The Falcons get back on the field tonight, and even without major personnel changes, went through quite a few transformations in the off-season from the coaching staff on down. While we'lll only get a brief chance to survey the big guns tonight, there will still be plenty of things to watch for and discuss when the clock hits 00:00 on yet another Preseason clash between the Falcons vs. The OhGodPleaseDon'tNeedlesslyMaimOurQB Ravens.
First Off - Something I Don"t Want To See Tonight:
Well - that's if it were Matt Ryan, and not Michael Vick. If someone brought Michael Vick out into the middle of the field, slapped his old Falcons uniform on him, and broke his leg again...well...that'd be alright with me. Ultimately, just want to make sure everyone stays good and healthy for the next 21-22 weeks, and that starts tonight. As Falcons fans - we know players can get hurt at any time - whether it be in a preseason game, or straining a wrist ligament when an undercover Miami vice cop slaps cuffs on you the day before Super Bowl XXXIII. On to things I want to see from members of the current team:
1) Young defensive playmakers - I was going to do one each about Dent, Spoon, and Sir Lawrence of Sidbury - but I'll just put them all here together. More than any 3 players in the front 7, this is the trio that could really transofrm the D under Mike Nolan. Sidbury has been handed more of a free, hybrid, DE/OLB role which I think suits his talents. He was a ferocious pass rusher at the FCS level, and Jared Allen aside, those type of players at that level generally translate better to an edge and open field role. If he can begin his path to an 8-10 sack season tonight, we'll know the coordinator change was more than just symbolce. Dent, of course, has the biggest shoes to fill with the departure of Curtis Lofton and Lofa Tatupu's freak, but sadly predictable, injury (remember what I said about injuries happening anytime?). His ability to roam the middle, read the offense, and make plays could make Thomas Dmitroff look like a frugal genius. As for Spoon - he's now the leader of the linebacking corp. No one is more vocal and agressive - and in a more diversified defense he can go from being considered one of the more promising 4-3 OLBs in the league, to a top OLB, regardless of scheme.
2) The vertical passing game actually existing - I haven't seen any footage, or been to practice, but I have heard it was sighted there. We'll have Julio, Roddy, and Matty Ice on the field for a bit tonight, so I hope my grainy Hi-8 footage allows me to record it glimpsing over its shoulder at me before it lumbers back into the woods.
3) The 4th Wide Receiver emerge - White and Jones look ready to become 1a and 1b - with Harry a distant 3rd. After that, it gets pretty murky. Kerry Meier looked great in pre-season 2 years ago when he...wait for it...got randomly injured. Most feel it's his to lose, and hopefully being a full offseason removed from injury will help him reach that potential. The rest of the crew is mostly constructed of promising, yet completely unproven, guys like Michael Calvin, Kevin Cone, and (with apologies to Asante Samuel) Little Lil' Homey, James Rodgers. All of them have their various strenghts - Meier's posession, Cone's raw athleticism, Calvin's track star speed, and Rodgers savvy and experience. Likely only 2 of these guys are wearing a Falcons jersey in Arrowhead next month - we have a chance to see who they might be tonight.
4) Peter Konz's Hauling and Grading, Inc. - we waited and waited for the Falcons first pick, and it ended up looking like a tremendous value. It will be even more so if Konz can plug a hole at the Guard position this year before, ideally, transitioning to Center in the next few seasons. The offensive line is going to be a big question mark overall, but getting immediate production from your top pick will go a long way to answering that query.
5) The Screen game's development - We've heard all Summer about finally keeping defenses off balance with this. Snelling and Rodgers are suited perfectly for this aspect of offensive football, but I would also like to see if they'll do what many won't expect and get Turner involved. While the consensus was that Dirk Koetter had little talent to work with in Jacksonville, he always knew how to get the ball to his best backfield player. If he can transform Turner into a dual threat, he won't have to pay for meals around town very often.
6) Some competition for 3rd QB - Looks like Dominique Davis might actually make the Falcons think about carrying a 3rd QB this year, or at least bump JPW off the practice squad. Davis was incredbly productive in an Air Raid offense at East Carolina. That said - he was at least enough of a traditional passer to get a scholarship from Jeff Jagodzinski and Boston College, where he redshirted while Matt Ryan was a Senior. Here's another chance for him to be on the same roster as #2. Those are the things I'll be watching tonight. What do you want to see?