McClure’s Praise has Secret Recipient

Falcons’ center Todd McClure told NFL.com today that he believes the Falcons are a “special team.” We’ll come back to that a bit later.

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It was one of the biggest questions entering the season: how would the Falcons replace veteran return man Eric Weems?

Before an answer, a surprising roster move: former Pro Bowl long snapper Joe Zelenka was let go and undrafted rookie Josh Harris was to be the opening day starter. Harris would later become the lone Falcon rookie to start on opening day.

Then August became September, and the final 53-man roster came out. Spence Adkins wasn’t on it. In fact there were only five linebackers. One of the two reserves was Mike Peterson, a starter since the Clinton administration, entering his 14th professional season and first as a fulltime reserve.

Sandwiched between all of that was the season-ending injury to fullback Bradie Ewing, and the subsequent acquisition of Lousaka Polite, neither one of whom knew the system.

What began as one question had become four, with zero games played.

The Falcons have since played four games, and there aren’t any more questions.

Somehow, nothing ever became of the concerns about special teams.

It starts with Dominique Franks in the punt return game. Franks a camp casualty, was resigned just days before the season opener against Kansas City in the first week of September. He has returned five punts so far this year for a respectable 9.8 yard average, and has kept his game virtually mistake free. He has also filled in on a depleted defense, playing in the nickel while Chris Owens nursed a head injury.

Weems meanwhile hasn’t seen much of the field in Chicago, neither in the offense nor as the deep man on kick/punt returns.

Jacquizz Rodgers has been an even bigger surprise on kick returns. His four returns for an average of 38 ½ yards have helped rank the Falcons second in the NFC in KR yardage, behind only Seattle which has an extra return opportunity to factor in. Rodgers’ role in the offense is still a bit uncertain, but his roster spot is padlocked.

Middle of the pack league-rankings in punt and kick coverage don’t necessarily reflect the strength of the Falcons in those two departments. Miami, Cleveland and Jacksonville all rank in the top ten in gross-opponent punt yardage allowed, and those three teams combined have fewer wins than the Falcons. A better indicator is the number of non-defensive players who have recorded tackles for Atlanta; six, not including offensive players tackling opposing defenders after turnovers. Given that Matt Bosher has only attempted 17 punts on the year, that number would indicate a pretty high number of down-men swarming opposing returners.

Matt Bryant is still a perfect 9/9 on field goals by the way, and Bosher’s biggest miscue of the year wasn’t even his own. Bosher’s inability to field a bad snap from Harris in the San Diego game is the only memorable special teams blemish one quarter of the way through the year.

Todd McClure likely didn’t have his team’s special teams unit in mind when he told NFL.com earlier today that he believes the 2012 Falcons are a “special team.” Few centers find reason to distract themselves with anything other than protecting the man under center, particularly when that man is the NFC offensive player of the month.

But one of the obvious pluses of being 4-0 is that it really doesn’t matter to whom McClure was directing his praise.


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