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Five questions for the Atlanta Falcons

By Jay Adams - jadams@macon.com

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John Bazemore
New Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith looks on as his players stretch before minicamp football practice Monday, April 14, 2008 in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Five questions facing the Atlanta Falcons heading into training camp:

Will Matt Ryan have an impact this year?

This is the burning question as training camp approaches, and unfortunately, we'll just have to wait and see. Ryan, the former Boston College quarterback selected third overall by the Falcons during April's NFL draft, already has signed with the team, so the good news is that he's ready to go once training camp opens Saturday. He has attended all the team's mini-camps and offseason training activities, so he looks to be in good position to compete for the starting job. Still, at this point, it's tough to not expect incumbent starter Chris Redman to get the nod under center to start the season.

After the first couple of weeks, it's anyone's guess as to who will pilot the Falcons the rest of the way. If Redman comes in and performs well, the Falcons will have a hard time pulling him for the younger, less experienced signal-caller. If Redman struggles, well, Ryan will get the call in a hurry. The fact that the Falcons signed Ryan to a $72 million deal during the spring also plays a factor. That's a lot of money to just sit on the bench. Because of that, Ryan likely will see quite a bit of playing time and make a pretty big impact on the team.

What about Michael Turner? Will he be the running back the Falcons have been looking for?

The Falcons were obviously very high on Turner once the free agency period started a few months ago, and it didn't take long to get him under contract. Turner, however, is a bit of an unknown. While he was a reliable backup to LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego, Turner has never carried the full load for an NFL team through 16 games. And that, perhaps more than anything, is the biggest question mark associated with Turner. We know he can run and is powerful, but can he do it for a full, grueling NFL season?

Unfortunately for Turner, a lot of his success depends on a disappointing offensive line that will need to go to great lengths early in the season to prove it can open up holes for Turner. Since the Falcons are probably going to turn to Ryan at some point in the season at quarterback, a dependable running game to take pressure off the rookie is going to be a key to success. That starts with Turner and the offensive line, so they really need to take the 15 to 20 carries Turner is going to get per game and make each one count.

The Falcons' defensive line had a difficult time last year being productive. Will that change this year?

One of the biggest criticisms of the Falcons during the offseason has been a lack of improvement on the defensive line. While the Falcons filled a need with Ryan, they could have bolstered the defensive front by instead drafting highly touted tackle Glenn Dorsey, who was eventually selected by the Kansas City Chiefs. As the draft wore on, the Falcons, with each pick, went in a different direction to improve other positions. Going into training camp, the Falcons have seven players vying for the two starting spots in the middle.

At defensive end, the Falcons still look very good with veteran John Abraham and second-year player Jamaal Anderson. The key for both will be getting to the opposing quarterback much more often than last season. Anderson proved to be a disappointment in his rookie season as he entered the NFL as the SEC leader in sacks at Arkansas during his senior year and went into his first NFL offseason without getting to the quarterback once. If Anderson is going to be a valuable part of the defense this season, he needs to put more pressure on the pocket and become more of a run-stuffer.

Overall, the defensive line shouldn't inspire a whole lot of confidence, but if it finds a way to play bigger than it is, things could become more difficult for opposing teams. But without a whole lot of change up front, it's tough to expect this year will be different from last year.

What position battles are going to be worth watching during training camp?

Obviously, there's the quarterback battle between Redman and Ryan for the starting spot, but there are others that will be crucial to the team's success. Defensively, the Falcons need to find a replacement for Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who signed with Oakland during the offseason. Atlanta is set at the other cornerback spot with Chris Houston, a second-year player, but veteran Von Hutchins, who was acquired during free agency from the Texans, and Chevis Jackson, a rookie out of LSU, are likely going to battle for the other spot.

Also worth noting is the battle on the defensive line for the tackle positions. Jonathan Babineaux and Kindal Moorehead seem to be the two favorites to win the two spots, but a few other defensive tackles might emerge during training camp as potential starters.

Perhaps the biggest battle in training camp is going to come at the middle linebacker position. Veteran Keith Brooking looks like he could be unseated at the spot by rookie linebacker Curtis Lofton, who the Falcons drafted in the second round. The coaching staff has been high on Lofton since picking him up. Lofton was a strongside linebacker for most of his career at Oklahoma, but he shifted to middle late during his final season with the Sooners and saw success. That could be trouble for Brooking, who, at 32, is battling age, as well. However this particular battle turns out, it's a safe bet that both Brooking and Lofton will be on the field in some capacity, along with star linebacker Michael Boley. It's just going to be interesting to see who wins out in training camp.

Was Mike Smith the right pick for the Falcons as head coach?

It's far too early to tell, but all signs point to yes right now. After the disaster that was Bobby Petrino, success for Smith likely won't be measured in wins right away. Smith already has proven that he can relate to the players on his team à something Petrino struggled to do. During mini-camps and offseason training activities, the change in mood from last year to this year was highly noticeable. Players under Petrino's regime suddenly had more pep, and practices actually looked like fun.

Those intangibles are so important to the psyche of a football team, and Smith seems to have already made Petrino a distant memory for many who had to put up with him last season. On the field, it's going to really take some time for Smith. The Falcons had a decent draft, and Turner was a great veteran pickup in free agency, but this is a young, raw team that needs a few years of steady, consistent guidance to start pumping out more wins each year. Smith probably will have a rough rookie season as head coach this year, but by looking at how players respond to him and looking at the coaching staff he has put in place around him, it's pretty easy to see that Smith is capable of handling the transition that needs to take place with the Falcons during the next few years.

 

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This is a good article, albeit a little under-informed about the MLB position, as it relates to Brooking.

With all the criticisms of the Falcons and how we are expected to be the worst team, bar none, etc., etc., the one thing that is over looked repeatedly is coaching. Granted Smith has no HC experience, however, the staff from top to bottom is veteran. That by itself is good, but when you take into account just how bad the staff was last year, we have to have improved coaching dramatically. Even with paring down the experience in the roster in favor of looking at youth, and the future, the coaching improvement at least has to account for a wash in wins this coming year. I just can't fathom losing more games than we lost last year. 4-12 could still make us the worst team in the league, granted (I don't think we are that, either), but this 1-15 garbage is just piling on to a bad situation last year, and a safe cop-out criticism for writers to make without much flack when they are wrong.

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bigduke633 (7/21/2008)
With lofton not signed is it not informed?How about the fact lofton played strongside?I didnt know that.We need baker and lofton signed pronto.

I assume Lofton will be signed, and that Brooking will be playing WLB, as reported.

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Good read...

There are question marks all over the field, everyone knows that. Its more of a question if the players can perform at a good level within the system. If so, then we should be a lot better season than what is being predicted by the media knob jockeys...

I do worry about the DL interior. I think teams will run it down our throat, then torch the inexperienced secondary we will be fielding. The offense doesnt worry me so much... Well for now it doesnt:P

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  • 4 years later...

I think Ryan will start every game, Turner will have a GREAT 1st season and then be inconsistant for the rest of his career, The D-line will still be trash 5 years later, Rookies will start (Ryan, Baker, Lofton) and Coach Smith will considered a great hire by most but leave doubts about his ability to win in the playoffs until their 5 year when they finally get some playoff victories.

Wierd right?

right

Edited by FalconsManhood
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