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Falcons Team Report

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Posted: March 4, 2008

D. Orlando Ledbetter

For Sporting News

PERSONNEL ANALYSIS: The Falcons got their primary free-agent target, former Chargers running back Michael "The Burner" Turner, signing him to a six-year deal. After playing behind LaDainian Tomlinson for four seasons, Turner will become the featured running back in Atlanta. At 5-11, 237 pounds, Turner is the type of hard-charging running back around whom the Falcons want to build a smashmouth offense. Turner's addition clears the way for the team to part ways with Warrick Dunn, but still leaves room for Jerious Norwood to continue to develop as a third-down back.

Turner's signing signals that the Falcons will not touch Arkansas running back Darren McFadden with the third overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. With Turner on board, the Falcons can turn their attention to cobbling together an offensive line to block for him. . . .

Quarterback Chris Redman was signed last season to help install Bobby Petrino's offense, but ended up wining the starting quarterback position after being out of football for three seasons. Redman signed a two-year deal after playing in seven games and completing nearly 60 percent of his passes. He threw 10 touchdowns and just five picks behind a suspect line. He regained his arm strength and was able to drive the ball down the field.

The receivers like Redman because he puts the ball on their hands and gives them a chance to do some damage after the catch. He will enter the season as the starter ahead of Joey Harrington and D.J. Shockley. The Falcons will certainly draft a quarterback and Redman will get the chance to keep the starting spot warm until the young quarterback is ready to take over.

The Falcons also bolstered their secondary, signing free safety Erik Coleman and cornerback Von Hutchins. Coleman signed a four-year deal worth $10 million. Coleman is expected to replace starting free safety Chris Crocker, whose contract expired. Coleman started for most of his first three seasons with the Jets but fell out of favor last season and started only four games. He will compete with third-year player Jimmy Williams for the No. 1 job.

Hutchins, a four-year veteran who spent the past two seasons with Houston after opening his career with the Colts, adds depth at cornerback. He also has played safety. He gives the Falcons a veteran starter in case they decide to trade two-time Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who said he wants out of Atlanta. The Falcons have been involved in trade discussions regarding Hall, but a hoping to add a first round pick for the two-time Pro Bowler.

SCOUTING REPORT: With Demorrio Williams leaving for Kansas City as a free agent, the Falcons have a void at weakside linebacker. Stephen Nicholas, a second-year man from South Florida, will move up as the starter. He was slated to move past Williams early during his rookie season, but an ankle injury slowed his progress. Nicholas has an attacking style, is sturdy against run and is a good open field tackler.

Williams may have been a better blitzer, but the new regime wants to shut down the run first. Nicholas also has the speed to run down plays from the backside if necessary. With Nicholas, Keith Brooking in the middle and Michael Boley at strongside, the linebacker corps is one of the strengths of the team.

HARD TRUTH: The team's offensive tackle situation is in shambles. Starting left tackle Wayne Gandy was released. Starting right tackle Todd Weiner may not make it back from microfracture knee surgery, leaving the team with a host of backup-level players other than Tyson Clabo, who accounted well for himself last season.

The good news is that there are several offensive tackles available in the draft. At the NFL Scouting Combine, several scouts said it was a very deep position. So sitting at No. 3, you can expect the Falcons to take Michigan tackle Jake Long. He is not Joe Thomas from a year ago but he is ready to play in the running game right now while making some adjustments in pass protection.

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