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Inside Slant

The Falcons gave the new coach-to-defense communications system rave reviews after the first game under the new rule.

Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was up in the box in the Georgia Dome and weakside linebacker Keith Brooking was calling the signals on the field for the Falcons.

Most teams will likely use the middle linebacker, but the Falcons start rookie Curtis Lofton at middle linebacker and they don't want to put too much on his plate. VanGorder and Brooking had the preseason to work out the kinks. They also used the system in some training camp practices in order to get ready for the regular season.

"It was really good," VanGorder said. "We had one incident during the game where it was kind of loud a little bit and that made it difficult to hear. But that's a good thing. That means we've got a good crowd. A crowd that's excited about what's going on."

The Falcons are young at cornerback with second-year men Chris Houston and Brent Grimes. Also, rookie Chevis Jackson comes in on nickel call for Lofton. If rookie defensive end Kroy Biermann is in, they could have as many as four second or first year players on the field. Getting the calls through to the unit and keeping the young players on the same page is key.

The communications system was a major aid with helping VanGorder give in-game instruction to his unit. "Absolutely, it's a great thing," VanGorder said, when asked if the system helped the operation of the unit. "It's worked out real well for us, up to this point.

SERIES HISTORY: 30th meeting. Buccaneers lead the series, 17-12. Tampa Bay beat the Falcons in both NFC South matchups last season. The Falcons swept them in 2006. The Falcons are 6-10 when playing the Bucs in Tampa, including a 17-6 victory over the Bucs in 2004.


— In the first game after Bobby Petrino left last season, Tampa Bay routed the Falcons 37-3 as hall of famer Emmitt Thomas was named the interim coach and had a few days to prepare the team. The Bucs pushed the Falcons around held a 42.59 to 17.01 minute advantage in time of possession.

— Falcons offensive lineman Alex Stepanovich, who suffered a lower back injury on Aug. 11, returned to practice on Wednesday. Stepanovich, the team's top backup center, was taken off the field on a cart at the time of the injury. He started running last week. With Stepanovich's return the Falcons are nearly at full strength. "One of our main goals was to try to start the season as healthy and as fresh as possible," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "That's been something that we've monitored all through training camp. We're excited that we've been able to accomplish that." The Falcons offensive line paved the way for a team-record 318-yard rushing performance against Detroit. Getting Stepanovich back will add some depth to the unit. "Alex can play both center and guard," Smith said. "Both left and right guard."

— Falcons LT Sam Baker was not solely responsible for the one sack the Lions registered by defensive end Dewayne White. Smith said Baker and left guard Justin Blalock should receive a half credit each for giving up the sack. White came free on an inside stunt.

— Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden announced that quarterback Jeff Garcia would not play this week against the Falcons and that Brian Griese would start. Garcia did not practice on Wednesday. He has battled injuries (calf and finger) all offseason. "Brian took the majority of snaps in training camp," Gruden said earlier in the day on a conference call with Georgia reporters. Garcia played the entire way in the Bucs' 24-20 loss to New Orleans, completing 24 of 41 passes for 221 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

— "Griese is not as elusive," Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking said. "He doesn't have that running ability." The Falcons aren't anticipating the Bucs to change much with Griese at the helm. "They are going to run the same plays," Brooking said.


37 - Number of consecutive regular season games that Michael Jenkins has caught at least one pass in.

17 - Consecutive field goals PK Jason Elam has converted dating back to 2007.

4 - The number of points PK Jason Elam needs to reach 1,800 career points.

1 - Pass attempts QB Matt Ryan needed to throw his first NFL touchdown pass.

25 - SS Lawyer Milloy needs 25 tackles to reach 1,500.

7 - Number of tackles DE John Abraham needs to reach 400 for his career.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It surprised the **** out of us. We knew we could run the ball, but we didn't know we were that good. Norwood had a great day backing up Turner. Turner just kicked the door in, for his first game as a starter he did a great job showing what he's going to do for us." - DE John Abraham said, when asked about the Falcons running game.


TE Justin Peelle was signed after being released by Miami just days before the season opener. The Falcons were in dire need of a TE who could catch the football. Starting TE Ben Hartsock is more of a blocker and is not known for his pass catching ability. Peelle and Hartsock got all of the snaps at tight end for the Falcons. The position is used mostly as a blocking spot in Mike Mularkey's system. Both are good in-line blockers and spent time helping out rookie left tackle Sam Baker and played major roles in the team-record rushing attack.

In addition to their blocking duties, both played small roles in the passing attack. Hartsock flashed his hands on a 17-yard reception. Peelle, who spent last season with Mularkey in Miami, also caught a 13-yard pass. He has the most career receptions of the TEs on the roster. He appears to have move ahead of Martrez Milner, who was inactive. Peelle's familiarity with the attack allowed him to step right in and play. In addition to the regular tight ends, the Falcons used RT Todd Weiner as a tight end in short yardage situations for a couple of plays. He's battling back from major offseason knee surgery.


- C/G Alex Stepanovich returned to practice from a lower back injury. He was limited in practice and is not expected to play.

- LB Coy Wire participated in practice despite having an ankle injury. He played last week on special teams with the injury.

- DT Jonathan Babineaux made his first career start in a season opener against Detroit and had three tackles.

- CB Brent Grimes, a former undrafted free agent from Shippensburg, made his first NFL start and had six tackles. He did give up a touchdown pass to Roy Williams, but played the ball well.

- QB Matt Ryan had a 137 quarterback rating in his debut.

GAME PLAN: Now that the Falcons have established that they can and want to run the ball, offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey can start mixing in a few more pass plays for Matt Ryan. You're not going to win to many games throwing the ball just 13 times, unless of course you rush for 318 yards. But those yards are not going to be there every week. Good teams will man-up to the Falcons run game and try to force Ryan to beat them with his arm. He's done well, but is not ready for that.


Falcons WR Michael Jenkins vs. Bucs CB Phillip Buchanon: Jenkins had a career-best 62-yard touchdown catch last week. He'll face a corner who was in part responsible for giving up a 84-yard touchdown. The Falcons will lull the Bucs to sleep with the run game and then strike vertically. If Buchanon gets caught looking into the backfield again, Jenkins has the speed to scoot on past him. After beating out Laurent Robinson for the starting spot, Jenkins is playing with supreme confidence.

Falcons LT Sam Baker vs. Bucs DE Gaines Adams: Baker had a part along with LG Justin Blalock in giving up a sack last week to DeWayne White. Baker got beat on an inside move. Adams, a first-round pick in 2007 out of Clemson, had six sacks as a rookie, tying for the team lead.

Falcons RB Michael Turner, who rushed for a franchise-record 220 yards last week, vs. Bucs WLBs Derrick Brooks or Cato June: Brooks was hobbled in the New Orleans game and may not be ready to go. Brooks speed and power will cut down a lot of the big gainers Turner had against the Lions. But if Brooks can't go, the smallish June will have a tough day with Turner when he gets to the second level on his side of the field.


LB Coy Wire (ankle) played but was not 100 percent.

C/G Alex Stepanovich (back) not expected to play, but is back at practice.

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I like the sound of this.....

But Brooks is a warrior - he's got over 200 consecutive starts, so don't count him out. Nonetheless, if he goes out there at less than 100%, that may be an advantage as well - either way, this won't be like playing Detroit. I mean no disrespect to the Lions, but Tampa's defense is no cakewalk. We have to play harder and smarter to achieve the win on the road in Tampa.

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After beating out Laurent Robinson for the starting spot, Jenkins is playing with supreme confidence.

This is good to see from Jenkins. Maybe that's what he needed to really break out.

AMEN, I've been waiting for this guy to "get it" and appears he's headed in the right direction. Let's just pray for continued improvement and confidence.

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