The Falcons might go to training camp on time. Should that happen, it would prompt the question: What the heck was the lockout all about, anyway? But that’s not among the issues we’re here to ponder today. These are.
1. If Julio Jones isn’t really good right away, will that mean Thomas Dimitroff’s give-a-lot-to-get-one-man draft strategy was wrong-headed? If Julio Jones is really good right away, will that mean Roddy White’s tender sensibilities get ruffled? (NFL rule of thumb: No. 1 receivers tend to have tunnel vision.)
2. If Julio Jones is really good right away, will we be able to tell? Or will Mike Mularkey’s offense remain the ponderous thing it became last season? Is Mularkey the guy to oversee a quick-strike attack this would seem to have the capacity to become, or is the only thing he shares with the mad scientist Mike Martz a set of initials?
3. What happens if, under the new collective bargaining agreement, three-fifths of the Falcons’ starting offensive line is granted unrestricted free agency? Will the Falcons move to keep all three — Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl and Justin Blalock? Will they settle for two of the above? One of the above? Who would replace the incumbents? Understudies Garrett Reynolds and Mike Johnson? Can a team poised for a Super Bowl run afford to change so much up front at such a late date?
4. Is there still a roster spot for Jerious Norwood? If so, why? Wasn’t rookie Jacquizz Rodgers drafted to be the new-and-healthier Norwood? Will Mularkey seek to deploy Rodgers in space by getting him the ball on screen passes? (Toward that end, has Mularkey ever called a screen pass?)
5. Michael Turner had 10 games in which he rushed for more than 120 yards in 2008 and 2009; he had three last season. He’s 29. He has carried the ball 888 times the past three seasons. Is he still the Burner?
6. Tony Gonzalez slipped from 83 catches in 2009 to 70 in 2010: How come? Why did he disappear — three catches for 19 yards and no touchdowns — in the Dec. 26 loss to New Orleans and the playoff loss to Green Bay? Did Gonzalez, who has since turned 35, stop getting open? Did Matt Ryan stop looking for him?
7. Ryan has taken the Falcons to three winning seasons in his first three professional years, but won’t the memory of those two playoff losses linger until he wins a postseason game? (We say again: Peyton Manning didn’t win his first playoff game until his sixth NFL season.) Is there anything about Ryan that suggests he can’t negotiate the logical next step? If so, what?
8. For a team coming off a 13-3 season, isn’t there much left for the Falcons to do after the lockout ends? Beyond the matter of the offensive line, don’t they still have to find a pass rusher to complement John Abraham? Is Ray Edwards of Minnesota, as has been suggested, that complement? If so, will he sign here? Will there be enough money left under the (presumably lowered) salary cap to accommodate Clabo and Dahl, say, and Edwards?
9. If teams throwing away from Dunta Robinson contributed to Brent Grimes’ rise to the Pro Bowl, what happens when those teams decide to start testing Robinson again? Were his pedestrian numbers of last season — one interception, seven passes defensed — an indication that the Falcons overpaid for the big-ticket cornerback, or were they simply a function of opposing tactics?
10. Peria Jerry was the Falcons’ No. 1 pick of 2009; he has made two pro starts and registered two pro sacks. Sean Weatherspoon was the No. 1 pick of 2010; he made five starts and registered one sack. Are these two difference-makers healthy enough to make a difference? More to the point, can they stay healthy?
11. We posed this question last January, and we might not get an answer until next January: Were the Falcons as good as 13-3 or as bad as the 48-21 playoff loss to Green Bay? Was the defense as flawed as Aaron Rodgers made it look? Or were the Packers just that good that given Saturday? Wasn’t it troubling that a team that played so hard and so well to gain home-field advantage collapsed on its home field? Will the sting of that wretched night be the goad that carries this franchise to bigger and better things?
By Mark Bradley