For more information on Falcons Training Camp, pick up a copy of Friday's edition of The Times.
FLOWERY BRANCH — The Atlanta Falcons are aiming high in Year 3 of the Matt Ryan era.
Ryan helped the franchise shed a 44-year-old burden by leading the Falcons to their first back-to-back winning seasons, including three straight wins to finish 9-7 last year.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank says it’s time for bigger goals in Ryan’s third season as the starting quarterback.
“We’re all kind of shooting higher than we did last year,” Blank said as he stood on the practice fields at the team’s recent minicamp. “I’ve been pretty public that I was excited about back-to-back winning seasons, but now I’m excited about rings.”
The Falcons, who open training camp on Friday, are basing their postseason hopes on a potent and balanced offense. Running back Michael Turner has lost weight and appears poised for a bounce-back season after he was slowed by an ankle injury in 2009. Tight end Tony Gonzalez returns for at least one more season before his Hall of Fame countdown.
Receiver Roddy White, who has become a Pro Bowl regular, is in the prime of his career.
Ryan will be protected by a offensive line that returns all five starters.
There’s enough talent on offense to aim high.
“Yeah, the Super Bowl,” Turner said. “We’ve got the Saints in our division. We play them twice. They’ve been fortunate enough to put an unbelievable season together and win the Super Bowl and they came out of nowhere with nobody expecting them to do that. We have a good chance here. We have a lot of good players. We just need to stay intact, stay healthy, and we have a good chance.”
The biggest questions are on defense, but that also was the area of the biggest offseason additions. First-round pick Sean Weatherspoon, who reached an agreement on a five-year deal and reported on Thursday, may start at outside linebacker.
Free-agent addition Dunta Robinson is expected to stabilize the cornerback position.
The Falcons open training camp with encouraging injury news. Defensive tackle Peria Jerry, the 2009 first-round pick who missed most of his rookie season with a knee injury, will be ready for the start of camp, though he will work in only session in the two-a-day schedule at the start.
Cornerback Brian Williams and receiver Harry Douglas also are returning from knee injuries and expected to open practice on a limited schedule. Safety William Moore, another 2009 draft pick, is returning from a hamstring injury.
This also is Year 3 for the Falcons with coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. One of the first moves for the new management team was making Ryan the No. 3 overall pick in 2008. Ryan started from his first game and was named NFL offensive rookie of the year as the Falcons were a surprise playoff team. The Falcons will hold combined practices with the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots during camp. Jacksonville will visit the Falcons’ complex on Aug. 9-10. The Patriots travel to Flowery Branch for practice on Aug. 17, two days before the teams meet in an exhibition game at the Georgia Dome.
Smith is Jacksonville’s former defensive coordinator. Dimitroff is New England’s former director of college scouting.