(Sports Network) - The Atlanta Falcons are ready to start fresh after last year’s forgettable five-win season. Former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr. takes over as head coach, and veteran personnel man Rich McKay fills the general manager’s role. With the healthy return of Michael Vick and a top-10 draft pick, the future is once again looking bright for the Falcons.
Atlanta’s biggest needs are on the line of scrimmage. Upgrades are needed at tackle over Bob Whitfield, Kevin Shaffer and Todd Weiner. OG Travis Claridge is an unrestricted free agent and versatile interior lineman Roberto Garza is set to hit the restricted market. New offensive line coach Alex Gibbs, one of the best in the game, prefers quicker linemen. New blood could come in the form of free agency or the draft.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Falcons have holes at end and tackle. Mora is expected to switch the base defense back to the 4-3 alignment. Former end Travis Hall and incumbent Ed Jasper will form a solid DT tandem, but the Falcons could sign or draft a high-motor tackle to join the rotation. Warren Sapp is an unrestricted free agent, but his price tag might not be worth it at this point.
Veteran cornerback Juran Bolden is an unrestricted free agent. Mora craves a solid all-around corner who can play his man straight up. Several top cornerbacks have been taken off the market with the franchise tag, but the group of available free agents includes Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Antoine Winfield and Shawn Springs.
The Falcons need to upgrade a defense that allowed more yards than any team in the NFL. However, the return of Vick means more passing for the offense. Peerless Price and Brian Finneran are solid receivers, but McKay is looking for a starting-caliber player to take some heat off Price. The 2004 NFL Draft is extremely deep at the wide receiver position, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see McKay sign a capable mid-level veteran.
KEY UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: QB-Doug Johnson, RB-Travis Jervey, TE-Brian Kozlowski, OL-Travis Claridge, LB-Twan Russell, LB-Artie Ulmer, CB-Juran Bolden, S-Keion Carpenter, S-Gerald McBurrows.
KEY RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: FB-George Layne, TE-Sean Brewer, OG-Kynan Forney, C-Roberto Garza, LB-Matt Stewart, LB-Karon Riley, K-Jay Feely.