OPEN CAMP: Thursday, Flowery Branch
LAST YEAR: 28-24 home loss to 49ers in NFC championship game kept Atlanta from reaching its second Super Bowl. Falcons won the NFC South with a 13-3 overall record and beat Seattle for first playoff win in five years with quarterback Matt Ryan and coach Mike Smith. Ryan set career highs with 4,719 yards passing, 32 TDs and 99.1 passer rating.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RB Steven Jackson, DE Osi Umenyiora, rookie LB Brian Banks, rookie CB Desmond Trufant, rookie CB Robert Alford, rookie DE Malliciah Goodman.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DE John Abraham, RB Michael Turner, OT Tyson Clabo, C Todd McClure, CB Dunta Robinson, CB Brett Grimes, CB Christopher Owens, DE Lawrence Sidbury, LB Mike Peterson, DT Vance Walker, OT Will Svitek, TE Michael Palmer.
CAMP NEEDS: First-round pick Trufant is expected to win starting job beside Asante Samuel. Robert McClain and Dominique Franks also must play bigger roles after exits of three cornerbacks. Jackson will use camp to adjust to Falcons' attack. Umenyiora is expected to replace Abraham, and rookies Goodman and Stansly Maponga will have chance to earn time at other end. Rebuilding offensive line after departures of longtime starters McClure and Clabo. Peter Konz is likely to replace McClure.
EXPECTATIONS: Boosted by return of TE Tony Gonzalez, Falcons are expected to ride high-scoring offense back to playoffs. Ryan has wealth of top targets with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, Gonzalez and now Jackson, who should add more diversity as receiver out of backfield. Turnover at cornerback and questionable pass rush could combine for leaky pass defense, especially early in season as rookie CBs gain experience.