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Atlanta Falcons


The formation of a decent offensive line has been a constant project this offseason — and the work is hardly finished.

Veteran Todd Weiner, whose availability was uncertain as he recovered from microfracture surgery to his left knee, has gone through individual drills in training camp but has been held out of team drills. The goal is to have Weiner ready for the season opener Sept. 7 vs. Detroit.

The Falcons plan to measure Weiner's progress cautiously and ease him into practices.

While wanting to have the best players on the field is optimal, the inability to consistently have the same personnel work together along this unsettled group could compound concerns.

First, the players in play: Tyson Clabo replaced Weiner last season when Weiner went down and he has worked at starting right tackle all offseason. Atlanta has replaced Kynan Forney at right guard with potential first-time starter Harvey Dahl and the left side is comprised of second-year guard Justin Blalock and rookie left tackle Sam Baker.

Center Todd McClure is the mainstay.

Should Weiner work his way back into the starting lineup, the versatile Clabo likely would return to his role as the top backup at every position but center. He also is an option at left tackle if Baker can't get up to speed by Week 1.

If Weiner doesn't fully heal in time to start the season, the line likely would remain intact, with Quinn Ojinnaka likely being the swing tackle.

The wild card in all this is Clabo playing too well to take out of the lineup — even if Weiner regains his health. Clabo has a legion of fans in the locker room for his borderline nasty/dirty play that isn't as prevalent among other offensive lineman.

Dahl is equally as scrappy and the coaching staff is intrigued about the young tandem developing together.

There isn't much time to figure things out, especially since Atlanta invested more than $100 million on contracts for rookie quarterback Matt Ryan ($72 million) and tailback Michael Turner ($34.5 million) — players' whose success is dependent on the guys up front.

CAMP CALENDAR: On Aug. 2, the Falcons will have a simulated game (open to public) at the Georgia Dome.


—Free agent DT Grady Jackson met with team officials Saturday about re-signing. No deal has been consummated and Jacksonville also contacted Jackson about signing with the Jaguars. The Falcons and Jackson's representative have exchanged salary proposals and should know if a deal can be reached by early this week.

Jackson spent 1 1/2 seasons with the Falcons before being cut in the middle of last season. He signed with Jacksonville and played for then-defensive coordinator Mike Smith, now Atlanta's head coach.

—RDE John Abraham was excused after three practices for an indefinite period to attend to family matters following the death of his grandfather. With Abraham gone and LDE Jamaal Anderson already nursing a sore hamstring, the Falcons are down to backup Des Chauncey Davis and Simon Fraser.

—WR Joe Horn, who wants to be traded, reported to training camp after skipping all voluntary workouts and OTAs. He is buried on the depth chart and did little to help that cause while he was away.

"When I left, I didn't study the playbook," Horn said. "My emotions let my study habits with the playbook leave. I stayed in shape, but I didn't study my playbook."

There has been little trade interest in Horn, 36.

—First-round draft pick Sam Baker watched the first hour of Atlanta's opening practice from the second-story patio of an office at the team's facility. He had to wait until his recently signed contract went through the final lawyering before he was cleared.

"I didn't know you could not come out here without a contract so I had to wait upstairs."

In a side note, Baker's father, Dave, resigned as Arena Football League commissioner Saturday.

"I think he's going to go to Hawaii and all of the places he couldn't go before," Sam Baker said. "He's going to do some relaxing and then I'm sure we will see him out here."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The message from the top down through the organization has been about the future. We haven't talked much about last year. It's all about a fresh start and getting ready for the 2008 run." — Rookie QB Matt Ryan, on whether he knew about the circus of controversy that surrounded the team — courtesy of then-quarterback Michael Vick's dogfighting indictment — at the opening of training camp in 2007.


—SS Deke Cooper, a late free-agent acquisition from Carolina, has moved ahead of second-year player Daren Stone on the depth chart and is the main backup to starter Lawyer Milloy. The coaching staff wasted little time plugging Cooper in with the No. 2 group, which is not a good sign for the athletically gifted Stone. Stone's recent DUI arrest could not have helped.

—OLB Stephen Nicholas, once the projected starter at weak-side linebacker, has been moved to strong-side linebacker where he will back up Michael Boley. Nicholas was displaced after Keith Brooking was moved to WLB from the middle and the team decided fifth-round draft pick Robert James was best suited at weak-side linebacker, where he will play behind Brooking.

—Rookie CB Chevis Jackson could emerge as the starting nickel back if free-agent signee Von Hutchins's foot injury is more serious than the initial diagnosis of a sprain. The coaching staff likes Jackson and spent a good team of time in the offseason figuring out the best ways to get him on the field. Hutchins' injury could have made their decision much easier.

—DT Trey Lewis was placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list. Lewis re-tore his ACL (left knee) in the offseason walking down stairs. He initially got hurt against Tampa Bay late last season.

—OL Renardo Foster was put on the physically-unable-to-perform list as he continues to recover from a torn ACL (left knee) suffered last season.

EXPECTED BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Harvey Dahl vs. Kynan Forney for starting RG — Dahl, a former practice squad player and backup, opened training camp as the starter at the position Forney has held for years. Dahl was elevated during OTAs because of his nastiness, size and motor.

There was some thought the move was made to motivate Forney, who, in 2004, generated serious consideration for a Pro Bowl berth. Forney is in the last year of his contract and he won't simply allow Dahl to take his job. The new staff is looking for nastiness and consistent push in the run game. Whoever does that best in the typically intense and spirited first week could establish himself.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Tony Taylor vs. Curtis Lofton for starting MLB — Taylor, in his second season, is working with the first unit but the hope is that the more physical Lofton will pick things up quickly and step in as the starter.

Thomas Brown vs. Jerious Norwood KR — Norwood was among the better returners in the NFL last season but Brown is going to be given a chance to ease the load on Norwood, who will have a bigger role as the No. 2 tailback.

ROOKIE REPORT: WR Harry Douglas, a third-round draft pick, did not show any drop off from OTAs or minicamps and he continued to pique optimism about his role as a slot receiver. Douglas is getting open, making catches and he's displayed a nice collection of evasive moves.

The test for him will be how he holds up once the physicality increases. Douglas is projected to be the No. 3 wide receiver.

"The holes in the defense are smaller than they were in college," Douglas said. "The main thing is learning the playbook. If you're not able to obtain information then it's hard for you to get on the field and produce. The second thing is being touch and wanting to compete for a position and play well."

INJURY REPORT: DB Von Hutchins suffered a foot injury on the opening day of training camp that could be serious. It initially was diagnosed as a sprain but Hutchins was going to get a second opinion.

DE Jamaal Anderson suffered a hamstring injury and missed Day 2 of training camp. He is not projected to be out for a prolonged period.

DT Trey Lewis (left knee) was placed on the active/non-football injury list. He re-tore his ACL while walking down stairs this spring.

—OL Renardo Foster (recovering from torn ACL, left knee) was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list at the start of training camp.

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