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Falcons go West Coast

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; By Marcus W. Vanderberg ESPN.com 2003 RECORD: 5-11 TEAM RANK (NFL): Defense (32nd); Offense (29th) ADDITIONS: Free agents -- CB Jason Webster (49ers), DT Rod Coleman (Raiders), LB Eric Johnson (Raiders), OG Steve Herndon (Broncos), OL Eric Beverly (Lions), RB ...

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Old 06-14-2004, 06:39 PM   #1
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Falcons go West Coast

By Marcus W. Vanderberg

2003 RECORD: 5-11

TEAM RANK (NFL): Defense (32nd); Offense (29th)
Free agents -- CB Jason Webster (49ers), DT Rod Coleman (Raiders), LB Eric Johnson (Raiders), OG Steve Herndon (Broncos), OL Eric Beverly (Lions), RB James Fenderson (Saints), WR Dez White (Bears), TE Hunter Goodwin (Vikings), QB Ty Detmer (Lions), CB Aaron Beasley (Jets), LB Jamie Duncan (Rams).
Draft picks -- 1a. CB DeAngelo Hall (Virginia Tech), 1b. WR Mike Jenkins (Ohio State), 3. QB Matt Schuab (Virginia), 4. OLB Demorrio Williams (Nebraska), 5. DT Chad Lavalais (LSU), 6. Etric Priutt (Southern Mississippi), 7. RB Quincy Wilson (West Virginia).
CB Ray Buchanan (Raiders), LB Sam Rogers (released), DT Devone Claybrooks (released), LB James Cotton (released), CB Juran Bolden (Jaguars), TE Brian Kozlowski (Redskins), OG Travis Claridge (Panthers), QB Kurt Kittner (Bengals), LB Keith Newman (Vikings), CB Tyrone Williams (released), WR LaTarence Dunbar (released)

Mon., June 14
Will the West Coast offense have much of an impact one way or the other on Vick?
Even owner Arthur Blank has publicly addressed the significance of the West Coast offense for Michael Vick and so the Falcons, from the top of the organization on down, must be convinced that the offense is the elixir for a premier athlete who is not yet a top-shelf quarterback. New coach Jim Mora brought former 49ers offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp, a longtime West Coast disciple, with him when he was hired. The Falcons signed veteran Ty Detmer, who is well-versed in the offense, to help tutor Vick during his transition period. And they assure that Vick had a comfort level, they retained Mike Johnson, his quarterback coach from 2003. Will any of it make a difference? Well, the incredible mobility of Vick is a strength that will certainly be enhanced in the West Coast design, an offense that functions best with a quarterback who can move around. But the West Coast style also mandates accuracy and decisiveness and, to be frank, those are qualities Vick has yet to manifest in three seasons. In the NFL, he has completed 52.2 percent of his passes, never more than 55 percent in a season. In two seasons at Virginia Tech, he was a 56.5-percent passer. West Coast-style quarterbacks are expected to complete nearly two-thirds of their attempts, so Vick has a way to go. And while the offense allows for creativity, it also is built around discipline and decision-making. Vick, on the other hand, is at his best when he is making up stuff as he goes along. So while Vick is ballyhooed as a quarterback who should do well in the West Coast scheme, he still has some big strides to take in the new offense.

What they've added?
The most important acquisition might not be any one athlete, but an executive in the front office.

When Rich McKay was named president and general manager of the Falcons on Dec. 15, 2003, the former Tampa Bay general manager was determined to improve an injury-riddled team that limped to a disappointing last-place finish, one year removed from its first playoff appearance since the 1998 season. McKay wasted little time on the job before finding a replacement for former head coach Dan Reeves, who was fired with three games remaining in the 2003 campaign.

Jim Mora, the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers since 1999, was hired to replace interim coach Wade Phillips in January, bringing Atlanta youth (third youngest head coach at age of 42) and a nose for defense.

From there, McKay recognized the Falcons need for improvement on the defensive side of the ball, signing free agents Rod Coleman and Jason Webster. Coleman recorded 52 tackles and five sacks last season, and had a career-high 11 sacks in 2002. Webster is coming off a season in which he was limited to only five games and just two starts due to a hairline fracture of his tibia, a torn knee capsule and damage to his medial collateral ligament.

"I'm 100 percent and ready to start the offseason training," Webster said.

In an effort to shore up a woeful pass defense (allowed 237.5 yards per game), the Falcons signed cornerback Aaron Beasley and used their first-round draft pick on cornerback DeAngelo Hall from Virginia Tech. At 5-foot-10, Hall is a bit undersized for a cornerback but will make up for any setback with his speed (Hall was clocked at 4.15 on an indoor track) and is penciled in as the No. 1 left cornerback when the season begins in September.

Offensively, the Falcons are anticipating the return of a healthy Michael Vick for the entire 2004 season and in preparation, provided the quarterback with a couple of targets in Dez White and Michael Jenkins. Looking to lift some of the pressure, and defenders, off wide receiver Peerless Price, White had been stuck in the quarterback carousel known as the Chicago Bears for his first four professional seasons but still showed signs of ability even with mediocre players throwing to him (49 catches for 583 yards in 2003). The Falcons signed veteran quarterback Ty Detmer, who hasn't taken a snap since 2002. At 36, Detmer will provide more in the mentoring and growth of Vick as the No. 3 quarterback than he will on the field.

"We need a legitimate No. 2 quarterback," Mora said after signing Detmer.

Luckily, Mora might have drafted one in Virginia rookie Matt Schaub. While not nearly as mobile as Vick, Schaub has good size (6-5) and ran a version of the West Coast offense with the Cavaliers.

What are they missing?
After spending nearly $65 million on two defenders, the Falcons still lack depth in the secondary. Free safety Keion Carpenter suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament June 2 in a non-contact drill and is expected to be out for the season. Other than veteran Cory Hall, the remaining Falcons safeties (Bryan Scott, Kevin McCadam, Etric Pruitt, Siddeeq Shabazz) have just 11 career starts among them.

Running backs Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett should expect to work just that much harder as guard Travis Claridge was signed by the Carolina Panthers, leaving a hole on a weak offensive line. Alex Gibbs, who was brought in by Mora to be the assistant head coach in addition to the offensive line coach, changed the blocking scheme and felt that Claridge wasn't a good fit.

As for Dunn, he has not participated in mini-camp workouts as the eight-year veteran is rehabilitating from surgery due to a torn ligament in his left foot suffered last season.

What it all means?
The Falcons' success depends solely on the arm and legs of Vick as was proven last season (2-10 without Vick, 3-1 with him). With the additions of White and Jenkins, along with returnees tight end Alge Crumpler and wide receiver Brian Finneran, Vick should have several options. But even as great as an athlete as Vick is, he can't tackle the opposing team's running back. Another repeat performance by a defense that allowed close to 400 yards per game and the Falcons will find themselves at home in January.

The NFC South is no slouch with the Super Bowl runner-ups Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- who acquired a laundry list of players including Joey Galloway and running back Charlie Garner -- both battling for first place. It will take possibly a 10-6 record for the Falcons to reach the playoffs.


[Edited on 14/6/2004 by saintz08]
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