The Covington News - - Sports -

be­come an­other David Carr.

The top over­all pick in 2002 by the ex­pan­sion Hous­ton Tex­ans, Carr started all 16 games his very first sea­son. It was a du­bi­ous de­ci­sion that might have cost him any chance of ever be­com­ing any­thing more than a jour­ney­man pro.

Play­ing be­hind a shaky line — hmm, that sounds fa­mil­iar — Carr was sacked an NFL-record 76 times as a rookie, which un­der­stand­ably hurt his con­fi­dence and left him wary of get­ting hit, the no­to­ri­ous "happy feet" syn­drome that has ru­ined many a top prospect.

Carr lasted five sea­sons in Hous­ton but never pro­duced a winning record. He's now back­ing up Eli Man­ning on the Su­per Bowl cham­pion New York Giants.

"It would have ob­vi­ously helped to have more tal­ent around him," said Hous­ton of­fen­sive line­man Ch­ester Pitts, one of the few orig­i­nal Tex­ans still with that team. "If things could have been dif­fer­ent, maybe it would have played out dif­fer­ently."

Ryan put up de­cent num­bers in the pre­sea­son, com­plet­ing about 58 per­cent of his passes with two touch­downs and one in­ter­cep­tion, good enough to beat out vet­eran Chris Red­man for the start­ing job. The rookie also was sacked four times, giv­ing him a lit­tle taste of what he may be in for this year.

But Ryan shrugged off any com­par­isons to Carr, even while he pre­pares to lead a team that went 4-12 last sea­son in the wake of Vick's dog­fight­ing case and has the look of an ex­pan­sion team head­ing into Sun­day's opener against the Detroit Lions.

The 53-man ros­ter that in­cludes 19 play­ers — seven of them rook­ies — with no more than one year of pro ex­pe­ri­ence. The Fal­cons are cer­tainly in a re­build­ing mode, with most prog­nos­ti­ca­tors pick­ing them to fin­ish last in the NFC South with no more than two or three wins.

"It doesn't re­ally con­cern me," said Ryan, whose un­flap­pable de­meanor should come in handy. "There's go­ing to be ups and downs, and I have to be able to deal with that, learn from it and try to be a bet­ter player at the end of the year than I was at the beginning."

Ryan in­sists that he's con­fi­dent in the guys up front, though it would be down­right shock­ing for him to say oth­er­wise. Af­ter all, he wants to stay on their good side, since they're the ones who'll largely de­ter­mine how much time he spends on his feet — and on his back.

"I'm fired up about the guys up front," Ryan said. "The pass pro­tec­tion has been re­ally good. I've not had too much pres­sure in the pocket, and we've seen a good amount of blitzes through the pre­sea­son. ... They're phys­i­cal guys and they've got a nasty at­ti­tude. It's al­ways good to have those type of guys in front of you."

Of course, that was the pre­sea­son.

Let's see how the line holds up when the games ac­tu­ally count.

"I think we're up for the chal­lenge," Dahl said. "He's a real tough kid. I think he can han­dle what­ever they throw at him. We've just got to do ev­ery­thing in our power to keep guys off him."

The Fal­cons will try to take some of the pres­sure off Ryan by es­tab­lish­ing a pow­er­ful run­ning game cen­tered on two ex­plo­sive backs, Michael Turner and Je­ri­ous Nor­wood. If At­lanta can run the ball ef­fec­tively — as it did in the pre­sea­son with an av­er­age of 140 yards a game — Ryan will find him­self in more sit­u­a­tions where he's pass­ing when he wants to, not when he has to, thereby putting the rush­ers on their heals.

That sounds good on pa­per, but it re­mains to be seen whether the Fal­cons can pull it off against de­fenses that surely will be stack­ing the line with seven or eight de­fend­ers. If Ryan finds him­self con­tin­u­ally fac­ing thir­dand-long, things could get ugly.

"If you've got some­body in your face the whole time, it's hard to be ef­fec­tive," said cen­ter Todd McClure, a 10th-year player and likely to be the se­nior starter on the line.

That's what hap­pened to Carr in Hous­ton.

"He took a lot of hits," for­mer team­mate An­dre John­son said. "Some­times, you kind of get shell­shocked from that."

Smith dissed any com­par­isons to Carr, as well as those who think this rookie quar­ter­back would have been bet­ter off start­ing his ca­reer with a clip­board in his hands rather than a ball.

"You don't gain any­thing from sit­ting on the side­lines watch­ing," the coach said. "If you're the best player, you should have an op­por­tu­nity to go out there and play."

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