Roddy White, a first-round draft pick from Alabama-Birmingham, is a nice addition to a receiving corps that has spectacularly underperformed since Peerless Price arrived in March 2003. Don't be surprised if the rookie opens camp as the starting wideout. Roddy White is faster than the incumbent, Dez White, but the newcomer distinguishes himself with ability and willingness to attack the football.
Price, too, might begin camp as a second-team receiver. Michael Jenkins, drafted in the first round last year, had a solid offseason and worked extra hours to match his timing with that of quarterback Michael Vick. Jenkins caught only seven passes last year, but the coaching staff gave him few opportunities in a run-dominated offense.
At 6-4, Jenkins gives Vick a target that's easy to spot. The former Ohio State standout, however, must distinguish himself on routes and work to create more separation from coverage. If Roddy White meets expectations and creates matchup problems, opponents might give Jenkins more chances because they can't afford to overlook the talent of two-time Pro Bowl TE Alge Crumpler.
Running back Warrick Dunn is no slouch as a receiver, and Vick knows he can rely on fullback Justin Griffith as a dependable outlet on crossing routes. The coaching staff also continues to reiterate the well-rehearsed offseason promise that Dunn's backup, T.J. Duckett, will earn more snaps if he improves as a receiver.
As always, the success of the offense ultimately depends on the health and improvement of Vick, whose two Pro Bowl invitations were due to his jaw-dropping abilities as a runner. This season, his second in coordinator Greg Knapp's offense, will determine if Vick can become as lethal in the air as he is on the ground.
Vick has a cannon of a left arm, so strength is no concern. Accuracy, however, is an issue that continues to haunt the No. 1 overall draft choice of 2001. Part of the problem is traced to Vick's unwillingness to throw the ball away. He takes far too many sacks and leaves himself susceptible to fumbles when opponents seal off the lane he needs on rollouts to the left side.
The free-agent addition of left guard Matt Lehr, a former roommate of Vick's at Virginia Tech, should help left tackle Kevin Shaffer and fortify a weak link in protection. Lehr, who must hold off a challenge from Michael Moore, is an improvement over his predecessor, Roberto Garza. Opponents were successful at bull-rushing ends on Shaffer's left side and blitzing linebackers or safeties at Garza, who already had his hands full with a defensive tackle.
Lehr, however, is better at keeping his feet firm and burying tackles. This, in turn, gives Dunn, Griffith or Duckett a better chance at picking up the blitz. The Falcons can help themselves by taking more shots on the right side, where Roddy White can stretch the field and Crumpler can make catches on crossing routes toward the sideline.
Kicker Todd Peterson replaces Jay Feely, whose accuracy suffered late in the season and created doubts for everyone. Atlanta compensated for the loss of Feely's strong leg on kickoffs by signing punter Toby Gowin to handle those duties.