1. Quarterback Matt Ryan has seized control of this team. After last season's loss to Green Bay in the NFC playoffs, when he threw two tough interceptions and the Falcons came out of character, Ryan took things hard -- but not in a hang-my-head-down-I-need-to-go-somewhere-to-clean-out-my-head hard. He got film from coaches before the lockout, studied during the lockout when he wasn't orchestrating player workouts, and put in the time to enhance his game. In Atlanta's preseason-opening loss, Ryan led the Falcons to a 17-0 lead before fans could order popcorn.
Ryan was relentless in executing the offense and putting pass after pass on the mark during practice Sunday. Once the three-hour morning session wrapped up, he took backup Chris Redman to a side field and ran gassers while the rest of the team filtered into the locker room, which is customary. Ryan wants to be great, and for his team to win he clearly won't be outworked while trying to reach his goals.
Peters carted off field
2. Cornerback Dunta Robinson, who signed a six-year, $57 million free-agent contract last season, looks like he's back to form. Robinson got off to a slow start last season, then suffered a concussion and injured his knee on the memorable head shot on Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. He came on as the season went on and now that he's fully in tune with the scheme, Robinson looks really, really good.
"People don't remember he missed 30 practices in training camp because of his hamstring," coach Mike Smith said. "It was huge for him to be able to participate in all these practices. He progressed at the end of last season and is playing at the level that we anticipated."
3. One of the most underrated position coaches in the NFL could be Falcons offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. He has crafted a nasty offensive line, which retained two core free agents in left guard Justin Blalock and right tackle Tyson Clabo -- one of the nastiest players in the league who was in the Pro Bowl last season. With the loss of right guard Harvey Dahl in free agency, Boudreau has inserted massive 6-foot-7, 310-pound guard Garrett Reynolds next to Clabo. Atlanta doesn't look as if it's missed a beat. The unit is a sum of its parts, and Boudreau has coached up the talent to where there is notable depth behind a very strong first unit.
4. Defensive end John Abraham, 33, looks as fresh as ever. Coming off a season with 13.0 sacks and two forced fumbles, the highly underappreciated Abraham could actually have a bigger season due to the acquisition of defensive end Ray Edwards. Other than defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, Abraham hasn't had a consistent presence to complement him. Now he does. To reinforce this point again, Abraham is much more than a pass rusher, too.
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» Ray Edwards. Edwards is coming off knee surgery, so he's been limited to individual drills in practice and did not play in the preseason opener. The Falcons like the fact that he has the size, makeup and resume of what they want at the position. They also like that he can play the run and pass. The past few seasons they'd have to rotate pass rushers (Kroy Biermann) with run stoppers (ex-Falcons DE Jamaal Anderson), which would tip the defensive play call.
» Jacquizz Rodgers. There was a lot of buzz about the former Oregon State running back when he was drafted in the fifth round, but he's deep on the depth chart and has an uphill climb. Antone Smith and Gartrell Johnson are currently behind Michael Turner and Jason Snelling. Rodgers, at 5-foot-6, has some scatback potential, but was physically overmatched in pass protection in the preseason opener against Miami.
» Kerry Meier. He's entering his second season, but the 6-foot-3, 220-pound wide receiver is going to be a nice No. 4 wideout. Meier was impressing before he got hurt (knee) last season and he's back at it now.
The acquisition of Julio Jones could take some of the offensive focus off Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White, but White has been very welcoming of the rookie. Don't expect that to change. Though White loves the fact that he's finally being recognized as one of the top wide receivers in the game, he likes that he finally might have someone other than TE Tony Gonzalez that can draw double coverages away from him.
Ryan will have his best season to date. He's got more options, but more importantly he's going to be a better player. He's one of the most driven players I've ever seen. I'm not sure that translates into a deeper playoff run because the defense has to play tougher and create more turnovers -- an element has been the key for the last two Super Bowl champs.