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New coach Mike Smith is bringing a fresh attitude to Atlanta.


NFC South preview:

Bucs: Offense aging | Falcons: Rebuilding project | Panthers: Extreme makeover | Saints: Emphasis on defense

It was a quiet summer at the Falcons' training camp: Unfortunately for the Falcons, it also promises to be a quiet season.

Atlanta is beginning a massive rebuilding job. Fallout from the revelations of Michael Vick's dog-fighting ring and rookie pro head coach, Bobby Petrino, walking out on the team and announcing it in a memo to players with three games to go last season, forced the team to start over.

2008 forecast
Vic Carucci: Rookie Matt Ryan is in for a long season of growing pains. Michael Turner's running will help, but first-year coach Mike Smith has his hands full as an enormous rebuilding process begins. Prediction: 3-13

Thomas George: Wait 'till next year ... or the year after ... or the year after ... Prediction: 3-13

Pat Kirwan: This is a rebuilding project and will take time. The quarterback is a rookie and the team didn't inject enough talent into its 29th-ranked defense. The Falcons repeat their 2008 record. Prediction: 3-13

Gil Brandt: After a disastrous 2007 season, the team made some very good additions via draft and free agency. But it's hard to begin such a major team overhaul without some growing pains. Prediction: 3-13

» Falcons' 2008 schedule
Fantasy file
Riser: Michael Turner
Finally out of LaDainian Tomlinson's shadow, Turner and has a chance to prove his worth as an NFL starter. He's a perfect fit for the power running game of OC Mike Mularkey.

Faller: Chris Redman
Matt Ryan is the most talented quarterback in Atlanta and could start the regular season atop the depth chart. That would mean no more than a reserve role for Redman in 2008.

» Fantasy draft kit | More fantasy

Arthur Blank, the Falcons' owner, wants his team to be in the spotlight, but not in the way it was. So, after the troubles, Blank opted for a low-key coach, hiring defensive coordinator Mike Smith from Jacksonville. Smith is making it his mission to change the culture of the organization.

The Falcons will try to rebuild with youth. Matt Ryan, the team's first-round draft choice, will be the starting quarterback. Chris Redman, who was selling insurance at this time last year, will be the backup.

At least four other rookies -- wide receiver Harry Douglas, left tackle Sam Baker, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and cornerback Chevis Jackson -- are ticketed for significant and perhaps starting roles. All were drafted in the first three rounds, among the first 84 picks. Undrafted rookie Brent Grimes also is in the mix to replace cornerback DeAngelo Hall, a sometimes disruptive force both for and against the Falcons, who was traded to Oakland.

Smith's offensive coordinator, Mike Mularkey, will lean heavily on the running game with Michael Turner, the former backup to LaDainian Tomlinson who signed in free agency. Turner will not have as good an offensive line with the Falcons as he did with the Chargers, but Atlanta is expected to use the tight end more in the running game to provide blocking help.

On the hot seat

Wide receiver Roddy White is considered by some to be the Falcons' best player, and he will need to live up to that with all the youth around him. With the offense depending on a running game and having an inexperienced quarterback, White will have to make the most of what opportunities he is given in the passing game.

Difference-maker

Rookie wide receivers rarely make an impact, but the Falcons believe that third-round pick Harry Douglas could be an exception. In camp, he showed great hands and an understanding of route-running and getting open. He is expected to play a lot as a slot receiver.

Hard road to hoe

When you're coming off a 4-12 season, there's no easy stretch on the schedule. But between September 28 and November 2, the Falcons will play four of five on the road including trips to Carolina, Green Bay and Philadelphia.

Falcons will be better than you think if ...

They can run the ball and hang onto it to keep their defense off the field. That would mean Michael Turner proving he can play in a full-time role as successfully as he did backing up LaDainian Tomlinson.

Falcons will be worse than you think if ...

The running game is not as good as they hope or the run defense is not significantly better than it was last year.

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