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Shiver
03-17-2007, 02:38 AM
Inside Slant

New Falcons' coach Bobby Petrino said his plan on transitioning from a smallish, zone-blocking offensive line to a bigger, pile-moving unit is going to take more than one off-season to accomplish.

In the short term, Atlanta took a step in moving the process forward this week in a huge way, literally, by signing massive guard Toniu Fonoti, whose battles with injuries and weight have negated his immense talent. After a solid start to his career with the Chargers, Fonoti has spent time with Minnesota, Miami, Oakland and Tampa Bay.

He was signed by the Falcons to compete for the starting left guard job, a position vacated when guard Matt Lehr was released near the start of free agency. Fonoti was listed as weighing 350 pounds but he is believed to be slightly heavier but in decent shape.

If he can get his conditioning in order and earn the starting job, he would be just the second 300-plus pounder on the first unit of the offensive line. Right guard Kynan Forney is listed at 305 pounds.

For the Falcons, a potential issue could arise if Fonoti doesn't get himself in shape or gets hurt, both legitimate possibilities.

For now, Tyson Clabo, who started much of last season when Forney (shoulder) was hurt, could compete with Fonoti, as could Ben Claxton, who missed all of last season with a foot injury. Guard P.J. Alexander, who started a handful of games, is a smaller player who might not fit the mold.

A player to watch is second-year lineman Quinn Ojinnaka, an athletic and nasty player who was drafted as a tackle but was cross-trained by the previous coaching staff at guard. Ojinnaka, whose weight has fluctuated around the 300-pound mark, is solid at the point of attack and quick to get to pursuing linebackers.

Though he did not play much as a rookie, he was on the active roster on game days, having beat out other hopefuls.

Notes and Quotes

--Though they are restricted free agents, quarterback Matt Schaub and linebacker Demorrio Williams have been extended invitations to participate in the team's off-season workouts, which begin March 19. The Falcons want to retain both players, tendering a one-year, $2.3 million tender to Schaub and a one-year, $1.3 million offer to Williams. If they sign with another team, the Falcons are asking for first- and third-round picks for Schaub and a second-round pick for Williams.

--"You're always working off a three-year slate," Falcons president and GM Rich McKay said about the process of extending players or letting them walk as free agents. "You're always trying to figure out what this player is going to be worth today and what the market is going to be in two years, three years. What are the salary cap implications, who are the free agents we might lose in that period of time and will we have the flexibility to add free-agent players if need be."

Strategy and Personnel

Though the Falcons played most of the last two seasons without projected starter Ed Hartwell at middle linebacker, his release has created a semi-interesting quandary. Who will be the man in the middle?

The immediate assumption is five-time Pro Bowler Keith Brooking, who moved from his preferred outside linebacker spot to MLB when Hartwell was down the past two seasons with Achilles' tendon and knee injuries. However, Brooking has not hidden the fact that he doesn't like playing in the middle, although new coach Bobby Petrino might not care too much about a player's desires.

Third-year prospect Jordan Beck is a possibility. A true middle linebacker, Beck, who sat out his rookie year with a broken foot, has been a special teams standout but was never given a shot to start because the previous coaching staff, led by Jim Mora, preferred using veterans, especially at a key position like middle linebacker.

Since this is a position of uncertainty, Atlanta could address depth, at the very least, in the draft.

--Former University of Georgia roommates D.J. Shockley and Fred Gibson are back together, with Gibson having signed a free-agent contract with the Falcons, where he hopes to start an NFL career that has never gotten off the ground. Being reunited with his good friend Shockley could help the talented Gibson find his way.

Released before the season-opener after being drafted in the fourth round by Pittsburgh, Gibson has spent the better part of the past two seasons on the Miami Dolphins' practice squad. Shockley, meanwhile, made a huge impression as a rookie with the Falcons last season and he could emerge as Michael Vick's backup if restricted free agent quarterback Matt Schaub is signed or dealt away before next season.

The familiarity of being with Shockley, who is incredibly grounded and motivated, could be the elixir to help the ultra-talented Gibson find his way on a team in need of help at wide receiver.

Interesting, this should have plenty to discuss.

This is the 2nd place I've seen that's been glowing about Quinn Ojinnaka, which is good.

I am hoping Jordan Beck is the MLB.

Shockley as the back-up, we will never hear the end of that from oxy. He hates Shockley with everything he has. LOL

ATLDirtyBirds
03-17-2007, 07:13 AM
Hahah. Cant wait to hear him bug out about that. I personally think Shockley can handle being a backup.

I've made it very well know I want Shaub gone. I feel Shockley can step in and be a more than capable QB 2

iloxygenil
03-17-2007, 08:55 AM
Ugh...I have nothing else to say. That guy is GUSHING over him. Maybe he's gotten better, but UGH. Anyway...aside from the obvious hatred I have for him this article has a couple things to be excited about. #1 Quinn #2 Fontoi just because they do realize he's a huge talent. He just has a lot of work to do to stay motivated and healthy.

bigfanga
03-17-2007, 09:16 AM
Maybe they could try not feeding Tonuii on game weeks. That should motivate him.

Seriously, I'd like to see Ojinnaka step up, along with Omiyale. That would take a lot of draft pressure away from the team and let them concentrate their efforts somewhat on the defense (line & secondary).