tampabay.com

Work in progress

Wins are nice, but the Falcons mainly are looking for steady improvement throughout the year.

By JUSTIN DARGAHI
Published August 25, 2006


TAMPA - Leto will look to rookie coach Hugh Denhert to turn around a struggling program that hasn't been to the playoffs since 1999.

The Falcons have only five wins over the past three seasons, but Denhert welcomes the challenge.

"My expectations don't necessarily have to do with wins and losses," Denhert said. "We just want to get better every day and compete on and off the field. Hopefully doing so will help us win some games."

Denhert comes over from Orlando University -a class 6A school - where he was the defensive coordinator.

Leto is expected to be solid on defense this year, but it is the other side of the ball where Denhert needs to see major improvement if Leto is to add to their win total from a year ago.

The Falcons' much maligned offense failed to score a touchdown in four of the team's first five games in 2005 and lost half of their starters from a year ago.

ON THE GROUND: The Falcons return five players with experience in the backfield. They will have to rely on all of them as they are going to run a lot of double tight end and wing set formations since they return just one starter from their offensive line.

"We're definitely going to focus a lot more on our running game," Denhert said. "Our passing game will then be able to feed off of our running."

THROUGH THE AIR: The Falcons have a new quarterback in inexperienced junior John Ellington. He should get some protection on the line led by mammoth Rick Ramero (6-4, 325).

Offensive coordinator Justin Shive comes over from Riverview and looks to improve the Falcons' air attack in order to keep opposing defenses honest.

DEFENSE: Leto returns six starters from last season and will continue with its 4-4 scheme.

Defensive back Jamal Gilbert anchored the defense last year and is back for his senior season. Senior Luther St. Luis is back as the best player on a solid defensive line.

"We have looked pretty good on defense and I think we will be able to adjust to most formations," Denhert said. "The simpler we can make everything the better we will be."