Steve Wyche - Staff
Monday, June 19, 2006
With Pro Bowl tight end/Michael Vick's favorite target Alge Crumpler held out of offseason drills due to a knee repaired by arthroscopic surgery, Falcons quarterbacks --- especially Vick --- were forced to focus more on the perimeter passing game.
The unforeseen offshoot: an improved recognition of the passing game and improved chemistry between quarterbacks and wide receivers, coach Jim Mora said.
"With Alge such a comfort zone, taking him out of the mix, that was 16 practices where Mike couldn't go to Alge," Mora said. "It, subconsciously, forced him to throw more outside than inside. I'm sure it helped things between Mike, Roddy White, [Michael Jenkins], [Brian Finneran] and Adam Jennings and Jerome Pathon. That was my feeling."
Mora cautioned that the progress came during noncontact drills and that real answers will come after the team begins training camp July 27. Below is a position-by-position breakdown of how things stand now that offseason workouts are finished, prioritized by areas of uncertainty.
Darrell Shropshire, a seventh-round pick last season, started his offseason workouts a month before most players. He is stronger, faster and "very hungry" said defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. He could push for starter Chad Lavalais' job. There are no plans now to add a veteran, like Brentson Buckner, but he could be an option if the Falcons aren't satisfied a few days into training camp.
Zac Derr and Tony Yelk showed nothing to elicit confidence. The auditions will probably continue through preseason, with more and more veterans getting a shot. Last season's kicker, Todd Peterson, remains an option.
Jerious Norwood has made headway toward replacing T.J. Duckett as the No. 2 tailback. Athleticism aside, Norwood's adaptation to the offense --- especially blitz pickups and receiving skills --- could keep Duckett on the trading block.
In the battle for the No. 3 spot, second-year man Bryan Randall has the edge over rookie D.J. Shockley because of experience, Mora said. Shockley's huddle presence, poise and magnetic persona have him in the coaches' good graces. Preseason performances will determine who's on the active roster and who's on the practice squad.
Newcomers Lawyer Milloy and Chris Crocker have been huge additions, Mora said. The Falcons will search for free-agent depth. Ronnie Heard is a possibility, but Mora wants to see if any nasty-tempered players become available. Coaches really like second-year man Cam Newton, but he has to prove himself in the preseason.
Draft pick Adam Jennings has turned heads but judgment is being withheld until the diminutive, potential No. 4 man makes some real catches over the middle. Starter Roddy White has been very impressive, Mora said.
Things seem pretty set, with Wayne Gandy settling in at left tackle. Coaches are looking hard at Ben Claxton to compete with Matt Lehr at left guard, but they seem more concerned with adding a backup who could swing between guard and center.
Middle man Ed Hartwell, recovering from a season-ending Achilles tendon tear, was limited for most of the offseason, but he went through all drills in the final week of offseason workouts and was moving and reacting well, Donatell said.
"It was important for him to gain some confidence that he can make it through a practice or two," Mora said. "It gave us a gauge on where he was, and it was good for teammates to see him out there."
Second-year player Chauncey Davis will back up John Abraham and Patrick Kerney and could be used a lot on first-down, running situations.
Rookie Jimmy Williams has struggled in man coverage but has looked comfortable in zone schemes and run recognition, Mora said. He will start at corner in nickel packages, moving base-defense starter Jason Webster into the slot. Undrafted rookie Brent Grimes (Shippensburg University) could be a sleeper.