The Atlanta Falcons made a couple of surprises when they announced their final cuts on Friday, parting ways with cornerback Dominique Franks – who outwardly seemed to have the punt returner job locked down – as well as long snapper Joe Zelenka while undrafted free agent quarterback Dominique Davis earned a spot on the active roster.
The Falcons are now down to 53 men. They can sign up to eight players to a practice squad, provided those players have eligibility under collective bargaining agreement rules.
Franks returned almost all of the punts during the preseason and had a 45-yarder in the first game that head coach Mike Smith said gave him a leg up for that job, but Smith never said that Franks had won it. Consequently, that job seems to fall to Tim Toone, a feisty, 5-foot-10, 185-pound wide receiver in his third-year out of Weber State who seems to have won the job as both the punt returner and as the fifth wide receiver. Kevin Cone, out of Georgia Tech, will be the fourth wide receiver.
Toone returned one punt in Thursday’s final preseason game against Jacksonville for eight yards. He also has bested Kerry Meier, a fifth-round pick in 2010, for the fifth wide receiver job. Meier was cut on Friday.
Rookie Josh Harris out of Auburn now is the Falcons’ long snapper, an important job. In 2009, the Falcons had issues with their long snapper who retired that season as a result of a back injury. That situation helped to lead to some missed field goals by then-kicker Jason Elam that might have cost them a spot in the playoffs that season. That ’09 season, the Falcons brought in Zelenka, 36, as their long snapper. The Falcons will save some salary cap room by cutting Zelenka.
Another position of interest is that of fullback, which has proved something of a carousel recently. Ovie Mughelli held the position from 2007 until last season when suffered a season-ending knee injury. The Falcons signed Mike Cox to fill in for the injured Mughelli in ’11. In the offseason they cut Mughelli and on Friday they cut Cox. As a result, Lousaka Polite will be the Falcons’ fullback.
The feel-good story of camp is Davis, who played all of Thursday’s game. Davis went 14-for-24 for 175 yards and one touchdown – a 49-yarder to Toone – and two interceptions. He also was sacked twice. Smith said the game was a key evaluation for Davis, as he played with first-stringers for the first time in the preseason. The Falcons will go into the season with Luke McCown as their back-up quarterback and Davis as the third-stringer. At the start of last season, the Falcons elected to keep only two quarterbacks on their active roster but Davis, 23, out of East Carolina, made himself into too good of a prospect to cut.
Another notable cut was linebacker Spencer Adkins, a sixth-round pick in 2009, as was wide receiver James Rodgers, the brother of running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who will play a bigger role this season.
Tommy Gallarda made the team as the blocking tight end.
The Falcons also waived linebacker Rico Council, wide receiver Drew Davis, tackle Bryce Harris, linebacker Jerrell Harris, center Tyler Horn, wide receiver Marcus Jackson, cornerback Marty Markett, running back Dmitri Nance, defensive tackle Conrad Obi, defensive tackle Micanor Regis, linebacker Pat Schiller, cornerback Peyton Thompson and safety Suasei Tuimaunei.
They reached injury settlements with tight end Lamark Brown and guard Andrew Jackson. They also cut safety Shann Schillinger.