GREENVILLE, S.C. -- With just one day remaining in his 12th training camp with the Atlanta Falcons, Bob Whitfield is ready to leave Furman University and return home.
The starting left tackle sounded downright loopy when asked if fans can expect more variety in the offense this year.
"You might even see the run-and-shoot out there," Whitfield said. "You never know."
Ever the joker, Whitfield knows the Falcons didn't acquire Michael Vick, Peerless Price and Warrick Dunn to reinvent the run-and-shoot attack that coaches Jerry Glanville and June Jones used to rack up thousands of passing yards but few victories.
But Whitfield is excited about the widespread formations that first-year offensive coordinator Pete Mangurian has installed with the blessing of head coach Dan Reeves.
"I think it shows the versatility of Dan and Pete and the offense and say, 'We don't have to be one-dimensional. We've got the fullback going this way, so everybody else go this way,' " Whitfield said.
"We create mismatches. We've got Warrick Dunn that can run as a receiver, so it shows the progression we're having in our offense to say, 'We've got strengths in certain positions, so let's utilize our strengths.' "
Atlanta opens the preseason Saturday night when the Green Bay Packers visit the Georgia Dome.
When Reeves was hired in 1997, he put the offense on a traditional course: Establish the run, control the clock, let play-action open up the passing lanes. That philosophy excelled in 1998 with Jamal Anderson and Chris Chandler starring in the offense, but costly injuries, declining personnel and an unsteady defense sent the Falcons spiraling to a 16-32 record from 1999-2001.
Vick changed Reeves' outlook on football when he was promoted to starting quarterback last year. Reeves instructed his staff, namely Mangurian and Mike Johnson, to revamp the playbook to fit Vick's improvisational skills.
The results were encouraging. On their way to earning a wildcard berth in the NFC playoffs, the Falcons finished third in time of possession, fourth in rushing, fifth in scoring and set franchise records in yards per carry and rushing touchdowns.
Mangurian, who was promoted to offensive coordinator in January, likes the fact that he returns all five starters on the line - Whitfield, left guard Travis Claridge, center Todd McClure, right guard Kynan Forney and right tackle Todd Weiner.
"That group's got to be the constant," Mangurian said. "Everybody talks about all these weapons we have, but if that group falls apart, those other guys don't have a chance to do what they can do."
McClure, drafted as a seventh-rounder out of LSU four years ago, is the leader of the line, the man responsible for calling changes in protections as he prepares to make the snap.
Though he hoped for a long-term contract after becoming an unrestricted free agent in February, McClure was happy to re-sign a one-year deal with Atlanta after his discussions with Tampa Bay and Jacksonville stalled.
"I know the offense as well as anybody," McClure said. "It's just a matter of getting us all on the same page and limiting mistakes."
Notes: The Falcons will break camp after a walk-through Friday morning. ... Rookie fullback Justin Griffith (knee, ankle), reserve center Roberto Garza (triceps) and receiver Jimmy Farris (knee) are unlikely to play. ... Linebacker Twan Russell, who played in just three games with Miami last year because of a left knee injury, re-injured his knee in practice after colliding with Farris Thursday afternoon. ... Defensive lineman Travis Hall sat out for the third straight day to rest his groin. ... Price had his right hamstring wrapped in ice as he walked into the dining hall, but the receiver insisted he will play.
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