- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Readiness factor: Like New Orleans’ Drew Brees, quarterback Matt Ryan did a good job of organizing and leading players-only workouts. They were well attended, and all indications are that Ryan went out of his way to start building a bond with rookie wide receiver Julio Jones. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton coached the defense in those sessions, and that should help him emerge as more of a leader. Most of the Falcons have been in the same system with largely the same coaching staff for three seasons now. They shouldn’t be as adversely affected by the lack of a regular offseason as many younger teams around the league.
Biggest challenge: Although Mike Mularkey’s still the offensive coordinator, the Falcons have pretty much acknowledged there are going to be some changes to their offense. They still will rely heavily on running back Michael Turner, but they want to make more big plays in the passing game. That’s why they brought Jones in, and the fact he and Ryan have spent some time together certainly helps. But Mularkey lost a lot of time in which he could have been implementing and fine-tuning new plays. Training camp will be a crash course for Jones, but there also will be an accelerated learning curve for Ryan and the other receivers who already were with the Falcons because some of what they’ll be doing will be new to them. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau also might have to quickly overhaul an offensive line that could be featuring as many as three new starters, depending on who leaves in free agency. Keeping right tackle Tyson Clabo is the priority, but the Falcons might not be able to keep guards Harvey Dahl and Justin Blalock.
Where’s the pass rush? It’s pretty much a forgone conclusion that the Falcons will target a big-name defensive end in free agency. That’s the one glaring need on this team. The Falcons are looking to complement John Abraham in the short term, but it’s likely they want someone who can be his long-term replacement. Minnesota’s Ray Edwards and Carolina’s Charles Johnson are two defensive ends who are still young but already have been pretty productive. Either one of them could be Atlanta’s top target.