1. Adjust to the new blocking scheme.
Coach Bobby Petrino has implemented a more traditional, inline blocking system for the running game, which is a fairly significant change from the zone/cut-blocking scheme previously utilized by former coach Jim Mora and line guru Alex Gibbs.
Players have said the adjustment might not be as radical as it may seem since most of them, through youth leagues, high school, college and in the NFL, have played in more traditional blocking schemes.
Right tackle Todd Weiner is an underrated veteran who should easily make the change. Tackle Wayne Gandy might not be as physical against the run as he once was, but his craftiness has allowed him to succeed for 13 seasons. Center Todd McClure doesn't have the beef to deal with a lot of huge nose tackles so he might have to rely on some of the cut-blocking techniques to be effective.
The big challenge could come in the passing game. The Falcons have been inconsistent in pass protection, in part because the linemen were smaller and some of the schemes were difficult to execute. The admonishment of weight limits (most lineman were made to weigh less than 300 pounds) has players confident about their ability to succeed in pass protection.
2. Master the audible system.
For the first time, quarterback Michael Vick will be part of an offense that relies on audible calls. He has spent the offseason learning the system but there is still a long ways to go.
Backup Joey Harrington said the system is tough to learn and it's going to take a lot of repetition to grasp the audible game in its entirety. Former Louisville quarterback Chris Redman, who is competing with D.J. Shockley for the No. 3 job, was signed to help teach the system but he said it has evolved significantly and it's been tough for him to learn as well.
Despite some of the hardships of learning the system, Vick has welcomed it, as has Harrington. Harrington said this is the first offense he's been in that constantly puts pressure on the defense -- in large part because of the audible scheme. Not only are there multiple options on each play, but there are multiple options as plays develop, Harrington said.
The quarterbacks aren't the only pupils learning the audible installation. The linemen have to understand the calls and not only listen to Vick's commands but those of center Todd McClure. The wide receivers and running backs also have to be aware of the calls and hand signals at the line of scrimmage. As Petrino reiterates, everybody has to execute for the offense to succeed.
3. Solidify the secondary.
There could be two new starters in the defensive backfield, one a converted cornerback, the other, a rookie.
Jimmy Williams, who spent all of last season and part of this offseason working at cornerback, is vying to unseat Chris Crocker at free safety. Williams (6-3, 215) has the size, speed and physical nature to be a force. However, he has spent the past few years analyzing the defense from the corner, which is vastly different than having to diagnose the entire field while also remaining the last line of defense.
He is steadily learning his new spot, but for now, Crocker has not yielded his starting job.
The reason why Williams was moved to safety was the Falcons drafted Chris Houston to start at right cornerback, where Williams was projected to start. Houston is known as a strong press-coverage corner with exceptional closing speed.
If Williams emerges as the starting free safety, opposing teams likely will game plan to try and exploit him and Houston. Houston can expect to get picked on anyway since teams would prefer not to throw at two-time Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall.