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Falcons to show off makeover at training camp
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   FLOWERY BRANCH — Michael Vick was busted. Bobby Petrino was a bust.
The Atlanta Falcons needed a new start, and so they've cleaned house.
Vick's involvement in a dogfighting operation and a four-win 2007 season combined to force a makeover that began with the hiring of general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith.
Some of the team's biggest names will be missing when the team opens training camp July 26. The long list of players traded or released includes Warrick Dunn, DeAngelo Hall, Alge Crumpler, Rod Coleman, Jimmy Williams and Wayne Gandy.
Dimitroff, the former director of college scouting for the New England Patriots, made an early splash in Atlanta by selecting Matt Ryan, rated the top college quarterback in the draft, and signing Michael Turner, regarded as the top free agent running back.
Ryan faces unique expectations as he is asked to replace Vick as the face of the franchise even as some fans remain loyal to Vick. He's also being asked to help shift the focus to the future.
"I think if you win, people will be happy," Ryan said.
"I do understand from an outsider's perspective it was a tough year. I'm focused on the future now, and excited to be a part of that."
An early sign of acceptance for the new quarterback came when Falcons fans were seen wearing Ryan's No. 2 jersey in minicamp this spring. Vick's No. 7 jersey, still a common sight at the Georgia Dome last season, is the biggest seller in team history.
Many teams try to give rookie quarterbacks a year to watch and learn. For the Falcons, there may be no reason for patience. The sooner the transition to the Ryan era can begin, the better for the team to move past the Vick era.
Ryan doesn't seem concerned about talk he could play or even start in the opening game.
"I think that's certainly the goal, to prepare to play, to do everything you can to be on the field and play," he said. "That's what I'm going to do. I think I did well picking things up in minicamp. I know there's still a lot to learn. I think I've done pretty well so far."
The Falcons tried Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich and Chris Redman as starters last year. Ryan could surpass Redman as the starter with a strong showing in training camp. Harrington also returns.
The best protection for Ryan could be a strong running game, and that's the Falcons' plan.
Smith, the former defensive coordinator in Jacksonville, brought in Mike Mularkey, the former Buffalo head coach, to design game plans and call plays on offense.
Mularkey and Smith plan to take advantage of Turner and Jerious Norwood as big-play threats at running back.
"Mike and I have very similar philosophies in terms of offensive football," Smith said. "We want to be able to run the football. That's the cornerstone of what we want to do. We have the players that will allow us to run the football."
The Falcons also signed safety Erik Coleman, cornerback Von Hutchins and tight end Ben Hartsock as free agents.
The Falcons, making use of Vick's running skills, led the NFL in rushing in 2004-06. Smith says the Turner-Norwood combination, running behind fullback Ovie Mughelli, could compare with Jacksonville's tandem of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew.
"When you have that kind of combination, I think it creates problems for the defense that's used to trying to tackle a certain style of runner," Smith said. "Then the next play, or the next series, you've got to go tackle a different kind of guy."
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