Ryan, Turner, Lead the Way in Offseason

Falcons running back Michael Turner is taking part in the team's offseason workout program. After plowing his way to almost 1,700 yards last season, it's time for him to re-charge his muscles.

"We love to be around each other and just keep growing as a team," Turner said. He has taken note of the fact that five starters from last season's defense will not be returning.

"We lost two people who were in leadership roles and also guys who made great plays for us," Turner said. "It's time for some young guys to step up and make plays. And for guys to start stepping up into leadership, including myself."

Last season when Turner signed with the Falcons, they were coming of the bizarre Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino year. Coming off a playoff appearance and posting an 11-5 record, things have changed drastically.

"It's a totally different feeling," Turner said. "There were a lot of question marks last year about pretty much every position, who was going to be playing what role. "This year we have a lot more confidence in guys we have on this team. We know each other. We know our coaching staff. We know our abilities and they'll put us in the best position to win football games."

Ryan is using the program to further bond with his receiving corps.The move is out of Peyton Manning's book in Indianapolis, where the Colts' precision passing attack was built on a heavy dose of offseason throws. Ryan said he and receiving corps are working on some new routes and different combinations to see what they might be able to incorporate into the offense this season.

"We've already started working on, getting out there and throwing a little bit," Ryan said. "We are trying to do some different things. We want to get that rapport that we need to have during the season."

Ryan, who won several rookie of the year awards last season, threw a touchdown pass on his first attempt in the league. He never let up, as the Falcons were able to ride the shoulders of running back Michael Turner and pick their spots for Ryan to throw. Wide receiver Roddy White ended up making his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Michael Jenkins got a contract extension and fellow rookie Harry Douglas produced some plays in the slot.

"We built a really good foundation during the season, we really did," Ryan said. "But we need to get better. That's got to be the emphasis this offseason." Ryan also pointed out that wide receiver Laurent Robinson is looking good and appears healthy

NOTES, QUOTES

--Quarterback Michael Vick is in the team's rear view mirror. "I'm pretty sure it is behind us now," running back Michael Turner said. "It's over. There are going to be questions every now and then. We'll handle it when the time comes."

--Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford are likely to be forever linked. After Ryan's spectacular rookie season, Stafford, who's likely to be the top quarterback selected in the draft, will be expected to excel immediately, too. Both are represented by agents Ben Dogra and Tom Condon. At the NFL scouting combine, Stafford said he was impressed with Ryan's work and will reach out to him.

Ryan will be ready to offer some advice when things slow down for Stafford, who went through a private workout for the Lions in Athens on Tuesday. Ryan, who was selected with the No. 3 pick overall last season, knows what Stafford and USC quarterback Mark Sanchez are going through.

"My advice to them would be to go in and work as hard as you possibly can," Ryan said. "At times, you're going to need to keep your mouth shut. Just keep your mouth shut, go out there and work hard."

--The Falcons know they won't catch any team off guard next season, after going 11-5 and reaching the wildcard round of the playoffs. "We're not going to sneak up on people," Quarterback Matt Ryan Said. "Anytime that you go 11-5 the NFL rewards you with a tougher schedule. So that makes things a little more difficult. With that said, teams are going to understand what we are capable of. But at the same time, we also know what we are capable of."

--Different Falcons groups played the storied Augusta National Golf Course over two days, with general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who's new to the sport, making a hole-in-one on No. 2 off the par-3 course. He used a sand wedge. Ryan did not do as well, but shot a respectable 88 on the main course.

"I got out and played there, which was pretty unbelievable experience," Ryan said of his first time playing at Augusta National. "I just feel fortunate to be here kind of in the Mecca of the golf-course world. I've just been trying to take full advantage of it."

Ryan, who claims a 12 or 13 handicap, was proud of his 88. "It's not really hard off the tee and it's not hard off to the sides, but I must have three-putted 15 holes over there out of the 18," Ryan said.

Ryan compared the majestic nature of Augusta National to the site of one of his rookie-season conquests. "Just going up to Lambeau Field was special when you get to see the history that that place has," Ryan said. "It has a very similar feel. You step out there, with all of the history."

--Falcons coach Mike Smith addressed his team Monday for the first time this offseason. Most of the players who surprised the league last season with an 11-5 record and a playoff appearance heard Smith deliver a sermon-styled speech about staying "humble and hungry."

It resonated with Ryan. "We have to understand that we can get better," Ryan said. "We have to understand that we can do a lot of things better individually and as a team. We've got to be hungry."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are comfortable with the moves they are going to make. We're happy that we've kept a bunch of the guys that we have kept. We had Michael Jenkins deal done during the season. He's a target that I like to throw to. He made a huge impact for our team last year. We got Babs (Jonathan Babineaux) back, which is huge and we picked up Michael Peterson in the offseason. He's going to shore us up at linebacker." -- Falcons QB Matt Ryan on the team's offseason moves.

TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY

The Falcons are in the middle of rebuilding their defense on all levels. Five starters left during free agency and must be replaced. USC linebacker Rey Maualuga, who is projected in some mock drafts as a top 10 pick, will visit the Falcons on Saturday.

The Falcons are the process of revamping their linebacking corps after starters Michael Boley (New York Giants) and Keith Brooking (Dallas) signed with new teams during free agency. They signed linebacker Michael Peterson in free agency. Falcons coach Mike Smith told the Atlanta Journal Constitution at the NFL owners' meeting in Dana Point, Calif. that he was impressed with all four of the USC linebackers in this draft.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Linebacker: The Falcons are looking for attacking linebacker who can make plays going downhill. The must replace both outside linebackers.

2. Defensive tackle: Replacing Grady Jackson is going to be difficult. However, Trey Lewis is bouncing back from knee surgery and could be the answer.

3. Safety: Lawyer Milloy, one of the team leaders on defense, was not re-signed after he became a free agent. Thomas DeCoud, a second-year player, will get the first shot at replacing Milloy.

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