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Falcons roster not as green as perceived.....AF.com


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Falcons roster not as green as perceived

by Daniel Cox, AtlantaFalcons.com Contributor

Flowery Branch, Ga. -- Look at Falcons' marquee players, and it's easy to conclude they're one of the youngest teams in the NFL.

Third-year quarterback Matt Ryan: A recent 25.

Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White: 28.

Emerging middle linebacker Curtis Lofton: A three-year starter at 24.

But a closer look at Atlanta's roster reveals the application of General Manager Thomas Dimitroff's all-in commitment to the draft with a supplemental approach in free agency.

It also shows a well-rounded roster of players with youth, experience, fresh legs, and healthy veteran leadership.

Using the average of the team (all 61 players that suited up over the season) in 2009, the Falcons ranked among the oldest teams in the NFL at an age of 27.5 and are the third-oldest among the teams they will face in 2010. Only the Cardinals (29) and the Saints (27.7) were older last season.

With a nod to Dimitroff's free-agent sprinkling ideas, the veterans on the Falcons serve a purpose, either by being elite-level players at a position or to help mentor and lead.

The ageless Tony Gonzalez enters this season as a 34-year-old future Hall of Famer and one of Ryan's key targets in an offense that has the ability to be lethal.

Thirty-four-year-old Mike Peterson was a starter last season at outside linebacker and is integral to the continued development of Lofton and the newest Falcons linebacker addition, first-round rookie Sean Weatherspoon.

Ten-year veteran Brian Finneran (34) has been a special teams ace and a vital third-down target for years in Atlanta.

While the Falcons stand to get younger once the roster in settled for 2010, these key older figures will likely be around. The 2009 roster at various points in the season featured WR Marty Booker (33), K Jason Elam (39), RB Verron Haynes (30), LS Bryan Pittman (32), LS Mike Schneck (32), and RB Aaron Stecker (34). These players are no longer with the team.

With the presence of Gonzalez and 33-year-old Todd McClure, the Falcons offense's age is in the bottom third of the league with an average age of 27.9 (based on last year's starters). The Philadelphia Eagles, according to The New York Times' The Fifth Down Blog, were last season's youngest offense (26.1) and the Patriots were the oldest at 29.7.

Atlanta will face only one team next season, the Cincinnati Bengals (28.4), whose offense was older in 2009. The Seahawks' offense ranks a close third to the Falcons at 27.8. NFC South rivals the Panthers and Bucs both feature offenses younger than 27, at 26.8 and 26.2 respectively. The Saints came in at 27.1 last season.

At a full year and three months younger the Falcons' defense represents Atlanta's commitment to overhauling the unit under the Dimitroff and Head Coach Mike Smith regime.

The only team with a younger average defensive-starter's age than Atlanta's (26.6) on the schedule in 2010 is Cincinnati's 25.9.

Last season the Falcons continued the youth movement on defense while still featuring at one point in the season three starters aged 30 or older in defensive end John Abraham (32), Peterson, and cornerback Brian Williams (31).

The return of '09 first-year defensive tackle Peria Jerry (25) to the starting lineup after last season's season-ending knee injury and the starting potential in Weatherspoon (22) and '09 second-round draft pick William Moore (25) will further drive the average age down.

According to The Fifth Down, Atlanta's '09 defense was the sixth-youngest in the NFL, behind the Texans, Jaguars, Bengals, Colts, and Chiefs.

The Bucs, who appear to be getting younger and younger at every spot on defense with the addition of two potential starting defensive tackles in this year's draft averaged 26.8 years old last season. The Panthers were 27 and the Saints were the elders of the NFC South at 27.9.

The Falcons spent the 2010 draft building depth at many areas on the roster, including the offensive line, wide receiver, and cornerback. This injection of talented youth meshes well with "in-their-prime" performers like Pro Bowlers White and Michael Turner, the newly-acquired CB Dunta Robinson (all of 28 years old) and seasoned veterans like McClure, Abraham and special teams ace Coy Wire.

Dimitroff, who contributed to the success of this past decade's dynastic Patriots, knows a thing or two about veteran-youth balance. Think Bruschi and a young Brady. Vrabel and Warren. Law and Samuel.

Thus far, the progressive GM and the matter-of-fact head coach have been spot-on in creating positive synergy: the perfect mix of personalities that define the adage of the sum being better than its parts.

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Another intelligent and articulate article by Daniel Cox. Thumbs up.

The perception around the league and the media is that the Falcons are a "young, up and coming team",

but the reality is that we have a great blend of youth and veteran leadership.

To those who say the "Falcons will be good in a couple years", i say "our time has come".

Thanks for posting.

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