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Doubts About Vick Erased, But Many Others Still Linger

Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page H11

When the Atlanta Falcons take the field, all eyes will be on quarterback Michael Vick. Better there than on the scoreboard. The singular skills of Vick should benefit Atlanta on both sides of the ball, but with an adjustment to a new offense, and a defense for which improvement will mean simply not finishing dead last in the league, it's probably best to chalk this season up to a learning experience.

If there were any doubts as to Vick's value, they were erased last year. Without him, the Falcons went 2-10; when he returned, they went 3-1, including handing Carolina its last defeat before the Super Bowl. However, the good finish -- and even better excuse of not having Vick most of the season -- was not enough to spare the job of coach Dan Reeves.

_____ Atlanta Falcons _____
Falcons Section

_____NFL '04_____
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Darrell Green knows a thing or two about receivers and shares his all-time top five.
Receivers should get a big boost from the rule modification.
Don't call it the T.O. rule or the Joe Horn rule, but expect a crackdown on TD celebrations.
A WR's tools of the trade
Top 5 end zone celebrations
The NFL's Top 10 storylines of '04

_____Team Previews_____
In predicted order of finish

NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Cowboys
Washington Redskins
New York Giants

NFC South
New Orleans Saints
Carolina Panthers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Atlanta Falcons

NFC North
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions

NFC West
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams
San Francisco 49ers
Arizona Cardinals

AFC East
New England Patriots
New York Jets
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans
Houston Texans

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns

AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs
Denver Broncos
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

New coach Jim Mora Jr., 42, brings great enthusiasm and, more significantly, the West Coast offense from his previous stint in San Francisco. Vick, who grew up idolizing another mobile lefty in Steve Young, is happy about it. "A lot of guys enjoy playing in this system," Vick said. "I'm excited about being one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and I'm just trying to get into a system where I can do that."

The hope is that the new offense will enable Vick to make better use of his receivers while still allowing for his wondrous running ability. It would help if Peerless Price emerged as the big-play weapon the Falcons thought they had traded for last year, and if T.J. Duckett would improve his blocking and wrest the starting tailback job from undersized Warrick Dunn.

The defense is changing as well, from a 3-4 to a 4-3 front that should complement the pass-rushing skills of Patrick Kerney (Virginia) and Brady Smith. But the interior lacks a run-stuffer, and losing this year's top draft pick, cornerback DeAngelo Hall, for more than a month with a hip injury will help the secondary remain just that. In other words, this group is going to give a lot of players a chance to fine-tune their end zone celebrations.

Of course, Atlanta fans have just two words to say to all that: Michael Vick.

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