Atlanta Falcons Team Report

The Atlanta Falcons are just two days away from their first test of the 2006 NFL season -- a preseason game against the New England Patriots. Atlanta has experienced a taste of the playoffs, and is expected to make another run in 2006. Is QB Michael Vick mature enough to handle the pressure? His coach thinks so.

Michael Vick opened camp by publicly apologizing for poor preparation and a lack of determination in Week 17 last season.

What does such an acknowledgement really mean?

No team wants its most visible leader making comments like, "As I look back on the game, I saw some things I could have done better. ... That will never happen again. I apologized to my teammates, my coaches and myself and my family for doing that."

To hear this coming from a three-time Pro Bowl selection -- a quarterback who, 19 months earlier, signed the NFL's richest contract -- is disturbing, but Vick routinely contradicts himself in brief interviews.

Hindsight wasn't necessary to reveal Vick as a frustrated star last year. The first overall draft choice of 2001 found that he could no longer simply will himself to take games over.

Ending the season with a humiliating 44-11 home loss to Carolina only made Vick hurt worse. He glanced down at the Superman tattoo on his hand and admitted a glaring weakness: There are no exceptions for players who want to build a lasting legacy in the NFL.

All the great ones don't just execute; they prepare as hard as they play.

The overtime loss at Tampa Bay the previous week had ended Atlanta's postseason hopes, but Vick sees now that he did a poor job of putting defeat behind him.

"I've learned some things the hard way, to experience some things I had to experience at the end of last season," Vick said. "I think it only made me stronger."

Rather than interpret Vick's comments as negative, head coach Jim Mora sees more maturity in his franchise cornerstone.

"I think a leader sometimes does that," Mora said. "He's not afraid to admit, 'You know what? I'm not perfect and I'm not afraid to tell you when I'm wrong.' I think leaders do that. He kind of challenges himself to say, 'This will never happen again and this is not what I'm about.' "

Mora insists he saw no evidence of waning enthusiasm or intensity in Vick's performance against the Panthers.

"To me, Mike is the only person who would really know if that's in fact the case," Mora said. "I appreciate his frankness. I didn't notice it. I've said he's one of the most competitive guys I've been around. He competes. He hates to lose. He loves to win and he loves to compete and to always be at his best."

With the 2006 season opener at Carolina still six weeks away, it's too early to tell how Vick will respond once he and his team hit a rough spot. From 2002-04, Vick never lost to the Panthers in five tries, but neither game was close last season.

Everyone knows the 26-year-old former Virginia Tech standout must improve his accuracy; he completed just 55.3 percent of his passes and had a 73.1 rating with 15 touchdowns and a career-high 13 interceptions in '05.

"I think my confidence is up this year," Vick said. "I think my preparation is going to be 10 times better. I think this is going to be a legitimate year for me to put this team in position to compete for that trophy. That's my only focus, my only goal."

CAMP CALENDAR: Through Aug. 25. No scrimmages will be held with other teams.

Cornerback Jimmy Williams #4 (L) and wide receiver Michael Jenkins #12 of the Altanta Falcons go for the ball during the Atlanta Falcons training camp on July 27, 2006 in Flowery Branch, Georgia. (Photo by Barry Williams/Getty Images)

NOTES

--Wayne Gandy knew from the start that he would not play long in New Orleans under new coach Sean Payton.

Needless to say, the 13th-year veteran offensive tackle was delighted when the Falcons traded for him on April 6.

He didn't have to travel far. Gandy, who starred at Auburn before the Los Angeles Rams made him the NFL's 15th overall draft choice in 1994, has lived in Atlanta throughout his career.

Blocking the last three years for Deuce McAllister and the Saints' traditional power-run game, Gandy wasn't asked to do much zone-blocking, which coach Alex Gibbs installed to help the Falcons lead the league in rushing the last two years.

"It's kind of like a musical," Gandy said. "There's a lot more running, a lot more communication. You've got to know who's going where."

--Carlos Martinez, who spent three seasons with the Dallas Desperados in the arena league, is the latest candidate signed to challenge for the placekicking job.

The Falcons seem determined that they will not re-sign Todd Peterson even though he converted 23 of 25 field-goal attempts. Tony Yelk, who has no NFL experience, is also trying out, but Atlanta is likely biding time until other teams announce cuts.

Punter Michael Koenen impressed head coach Jim Mora during the first week of camp by one day hitting all three attempts, including one from 60 yards out. As a rookie last year, Koenen hit from 58 yards when Tampa Bay won at the Georgia Dome.

"We are not sure if we want to place the burden of being the punter and the placekicker," Mora said. "He certainly looks capable physically of doing it. It's just a heavy burden."

--As they prepare to face the Patriots at the Dome in the preseason opener for both teams Friday night, Mora is eager to watch how rookies and inexperienced players perform.

"There are a lot of guys that look great out in practice and just fall apart in a game," Mora said. "They can't make decisions, they can't react. The pressure is too much and the speed of the game is too fast. That's kind of fun to watch for me."

Other players surprise coaches by making the most of their first chance.

"There are other guys that shine when a game starts," Mora said. "I think it's critical you put guys in situations where you test them. There's the overall test of, 'Can they handle a game experience and then situations?' Put (Jerious) Norwood in on third-and-1 and see if he can get a yard. You got to have that happen."

THEY SAID IT: "People love us as a football team, and they've got high hopes this year, and we just want to make them happy. You really don't want to be a part of all the melee and pandemonium -- you know what I'm saying? That's going on, but you still enjoy it, man, because there's people out here screaming, and they're screaming for us." -- Quarterback Michael Vick after talking to fans and signing autographs at a team festival that drew 12,000 to Atlanta's Piedmont Park.

 

Quarterback D.J. Shockley #1 of the Atlanta Falcons looks to pass during the Atlanta Falcons training camp on July 27, 2006 in Flowery Branch, Georgia. (Photo by Barry Williams/Getty Images)

 

PERSONNEL

Brian Finneran's season-ending knee injury, suffered on the fourth day of camp, has created chances for rookie Adam Jennings and ninth-year veteran Jerome Pathon, but the Falcons are still likely to sign another veteran before the Week 1 opener at Carolina.

Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall will have some chances to take snaps at receiver, but Jennings, a sixth-round pick from Fresno State, is a long-term project who has impressed coaches during the first 10 days of camp.

Demorrio Williams, who started five games last year at strongside and 11 at weakside, resumes the role he had as a rookie in 2004. Unless something unexpected occurs, coaches plan for Williams to work as the second nickel linebacker next to five-time Pro Bowl pick Keith Brooking.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Jason Webster vs. Jimmy Williams for starting RCB -- Mora has endorsed Webster as the starter even though he missed several sessions midway through the first week with an ankle sprain. Williams has not disappointed, but he hasn't dazzled, either.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Running back T.J. Duckett has done nothing to relinquish his hold on the No. 2 job behind Warrick Dunn. Rookie Jerious Norwood fumbled three times in the first five practices, so he remains behind Duckett.

--Darrell Shropshire hasn't been named a starter yet, but he continues to gain on incumbent nose tackle Chad Lavalais.

--Chauncey Davis, a second-year veteran, and rookie Quinn Ojinnaka still are ahead in their bids to win jobs, respectively, as the No. 3 defensive end and the No. 3 offensive tackle.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Lawyer Milloy, the new starter at strong safety, provides the kind of toughness Atlanta so desperately lacked at the position last year with the departed Bryan Scott.

ROOKIE REPORT: Running back Jerious Norwood has the kind of speed that catches your eye. He's too green, however, to unseat T.J. Duckett as the No. 2 option behind starter Warrick Dunn.

--Cornerback Jimmy Williams will play outside, with Jason Webster in the slot, when the defense uses a nickel formation.
--Coaches like the aggression of offensive tackle Quinn Ojinnaka, who's listed behind right-side starter Todd Weiner.
--Receiver Adam Jennings has great speed, but his 5-9, 181 frame makes it difficult to shine as a blocker in the run-heavy offense.
--Quarterback D.J. Shockley did nothing to separate himself from Bryan Randall in his quest to win the third-string job.

INJURY REPORT: QB Michael Vick (hamstring) missed three days, but returned for three weekend sessions to run the first-team offense.
--TE Alge Crumpler (shoulder) is participating in 11-on-11 team drills but staying out of full contact work.
--WR Roddy White (hamstring) left practice Sunday, but his injury isn't a big concern to Mora.
--RG Kynan Forney (ankle) had negative results from an X-ray and returned late in the week.
--WR Jerome Pathon (hamstring), CB Jason Webster (foot) and CB Allen Rossum (hamstring) are taking caution to rest and stretch more than usual.

Regardless of what his role ends up being for the Patriots Brady's initial reaction to Jackson, a guy he knows he may have to count on this fall, has been positive.

"I like him a lot," Brady said after his first mini-camp practice working with Jackson. "He's a smart kid. He's really willing to learn. He's excited. He had a great, productive college career. He's coming in and he's really working hard, which I think everybody is impressed by-his work ethic. I wish I had gotten him the ball a little bit more today. I was walking off the field realizing I've got to start getting him the football. I'm excited about him, and I know he's excited about being here."

Having Brady excited about you as a receiver is a good thing at this point. Now the only question is whether Jackson can live up to the high rookie season expectations that will likely be thrown in his direction as often as the ball this fall.


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