By Leo Haggerty

It’s time for some real football, National Football League style.  Week 1 brings back our “FROM THE OTHER SIDE” segment where we talk to a member of the media that covers the opposing franchise for the Bucs that particular week.

This week we’re heading up to Atlanta and we bring in Roger Hendler who has graciously given his time to talk about the Falcons.  Last year, the Dirty Birds finished at 8-8 and that was good enough for the runner-up spot in the NFC South.

LH : Let’s get this out there right away.  I am not a fan of Kyle Shanahan.  He’s the Offensive Coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons.  Obviously, there was a huge rift between him and QB Matt Ryan.  Have the two of them kissed and made up yet or should we expect to see the same disarray to the offense up in the ATL?

RH : Leo, that’s a good question.  It appears, and this is going by the pre-season, that Shanahan will not be on the sideline but operating from the press box.  He’ll be up in the coaches booth instead of being on the sidelines with Ryan.  It will be very interesting.  There’s also a lot of changes that have occured with the Falcons.  Roddy White, the legendary Falcons wide receiver who starred for the team for 11 years, is gone.  Julio Jones is back and it will be interesting to see how things work out with White gone.  I think the key to this offense is the rushing game.  The success that Matt Ryan had early in his career was predicating on how well the Falcons ran the football.  I think the rushing game will return and be very successful.  Whether it equates to another eight-win season, I don’t know that either.  You remember they had that awful string of losses late in the season.  That offset a pretty good start.

LH : A quarterback’s best friend is a good running game.  That keeps the defensive line from pinning their ears back and just coming hard on the pass rush.  How does the offensive line look at this time? 

RH : There are some changes up front and there’s one you and I have talked about for the last year and that is C Joe Hawley.  He was the starting center in Atlanta and, all of a sudden, he’s with the Buccaneers.  I think that really hurt the Falcons because they never really found a repl;acement for him.

LH : How is the defense going to be?

RH : I think the defense is going to be must improved over last year for a couple of reasons.  First, they have MLB Paul Worrilow healthy.  He’s the heart-and-soul of the defense.  Second, they brough back WLB Sean Witherspoon.  Both of these guys are a huge upgrade to the linebacking corp and, for that matter, the entire defense.  Also, look for some changes into the backfield. 

LH : Have they finally found a spot for Vic Beasley?

RH : Leo, that’s another excellent question.  Beasley is still having trouble finding a position to settle into with the Falcons especially since they changed systems last year when Dan Quinn came in as head coach.  I’ve talked to Vic numerous times during the season and he’s a very quiet young man.  Atlanta will probably decide this year if he’s the right guy for their system and, more importantly, where he fits into that system.

LH ; When you talk about the special teams in Atlanta, they may have the most consistent kicker in the league in Matt Bryant.  What do you think?

RH : I agree.  He’s extremely consistent.  He does a terrific job and they also have a great punter and kickoff specialist in Matt Bosher.

LH : How do you think the Falcons are going to be this year?

RH : You never know at this time of the year.  They can be as bad as 6-10 and as good as 9-7.  I think you and I would both agree that Carolina is the cream of the crop in the NFC South.  I think the Bucs will be improved with Dirk Koetter as head coach and Mike Smith now the Defensive Coordinator plus Jameuis Winston should continue to develop.  I would be very surprised if New Orleans doesn’t bounce back.  There on a short time line with the age of Drew Brees so look for the Saints to be better. 

LH : Right now, I’m leaning toward the Falcons to win the opener only because it’s in Atlanta with a late field goal.  Who do you like?

RH : I have to agree with you but this is going to be a very close game.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the outcome went the other way and the Bucs win.  These teams are both very evenly matched and, as in most cases when teams are pretty equal, the one with the least amount of turnovers will probably win.