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Harrington era begins as Falcons, Petrino try to move on without Vick
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Atlanta Falcons back-up quarterback Joey Harrington hands off during a mini-camp practice in Flowery Branch in this file photo. With Michael Vick out, he is currently the Falcons starting signal caller. - photo by Associated Press
    ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons hired Bobby Petrino because they thought he could turn Michael Vick into a complete quarterback. They signed Joey Harrington merely to serve as No. 7’s backup.
    My, how things have changed.
    Harrington is now the starter by default, leaving Petrino and the Falcons without their most prominent player as they prepare to begin training camp Thursday in suburban Flowery Branch.
    How can the Falcons possibly cope with the jarring change from Vick, who last season became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards, to Harrington, a first-round bust whose career record as a starter is 23-43?
    Petrino can only talk bravely about a smooth transition.
    ‘‘I know Joey has been through some hard times. He’s been hit a lot. But he’s hung in there,’’ the coach said. ‘‘The thing that impresses me most is his take-charge attitude.’’
    Vick is barred from training camp while the NFL conducts its own investigation into federal charges related to dogfighting. He wouldn’t have been at the first practice anyway; his arraignment in Richmond, Va., is set for Thursday.
    The Falcons planned to give their star quarterback a four-game suspension — the maximum punishment allowed to a team — but held off at the urging of commissioner Roger Goodell, who could impose even stiffer penalties under a new player conduct policy.
    The sordid affair has left Vick with an uncertain future on the football field.
    He seems certain to face some sort of suspension even before his trial, and the Falcons didn’t rule out the possibility of cutting him. Most seriously, he faces up to six years in prison if convicted.
    With no choice but to move on, Petrino quickly anointed Harrington the starter and said the major battle of training camp will be deciding on a backup.
    D.J. Shockley or Chris Redman are already on the roster, and the Falcons will need to add another quarterback just to get through the routine of training camp.