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Falcons In-Season News

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

RB Antone Smith turns heads, again

By Vaughn McClure

ATLANTA -- It seems like something special happens every time Antone Smith touches the ball.

The Atlanta Falcons running back once again showed his big-play ability in Friday night's 16-10 win over the Miami Dolphins, even if the stat sheet doesn't reflect it.

Smith had a 76-yard touchdown sprint in the second quarter called back due to a holding penalty on rookie right tackle Jake Matthews. Smith also had a 34-yard catch-and-run wiped out by an illegal formation whistled on receiver Harry Douglas.

"I mean, it's frustrating," Smith said. "But we know it is the first preseason game for a lot of people out there, so a lot of stuff is changing. So we expect a lot of penalties."

Falcons fans should expect more of Smith, at least in the preseason. Remember, starter Steven Jackson is sidelined by a hamstring injury, allowing more opportunities for Jacquizz Rodgers, rookie Devonta Freeman and Smith.

Smith sure has the attention of coach Mike Smith.

"Antone had some very explosive plays," Smith said. "Antone's a guy that can do some things when we get the ball in his hands. So, I would imagine we want to make that we have a game plan that will help him get some touches [and] to put him in advantageous situations.

"I was very impressed with him. I was impressed with Devonta Freeman [and] the way he ran the ball, for the most part. So, we did some positive things."

Freeman led the Falcons with 50 rushing yards on 10 carries and also had a team-long 57-yard reception from Sean Renfree. Rodgers picked up 20 yards on seven carries and scored the team's only touchdown on a 2-yard run. Smith picked up five yards on three rushing attempts and had one catch for 5 yards. He also made the first tackle of the game on the kickoff.

Last season, Smith had just five carries, but two went for touchdowns. He had a 50-yard touchdown run against Tampa Bay and a 38-yard touchdown run against Green Bay.

So it was no surprise what Smith did when he touched the ball Friday night.

"We'll have a different rotation in Week 2 where guys will have expanded roles," Mike Smith said. "And I think there are going to be some guys, by their play on the field, that will have some expanded play time as well."

Antone Smith has to be at the top of that list.

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Falcons coach Smith sees good and bad

By Vaughn McClure

ATLANTA -- Here is how Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith assessed Friday's 16-10 preseason win over the Miami Dolphins:

THE GOOD

Smith was pleased with the final score, of course. "It's always good to come out with a win whenever you play games," he said. "This was a difficult opening preseason game. There was some good play that were very encouraging."

Smith liked how quarterback Matt Ryan and the first-team offense marched down the field on a 15-play, 77-yard drive on the Falcons' first possession, ending with Jacquizz Rodgers' 2-yard touchdown run. "Like the way our first-team offense came back and answered the opening drive that the Dolphins were able to put together," Smith said. "I believe it was maybe 15 official plays, maybe 18 snaps. A nine-minute drive that ended in a touchdown."

Smith saw a strong effort from his entire crew the entire night. "I really liked the way the guys worked," he said. "I'm looking forward to watching this tape and truly evaluating it; getting on to the Houston Texans. We have a combined practice with those folks before we play them. So we're going to get a lot of good work against another good football team."

The defense came up with the Dolphins facing third-and-2 near the beginning of the second quarter. Kroy Biermann and Malliciah Goodman were credited with the stop. "Very encouraging," Smith said. "We want to try and stay out of those third-and-shorts, if we can."

THE BAD

Smith wasn't happy with how the first-team defense allowed the Dolphins to move down the field with ease to start the game, leading to a touchdown. "Well when I say there are some things that aren't as good as we liked, I would say that would be one of them," Smith said. "I think that we ended up getting into too many third-and-shorts. We had an explosive play (36-yard pass play from Ryan Tannehill to Rishard Matthews), with a crossing route, and we just missed the pickup there. We were in a coverage that we should be able to stop that. We'll see it, and we'll be better in that area."

The Falcons were 1-for-4 in the red zone on the night. "We had three other opportunities there in the red zone where we did not finish the drive," Smith said. "Those are things that we definitely will be addressing and talking about."

The Falcons were stout against the run, allowing just 52 rushing yards on 21 attempts. "Well, that run game that we saw is not the traditional NFL run game," Smith said. "There were some read-option plays that we saw tonight. That's not something that we game plan for. We'll have a completely different setup, but I did like that physicality."

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Smith needs more touches. I don't care that he can't block.

No doubt but I hope they don't continue to keep the man on the bench and ST.

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No doubt but I hope they don't continue to keep the man on the bench and ST.

I would demand a trade if I was him although I know it won't happen

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Smith liked tackling, hated penalties

By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- One of the points of emphasis for the Atlanta Falcons going into this season was improving tackling.

In fact, coach Mike Smith said new tackling drills were introduced this offseason to get the matter corrected. But a tackling dummy doesn't compare to live action.

Smith gave his assessment of how his team tackled in Friday's 16-10 preseason victory over the Miami Dolphins.

"I thought that there were some very good examples of good tackling," Smith said following Saturday's practice. "I thought there were some examples of not bringing your feet. The very first play of the game, I didn't think that we tackled well. We took a poor angle and we had a missed tackle.

"But, for really the second time that we [had] gone out and done full-speed plays, I thought it was pretty good. I thought that the secondary did a very good job attacking the ball. I thought that they did a nice job in terms of illegal contact. We had one illegal contact and that was on a linebacker. So there were some positive things there. And I'd be remiss if I didn't say that there were some things that we did do well. And [tackling] was one of them."

The culprit on the one missed tackle Smith pointed to was linebacker Joplo Bartu, who missed wrapping up Dolphins running back Lamar Miller on a pass over the middle. It led to a six-yard gain and helped set up one of two third-and-shorts for Miami on its initial scoring drive.

While Smith approved of the tackling overall, he wasn't the least bit pleased with the penalties. The Falcons were penalized nine times for 82 yards, but one of those penalties -- a holding call on rookie right tackle Jake Matthews -- wiped out a 76-yard touchdown run by Antone Smith.

"The big thing that sticks out is we cannot have nine penalties," Smith said. "Those nine penalties, it was 240 yards given up that would have been on our stat sheet. You start talking about the hidden yards in a game, it looks like a 10-yard penalty on the stat sheet. Well, it brought back a 70-something yard touchdown run.

"We had a 30-yard completion; we had a 20-yard completion (both negated by penalties). So we've got to play smarter in terms of the penalties. We can't go through and have these types of numbers as we go through the season."

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Falcons sign LB Darin Drakeford

By Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons announced the signing of linebacker Darin Drakeford on Saturday night.

Drakeford, who went undrafted last year coming out of Maryland, has had stints with Kansas City, Indianapolis, and the New York Giants but has yet to play in an NFL game. He has been waived four times and released once, spending the majority of last season on practice squads.

The Baltimore Sun reported Drakeford had an Aug. 1 tryout with the New York Jets.

Drakeford likely was signed just to give the Falcons another practice body. Linebacker Tim Dobbins, primarily a special-teams player, suffered an ankle injury in Friday night's exhibition game against the Miami Dolphins and is expected to be sidelined a few days.

To make room for Drakeford, the Falcons released kicker Sergio Castillo, who made two field goals in Friday's 16-10 victory.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Lowery: No reservations after concussion

By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA. -- Atlanta Falcons free safety Dwight Lowery, who suffered the fourth concussion of his football career during an Aug. 1 training camp practice, has no reservation about returning to full contact.

Lowery practiced in shorts over the weekend and will take the next step in full clearance today as he is to participate in a padded practice. He vowed not to be hesitant based on his concussion history.

"You can't think like that on the football field," Lowery said. "Everybody's out there trying to play to the best of their ability. You think about that type of stuff and it's going to hinder you from playing your best. You just have to trust the process and just go with the flow and go with how you feel and play."

Lowery played in just three games for the Jacksonville Jaguars last season following a Week 3 concussion against the Seattle Seahawks. The one with the Falcons, which occurred after he was blocked by teammate Jacquizz Rodgers, marked his third concussion in the NFL. He also had one in college at San Jose State.

Lowery, the projected starter at free safety, immediately impressed his new teammates with the ball skills he displayed during the offseason. He continued his fine play at the start of training camp before the concussion derailed him.

Now he has to re-establish his rhythm alongside starting strong safety William Moore.

"It's just about practice, just like before," Lowery said. "We're not trying to reinvent the wheel, you know. Just come out and just do the things I've been doing since I got here, and don't treat it any differently than before the injury happened."

If concussion issues resurface for Lowery, Kemal Ishmael would be the next man up at the free safety spot.

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Hopefully he shows a better coverage display than Ishmael did

Yeah I know because the frequent concussions are a definite cause for concern.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Falcons Camp Report: Day 13

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By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- A daily review of the hot topics from Atlanta Falcons training camp:

Rookie running back Devonta Freeman was on the field for the start of practice but exited early and didn't return. The initial word was the heat got to Freeman, although coach Mike Smith declined to go in detail about Freeman's status. After practice as Smith met the media, Freeman walked around and greeted a few people and didn't have any protective gear on any part of his body. "I don't think it's anything serious," Smith said. If the heat indeed got to Freeman, it might be worth monitoring because the Falcons are set to have joint practices against the Texans in scorching Houston starting Wednesday morning.

Speaking of running backs, starter Steven Jackson performed some agility drills on a side field for the first time since suffering a left hamstring injury on July 28. Jackson did not perform any sprinting exercises. Smith said all along he expects Jackson to be fully healthy for the Sept. 7 season opener against the New Orleans Saints. With Jackson still sidelined and Freeman exiting early Monday, Jacquizz Rodgers remained as the primary running back with Antone Smith also getting a few first-team reps.

Julio Jones participated in his second consecutive practice and caught a few balls. The Falcons had Sunday off, so he technically had a day of rest in between practices. It's the same schedule he's been on throughout camp and it won't change just yet. "I know we're going to go every other day," Smith said of Jones' status, "but the workload is going to be different then it was in the first two weeks."

Extra points: Outside linebacker Stansly Maponga got into it with Lamar Holmes during pass-rush drills and drew anger from both defensive line coach Bryan Cox and offensive line coach Mike Tice. In fact, Tice taunted Maponga by saying he could show better pass-rush moves than Maponga could, while Cox challenged Maponga to play better on game day rather than thumping his chest in practice. ... Tight end Mickey Shuler got a few reps with the first-team offense coming off a strong performance in the first exhibition. ... Safety Dwight Lowery had full participation coming off a concussion although he didn't take a hit through the course of the day as the Falcons practiced in pads and shorts. ... Pat Angerer also seemed to have full participation while tackle Terren Jones was limited as both continued to go through the concussion protocol. ... Linebacker Tim Dobbins was on the field observing, following an ankle injury. Offensive lineman Gabe Carimi (ankle) was nowhere to be seen.

The Falcons practice Tuesday at 9 a.m. ET before leaving for Houston for joint practices with the Texans starting Wednesday.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Falcons' Smith: Don't read into backup QB

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By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- As the Atlanta Falcons returned to practice Monday, Sean Renfree spent the majority of the day working as the No. 2 quarterback with T.J. Yates primarily with the third team.

Although Yates was the one to replace starter Matt Ryan in the exhibition opener against Miami, it seemed premature to say Yates got demoted.

Coach Mike Smith clarified matters after practice as he looked ahead to Saturday's exhibition with the Houston Texans.

"We had a plan that we put in place for the entire preseason, and it was based on really going through and trying to give them equal reps in the first two games, and then maybe make a decision there on the third game on who's going to go," Smith said. "I wouldn't read anything into who goes in first or second because the plan was put in place before our first game.

"We've gotten T.J. more reps in practice simply because he wasn't with us during the offseason. So I wouldn't put anything into who goes in second and who goes in third in this week's game."

The Falcons sent linebacker Akeem Dent to Houston in exchange for Yates with thoughts of bolstering the backup spot. Yates hasn't done anything spectacular in practice and was average against the Dolphins, completing 7 of 16 passes for 127 yards and nearly throwing an interception on his first series. Renfree was 6-of-15 for 108 yards against Miami.

Toward the end of Monday's practice, Yates almost got the backup job by default as Renfree nearly got his arm ripped off during a pass rush. But Renfree appeared to shake off the incidental contact without much issue.

Yates, who will return to Houston this week as the Falcons and Texans conduct joint practices prior to Saturday's game, knows the backup job won't be just handed to him.

"I know how camp is," Yates said. "Everybody's switching around. Everybody's getting reps. You know, Sean's a very good quarterback. He's been in this offense for a year now, and he knows it very well. I know the coaches are comfortable with him.

"They're just trying to bring me along. I'm learning every single day, every rep, every snap, every single practice, I'm learning more and more. The more I can pay attention, whether I'm in the game or whether I'm sitting on the sideline taking a mental rep, I've got to get as

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Falcons' Smith talks practice vs. Texans

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By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Coach Mike Smith talked about the expectations for his team as the Atlanta Falcons prepare to start joint practices with the Texans in Houston Wednesday morning.

The teams will practice together two consecutive days in preparation for Saturday's preseason game. It will be the second joint practice for the Falcons this preseason following last Monday's one-day session with the Tennessee Titans.

"We're still in the evaluation process," Smith said. "There are going to be a lot of guys that did some things in the ball game in Week 1 that are going to get an opportunity to play a little bit more in Week 2, not only in the game but in practice.

"When you practice against someone else, you get to evaluate them against players that they haven't seen or haven't been working against 15 practices. We want to get some special teams work done. We've been moving a lot of guys around in special teams to evaluate the guys in different roles. So we'll continue to do that while we're there."

The Falcons' joint practice with the Titans was a bit chippy from the start and carried on throughout the entire day as Titans safety Bernard Pollard taunted the Falcons by calling them pretenders. There were a few guys taken to the ground during special teams play.

It will be interesting to see what tone is set in Houston.

"I think it will be very similar in terms of the practice schedule and the practice structure," Smith said. "We're a little further along so they'll be some situational periods that will be different than the Titans' practice. But again, we're talking about going down there and playing thud. We're not going to take guys to the ground. We're going to make sure that we're not cut-blocking. And we want to have a good, clean practice.

"It's going to be good for us to compete against really good players. I think their team is, in some ways, similar to ours in terms of the type of season that they had last year. They've got some really good players. I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to watch our guys compete against one of the top receivers in all of football [Andre Johnson]. They've got a very good running back in [Arian] Foster. So, we're going to get a chance to play against some really good players."

Both Johnson and Foster are coming off injuries, so their status remains unclear, but they could return for Saturday's game.

Smith has plenty of respect for new Texans coach Bill O'Brien, too.

"Bill has done a very good job everywhere he's been," Smith said of O'Brien. "He was here when we worked against the New England Patriots, so we've got a relationship in terms of how you do things in the practice. So the practice structure was really easy to put together. It was just a matter of a couple of phone calls and we got that set in terms of what we want to get accomplished.

"There are going to be some opportunities for us to do a couple of different things while we're down there based on how the practice goes. And we'll have those discussions when we get down there."

One of the interesting things to watch will be how Falcons rookie right tackle Jake Matthews, who might see time against pass-rush demon J.J. Watt, as well as rookie sensation Jadeveon Clowney, performs on the field.

"They're great players," Matthews said of Matthews and Clowney. "I'm excited for it. Like I keep saying, I love the challenge. I love going against the best players."

Matthews said he'll have a little added motivation with all of his family set to attend the game. His father, Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, played for the Houston Oilers and coached for the Texans from 2009-10.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Falcons have battle for backup TE spot

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By Vaughn McClure

There is a serious battle brewing for the Atlanta Falcons' backup tight end spot behind projected starter Levine Toilolo.

Veteran Bear Pascoe seemed to have an advantage coming into camp as a proven blocker over five previous NFL seasons. But the coaches believe former practice-squad player Mickey Shuler, who entered the league as a seventh-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2010, is steadily ascending.

Mickey Shuler

Mickey Shuler is making a serious play for the Atlanta Falcons' backup tight end spot.

In fact, Shuler saw some snaps with the first team at the beginning of the week coming off a strong showing in the Falcons' 16-10 preseason-opening win over Miami. He caught two passes for 23 yards in the game and raised some eyebrows with the sight adjustment he made on one of those receptions.

Coach Mike Smith said a few players earned more reps for their play against the Dolphins. Shuler was one of them.

"Mickey's done a nice job," Smith said. "In terms of catching the football, he had a big catch in the game Friday night. He had a good, athletic run after the catch. And I think him and Bear Pascoe, they're in a very good battle for that No. 2 tight end position. And I think their skill sets are similar, but there are things that are different where one has the advantage over the other."

The Falcons enter the 2014 season likely to put less emphasis on a pass-catching tight end after being spoiled by the now-retired Tony Gonzalez. Toilolo, a 6-foot-8-inch target, continues to develop and has even improved his blocking in his second season. But Toilolo seems destined to be more of a red-zone threat than anything with Julio Jones back from foot surgery to return as Matt Ryan's primary target and Roddy White showing he has plenty left in the tank.

The Falcons also want to establish more offensive balance with the run this season, which makes a blocking tight end that much more important. Again, that's been Pascoe's calling in the past. The 6-foot-5-inch, 265-pound Pascoe even saw time as a fullback with the New York Giants. But the 6-4, 247-pound Shuler had a thick body capable of clearing holes, too.

"Bear's more of a blocker and Mickey's more of a route-runner, but I think both of them can play and do what we're asking our tight ends to do," Smith said. "What we're asking them to do this year is be both an 'F' and a 'Y' tight end.

"Yes, we want more emphasis on a blocking tight end. But I don't think it gives (Pascoe) an advantage. We're two weeks into training camp. If you poll the players and you poll the coaches, they're going to say one day it's one guy and the next day it's another guy. I don't think there's any clear-cut guy. It's still too early. We've played one preseason game. But both of those guys are going to get an equal opportunity to compete for that roster spot."

It will be an interesting battle to watch the rest of the week as the Falcons practice against the Houston Texans on Wednesday and Thursday in preparation for their second exhibition game Saturday night.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Falcons QB Yates set to reunite with Texans

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By Vaughn McClure

HOUSTON -- Maybe T.J. Yates won't get a chance to challenge Garrett Graham at the TPC golf course inside the Woodlands Country Club, but at least the Atlanta Falcons quarterback will get a chance to enjoy a few memories with the tight end Graham and some of his other former Houston teammates.

Yates, of course, was traded from the Texans to his hometown Atlanta Falcons this offseason in exchange for linebacker Akeem Dent. With the teams scheduled to have two joint practices in Houston Wednesday morning and Thursday morning in preparation for Saturday night's preseason game, Yates will be in familiar surroundings.

"Man, I've got a ton of friends on the Texans," Yates said. "Most of my draft class that I came in with -- J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed, a couple of the offensive linemen. I spent three years there and made a lot of memories, a lot of friends. It will be special to go back. It will be fun.

"It's going to be weird being on the other side. But, I'm excited to go back."

Yates, a former fifth-round draft pick out of North Carolina, has the distinction of winning the first playoff game in Texans' franchise history when, as a rookie, he helped them to a 31-10 triumph over the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2011 postseason.

"That was something special not only for me, but the entire organization and the city of Houston," Yates said. "It was kind of just taking a step as a program. That was a big deal for everybody. That's something that I'll obviously remember forever."

Yates doesn't have any ill feelings about the trade.

"It was something that my agent and (Texans general manager) Rick Smith had been talking about for a while," Yates said. "They were kind of throwing around the idea. It got me in a better situation than I was there. And I thank both organizations for executing the trade.

"I couldn't have landed in a better situation for my family, myself: being back at home and being with an organization like it is here and learning from one of the better quarterbacks in this league. And a great coaching staff. I couldn't be happier."

Yates knows firsthand how much of a challenge it will be for the offensive line and rookie right tackle Jake Matthews to practice and play a game against a player the caliber of Watt.

"My advice? Be ready, because he's one of the best in the league," Yates said of friend Watt. "Hopefully (Matthews) won't have to face him head on. Usually a guy like J.J., you're trying to put at least four hands on him at all times. That will be a good test for Jake and all of our offensive linemen. They've got one of the stronger front sevens in the league."

Yates is familiar with the other big challenge the Falcons will face in Houston.

"It's also going to be a good test for us to go down there and practice in the heat," he said. "Think about the hottest practice you've ever had and add something to it. It's a different world out there. You practice in the morning to try and beat the heat, but it's 100-percent humidity at 8 o'clock in the morning. It's just a different world. You've just got to get over the initial shock of how hot it is."

Yates, by the way, is locked in a battle with Sean Renfree for the backup role behind Matt Ryan. Coach Mike Smith said not to read too much into how reps are distributed this week, but Smith wants to establish a No. 2 guy by the third preseason game against Tennessee.

Against Miami last week, Yates completed 7 of 16 passes for 127 yards while working with a group of inexperienced receivers.

"I thought I did good," Yates said. "I was a little off with some of the receivers. That just takes time, getting with those guys, and practicing over and over with them. You have to learn how they run routes. Every receiver is different. Some routes are steps. Some are shorter and some are longer.

"It's more of just getting on the same page with the receivers, more operation at the line of scrimmage, and just getting used to this offense and getting used to the coaches calling the play into me and me relaying it to those guys. That's what the preseason's for. That's what training camp is for."

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Camp Confidential: Atlanta Falcons

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By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA. -- There is no doubt the Atlanta Falcons have gotten tougher this season just based on the bigger bodies along the offensive and defensive lines and the nastier attitudes players have brought to training camp.

But will that translate to a return trip to the postseason in 2014?

The Falcons still have some questions to answer, some wrinkles to iron out after last season's 4-12 finish. If all goes as planned, Matt Ryan will play like one of the top-tier quarterbacks in the league because he won't have to throw under such duress and he'll have his top threat back in Julio Jones. If all goes as planned, the running backs, led by Steven Jackson and rookie Devonta Freeman, will help give the Falcons much-needed offensive balance.

If all goes as planned, newly added defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson will help shut down the run, forcing opponents to be one-dimensional and allowing defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to find creative ways to get pressure on quarterbacks and create turnovers.

And if all goes as planned, Devin Hester will prove he's still the greatest return man in the game and will help the Falcons win a few games simply on his own dynamic talent.

We'll see how it all unfolds.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Jones' return: You can't overstate how much Jones means to this offense. The Falcons sorely missed his big-play ability last season as opposing defenses had it easy. With Jones back and looking fully healthy coming off a second foot surgery, the Falcons have their explosion back. Jones put on 10 pounds of muscle and still has his breakaway speed. Where he really might thrive more than ever is the red zone, given that Ryan no longer has Tony Gonzalez as his security blanket. Also expect Jones to draw his share of defensive holding penalties against outmatched cornerbacks.

2. Jake Matthews' arrival: The rookie first-round pick brings more stability to what was a pathetic offensive line last season. Throughout training camp, the right tackle has been like a brick wall in pass protection and has been equally impressive as a run blocker. There are still questions about how the line will fare as a whole. But there's no doubt Matthews has perennial Pro Bowler written all over him. With veteran right guard Jon Asamoah next to Matthews, the right side of the line should be the least of the Falcons' concerns.

3. No-nonsense coaches: Offensive line coach Mike Tice and defensive line coach Bryan Cox are new to the staff -- and they don't take crap from anyone. Some players need a kick in the butt rather than positive reinforcement, and Tice and Cox have no issue raising their voices. The players seem to respect them both. The offensive linemen have taken well to Tice tweaking their techniques. Maybe the defensive linemen aren't so enthused about Cox making them do up-downs after mistakes, but it's only going to make them more mentally focused.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Although no one should doubt Nolan's unique ability to be creative with his packages, the simple fact is the Falcons don't have a dominant pass-rusher. Sure, Jonathan Massaquoi has a lot of promise and veteran Osi Umenyiora slimmed down and seems to have a good year left in his body, but there's not a guy who strikes fear in opposing offensive tackles. With Drew Brees and Cam Newton in the division and Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco also on the schedule, pressure will be imperative.

2. There continues to be a concern at inside linebacker. Paul Worrilow should be fine and will have a place in the lineup for a lot of years to come. But Joplo Bartu, currently alongside Worrilow in the 3-4 setup and in the nickel defense, has some strides to make. Bartu has had a good training camp and can cover tight ends with no issues. But he's still learning on the fly, coming from outside linebacker last year. The Falcons have a lot of faith in rookie Prince Shembo, but he's also transitioning from outside to inside and will have a learning curve. There's a lack of depth at the position, too, with Sean Weatherspoon (Achilles) and rookie Marquis Spruill (ACL) out for the season.

3. Injuries took a toll on the Falcons last season with players such as Jones, Jackson, Weatherspoon, Roddy White and Kroy Biermann all either being shelved for the season or at least missing games. The injury bug has again bit the Falcons in training camp with three players (safety Dwight Lowery, linebacker Pat Angerer and offensive tackle Terren Jones) suffering concussions, two players (Gabe Carimi and Tim Dobbins) suffering ankle injuries, and one player (Spruill) tearing an ACL. The Falcons can't have a rash of major injuries this season. If they do, at least they'll have better depth than a year ago.

OBSERVATION DECK

Although 6-foot-3-inch, 302-pound center Joe Hawley was pushed around a little bit in the preseason opener against Miami, the Falcons can live with that for a couple of plays a game because Hawley brings so much toughness and is so quick and athletic when it comes to pulling.

Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford continue to evolve as a duo and should be one of the most feared cornerback tandems in the league for years to come. Expect them to be much more physical this year.

Some folks wondered about White's health because he seems a little hobbled and continues to wear a light brace on his left knee. But White showed no ill-effects against the Dolphins and looked like the Roddy White of old.

Robert McClain appears to be ahead in the battle for the third cornerback right now, with Javier Arenas maybe a tad ahead of Josh Wilson at this point. Wilson has to start making more plays.

No one is panicking over Hester fumbling the ball in his first exhibition. The defender got a good hit on him. Hester, historically, has been secure with the ball on returns.

Safety Kemal Ishmael continues to impress the Falcons, specifically with his tackling. If Lowery's concussion issues resurface, Ishmael should be more than capable to handle a starting role next to strong safety William Moore.

Explosive running back Antone Smith deserves more touches. Enough said

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Falcons Camp Report: Day 15

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By Vaughn McClure

HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics from Atlanta Falcons training camp:

The Falcons had the first of two joint practices with the Houston Texans on Wednesday morning. More than anything, it was a chance for the offensive line to work against a rather talented Texans front seven, led by J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed and rookie Jadeveon Clowney. "I thought we got some really good work,'' Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "Coach [bill] O'Brien and his staff did a really good job putting the practice together. Thought we went out and got a chance to work against each other. But I only saw one side of the ball. And I was back and forth. So I really don't have a true evaluation. But I thought that they worked hard. It was a different sequencing for us, coming out here in the morning. Look forward to watching the tape and seeing what tomorrow brings.'' Smith is likely to see his offensive line -- specifically Justin Blalock and Mike Johnson -- getting dominated by Watt. Rookie Jake Matthews held his own but had some trouble with Reed at one point, while Sam Baker went head-to-head with Clowney, who appeared to force Baker into a holding penalty later in practice. Nobody on the Falcons' defensive line seemed to do anything overly spectacular.

Quarterback Matt Ryan hit Harry Douglas for a touchdown pass at the end of practice and Douglas was demonstrative with his celebration. It helped that Ryan got a little extra time to throw due to solid protection up front. Ryan was asked about the timing with his receivers at this particular point in the process. "I think we're about right where we need to be this time of the year,'' he said. "We've got some things to clean up, but I think our timing has been pretty good.'' Ryan continues to re-establish his rhythm with Julio Jones, who remains on a day on, day off practice schedule with an increased workload when he participates. Jones praticed Wednesday so he's likely to be off Thursday, unless there is a last-minute change.

Unlike what we've grown accustomed to back in Flowery Branch, Georgia, no significant fights broke out during Wednesday's practice. There seemed to be just one truly heated moment when Falcons rookie fullback Maurice Hagens got into it with former Falcons linebacker Akeem Dent, who was traded to the Texans in exchange for quarterback T.J. Yates.

Running back Jacquizz Rodgers, running with the first team with Steven Jackson (left hamstring) still sidelined, had a little added motivation to perform well in practice. Rodgers is from the Houston area and had about 12 relatives and friends at the practice. "It's always good to come home,'' Rodgers said. "Got my family here. Gives them a chance to see us practice firsthand.''

Extra points: Ryan on Texans linebacker Justin Tuggle, the son of former Falcon great Jessie Tuggle. "I think he's doing a good job. He's really filled out. He actually started off at B.C. [boston College], so I was fan of his early on.'' ... Offensive lineman Gabe Carimi returned to the field as an observer for the first time since suffering an ankle injury during a joint practice with the Tennessee Titans. ... Linebacker Tim Dobbins, who suffered an ankle injury in last week's exhibition opener against Miami, returned to practice and faced his former teammates. ... Rookie Kimario McFadden had an interception off a tipped pass. ... The Texans had receiver Andre Johnson, running back Arian Foster and linebacker Brian Cushing back to practice off injuries.

Next up: The Falcons and Texans conclude their two-day joint practices with another 8 a.m. session Thursday.

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That was a great article on Antone Smith way up there. Really love his attitude. The way he acknowledged Freeman is an impressive display of teamsmanship. (I made that word up! lol)

Really excited about this running game this year.

Keep up the good work Blk, great thread.

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That was a great article on Antone Smith way up there. Really love his attitude. The way he acknowledged Freeman is an impressive display of teamsmanship. (I made that word up! lol)

Really excited about this running game this year.

Keep up the good work Blk, great thread.

Lmao, it's your mod powers so the word is allowed, lol! Yeah I feel like our running game is going to be a strength once again! Thanks bro!

Tuggle'2 likes this

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Texans' Johnson impressed with Trufant

By Vaughn McClure

HOUSTON -- One of the aspects Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith talked about the most going into joint practices against the Texans was getting to compete with one of the best receivers in the league.

Unfortunately, it didn't materialize during Wednesday's session as veteran Andre Johnson was somewhat limited coming off a hamstring injury. Johnson going full speed would have been a great test for Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant as well as tag-team partner Robert Alford.

Maybe a Johnson-Trufant matchup will materialize Thursday morning as the teams practice again. Although he's not that familiar with him, Johnson already has an idea about Trufant.

``Just watching him in practice, he looks like he's very competitive,'' Johnson said of Trufant. ``He looks like he works really hard. And from what I saw, he's a very fiery guy when he makes a play. He's into it.

``It's great for competition. I think it makes training camp fun when you have other teams coming in and get to compete against them. You get to see where your game is at and stuff like that. I think it's pretty cool.''

Johnson said he's unsure about his status for Saturday night's exhibition game between the teams.

I don't know: That's the coach's decision,'' he said. ``We'll see what happens.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Falcons Camp Report: Day 16

By Vaughn McClure

HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Atlanta Falcons training camp:

The Falcons had their second of two joint practices against the Houston Texans in preparation for Saturday's exhibition. The day involved a lot of situational work, including more red zone and two-minute drill, plus a series with the Falcons backed up deep near their own end zone. Coach Mike Smith was pleased, overall. "I thought it was a good work," Smith said. "We worked on a lot of situations. ... I thought it was very good work. We had some guys that we held out that we have on their normal routine. I think that sometimes gives other guys opportunities to play and grow."

Speaking of getting opportunities, rookie receivers Bernard Reedy and Geraldo Boldewijn got more chances with both Julio Jones and Roddy White resting, as scheduled. Boldewijn actually caught a touchdown pass from Matt Ryan during the red-zone period. "I thought some young guys got a chance to compete at a different level than they've been competing," Smith said. "(Boldewijn) did a nice job. And Reedy got an opportunity to get more reps. (Jeremy) Ebert got an opportunity to get more reps. That's what these practices are really about: the evaluation process."

The defensive line and pass-rushers found it a tough go, at times, against the Texans offensive line. But the Falcons had their moments. Nose tackle Paul Soliai pushed an opponent back what seemed to be 10 yards during one-on-one drills, while Jonathan Babineaux was simply consistent during the same session. Veteran Osi Umenyiora showed off a nice spin move later in practice. And Kroy Biermann went at it hard with former Falcons teammate Tyson Clabo early in practice. Several defensive linemen and linebackers got a little irked with Texans offensive lineman Mike Farrell, who seemed to take the field looking for a fight. Cliff Matthews came the closest to coming to blows with Farrell.

Speaking of fights, there was a little tension between Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant and Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins after Trufant broke up a pass during a drill. The two glared at each other. Then Hopkins and Falcons cornerback Josh Wilson got into it, with Wilson throwing a punch at Hopkins. But Hopkins might have instigated with a push. "It was even with me, really," Trufant said of the squabble. "(Hopkins) and I, we were just battling all day and just competing. It's a full-contact sport. Tempers are going to flare. But we're just competing."

Extra points: Trufant was getting medical treatment on the side near the end of practice but said it was just cramps. ... Rookie outside linebacker Jacques Smith saw more second-team reps running alongside Stansly Maponga behind starters Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi. ... Ryan got picked off a couple times during drills. ... There was a little trash talk between Falcons safety William Moore and a member of the Texans coaching staff after Paul Worrilow appeared to stop the runner in the end zone for a safety. Moore started yelling, "All day. All day." The person going back and forth with Moore appeared to be Texans head coach Bill O'Brien. ... Running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) and offensive lineman Gabe Carimi (ankle) remained sidelined.

Next up: The Falcons have Friday off.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mutual respect between Watt, Matthews

By Vaughn McClure

HOUSTON -- Everyone wondered how Atlanta Falcons rookie right tackle Jake Matthews would fare this week in joint practices against the Houston Texans and pass-rush demon J.J. Watt.

Well, Matthews held his own over the last two days. And Watt recognized it.

"He's got good potential," Watt said of Matthews. "Obviously, he's a young guy. He comes from great pedigree. And I think that he's going to be a pretty good player down the line."

Matthews, naturally, expressed mutual respect for one of the league's best pass-rushers. Watt has 36.5 sacks in three years with the Texans.

"He's a **** of a player," Matthews said of Watt. "He's really good. That was something I needed because I want to go against the best players and be the best player I can be. He's going to show you all the best looks in the league, so that was really good."

Matthews will get one more good look at Watt on Saturday when the Falcons and Texans battle in each team's second preseason game.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Julio Jones targets Saturday return

By Vaughn McClure and Stephania Bell

ESPN.com

HOUSTON -- Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, who has slowly worked his way back into action following a second foot surgery, said he expects to play against the Houston Texans on Saturday night.

Jones last played in a live game Oct. 7 of last year, when he fractured his right foot during a 30-28 loss to the New York Jets. He suffered the same injury before being drafted sixth overall by the Falcons in 2011.

Jones said he feels 100 percent now, although the team has been cautious with him this preseason.

He is on a practice schedule of one day on, one day off, although his practice workload increased this week.

Jones did not play in last week's exhibition opener against the Miami Dolphins. He did not participate in Thursday's joint practice against the Texans, meaning he will have two days off before game day.

The Falcons do not practice Friday.

Coach Mike Smith would not disclose Jones' playing status for Saturday when the topic was raised following Thursday's practice.

"We're going to go through the plan that we had, and I really don't want to talk about whether Julio's going to play or not,'' Smith said. "We have a plan, and we all know what it is.''

Jones is likely to play just a series. The Falcons said from the start he would be ready for the regular-season opener against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 7.

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