2007 season recap
Doomed from the start: When starting quarterback Michael Vick was imprisoned on a dogfighting conviction prior to the season, the Falcons' hopes went with him. The ordeal served as a major distraction for the team and proved to be too much for rookie head coach Bobby Petrino to handle. Several of the team's veterans, including TE Alge Crumpler and CB DeAngelo Hall (both since departed) were outspoken in their criticisms of the franchise and Petrino left for Arkansas with three games left in the season. All in all, it was a lost season for the Falcons as they finished 4-12.
Key camp questions
Can coach Smith get all the new players to jell?
The 2008 Falcons could have a new starting quarterback, a new running back, a new tight end and a new starting receiver to start the season. Last year's QB to start the season, Joey Harrington, will likely be a backup, last year's RB to start the season, Warrick Dunn, is in Tampa, last year's tight end to start the season, Alge Crumpler, is in Tennessee and one of last year's starting receivers to begin 2007 has demanded a trade (Joe Horn). And that's just on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, the Falcons could also have a number of new starters. New general manager Thomas Dimitroff has worked quickly to remake the roster and it is up to Smith to get this group to come together in training camp.
How quickly will Matt Ryan pick up the offense?
Atlanta used the third overall selection in the draft to pick Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan and then lavished a six-year, $72 million contract on him. He is clearly the quarterback of the future, if not the present. Whether or not he is named the starter to begin the season depends on how he performs in training camp and throughout the preseason. Harrington and veteran Chris Redman are the other signal callers competing for the starting job.
Who will replace DeAngelo Hall?
For four years the Falcons could be comforted by the fact that they had one of the league's best shut-down corners to man one side of the field. With Hall now in Oakland, that is no longer the case. Coach Smith did not like to blitz his defenses a lot in Jacksonville, putting more pressure on the corners. The Falcons have a host of corners that will compete for both starting jobs, but none of current players on the roster has the proven track record of Hall. Atlanta will try and use training camp to cultivate a suitable replacement.
Key position battle
LT Renardo Foster vs. LT Sam Baker: The position responsible for protecting the blindside of a right-handed quarterback (which every QB on the roster is) falls to a second-year undrafted player (Foster) and a rookie first-rounder (Baker). That is a major responsibility for two players with so little experience. Throw in Ryan potentially starting at quarterback as a rookie and that is a significant amount of pressure on a trio of young players. The Falcons will face a huge task in getting Foster or Baker ready to handle the duty in training camp and it will also be one of the most important long-term projects for a franchise rebuilding.
LB Curtis Lofton: Known as a run-stuffer in college, Lofton will have to prove he can go sideline-to-sideline from the middle linebacker position and make plays at the next level. He will start as a backup, but will be given an opportunity to earn playing time with second-year player Tony Taylor ahead of him. Flanked by experienced outside linebackers Keith Brooking and Michael Boley, Lofton will have a good unit supporting his transition to the pros.
Player on the spot
DE Jamaal Anderson: In his rookie season, Anderson showed he was durable. He also showed that he has plenty of room for improvement. Taken eighth overall in the 2007 draft, Anderson was expected to be an impact playmaker and pass rusher. In his rookie season, he impressively started all 16 games, but finished with just 30 tackles and failed to record a sack. In his second training camp, Anderson needs to demonstrate that he can be a solid bookend to veteran John Abraham on the other side.
RB Michael Turner: Turner's move to Atlanta makes him a legitimate No. 2 fantasy back. He'll be the centerpiece of the offense and has eight games against teams that ranked 18th or worse against the run last season. Turner has a terrific shot to rush for over 1,000 yards in 2008.