Mailbag: Atlanta Falcons edition

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The Atlanta Falcons are the final stop on our tour of team-by-team mailbags.

Brett in Atlanta writes: Hey Pat, i read this blog alot but this is my first time sending a question. Anyways, i want to know how good do you think the falcons young defense can be?

Pat Yasinskas: I think Atlanta's defense now has the potential to be very good. Young guys like Peria Jerry, William Moore, Chris Owens, Stephen Nicholas and Chevis Jackson have lots of potential. Sure, the Falcons lost veteran leadership when they let Keith Brooking, Lawyer Milloy and Grady Jackson go. But they got fresh legs and I think this year's defense can be better than last year's in time. There might be some early bumps, but as Mike Smith likes to say, "It's a process''.

Mark in Houston: Hey Pat, did Jerious Norwood get any extra carries or extra attention during the mini-camp you attended? I remember you saying you'd post something on it, but I probably missed it. So will he get more than just the occasional catch and kick returns? Also, I've heard that Middleton will be the kick and punt returner this season. Any truth or backing to that? I thought Norwood and Douglas did a good job last season, but with Douglas getting a bigger role and hopefully Norwood getting a bigger role also, we might need someone to return. So is Middleton that guy? Thanks Pat.

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, I definitely noticed Norwood getting some first-team working as the Falcons rested Michael Turner some. It was only a minicamp, but I think that's a sign of things to come. I had one high-ranking person with the Falcons tell me, "The last thing we want is Michael having to carry 375 times again." Turner's still going to get a bunch of carries, but there's going to be a conscious effort to get Norwood a bit more involved. As for the return game, it's too early to say. All those guys you mentioned got work there in minicamp, but a lot is going to depend on if Norwood and Harry Douglas are taking on bigger roles with the offense. That will sort out in the preseason.

Dash in Nashville writes: Pat...love the blog. There was a rumor floating that 3rd round pick Chris Owens might have an opportunity to start for the Falcons...has he gotten any first team reps from what you've seen?

Pat Yasinskas: The Falcons would love it if Owens steps up and claims the job from Day One. That would mean he beat out Chevis Jackson, Von Hutchins and Brent Grimes. That's a lot to ask from a third-round pick, but it could happen and hopes are high. The Falcons aren't wed to Jackson, Hutchins or Grimes as starters. They're going to throw the four of them out there in training camp and see who steps up. One thing I noticed in minicamp was that Owens was getting a lot of attention from the assistant coaches. I usually take that as a sign a team wants a guy to catch on quickly. They also were doing the same thing with rookie safety William Moore.

Nathan in Cary, N.C., writes: Pat, Read your article on Jamaal Anderson of the Falcons. Kind of makes you feel for the guy. However, the title of him hoping for a breakout year is a little obvious. My question is, what happens to Anderson if this breakout year does not come to pass? How many more poor seasons are the Falcons willing to wait for this breakout?

Pat Yasinskas: This year could be it for Anderson if he doesn't step up. The Falcons re-signed Chauncey Davis as an insurance policy and drafted Lawrence Sidbury as a potential replacement. Anderson has to start producing now.

Mark in Chicago writes: Ryan best Rookie QB ever? No way - look at roethlisberger 2004 .13-0 as starter, Team was 15-1 overall after 6-10 season in 2003. Compare stats as well. Ryan very, very good but not best ever.

Pat Yasinskas: With all due respect to Ben Roethlisberger, who had a fine rookie season and has developed into one of the best quarterbacks in the league, I still give the nod to Matt Ryan. Roethlisberger joined a team that already had most of the other ingredients in place to be very good in 2004. He did a nice job managing games, but the team around him was the reason the Steelers were good that year. Think back to when Ryan first joined the Falcons. People said they might not even win a game because they were the worst team in the league and it would take years to recover from Michael Vick. The Falcons, who also were going through a coaching change, went out and won 11 games and Ryan won some of those games almost by himself.

Sokha in Richmond writes: Hey Pat, I was wondering why hasn't the Falcons signed Roddy White to a long term deal yet? He could be Matt Ryan's favorite target for years to come.

Pat Yasinskas: There have been some talks about an extension for White, but nothing's close to happening. The Falcons want to keep him and you may see them lock him up before the season. But there's not the usual urgency on this one because the free-agent system is a little different than usual right now without an extension of the collective bargaining agreement. Players now need to be vested for six years before they become unrestricted free agents. That means, although White's contract is up after 2009, he can only become a restricted free agent in 2010.