July 9, 2009

Jimmy Espy: Falcons enjoy productive offseason

But still some worries

By Jimmy Espy

The Atlanta Falcons squad that takes the field this fall should be better than the team that surprised the league last year. Offseason moves in free agency and on draft day bolstered the roster and the trade for future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez was also a deft move.

However, the Falcons have been so far unable to fill several glaring holes, most noticeably at cornerback. For a team that has to be looked at as a Super Bowl contender, that’s somewhat of a surprise.

• WHAT GOT DONE: Gonzalez should give quarterback Matt Ryan another big target. The aging but still active tight end is a big improvement over what the Birds had coming back at the position. My only question is how his arrival will affect wide receiver Michael Jenkins, who likes to work the same part of the field where Gonzalez excels.

The Falcons were very quiet in free agency, but did bring in veteran linebacker Mike Peterson, who they hope will start outside. Peterson is better in the middle, but that spot is manned by the young and talented Curtis Lofton.

On draft day, the Birds used their four picks in the first four rounds to strengthen their defense.

Top pick Peria Jerry should start right away at tackle. Safety William Moore was a bargain in the second round and will earn the starting position by the end of the season.

Third-rounder Christopher Owens has talent, but figures to be one of the guys in the muddle at cornerback.

Fourth-rounder Lawrence Sidbury is a speed rusher who needs a lot of work but could become a nice player. Atlanta isn’t happy with Jamaal Anderson’s lack of development at end and may move him inside, which would give Sidbury a chance to play more.

• WHAT DIDN’T: Cornerback looks like a potential killer. Chris Houston has potential but is coming along slowly. Who knows who will start opposite him?

Von Hutchins has some experience but is coming back from a bad injury. Brent Grimes and Chevis Jackson look like nickel or dime backs, as does Owens.

Atlanta would do well to look make a run at one of the league’s disgruntled veteran corners if they can pull off a reasonable deal.

Peterson should help some at outside linebacker for year or two, but if third-year-man Stephen Nicholas doesn’t make a big jump in performance soon, there will be a gaping hole to fill at the other spot. Coy Wire helps some, but Atlanta needs an upgrade here.

It was a productive offseason, but the Falcons should have moved more aggressively for a veteran cornerback and they need more depth on the offensive line. They were awfully tight with a penny in free agency and that could turn out to be very foolish decision if injuries hit hard.

(Note: Be sure to check out daltoncitizen.com for an upcoming column on how the Falcons’ NFC South peers did in the offseason.)

Jimmy Espy is executive editor of The Daily Citizen.