Fanball via Yahoo wrote:Training Camp Preview: Atlanta Falcons
by Jason Powell - Associate Editor, Fanball.com
Thursday, May 27, 2004
Leading up to the start of Training Camps in July, Fanball.com is taking a team-by-team tour with fantasy previews for each NFL squad. We'll detail the key offseason moves, position battles to watch, and other things to keep an eye on as the clubs prepare for the season ahead.
Notable Offseason Moves: The biggest change in Atlanta is that Dan Reeves is out after serving as the Falcons' head coach from 1997 through the first 13 games of last season. Reeves was replaced on an interim basis by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips for those final three games, but the team eventually severed its ties with Bum's kid and replaced him with Jim "Playoffs?" Mora's kid.
Jim Mora Jr. was named the new Falcons' head coach on January 9 after serving as the 49ers' defensive coordinator for five seasons. One of his first moves was to switch the defensive alignment from a 3-4 setup to the more traditional 4-3 approach.
Mora has also overhauled a defensive secondary that ranked last in the league in passing yards allowed last season. The team released veteran cornerback Ray Buchanan, and allowed free agent Juran Bolen to sign with Jacksonville. The new secondary additions include first-round draft pick DeAngelo Hall, and former Jets' cornerback Aaron Beasley, and former 49er cornerback Jason Webster.
The Falcons also added another first-round draft pick by trading up to select former Ohio State receiver Michael Jenkins. The 6-4 wideout will join Peerless Price, Brian Finneran, Terrence Edwards, and free agent acquisition Dez White as Michael Vick's potential targets in the passing game.
The free agent addition of former Vikings' tight end Hunter Goodwin is not only an upgrade from Brian Kozlowski (who signed with the Redskins), but also a nice bonus for starting tight end Alge Crumpler. Goodwin is a blocking tight end, which means Crumpler should be free to run more pass routes when the team uses two-tight end packages in red zone situations.
Speaking of blocking, the Falcons' line is sure to get a boost this year from legendary line coach Alex Gibbs. The former Broncos' assistant brought his cut blocking techniques to Atlanta this year, which should bode well for Vick and the running backs.
Mora's quest to find a dependable backup for Vick did not go as well as he'd hoped. Ty Detmer signed as a free agent, but Mora quickly went on record as saying that he considered the former Lions' backup a No. 3 quarterback. Having let Kurt Kittner and Doug Johnson depart via free agency, the team tried unsuccessfully to recruit a proven veteran caddy for Vick.
With all other options seemingly exhausted, the Falcons selected former Virginia quarterback Matt Schaub in the third-round of the draft. The inability to score a veteran backup could prove to be costly if Vick goes down with injuries again this season.
Position Battles: Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett are expected to split the backfield carries again this year. Dunn plans to take part in training camp drills, but his participation may be limited early on. The veteran back had season-ending foot surgery after suffering the tearing a ligament in his left foot (known as the Lisfranc injury) during a week 12 meeting with the Titans. He was unable to participate in the team's spring workouts this month. Duckett enters training camp healthy and is coming off an impressive sophomore season. If Dunn can't hold up his end of the bargain, Duckett proved last year that he can handle the full workload on his own.
Price is the No. 1 receiver if for no other reason than the reputation he gained as a No. 2 wideout in Buffalo. He has yet to show that he can contend with the double-team attention first receivers attract. Still, he is the only receiver locked in for a starting role. If Finneran thought the NFL Cayman Island Challenge was tough, he hasn't seen anything yet. Team officials would like to see Jenkins take Finneran's job as the team's second receiver during training camp. We expect Jenkins to win the No. 2 battle, which would leave Finneran and White as the contenders for the third receiver role.
Hall is expected to become an immediate starter at one of the two corner spots. The former West Virginia player has drawn comparisons to former Falcons' cornerback Deion Sanders in terms of speed, talent, and cockiness. If he plays nearly as well as he talks, DeAngelo could be the shutdown corner this defense so desperately needs. Hall and Webster are expected to be the starting cornerbacks, while Beasley, Tod McBride, and Tyrone Williams will fight for the nickel back job.
Keep an Eye On: Vick will be learning a new system this season, as Mora is implementing the West Coast offense he learned in San Francisco. Detmer was brought in primarily due to his vast knowledge of the West Coast offense. Michael has been singing the praises of the new offensive approach, but there is usually an adjustment period after a new offense is installed.
Vick raised some red flags in March by telling reporters that his ankle is still sore as a result of the broken fibula he suffered last preseason. Even worse, Vick admitted that he failed to ice the injury during the offseason as his doctor instructed him to. Given the amount of grief he took for not following the simple instructions of his doctor, we can only assume that Vick has over-iced his injured leg ever since. Yet without a proven backup on the roster, the Falcons could be in for another disastrous season if anything should happen to their star quarterback.