2 Atlanta Falcons

If young deep threats Michael Jenkins and Roddy White get open and make plays, they will add another dimension to Michael Vick's game
September 04, 2005

HERE'S ALL you need to know about what kind of year the Falcons' receivers had in 2004.

•The No. 1 wideout, Peerless Price, was tied for 66th in the league in receptions, with 45.

•In 15 games they caught a total of seven touchdown passes from Michael Vick. By contrast, in 10 games Titans wideouts caught 14 TD passes from backup Billy Volek.

So the goal in the off-season was clear: Get some help for Vick so he'll be all that he can be. Following the selection of 6'5" Ohio State wideout Michael Jenkins with the 29th pick in the 2004 draft, Atlanta took a four-year starter from Alabama-Birmingham, Roddy White, with the 27th choice this year. The intent was to put White on a faster learning track than Jenkins was on a year ago, hoping White would be ready to contribute in the opener. However, because of a weeklong holdout at the start of camp and a high ankle sprain suffered in the second preseason game, White will open the season behind six-year veteran Dez White. Meanwhile Jenkins, who caught only seven balls in '04, passed the disappointing Price on the depth chart early in camp and is now the deep threat Vick has lacked. With Dez White and Jenkins starting, Price becomes the slot receiver in three-wide formations. Seven-year veteran Brian Finneran, a 6'5" target, will play in four-wide sets, and Roddy White will start out as the fifth receiver in special packages.

To take advantage of Vick's rocket arm, Atlanta has to have a burner in the lineup. The Falcons thought they had their man in Price, whom they acquired from the Bills in 2003 for a first-round draft pick and promptly signed to a seven-year, $35 million deal. But Price hasn't been able to get separation from defensive backs (in addition to being a poor blocker). Dez White is a possession receiver. Jenkins is a long strider who's still learning how to beat physical corners at the line. Roddy White, a two-time state high school wrestling champ, is physical and fast; he averaged 19.1 yards a catch at UAB. Jenkins and Roddy White are the future.

"Michael [Vick] is only 25," says receivers coach George Stewart, "and we're trying to build a core of receivers to grow with him. Jenkins is tall and spindly, but he'll fight you for the ball. And Roddy reminds me of a slightly smaller [Terrell Owens] in how he plays physically while still having the speed to beat you deep. One day in minicamp Vick pulled me aside and said, 'Stew, we gotta get this guy [Roddy] involved. He makes plays.'"

Says offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, who arrived in Atlanta with new coach Jim Mora in 2004, "We were like a start-up company last year, in our first year with the West Coast offense here. We had to hang our hat on one thing, and let's face it, it's easier to teach the run game than the pass game." In fact, the Falcons averaged a league-high 5.1 yards per rush.

Knapp thinks the team's goal this year of a 60% completion rate is realistic for the mobile, lefty Vick. "He went from, what, 50 percent to 56 percent accuracy in one year, in a new offense," Knapp says. "What I like about him this summer is how he's consistently hitting the second and third guys in his progression much more than he did last year. He may not ever be a 70 percent passer, but if he's 60 percent with those feet, he's going to win a lot of games."

Knapp says his ideal game plan would be a 50-50 run-pass split, but that's hard to manage with Vick taking snaps. On three to five plays a game he sprints outside and has the option to throw or take off. In 15 starts last year Vick averaged eight rushes a game--a few more than the Falcons would prefer. But that's where improvement at wide receiver will pay off: If Jenkins and Roddy White are the real deal, Knapp believes they will get open and entice Vick to more often choose to pass rather than scramble.

That could lead to more big plays for the Falcons--and lessen the risk of injury to the Franchise. --P.K.

PLAYMAKER

It's rare to find a fullback who blocks well and averages 10 yards a catch, but that's what Justin Griffith did last year (22 receptions for 220 yards in 12 games). "He's two-dimensional in the passing game," says offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. "He can pass-protect and make tacklers miss after the catch. And he was the lead blocker for the best running game in football last year." The 5'11", 232-pound Griffith, a third-year player, has rare balance for a fullback. Look for the Falcons to use him in the passing game even more this season.

AN OPPOSING SCOUT'S VIEW
ENEMY LINES

I bet the Falcons are the only team in this decade to start two tackles who weigh under 300 pounds. Kevin Shaffer's about 290, Todd Weiner 295 or so. Just goes to show you that their line guru, Alex Gibbs, is right: You can be great on the line without weighing 330. Quickness is as important as strength.... What Alge Crumpler does better than every tight end but Tony Gonzalez is get open downfield. He's got a knack for finding the right spot and then crushing anyone who gets in his way.... The best signing by far in free agency last year was Rod Coleman. It's amazing how much better the defensive ends were with so much attention paid to Coleman. It's impossible to block him with one guy.... I love what they've done at linebacker. Watch how good Ed Hartwell is without Ray Lewis to overshadow him in the middle.... Demorrio Williams is a second-year guy who makes too many mental mistakes, but wait until he learns what he's doing. He's excellent in coverage and at attacking the backfield.... I don't know why they paid Jason Webster to start at corner. He's small and gets beat in man coverage all the time. You can get those guys off the waiver wire.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics

OFFENSE

WARRICK DUNN
POS. -- RB
PVR -- 41
ATT. -- 265
YARDS -- 1,106
AVG. -- 4.2
REC. -- 29
YARDS -- 294
AVG. -- 10.1
TDs -- 9

MICHAEL VICK
POS. -- QB
PVR -- 38
ATT. -- 321
COMP. -- 181
% -- 56.4
YARDS -- 2,313
TDs -- 14
INT. -- 12
RATING -- 78.1

JUSTIN GRIFFITH
POS. -- FB
PVR -- 268
ATT. -- 9
YARDS -- 39
AVG. -- 4.3
REC. -- 22
YARDS -- 220
AVG. -- 10
TDs -- 1

TODD PETERSON (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- K
PVR -- 254
XPs MADE -- 23
XPs ATT. -- 23
FG MADE -- 18
FG ATT. -- 22
PTS. -- 77

MICHAEL JENKINS
POS. -- WR
PVR -- 107
REC. -- 7
YARDS -- 119
TDs -- 0

ALGE CRUMPLER
POS. -- TE
PVR -- 63
REC. -- 48
YARDS -- 774
TDs -- 6

KEVIN SHAFFER
POS. -- LT
HEIGHT -- 6'5"
WEIGHT -- 290
GMS. -- 15
STARTS -- 15

MATT LEHR
POS. -- LG
HEIGHT -- 6'2"
WEIGHT -- 293
GMS. -- 7
STARTS -- 2

TODD MCCLURE
POS. -- C
HEIGHT -- 6'1"
WEIGHT -- 286
GMS. -- 16
STARTS -- 16

KYNAN FORNEY
POS. -- RG
HEIGHT -- 6'3"
WEIGHT -- 307
GMS. -- 16
STARTS -- 16

TODD WEINER
POS. -- RT
HEIGHT -- 6'4"
WEIGHT -- 297
GMS. -- 16
STARTS -- 16

DEZ WHITE
POS. -- WR
PVR -- 202
REC. -- 30
YARDS -- 370
TDs -- 2

DEFENSE

KEITH BROOKING
POS. -- OLB
TACKLES -- 102
SACKS -- 2 1/2
INT. -- 3

BRADY SMITH
POS. -- RE
TACKLES -- 30
SACKS -- 6

CHAD LAVALAIS
POS. -- RT
TACKLES -- 28
SACKS -- 0

EDGERTON HARTWELL (NEW ACQUISITION)

POS. -- MLB
TACKLES -- 97
SACKS -- 0
INT. -- 0

ROD COLEMAN
POS. -- LT
TACKLES -- 41
SACKS -- 11 1/2

PATRICK KERNEY
POS. -- LE
TACKLES -- 66
SACKS -- 13

DEMORRIO WILLIAMS
POS. OLB
TACKLES -- 45
SACKS -- 2 1/2
INT. -- 0

JASON WEBSTER
POS. -- CB
TACKLES -- 41
INT. -- 1

KEION CARPENTER*
POS. -- SS
TACKLES -- 31
SACKS -- 0
INT. -- 3

BRYAN SCOTT
POS. -- FS
TACKLES -- 87
SACKS -- 2 1/2
INT. -- 1

DEANGELO HALL
POS. -- CB
TACKLES -- 34
INT. -- 2

MICHAEL KOENEN (R) (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. P
PUNTS 37
AVG. 43.5

2004 RECORD: 11-5

NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 1/30/20
DEFENSE T8/22/14

COACH: Jim Mora; second season with Atlanta (11-5 in NFL)

NEW ACQUISITION
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year) *2003 stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 170)

SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER
12 PHILADELPHIA (M)
18 at Seattle
25 at Buffalo

OCTOBER
2 MINNESOTA
9 NEW ENGLAND
16 at New Orleans
24 N.Y. JETS (M)
30 Open date

NOVEMBER
6 at Miami
13 GREEN BAY
20 TAMPA BAY
24 at Detroit (T)

DECEMBER
4 at Carolina
12 NEW ORLEANS (M)
18 at Chicago
24 at Tampa Bay (S)

JANUARY
1 CAROLINA

(M) MONDAY
(T) THURSDAY
(S) SATURDAY

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 16
Opponents' 2004 winning percentage: .500
Games against playoff teams: 6

"Watch how good Ed Hartwell is without Ray Lewis to overshadow him in the middle."

PHOTODAVID BERGMAN LONG-RANGE PLANSThe Falcons want Vick to throw downfield more and run less. PHOTODAVID BERGMANCOLEMAN PHOTONFL/WIREIMAGE.COM

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)