Falcons could use draft or free agency to seek Vick replacement Print
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Saturday, 23 February 2008 12:03
NFL Headline News

 INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -The Atlanta Falcons are keeping their options open in finding a replacement for suspended quarterback Michael Vick.
Vick missed last season after pleading guilty to funding a dogfighting ring and helping kill some of the dogs. His replacements at quarterback had their moments, but the Falcons finished 4-12.
With Vick serving a 23-month prison sentence, new coach Mike Smith said the Falcons need help at the position.
``In this league, I think the teams that are successful have great quarterbacks,'' he said Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine. ``If you look at the playoff teams from this past season, the majority of them have outstanding quarterbacks. I think it's a quarterback-driven league.
``I think we have to look at all avenues in terms of free agency and the college draft. There are a number of young quarterbacks here at the combine that we have a lot of interest in.''
Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich and Chris Redman filled in for Vick last year. Harrington has struggled in Detroit, Miami and Atlanta; Redman has 10 career starts in five years; and the Falcons cut Leftwich this month.
With the third overall pick in the draft, the Falcons have the flexibility to wheel and deal or take a top prospect, perhaps at quarterback.
``Picking at number three is big for us, huge for us, because I know we're going to get an outstanding football player at that spot,'' Smith said. ``It also opens up a lot of different avenues for us in terms of how we want to pursue things.''
Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, widely considered the top quarterback prospect, said Friday he wouldn't mind playing in Atlanta.
``It's a great city,'' Ryan said. ``(Owner) Arthur Blank has done a great job, I think, in Atlanta. He's made a strong commitment to the city with everything that's gone on in the past year and has done it with class. I've got a lot of respect for that organization.''
OFF-THE-FIELD CHECKUPS: Tennessee Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said off-the-field conduct is more important than ever for teams considering prospects at the combine.
``I think character has become a bigger and bigger thing,'' he said. ``I think the money's a part of it. I think the clubs and coaches are very, very careful.''
Adam ``Pacman'' Jones, the Titans' star cornerback, has been one of the most troubled players in the league in recent years. Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Jones for the 2007 season for his off-field conduct. The sixth pick in the 2005 draft has been arrested six times since being drafted.
Jones is prohibited from working out at the Tennessee Titans' facility and may not be reinstated until at least the opening of training camps in July. Teams want to avoid such scenarios by doing their homework on troubled prospects before draft day.
``I think part of the process is getting as much information as you can gain,'' Reinfeldt said. ``I think it's understanding all the facts as to what happened. It also involves interviewing the young man. From there, it's a gut call.''
Reinfeldt wouldn't say if Jones' uncertain status would affect the way his team drafts. The Titans have the 24th pick.
``Our cornerbacks did a good job for us last year,'' he said. ``You can never get enough good corners. You get too many good corners, somebody's going to be happy to trade for them.''
HALL UNHAPPY: Atlanta coach Mike Smith said he was disappointed to hear reports that cornerback DeAngelo Hall no longer wants to play for the Falcons.
Hall told reporters at the combine on Friday that he doesn't want to stay in Atlanta after learning the Falcons might trade him.
``I'm really sorry that DeAngelo feels that way,'' Smith said. ``It's our policy not to make comments on speculative roster moves, and that's a speculative roster move. I think he's an outstanding player.''
Hall was unhappy all last season and often spoke negatively about coach Bobby Petrino. He was fined $100,000 for getting into a shouting match with Petrino, and later openly criticized Falcons management after the team released defensive tackle Grady Jackson.
Hall has 228 tackles and 17 interceptions in four NFL seasons and has been to two Pro Bowls.
EXTRA MOTIVATION: Clemson defensive end Phillip Merling is skipping his senior season, but not just because he's anxious to start his pro career.
``I decided to come out early because I have a little daughter and fiancee,'' he said. ``(My fiancee is) about to graduate from the University of South Carolina, so I thought it would be a perfect time.''
Justice, Merling's 1-year-old, was the key consideration.
``If it wasn't for my daughter and stuff like that, I probably would have stayed another year in school and finished up and graduated,'' he said.
Merling, who is considered one of the top five defensive end prospects in the draft, is confident he's making the right move.
``I think I'm ready to play in the NFL,'' he said. ``I just said, 'It's probably a good time to leave.'''
LEINART THROWING: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart has been throwing at the team's training complex as he comes back from the broken collarbone that ended his season, coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Whisenhunt, who was critical of Leinart on occasion, praised the way the quarterback handled the time he was sidelined.
``I'll say this for Matt, I'll give him credit, he's done a very good job during the season of working to stay up on the game and studying the game and doing the work in the classroom,'' Whisenhunt said. ``Mentally, going into this offseason, not only does he feel better about our offense as far as what we're asking him to do, but I think his preparation is a lot better.''
LONG MEMORIES: Defensive end Chris Long of Virginia has yet to meet Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis in the pre-draft process. The Raiders select fourth, and Long could be one of the top picks.
But Long does have some youthful memories related to Davis. When his father, Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long, played for the Raiders, a young Chris engaged in some subterfuge to violate Davis' policy that family members couldn't visit with players at certain times. He remembers his mom telling him to duck down in the back seat of the car so could sneak in to see his dad without anybody noticing.
``Don't tell Al Davis that I said that,'' he said with a laugh.
BENCH PRESS KING: Michigan's Jake Long had the most 225-pound bench press reps among offensive linemen with 37 when players at that position were tested Friday. Craig Stevens of California was tops among tight ends with 27.
AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen contributed to this report.

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