Falcons Staff Gets to Look Players Over
By STEVE WYCHE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/19/07
Flowery Branch — In two months as Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino hasn't met all of his players. It's been an odd adjustment for Petrino, who, for most of his coaching career, has been able to supervise collegiate players as a group, for all but a few weeks over the summer and during spring break.
Beginning today, players will show up en masse at Falcons headquarters for offseason workouts.
Petrino and his staff, other than the strength coaches, can't hold meetings or put players through football-related drills during conditioning sessions. However, they will be following the progress of players and making sure they understand the team's new direction. A mid-April pre-draft, veteran mini-camp will be when the true evaluation of players begins.
"I don't think there's going to be a whole lot of a feeling-out process," Petrino said. "It's about us preparing and getting to know what we need to know. It's about getting in the weight room and taking care of their bodies and making sure they're in the right condition."
Here is a look at some of the issues facing Petrino and the Falcons.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE
A player who will be watched closely throughout conditioning drills is recently signed left guard Toniu Fonoti, who is listed at 350 pounds but has had his promising career sidetracked by weight and injury issues. His progress, or lack thereof, over the next few months could impact the one likely change along the offensive line, since he is viewed as a potential starter.
"He's got to get in good shape," Petrino said. "He will raise the average of the weight of our offensive line. He's played mostly around 370, 375, but he's been in the 390s. He's a good athlete with good feet and can run. We want to see him work and see how he does."
In regards to shaping the roster, Petrino said several things remain fluid, including the possibility of moving outside linebacker Keith Brooking to middle linebacker to replace Ed Hartwell, who was released. Brooking has played in the middle for the better part of the past two seasons when Hartwell was out with an Achilles tendon injury and injuries to both knees.
Williams' retention also plays a factor because if he is back, he likely would take over for Brooking at weakside linebacker if Brooking is moved into the middle.
"We haven't got to sit down with Keith and talk about that yet, but we're waiting to see how free agency and the draft plays out," Petrino said. "The one thing with Keith that we want to do is give him a home — if it's at [weakside], line him up and let him play the whole season at [weakside]. If it's at [middle], let him line up the whole season at [middle] so he doesn't have to go back and forth. We do have a little bit of time to get that all figured out."
THE FREE AGENTS
Backup quarterback Matt Schaub and outside linebacker Demorrio Williams are both restricted free agents whose place on the opening-day roster isn't guaranteed.
Atlanta doesn't want to lose either player and has tendered each a lucrative, one-year qualifying offer with hefty compensation attachments to dissuade opposing teams from trying to sign them.
That hasn't stopped other teams from inquiring. The Falcons have taken several calls about Schaub, however no team has signed him to an offer sheet. Atlanta has the right to match any offer to Schaub or recoup first- and third-round draft picks if they opt not to. Williams' dowry would be a second-round pick.
While some players have been spending their 2 1/2-month offseason in other parts of the world — Pro Bowl tight end Alge Crumpler has been in the Middle East, visiting Coalition soldiers — others, like quarterback Michael Vick, wide receivers Roddy White and Michael Jenkins, and defensive tackles Darrell Shropshire, Rod Coleman and Tommy Jackson, started voluntarily workouts weeks ago, according to Petrino.
"The thing that I'm most excited about is that the attitude and the direction of the players is very positive and they're very motivated," Petrino said. "A lot of times you take over a new program and there might be things attitude-wise and some other things you need to change.
"I feel really good about how the attitude is here and how receptive the players are and really how excited they are, starting with Michael and his excitement about being able to run the offense."