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Shiver
04-01-2007, 03:44 PM
In a rare and potentially ugly development, veteran defensive tackle Grady Jackson filed a lawsuit against the Falcons last Friday, charging an invasion of privacy and defamation against the club.

Jackson claims the Falcons — naming the team physical, trainer and a personnel employee in the motion — knowingly told reporters from an Internet site (KFFL) and The Sporting News, that Jackson did not pass the team physical early in the summer because he failed a heart exam.

By disclosing his health issues, Jackson, then a free agent, claims his open market value was diminished and no team would pursue him except Atlanta. Jackson ended up signing an incentive-driven, three-year deal with Atlanta for $4.05 million, including a $300,000 signing bonus.

The Falcons are claiming that Jackson's lawsuit is being driven by him wanting to re-do his contract. Jackson does not deny that he would like a new contract but Jackson and his representation say they are suing because the disclosure of medical information violated the law.

Jackson, who had a very good year for the Falcons last season, has not taken part in Atlanta's off-season conditioning sessions and says that he won't. The Falcons do have a pre-draft mini-camp that is mandatory. If Jackson does not participate, he could be fined.

The irony in all this is that Jackson said he wants to remain with the Falcons. Whether either side can get past this lawsuit, especially if there is a judgment against the Falcons, could be tough. The franchise has to respond to Jackson's lawsuit by the end of April.

NOTES, QUOTES

—Unless the Falcons draft a starting left defensive end Chauncey Davis will be departed starter Patrick Kerney's replacement — if you can really call him that. Davis has started 18 games in two seasons with the Falcons, albeit because he was forced to because of injuries to Brady Smith, John Abraham and Kerney.

Solid against the run, Davis showed signs of emerging as a pass rusher, although he still has a ways to go to be considered a consistent threat. Stunting his development in that area was him having to play both end spots, which wasn't always easy for him. Davis rarely played right end before getting to the NFL and said adjusting to that side and not playing it consistently was tougher than most people would assume.

The Falcons do plan to draft an end, if not in the first round, at some point, because depth, or lack thereof, is an issue.

—As the Grady Jackson situation popped up, the Falcons claimed burly nose tackle Anthony Bryant off waivers from Detroit. Atlanta is trying to add depth at that position and had spoken to free agents Ian Scott and Seth Payne. The Falcons don't appear willing to spend a lot of money, though, so they might not pursue any more nose tackles at this point — unless the Jackson situation gets really ugly.

—Massive left guard Toniu Fonoti (370-poundish), signed as a free agent, has looked very good in off-season conditioning workouts, Petrino said. That could be a good sign since the Falcons would really like Fonoti to be their starter. Injuries and weight issues have sabotaged Fonoti's promising career and this could be his last shot. So far, his commitment and work ethic are promising signs, according to Petrino.

—The plan to increase the physical size of the offensive line might not take as long as projected. No, the Falcons won't be able to bring in a new load of tractor-trailer-sized players, however, some incumbents are being turned loose at the buffet line.

Center Todd McClure and right tackle Todd Weiner, both signed to extensions last season, will play near or above the 300-pound mark for the first time in years, Petrino said. Both players, who weighed under 300 pounds, have told Petrino they needed to keep their weight down to be effective in the zone-blocking scheme used by Jim Mora's previous coaching staff.

With Petrino planning to utilize more of a traditional blocking style, where girth actually is an asset, both players have been given free reign to Super Size it.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're waiting to see. They're committed and excited that we're going to spend a lot of time practicing the passing game and going through the progression that I believe in and that's learning the game together; everybody putting all the parts together." — Falcons coach Bobby Petrino, on whether the inconsistent wide receiving corps — plus Joe Horn — will be good enough to excel in his offensive scheme.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Falcons coach Bobby Petrino said second-year Virginia Tech product Jimmy Williams not only won't be moved to safety but that he would open up the team's pre-draft mini-camp as the starting right cornerback.

"We're excited about him," Petrino said. "He's been working hard. He's got a lot of energy. It will be fun to get to know him and see exactly how he operates at corner. We drafted him as a corner and we need a corner and that's what he's played. He didn't get a lot of opportunities last year. I try to take last year and put it aside and evaluate from this point on."

With Williams being kept at corner, that could indicate Atlanta is seriously considering drafting LSU safety LaRon Landry with the No. 8 overall pick, or Florida's Reggie Nelson if Landry is selected among the top 7.

Williams, who is down to 207 pounds after spending much of last season at 215 or higher, is a long-striding, physical wrecking ball that was viewed as more of a safety. However, Petrino said Williams is athletic enough to play corner and simply needs to get playing time, which he did not receive last season, to prove it.

Incumbent starting right cornerback Jason Webster, an injury-laden favorite of former coach Jim Mora, could be a goner with this decision.

—The Falcons were awarded two compensatory picks at the NFL owners' meetings last week (4th and 7th-round choices) bringing their draft-day total to 10 picks. Atlanta acquired a second, second-round selection from the Houston Texans in last week's trade for quarterback Matt Schaub.

Atlanta has three of the top 44 picks, where they likely will address the secondary, offensive line, defensive end and/or running back. Which areas are filled will depend on the best player available at the time they choose but president/general manager Rich McKay, whose drafts the past two seasons have not produced much impact, can make amends with these desirable choices.

The Falcons also have three selections in the fourth round. McKay has done well in the middle rounds of drafts with the Falcons (running back Jerious Norwood, linebackers Demorrio Williams and Michael Boley, defensive end Chauncey Davis) and could really do some things to turn the franchise around.

Looks like the team is planning a rotation at DE.
Fonoti in good shape is excellent news.
McClure, Weiner, adding weight and strength, to get up past 300-lbs. Just like Shaffer, who bulked up to 320-lbs in Cleveland's man blocking scheme.
It sounds like the team is content with Jimmy Williams, making the 'Bly-O'Neal' rumors to bed.