I highly recommend this piece ($) by Len Pasquarelli on the Falcons. A few thoughts:
1. I've always been an advocate of speed over size on the defensive line, mainly as a reaction against Michigan's never-ending parade of bulky converted fullbacks and linebackers who get too big and slow and are good for nothing more than occupying blockers as opposing quarterbacks spend days picking out holes in zone coverage. Watching Michigan at noon and then Florida State at 3:30 on many Saturdays drove this point home with maximum impact, as the Noles have always had 280-pound DTs and 250-pound DEs and they create great pressure against opposing passers with a four-man rush, but are still violently abusive against opposing runners. It got to the point that I was trying to telepathically convince Mickey Andrews that his life would not be complete without moving to Ann Arbor and eating at Zingerman's on a daily basis.
Anyway, this leads me to the Falcons because the major issue facing the team right now is that their defensive line does seem a little undersized and that has been assigned as a reason why the team was so dreadful at stopping the run last year. It has also been argued that the John Abraham acquisition was a mistake because Abraham isn't great against the run. I'm not buying that for a couple reasons. First, the safeties were the biggest problem in terms of run defense last year because they permitted a host of plays to go from the six-yard variety to the soul-crushing 25-yard variety. They made Samkon Gado look like Earl Campbell. This year, the safeties won't look like confused Red Army soldiers on June 22, 1941, wondering whether or not they can fire back at the German hordes overrunning their positions. So we have that going for us, which is nice. Second, I trust Rich McKay, Jim Mora, and Ed Donatell to make good decisions with the defense and the fact that they have not brought in a jumbo DT is reassuring. (If the run defense problems remain, then we may regret not taking Gabe Watson with our third round pick...unless Jerious Norwood is running rampant on a regular basis.) Third, the defense was beset with injuries last year. I hate to use injuries as an excuse because most teams have them, but the Falcons were particularly hit by a wave of injuries in the front seven, so their epic struggles against the run last year might not be a sign of things to come. Fourth and finally, because NFL offenses are so pass-o-centric, weakness against the run is not that important in the NFL unless it forces a defense to commit more defenders to the box and thereby weakens the pass defense. I can't remember specifics about the Falcons' games in the second half of the season last year, but I wonder if the struggles against the run were, at least in part, the Falcons overcompensating for a poor pass defense?
2. I trust Pasquarelli's judgment on Mike Vick because Len has never bought into the Vick cult like many star-worshipping analysts, so his endorsement of Vick's footwork is very encouraging. Vick has often gotten away with poor mechanics, mainly because he's such a physical specimen that he doesn't need to have proper form to rocket the ball forward, but if he's listening to Bill Musgrave (who, incidentally, had a bizarre side-armed delivery at Oregon, so having him preach mechanics is a little odd) and is putting his feet in the right spots, then his accuracy will improve and we'll all have a Coke and a smile.
3. I don't like what I'm hearing about Michael Jenkins. My concern is that he's going to end up being a great athlete who never quite understood the technique required for being a great receiver. You hate to brand a player after three years, but a first round pick doesn't get forever to develop and if Jenkins hasn't shown improvement at the end of this year, then we're going to have to brand the decision to draft him as a mistake. Then again, it does help to keep telling myself that it takes a while for receivers to develop in the NFL.
4. Pasquarelli doesn't cover this in his article, but if Jimmy Williams can be brought up to speed on the Falcons' scheme in a relatively reasonable amount of time, I'm very excited to see how he looks opposite Deangelo Hall.
5. Taking the temperature of the Falcons' fan base, it seems that there is a lot of excitement for this team this year. The practice at Piedmont Park sold out in a matter of hours. The team that sometimes couldn't get more than 30,000 to its home games is now selling 7,500 tickets to an outdoor practice in August in hours. Falcons talk has also dominated the airwaves, in part because 790 is obsessed with the team and sometimes seems as if they've forgotten that college football is the straw that stirs the drink in this market, but it might be true that the Falcons are beginning to get close to college football in terms of fan interest. Countering all of this is the fact that I got off of the waiting list for season tickets this year after about three years of being on the list, so there are evidently a number of fans who did not renew their seats. This is obviously not a good fall for me to be going to eight games, so I declined to buy the tickets, but it was interesting that the list appears to be shortening.