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

Deone BucannonJul 24 11:32a

Arizona Cardinals S Deone Bucannon was not dropped into the starting lineup during offseason workouts, as the team has faith in FS Tony Jefferson and FS Rashad Johnson. He [ More ]

Ray RiceJul 24 11:31a

Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice will be suspended for the first two games of the season, according to sources. The announcement is expected Thursday, July 24.

Blake BortlesJul 24 11:22a

Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles' lower-body mechanics likely will be revised. Bortles' flaw has been over-reliance on his right arm when throwing; he doesn't use his legs enough. A [ More ]

Mikel LeshoureJul 24 11:14a

Detroit Lions RB Mikel Leshoure is currently believed to be the fourth tailback on the club behind RBs Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick heading into training camp [ More ]

Justin BlackmonJul 24 10:53a

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon was arrested for possession of marijuana Wednesday, July 23, in Oklahoma.

Jordan PalmerJul 24 10:52a

Chicago Bears QB Jordan Palmer still has the first shot at winning the backup quarterback job, according to head coach Marc Trestman.

R. Griffin IIIJul 24 10:22a

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III's designed running plays might be 'few and far between,' according to head coach Jay Gruden. He still has the green light to scramble [ More ]

Daniel FellsJul 24 09:42a

New York Giants TE Daniel Fells has received the first snap in 11-on-11 drills during the team's two days in training camp. Kellen Davis and Adrien Robinson have [ More ]

Ahmad BradshawJul 24 08:33a

Indianapolis Colts RB Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) has been cleared to practice. Bradshaw is an RB4, but he could be worth more if Trent Richardson fails to produce again.

Roddy WhiteJul 24 08:33a

Atlanta Falcons WR Roddy White signed a four-year extension with the team that will keep him under team control for the next five years, according to sources.

Donald ThomasJul 24 08:33a

Indianapolis Colts TE Dwayne Allen (hip) and OG Donald Thomas (quadriceps, biceps) have been cleared to practice.

Josh GordonJul 24 08:23a

Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon will have his appeal hearing for his one-year suspension Aug. 1.

Greg OlsenJul 24 01:43a

Carolina Panthers TE Greg Olsen said he is tired of hearing criticism about Carolina's new receiving corps, which is largely made up of journeymen and unproven commodities. Olsen added [ More ]

Aldon SmithJul 24 01:13a

San Francisco 49ers LB Aldon Smith is expected to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the near future, which likely would lead to a decision on any discipline for Smith.

Anthony BarrJul 23 11:23p

Minnesota Vikings LB Anthony Barr was with the team for just a few days during offseason workouts due to NFL rules. Head coach Mike Zimmer is eager to see [ More ]

Sharrif FloydJul 23 11:23p

Minnesota Vikings DT Sharrif Floyd had a good offseason, but head coach Mike Zimmer thinks the defensive tackle is trying to be too fine. 'Sharrif has a lot of [ More ]

C. PattersonJul 23 11:23p

Minnesota Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson will remain on kickoff returns despite an expanded role in the offense this season. 'We want our best players to get their hands on [ More ]

Montell OwensJul 23 11:23p

Detroit Lions FB Montell Owens has company, as the team will employ a more traditional fullback in the offense. They signed FB Jed Collins for the role. Owens is [ More ]

Harrison SmithJul 23 11:23p

Minnesota Vikings safeties Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo will be battling during training camp and the preseason for the starting job opposite FS Harrison Smith. 'That will be interesting, [ More ]

Matt CasselJul 23 11:23p

Minnesota Vikings QBs Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Cassel saw a majority of the snaps during spring workouts, but QB Christian Ponder has a chance to start, and head coach [ More ]

Chad GreenwayJul 23 11:23p

Minnesota Vikings LB Chad Greenway could be used as the starting middle linebacker, according to head coach Mike Zimmer. 'It's a possibility. We keep working him in there. We're [ More ]

Troy NiklasJul 23 10:23p

Arizona Cardinals TE Troy Niklas (hand) has been cleared to participate in training camp, and was working Wednesday, July 23.

Dan WilliamsJul 23 10:23p

Arizona Cardinals NT Dan Williams will open training camp as the team's starting nose tackle with NT Alameda Ta'amu (knee) on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list.

Johnny ManzielJul 23 10:23p

Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine thinks QB Johnny Manziel needs to increase dedication to earn the starting job. 'I think he knows that in order to compete well, [ More ]

Theo RiddickJul 23 10:23p

Detroit Lions RB Theo Riddick has the chance to break into the rotation at tailback, and he has drawn considerable praise from his teammates and coaches for his development [ More ]

Joique BellJul 23 10:23p

Detroit Lions RB Joique Bell (nee) missed most of the offseason due to a knee injury, although he has said his condition is minor and he expects to be [ More ]

Jed CollinsJul 23 10:23p

The Detroit Lions are re-incorporating the traditional fullback into their new offensive scheme this season, and that's why they went out and signed FB Jed Collins.

Cheta OzougwuJul 23 07:23p

New Orleans Saints DE Cheta Ozougwu (undisclosed) cleared waivers and was transferred to the Saints' Reserve/Injured list Wednesday, July 23.

Billy WinnJul 23 06:53p

The Cleveland Browns placed OL Chris Faulk (undisclosed), DE Billy Winn (undisclosed) and LB Tank Carder (undisclosed) on the non-football injury list Wednesday, July 23.

Kyle OrtonJul 23 06:33p

Free-agent QB Kyle Orton (Cowboys) does not want to retire and wants to play in 2014, according to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Conner VernonJul 23 06:23p

The Cleveland Browns placed CB Royce Adams, LB Brandon Magee and WR Conner Vernon on the no-recall waivers list Wednesday, July 23.

Terrance WestJul 23 06:23p

Updating a previous report, Cleveland Browns RB Terrance West (undisclosed) said on his Twitter page that he passed his conditioning test and people need to 'stop making up your [ More ]

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2014 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group