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Falcons Team Report

Yahoo! Sports

7-25-2008

Inside Slant

As then-Falcons offensive tackle Wayne Gandy rode off the field at Tennessee on the back of a medical cart in 2007, the visual was so haunting that it overrode the pain in his left knee—and his heart.

“I said to myself then that my career couldn’t end like this,” Gandy said.

Gandy, with 14 NFL seasons to his credit, was released by the Falcons last winter, as his injury, age and salary condemned his future with a team in transition. Now, a free agent and nearly 100 percent recovered, Gandy wants to play again.

“I still have the passion to play,” Gandy said. “I know I still can play and that I can play at a high level.”

Gandy said he expects to be medically cleared by mid-August, which would indicate that he likely wouldn’t be in anyone’s training camp until the preseason is well underway. That part doesn’t bother him.

“I think I’ve got the football part down,” Gandy joked. “All I need is about a 1 1/2 weeks to get in football shape and I’ll be ready.”

Gandy said he was realistic about the NFL landscape and that he would be willing to accept a reserve role.

“If I get in the huddle on the field, though, I don’t plan on coming out,” he said.

Until last season, when he went on injured reserve after five games, Gandy had played at least 15 games a season since being drafted by the Los Angeles—yes Los Angeles—Rams in 1994.

Gandy said his agent has received phone calls over the past week regarding Gandy’s desire to play again.

“I want to play, make no mistake about that,” Gandy said.

Schwartz would not reveal what teams called but the Falcons were not one of them. Atlanta plans on replacing its one-time oldest player with rookie Sam Baker. Gandy said he would be open to returning to Atlanta if it wanted him back.

Camp Calendar: Players reported July 25. Practice begins July 26 at the Flowery Branch facility with the first of multiple twice-daily sessions.

Notes, Quotes

Arizona State linebacker Robert James, a fifth-round pick, signed a four-year contract. The undersized playmaker is going to have to make a mark for himself on special teams, as five-time Pro Bowler Keith Brooking has been moved to the weak side and Michael Boley, the team’s top defender, starts on the strong side.

If the former defensive back, known for his reckless abandon, excels at weak-side linebacker that could force a shift for Stephen Nicholas to the strong side. Boley is in the last year of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent if the Falcons don’t lock him p during the season.

Nicholas was pegged to start at weak-side linebacker this season until the drafting of MLB Curtis Lofton allowed the Falcons to move Brooking to his natural spot. Atlanta doesn’t have a lot of depth at strong-side ‘backer and the heady Nicholas, who is stout against the run, is versatile enough to play both OLB spots.

• First-round pick, OT Sam Baker and second-round pick, MLB Curtis Lofton, both projected starters, are the only unsigned rookies. Negotiations are expected to ramp up significantly next week and both players are expected to be in training camp, when it opens July 26.

• WR Roddy White, who missed most of OTAs with a hamstring injury, is healthy and will be able to fully participate in all drills once training camp opens.

Quote To Note: “Everyone who was there should get a bonus year to wipe that taste out of our mouths.”—Former Falcons tackle Wayne Gandy on the negativity - spurred by the Michael Vick jailing and acrimony between players and former coach Bobby Petrino—that hounded the franchise in 2007.

Strategy And Personnel

DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED

• QB Matt Ryan (1/3): $72M/6 yrs, $27.3M guaranteed.

• CB Chevis Jackson (3/68): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

• WR Harry Douglas (3/84): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

• S Thomas DeCoud (3/98): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

• LB Robert James (5/138): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

• DE Kroy Biermann (5/154): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

• RB Thomas Brown (6/172): Terms unknown.

• S Wilrey Fontenot (7/212): Terms unknown.

• TE Keith Zinger (7/232): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

DRAFT CHOICES UNSIGNED

• OT Sam Baker (1/21).

• LB Curtis Lofton (2/37).

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

Quarterback: Starter—Chris Redman. Backups—Matt Ryan, Joey Harrington, D.J. Shockley.

This will be the biggest position of intrigue because the clock on Redman’s storybook rise to starter began to tick toward expiration April 27, when the Falcons took Ryan with the third overall pick. Redman, who fought back from NFL exile to be the team’s No. 3 quarterback entering last season, will open training camp because he’s the most polished of the group. Plus, teammates trust him. However, he’s never started more than six games in a season and his merit with the Falcons is based off four starts in ‘07—three of which were losses. If Atlanta is competitive early on, Redman could get a prolonged lifeline. Should the team crash, Ryan could be inserted—depending on the reliability of a very sketchy offensive line. Shockley and Harrington will compete for the No. 3 job.

Running Backs: Starters—RB Michael Turner, FB Ovie Mughelli. Backups—RB Jerious Norwood, RB Jason Snelling, RB Thomas Brown, FB Corey McIntyre.

Turner and Norwood could form a game-breaking tandem. Turner has averaged 5.5 yards-per-carry in his four-year career. Norwood is at a 6.2 yards-per-carry average in two NFL seasons. The concern is that neither has consistently been given a wealth of touches. The Falcons are hoping that Turner has the physical and mental toughness to grind through a season in a run-heavy offense. The fleet Norwood could see his touches come in a variety of forms but they will come. Norwood could be the biggest game changer on the roster but two coaches haven’t figured out to use him. The wild card could be the rookie, Brown. Though he has to beat out Snelling (his style is similar to Turner, without the breakaway speed), Brown is a Darren Sproles-type who is a big-play threat. Mughelli will be a constant in offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey’s run-heavy system.

Tight Ends: Starters—Ben Hartsock, Martrez Milner. Backups—Keith Zinger, Brad Listorti.

With Alge Crumpler’s departure, so too went the receiving threat at the position. Martrez Milner will serve as the motion/H-back tight end, but don’t expect him to produce Chris Cooley numbers. He will be used just as much as a blocking option as he will a receiver. Hartsock will be mostly a third tackle, who could end up lining up a lot on the left side to help rookie tackle Sam Baker. Zinger, a rookie, is a blocker, but he could end up on the practice squad of Listorti, an impressive receiving tight end, continues to blossom as he did in mini camp.

Wide Receivers: Starters—Roddy White, Laurent Robinson. Backups—Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas, Joe Horn, Adam Jennings, Brian Finneran, Eric Weems.

White and Robinson are both big targets with breakaway speed and strength to shrug off initial contact. White shed his two-year bust tag with an 83-catch, 1,200-yard 2007 season. He finally has the confidence of a big-time receiver, however, his numbers will likely shrink with the emergence of Robinson and the run-heavy scheme. Robinson was a spot starter as a rookie, but he showed unbridled toughness and the ability to make catches at all three levels. Douglas is the small slot receiver who has shown promise. Jenkins, a one-time starter, could be the No. 4 WR, with usage coming either in the red zone or as a blocker in certain formations. Horn wants out but his contract (guaranteed $2.5 million) isn’t appealing to trade partners. His money makes him tough to cut but teams don’t want their No. 5 WR not to play special teams. That could leave Horn as a game-day inactive, which would be a sad ending of a career for a one-time, Pro Bowl regular.

Offensive Line: Starters—LT Sam Baker, LG Justin Blalock, C Todd McClure, RG Harvey Dahl, RT Todd Weiner. Backups—LT Quinn Ojinnaka, G/C Alex Stepanovich, Ben Wilkerson, G Kynan Forney, T Tyson Clabo.

This unsettled unit could make or break the offense. McClure is as solid as they come, but the left side of Blalock and Baker can hardly be assuring. Baker is a rookie and he’s not Joe Thomas. He will have his good and bad moments. Blalock really struggled last season as a rookie and he must inject some tenacity into his game if he is to avoid being the weak link again. Dahl seemingly has gained favor over Forney for his size (6-5, 318) and nasty demeanor. However, Forney is a seasoned workhorse while Dahl has spent three seasons primarily as a practice squad player. Weiner will regain his right tackle job if he is able to fully return from micro fracture knee surgery. There was some question about Weiner’s availability at the start of the season, but his rehabilitation went faster than expected. If Weiner isn’t at full strength, the reliable Clabo—a better run than pass blocker will start on the right side.

Defensive Line: Starters—LE Jamaal Anderson, LT Jonathan Babineaux, RT Montavious Stanley, RE John Abraham. Backups—E Chauncey Davis, E Kroy Biermann, E Simon Fraser, T Rashad Moore, T Kindal Moorehead, T Tim Anderson, T Trey Lewis.

Abraham is coming off a solid 10-sack season in which he stayed healthy, which is always the addendum to his success. The Falcons hope he can avoid injury again but with the abundance of double and triple teams he will see, it will be a test. Without a stud, pass-rushing tackle beside him, Abraham is going to have to be at his best to register double-digit sacks. Stanley, Moore, Babineaux and Moorehead will form the interior rotation. None is great against the pass or run, so this could be a problem. Lewis was emerging as a perfect nose tackle fit, but he tore his ACL late last season as a rookie then re-tore it while walking down steps this spring. Anderson is the wild card. He was solid against the run but failed to register a sack in 16 starts last season. The problem could be that he tries too much to be a speed rusher instead of using his long arms and big hands to smack and distract opposing linemen as a complement with his speed.

Linebackers: Starters—WLB Keith Brooking, MLB Curtis Lofton, SLB Michael Boley. Backups—WLB Stephen Nicholas, MLB Tony Taylor, SLB Robert James, Travis Williams.

This is the strength of the defense, and maybe the team, but there are potential cracks. Brooking, a five-time Pro Bowler, returns to his natural spot after playing in the middle the past three seasons. His tenacious side-to-side pursuit and pass-rushing skills will be highlighted by playing in open space. Brooking is getting long in the tooth, though, but he’s going to give full effort. Boley is a potential Pro Bowler who can cover, rush and play the run well. He is battling a domestic battery charge and he is in the last year of his contract. Those are off-field issues that could prove motivational or be big distractions. Lofton is a thumper who could finally fill a position that hasn’t been properly addressed in years. However, he is not the greatest athlete and might only be a two-down MLB. He also will be playing behind an interior that is loaded with question marks.

Defensive Backs: Starters—LCB Brent Grimes/Von Hutchins, SS Lawyer Milloy/Deke Cooper, FS Erik Coleman, RCB Chris Houston/Chevis Jackson. Backups—CB Grimes/Hutchins, CB Houston/Jackson, FS Thomas DeCoud, SS Daren Stone, FS Antoine Harris, CB Wilrey Fontenot, David Irons.

No area of the team is as unsettled as the secondary, where it could be argued that no player has earned a starting job. Milloy seemingly is a lock, since he’s still got some game left and is the most respected player in the locker room. Even so, Atlanta brought in Cooper, who started 15 games for Carolina in ‘07, to compete for the position. Both corner spots are open and Jackson, a rookie from LSU, is a player the team desperately wants on the field. He is a rookie, though, so there will be growing pains. Grimes is the only real man coverage defensive back but at 5-9, 185, he is small. Houston started most of last season, but durability and desire are growing concerns. Coleman was signed as a free agent but he is more of a run support free safety, which isn’t overly ideal in a Cover-2 scheme. DeCoud could eventually emerge as the starter. Hutchins will be a factor in nickel sets.

Special Teams: PK Jason Elam, P/KO Michael Koenen, LS Mike Schneck, KOR Jerious Norwood, KOR Thomas Brown, PR Brown/Adam Jennings.

The free-agent addition of the 36-year-old Elam follows three years of failed experiments with unproven kickers to start the season. The Falcons are just hoping he has some punch left in his leg, seeing as though they might not venture into the red zone too often. The return game is unsettled, even though Norwood was one of the better kickoff returners in the league (25.3-yard average) last season. Norwood is expected to have an increased role on offense so rookie RB Thomas Brown could end up handling kickoff and punt return duties.

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http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news;_ylt=Aog2...p&type=lgns

Falcons lock up last of their draft picks

7 hours, 18 minutes ago

Buzz Up PrintFLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP)—The Atlanta Falcons will have all of their draft picks on the field when camp opens Saturday after agreeing to terms with first-round pick Sam Baker and signing second-round pick Curtis Lofton.

Baker, an offensive tackle from USC, came to an agreement Friday evening, shortly his father, David Baker, announced his resignation as commissioner of the Arena Football League. Terms of the deal were not immediately available.

The 6-foot-5, 309-pound Baker was the second of Atlanta’s first-round picks, taken at No. 21 overall. Quarterback Matt Ryan was Atlanta’s top pick at No. 3.

Lofton, a linebacker from Oklahoma, signed a four-year deal.

“We are really excited to have everyone in camp on time,” coach Mike Smith said.

In other moves on the eve of training camp, the Falcons signed offensive lineman Michael Butterworth, linebacker Coy Wire and cornerback Blue Adams. They also placed defensive tackle Trey Lewis on the active/non-football injury list, put offensive tackle Renardo Foster on the active/physically unable to perform list, waived-injured offensive lineman Pat McCoy, reached an injury settlement with linebacker Travis Williams, and waived cornerback Glenn Sharpe.

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White and Robinson are both big targets with breakaway speed and strength to shrug off initial contact. White shed his two-year bust tag with an 83-catch, 1,200-yard 2007 season. He finally has the confidence of a big-time receiver, however, his numbers will likely shrink with the emergence of Robinson and the run-heavy scheme.

I disagree, there are so many great WR tandems that having a good WR across from you does not mean youre numbers will lower. It will mean that the defense has to cover the whole field instead of just one WR and can open it up for that top. And running game = playaction threat/1 less safety

could someone explain the Dahl and Forney situation? I must have missed that story

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