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  1. A smaller Malliciah Goodman could help Falcons' pass rush When Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn addressed the media during his introductory news conference, he talked about wanting pass-rushers with speed and length. Malliciah Goodman doesn't possess great speed, but the 6-foot-4 defensive lineman certainly has the length with 37-inch arms. Quinn obviously sees Goodman's value as a pass-rusher, which is why Goodman is in the process of dropping 25 pounds from his playing weight last year of 290. Remember, he bulked up to be more of a run-stuffer in last year's 3-4 hybrid system under Mike Nolan. Goodman doesn't have a sack in two seasons with the Falcons after recording 12 sacks in college at Clemson, including 9.5 sacks during his final year. "I met with (Quinn) and Bryan Cox and I'm going to get my weight down and probably be back on the outside, working on tight ends and the tackles," Goodman said. "I'm excited to make that transition. I was that in college. We changed it once I got to Atlanta because of the different defenses. But I'll be back outside. It will all depend on the progress we have with that and the work we put in at [organized team activities]." As of right now, Goodman weighs 280 pounds, still a little ways from the targeted 265. It's been far from easy trying to get down to his desired weight. "You have to change your diet up, first of all, with high protein, less carbs and the cardio and exercise," Goodman said. "Just kind of getting your feet quicker. Initially, it was hard because I was 290 and I had these certain habits to keep my weight. Now I have to lose weight, so I've got to change my habits, alter my diet. It's just that quick transition. But I'm getting used to it. It will be fine." Quickness is the key element in the whole equation for Goodman if he hopes to thrive in Quinn's 4-3-under defense that incorporates 3-4 personnel tendencies. "Doing the ladder drills, jumping rope, doing reaction drills ... and I'm going to start working at the facility," Goodman said. "I'm excited about it. "There's a lot of energy in the building right now. Everybody's excited about the new process with the new head coach, putting the offense and defense in and changing some things up. I'm excited to see how everything is going to be when we report." There is another aspect that has Goodman a little giddy: the prospect of adding former Clemson teammate Vic Beasley to the mix via the draft. Goodman attended Beasley's pro day workout. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, in his latest mock draft, has the Falcons selecting Beasley eighth overall. "He's really matured and grown into a dominant player, as you all know," Goodman said of Beasley. "He's a very athletic and a very humble guy. And he can produce. He's really done well this past few years. He's from Georgia, so that would be cool just for him to be in the state. And he's been a Falcons fan for a while, so I know he'd definitely be happy to come. "
  2. http://espn.go.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/163023/vic-beasley-impressed-by-dan-quinn-falcons?utm_campaign=Sports+Betting&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter Vic Beasley impressed by Dan Quinn, FalconsCLEMSON, S.C. -- When Vic Beasley addressed the media during this year's NFL combine in Indianapolis, the Clemson pass-rusher couldn't hide his affection for his hometown Atlanta Falcons. After spending time talking to new Falcons coach Dan Quinn at the event, Beasley walked away even more impressed with his favorite team. "Coach Quinn, just his whole demeanor, he's a very influential coach," Beasley said during Clemson's pro day on Thursday. "He pushes his players. I can tell that just by the way he speaks and the way he carries himself." Beasley met various members of the organization, including owner Arthur Blank, but Quinn is the only one Beasley huddled with extensively. The two talked about how Beasley would fit in the Falcons' scheme, specifically in regard to the "Leo" hybrid defensive end/rush linebacker position. Quinn runs a 4-3 under defense with some 3-4 personnel tendencies. "He just said that he had guys like [current Seattle Seahawk] Bruce Irvin and other similar guys to me that could play that Leo position," Beasley said. "That's kind of where we connected right there. I fit the Leo position because a guy like Bruce Irvin, we're similar body types. And we have similar games. We're both great edge-rushers." The question is, after his outstanding combine performance will Beasley be available if the Falcons stand pat with the eighth overall pick? ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Atlanta selecting Beasley in his latest mock draft. Beasley, who is tentatively scheduled to visit the Falcons on March 30, naturally wants to be the first pass-rusher off the board. At the same time, he can't help but envision the possibility of playing for the Falcons. "It's a high possibility, and that would be like a dream come true," Beasley said. "But whatever team I go to, I'm going to be exceptionally happy and treat that team like it's the Falcons, like I grew up rooting for them. "But as far as the Falcons, Dan Quinn is a great guy. I saw him build that defense in Seattle, and I think he plans to do the same in Atlanta." The Falcons already understand the type of quality player they would get in Beasley. Those most familiar with him would tell you he's equally a high-quality person. An example of such occurred prior to Thursday's pro day at Clemson. Beasley lost his uncle to cancer and was back home in Adairsville, Georgia, for the funeral this week. He spent time with his family and left at 4 a.m. Thursday morning to get back to Clemson in time for a 7 a.m weigh-in session, carrying a heavy heart. Beasley kept his emotions in check as he cordially greeted scouts and coaches, then answered every question from the media. "I'm just more proud of who he is as a man," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "He's just a great person. He's a very serious, focused guy. He's very committed to being great, and when I say committed I'm talking about what he puts in his body and what he allows in his mind; how he trains in the weight room, how he studies the game. He's just fully committed. "And off the field, you don't notice him. He's quiet, but he plays loud. He plays really loud. He's not a rah-rah guy. He's not a crowd guy. He's just a guy who's going to show up every day. ... Whoever gets him is going to get a guy that's going to handle himself like a pro from the day he gets there because that's how he is right now and has been that way."
  3. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/11843/falcons-free-agent-priority-antone-smith Falcons free-agent priorities: Antone Smith February, 12, 2015 Feb 12 8:00 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com We started the process of ranking the top 5 players out of 19 unrestricted free agents the Atlanta Falcons should re-sign with kicker Matt Bryant as the No. 1 priority, receiver/special-teams ace Eric Weems at No. 2 and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon at No. 3. Here is the next guy on the list: Smith No. 4: Antone Smith Age: 29 2014 base salary/cap number: $730,000/$767,750 Key stat: Smith scored five touchdowns last season on just 36 touches and averaged 51 yards per scoring play. What he's worth: Smith positioned himself for a nice payday with a team-MVP-like performance through the first nine games of last season. Then he suffered a broken leg in the 10th game at Carolina while playing special teams which spoiled his spectacular individual effort. Had he continued at the same pace, maybe Smith would have been viewed in the same light as Darren Sproles of the Philadelphia Eagles, who averages $3.5 million per year. Sproles' value, of course, increases due to his ability to be an explosive return man. Smith, however, should be worth at least a million or two, if he returns to full strength. Not to mention Smith is quite a special-teams contributor in his own right as a top-flight gunner. Quinn factor: If you check Dan Quinn's Twitter account from yesterday (@FalconsDQ), you'll notice he uses the hashtag #FastandPhysical. Well, you can't get much faster than Smith with his ability to explode by defenders. And Smith runs with power, too. All Quinn needs to do is click on the film to show just how valuable Smith can be for the Falcons. Not to mention owner Arthur Blank said he wanted Smith around for years to come.
  4. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/11531/kyle-shananan-should-be-pleased-to-unite-with-matt-ryan Kyle Shananan should be pleased to unite with Matt Ryan, when it happens January, 19, 2015 Jan 19 9:10 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com According to ESPN Insider Adam Schefter's report, the Atlanta Falcons have an outline for their future with the additions of Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as head coach and Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator imminent. Quinn, of course, would bring an aggressive defensive mentally to the franchise with the way the Seahawks have suffocated opponents the past few seasons. Give Quinn the right defensive personnel, with more talented pass-rushers up front, and the league's worst defense could make a dramatic turnaround in 2015. As for Shanahan and the offense, his job should be a lot easier thanks to the presence of quarterback Matt Ryan. Shanahan spent this past season dealing with drama with the Cleveland Browns' organization. He got the most out of Brian Hoyer, then was asked to virtually perform a miracle in getting rookie Johnny Manziel to become an NFL starter. The result was Shanahan turning in his resignation because he disagreed with the Browns' decision to move forward with Manziel. ESPN.COM COACHING COVERAGE Get the latest news and analysis on all the coaching changes from NFL Nation reporters. Coaching Carousel » Coaching changes chart Prior to the soap opera with the Browns, Shanahan spent three seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins under his father, Mike. His first season there (2010), he had veterans Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman as his quarterbacks. His last (2013), was a disastrous 3-13 campaign with Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins as his signal-callers. The first quarterback Shanahan had as an NFL coordinator was former Falcon Matt Shaub while with the Houston Texans, and Shaub lead the league in passing yards under Shanahan in 2009. Although there was a point in time when many would have claimed Shanahan had a gem with Griffin III, those days quickly faded. Now Shanahan, once he's hired by the Falcons, has a chance to work with a true franchise quarterback in Ryan, who has thrown for 4,000-plus yards the past four seasons. Ryan is coming off a disappointing season, but a fresh start with Shanahan could be just what he needs to re-establish himself. And Shanahan will have to re-adjust after devoting his attention to mobile quarterbacks such as Griffin III and Manziel. Of course, the Falcons have to upgrade some of the parts around Ryan and Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones. Shanahan has had 1,000-yard rushers in Alfred Morris with the Redskins and Steve Slaton with the Texans. He even had a nice tandem with the Browns this past season in Terrence West and Isaiah Crowell, so Shanahan certainly understands the value of establishing the running game. The Falcons also need a pass-catching tight end and another receiver, with Roddy White coming toward the end of his career. Shanahan is well-respected around the league for his football mind. We'll see if he helps take Ryan and the offense to another level.
  5. Thursday, October 23, 2014 Bryan Cox on Falcons' D-line: 'We have a job to do' By Vaughn McClure Surprisingly, Atlanta Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox didn't resort to foul language in describing the play of his unit thus far. Cox, however, is far from satisfied with the effort. And he primarily pointed to one person in particular. "Not good enough," Cox said. "At the end of the day, I've got to coach it better. "We've got to play together better. And we have to do a better job in order to help us be successful." The lack of pressure up front has been one of the biggest issues plaguing the 2-5 Falcons as they prepare to face capable Matthew Stafford and the 5-2 Detroit Lions on Sunday in London. The Falcons have allowed an NFL-high 8.3 yards per dropback. They are tied for 27th in the league with just seven sacks and are tied for 29th in sacks per pass attempt. "I don't get caught up in [statistics]," Cox said. "At the end of the day, we have a job to do. At the end of the day, it's about wins and losses. And right now, we don't have enough wins. "To get caught up in the reason behind on dropbacks and this and that at the end of the day, let's do a better job and find a way to win some games. If you do that, I think we'll all be happy and nobody will pay attention to the numbers. Sometimes, numbers don't mean a whole lot." It does mean something, however, when opposing quarterbacks get all day to find their receivers. And it means something when defensive back have to defend down field for an inordinate amount of time or have to resort to holding because there is no push up front. The 24 pass plays of 20-plus yards surrendered by the Falcons through seven games have had a lot to do with the lack of pressure up front. That number of plays could increase on Sunday, particularly if Lions standout receiver Calvin Johnson returns from an ankle injury and the Falcons fail to get pressure on Stafford. Cox singled out Jonathan Massaquoi and Corey Peters as two players who have made strides as pass-rushers. Their contributions haven’t been nearly enough to compensate for the struggles. "We've got to do a better job collectively: me coaching; them playing," Cox said. "And we've got to stick together because it's a point in time when people want to start pointing fingers. But as a person who has been a competitor at this level and a person that has coached at this level and played at this level, the teams that find a way to stick together and come together are the teams that usually find a way to have success and get out of slumps. "It ain't a surprise to any of us that people are calling us out for not doing well. We're not doing a good enough job." That carries over into the run defense as well. There have been a handful of times when defensive linemen have been out of their gaps, leading to big run plays. The Falcons are 27th in run defense, allowing 137.7 rushing yards per game. The free-agent additions of Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson were expected to help the Falcons stuff the run. Such hasn't been the case, at least not consistently. Both Soliai and Jackson have talked about being disappointed with their respective performances. "We don't talk about the things that we can do better," Cox said in reference to the specific shortcomings for Soliai and Jackson. "What they do well is they eat blocks. They take double-teams. Anytime you see our linebackers have success with 14, 15 double-digit tackles, that means that (Soliai and Jackson) are doing their jobs. We've had some games where Paul Worrilow has had some double-digit tackles. "When you (take on blocks), you sacrifice yourself for the good of the team. They eat double-team blocks. Their numbers are not what some people would want. They've never been pass-rushers. Their job is to eat blocks, and they've done a good job with that." NO CHIT COACH COX TELL US SOMETHING WE DON"T ALREADY KNOW!!! LOL
  6. Saturday, October 25, 2014 W2W4: Falcons vs. Lions By Vaughn McClure The 2-5 Atlanta Falcons took optimism with them across the pond as they prepare to face the 5-2 Detroit Lions in London on Sunday morning (9:30 a.m. ET). Here are a few things to watch for as the Falcons attempt to break a four-game losing skid: On the line: There's no doubt the Falcons' offensive line will have its hands full going against a strong Lions defensive front, led by Ndamukong Suh. Remember, the Falcons are down five offensive linemen and have an undrafted rookie center stepping into the lineup in James Stone. Jon Asamoah and a healthier Justin Blalock (back) should be able to help Stone, but the Falcons have bigger concerns on the edges with rookie left tackle Jake Matthews struggling through an ankle injury and right tackle Gabe Carimi struggling, period. This looks like the ideal game for the Falcons to have their backs and tight ends more involved in terms of chipping if Matt Ryan is going to survive. One other thing to watch with the line is whether it wears down in the fourth quarter, like it did against the New York Giants. The international trip my take a toll on the unit -- and the team as a whole. In a corner: The Lions' Calvin Johnson, arguably the best receiver in the game, will be a game-time decision coming off an ankle injury. If Johnson plays, it will give young Falcons corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford yet another opportunity to step up to the challenge against a big receiver. The two didn't fare too well against Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey when the Chicago Bears visited the Georgia Dome, and both Marshall and Jeffery were coming off injuries. Of course, the Falcons put more pressure on their corners by not generating enough pressure up front. But Trufant and Alford continue to go through their share of growing pains, particularly Alford with his team-leading seven penalties (four declined). Even if Johnson is out of the lineup, the Falcons' defensive backs will be challenged by Golden Tate, who is second in the NFL with 343 yards after the catch. Work of art: Devin Hester has been quiet as of late. There was so much buzz surrounding him after that breathtaking, record-breaking performance in Week 3 against Tampa Bay. He did have to fight off ankle and hamstring injuries, but Hester seems to be fully healthy now. This would be a good time for him to provide a spark with a long return, and he has two career kick-return scores against the Lions, a team he faced regularly while with the Chicago Bears. Lions coach Jim Caldwell is familiar with Hester and used the words "art form" when describing Hester's return ability. Maybe Hester will be picture perfect come Sunday. I just want to see this team come out and compete for 4 freaking quarters!!! And I hope Coach Smith won't be doing this
  7. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons wide receiver/return specialist Devin Hester, who sat out the previous two days with a hamstring injury, was on the field for Friday's practice and said he'll play against his former team, the Chicago Bears on Sunday. Hester is listed as questionable on the injury report. He was a limited participant during Friday's practice but feels ready to go. Meanwhile, receiver Harry Douglas remained sidelined with a deep bruise in his left foot and was ruled out for Sunday's game by Falcons coach Mike Smith. Douglas was inactive for the past two games. Left guard Justin Blalock took the practice field for the third day in a row coming off a back injury. All indications are he'll be ready to return to the starting lineup -- barring and last-minute setbacks -- after missing last week's game. Blalock also is listed as questionable. Probable for the Falcons are receiver Julio Jones (ankle), safety Kemal Ishmael (ankle), left tackle Jake Matthews (ankle) and linebacker Prince Shembo (knee). http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/8915/devin-hester-hamstring-returns-to-practice
  8. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons rookie left tackle Jake Matthews, who injured his left ankle in the season opener, was not on the field as the team began Wednesday's practice. Matthews underwent an MRI on Monday, and such examinations involving the ankle typically indicate a high sprain. Such an injury usually takes about four to six weeks to completely heal, so it would be a shock to see Matthews play at Cincinnati this Sunday. The Falcons then have a Thursday night game against Tampa Bay Sept. 18, which might be a too quick a turnaround as well for Matthews. Not to mention the Falcons are likely to be a little more cautious with their No. 6 overall draft pick after watching receiver Roddy White struggle through a high ankle sprain last season. White eventually admitted he should have rested the ankle rather than return to action so quickly. Without Matthews, Lamar Holmes and Gabe Carimi would make up the starting tackle combination, with Ryan Schraeder the swing tackle. Holmes ended Sunday's 37-34 overtime win over New Orleans at right tackle, while Carimi finished at left. The two entered the game with a set rotation at right tackle as Holmes got the start. Carimi said Wednesday he hadn't played left tackle since 2011. "It's definitely a different position and (I) haven't had that many snaps on it," Carimi said. "But it's everybody's job to be the next man in. That was my job. Went in there, did it." Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter referred to Carimi as the John Havlicek of the offensive line. Havlicek revolutionized the sixth man position as a member of the Boston Celtics. The 26-year-old Carimi is unfamiliar with Havlicek. "Basketball, right? You're talking about sixth man, NBA?" Carimi joked. It will be interesting to see if the Falcons keep Carimi at left and Holmes at right or if they flip flop them against a stout Bengals defensive front. The portion of Wednesday's practice made available to the media provided little clues to how the Falcons might align. Also at practice, White was on the field in full practice gear after banging his left knee against the Saints .
  9. http://espn.go.com/b...d-to-wear-no-24 New number meaningful to Freeman September, 5, 2014 Sep 5 8:00 PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons rookie running back Devonta Freeman was supposed to switch from jersey No. 33 to No. 24 the other day, but he appeared at practice earlier this week in the same No. 33 jersey. FreemanThen on Friday, Freeman made the switch to No. 24, as expected. He wanted to do it a while ago, but cornerback Jordan Mabin wore it until he was cut last Friday. So what's the significance? There's actually a great story behind it. Freeman desired the jersey No. 24 to honor his late aunt, Tamekia N. Brown, who died of a heart attack at the age of 24 back in Freeman's hometown of Miami. Freeman was 14 years old at the time. He has her name tattooed on his left arm. "She meant so much to me," Freeman said. ``She was like the world to me. She was one of the younger aunties that I had, so we used to relate the most. We were real close. And she did my dreads before she passed away. She's just my favorite." Freeman, who wore the No. 8 jersey in high school and in college at Florida State, wanted to wear the No. 24 jersey with the Seminoles. However, it was unavailable as teammate Terrance Smith, a linebacker from Atlanta, wore No. 24 in honor of his late father, former Clemson star "Touchdown Terry" Smith.
  10. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/5841/atlanta-falcons-not-blocking-out-promising-levine-toilolo Falcons not blocking out promising Toilolo May, 29, 2014 MAY 29 8:00 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons' emphasis on having more of a blocking tight end in the lineup shouldn't prevent Levine Toilolo from having an impact this season. In fact, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter bristled when it was implied that Toilolo wouldn't be best suited for blocking situations. "Well, I think Levine is that blocking tight end,'' Koetter said. "There are a couple different types of tight ends in the league right now. There are the Tony Gonzalez-Jimmy Graham-type tight ends. The other tight ends in the league right now are guys that are jack-of-all-trades. They do everything. They run block, they pass block, they run routes, they run after the catch and they block like a fullback at times. "All of our tight ends, starting with Levine, they fall more into that role.'' The 6-foot-8, 265-pound Toilolo obviously provides a big target for quarterback Matt Ryan, particularly in the red zone. The former fourth-round draft pick out of Stanford grew as a player last season while taking some of the first-team practice reps, with Gonzalez preserving his aching body during his last NFL season. His game reps were limited, but Toilolo still managed two touchdowns among his 11 catches. And although the Falcons added a veteran blocking tight end in Bear Pascoe, have faith in the development of Mickey Shuler, and added an intriguing rookie in Jacob Pedersen, Toilolo remains the primary guy in the tight end group. He simply wasn't featured during Wednesday's open session of organized team activities because he was nursing an undisclosed injury -- one minor in nature and not expected to keep him sidelined long. Toilolo understands he needs to take advantage of as many offseason reps as possible as he continues to mature into his role and enhance his blocking skills. "It's a world of difference,'' Toilolo said, referring to his overall development from his first year going into the second. "Coming in, this is my second time around as far as going through the playbook and all of our installs. Things are clicking a little bit faster and I'm able to play a little bit faster. I just kind of focus on technique work. So it takes a little bit off my plate as far as mental-wise. I think that helps.'' Tight end coach Chris Scelfo has plenty of faith of Toilolo without putting unrealistic expectations on him. "Nobody's going to replace Tony,'' Scelfo said, referring to Gonzalez. "Matt doesn't expect that. Mike Smith doesn't expect that. ... We're always caught up in this statistical world. It's so easy to say, `Well, he had 90 catches for 1,200 yards.' At the end of the day, how will you help our team win? "With Levine, he needs to work on everything. He's a second-year player. He's going to grow and develop. The one thing about him is, he's ascending. He's going to be a good player.''
  11. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/6626/falcons-reedy-is-ready-to-pursue-dream
  12. Didnt see posted: QUARTERBACKS (2) •Matt Ryan •T.J. Yates The Falcons are counting on Ryan to play like an elite quarterback with a full complement of receivers and better protection. They feel like they upgraded the backup quarterback position by trading for Yates, the former Houston Texan who has a playoff win under his belt. If the Falcons indeed go with just two quarterbacks, as expected, look for undrafted rookie Jeff Matthews to be on the practice squad. RUNNING BACKS (5) •Steven Jackson •Devonta Freeman •Jacquizz Rodgers •Antone Smith •Patrick DiMarco (fullback) Jackson, who turns 31 on July 22, still has a good year left in him if he remains healthy. He showed signs of his old self last season after an enduring an early season hamstring injury. Freeman, a rookie fourth-round pick, will get a chance to push for touches. Rodgers still should have a role, somewhere, while Smith is valuable on special teams. RECEIVERS (5) •Julio Jones •Roddy White •Harry Douglas •Devin Hester •Drew Davis The Falcons are counting on Jones and White to be healthy. If Davis (foot surgery) is the same after starting training camp on the physically unable to perform list, he should be a nice backup. Bernard Reedy, the undrafted rookie from Toledo, might make it hard not to keep a sixth receiver if he continues to impress like he did this offseason. TIGHT ENDS (3) •Levine Toilolo •Bear Pascoe •Mickey Shuler No one is expecting another Tony Gonzalez out of this group, but the Falcons do expect Toilolo to make significant strides this season. Pascoe will be kept for his blocking but don't discount the possibility of Shuler. OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10) •Justin Blalock •Sam Baker •Joe Hawley •Jon Asamoah •Jake Matthews •Mike Johnson •Ryan Schraeder •Gabe Carimi •Peter Konz •Terren Jones The Falcons actually believe they have a solid starting five after signing the veteran Asamoah to play right guard and drafting the rookie Matthews in the first round to play right tackle. Uncertainty remains about Baker at left tackle coming off a major knee injury. If he can't finish the whole season, then Matthews would have to move over to left tackle. Yes, I left Lamar Holmes off the roster. Undrafted rookie center James Stone could stick on the practice squad. DEFENSIVE LINE (7) •Paul Soliai •Tyson Jackson •Jonathan Babineaux •Corey Peters •Ra'Shede Hageman •Malliciah Goodman •Osi Umenyiora As long as Soliai and Jackson do their jobs up front in the 3-4 in terms of stuffing the run and freeing up the linebackers to make plays, they'll be well worth the combined $25 million guaranteed despite not playing all the snaps. Hageman, the second-round draft pick from Minnesota, is an intriguing prospect. Peters could be the wild card depending on his health coming off an Achilles tear. I think Umenyiora still has a place as a designated pass-rusher, but we'll see. OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) •Jonathan Massaquoi •Kroy Biermann •Jacques Smith •Tyler Starr The Falcons are counting on Massaquoi to be a consistent pass-rusher. He definitely has developed a little more nastiness. Just ask teammate Baker. Biermann looks healthy coming off an Achilles tear. Starr, a seventh-round draft pick, showed signs during rookie minicamp but has to do the same against the big boys in training camp. INSIDE LINEBACKERS (5) •Paul Worrilow •Prince Shembo •Joplo Bartu •Tim Dobbins •Marquis Spruill The group will sorely miss Sean Weatherspoon (Achilles), who was lost for the season. Worrilow showed the ability to tackle last season as an undrafted rookie but still has strides to make. The coaches are really counting on the fourth-round draft pick Shembo to step in and have an immediate impact. CORNERBACKS (6) •Desmond Trufant •Robert Alford •Robert McClain •Josh Wilson •Ricardo Allen •Javier Arenas Trufant and Alford could make up one of the best cornerback tandems in the league in the future if Alford continues to mature. Trufant is there already. The high-powered, multi-receiver offenses around the league only increased the need for solid cornerbacks, and the Falcons have a battle for the third corner with McClain, Wilson, and Arenas. All three should stick. SAFETIES (4) •William Moore •Dwight Lowery •Kemal Ishmael •Dez Southward Moore has to take on more of a leadership role with his buddy Weatherspoon done for the season. Newcomer Lowery could be up an upgrade over Thomas DeCoud at free safety, provided the offseason was indicative of Lowery's ability. There is no guarantee Zeke Motta (neck surgery) will play this season, so he's off the list. SPECIALISTS (3) •Matt Bryant (kicker) •Matt Bosher (punter) •Josh Harris (long snapper) Bosher is one of the best in the league and Bryant is consistent. They just need to keep it going.
  13. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/6203/shembo-hopes-to-find-comfort-zone Shembo hopes to find comfort zone June, 23, 2014 JUN 23 8:00 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com At the conclusion of minicamp last week, Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith gushed over the potential of rookie linebacker Prince Shembo, viewing him as player the coaches could shape and mold into a productive inside linebacker. Shembo, who came from Notre Dame as an outside linebacker, appreciated the high praise. "It feels good to hear it from the head man,'' he said. "But I can never be comfortable. I never will be comfortable. I'm going to keep on studying and keep on working. And that's the mentality I've have since I was little: Never feel too comfortable.'' [+] Enlarge Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesPrince Shembo has been impressive in the team's offseason workouts.The Falcons are trying to find their comfort level at inside linebacker following the loss of veteran Sean Weatherspoon to a season-ending Achilles tear. Although veteran Tim Dobbins was signed as added insurance, he is unlikely to be the guy the Falcons lean on. And althoughJoplo Bartu started 13 games last season and has been working alongside Paul Worrilow with the first team this offseason, the coaches would like to see more improvement from him. Based on Smith's word, Shembo has a legitimate chance to win a starting job alongside Worrilow in the team's 3-4 base defense. "We've got Prince Shembo, who we're very excited about,'' Smith said. "He's picked up the system very well. He doesn't have any experience, but we're going to give him a lot, I assure you that, in the preseason.'' Shembo said understanding what everyone is doing around him has been the primary adjustment from moving from outside to inside. He steadily picked up on details as the offseason progressed. And Shembo constantly picked the brain of veteran Akeem Dent, who was traded to the Houston Texans last week in exchange for quarterback T.J. Yates. "Akeem helped me out a lot on the field,'' Shembo said. "He knew the system. If I had any questions, I just went to him. When I first started [inside], I'd go to him and say, 'OK, Akeem, so what am I looking at? What I'm reading?' Then it was like, 'Do I fit out there? What happens if the receiver goes out in motion on this side?' Stuff constantly changes.'' Shembo initially expected to come and develop as one of the team's pass-rushing outside linebackers. He still could get his chance to get after the quarterback -- as a blitzer. "The thing with me is, I try to blitz where it says on paper, but I'm starting to realize -- the more I saw it in practice -- that I just have to blitz where the hole is,'' Shembo explained. "On the paper it might say, 'Blitz the A-gap.' Sometimes, the A-gap might be closed. And in the beginning, I was just trying to force my way through there. Now, I just have to find the open window and take my opportunity.'' If Shembo takes advantage of his opportunity, he could find himself in the lineup for the season opener against the New Orleans Saints. "I can't say anything until I earn it,'' he said. "I need to come back here and get in that film room.''
  14. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons Five random thoughts on OTAs June, 4, 2014 JUN 4 7:30 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com The Atlanta Falcons have their second open session of organized team activities on Wednesday, with practice set to begin at 10:30 a.m. Here are five random thoughts on what to look for throughout the day: 1) Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is scheduled to address the media following practice. He's sure to emphasize the multiplicity theme head coach Mike Smith has preached all offseason. Nolan was very animated during last week's session. I'm sure that will continue. 2) Osi Umenyiora didn't get many reps during last week's open session. Remember, he became a designated pass-rusher at the end of last season, a move he said he sought. The coaches saw it as preserving the 32-year-old's body. It seems like they want to do the same with Umenyiora's practice reps now. Young pass-rushers such as Jonathan Massaquoi, Stansly Maponga, and rookie Tyler Starr need as many reps as possible. Umenyiora's been there already. 3) Rookie running back Devonta Freeman wasn't on the field for last week's open session as he attended the NFLPA Rookie Premiere in California. With him back, it will be interesting to see him competing for reps behind Steven Jackson. Jackson said he was impressed with how humble yet hungry Freeman was at the start of OTAs. Let's see if Freeman continues to impress on the practice field. 4) Of course, Roddy White's status remains unclear following the death of his younger brother. The Falcons won't rush him back, but White is back on Twitter chatting it up with fans. If he's on the field Wednesday, there's a chance he'll address the media afterward. If White is absent again, I'm watching to see if Drew Davis takes advantage of more work at the receiver position. 5) Tight end Levine Toilolo was significantly limited last week with an undisclosed injury. The injury was supposed to be minor in nature. If Toilolo's status is unchanged, there might be a cause for concern. Then again, it would be more of a red flag to see him held out of mandatory minicamp.
  15. http://espn.go.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/128759/lowery-aims-to-be-a-quick-study-for-falcons
  16. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/4623/konz-motivated-to-improve Falcons' Peter Konz motivated to improve April, 1, 2014 APR 1 8:00 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com If Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Peter Konz experiences a dramatic turnaround this coming season, retired ex-teammate Tony Gonzalez might have to be credited with an assist. After Konz suffered through a miserable 2013 campaign, he took to heart the words Gonzalez delivered in an inspiring season-ending talk to the team. Vaughn McClure/ESPN.comAtlanta Falcons offensive lineman Peter Konz, who has been living in the weight room this offseason, attended a screening of the movie "Draft Day" on Monday night. ``Hearing his speech at the end of the season, it really impacted me,'' Konz said. ``He said, `Being a professional doesn't just mean doing the things you've always done. It means going the extra mile.' And I owe the team that. And that's what I'm doing.'' Konz, listed at 6-foot-5 and 317 pounds, seemed to get pushed around more often than not last season. But based on his appearance during Monday night's screening of the new movie "Draft Day,'' it seems like he's gotten bigger since the last time the Falcons took the field. The former second-round draft pick appears eager to compete to regain the starting center position he lost to Joe Hawley. ``I've been working hard,'' Konz said. ``Scientific, I've probably put on 5-plus [pounds]. I'm seeing a nutritionist, so I can tell you it's over 5 pounds from what he said. That's what I've been doing to help myself for the season.'' Konz has spent his share of time in the weight room this offseason. ``I've been doing heavy lifting,'' he said. ``I've been doing four days a week. I'll do a Monday, Tuesday. On a Wednesday, I'll do a yoga, I'll do a stretch and just some other little strengthening things, maybe a walk. And I'll do the same thing on Saturday. So I'll do a Thursday, Friday heavy lifting. ``I might be doing more high rep, getting more muscle build. I've been living in the weight room since January.''
  17. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/5769/five-things-to-watch-at-otas Five things to watch at OTAs May, 26, 2014 MAY 26 8:00 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com The Atlanta Falcons begin organized team activities this week, and the media will be allowed to watch Wednesday's session. Here are five things to watch as the veterans and rookies get together: 1. Steven Jackson's passion: The veteran running back wrote a blog recently and reflected on last season and how he and the team needed to do better this year. He also tweeted about welcoming new competition. Well, Jackson could be pushed by fourth-round draft pickDevonta Freeman from Florida State, a guy the Falcons view as a three-down back. Jackson, who turns 31 in July, wasn't fully healthy last season. Being pushed by a youngster might make all those bumps and bruises from over the years go away quickly. 2. Lamar Holmes' improvement: Yes, Lamar Holmes. This is why: If Sam Baker's knee doesn't hold up following surgery, then the Falcons would have to move rookie first-round pick Jake Matthews over to left tackle and rely on Holmes on the right side. Holmes has been far from reliable so far, but the Falcons still have faith in him moving forward, provided he is in shape. Getting beat up last season was a good learning experience. Now Holmes has to stay in it, mentally, in case he's called upon. 3. Jonathan Massaquoi's pass rush: Since the Falcons didn't go after a true pass-rusher in free agency or the draft, the onus is on Massaquoi to take another step forward in terms of getting pressure on quarterbacks. He'll have to adjust to playing outside linebacker in the base 3-4 scheme. But no matter the defensive alignment, Massaquoi simply has to be relentless with his rush. Last year, he finished with four sacks which wasn't bad, considering he played 50.7 percent of the defensive snaps. Although it's just practice, Massaquoi still could show something during OTAs. 4. Devin Hester's role: Don't expect the Falcons to show their full offensive repertoire right now, but it will be interesting to see how many offensive plays the newcomer Hester gets during OTAs. Hester, arguably the greatest return man of all time, was signed to make an impact on special teams. However, he has the ability to create mismatches on offense as a jitter bug working out of the slot. Hester didn't play offense in Chicago last season in large part because he had a quarterback who berated him more often than not. That won't happen with Matt Ryan. 5. Roddy White's mindset: The veteran receiver is coping with a devastating tragedy as his younger brother was murdered in South Carolina. The funeral was just last week, and no one should tell anyone how long to grieve. Therapy for some people involves getting back to work, while others find it too hard to focus under such circumstances. Whatever the case, the Falcons should be delicate with White during this difficult time. Not seeing White on the field for the start of OTAs wouldn't be a surprise, although he surely wants to be around his teammates for support.
  18. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/4576/no-matter-scheme-falcons-defense-has-to-improve
  19. http://espn.go.com/b...rush-to-improve Falcons Massaquoi in a rush to improve December, 13, 2013 DEC 13 7:00 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- With all the talk surrounding Atlanta Falcons rookies such as cornerback Desmond Trufant and linebacker Paul Worrilow, it's easy to forget Jonathan Massaquoi is a young player on the rise, too. The second-year defensive end from Troy had his best game as a pro last Sunday when he recorded 2 sacks and 2 tackles for loss against the Green Bay Packers. Two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora, another Troy product, certainly noticed. "He's coming along, man," Umenyiora said of his fellow defensive lineman. "He's another good, young player. He's got a great work ethic. He wants to keep getting better. That's pretty much all you can ask for in young player." In critiquing his own play, Massaquoi was far from satisfied. "My expectations are high," he said. "Just like everybody, you never want to be good: You want to be great. And if you're great, you want to be elite. So, I've got a long way to go. "I'm going to keep fighting. I'm going to keep making plays. I'm going to keep doing my job." The Falcons' pass rush has been inconsistent throughout the season, with Umenyiora leading the team with 6.5 sacks. Massaquoi now stands fifth on the team with three sacks. But as a group, the Falcons are tied for 25th in the league with 27 sacks. By comparison, league-leader Buffalo has 44. As the Falcons prepare for their final three games of 2013, the coaching staff is sure to take a closer look at their pass-rushers. Fans already have started to lobby for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in the NFL draft, based on the Falcons currently holding the No. 3 overall pick. Even if Clowney becomes a Falcon, the organization has to consider which combination of defensive linemen will work best moving forward. Massaquoi, who is capable of rushing from right or left end, should have a role for years to come. "Well, I think he's adept and doing it from both sides," Falcons coach Mike Smith said of Massaquoi. "I think a lot of guys that become really elite pass-rushers have the ability to rush off of both sides. And they like to look for those matchups that are favorable for them." Massaquoi has a three-step plan for making himself more favorable in the coaches' eyes: no mental errors, executing the game plan, and having fun on the field. "Those three things, if you combine them together week in and week out, you should be able to go out there and have success," he said. "As far as the future goes, I'll finish up strong this season. And it's up to the coaches whether they want to continue to allow me to play a bigger role on the Atlanta Falcons defense." Another game similar to last Sunday would go a long way toward solidifying Massaquoi's standing.
  20. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/1086/will-falcons-change-punt-returners-again Will Falcons change punt returners again? October, 21, 2013 OCT 21 8:15 PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com ATLANTA -- Falcons coach Mike Smith said he needed a spark in the return game. It didn’t happen against Tampa Bay. The coaches decided to put rookie Robert Alford back on punt returns in Week 7 in place of Harry Douglas, who moved into the No. 1 receiver role with Julio Jones and Roddy White out. Alford fumbled away the only punt he had an opportunity to return. The mistake, of course, didn’t sit well with Smith, who previously watched Douglas cough up a punt he shouldn’t have fielded in Week 3 at Miami. Smith was asked about how the latest fumble might determine Alford’s status on punt returns moving forward. "I think every play in a football game affects another play, and we have to make decisions that we feel like are best for our football team,’’ Smith said. "We have confidence in Robert Alford. But we’ve got to make decisions based on what we think [is] best for us moving forward. Those are decisions that will definitely be made before the week is out. But we’re going to make sure that we put ourselves in the best situation possible. "We have now put two balls on the ground in punting situations, which is totally unacceptable. Basically, you lose a possession. And both times, it’s happened inside the 25-yard line. So we’ve got to make sure we’re doing what’s right for our football team and put a guy out there that is going to be able to handle those situations.’’ Translation: There could be another change at punt returner this week. Douglas didn’t seem like he wanted to give up returns to begin with, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Falcons turned back to him. Then again, special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong expressed full confidence in Alford last week and praised Alford for his speed, vision and athleticism. Maybe sticking with him would build the rookie's confidence. At least Alford didn’t come up with any extravagant explanation for his blunder. "I caught it, tried to make a guy miss and then I had the ball a little too loose," Alford admitted. "I should have had it closer to my body. On my way down, a guy flew in and just punched it out. Everything was my fault. I went back to the sideline and told Coach I’ve got to be more careful with the ball.’’ Dominique Franks, with 21 returns for 163 yards, was the team’s primary punt returner last season, so maybe he’ll get another shot. Robert McClain has fielded some punts in practice, so he could be an option as well. McClain scored a touchdown off a punt return back in college at Connecticut.
  21. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/1053/nolans-move-to-sideline-seemed-to-help-falcons Nolan's move seemed to help Falcons October, 20, 2013 OCT 20 8:50 PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com ATLANTA -- Falcons head coach Mike Smith hinted some changes would be made coming off the bye week although he remained coy about what those adjustments would be. The one that might have had the biggest impact on Sunday’s game was moving defensive coordinator Mike Nolan from the coaching box down to the field. It’s a concept the Falcons used in the past, but it obviously injected some life into the defense. Just ask safety William Moore, who came on the blitz and caused a fumble by rookie quarterback Mike Glennon on the Buccaneers’ first drive. It resulted in a 30-yard scoop-and-score by fellow safety Thomas DeCoud that ignited the Falcons in Sunday’s 31-23 win. "It was definitely good," Moore said of Nolan being on the field. "He let us know during the week that he was going to be out there. He came out there and definitely celebrated with us. That was an extra thing, motivation. We’d love to have him out there every week." If anything, having Nolan on the sideline helped keep things in order for a defense filled with inexperienced players. He was able to communicate better with rookies such asMarcus Trufant, who, instead of playing outside in the nickel package was moved to cover the slot. "It definitely did (help), just to have somebody else to talk to that’s seeing what’s going on," Trufant said of Nolan being downstairs. "Especially a great mind like Coach. It definitely helped." There were other tweaks made on defense besides Nolan being on the field and Trufant covering the slot in the nickel package. Nolan dialed up plenty of corner and safety blitzes, including bringing Moore on the touchdown play. Such blitzes were a reason the Falcons, with the league’s worst third-down defense, limited the Bucs to converting 29 percent (5-of-17) of third downs for the game. Smith previously talked about some of the younger players getting more opportunities to play. Rookie defensive ends Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga got a few more reps -- maybe planned or maybe a result of the Bucs having the ball 15 minutes longer. And rookie safety Zeke Motta saw action as part of the goal-line defense. There were still some missteps. Veteran cornerback Asante Samuel seemed to have a few hiccups, although it was tough asking him to defend Vincent Jackson’s one-handed grab for a 59-yard touchdown -- the ninth play of 40-plus yards surrendered by the Falcons this season. DeCoud also had a tough time on Jackson’s 1-yard touchdown catch. Jackson finished with 10 catches for 138 yards and two scores while being targeted 22 times. Regardless, the defense played better than it had in recent weeks. And Nolan’s presence likely had something to do with it. “We’ve thought it would be in our best interest,’’ Smith said of the Nolan move. ``We weren’t playing as efficiently and as good as we would have liked to, and we thought it would be in our best interest to bring Mike down."
  22. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/1046/career-day-gives-douglas-falcons-plenty-to-talk-about Douglas gives Falcons plenty to talk about October, 20, 2013 OCT 20 7:30 PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com Harry Douglas helped the Falcons prevail in a must-win scenario. ATLANTA -- Harry Douglas promised he wouldn't try to be Superman. Well, one could have mistaken his red jersey for a red cape Sunday afternoon. The Atlanta Falcons receiver knew he needed to step up with Julio Jones out for the season following foot surgery and Roddy White sidelined by hamstring and ankle injuries. All Douglas did was respond with a career-high 149 receiving yards on seven catches against a porous Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense in his team's 31-23 win. His previous career-high was 133 yards against the New Orleans Saints in 2011. "I've got to go out here and be Harry," a modest Douglas said afterward. "I can't go out here and be somebody that I'm not." Tight end Tony Gonzalez put Douglas' performance in perspective. "I hope you're not surprised about what Harry did today," Gonzalez said. "He's definitely a capable person. Obviously with Julio Jones and Roddy White, your chances of going out there and making those plays obviously go down because those guys are making all the plays. But Harry played great for us today." Quarterback Matt Ryan, who posted a career-high 148.4 passer rating while completing 20 of 26 passes for 273 yards and three scores, echoed Gonzalez's praise of Douglas. "He played a great game; stepped up for us when we needed him too," Ryan said of Douglas. "He's done that all season, though. I don't think anybody in that locker room was surprised with the way he's played because he's had to fill in with Roddy being nicked up most of the year. And now that Julio's out ... I just thought he played really well." The Falcons' line gave Ryan time to find Douglas, who helped his quarterback get into a comfort zone early. Of Douglas' 149 receiving yards, 140 of them came in the first half. Douglas had 91 yards alone on two second-quarter receptions. The first was a 54-yard pass play on which he won his one-on-one matchup against Leonard Johnson, adjusted in mid-air and picked up 21 yards after the catch. Johnson was even whistled for pass interference on the play but the Falcons, of course, declined. Douglas set up Matt Bryant's 23-yard field goal. The second catch was Douglas' 37-yard touchdown reception on a nice stutter-and-go move from the outside to lose Bucs cornerback Johnthan Banks. "His routes were clean," Ryan said of Douglas. "He did a great job with his patience on the routes, allowing the appropriate time to set up for me to get into the spot that I needed to get. I think our timing was good. "He's quick. And I think we used him effectively today. I think specifically of two routes: the touchdown catch where he kind of gave a quick move to the post and then went on top, and also a deep crossing route, he was able to create separation at the end just by that little quickness. ... I thought he did a great job running today." Douglas' effort seemed to rub off on the other receivers. Drew Davis, in his first-career NFL start, made a spectacular, one-handed catch only topped by the one made by Bucs veteranVincent Jackson. And Falcons rookie Darius Johnson, promoted from the practice squad Saturday, made his first NFL catch and finished with two receptions for 24 yards. Douglas' outing even made folks forget about Gonzalez, who caught a pass in his 201st consecutive game but had a quiet two catches for 30 yards while being targeted four times. Douglas was targeted seven times and caught every ball thrown his way. He even was bold enough to engage in some trash talk with Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis, although they didn't match up much Sunday. "He's still an outstanding player, I still think the best corner in the NFL right now," Douglas said. "It was great going against him and talking to him a little bit during the game." If Douglas keeps playing like he did Sunday, he can keep talking the rest of the season.
  23. http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/926/umenyiora-on-gonzalez-trade-talk-its-not-over-for-us Osi Umenyiora: 'It's not over for us' October, 17, 2013 OCT 17 8:00 AM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is scheduled to address the local media Thursday for the first time since media-and-fan-driven Gonzalez trade rumors related to him swirled out of control. The word out of Kansas City is that the Chiefs would welcome Gonzalez back with open arms if the Falcons were willing to part ways, and if Gonzalez wanted to put himself in what, at this point, looks to be a better position for a Super Bowl run with the undefeated Chiefs. UmenyioraTeammate Osi Umenyiora understands trade talk all too well, although under different circumstances. So he can somewhat relate to what Gonzalez is going through. At the same time, Umenyiora sees no reason why the Falcons would even entertain the idea of trading Gonzalez. "It’s too early to be doing stuff like that. That’s like a sign of giving up," Umenyiora said. "It’s not over for us. We can still win this thing. All I can say is that it’s not over for us." Despite all the chatter, the 1-4 Falcons have made it clear they have no intentions of trading Gonzalez, who might have to carry the offense with Julio Jones (foot) out and Roddy White (hamstring, ankle) ailing. Head coach Mike Smith told ESPN.com the idea was "preposterous" while general manager Thomas Dimitroff followed up by telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution "as it stands now, absolutely not" when asked if any moves would be made before the Oct. 29 trade deadline. When Umenyiora was with the New York Giants, trade talk boiled over due to a contract dispute. He ended up finishing out his contract and signed a two-year, $8.5 million free-agent deal ($12.5 million max value) with the Falcons this offseason. "Honestly, as much as we’d like to think we have control over that as players, you really don’t,’’ Umenyiora said of trades. ``If they want to get rid of you, they’ll trade you. If they don’t want to trade you, they’ll hold on to you. You just have to show up to work every day and do exactly what you’ve been doing. You have no control over it. "In New York for me, it was just the whole contract situation. I didn’t really want to leave there. At the same time, you know you only have a limited amount of time to make a certain amount of money. I just wanted to be fairly compensated. But Tony, his situation might be a little bit different.’’ Gonzalez, who is still due a little over $4.5 million this season, previously told Fox Sports he had no desire to leave Atlanta. We will see if he reiterates those words later Thursday.
  24. http://espn.go.com/b...er-punt-returns Rookie poised to take over punt returns October, 15, 2013 OCT 15 5:46 PM ET By Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith wants more out of the return game. Maybe rookie cornerback Robert Alford can provide a spark. All indications are Alford will be the primary punt returner when the Falcons host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Smith said the coaching staff would re-evaluate having wide receiver Harry Douglas handle punt returns, considering the shortage at receiver. Julio Jones suffered a season-ending foot injury and Roddy White is nursing a hamstring injury, meaning Douglas' role on offense is sure to increase. Alford spent extra time after Tuesday's practice working on fielding punts. He talked about his comfort level in terms of becoming the primary punt returner. During his final year at Southeastern Louisiana, Alford returned nine punts for 104 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown against Lamar. "I feel real comfortable," Alford said. "I've been preparing myself ever since training camp to be the primary returner. Everything still feels the same for me." Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong talked about what Alford brings to the return game. "I think one thing, he has exceptional speed," Armstrong said. "He's got really good vision. He's going to have to manage situations, is the bottom line.'' Douglas handled all 10 punt returns through the first five games and gained 57 total yards. He had a long return of 15 yards and three fair catches. He also fielded one punt he admitted he shouldn't have at Miami, resulting in a fumble. The Dolphins scored a touchdown following Douglas' turnover. Douglas was asked about scaling back on punt returns. "I'm just the type of player whatever [Coach] Smitty and them decide, I'm with it," Douglas said. "If that means having to stop doing punt returns because I've got to play more receiver, that's the decision. I never question his decision or go against his decision if anything. He's the head coach; I'm the player. I play the game; he coaches the game." The Falcons currently are tied for 24th in the NFL in punt returns and rank last in kickoff returns, although they haven't had many opportunities to return kickoffs. Regardless, Smith wants more out of the return game moving forward. "We've got to get a lot more," Smith said. "On kickoff returns, it's a little bit of an issue simply because most of the kickers ... when you play indoors, you're not getting the opportunities to return the kicks. A lot of kicks this year have been kicked out of the end zone or eight or nine [yards] deep. "We need to get better in our punt return. We're not winning the field-position battle, like we did last year, through the first five games with our ability to cover kicks and return kicks. And also, we've had a couple of turnovers that have hurt our drive start."
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