Originally created 08/31/99

Falcons focus narrows



SUWANEE, Ga. -- Two steps after Bob Whitfield finished running his final wind sprint Monday, the hulking offensive tackle collapsed in a heap at the Atlanta Falcons training camp.

His uniform was soaked in sweat; his body ached from the two-hour workout.

The emphasis seemed to change a bit for the defending NFC champions for this week's exhibition game at Cincinnati. Rather than pace themselves to the season-opener against Minnesota on Sept. 12, the Falcons now seem focused on getting a full stride right now.

"It's time to do things right," said center Robbie Tobeck. "We have to start eliminating our mistakes right now. If we're going to get this out of our system, we need to do it now."

Atlanta hasn't scored an offensive touchdown in its last nine quarters of preseason. The result has been lackluster losses to Baltimore and Tennessee. Now with Cincinnati up next Friday, the Falcons want to make a statement a week before the regular season opens.

"We're trying to eliminate our mistakes," said coach Dan Reeves. "We can't keep fumbling the ball, making penalties and missing assignments the way we've been doing. The guys have been playing hard; they're just not playing smart."

In last Friday's loss at Tennessee, the Falcons had five turnovers and several lapses along the offensive line that allowed backup quarterback Tony Graziani to suffer a strained knee.

"I'm glad (starter) Chris (Chandler) wasn't in there because he would have gotten killed," Reeves said.

Graziani was at practice Monday, but he probably won't be able to work out until next week. His injury will force Chandler to play the entire first half against the Bengals as Atlanta tries to kick-start its game plan.

"There is a little concern," Tobeck said. "We've been turning the ball over, and the offensive line has been letting the quarterback get hit too many times.

"It's a matter of us buckling down and doing things right. Maybe we were thinking too much about last season, and we didn't realize this is a new season and we have to go out and play. We need to get it going this week. It's going to help to have Chandler in there (for the first half). But everyone still has to do their job and eliminate mistakes."

Danny Kanell, who's trying to lock down the team's No. 2 quarterback job behind Chandler, will play the second half.

In three exhibition games this year, the Falcons have averaged only 261.7 total yards. Atlanta has been outscored 41-14 in the second half, and the team lost nine turnovers.

"I'm looking forward to getting at least a half this week," Chandler said. "We need to see what the offense can do."

NOTES: The Falcons put seven players on waivers Monday and placed center Todd McClure on the injured list to trim their roster to 62 players -- three more than the mandatory cut down of 65 players required by the NFL today. Gone are safety Chris Bayne, defensive tackle Bob Kuberski, cornerback Rod Smith, wide receiver J.T. Thomas, wide receiver Octavus Barnes, offensive tackle Cornell Green and linebacker Lamont Green ... Wide receiver Chris Calloway returned to practice for the first time since suffering a sprained ankle on Aug. 5 in training camp. "He practiced well," Reeves said of the free agent who's expected to start in Tony Martin's split-end spot. "Just having him out there was a step in the right direction." ... Defensive end Chuck Smith (toe) didn't work out Monday ... The team will practice again today at 2 p.m.