Atlanta Falcons preseason primer

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2006 season recap

Promising start disintegrates
At 5-2 and coming off back-to-back impressive wins, Atlanta seemed poised to challenge for the NFC lead through seven weeks. However, an obscene gesture to the home fans by Michael Vick, an off-hand comment by Jim Mora Jr. and woeful receiver play ensued, and Falcons fans were left scratching their heads at how quickly everything went south.

Key camp questions

How will the team handle the ongoing legal situation with Michael Vick?
With Vick now facing a federal indictment on three counts related to dogfighting, the team must figure out what to do at the quarterback position. Atlanta will need to get Joey Harrington ready to take the reigns after Vick was ordered to stay away from training camp by Commissioner Roger Goodell. Regardless of the outcome of Vick's case, the franchise faces a major question mark at one of the most important positions on the field and will be asked incessantly about the status of its biggest star.

Is John Abraham fully recovered from last season's injury?
Last season's big free-agent signing lasted all of one game with the Falcons before being sidelined by injuries. Abraham managed to play in six more games the rest of the way but had only two more sacks. With veteran Patrick Kerney off to Seattle and first-round pick Jamaal Anderson just breaking in, Atlanta needs a big year from Abraham to help a defense that ranked 22nd in the league last season, 29th against the pass.

Will adding Joe Horn help the young receivers Michael Jenkins and Roddy White?
The veteran Horn immediately becomes the Falcons' most accomplished wideout. But with Brian Finneran out for a second consecutive season due to injury, the Falcons need Horn to be more than just the No. 1 receiver. They also need him to help develop former first-round picks Jenkins and White, who had only 69 receptions combined last season and 67 the year before.

Key position battle

RB Warrick Dunn vs. Jerious Norwood vs. Jason Snelling
Dunn just kept on plugging away last year, finishing with 1,140 yards and four touchdowns, but at 32, he is old for a running back. Norwood rose from anonymity to become a potential star, gaining 633 yards on only 99 carries in his rookie season, and he could challenge Dunn for the starting job. Rookie Jason Snelling is a longshot to get serious playing time, but he has shown promise in offseason camps.

Rookie spotlight

DE Jamaal Anderson
New coach Bobby Petrino passed up Amobi Okoye, his former Louisville standout, to draft Anderson, and big things are expected of him. Anderson will be counted on to replace the departed Patrick Kerney and form a strong pass-rushing tandem with John Abraham. With a questionable secondary, aside from DeAngelo Hall, Atlanta needs Anderson to pressure the quarterback on a regular basis.

On the spot

Bobby Petrino
Most college coaches that have made the jump to the pros in recent years have darted back to the college game quickly (Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Butch Davis). To gain the respect of a team that hasn't met its full potential in recent years, Petrino must convince his players he is here to stay and succeed in the NFL. Petrino also must face the absence of Michael Vick and will need to find out if Joey Harrington is ready to lead the Falcons.

Fantasy focus

RB Jerious Norwood
A definite sleeper candidate in drafts, Norwood (5-foot-11, 204) is an explosive and elusive runner who could see more work in the offense of new head coach Bobby Petrino, who tends to favor bigger backs. With veteran Warrick Dunn (5-9, 180) now 32, Norwood has a real chance to emerge as a viable No. 3 fantasy back or flex starter.

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