enjoyed coupled with the progress he's already shown so far this year, it's easy to see why he made it.
Stock Down: Injured Falcons
Injuries are out of players' control, but their impact cannot be denied.
So far, three notable Falcons are set to enter training camp with injuries: Lamar Holmes, Corey Peters, and Matt Hansen.
Holmes is recovering from a broken toe the Falcons only became aware of after selecting him in the third-round of this year's draft.
Peters suffered a foot injury as well in early June which caused him to miss all of OTAs and minicamp.
Hansen recently ruptured his patellar tendon which could have him out four to six months.
While their absences have allowed others in their positions to step up in their place, those injured players' own progress is ruined in the process as the Falcons transition to new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
For Holmes, it has made the rookie's chances of cracking the starting line-up even slimmer as he'll have much catching up to do whenever he is fully healed.
Peters, on the other hand, is one of the brightest players on Atlanta's defensive line and likely has his starting spot waiting for him with little hope for the likes of Peria Jerry and Vance Walker to overtake him on the depth chart.
But the same cannot be said for Hansen, whose injury has left him in perhaps the worst situation of the three. As a rookie undrafted free agent who had a realistic shot at the weakside linebacker job, his chances of doing that may have just disappeared entirely as his only hope now is for the Falcons to put him on the physically unable to perform list instead of cutting him outright.