The Covington News - - Sports -

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."

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