Three keys for the 2005 season

Mike Vick

FLOWERY BRANCH - Nothing is more important than keeping your starters healthy, so the Falcons are excited to enter the Sept. 12 season opener against Philadelphia with their offensive and defensive lineups intact.

There is concern with rookie receiver Roddy White and the first-round draft pick's sprained right ankle. White has missed nearly four weeks with the injury, but coach Jim Mora said the team won't hesitate use him against the Eagles if his ankle responds favorably.

White's upside is considerable given how well he runs routes, catches difficult passes and blocks downfield. Though Allen Rossum will return kickoffs in the opener, White eventually could take that job because he's hard to tackle.

Don't worry too much about quarterback Michael Vick and his success, or lack thereof, in improving his completion percentage in Week 1. Vick and the offense will seek to establish the run, first and foremost. Regarding the passing attack, the Falcons are more concerned with improving that area of their game throughout the course of the 16-week schedule.

*Three keys for the season:

1. Right cornerback Jason Webster must prove durable enough to handle a full year without succumbing to more injuries. Kevin Mathis was exceptional in making 12 starts in place of Webster and left-side starter DeAngelo Hall last year, but he's better suited to work as a No. 3 corner and contribute in nickel and dime packages.

2. Defensive tackle Rod Coleman needs to show that he's not his own worst enemy. Two embarrassing early-morning incidents with local law enforcement have either affected Coleman's concentration or removed him from the lineup entirely. With Coleman drawing a steady flow of double-teams, the Falcons bring pressure as well any team because defensive ends Patrick Kerney and Brady Smith usually face single matchups that favor them over four quarters.

3. Yes, quarterback Michael Vick must become more accurate and receiver Michael Jenkins has to show himself worthy of having a starting job following the release of Peerless Price. Even more important, however, is the Falcons' protection of Vick, the franchise cornerstone. Getting sacked once every 7.98 passing attempts, worst in the NFL last season, is unacceptable. Though tackles Todd Weiner and particularly Kevin Shaffer can't continue to lose so many battles with ends that speed-rush the outside and collapse the top of the pocket, the coaching staff must design better ways to pick up abundant blitzes.

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