Tag Archives: Falcons

How the Falcons Can Take Next Step

I’ll break this into two categories, personnel and system.

1. Interior offensive line help. We didn’t run up the middle much, and for good reason. Our running game is exactly why you don’t look at raw yardage to gauge how effective a team is at something. Michael Turner really wasn’t that good this year, but he was the “leading rusher”. He had some big days against weak opponents. Way too many of our runs weren’t what you’d call successful runs, too often our running plays got us behind. We faced way too many 3rd down and longs, and against good defenses it killed us.

2. We’ve got to find another pass rusher. I was hoping Kroy Biermann could provide a spark on one end, but no, not enough. He made some nice plays, but overall, his impact on the game was minimal. You’d think with all the attention John Abraham commanded, someone else could take advantage of it, nobody did. The fact that Lawrence Sidbury rarely saw the field down the stretch has me worried he’s not going to work out like we’d hoped. This is year two of his experiment, next year is make or break for him. I would love him to step up, but I don’t want to enter 2011 with Biermann and Sidbury still the other pass rusher. Not to mention, Abraham is up there in years.

3. We need more speed at our skill positions. I think the loss of Jerius Norwood is underestimated. I think partially it’s underestimated because he’s always hurt so we never really saw just what he could fully do on the football field, but he’s the only real big play threat we’ve got on offense. Michael Jenkins is a solid receiver, but he’s a solid number two if you’ve got a slot receiver who can help stretch the field. Jenkins doesn’t stretch the field, doesn’t require any safety help, and teams can in turn use their safeties either to crowd the line of scrimmage, or help over the top with Roddy and Tony Gonzalez. Harry Douglass was a huge disappointment this year, his impact was also pretty minimal. We absolutely need a guy who can go down the field and stretch things out. I think getting Kerry Meier back next year is a good thing, but he doesn’t solve our problem of a dearth of big plays.

4. We might need a nickel back. Chris Owens was just abused on Saturday night, and I just haven’t seen enough from him to make me want to rely on him for anything. I understand Brent Grimes had a lot of interceptions, and defended a ton of passes. However, this is also a product of being targeted a lot. This is not to say we need to replace Grimes, not in the least, he’s a heckuva football player who I want out there. However, if we can improve ourselves at the nickel corner position, I’d like to see us move Grimes around more to keep him from getting matched up against some of the league’s bigger receivers. Have him play in the slot at times, he doesn’t need to always be a boundary corner. Brian Williams was solid, and his size is a plus, but age and injury are creeping up. I know people are throwing out names like Champ Bailey and Nnamdi Asomugha, but people need to get in touch with reality, that ain’t happening. With the deal we gave Dunta Robinson last year, we aren’t spending that much money on the secondary. Thomas Dmitrof needs to be shrewd in finding a little help for the secondary.

System

1. Throw the ball deep more. I don’t know if it’s because we can’t throw it deep, or don’t, but we need tot try it more often, just a few shots here and there. Part of me thinks it’s we aren’t sure we can protect Ryan enough to throw the ball down the field, at least not against good defenses. I understand where we ranked in sacks allowed, but that comes in large part to running the ball so often, and the fact that Ryan gets rid of the ball quickly, but unfortunately, his getting rid of the ball quickly coincides with getting very few big plays with the passing game.

2. We need to use the screen game more. I am a huge fan of screens, and we need to use them more. If we aren’t going to throw the ball down the field, screen plays at least give you a better chance at making a big play than a lot of what we run. Granted, not having Norwood, or a true speed back may have impacted that, but what about slot screens to Douglass? Or even to White?

3. Our defenders need work on taking better angles after quarterbacks. Getting pressure, really, wasn’t the huge problem. The problem came when we got there. You’ve got to get these guys on the ground. We whiffed against Drew Brees all day, and then against Aaron Rodgers. If we make half the sacks we had chances to in either game, we might still be playing. I think some of this might be the youth with guys like Weatherspoon and Moore blitzing has an impact on that, and I hope they can improve. I like it when we blitz, and we should do it more often. Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson aren’t bad in the secondary. However, if we have to count on Chris Owens for anything, we are in trouble.

4. Don’t make major, major changes, clearly. We are on the right track. I still liken this team to the Patriots of the early 2000s. The 2001 Patriots received some very fortunate bounces to reach, and win, the Super Bowl that year. They took a step back the following year, and then proceeded to go on their run. The 2003-2004 bunch were the really good teams. While in our 3rd year, we obviously won’t reach the heights the Patriots did, 13-3 is 13-3, we’re a good team that needs a few tweaks. We can still get where we want to go, we’re on the way, and considering the steps we’ve been making, you have to think we’re going to keep moving in the proper direction.

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A Boy And His Team; From the Beginning

I don’t remember the date, nor the year, nor many of the players, but I remember the trip.

It was in 1989, and it was my first ever sporting event besides a NASCAR race. My dad put me in his red, conveniently enough, 1987 Dodge Ram, long bed version, pick-up truck and off we went to Atlanta Fulton County Stadium.

History will show that the date was November 5th, and the pitiful Atlanta Falcons were a mere 2-6. Marion Campbell was on his way out of head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, as this was a team that had lost 11 or more games in 4 of the past 5 years. This wasn’t exactly a trip a 49ers or Broncos game.

But that didn’t matter. It was a football game. It was pro sports. It was my city. It was my home. And quickly, it became my team.

The opponent that day happened to be the 6-2 Buffalo Bills coached by the soon to be legendary Marv Levy. Not only were they Bills 6-2, they were also getting starting quarterback Jim Kelly back from injury. The Bills, as you well know, spent the next four years playing in the Super Bowl in January.

So there you had it, a 2-6 Falcons team considered one of the worst professional franchises in sports, facing a 6-2 Bills team on the way up to one of the more unprecedented runs professional sports would ever see.

No chance for the good guys, right?

Down 21-20, late in the game, Chris Miller (who would go on to become a favorite of mine thanks to Tecmo Super Bowl) led the Falcons on 61 yard drive culminating in the go ahead touchdown with 1:22 left. The Falcons were going to pull a stunner. I was hooked. I loved this stuff.

2-6? Who cares. We were going to win that day.

Then Don Bebee took the ensuing kick-off back to the Falcons 8 yard line. Typical Falcons. THIS was why this was a laughing stock not just in NFL circles, or in the sports world, but throughout the nation. What a joke.

The Bills would run the ball in for what seemed the winning touchdown with 29 seconds left. Apparently my father, a Falcons fan his entire life, and since the team played their first game in 1966, had seen enough.

To the truck we went.

Back in those days, seats for Falcons games weren’t hard to come by. In fact, if you looked hard enough, probably not even very hard, you would probably find people trying to give you tickets.

So parking too was not an issue. It didn’t take us long to find our way back to the truck, disgruntled and disappointed. Being merely 5 years old at the time, I really wasn’t capable of the passion that exists today, so while I knew the Falcons had not won the game, that wasn’t why I was mad. I just knew that whatever had taken place on that football field really disappointed my dad. And at that age, a disappointed dad is never a good thing.

As per the usual after attending any sporting event, upon getting in the car to go home, the radio goes on for the post-game coverage. Well, here’s the thing, it wasn’t quite yet to post game coverage.

Apparently Chris Miller connected for 41 yards on a hail-mary type pass to Stacey Bailey. Bailey, mind you, only caught eight passes all year. In fact, Bailey would only catch five more NFL passes in his career. But somehow he caught this one over All-Pro cornerback Nate Odom.

The Falcons still had a chance. My dad seemed shocked. Yet, he was convinced that Paul McFadden, who who had already made a 54 yarder earlier in the afternoon, would miss. This was from 50 yards, absolutely no gimme, but makable.

McFadden drilled it. Falcons win. Dad yells. I yell. A love affair is born.

Rise up tonight Falcons. I’ve been rising up with you every day since November 5, 1989. Let’s rise a little bit higher tonight.

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Apparently Falcons Are Lucky, Packers Are Good

Well, that’s what seems to be the foregone conclusion among some of the so-called experts who are going to spend the next few days telling all of us what to expect during the NFL playoffs this weekend.

Alas, these “experts” have apparently chosen to not allow facts and reality to get in the way of them tooting their own horn, and continuing to doubt the Atlanta Falcons.

Supposedly the fact that the Atlanta Falcons have won several close games means they aren’t really that good, and are due for a playoff loss. Never mind the fact that the Falcons did what you’re supposed to do, find ways to win. These “experts” conveniently seem to forget that while Atlanta only lost three games, and Green Bay found a way to lose twice that many, of the Packers 10 victories, many of those could have been losses.

Apparently these people forget this is the NFL, where any given Sunday any team can beat anyone else (how else do you explain the Patriots losing to the Browns?). Winning is the name of the game, just getting victories is hard enough. When talking about the health of the game, they love to refer to this as parity. When talking about the Atlanta Falcons, they try to refer to it as weakness on part of the Falcons.

I imagine when examining the Packers schedule and results, they just decided it was parity there too. Sure, Atlanta’s 13-3 could have easily been 10-6, or 7-9. It also very easily could have been 15-1. Just as Green Bay’s 10-6 could have easily been 6-10. But people forget that, don’t they?

The Eagles opener? Could’ve just as easily been a loss (as I’ve heard people refer to the Bengals game as one Atlanta could have lost, so, this qualifies too). I seem to recall the Eagles having the ball, down 7, in Green Bay territory with less than 2:00 to go in the football game. But I guess Green Bay just dominated that game though, right? Had this been the Falcons we’d only hear about how fortunate they were that Vick hadn’t come in the game earlier? Or how fortunate they were that Andy Reid can’t manage a clock or appropriately call plays in short yardage situations.

Detroit, at home, a few weeks later? The Packers win this one by a paltry two points, at home, over the Lions. Detroit, like Philadelphia, had the ball, with a chance to win, in the middle of the 4th quarter. But alas, this wasn’t the Falcons, so it’s a case of a win being a win, who cares how it happened, right? Had it been Atlanta, we’d be hearing about how pitiful it was for the Falcons to squeak by such an inferior opponent.

Minnesota, three weeks after that? Down just four, inside the Green Bay 20 late in the 4th quarter. The Vikings actually scored the go ahead touchdown, but had the play reversed. Minnesota wasn’t able to get the points back. But obviously, this wasn’t a game Green Bay could have lost, was it? Had it been Atlanta, we’d have been hearing about how lucky they were the play was overturned.

In the season finale against Chicago, Jay Cutler and the Bears were marching their way towards a tying touchdown when Jay Cutler had a relapse into the Cutler of old. To hear the experts, it was Green Bay’s defense making a play and rising up. Had this been the Falcons, we’d be hearing about how lucky they were that Jay Cutler made a bad decision there.

Let’s also keep in mind that the three teams Atlanta lost to all made the playoffs this year, two of them won their division and the other would have been the number two seed if not for having to play in the Falcons division. One of those losses came by a field goal, and the other came in overtime.

Keep in mind that Green Bay had losses to the Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions this year. Such losses to such teams don’t exist on the Falcons resume.

Now don’t take this as me undermining what Green Bay has done this year, or to suggest they didn’t deserve those wins, not at all. What Green Bay did this year was make enough plays to win 10 games, not 11, not 9, but 10. Atlanta made enough plays to win 13 games, not 14, not 12, but 13.

*Also keep in mind, 5 of the Patriots victories this year came by single possession margins, but to suggest this would be complete blasphemy*

It’s funny though, Green Bay was scrapping out wins, and doing just enough to get in the playoffs, and apparently showing us how great they were. Or at least that’s what we are led to believe. The Falcons meanwhile were just the beneficiaries of some lucky bounces and advantageous officiating decisions, or so we’re told.

We hear how Green Bay was the hottest team coming into the playoffs. I’m sorry, didn’t they lose HALF of their last six games? Didn’t they manage a total of 13 points against the Lions and Bears in two of their final four?

I know full well how good a football team Green Bay is. They have an elite quarterback. They have a tremendous attacking defense. They play good special teams. They’ve won quite a few football games. The thing is, the same can be said of the Falcons, only, they’ve managed to win a few more, including one over these same Packers.

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Thoughts From Last Night

1. The defense, long considered our achillies heel, played outstanding. The offense, we should trust, will come around, they’ve been too good and have too many players. But our defense was flying around the ball, and tackling well (everyone but Drew Brees of course), and making life rather miserable for Brees. Yes, Brees put up really good numbers against the blitz, but he made some pretty ridiculous plays himself to do that. Those were plays most quarterbacks don’t make, and on most days, I’m not sure Brees doesn’t make. We just about got to him so many times last night, you have to like that formula. If our defense can turn out performances like that, I like our chances going forward.

2. Did we really want to have to beat the Saints three times this year? That’s a tall task. Has anyone ever beaten a defending Super Bowl champion three times in one year? It’s highly unlikely. Do we want to have that task staring us down in our first home playoff game in six years?

3. How many teams are really going to be able to come in here and win a game? How many quarterbacks can handle this crowd noise in this building? Do you really think Michael Vick can orchestrate the offense as well with this noise and this atmosphere like he can in Philadelphia at home? Jay Cutler? The easily rattled Jay Cutler? Drew Brees played well, and yet even in playing well, it wasn’t that well. There were huge mistakes too. And I’m not sure Brees can even come in here and win twice.

4. We learned our secondary can hold up okay in one on coverage, or while we are blitzing. Yes, Brees completed a ton of passes, but as mentioned before, he made some ridiculous plays that 9 times out of 10 nobody in the league can make. There were a lot of completions, for very little gain. If the guys in the secondary tackle, this approach works. Make a team go 10 or 12 plays for a touchdown. Odds are good, they won’t be able to. They’ll commit a penalty, or turn the ball over, which the Saints did a lot of both. The strategy worked perfectly, well, until the end that is. I’ll gladly let a guy complete 9 of 11 passes for 65 yards if those two incompletions are turnovers. That’s a trade-off I’ll make any day of the week. I’m curious to see how many blitzes were called on that final drive by the Atlanta defense though that allowed the go ahead score. Our strategy was to make the Saints patiently move the ball down the field without the benefit of the big play. It worked the entire game, until the end, so I’m curious if we stopped blitzing as much at that point.

5. Teams with chips on their shoulder and something to prove become even more dangerous. Apparently ESPN has forgotten that the Falcons are 12-3, in first place, can still be the one seed if they simply beat the worst team in the league at home, and BEAT the Saints earlier this year in New Orleans. Now, suddenly, after a three point loss to a great football team, in a great game, the Falcons are frauds, and overrated, and exposed. Okay. Tell them that. Tell this team they are nobodys. Good. They like it that way.

See you in January.

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Notes From Football Outsiders Week 2 Ratings

The Packers and Falcons have been, overall, the two best teams in the league over the course of two weeks. That’s really not surprising, considering how utterly dominant both were last week in easy victories. As the year goes on, this may or may not hold true, but I thought the numbers from the first two weeks might help tell us which 2-0 teams are for real, and which 0-2 teams should be just fine.

Green Bay is just about everybody’s darling, and it’s tough to argue with what they’ve done so far this year. The only chink in the armor so far has been their run defense, but that’s largely due to Michael Vick and Michael Vick alone, coming on in the 2nd half against them. So I won’t hold that too much against them (though next to last in the league never looks good). A lot of people picked Green Bay to be a legit Super Bowl contender, and there’s been nothing so far to indicate those prognostications were wrong.

The Falcons being number two might come as a surprise, except when you look at what that defense did to Tennessee, and they way the Steelers won on the road in Nashville, that Pittsburgh loss looks less and less disappointing. The Birds are 6th in offense, and 7th in both defense and special teams. The Falcons offensive ranking definitely benefits when its adjusted for opponent, and with only two opponents played so far, it will take a few weeks before this really rounds into shape. Early returns though are the Duntae Robinson signing to be worth it. The Falcons pass defense has been really good. The run defense is pretty far down the list, but that is basically due to two runs for touchdowns of 130 plus total yards.

What might be surprising is that Tampa is 3rd right now, benefiting from a strong early season defensive showing. They sure will get a great test this week with Pittsburgh. They’ve only beaten Cleveland and Carolina, and neither overly impressive. Still though, this speaks well for this teams chance to be competitive. What’s disconcerting is their offensive line. It’s been average at best, in pass protection, and absolutely horrible when it comes to the ground game. Over 1/4 of their running plays have been stopped at, or behind the line of scrimmage. The good news is they were the last place team in the South a year ago, and we know how that goes.

The AFC East, as expected, looks brutal. Miami, the Jets, and Patriots all come across in the top ten. I’m really looking forward to the Jets/Dolphins game this week. Miami could send a real statement by getting off to a 3-0 start, and if that’s the case, the Jets really can’t afford to be 1-2. Without Revis to put on Marshall, things could get interesting.

Houston has been catching everyone’s eye, and rightfully so. But they only come in at tenth, due to the fact that their defense has arguably been the worst in football so far this year. Manning and McNabb have both shredded them (interesting how far down the rankings Houston’s pass defense is, and how much Atlanta’s has risen). The Texans surely will remain and compete thanks to that offense that averages nearly a field goal per drive. But unless that defense gets shored up, can we really expect them to challenge for much more?

The Seahawks are playing good defense, and really good special teams. Golden Tate could also be used more offensively to provide a boost there. Do not at all rule them out of the post-season, especially since the 49ers seem dependent on beating themselves every way possible.

Pittsburgh and Tennessee are 1 and 2 defensively, and that’s not a surprise, at all. The Steelers run defense has been absolutely sick this year, whereas the Titans pass defense has been tops in the NFL. Unfortunately, only the Bills average fewer yards per drive than these two. No team in football has a worse successful drive rate than the Steelers, and nobody in the league scores fewer touchdowns per drive. The difference between those two teams is that the Steelers know good quarterback play is on the horizon. The Titans? Not so much. Pittsburgh might be scary, scary good this season.

Baltimore’s offense has got to get it together. They are next to last in points per drive, and 2nd to last in terms of how often they turn the ball over per drive. Their defense is good, but it’s not good enough to make up for that kind of horrible production, as we saw against Cincinnati. If their defense can’t wreak absolute havoc and force turnovers, they might be in trouble. Joe Flacco has seemingly taken several steps back. Perhaps it is just an apparition, and he’ll right the ship. He better, because they are going to have a difficult time beating teams who take care of the football if they don’t.

The Chiefs have been mid-pack on offense and defense. It’s special teams where they’ve shined, and it’s where they will have to continue to shine to probably seriously contend for a playoff spot. If Matt Cassell could pick his play up a bit, that would go a long way to making this team more legit. The running game is solid, but would be helped if there was something resembling a threat via the passing attack.

The Eagles are probably in more trouble than people are willing to say, even with Vick and his talents under center. The defense has been terrible, and it’s been bad against the run and pass. The offensive line is in shambles. A bad defense and bad offensive line means bad things. The offensive line appears to be faring better in run blocking, but that’s rather misleading. A ton of the Eagles rushing yards have come in the open field, and have been courtesy of runs of 10+ yards. The line hasn’t exactly done a good job of moving defensive lines off the ball. And with pass protection, well, no team has been worse.

Cowboy fans need not panic. They may be 0-2, but they still rank mid-pack, and they have clearly played poorly these first two games. This team still oozes with the potential to be very good. The Cowboys would be better served to run the ball more. They do it well, and if they did, they could increase the number of explosive plays in the running game (they do have Felix Jones back there), as they rank near the bottom of the league. Only the Saints have been less effective at making plays out in the open field (and I find it shocking that teams with Reggie Bush and Felix Jones rank at the bottom of this category). Defensively there could still be some concern with Dallas, it’s almost in the bottom fourth, and it’s largely due to ineffective pass defense. If their pass rush can’t get there, quarterbacks are having way too much fun against this secondary.

The Saints may be 2-0 right now, but they have not at all done it in the impressive manner with which they played last year. The offense has been good, but not spectacular, and just lost Reggie Bush (who I contend is still overrated, but that’s for another day). The defense though has had plenty of problems. Did you see San Francisco march all over them Monday night? This Falcons team is going to provide them a real test. The Saints seem to be getting knocked around a bit more, on both sides of the ball. Their run defense ranks 30th. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, In short yardage situations, the running game has been almost useless, converting on just 33% of their attempts. That’s bad.

Minnesota is 0-2 for a reason. Their offense stinks. Their defense stinks. And their special teams are just average. 16th in yards per drive, but only 29th in points per drive tells of a team who can’t put the ball in the endzone in the redzone. The good thing for the offense, is Sidney Rice, healthy, can definitely fix what ails them. The passing game has been downright terrible, and the offensive line isn’t completely to blame. On the other side of the ball, the pass defense has been pretty bad too. There’s still hope for this team, however, 0-2 Dallas looks in much better shape.

I don’t care what Donovan McNabb does, the Redskins defense better get better, and in a hurry. It’s bad all the way around. Granted, they did face the Texans offense, but they did so with a 17 point second half lead that they squandered. Yeah, the defense in D.C. is bad. Sure, the Skins are one 4th down stop away from being 2-0, but they are also some common sense by the Cowboys away from being 0-2. Don’t get your hopes up Redskins fans.

The Lions are indeed 0-2, but they’ve had a chance to win both their games, and rightfully won their opener against the Bears, but that’s neither here nor there. What’s a good sign for them is that they aren’t in the bottom fourth of either offense or defense. That’s improvement. The special teams are solid. This team isn’t going to the playoffs, but everyone who plays them better be ready to fight for 60 minutes. Give them one more off-season to address the offensive line (which is the worst run blocking line in the league thus far), and they may be okay.

Shocker, tell me if you heard this before. The Raiders are in the bottom 5 of the league, again. The offense is once against worthless, and the blame doesn’t go all on the offensive line. The running game has been solid, and the pass protection, while nothing to write home about, hasn’t been as bad as some. The change to Gradkowski definitely sparked some life into the offense. It will be interesting to see how they play the next couple of weeks. If only they had some wide receivers. And, well, maybe a run defense.

The Cardinals fall from grace is going to be a very, very rough one. Their quarterback situation is an absolute mess, and their special teams are horrible. Bad field position with a struggling quarterback is a bad, bad thing.

And surprise, surprise, the Bills are the worst team in football, and it’s a spot they will probably occupy all season long.

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Falcons Gettin’ Ready in Hotlanta

The Atlanta heat is bad, we all know it. This summer it seems particularly bad. So excuse some of the Falcons if they want to rumble during these nearly unbearable days of training camp in the summer heat.

Also, excuse them because that fire, energy, and intensity on defense is going to help this team reach new heights.

Wednesday afternoon I made it to Flowery Branch for my first visit to training camp. I try to go at least once or twice every year, and hopefully will make it back for the duel practices with the Patriots.

Obviously, I have some thoughts from the day on the Falcons practice facility.

The first is that Sean Weathersoon is going to be a player, and a very good one at that, and probably sooner rather than later. He brings it in every drill, and every play, sometimes to the chagrin of his teammates. He explodes into his opponents, whether it is making a tackle, or taking on a blocker. Yet, while he demonstrates this type of explosion, he’s also quick and instinctive in pass coverage. This is a guy who warrants watching very closely, he and Curtis Lofton are going to be a very, very, good linebacking duo in very short time.

Mike Peterson can no longer play sideline to sideline like he could in his prime, nor be as effective in pass coverage, but he can still lay the wood, and still provide leadership on defense. He’s an intense player who can get into the heads of opponents, as evidenced by starting a mini-scuffle during one on one blocking drills.

Jamaal Anderson may be closer to becoming a useful piece of the Falcons defensive line. There were a couple of times he could be found in the offensive backfield, which is a good sign. From a pure physical standpoint, the 6’6 Anderson is pretty imposing and certainly looks the part of an impact defensive lineman.

Unfortunately production hasn’t followed. After all, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

However, the Falcons plan to use him more at defensive tackle on passing downs, trying to use his athleticism to create mis-matches inside. To prepare for this role, he’s added a little bulk to be stronger inside. Early returns are it’s an improvement.

While Anderson will still likely see time at end, Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury will steal some snaps, most certainly in passing situations. Anderson has the size and strength to be a good run stopping end, and help with the run defense (the Falcons run defense improved down the stretch a year ago), so don’t be surprised if he, as the Falcons have stated earlier in camp, plays several plays at defensive end in the base defense.

Granted, you don’t use a top ten pick on a defensive end with the expectations that he’ll become a solid player in run support, but you make the best with what you have. While Anderson will likely never play well enough to warrant the pick that was used on him, he may yet be a solid defensive lineman in this league, and could be valuable this season.

In the secondary, William Moore ran with the second team, but was clearly the leader of that unit, barking out the calls on defense, in a role he seemed relatively comfortable in. The problem will be him breaking into the starting lineup. Thomas DeCoud is bordering on being a potential pro-bowler, and Coleman provides veteran leadership. I would not be surprised though, if by the end of the year, it’s the two youngsters roaming the secondary for Atlanta.

Brett Grimes has among the best ball skills of any corner I’ve seen play. The problem is that he has no size. In practice, Grimes was the only corner who seemed to be able to stay with Roddy White in any capacity.

Rookie Dominique Franks got a nice welcome to the show moment by Roddy White, himself. Trying to jam White on a quick slant, White easily dislodged Franks, and within two seconds was five steps clear of the rookie for an easy throw by Matt Ryan. I don’t think people realize just how strong Roddy White has gotten, he’s no longer the frail string bean that entered the league a few years ago.

Tony Gonzalez is probably still the best all around tight end in the game. His route running skills and ability to catch the football in traffic are second to none. When he catches the ball he always makes the proper first move with the ball in his hand as well. What separates Gonzalez though is his blocking skills. Gonzalez man handled people in the one on one blocking drills, looking like an offensive lineman in both strength and technique.

Antoine Smith, the former ballyhooed recruit for Florida State that never quite became the star he was supposed to blossom into, had his moments. He’s quick and shifty, and seemed okay as a blocker.

If Jerius Norwood can’t get healthy, or can garner a draft pick via a trade, he could be expendable. Jason Snelling’s place in the backfield rotation is set in stone, but Norwood’s injury history leave him as a wild card.

Clearly, a healthy Norwood would be the best thing for the Falcons, he’s capable of explosive plays and changing games with long runs, or catching the ball out of the backfield. But if he’s not healthy, Smith might provide a capable replacement.

Speaking of catching balls out of the backfield, Falcons coaches say they want Michael Turner to be more involved. Well, from what I saw Wednesday, there’s a reason he hasn’t been all that involved to begin with.

Matt Ryan looks much like he looked last year at this time, in control of the offense, accurate, and with the ability to make whatever throw needed. He made several nice touch throws on fade type routes along the sidelines. The bigger thing for Ryan though was that he looked healthy, planting and moving around with ease.

Alcorn State product, Tim Buckley, and undrafted free agent who impressed coaches in OTAs showed me why. Buckley is a little thicker, at least to the eye, than Weems, and quicker, again, to the eye. Buckley showed really good quickness, and his hands certainly didn’t seem to be a weakness.

With Harry Douglass back to return punts, and Dominique Franks drafted to return kicks, Weems’ value as a return man is greatly diminished, as such might be his chances to make the 53 man roster. If Buckley doesn’t make the team, the practice squad is definitely a possibility.

Speaking of Douglass, he showed no ill effects from the knee injury suffered early in camp last year. The good news is that it happened early in camp, so he’s a full year recovered from the injury. On one slant play, he caught the ball and quickly exploded up field, looking the speedy, dynamic, big play threat the Falcons offense lacked last year (no offense Marty Booker).

Another guy to watch in the passing game is Kerry Meier. The guy catches everything you throw to him, and he does a great job of getting position against defensive backs. He’s also quicker than one might assume.

The list of weapons at Matt Ryan’s disposal seems to have grown.

The kicking game, which doomed the Falcons last year, still isn’t settled, but I will say this, both kickers have strong legs, but the edge has to go to the more consistent Matt Bryant at this point.

In any event, the 2010 Falcons look like a team practicing with a purpose. Mike Smith says they don’t make their team goals public, but everyone knows what their goal is this year, to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

If there’s one thing clearly evident with these Falcons it’s that they are deep, very deep, especially on both lines. There is competition galore, and not just for starting spots, but for those final spots on the roster too. It’s a talented roster, and a well coached roster. What the 2010 season holds can’t be known for months, but it definitely holds lots of promise.

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