of being successful. It's very encouraging to see what's taking place around here."
Putting Vick permanently in their rearview mirror, the Falcons drafted quarterback Matt Ryan with the third overall pick. He needed only three preseason games to claim the starting job over journeyman Chris Redman, though the Falcons might be taking a big chance putting the rookie right in the game behind a shaky offensive line. Remember David Carr? "It's going to be a lot of fun," Ryan insisted. "There's going to be some ups and downs throughout the game, but this is something I have always dreamed about and I'm excited that it's about to happen."
While Atlanta's season fell apart before it ever began, the Lions had the Motor City thinking playoffs when they won six of their first eight games a year ago. Of course, there were still eight more to play — and Detroit limped home with only one more victory.
The 7-9 mark was the Lions' best in seven years, but that was of little consolation for a team that has gone 31-81 since the beginning of 2001.
Looking for more balance in its offense, Detroit parted ways with pass-happy coordinator Mike Martz. His replacement, Jim Colletto, plans to call a lot more running plays, even though the Lions hardly look like a team that can pound defenses into submission.
Rookie Kevin Smith, a thirdround pick from Central Florida, will likely share the load with late addition Rudi Johnson, who signed with the Lions after being cut by Cincinnati last weekend. A 1,400-yard rusher in both 2005 and '06, he managed only 497 last season while battling a hamstring problem.
Johnson missed much of training camp and the preseason with the same injury, but the Lions insist he's healthy enough to give them a muchneeded boost in the backfield.
"He's run for a lot of yards in this league," Colletto said. "He's going to play. How much he'll play Sunday, I don't know, but he can play. I don't think we can ask Kevin to carry the load the whole day."
The Lions have one of the league's top receiver duos with Roy Williams and second-year player Calvin Johnson, who grew up in suburban Atlanta and starred at Georgia Tech.
Johnson is 6-foot-5 and Williams checks in at 6-3, giving them a big size advantage on the Falcons' corners, neither of whom is even 6 feet tall.
"They can make some bigtime plays in the passing game," Brooking said. "They can really run. When you have guys that size, who are as tall and rangy as they are, nine times out of 10 they are not speed guys who can beat you vertically down the field. But those guys can really get down the field."
On the other side of the line, the Lions will try to make life miserable for Ryan, hoping to rattle the rookie in his first pro start. Not that they'll be blitzing on every play.
"There's different ways," coach Rod Marinelli said. "There's physical pressure, but there's a lot about mental pressure. When you think it's coming and it's not — disguise, pressure, four-strong here, there, making him make checks, and sometimes you bring four. I love hitting them, don't get me wrong, but the mental pressure is just as great."