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Atlanta Falcons 2004 Season Preview

Healthy Vick a Quick Fix?

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Heading into the 2003 season, the Atlanta Falcons were on top of the world. They were coming off an unexpected playoff win at Lambeau Field the previous season and talks of a Super Bowl run were being thrown around like gossip in a beauty parlor. But then tragedy struck and they were suddenly without their biggest playmaker before the season had begun. And down with the league’s most dynamic player came the Falcons’ proverbial house of cards.

So in comes a new coaching staff, headed by former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr., whose prime objective is to make sure his star athlete spends as much time as possible on the field. A new offensive system has been installed, along with a proven blocking scheme on the offensive line, which should allow Michael Vick to really showcase his skills.

But there are still significant questions for this team to answer in the coming weeks. Do they have what it takes to compete for the playoffs? Do they have enough weapons on offense? Have they sufficiently patched the defense? Only time will tell.

Quarterbacks
If there is any remaining doubt that Vick is one of the biggest impact players in the league, if not the biggest, it should have been erased at the end of the 2003 season when the explosive QB led a 2-10 team to three wins in their final four games. When healthy, Vick is a devastating weapon, and he could become even more lethal in a West Coast system that takes advantage of his strengths. Coordinator Greg Knapp’s version of the West Coast offense utilizes a lot of motion and play-action in a short-to-intermediate passing attack, which should offer Vick more protection while still being able to move around with the ball and make things happen with his feet.

The health of Michael Vick is critical to the Falcons, so he will be asked to have more patience with the ball, and run mostly as a final option instead of a second or third. In the new offense, he’ll be moved around a lot and asked to make throws on the run, but he’ll also have the opportunity for the occasional big play on the ground.

Veteran Ty Detmer and rookie third-round pick Matt Schaub will compete for the No. 2 spot, and it appears at this time as if Schaub has the edge, but this team isn’t likely to go far if either is forced to fill in for an extended period of time.

Running Backs
Warrick Dunn, who is bouncing back from a season-ending foot injury, is a perfect fit for the new offensive system assuming he is healthy. He’s a quick, slashing runner, who can catch the football out of the backfield and provide the offense with a big-play threat. T.J. Duckett, who is entering his third year in the league, offers an inside presence and is a complement to Dunn’s slashing style, but he needs to improve as a receiver and continue to improve as a pass blocker.

The Falcons plan to use Dunn and Duckett in the same backfield at times to create match-up problems for opposing defenses and to help keep both players involved in the game. Adding depth is Justin Griffith, who can play fullback or halfback, and will probably see time at both positions.

Wide Receiver/Tight End
Peerless Price was disappointing as the No. 1 receiver last year after coming over as a free agent from the Buffalo Bills, and he must prove that his production was not simply a product of playing second fiddle to Eric Moulds. He is slated to move back to the flanker this year, which should boost his production, with former Chicago Bears wide receiver Dez White penciled in to start on the opposite side. White has the ability to be a deep threat, but his hands are inconsistent, at best.

Depth is a big concern also, and rookie WR Michael Jenkins, the team's second first-round pick, will be counted on to fill the No. 3 role. He has nice size and speed, and he has been very impressive catching the ball. He has big-play potential which the coaching staff would like to take full advantage of, and he has even received some work fielding punts. Brian Finneran, who will likely play the No. 4, is a solid possession receiver, but he lacks the speed to stretch defenses.

At tight end, Alge Crumpler is poised for a big season. The new offensive system is a good fit for his skills, and he should become a favorite target of Vick’s. The team will most likely look to add a solid blocking tight end before the end of training camp so that Crumpler can be utilized mostly in an H-back role.

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