- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
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Through April 20, "SportsCenter" will put every NFL team "On The Clock." Scouts Inc. will break down each team and look at what questions still need answering.
Atlanta fired Jim Mora Jr. after another ordinary season and brought in Bobby Petrino, whose offenses at Louisville lit up the scoreboard year after year. This is a team in some flux. The Falcons have hitched their wagon to QB Michael Vick, and although he is supremely talented, he simply cannot excel with Atlanta's ordinary stable of wide receivers and an offensive line that is subpar in pass protection. Petrino will favor Vick's great strengths more than his predecessors did and will eventually complement Vick's playmaking ability with a power running game. But as of right now, both sides of the ball are transitioning, which could translate into a long year. On the positive side, Petrino has a lot of firepower for draft day and should be able to accumulate some young talent in the mold that he is looking for.
The addition of Ovie Mughelli is a clear sign that Petrino wants a power rushing attack behind a physical fullback such as Mughelli, who is now the richest fullback in the history of the game. Although WR Joe Horn is getting up in age and struggles to stay healthy, this was a good risk to take for the Falcons. He can still stretch the field and his experience should be a real asset. He should be Atlanta's No. 1 receiver and a short-term fix -- assuming he can stay healthy. Guard Toniu Fonoti isn't a guy who can be counted on, but he is the massive road grader Petrino is looking for up front. It is a long shot, but Fonoti has a chance to revive his career in this system. Cornerback Lewis Sanders and LB Marcus Wilkins were signed for depth and special-teams purposes. Joey Harrington was signed this week. He is obviously a much different type of player than Vick, but could be an OK second quarterback.
QB Matt Schaub was traded to the Texans for a wealth of draft picks. His departure leaves little question whatsoever that this is Vick's team. Atlanta was hit pretty hard in free agency and really doesn't have the roster to withstand many losses. Defensive end Patrick Kerney signed with Seattle for big dollars and will surely be missed. Although he has durability issues, he was a fine complement opposite John Abraham. Atlanta is now very light at defensive end. RB Justin Griffith, a solid player, was allowed to leave to Oakland because he doesn't fit what Petrino wants to do on offense. WR Ashley Lelie left Atlanta for San Francisco. He is an overrated receiver, but defenses have to honor his deep speed and big-play potential. The Falcons also released LB Edgerton Hartwell, LB Ike Reese, G Matt Lehr and C Austin King. Hartwell was a major failure as a free-agent signing from Baltimore -- mostly due to injury -- and his departure will force LB Keith Brooking to move inside, which isn't where he belongs. Lehr has some starting experience, but the other two players were minimal contributors.
Petrino's top priority as head coach is to elevate Vick's game. Atlanta has a bevy of other positional needs, though. We touched on the team's defensive end need, but safety is also an area of this defense that absolutely must be addressed. A true middle linebacker to replace Hartwell would be a good addition, as well. On offense, the line needs a major face-lift to fit the change of scheme. Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood are an explosive pair of runners, but neither really fits the downhill, physical style that Atlanta is looking for.
2dEric D. Williams