Falcons ‘to make that giant step’ in Year 3

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA. — The number three could be the most telling digit for the 2010 Falcons.

Entering his third season as the Falcons' head coach, Mike Smith has a 20-12 regular-season record.
Entering his third season as the Falcons’ head coach, Mike Smith has a 20-12 regular-season record.

No, they’re not hoping to kick a lot of field goals this year — the offense, when healthy, is capable of racking up several touchdowns a game. And, no, we’re not talking about the guy who wears No. 3, kicker Matt Bryant — though he is important. And, no, we’re not talking about the guy who wears No. 33, running back Michael Turner, either.

Actually, strike that. Turner is a big part of the Falcons’ rule of threes, but it has nothing to do with his uniform number.

This is Turner’s third year with the Falcons. Ditto, coach Mike Smith. And quarterback Matt Ryan. And middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. And general manager Thomas Dimitroff. And left tackle Sam Baker. Wide receiver Harry Douglas, too.

You get the idea.

"There are no surprises now," Lofton said Thursday. "I’ve been in this system now going on my third year, and I’ve seen it all and done it all. I’m not learning like I did my first year. The second year I’m kinda still learning, and this third year I’m just ready to go."

The Falcons won 11 games and made the playoffs in ’08 and might have made it back to the postseason last year if not for injuries — Ryan and Turner, the team’s two primary offensive weapons, missed time down the stretch — that limited the Falcons to nine victories.

For the moment, everyone is healthy. And everyone is eyeing a breakthrough season for a team that now has seen a bit of everything.

"We think of them as third-year players chronologically, but in terms of their experience they’re way beyond their third year," Smith said. "The number of snaps these guys have participated in are a lot more than most third-year players, and I think that’s why the expectations for them to continue their process of learning what we’re trying to do, that the arrow’s way up."

And, let’s face it: Ryan is the face of this third-year brigade. For better or worse, the quarterback is the most visible player.

"Oh, man, he’s matured beyond his years," said two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White, who has three consecutive seasons with at least 80 receptions and 1,150 yards receiving. "He knows everything in the offense now. He’s right on point; he knows all the checks and everything.

"He’s just kind of building this thing up. And when he gets his chance to go out there this year and show everybody what he can do, he’s going to unleash this year."

These Falcons say they understand the challenge ahead.

"They say your third year is when you’re supposed to make that giant step," Lofton said. "Everybody has that same mindset — let’s push it, let’s come out here working and get ready to do that."

Ryan Fagan is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ryan_fagan.

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA. — The number three could be the most telling digit for the 2010 Falcons.

Entering his third season as the Falcons' head coach, Mike Smith has a 20-12 regular-season record.
Entering his third season as the Falcons’ head coach, Mike Smith has a 20-12 regular-season record.

No, they’re not hoping to kick a lot of field goals this year — the offense, when healthy, is capable of racking up several touchdowns a game. And, no, we’re not talking about the guy who wears No. 3, kicker Matt Bryant — though he is important. And, no, we’re not talking about the guy who wears No. 33, running back Michael Turner, either.

Actually, strike that. Turner is a big part of the Falcons’ rule of threes, but it has nothing to do with his uniform number.

This is Turner’s third year with the Falcons. Ditto, coach Mike Smith. And quarterback Matt Ryan. And middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. And general manager Thomas Dimitroff. And left tackle Sam Baker. Wide receiver Harry Douglas, too.

You get the idea.

"There are no surprises now," Lofton said Thursday. "I’ve been in this system now going on my third year, and I’ve seen it all and done it all. I’m not learning like I did my first year. The second year I’m kinda still learning, and this third year I’m just ready to go."

The Falcons won 11 games and made the playoffs in ’08 and might have made it back to the postseason last year if not for injuries — Ryan and Turner, the team’s two primary offensive weapons, missed time down the stretch — that limited the Falcons to nine victories.

For the moment, everyone is healthy. And everyone is eyeing a breakthrough season for a team that now has seen a bit of everything.

"We think of them as third-year players chronologically, but in terms of their experience they’re way beyond their third year," Smith said. "The number of snaps these guys have participated in are a lot more than most third-year players, and I think that’s why the expectations for them to continue their process of learning what we’re trying to do, that the arrow’s way up."

And, let’s face it: Ryan is the face of this third-year brigade. For better or worse, the quarterback is the most visible player.

"Oh, man, he’s matured beyond his years," said two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White, who has three consecutive seasons with at least 80 receptions and 1,150 yards receiving. "He knows everything in the offense now. He’s right on point; he knows all the checks and everything.

"He’s just kind of building this thing up. And when he gets his chance to go out there this year and show everybody what he can do, he’s going to unleash this year."

These Falcons say they understand the challenge ahead.

"They say your third year is when you’re supposed to make that giant step," Lofton said. "Everybody has that same mindset — let’s push it, let’s come out here working and get ready to do that."

Ryan Fagan is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ryan_fagan.

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