2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Falcons begin camp with Super Bowl hopes

By GEORGE HENRY - Associated Press
    2013-07-23 13:18

ATLANTA (AP) - The Atlanta Falcons tried four times to win a playoff game under coach Mike Smith before reaching the NFC championship game last season.

Anything shy of the Super Bowl will be a big disappointment this year.

The Falcons loaded up in the offseason by luring Tony Gonzalez out of retirement, signing Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora and drafting cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.

They still lack a proven pass rusher on the left side of the defensive line opposite Umenyiora. Other concerns are a lack of depth at linebacker and second-year center Peter Konz as a first-time starter.

Even so, the Falcons believe Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have put together a roster that can seriously compete for the Lombardi Trophy.

One mantra this season is to get Gonzalez, the NFL's No. 2-career leading receiver and career-leading tight end, to New York for the Super Bowl. He waited 16 years to finally win a playoff game and returned for a final season after Atlanta finished 10 yards shy of winning the NFC title.

The team also hopes to re-sign franchise quarterback Matt Ryan to a long-term contract so to avoid the situation becoming a distraction.

Five things to know as the Falcons prepare to open training camp this week in Flowery Branch, Ga.

1. BREAKOUT SEASON FOR JONES: Receiver Julio Jones could be on the cusp of becoming one of the league's top star receivers. Jones made big improvements last year in getting separation from defenders, reading coverages and understanding where Ryan needs him to run if a route needs adjusting. If he and Roddy White stay healthy, the Falcons' dual-threat wideouts could improve their combined numbers from last season - 171 catches, 2,540 yards and 17 touchdowns. But to keep the offense focused, Atlanta needs to re-sign Ryan soon. The team doesn't want to have him turn down an offer, and like Baltimore's wait-and-see approach with Joe Flacco, have to cut veteran players next year to fit an even bigger deal for Ryan under the salary cap.

2. NO WEAK-LINK LINEBACKERS : Sean Weatherspoon calls the defensive sets and emerged last year as the unit's leader on and off the field. But injuries sidelined him for three games last season and for five games as a rookie. Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas, the two other mainstay linebackers in coordinator Mike Nolan's multiple schemes, return but all three have plenty of room for improvement. San Francisco's air attack easily exposed Nicholas' difficulties in the NFC championship loss. Of the six other linebackers in camp, only Robert James has experience.

3. SHORT-YARDAGE SOLUTIONS: The Falcons hope Jackson's arrival fixes two big problems in the running game. Jackson's predecessor, Michael Turner, did a solid job in his first three seasons, but short-yardage situations were an embarrassment in both 2011 and '12. Arguably worse was Atlanta's difficulty in running to control second-half leads and time of possession by converting third downs. Jackson is the NFL's leading active rusher and says he's as good on fourth-and-1 as he is in breaking tackles and reaching the second and third levels of the defense. Second-year fullback Bradie Ewing is a first-year starter who missed last season with a knee injury.

4. QUESTIONS AT DEFENSIVE LINE, SECONDARY: Like Jackson, Umenyiora has impressed Smith and his new teammates by arriving early, staying late and helping young players understand their roles. Umenyiora replaces right end John Abraham, who was released as the NFL's active sacks leader, but the Falcons still lack a consistent pass rush presence at left end. Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Massaquoi, Cliff Matthews and rookies Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Moponga are all candidates to start. In the secondary, starting left cornerback Asante Samuel needs to stay healthy with Trufant, the likely starter on the right side, and second-round pick Alford are inexperienced.

5. NO HOT SEAT, BUT IT'S NOT EXACTLY COOL: Smith has won more games than any Falcons coach, and he accomplished the seemingly impossible when his 2009 team was the first in franchise's 44-year history to post consecutive seasons. He's created a good vibe in Atlanta if you consider that established stars like Gonzalez, Jackson, Umenyiora and Samuel are eager to play for Smith, but he must find a way to avoid another disappointment in January. Last season's crushing defeat in the NFC championship game still resonates, and that can't happen again.

---

Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Austin CollieJan 29 03:33a

Free-agent WR Austin Collie (Patriots) signed a contract with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League on Wednesday, Jan. 28.

Tom BradyJan 28 12:33p

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady (illness) admitted that he is currently battling a cold, but he said he expects to be 100% ready for the Super Bowl Sunday, [ More ]

Brandon MebaneJan 27 11:23p

Seattle Seahawks DL Brandon Mebane (hamstring) said Tuesday, Jan. 27, that his hamstring surgery went well and he should be full go for the team's offseason program in April.

Richard ShermanJan 27 11:23p

Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman (elbow) has torn ligaments in his elbow, but he is improving daily and he is no longer receiving treatment for the injury.

LeGarrette BlountJan 27 08:33p

New England Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount should be a factor in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Feb. 1, in the opinion of Boston Herald writer Karen [ More ]

Adrian PetersonJan 27 07:43p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson was directed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to meet with a league-assigned psychiatrist following Peterson's suspension. The National Football League Players Association is now [ More ]

Rob GronkowskiJan 27 12:23p

New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski is an offensive weapon that the Seattle Seahawks are focused on shutting down during the Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 1. Seahawks head coach [ More ]

Trent RichardsonJan 27 10:43a

Indianapolis Colts RB Trent Richardson's one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team voided the guarantee of a $3,184,062 salary in 2015.

Josh GordonJan 26 02:13p

Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon is in Stage Three of an alcohol program, which requires him to be tested for alcohol for a minimum of two years. His failed [ More ]

Rob GronkowskiJan 26 02:03p

New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski could cause a problem for the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl XLIX, because the Seahawks defense allowed 11 touchdowns to tight ends this [ More ]

Earl ThomasJan 26 02:03p

Seattle Seahawks FS Earl Thomas (shoulder) said he won't miss the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots with a dislocated shoulder, but he also admitted that it won't [ More ]

Odell Beckham Jr.Jan 26 01:52p

New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring) said he'll need to shut himself down this offseason in order to enter 2015 fully healthy and in great shape. He [ More ]

Josh GordonJan 26 12:33p

Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon tested positive for alcohol, according to sources, and his failed test will subject him to a possible one-year suspension. Gordon caught 24 passes for [ More ]

Vontaze BurfictJan 26 12:23p

Cincinnati Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict (knee) is recovering from microfracture surgery on his left knee, and the surgeon who operated on him is hoping that he will be at [ More ]

Odell Beckham Jr.Jan 26 11:22a

New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring) said he played this season with two tears in his right hamstring, which never fully healed.

Josh GordonJan 25 09:12p

Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon will be under contract through the 2016 season, and he will only be a restricted free agent after that year due to his looming [ More ]

Josh GordonJan 25 04:12p

Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon has reportedly failed another drug test and will be subject to a one-year banishment, according to multiple league sources.

Earl ThomasJan 23 09:02p

Seattle Seahawks FS Earl Thomas (shoulder) will play in the Super Bowl, head coach Pete Carroll said Friday, Jan. 23.

Dennis PittaJan 23 04:22p

Baltimore Ravens TE Dennis Pitta (hip) met with some specialists last week, but the team is not expected to have an update on his status for a few weeks, [ More ]

Johnny ManzielJan 23 01:12p

Cleveland Browns QB Johnny Manziel had a big proponent last year in owner Jimmy Haslam, but Haslam now thinks the team needs a quarterback in order to get their [ More ]

Jimmy GrahamJan 23 10:32a

New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham (shoulder) said he'll rehabilitate his shoulder injury after the Pro Bowl, but he hasn't made a final decision on surgery. 'It's something we [ More ]

Mark IngramJan 22 06:42p

New Orleans Saints RB Mark Ingram, who will be eligible for free agency this offseason, wants to return to the team next year, and he thinks the interest is [ More ]

Vernon DavisJan 22 06:22p

San Francisco 49ers TE Vernon Davis had just two touchdowns in 2014, and they both came in Week 1. He also wasn't targeted at all in the red zone [ More ]

Geno SmithJan 22 05:32p

New York Jets QB Geno Smith has a lot of talent and promise, according to new head coach Todd Bowles. At the same time, Bowles acknowledged that the quarterback [ More ]

Brian HoyerJan 22 04:52p

Cleveland Browns QB Brian Hoyer could be re-signed this offseason, according to his agent. Hoyer is expected to meet with general manager Ray Farmer and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo in the near future.

Johnny ManzielJan 22 02:43p

Cleveland Browns QB Johnny Manziel will be working with a new offensive coordinator this year in John DeFilippo, but DeFilippo is unsure if the team's quarterback next year is [ More ]

Joe FlaccoJan 22 12:52p

Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco will have his fourth difference offensive coordinator in as many years in offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. However, head coach John Harbaugh is confident Flacco [ More ]

Tom BradyJan 22 10:12a

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady is now scheduled to speak to the media Thursday, Jan. 22, and he could come under fire due to the report of deflated [ More ]

Vontaze BurfictJan 21 09:03p

Cincinnati Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict (knee) has had knee surgery, head coach Marvin Lewis confirmed Wednesday, Jan. 21. While there has been concern Burfict might have to begin the [ More ]

Mike WallaceJan 21 09:03p

Miami Dolphins WR Mike Wallace's future with the team is unclear. General manager Dennis Hickey would not say Wednesday, Jan. 21, whether Wallace will be back or if his [ More ]

Johnny ManzielJan 21 04:43p

Cleveland Browns QB Johnny Manziel could benefit from new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, according to Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr. Carr said DeFilippo will do great with Manziel, adding [ More ]

Richard ShermanJan 21 04:23p

Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman (elbow) said he will practice in a brace, but should not have any limitations on gameday.

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2015 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group