Training Camp Postcard: Falcons
Posted: Thursday August 9, 2007 11:19AM; Updated: Thursday August 9, 2007 4:06PM
At the Falcons' complex in Flowery Branch, Ga. The Falcons wisely worked at 9 a.m. and again at 6:20 p.m. on Wednesday, doing their best to avoid the brutal heat that has engulfed the Atlanta area. With temperatures in the high 90s, and a heat index approaching 110, no one could have envisioned this kind of day being made for football. But that's an NFL player's lot in life come August. Before you can become a hero in the fall, you have to prove you can take the heat in the summer.
1. Michael who? When I say the Falcons as an organization have moved on, I mean they've moved on. As in no looking back. I checked the photo mural in the lobby of the team complex -- just to make sure they haven't air-brushed No. 7 out of there yet -- but that was one of the few reminders Michael Vick once worked here. In talking to some longtime Falcons on Wednesday, I was struck by how quickly new Atlanta head coach Bobby Petrino has instilled a turn-the-page-mentality in his players. The man wears his coaching blinders, 24/7.
Whatever happens in Vick's dogfighting saga from here on out, the Falcons certainly sound like they're managing to keep their former starting quarterback out of sight and almost entirely out of mind. This is a team that has squarely thrown their support to new starter, Joey Harrington. Tight end Alge Crumpler best summarized the prevailing atmosphere at Flowery Branch:
"Blinders is a good term for it, because Bobby is all about football,'' said Crumpler, propping his right leg up on the desk in front of him. "Even with all that has gone on, there's such a forward approach. There's not even any talk about players who aren't here, or players who used to be here. We don't talk about Michael, and we don't talk about Patrick Kerney (who signed with Seattle in the offseason). And those guys have been a pretty big part of what we've done here. But it's all about going forward.''
Crumpler and defensive team leader Keith Brooking told me they both feared a chaotic training camp after the Vick indictment came down, but once Vick was ordered to stay away from camp by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell -- and team management finally addressed the situation -- the focus actually returned to football. Petrino-style.
"We lost Michael, our starting quarterback and one of the most gifted players in the league, so I'd be sitting here lying if I said it was going to be easy to recover from that,'' Brooking said. "But we have a head coach with tunnel vision. More tunnel vision than anyone else I've ever been around in the NFL. And he's perfect for dealing with this situation.''
Not than any coach has ever had a blueprint for how to deal with losing your starting quarterback to a dogfighting indictment just before training camp opens.
2. It sounds like the Falcons playbook is going to be a lot more versatile, creative, adaptive or complicated this season -- take your pick. Crumpler said one of the reasons why no one's thinking of Vick these days is because they're all too busy learning new plays from their head coach. Petrino has a "fire-hose method to his play-installation,'' said one team source. He shoots the playbook at his players in rapid succession, and then stands back to see how much they absorbed.
Petrino's system puts plenty of responsibility in the hands of the quarterback to read the defense and react to what they might be planning. Without criticizing former Falcons offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, who he admires as a play-caller, Crumpler said he welcomes the increased latitude that Petrino's system features.
"We're not just going to be stubborn and call a play six times in a row and expect it to work every time,'' he said. "We've got so much more flexibility in what we can do in our calls. Our schemes are so different. There's a lot of accountability on each person to do their job. For one thing, we all have to hold our blocks a lot longer in our running game this year. I liked Greg Knapp and I think he's a very good play-caller. But you don't have to try and call the perfect play every time in this offense.''
3. If I had a buck to wager on who wins the Falcons backup quarterback job behind Harrington, I'd put it on ex-Georgia Bulldog D.J. Shockley to beat out Chris Redman, the ex-Raven who hasn't been in a regular-season game since 2003. Redman still has an accurate arm, but his passes arrive without much steam. Shockley is still raw, but he's a gifted athlete who remains beloved in this area; and he'd definitely be the fans' choice if Harrington is either injured or ineffective. How each of them fare in the preseason could tell the story, but Shockley has the inside track.