> Gee, hardly
anything at all. Iconic, pillar-of-the-franchise quarterback Michael Vick is
facing prison time and a lengthy suspension from the NFL in one of the ugliest
scandals in league history. He won't be playing in the NFL for a very long
time. Coach Bobby Petrino is a rookie straight out of Louisville (albeit with
three years' experience as an NFL assistant), and his predecessor was canned
after three seasons. Three-time Pro Bowl running back Warrick Dunn underwent
back surgery right before training camp, and the offense was turned over to
Joey Harrington, whom much of the league has consigned to the slag heap of
first-round quarterback busts, five years after the Lions selected him out of
Oregon with the third overall pick in 2002. Other than that, things have been
quiet in Atlanta.
> Straight to
the bottom? Maybe not. Oddly, Petrino might be the perfect coach to take over
this listing ship. He is a no-nonsense X's and O's football wonk who doesn't
get caught up in any of the extracurriculars that surround the job. "I
played for Tony Dungy," says Dunn, a former Buccaneer. "He was not a
screamer, but he was able to coach you and also have a relationship with you.
Bobby coaches you too, but he's not joking around or interacting with the
players. You can have a conversation with Bobby, but he's not going to talk
your ear off."
It can be argued
that this is the perfect management style for a team that will play in one of
the longest shadows imaginable. But on the eve of training camp Petrino
gathered the Falcons and openly addressed the Vick issue. According to veteran
linebacker Keith Brooking, Petrino said, "There are things going on that
are out of our hands. Mike's situation is unclear, but we can't do anything
about that. And our mission is unchanged." Brooking adds, "Coach
Petrino is right. This is my 10th year in the league, and it truly is not only
a game-to-game league, but a day-to-day league. You have to have that tunnel
vision, regardless of what is going on, because the teams you're playing do not
care [about your issues]."
to steer the Falcons through the Vick crisis is his most public challenge. But
it is just as crucial that he turn Harrington into a useful NFL quarterback to
run the offense that Petrino has been building for more than two decades in the
NFL fans are
familiar with Harrington's story: He started 55 games in four years with
Detroit and threw two more interceptions than touchdowns; the Lions won just
19�games in that span. Last year he went to Miami as Daunte Culpepper's
backup and ended up starting 11�games, including four straight victories
better than I have in six years," Harrington said during training camp.
"While the Detroit experience was awful, and I wouldn't wish it on anybody,
I learned a ton from it. I looked at last year as the chance to sling the ball
around. I had lost myself as a player, and now I've�gotten a lot of my
When Petrino was
asked in training camp if he had spent time reconstructing Harrington's psyche,
he said, "I thought I might have to. But I haven't. And if you look at his
Miami tapes, he did a lot of good things."
Harrington remains a leap of faith until he proves himself. The surrounding
cast is respectable. The right side of the offensive line, with tackle Todd
Weiner and guard Kynan Forney, is as good as any in football. Jerious Norwood
averaged 6.4 yards per carry as a rookie, and if Dunn is healthy, they form a
solid pair. Joe Horn comes over from New Orleans to stabilize the receiving
corps, provided he has gas left in the tank at age 35.