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Falcons lock up Edwards, Clabo; Anderson, Jenkins cut

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons are still ticked off about their last game.

It's time to start making up for that ugly playoff loss.

With the NFL lockout settled, the Falcons opened training camp Friday amid a flurry of moves designed to set up another run at the team's first Super Bowl title.

In the span of 24 hours, the Falcons lured free-agent defensive end Ray Edwards away from the Minnesota Vikings, agreed to a new deal with Pro Bowl offensive tackle Tyson Clabo and locked up their entire draft class, including top pick Julio Jones.

Last season, Atlanta won the NFC South title and claimed the top seed in the conference playoffs. But the Falcons were blown out at home in their first postseason game, losing 48-21 to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.

"I don't know how many times I got asked in the offseason, 'Hey, what happened in that game? Why didn't y'all make it further?"' center Todd McClure said. "I got tired of answering those questions."

The defense certainly has something to prove after getting shredded by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Green Bay never even had to punt in its playoff romp.

"As a defense, we played a lot better (last season) than we had in the previous three years," linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. "But that last game leaves a sour taste in your mouth."

The Falcons made a major move to shore up the defense Friday, agreeing to terms with Edwards. He had 16.5 sacks the last two seasons in Minnesota and gives his new team a much-needed pass-rushing threat to complement John Abraham.

Atlanta also agreed to a five-year, $25-million deal with Clabo, the cornerstone of the offensive line. The contract includes about $11.5 million in guaranteed money.

Finally, the Falcons locked up their entire draft class, including a four-year, $16.2-million deal for Jones, the No. 6 overall pick.

The deals were made possible when Atlanta released two former first-round picks, receiver Michael Jenkins and defensive end Jamaal Anderson, clearing $7.8 million under the salary cap.

Addressing needs on both sides of the line, the Falcons made it clear they still intend to be a major factor in the NFC, even though the schedule -- especially in the first five weeks -- is much tougher than a year ago.

"If we can stay healthy and go out and play the type of ball we've been playing, we've got a shot," McClure said. "Obviously, you play 'em one game at a time, but with that end goal in mind."

Not everything went Atlanta's way during the hectic free-agent signing period, condensed into just a few days after the players approved a 10-year labor agreement that ended the 4-month-long lockout.

Another of the team's stalwart linemen, offensive guard Harvey Dahl, reportedly agreed to terms with the St. Louis Rams. The other starting guard from a year ago, Justin Blalock, is also a free agent.

Quarterback Matt Ryan is admittedly concerned about breaking in two new linemen.

"They've been kind of a staple of what we've done," Ryan said. "But we have to understand it's a business and different things are going to happen. ... We'll make the most of whoever is here."

The Rams also were talking with running back Jason Snelling, who had been Atlanta's main backup. He became expendable after the Falcons drafted diminutive Oregon running back Jacquizz Rodgers in the fifth round to provide a speedy replacement when 1,371-yard rusher Michael Turner needs a break.

Running back Jerious Norwood was also released. His agent, Bus Cook, tells The Clarion-Ledger that he expects Norwood to sign with another team. Cook says the Falcons wanted to go in a different direction with younger players.

A third-round pick out of MSU in 2006, the 28-year-old Norwood played in just 57 of 80 regular-season games over the last five years with the Falcons while dealing with injuries ranging from a concussion to a hip flexor to a torn knee ligament.

In addition, Atlanta lost punter Michael Koenen, who agreed to terms with division rival Tampa Bay. Matt Bosher, a sixth-round pick from Miami, appears the likely replacement, though the Falcons have two other punters in camp.

None of the losses dampened the mood at Falcons camp. Under general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith, the team has put together three straight winning seasons and two trips to the playoffs.

Not bad for a franchise that had never even managed consecutive seasons above .500 before they arrived.

"Our expectations," Smith said, "are really high."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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