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State of the Falcons - Training Camp Preview
David Dorey
July 16, 2009
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This series of analysis on the 32 NFL teams takes a look at where teams have been over the last three years for each position - where they have ranked in the most notable categories and the hard statistics produced. This is to give a view of each team heading into training camp and what they most likely need to improve on this season and where their strengths lie that likely won't need any changes. Ending each team review is a brief summation of what to watch in training camp in August to uncover those developing situations that you can take advantage. Combining where teams have come from and what they have done in free agency and the NFL draft gives you the very same thing that NFL coaches are looking at as they attempt to improve their team for 2009.
Team Menu

Traning Camp Opens: July 31
Head Coach: Mike Smith (2nd year)
Stadium: Georgia Dome (Dome)  Surface: FieldTurf
2009 Schedule   2009 Roster   2008 Statistics   2008 Record: 11-5

QB Carries Rush YD Rush TD Pass Comp Comp % Pass YD YPP Pass TD Int Rank YD Rank TD
2006 126 1060 2 415 223 54% 2682 12 21 15 32 15
2007 28 56 0 555 336 61% 3573 10.6 18 15 17 20
2008 55 104 1 434 265 61% 3440 13 16 11 17 22

Quarterback - Everyone knows that starting a rookie quarterback is like throwing in the towel for the season. Except in this case, it must be the towel to the penthouse spa because Matt Ryan had one of the best rookie seasons of any quarterback when the Falcons went 11-5 on the season and made it to the playoffs. His numbers may be only average compared to all starting quarterbacks but 3440 yards and 16 touchdowns is a huge success for a first season. He didn't quite match Peyton Manning (3739 yards and 26 touchdowns) but then again, Ryan only threw for 11 interceptions against 16 scores. Manning has the all-time rookie record with 28 interceptions against his 26 scores. The only other comparable rookie was Roethlisberger (2621 yards and 17 touchdowns). To help prevent a sophomore slump, the Falcons acquired Tony Gonzalez for another premier weapon for Ryan.

RB Carries Rush YD YPC Rush TD Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD Rcv TD Rank YD Rank TY Rank TD
2006 405 1881 4.6 7 76 60 79% 454 5 8 15 25
2007 349 1383 4.0 7 108 71 66% 551 0 27 28 29
2008 491 2266 4.6 21 84 58 69% 525 2 3 2 4

Running Backs - Ryan was hardly the only pleasant surprise of 2008. Michael Turner was brought over from the Chargers in one of those "career back-up gets his shot" scenarios that rarely work out well. In this case - outstanding. The Falcons rocketed from being one of the worse rushing teams of 2007 to being top five in most rushing categories and the bulky Turner was nearly unstoppable in many games. The expectation that Jerious Norwood would have a bigger role was not the case since his 95 carries for 489 yards was a decrease from his previous seasons. Turner may not last ten more years since he is 244 pounds and already 27 years old, but he should be the franchise stud for several more years.

WR Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2006 221 97 44% 1372 14.1 8 32 29
2007 355 206 58% 2476 12.0 13 13 18
2008 312 188 60% 2704 14.4 12 7 16

Wide Receivers - The fear that a rookie quarterback would depress the stats for Roddy White after his breakout 2007 season was again - a pleasant surprise. White went from 83 catches for 1202 and six scores to turning in 88 receptions for 1382 yards and seven touchdowns last year. He accounted for more yards and scores than the rest of all Falcons wideouts combined. Michael Jenkins ( 50-777, 3 TD) was the only other receiver of note. Laurent Robinson was a factor in 2007 but fell from favor last year and was shipped to the Rams in the offseason. In his place Harry Douglas (23-320, 1 TD) took over the slot in his rookie season. This unit has gone from being one of the league worst under Michael Vick to now being above average with potential to become top ten as Matt Ryan improves.

TE Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2006 114 62 54% 856 13.8 8 8 4
2007 88 58 66% 542 9.3 5 20 18
2008 30 19 63% 211 11.1 2 32 28

Tight Ends
- It may seem curious why a team that has not used tight ends at all recently would crave the sure to be HOF 'er Tony Gonzalez in his twilight years but Gonzo has never been a "tight end". He's a playmaker and the centerpiece of the offense when he was in Kansas City. Now he goes to a playoff contender and could literally surpass the team tight end stats from 2008 by the third game of the season. He is 33 years of age now and every down he plays only drives him further into the record books. There's been no sign of him losing a step with over 95 catches in each of the last two years.

Training Camp Fantasy Angle - There has to be some concern about Michael Turner's 376 carries of 2008 and the team will want to lessen his load. That is sure to make Turner a non-factor in August to save him for the year but during the season the whole "yeah, but we really like winning games" seems to take precedence over Turner's workload concerns. August should see Norwood look like a bigger factor than he'll prove to be. More than anything, the summer needs to get Matt Ryan comfortable with Tony Gonzalez since he is not only a new player to the team, his position is relatively new to the playbook that Ryan is familiar with. For a team that was so surprising last year, the expectations are going to be pretty high in 2009 and the addition of Gonzo should be a big factor in meeting the expectations. Training camp is going to be all about Ryan-to-Gonzalez.

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