Found July 23, 2013 on Fox Sports:
The Atlanta Falcons tried four times to win a playoff game under coach Mike Smith before reaching the NFC championship game last season. Anything shy of the Super Bowl will be a big disappointment this year. The Falcons loaded up in the offseason by luring Tony Gonzalez out of retirement, signing Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora and drafting cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. They still lack a proven pass rusher on the left side of the defensive line opposite Umenyiora. Other concerns are a lack of depth at linebacker and second-year center Peter Konz as a first-time starter. Even so, the Falcons believe Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have put together a roster that can seriously compete for the Lombardi Trophy. One mantra this season is to get Gonzalez, the NFL's No. 2-career leading receiver and career-leading tight end, to New York for the Super Bowl. He waited 16 years to finally win a playoff game and returned for a final season after Atlanta finished 10 yards shy of winning the NFC title. The team also hopes to re-sign franchise quarterback Matt Ryan to a long-term contract so to avoid the situation becoming a distraction. Five things to know as the Falcons prepare to open training camp this week in Flowery Branch, Ga. 1. BREAKOUT SEASON FOR JONES: Receiver Julio Jones could be on the cusp of becoming one of the league's top star receivers. Jones made big improvements last year in getting separation from defenders, reading coverages and understanding where Ryan needs him to run if a route needs adjusting. If he and Roddy White stay healthy, the Falcons' dual-threat wideouts could improve their combined numbers from last season - 171 catches, 2,540 yards and 17 touchdowns. But to keep the offense focused, Atlanta needs to re-sign Ryan soon. The team doesn't want to have him turn down an offer, and like Baltimore's wait-and-see approach with Joe Flacco, have to cut veteran players next year to fit an even bigger deal for Ryan under the salary cap. 2. NO WEAK-LINK LINEBACKERS : Sean Weatherspoon calls the defensive sets and emerged last year as the unit's leader on and off the field. But injuries sidelined him for three games last season and for five games as a rookie. Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas, the two other mainstay linebackers in coordinator Mike Nolan's multiple schemes, return but all three have plenty of room for improvement. San Francisco's air attack easily exposed Nicholas' difficulties in the NFC championship loss. Of the six other linebackers in camp, only Robert James has experience. 3. SHORT-YARDAGE SOLUTIONS: The Falcons hope Jackson's arrival fixes two big problems in the running game. Jackson's predecessor, Michael Turner, did a solid job in his first three seasons, but short-yardage situations were an embarrassment in both 2011 and '12. Arguably worse was Atlanta's difficulty in running to control second-half leads and time of possession by converting third downs. Jackson is the NFL's leading active rusher and says he's as good on fourth-and-1 as he is in breaking tackles and reaching the second and third levels of the defense. Second-year fullback Bradie Ewing is a first-year starter who missed last season with a knee injury. 4. QUESTIONS AT DEFENSIVE LINE, SECONDARY: Like Jackson, Umenyiora has impressed Smith and his new teammates by arriving early, staying late and helping young players understand their roles. Umenyiora replaces right end John Abraham, who was released as the NFL's active sacks leader, but the Falcons still lack a consistent pass rush presence at left end. Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Massaquoi, Cliff Matthews and rookies Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Moponga are all candidates to start. In the secondary, starting left cornerback Asante Samuel needs to stay healthy with Trufant, the likely starter on the right side, and second-round pick Alford are inexperienced. 5. NO HOT SEAT, BUT IT'S NOT EXACTLY COOL: Smith has won more games than any Falcons coach, and he accomplished the seemingly impossible when his 2009 team was the first in franchise's 44-year history to post consecutive seasons. He's created a good vibe in Atlanta if you consider that established stars like Gonzalez, Jackson, Umenyiora and Samuel are eager to play for Smith, but he must find a way to avoid another disappointment in January. Last season's crushing defeat in the NFC championship game still resonates, and that can't happen again. --- Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
AROUND THE WEB
RELATED ARTICLES

Falcons: 5 players to watch in training camp

With training camp fast approaching, Falcons writer John Manasso breaks down the five Falcons players to watch closely. To read his five position battles to watch in Falcons camp, click here. Brian Banks, linebacker When the Falcons signed him, it was one of the feel-good stories of the offseason. Banks spent time in jail for a crime of which he was falsely accused and later exonerated...

Falcons enter camp with draft picks signed, not Ryan

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. The Atlanta Falcons finished up one minor signing and one fairly significant signing on Wednesday, the eve of training camp, while one major contract extension remains in limbo. Seventh-round pick Sean Renfree, a quarterback out of Duke, signed on Wednesday as did first-round pick Desmond Trufant, a cornerback out of Washington who is favored to start. Since...

Falcons Sign Defensive Messiah and Some QB

It appears that Thomas Dimitroff finally got that shipment of pens this morning because he made two signings before I even had lunch.  Yes, after much hullabaloo, Atlanta signed a guy tasked with helping lock down our consistently inconsistent secondary. Trufant (left) and Dimitroff (right), in case that wasn't clear. More info after the jump. Falcons...

Falcons, CB Trufant agree on deal

The Falcons and Desmond Trufant have agreed to multi-year deal and the rookie cornerback will report to training camp on time. Atlanta announced the deal Wednesday but did not release terms of the contract. However, a person familiar with the situation says it's a four-year, $8.16 million contract - of which $4.3 million is guaranteed. The person spoke to The Associated Press...

Atlanta Falcons Sign QB Sean Renfree

The Atlanta Falcons have come to an agreement with their late round quarterback draft pick Sean Renfree on a four-year deal. The former Duke starter, has the physical attributes to be a very solid backup quarterback in the NFL. Armed with size and a great feel on his passes, he will backup franchise quarterback Matt Ryan and second stringer Dominique Davis. The post Atlanta Falcons...

Falcons reportedly reach an agreement with Desmond Trufant

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Atlanta Falcons have reached an agreement with rookie first round pick, cornerback Desmond Trufant. Falcons and first-round pick Desmond Trufant reached agreement on a new deal. — Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 24, 2013 Need NFL Tickets? Loading... ZergNet The post Falcons reportedly reach an agreement with Desmond Trufant...

Fantasy Football 2013: Steven Jackson Is a First Round Steal

This year the fantasy drafts will be full of interesting choices.  First be sure you aren't hoodwinked in the first round.  I can help with that.  Second be sure you get the best value for your money. I can also help with that.  And here is how, I am going to give you the best steal of 2013 fantasy football drafts.Steven Jackson. Jackson formerly of the lackless Saint Louis...

How Was Matt Ryan on Third Down in 2012?

Falcons training camp kicks off on Thursday July 25th and all still seems to be quiet on the contract front with Matt Ryan. Will the Falcons get a deal done before the season or will they go the Joe Flacco route and wait until after the season? It's a big question. So just how good is Matt Ryan? It's a question that comes up often and Matty Ice took one step towards...

Falcons: 5 position battles to watch during camp

ATLANTA In the spirit of Phil Mickelson's first Open Championship golf title ('Lefty' to his fans), the Atlanta Falcons will start training camp on Thursday with the majority of talent and depth slanted to the left side for both offense and defense. The right side with the notable exception of defensive end Osi Umenyiora stands out as the weaker half. Right tackle...

KSK 2013 NFL Prekkake: Atlanta Falcons

Last season: 13-3, NFC South champs, lost in NFC Championship Game Acquisitions: Steven Jackson, Osi Umenyiora, Desmond Trufant, Brian Banks Departures: Michael Turner, John Abraham, Dunta Robinson, Tyson Clabo Vegas 2013 win total over/under: 10 wins Verdict: PUSH Five incredible planned features for the Falcons as-yet-unbuilt new stadium: - Sphincter dome - 100-yard bar - Rumble...

John Abraham Meeting With Cardinals

John Abraham might not be unemployed too much longer. Mike Jurecki of XTRA 910 is reporting that Abraham is visiting with the Cardinals on Wednesday. Hearing free agent DE/OLB John Abraham is visiting the #Cardinals today, drafted in 2000, 122 career sacks & 32.5 sacks in the last 3 years. — Mike Jurecki (@mikejurecki) July 24, 2013 The thirteen year veteran has 122 career...

Players to Watch NFC South

Our players to watch segment now takes a look at the NFC South Atlanta Falcons: Peter Konz C- This will be Konz first season as the full time center as he replaces veteran Todd McClure. The second rounder was the Falcons first pick in 2012 and started 10 games at right guard last year. In his starts he showed flashes of that great technique that Wisconsin Offensive Lineman are known...

Report: John Abraham Visiting With The Cardinals

Mike Jurecki is “hearing” that free agent DE/OLB John Abraham is visiting with the Cardinals on Wednesday. Abraham, 35, remains one of the best available free agents. Although he’s coming off of a season in which he totaled 10 sacks for the Falcons defense, there has been very little buzz surrounding him in the past few months. Previous reports indicated that Abraham’s asking...
Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.