Falcons should fly high in preseason

Jul 24, 2001 4:01 AM

It has been a very tumultuous off-season in the NFL. In addition to the annual draft, free agency and random trades, NFL front office types are also faced with trying to figure out which players from the defunct XFL can make an impact in this league and make their respective team.

All in all, the bettor is faced with many questions heading into the preseason, especially when it comes to personnel and the game plans of new coaches for these exhibitions. Some things remain true about the NFL preseason, though. First, since such an important aspect of football is motivation, look for the team that needs to win these seemingly meaningless games to play emotionally. Secondly, teams with talented young players working to understand a new system, or veterans unsure of a roster spot, especially at the “skill” positions, often have a better chance of winning these games, than teams that rely on veteran “skill” players entrenched in their positions, who don’t figure to play much before the real games begin.

With training camp finally upon us, let’s take a closer look at some teams that should be looking to win each week during the exhibition season, whether it’s because they’re bringing in a new coach, system or group of young players hungry for success.

The Atlanta Falcons made a huge move, trading for the first overall pick in the draft and bringing in Michael Vick. As of Friday, Vick is the only first round pick signed by any NFL team, and, according to reports, has been very impressive. He has already moved up to the second- team, ahead of veteran Eric Zeier, and is making head coach Dan Reeves consider having three quarterbacks active on his roster on game days, rather than having two active and one only available in emergency situations, as every team normally does.

Obviously, the Falcons had a very disappointing season last year, and they also let defensive coordinator Rich Brooks go, replaced by former linebackers coach Don Blackmon. The Falcons also have some new- found depth at running back, with the signings of Travis Jervey and Rodney Thomas to back up Jamal Anderson. Anderson doesn’t figure to play much during the pre-season, as he continues to work back from the knee injury that robbed him of the 1999 season, but with Jervey and Thomas, as well as the overall skill of Vick against inferior talent, the Falcons should win often before the real games begin.

Atlanta gets their pre-season underway against the Steelers in the first game of the preseason, so we’ll take a closer look at them next week.

The team that dealt the first pick to the Falcons, the Chargers, is another team in need of success quickly. Head coach Mike Reilly suffered through a 1-15 year in 2000, and wanted out to sign on as head coach at USC, but the team refused to allow him out of his contract.

The Chargers then brought in a new general manager in John Butler and made a number of changes to their roster, including signing Doug Flutie and Marcellus Wiley from the Bills and drafting LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees, as well as winning college players like Tay Cody and Carlos Polk. At this point, the Chargers haven’t signed Tomlinson or Brees, but the rest of their class is signed, and they added Canadian Football League star quarterback Dave Dickinson.

Most importantly, the Chargers want this season to be completely different from their recent history. The first thing to change is the losing atmosphere surrounding the club, and the best way to do that is to start quickly, by winning your preseason games.

The need to win, and win often for fans that expect great improvement this season, as well as their improved talent level, signal the Chargers playing very hard when their exhibition schedule opens on August 11th against the 49ers.

It’s been a wild couple of seasons for the New York Jets, but the Bill Parcells/ Al Groh era is over, and they have a new general manager in Terry Bradway, and a new head coach, former Bucs’ assistant Herman Edwards, and will be a very different team than last year’s unit that just missed the playoffs. Both coordinators are new, with former Bills’ assistant Ted Cotrell running the defense, while West Coast offense expert Paul Hackett takes over the offense.

The most interesting aspect of the Jets preseason will be the play of quarterback Chad Pennington, one of four first round picks last season. Incumbent Vinny Testaverde was incredibly inconsistent last season, throwing a league-high 25 interceptions, and, at 38 years old, might be nearing the end of the line. With a new system in place, the Jets likely won’t hesitate to replace Testaverde with Pennington, should the veteran struggle.

The Jets released Jumbo Elliot on Thursday to give them the money to sign their top three draft picks, which means explosive Santana Moss should be on the field when the Jets begin their games on August 11th, against the Falcons.

The preseason begins with four games the weekend of Friday, August 3rd, including the Hall of Fame Game, which pits the Dolphins against the Rams on Monday, the sixth. By reading between the lines, the successful better can substantially fatten his bankroll by playing these exhibition games that lead to the real season.