I had the chance recently to watch two spirited practices at Atlanta Falcons training camp, chatting with owner Arthur Blank, GM Thomas Dimitroff, coach Mike Smith and a number of players in the process. I left Flowery Branch with a good feel for the 2009 Falcons.
The Falcons are not sneaking up on anyone this season, and the team knows it. There were a number of brawls — especially between the offensive and defensive lines — that represented the ‘tough guy’ attitude that permeates through this team. I got a chance to walk the practice field with Blank, who is very excited about the 2009 season. He also noted that his GM and coach give him piece of mind that this franchise is being built the right way — and I agree. Dimitroff has done a nice job of building up the roster and Smith clearly motivates the players.
Here are some of my observations after visiting the Falcons:
- I wonder if the Falcons defense can stop the run. They ranked 25th against the run last season, but with the addition of rookie DT Peria Jerry and veteran LB Mike Peterson, they should be better. Practicing against RB Michael Turner everyday will help, but there is still work to be done by the Atlanta defense.
- The Falcons offense creates what I like to refer to as “classic conflicts.” QB Matt Ryan practices like a ten year vet, Turner threatens the defense, WR Roddy White is an emerging elite player and veteran TE Tony Gonzalez is the biggest headache of them all. For a defense to take Gonzalez out of the game, they won’t be also be able stop Turner and the run game. If a defense tries to single cover White, he can beat any corner in the league one on one. I would not be surprised if the Falcons average over 25 points per game this season and control the time of possession.
- Every team has a weakness they have to overcome, and the Falcons are no exception. They have enough veteran receivers to overcome the lose of Harry Douglas, but they have issues in the secondary. Eric Coleman and Thomas DeCoud will be adequate at safety, but the heat is on the corners and nickel backs.
- The biggest surprise to me was the offensive line, a group of wild men led by Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo. As White said, “We love those guys because they set the tone for us being a tough football team, I love being in the huddle with them.”
- I got a good look at Jerry, and I believe he’s the real deal — which is just what this defense needs. His coach, Ray ‘Sugar Bear’ Hamilton and I worked together, and Ray likened him to Henry Thomas. Thomas had excellent first-step quickness to penetrate, and so does Jerry. I asked Peria where his strengths and weaknesses were at this point and his answer was, “I can do it all.”
- Thinking about a prediction, when I first look at a team the quality of the quarterback is the first stop, the defense is second and how many playmakers they have is third. Ryan is building his strength like Tom Brady did when he first got to New England. It shows up in his arm strength, quicker movements and durability. He will not go backwards in his second season. The defense will be better against the run. I think the Falcons will battle for the division title, and should win it.
I’ll be in training camps for the Bucs and Jaguars today and tomorrow, and will send in more camp reports.
– Pat Kirwan