This is the 10th of a 10-part, position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ roster after their offseason program. When the Falcons report for training camp on July 26, they’ll welcome veteran kicker Matt Bryant, punter Matt Bosher and longer snapper Josh Harris.
When the Falcons elected not to re-sign Eric Weems, that created at least three openings on the special teams units.
Weems, a former Pro Bowler, was a coverage player, the punt and kickoff returner.
Veteran returner Andre Roberts was signed in free agency and will get the first shot at kickoff and punt returner jobs. He suffered a back injury during minicamp, but is expected to be healthy for training camp.
“Andre Roberts, (Devin) Fuller, you still have (Justin) Hardy, (Taylor) Gabriel and Nick Williams, (Tevin) Coleman and I like the (Brian) Hill kid, the running back as a kickoff returner,” Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Hill, who described himself violent running from the line scrimmage at Wyoming, is inexperienced as a returner. He returned one kickoff for 27 yards at Wyoming.
“I like how he takes it serious,” Armstrong said. “He comes up to some meetings with me to just see what’s going on. He’s ahead of it. He’s mature. He kind of reminds me of an Akeem Dent.
“When Akeem came in as a rookie. I never had a problem with him. It was always, ‘hey, Keith come here, I need your help.’ Always asking questions. That’s why he played right off the bat for me and he’s still in the league.”
Armstrong is also intrigued by Gabriel as a possible punt returner.
“All those guys as a returner, obviously, you love Taylor Gabriel as a returner,” Armstrong said. “I just have got to see him in the game settings with all of those problems. Are you going to manage them are or what are you going to do? You can’t be out there half-stepping.”
Roberts, 29, was signed as a free agent from the Lions to a one-year, $1.8 million deal. He averaged 22.2 yards on kickoff returns and 11.7 on punt returns with two touchdowns last season.
“He’s done both, but is built like a punt returner,” Armstrong said. “He had two nice punt returns this past season for house calls.”
It’s no secret that Armstrong was fond of Weems, who handled the ball well and ran with authority despite not having true elite breakaway speed.
“You’ve got to find one that you trust,” Armstrong said. “You just hope that you get enough punts during the (exhibition) season that you get enough reps. Get everybody reps. During this OTA and the first three weeks of training camp you’ve got to somehow simulate that without anybody hurt.”
Rookie linebacker Duke Riley was advertised as a potential special team.
“He’s looks good,” Armstrong said. “But the entire group (of rookies) looks good. A mature group, guys who are competing, taking it serious. Willing to learn. Really doing a nice job of accepting that role as a rookie. ‘Look man, just teach me.’ Real good group.”
Wide receiver Deante Burton from Kansas State is a guy who’s jumped out to Armstrong along with wide receiver Anthony Dable and former Miami linebacker Jermaine Grace.
“There is nobody right now that I’d say is not giving themselves a chance,” Armstrong said. “I don’t have that problem. It’s a really good group. I’m very happy for them.”
Iowa kicker Mike Meyer is a player to watch just because Matt Bryant turned 42 over the offseason.
“He’s being evaluated as a guy if we need him, is he the right guy,” Armstrong said. “He’s being evaluated. He’s being interviewed. He’s definitely here for a purpose. We want to see if you’re the future here. Are you that next guy?”
Back in 2009, Armstrong had to replace kicker Jason Elam, who was 39 and at the end of a brilliant 17-year career.
“You don’t know (when the kickers are no long viable),” Armstrong said. “Do you let go and you go on, and the next thing you know he goes on and finishes and steals another year. You have to make a decision at some point.”
2017 ATLANTA FALCONS 90-MAN ROSTER ANALYSIS
Here’s a look at the projected depth chart heading into training camp:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 19 Andre Roberts, 1 Reggie Davis, 17 Marvin Hall
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 66 Kevin Graf, 79 Will Freeman
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 64 Sean Harlow, 72 Cornelius Edison, 69 Marquis Lucas
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 61 Travis Averill, 62 Cam Keizur
RG [71 Wes Schweitzer, 63 Ben Garland], 68 Trevor Robinson
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 76 Daniel Brunskill, 75 Andreas Knappe
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 82 Joshua Perkins, 86 D.J. Tialavea, 85 Eric Saubert, 49 Darion Griswold
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 13 Devin Fuller, 15 Nick Williams, 16 Anthony Dable, 87 Deante Burton, 7 Josh Magee
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 4 Matt Simms, 4 Alek Torgersen
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 38 Brian Hill, 35 B.J. Daniels
FB 40 Derrick Coleman, 39 Tyler Renew
DE 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takkarist McKinley, 96 Martin Ifedi
DT 92 Dontari Poe, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 92 Joe Vellano
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 74 Taniela Tupou
DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 95 Jack Crawford, 90 Derrick Shelby, 93 Chris Odom
SLB 59 DeVondre Campbell, 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 50 Brooks Reed, Jack Lynn
LB 45 Deion Jones, 53 LaRoy Reynolds, 52 Josh Keyes
WLB 36 Kemal Ishmael, 42 Duke Riley, 56 Jermaine Grace, 55 J’Terius Jones
CB 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 25 Akeem King, 39 Janor Jones, 38 Taylor Reynolds
NB 34 Brian Poole, 33 Blidi-Wreh-Wilson, 27 Damontae Kazee
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 32 Jalen Collins, 30 Deji Olatoye, 41 Quincy Mauger
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 20 Sharrod Neasman, 35 Marcelis Branch
S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 48 Jordan Moore, 49 Deron Washington
K 3 Matt Bryant, 6 Mike Meyer
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy, 13 Devin Fuller, 38 Brian Hill
PR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy, 13 Devin Fuller, 18 Taylor Gabriel
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC