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Falcons ready to kick off 2012 season
Falcons Titans Footba Heal
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) and Atlanta Falcons center Todd McClure (62) set up for a play during a joint football practice with the Tennessee Titans in Dalton, Ga. on Aug. 6. - photo by Associated Press


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Entering his eighth NFL season, Roddy White believes this Atlanta Falcons team is the best he's seen.

"I think this is probably the most talented group we've had up to this point," White said Monday. "We can all run. I think our team's fast. I think we play fast. I think it can be special,"

When the Falcons visit Kansas City on Sunday, they will take the field with as many as nine returning starters on both offense and defense.

The undecided jobs are at right guard as Garrett Reynolds tries to hold off rookie Peter Konz, a second-round draft pick from Wisconsin, and at right cornerback as Dunta Robinson hopes to beat out Asante Samuel, the Falcons' most talented veteran pickup in the offseason.

It seems that a franchise that's gone 23-9 over the past two years has only a few holes to fill.

"On paper, we've got everything," linebacker Mike Peterson. "You look on the offensive side. We're loaded. Special teams, loaded. Defensive side of the ball, we're loaded. The thing about is you don't win games on paper."

Atlanta's struggles in the postseason have been well-documented. The Falcons haven't won't a playoff game since 2004 when Michael Vick was in his third season as starting quarterback and Jim Mora in his first season as coach.

Mike Smith, who's 43-21 in four years as head coach, is 0-3 in the playoffs, but his players are hardly thinking about January with the season opener six days away.

"Seeing the guys we have on this team and knowing the chances we have to go out and make it a special season is pretty exciting," said center Todd McClure, a 14th-year NFL veteran like Peterson. "That's why you keep doing it year after year, trying to win the trophy at the end of the year."

McClure, the longest-tenured Falcon since 1999, anchors an offensive line that added two new pieces in the draft: Konz and No. 3 tackle Lamar Holmes.

Just as was the case in last year's season-opening loss at Chicago, the starters are McClure, Sam Baker at left tackle, Justin Blalock at left guard and Tyson Clabo at right tackle.

Reynolds, who won the right guard job in camp last year but lost it to Joe Hawley in midseason, has worked with the first-team offense more than Konz since training camp opened in late July. But Smith plans to make no public announcements regarding right guard, right cornerback or punt returner before the Falcons face Kansas City.

"I don't mean to be nontransparent," Smith said, "but I don't think it gives us any advantage to talk about who's going to be playing what positions in the opening game."

The decision between Robinson and Samuel isn't as essential as the one on the offensive line.

First-year defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will likely use more schemes with three cornerbacks than those he deploys with three linebackers. Robinson moved inside during mini-camp to take the nickel job as the third cornerback, with Brent Grimes on the left side and Samuel on the right.

White loves what Nolan is planning for opposing offenses.

"I think we have to, at all times, be playing as fast as we can on offense because our D is going to do a lot of things to confuse people and they're probably going to get a lot of turnovers and things like that," White said. "It's going to give us an opportunity to have short fields, so we have to be efficient in the red zone. I think this year is going to be a whole lot different from previous years. I just feel like we're more explosive on offense."