’08 Preview: Falcons won’t fly this year

Seems like the Falcons have been rebuilding in perpetuity. The latest version – the Dimitroff & Smith Master plan – hits the field in 2008.

After plucking new general manager Thomas Dimitroff off the New England Patriots’ tree and pairing him with affable Mike Smith, the Falcons blew up the roster left over from the McKay/Mora/Petrino era.

Smith became the fourth head coach in Arthur Blank’s six-year ownership tenure after Bobby Petrino bolted back to the college ranks after a 13-game pro stint.

2008 TEAM PREVIEWS

AFC EAST: BUF | MIA | NE | NYJ

AFC NORTH: BAL | CIN | CLE | PIT

AFC SOUTH: HOU | IND | JAC | TEN

AFC WEST: DEN | KC | OAK | SD

NFC EAST: DAL | NYG | PHI | WAS

NFC NORTH: CHI | DET | GB | MIN

NFC SOUTH: ATL | CAR | NO | TB

NFC WEST: ARI | SEA | SF | STL

The Falcons are hoping their new front-office tandem works out somewhat like the Bill Belichick-Scott Pioli partnership has for New England. They would take the franchise’s first back-to-back winning seasons as a start.

Dimitroff and Smith decided to rebuild from scratch. The plan calls for the Falcons to begin with the middle of both units.

Offense

Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey will implement his “exotic smash-mouth” attack that is centered around a power running game. The vertical passing game will flow off of play-action fakes with a healthy mix of well-timed gadget plays.

Before things get rolling and the unit is set to establish an identity, the Falcons must rebuild the offensive line under the guidance of longtime NFL assistant coach Paul Boudreau. In addition to revamping the line, the Falcons must find a few tight ends/H-backs who can execute in the run game.

Defense

Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder gets his big shot in the NFL after bouncing between the college game and the league over the last four seasons. He was the Falcons’ linebackers coach last season after serving a year as Georgia Southern’s head coach. He coached linebackers with Smith at Jacksonville the year before that and was at the University of Georgia before going to Jacksonville.

VanGorder had a reputation for playing an attacking 4-3 defense while defensive coordinator at Georgia. The Falcons spent heavily on the secondary in the draft and free agency, signaling that major changes are on the way. They are preparing to play a myriad of zone coverages and allow VanGorder to pick his spots with a creative blitz package.

The book on: Jerious Norwood

A rival sizes up the Falcons’ running back:

“The Falcons have to find a way to get Jerious Norwood 15 to 20 touches a game. His sheer speed puts an incredible amount of stress on the defense. Norwood may not be ideal to run between the tackles, but that’s what they signed Michael Turner to do. He’s had to wait his turn behind Warrick Dunn and now must split carries with Turner. They have to come up with some schemes to get both of them on the field and resist labeling Norwood as a third-down back.

“I’m sure (offensive coordinator) Mike Mularkey can find a way to mix in his touches on first and second down; then the offense will be less predictable on third downs when he’s on the field.

“Norwood has the potential to hit the home run at any time. Once he gets into the secondary, he’s in a foot race that he’s going to win.”

Bottom line

You just can’t change the general manager, hire a new coach, watch the quarterback go off to jail, get rid of most of your former Pro Bowlers and think that the shipwrecked boat is just going to sail right along.

The under-construction sign will remain on this massive undertaking for this season at the very least. There is just too much going on for the Falcons to have any semblance of unity and continuity after the Vick era.

The Dimitroff-Smith Plan needs some time to take hold. Anything close to 8-8, and Smith should be nominated for coach of the year.

SN projection: 1-15, fourth in NFC South.

D. Orlando Ledbetter covers the Falcons for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Sporting News.


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Updated Thursday, Jul 17, 2008