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Well, things are about to officially get rolling with the Falcons as they open training camp Saturday at team headquarters in Flowery Branch.

I’m going to kick things off with a little bit of news that popped up this morning.

Veteran defensive tackle Grady Jackson met with top Falcons’ officials this morning and they are working on contract terms to bring the massive D-lineman back to Atlanta. A deal could be done in time for Jackson to participate in Saturday morning’s workouts. Jackson also has been speaking with New England and Oakland.

Jackson, who was unexpectedly and controversially waived by the Falcons during the 2007 season, would come back to the team where he was the most productive interior defensive lineman before he was cut. Jackson also would re-join head coach Mike Smith and defensive line coach Ray Hamilton, who coached him in Jacksonville, where Jackson signed after being let go by the Falcons.

Bringing Jackson back also could be a signal that Trey Lewis, the rookie who replaced Jackson, isn’t healing from two knee operations in time for preseason.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’m open for all questions. I will do my best to get to as many questions as I can. This should be good. You guys are always insightful and I look forward to helping out as much as possible.


By Steve Wyche

July 25, 2008 12:21 PM | Link to this

Regarding the 3rd string quarterback situation: I think the final outcome depends on how Shockley bounces back from knee surgery. If he learns the offense and shows some promise, he has a legit shot. Harrington has the experience but he has had multiple opportunities to prove himself. When I asked coach Mike Smith about the No. 3 job this week, he basically said may the best man win because most teams don’t use their No. 3 quarterback anyway.

On Brent Grimes: Great question. Grimes is a guy who has the skill set but you have to aks yourself, why did a guy this gifted not play at a big college level or get drafted? Grimes is the best cover corner on the team but he is small. Rookie Chevis Jackson and veteran Von Hutchins, like Grimes, will get every opportunity to win the job.

On Tony Taylor: Tony will probably open up training camp as the starter — especially if Lofton isn’t signed — but the coaching staff likes Taylor. I think he’s a guy who will show up a little bit more once players get into pads. Taylor, though he doesn’t have all the measurables, knows how to play. Working on his behalf, the Defensive Coordinator, Brian Van Gorder, was his college position coach at Georgia. With all that, Lofton will be pushed to become the starter.

On J. Anderson: Jamaal should have a better year. He’s worked a lot with Chuck Smith and other pass-rushing instructors this offseason to learn how to use his hands better to help him gain leverage on his rush. Anderson really wants to be good and he’s supposedly put in the time. Keep in mind, not a lot of rookies DEs do big things in Year 1.

By Steve Wyche

July 25, 2008 12:42 PM | Link to this

The simple fact that Brian Finneran made it through 2 mini camps and OTAs is a triumph based on the back-to-back ACL tears he’s gone through. In terms of him making the team, your are right. It could be tough because he’d most likely be a fourth or fifth receiver and that would require him playing special teams, where, believe it or not, his knee could be more prone to injury. That said, don’t count Finn out. He’s been a longshot all his life and he’s overcome again and again.

Great question on the versatility of players. You could see some players moved out of traditional roles, such as Jerious Norwood spending sometime flexed as a wide receiver or the free safety play in the box as a strong safety. D-tackle Kindall Moorehead can also play some end and they are working members of the OL and nearly every position except center. Much of where players end up will be based on matchups and that particular player’s skills. Dimitroff and the team’s personnel staff are big on guys who can play multiple positions, not only to scheme in a variety of ways but also because you can only have 53 players on an active roster and you might have to plug in a tackle at guard, or vice versa, as we saw last season with Tyson Clabo.

In regards to the running game being dominant, so much of that depends on the offensive line and how offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey schemes to keep defenses off balance. Having Ovie leading the way for Turner should provide some major thumpage to the running game but in terms of being dominant, that remains to be seen.

Ah the WRs? Remember just a few years ago how that position was considered the weak link? Now it is a strong suit — if Roddy White stays focused and continues his mission to be great. White and Laurent Robinson are both big, fast players who can make things happen in the short, intermediate and deep passing game. Harry Douglas looked good in mini camps but he has to prove himself in pads. The staff wants to use him in a Wes Welker type role but not put as much demand on him. Michael Jenkins is still a quality third down and red zone threat…Joe Horn can still be effective but his demands to be traded and non-appearance at summer workouts probably left a bad taste with the new staff…He probably won’t be cut because his $2.5 million salary is guaranteed, but trade talk with him will be constant.

Thanks so much for brining up the Snelling issue: Jason is a good running back but his stature and style are somewhat similar to Turner’s. Whereas rookie Thomas Brown is along the lines of San Diego’s diminutive and explosive backup Darren Sproles. I think Brown’s different style and ability to return kicks will end up giving him and edge. As for Snelling playing fullback, backup Corey McIntyre is reliable plus he’s a beast on special teams, so there might not be a spot on the active roster for Snelling at FB. Snelling could end up on the practice squad

By Steve Wyche

July 25, 2008 12:51 PM | Link to this

to pick up the pace, I’m going to try and answer 3 questions at a time. Don’t feel slighted if I don’t get to you please..

I don’t think the team will be bringing any more veteran offensive linemen into camp right now but Wayne Gandy has healed from his knee injury and is available should things not go well early for Sam Baker or if someone sustains and injury.

As far as Matt Ryan starting Week 1, that will be interesting to watch. He looked good in summer workouts but he’s yet to see things at full speed in pads. I think the team is going to be patient with him but also test him to see if they want to roll with him early. A lot also depends on how Chris Redman looks in training camp.

Regarding Chris Houston, he seems as if he’ll be the likely starter at RCB. Houston is a dedicated but he also needs to stay positive when things aren’t going well. He takes mistakes hard and at CB, you have to pick up and move on.

By Steve Wyche

July 25, 2008 1:04 PM | Link to this

I think Adam Jennings and Thomas Brown could both be on the active roster. Jennings could return punts and Brown could return kickoffs. Both also could play roles on offense. With the system requiring more smallish slot receivers, Jennings could fit the role if Harry Douglas gets hurt or is slow to get going. Brown could very well be a situational player at tailback since Turner and Norwood are bigger running backs.

Good stuff on Sam Baker Keith. A lot of people thought is was a reach when Sam Baker was drafted 21st overall but he was projected as a top-10 pick heading into his senior season. He struggled some with injuries but he was still one of the best at his position. You never know how a college player will translate to the next level, but last I checked, guys from USC have a pretty decent track record.

Tyson Clabo could end up starting at either tackle position. Right now he is the No. 1 RT since Todd Weiner is still recovering from knee surgery. If Weiner can go, Clabo could move over to the left side of Baker isn’t up to speed. Clabo is the most versatile lineman and could play all positions except center. Players love his nastiness, which is an attribute this coaching staff wants badly.

Hamp; great question regarding Lito Sheppard. I can’t get anyone to tell me if that has even been explored — Philly says it wants to keep Sheppard, which is smart since you need 3 good DBS when you play multi-set offenses like Dallas — but making a move for Sheppard could make sense. It would be expensive and go somewhat against the grain of rebuilding with youth but being competitive also has to be part of the plan.

By Steve Wyche

July 25, 2008 1:19 PM | Link to this

Mike O., great, great perspective on coaching mentality. I think most successful coaches have been tough but not always dictators. Jimmy Johnson was tough but he also had a decent gauge on his players — individually and collectively. I think as long as a line is drawn in terms of coach/player and both sides are open to communication, palatable relationships can be built and maintained. Mike Smith is hardly a player’s coach. He is tough but he’s also a teacher. Instead of just blasting a player for taking the wrong angle in pass coverage, he’ll pull the player to the side and show him what he did wrong — after he let’s him know he wasn’t happy. Helping Smith is his staff. They have a solid group of longtime pro coaches who’ve seen everything before so they have no problem letting guys know how they want things done.

Glad you mentioned the Law Dog. With all respect to Keith Brooking, no player in the locker room is looked to than Milloy. He approaches meetings, practices and games with an intense focus. He also gets on guys but not in a bad way. In his first season here, the team had a ton of veterans: Brooking, Patrick Kerney, Alge Crumpler, Mike Vick, Warrick Dunn; but in the midst of a sloppy practice during the week of an important game it was Milloy who called things to a halt, brought the team together and told them they aren’t working like a team that wants to win. Milloy, in his first season on an experienced team was The One who not only spoke up but The One who got guys re-directed

By Steve Wyche

July 25, 2008 1:33 PM | Link to this

For background on the Michael Boley situation; the fourth-year outside linebacker is playing on a one-year contract, signed this offseason, when he was a restricted free agent. The Falcons approached Boley last season about a contract extension, since he will become an expensive-to-retain, unrestricted free agent this offseason. However, those talks were put on ice when Boley was arrested on a domestic battery charge this summer. Once that issue is resolved — it has yet to be pushed forward in the Gwinnett Co. DAs office — Boley and the Falcons can determine which route to take regarding an extension.

Good question on how vets are viewing the new regime. In being somewhat tongue-in-cheek but also somewhat serious, there really aren’t enough vets on the team for their opinions to matter. Then again, the vets that have been retained are pretty much the types who will professionally deal with any change — though Joe Horn wants to be traded, don’t expect him to cause many waves, it would kill his trade value. I get the feeling that most players are waiting to see how things work before making judgments. I personally think that if the players stop worrying about the coaches and do what they are supposed to do, things will be okay.

Good question about Joey Harrington. Based on what Mike Smith said about jobs being open, if Harrington outplays everyone, then he should be the starter. If it truly is a fair competition, then may the best man win.

You’re into it now guys. Nice question about Hartsock. Big Ben is basically going to serve as a third tackle. He is the anti-Alge in terms of how he will be used. Hartsock is a blocker who isn’t going to see many balls thrown his way. As for TE Martrez Milner, he is going to be used as an H-back and motion type tight end who will be utilized as the receiving tight end. The Falcons don’t have much depth at either TE spot, though, so they’re hoping these guys stay healthy.

By Steve Wyche

July 25, 2008 1:43 PM | Link to this

For those of you who want me to predict a win total, I have no idea. If I get one, meet me at Harrah’s.

I’m loving the football acumen on the blog folks. I’m feeling the question about the 3-4. Atlanta predominantly will run a 4-3 defensive front but they do have the personnel to run a 3-4 if they need to. First off, they could get Brooking, Stephen Nicholas, Boley and Lofton or Taylor on the field at LB. Up front, they have versatile tackles, like Jonathan Babineaux and Kindall Moorhead, who can play DE with big Grady in the middle. The personnel on the defensive front 7 is flexible enough to use a 3-4 in certain situations.

Erik Coleman is one of those versatile players who could move between free safety and strong safety. Coleman is not a great coverage safety but he is a big hitter. The Cover 2 scheme that will be used won’t leave Coleman in too many vulnerable situations, though. In regards to the FS spot, roookie Thomas DeCoud really created a stir in the offseason. He is fast, rangy and can cover. He’s also a beast on special teams. He blocked six kicks in college. He could be the heir at FS. Regarding the backup SS/Lawyer Milloy replacement, Daren Stone looks like he’s finally getting up to speed. Arguably the best athlete on the team, Stone could be set to make his move. If he doesn’t, strong safety will be a priority for next season’s draft/free agent desires

By Steve Wyche

July 25, 2008 1:51 PM | Link to this

Glad you mentioned Jason Elam. For the first time in a few years, the Falcons won’t have to worry about their kicking situation to start the season. Kicking uncertainty cost the Falcons victories the past two seasons and you never know how winning those games could have changed a team’s attitude or potentially generated momentum. Signing Elam was a nice touch, especially since scoring touchdowns might be pretty tough this season. Elam still has some punch in his leg, plus, he is one of the greatest clutch kickers in the game

By Steve Wyche

July 25, 2008 2:03 PM | Link to this

I think the offense, at first, will be very conservative. There are a lot of pieces that have to be implemented so I don’t think Mike Mularkey is going to have things too wide open initially. Plus, with the potential success in the running game, the plan will be to run. As far as designing plays for Ryan, I think plays will be designed for every quarterback’s strengths.

Hey Folks, I have totally enjoyed this. I hope we can do this again. Thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to share with me and thanks for checking in to AJC.com. Without you, there would be no us.

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