St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

So fast, they're scary

The Falcons' believe their speed will take the rest of the league by storm.

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002

The Falcons' believe their speed will take the rest of the league by storm.

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Falcons coach Dan Reeves has been around the NFL long enough to know not to make predictions. He has two speedburners in quarterback Michael Vick and running back Warrick Dunn, but Reeves won't say for certain what kind of numbers they'll put up this season.

The only thing Reeves knows is this: Every team that faces those two players ought to be afraid. Very afraid.

"Speed is the thing that scares people," Reeves said during the team's training camp here. "When you have a guy who can go all the way on any single play -- and I think you're definitely talking about two guys who can do that. Any time they touch the football, they can break it wide open. We know what Michael can do. We've just got to learn how to utilize Warrick to his max. I think that, everyday, we've seen that (his potential is) unlimited."

Vick and Dunn give Atlanta arguably the fastest backfield in the league. Few teams have a quarterback and a running back with the quickness, explosiveness and breakaway speed they possess. The only tandems that come close are New Orleans' Aaron Brooks-Deuce McAllister and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb-Duce Staley.

Vick is bursting with talent. He's a threat to run or throw on any play and is dangerously adept at both. He has a strong arm and can throw with accuracy. And as a runner, he has great vision and is remarkably elusive.

In essence, he is the ultimate playmaker, a guy who can turn a busted play into a 30-yard gain, then do it again on the very next play.

He is also still a bit raw. This is his second year in the league and his first as a starter. He is still inconsistent and prone to making costly mistakes, but who'll really remember if he can turn the next play into the game-winner?

"He's the best athlete in the NFL," Miami cornerback Patrick Surtain said. "It doesn't always matter how well you defend a receiver. Vick's arm is so good that he can throw the ball right past you."

Dunn, whom Atlanta lured from Tampa Bay through free-agency this offseason, is just as multi-faceted, having combined for more than 1,000 yards rushing and receiving each of the past five seasons.

He gives Atlanta what it hasn't had in years -- a back who can break through a defense on any carry, or do it by catching the ball out of the backfield. Granted, at 5 feet 9 and 180 pounds, he isn't hard to bring down, but the trick is you have to catch him first. There's much debate around Atlanta about who's faster -- Dunn or Vick.

"I don't know if we've asked him to do anything that he can't do," Reeves said.

Running backs coach Ollie Wilson said it's not just Vick's and Dunn's blazing speed that opponents should worry about.

"There are a lot of fast guys in the league, but what sets those guys apart is their skill as runners," Wilson said. "Their vision, making the right decisions when they're running. That's as important as their all-out speed."

As Bucs fans know all too well, pairing Dunn with Vick won't mean much if the Falcons don't use Dunn properly. They spent the offseason trying to figure it out and now think they've hit on the right formula.

In addition to getting Dunn 20 or 25 carries a game, the key will be variety. Wilson promises "You'll never see him lined up in the same place twice." He'll be lined up in the slot, out wide in a three-receiver set, in motion coming around the tight end, etc.

"What they are trying to do is let me display everything that I can do, not just in the backfield and not just in the slot, but I'm motioning, doing shifts, lining up outside wide," Dunn said. "They are letting me be versatile in a sense, which is just an added dimension to the game, stuff I wasn't able to do the last five years in Tampa."

Just Dunn's presence should force teams to play the Falcons differently. No longer can defenses afford to key only on Vick, changing their rush lanes to keep him in the pocket or using a defensive player as a "spy" on Vick.

"If we get (Dunn) out as a wide receiver, how are you going to match up with him?" Wilson said. "You're going to put a corner on him and treat him as a receiver? You're going to put a safety on him and treat him as a running back and see if you can cover him that way? We know you can't put a linebacker on him. So, it's a situation where now that gives defenses problems as far as their decision-making."

So, if you're playing against the Falcons, do you worry more about Vick or Dunn? Atlanta hopes teams stay up all night trying to figure it out. One way or the other, the Falcons say, they are going to get you.

"I think it's a big addition to our football team having Warrick back there. I think there are going to be a lot of problems that we're going to cause," Vick said. "We need to get him the ball 20 to 25 times a game, and then let me do my thing. And I think if we do our things, we'll have a lot of success."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.