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Falcons In-Season News

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Friday, August 15, 2014

T.J. Yates scores first TD with DQ tribute

By Vaughn McClure

HOUSTON -- New Atlanta Falcons quarterback T.J. Yates still has to win the backup job going into the regular season. But Yates already won over some of his new teammates with his character.

Yates organized an effort to support one of his former Houston Texans teammates, offensive lineman David Quessenberry, who has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Yates asked the offensive linemen to wear specially designed T-shirts with message "Atlanta for DQ: Trench Life'' written across the front.

Quessenberry was honored by the entire city on Thursday.

"The [Texans] guys are so tight with T.J. still, with him being here for so long, and he reached out to us a while ago and asked us if we'd like to come out and do this,'' guard Justin Blalock said. "We're more than happy to help. It's a great cause. I don't know the young man, but we're all in this thing together. We're an NFL family.''

Yates deflected the attention away from himself.

"Practice was for him,'' Yates said of Quessenberry. "Anything we can do with anything, we're just trying to help him out; whether it's talk to him, text him. Anything we can do to make his day a little bit better, to make his fight easier, is why we're doing it.''

The Falcons and Texans square off in Saturday night's second exhibition game.

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

W2W4: Atlanta Falcons

By Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons (1-0) play their second preseason game against the Houston Texans (0-1) Saturday night at NRG Stadium:

Three things to watch:

1. Eyes on Jake: As the teams got together for joint practices this week, much of the talk was about how rookie right tackle Jake Matthews performed against pass-rush demon J.J. Watt and the rest of the Texans' potent front seven. Matthews held his own and earned the respect of Watt and others. Now Matthews has to do the same in live action, no matter how many reps he gets against Houston's first-team defense. Since Matthews picked up two penalties in last week's game against Miami, one can bet he'll be even more focused to not commit the same mistakes again.

2. In the zone: Coach Mike Smith emphasized all week the importance of being more efficient in the red zone after the Falcons scored just one touchdown in four red-zone trips last week. It's unclear how long the starters will be in the game, but Matt Ryan seems content with the rhythm he has with his receivers right now. So it wouldn't be a shock to see him take a few shots in the end zone, especially if Julio Jones gets some action, as expected. The line has to block better in any goal-line situation, too. Jacquizz Rodgers essentially scored on his own last week.

3. Backup plan: If there's no clear-cut favorite between T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree for the backup role at this point, then one of them has a chance to establish a little separation Saturday. Last week, Yates was the first to enter the game behind Ryan. This week, Smith said not to read too much into which backup enters the game first. Yates, who was traded to Atlanta from Houston, seems likely to be more comfortable playing in familiar surroundings. But he's still getting familiar with the playbook and the inexperienced receivers he has to work alongside. Renfree is a sharp guy and has had his moments in practice. Smith wants the No. 2 situation resolved by the third preseason game.

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We'll TATF is in top form today, lol! They suck bad on both sides of the ball but it's fixable so I'm good. Should be plenty of guys getting cussed out on hard knocks this Tuesday.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Falcons' Smith disappointed in all phases

By Vaughn McClure

HOUSTON -- It was bad enough the Atlanta Falcons couldn't really get into an offensive rhythm in Saturday night's 32-7 loss to the Houston Texans. They also didn't communicate or tackle well on defense, had failures on special teams and committed costly penalties.

Top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney of the Texans certainly had a hand in disrupting Antone Smith and the offense of the Falcons, who couldn't get it going in any phase.

Falcons coach Mike Smith tried to sum it up the best he could.

"It was very obvious that we didn't play well in any phase of the game tonight," Smith said after the game. "We had breakdowns in all three phases. We had way too many penalties; weren't able to convert on third down; we're able to get off the field [defensively] on third-and-long; had a punt blocked [and] returned, field goal blocked.

"Not anywhere close to the level that we need to play and perform at. We've got to get much better."

The Falcons were 3-of-11 on third down, including 0-of-4 by quarterback Matt Ryan and the starters. The defense gave up 323 yards to a Texans team that got shut out in Arizona last week.

"We didn't tackle well," Smith said. "We had some mental errors where the rotation was not in the right direction. And you're going to give up some big plays. [Defensively], we had some third-and-long, longs that we didn't convert on. We had that one explosive run where we lost leverage on the backside. So those are areas that we have to address.

"It was not the type of football that we know that we're capable of playing or the type of football that we're going to play."

Last week, Smith was upset after his team was penalized nine times for 82 yards against the Miami Dolphins, including a holding call that wiped out Antone Smith's 76-yard touchdown run. This week, the Falcons were penalized 10 times for 89 yards and had a touchdown by rookie running back Devonta Freeman taken off the board.

"We had way too many penalties there, especially in the second half," Smith said. "We were called for offensive holding a number of times to call back positive plays. And those are areas that we've got to address."

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Julio Jones shows flashes in return

By Vaughn McClure

HOUSTON -- Sure, Julio Jones didn't score a touchdown or make a spectacular one-handed grab, but just his presence on the field was a positive step for the Atlanta Falcons.

The star receiver saw his first game action since suffering a fracture in his right foot Oct. 7. He caught two passes for 20 yards while being targeted four times during Saturday's 32-7 loss to the Houston Texans.

"I thought Julio looked good," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "It's good to have him back. Obviously, he's a dynamic player for our offense and somebody we feel like is a game-changer. I thought he did a nice job out there tonight."

Jones' first catch came across the middle for a 6-yard gain just two plays into the game. Ryan then tried to go back to him on third-and-7 from the 20. Jones showed explosion in going up for the ball but couldn't get both feet in bounds.

On Jones' second catch, which went for 14 yards, Texans safety D.J. Swearinger put on a hard hit that seemed to rattle Jones a moment, but Jones shook it off.

Ryan unsuccessfully attempted to connect with Jones on two third-down situations.

"It's amazing how a play here or there changes kind of how a game feels, how a preseason game feels, when you're only getting a couple of drives," Ryan said. "We had that opportunity on the first third-down situation. We took a chance down the field. I've got to give him a little bit better chance to keep his feet in bounds. That's one of those things, moving forward, we need to make the plays. And I think we will."

Coach Mike Smith talked about having Jones back in the lineup.

"Julio got an opportunity to get out on the field today with the rest of the offense, and that’s always a good sign," Smith said. "We wanted to get him a prescribed number of plays. We got him very close to the number that we wanted."

Jones played in the first four series against the Texans. Expect him to get more action in the third preseason game against the Tennessee Titans next Saturday, the most important of the four exhibitions in terms of the starters and putting together a game plan.

Jones, who did not play in last week's exhibition opener against the Miami Dolphins, did not address the media following Saturday's game.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jake Matthews open to left tackle

By Vaughn McClure

ESPN.com

With the strong possibility the Atlanta Falcons have lost starting left tackle Sam Baker for the season with a patella-related injury, rookie right tackle Jake Matthews said he is ready to switch to left tackle.

Baker injured his right knee during the second quarter of Saturday's 32-7 preseason loss to the Houston Texans. A source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that Baker ruptured his patella tendon; the injury is likely to end his season. The former first-round pick underwent season-ending patella surgery on his left knee last season and missed a total of 12 games.

Matthews, this year's sixth-overall pick, came to the Falcons as a right tackle but was anticipated to be the left tackle of the future. The future seems to be now.

"I'll do it," Matthews told ESPN.com of moving to left tackle. "That's what they drafted me for: to come here and play wherever. And something I take a lot of pride in is my versatility and being able to play on either side. If they ask me to move over, I'll be happy to do it."

Matthews wasn't immediately aware of Baker's status but expressed his feelings about the injury.

"I don't really know what happened, but he was definitely one of the vocal leaders and leaders of the offensive line," Matthews said of Baker. "The guy has been around doing it for a long time. He's definitely one of the crucial pieces of the offensive line."

Matthews played left tackle at Texas A&M last season so any transition should be natural. He felt like he matured from Week 1 to Week 2 in the preseason.

"I thought I got better," Matthews said of facing the Texans. "I thought I did good things. I definitely did better than the first game. I felt more comfortable. I've just got to keep working. I've got to check that tape and keep getting better."

Coach Mike Smith was hesitant to "speculate" about moving Matthews.

"We would have a number of options," Smith said. "Again, our No. 1 goal would be to put the five best offensive linemen out there. We obviously know that he is one of the five best because he is a starter. Is he our best left tackle, our best option? That is something that we will have to determine if we have to address that."

If the Falcons indeed move Matthews to left tackle, as expected, then either Lamar Holmes or Ryan Schraeder will take his place on the right side, at least in the interim. The best option at right tackle might be veteran newcomer Gabe Carimi, but Carimi is nursing an ankle injury that kept him out of the first two preseason games.

Carimi impressed the coaches throughout camp with his ability to play right tackle and both guard spots.

As for Holmes, he started 15 games last season and played both tackle spots following Baker's injury. Holmes had a bad offseason but has improved daily in training camp.

"Ever since we got Coach [Mike] Tice, Coach Tice has brought different elements to my game," Holmes said. "He's showed me a couple of different things that I can do with my pass sets. He's helping me add tools to my toolbox."

It remains unclear if the Falcons plan to add another veteran tackle to the mix.

As for Baker, a medical source said a significant injury to the patellofemoral mechanism typically is just as challenging as rehabbing from an ACL tear.

Baker's future with the Falcons is in serious doubt. He signed a six-year, $41.1 million deal in 2013 that included $18.25 million guaranteed. His cap figures for the next five seasons are $6.05 million (2014), $7.3 million, $8.05 million, $9.3 million, and $6.6 million.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Carimi expected to see preseason action

By Vaughn McClure

http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/print?id=7294

Monday, August 18, 2014

Falcons' Corey Peters returns to practice

By Vaughn McClure

http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/print?id=7302

Monday, August 18, 2014

Jake Matthews moves to LT

By Vaughn McClure

http://espn.go.com/espn/print?id=11370846&type=story

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Falcons Camp Report: Day 17

By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Atlanta Falcons training camp: •The big story Monday before the Falcons officially broke camp was rookie Jake Matthews' move from right tackle to left tackle following a season-ending knee injury to Sam Baker. Left guard Justin Blalock joked with Matthews about it being their first date together. The Falcons thought it would be a happy marriage with Matthews from the beginning, which is why they drafted him sixth overall. Matthews played left tackle last year at Texas A&M, so the transition back to the left side didn't seem to bother him one bit. It was interesting seeing him fight against veteran designated pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora as Umenyiora rushed off the right side. "We've got a ton of talent on this defense," Matthews said. "Every day, it's a challenge for me to go out and block. But it's been good for me. [umenyiora's] one of the best that ever played. I'm excited to work with him and get better from him."

•Defensive tackle Corey Peters returned to practice and participated in individual drills, meaning he's no longer on the physically unable to perform list. Peters tore his Achilles against San Francisco on Dec. 23 of last season. "Corey's way ahead of schedule in terms of his rehabilitation with his Achilles," coach Mike Smith said. "It's going to be fun to watch him get indoctrinated into what we're doing this season with coach (Bryan) Cox. We're going to take it slow. The next question may be whether we're going to have him ready for the first game. That's going to be something that will be determined (on) how he handles the next couple of weeks."

•Javier Arenas was the primary nickelback during Monday's practice as the Falcons continue to weigh competition at the position. Smith said before Saturday's loss at Houston he wanted to figure out the best man for the job between Arenas, Robert McClain, and Josh Wilson. Arenas will get the first shot this Saturday against Tennessee. "I think we still have a lot of decisions to make in terms of who's going to be our nickel," Smith said. "We're going to rotate a little bit differently this week than what we did in the first two games. There's really been three guys who have been competing for it .... This is Arenas' chance to get his reps in there. And then we'll make a decision going into the fourth preseason game on who's going to be our starter at nickel."

•There was a bit of an altercation between outside linebacker Jonathan Massaquoi and center Joe Hawley. After Massaquoi kept screaming at Hawley, Smith stepped in and warned how Massaquoi could get a 15-yard penalty for continuing to run his mouth. The Falcons have been penalized 19 times for 171 yards in two preseason games.

•Extra points: Julio Jones looked rather smooth in catching a touchdown pass behind Desmond Trufant on a perfectly executed fade with Matt Ryan. ... Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who tore his Achilles this offseason, was in a walking boot and out supporting his teammates Monday. He once yelled from the sideline for the defenders to get proper depth on their drops. .... Offensive tackle Gabe Carimi walked around the practice field all day but remained sidelined coming off an ankle injury. ... Devin Hester had a drop over the middle on a bullet from Ryan. ... Terren Jones played with the second team at left tackle as Ryan Schraeder was at right tackle. ... Harry Douglas corralled a Hail Mary pass.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Falcons' Shembo working his way up

By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It shouldn't have been much surprise to see Atlanta Falcons rookie inside linebacker Prince Shembo running alongside Paul Worrilow early in Monday's practice.

Before training camp started, coach Mike Smith promised Shembo would get serious consideration for a starter's role. Then defensive coordinator Mike Nolan talked about Shembo having the best physical stature of anyone on the roster at inside linebacker.

Shembo didn't totally overtake Joplo Bartu during Monday's session, but his increased reps with the first unit seemed to indicate a depth-chart move on the horizon.

"I think that Prince has had a very good training camp," Smith said as the team broke camp Monday. "We have to continue to be in an evaluation mode and get these guys ready and prepared. Obviously, whether he's the first man in or the guy that's out there, he's got to get some work with the first group.

"And we will make sure that we get an evaluation where he's playing against some of the [caliber of] players that he'll be playing against in September, October, November."

Shembo came to the Falcons as an outside linebacker but made the transition to inside linebacker almost immediately. His pass-rush skills were evident in the first exhibition against Miami, when he recorded a sack. His effort and intensity are evident every snap. Now, Shembo has to prove himself in coverage, be a sure-tackler, and show an ability to communicate well when he's asked to relay the defensive signals.

In Saturday's 32-7 loss to the Houston Texans, Shembo played 27 snaps and had three tackles. He was in with the starters on a goal-line play that resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run for Texans running back Alfred Blue.

"He's been in our goal-line defense from the very start, so it wasn't something that we did this past game," Smith said. "Prince has done everything that we've asked. He's very conscientious in the classroom. He's eager to learn. And Coach [Glenn] Pires has done a really good job with him in getting him prepared."

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Falcons have to fix penalties now

By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There hasn't been much game-planning on either side of the ball for the Atlanta Falcons, so mistiming on offense and miscommunication on defense shouldn't be overblown just yet.

And with special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong forced to play so many young players to get a serious evaluation for his units, it's too early to declare special teams a complete disaster.

But one aspect the Falcons need to get under control immediately is the penalty situation. Through two preseason games, they've been penalized 19 times for 171 yards. They've been whistled 25 times total, counting the penalties not accepted or offsetting. And it's not just the rookies making mistakes. Ten flags have been thrown against either starters or seasoned veterans.

"Very concerned," coach Mike Smith said. "Fifteen penalties called in the game [at Houston]. There weren't 15 accepted penalties, but we've got to make sure that we understand how the game is going to be called from the officiating side.

"They're going through changes. We're going through changes. There are a lot of emphasis points that the league has, basically, mandated. And we have to adjust to them. Up to this point, I don't know that we have, or anybody in this league has adjusted very well. Thank goodness that we don't have a lot of commercials in preseason games because [the games] would be really long."

Of course the biggest points of emphasis are illegal contact by defenders against receivers 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and defensive holding. In Saturday game against the Texans, starting corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford both were whistled for defensive holding, although only Trufant's penalty was accepted.

"We just have to adjust to it this year," Alford said. "I mean, they called it. All we can do is go back to the film with coach and see what we can improve on."

Trufant was visibly upset with the call on him and threw his arms out in disgust.

"All we can do is play," Trufant said. "There's always going to be bang-bang plays. Like Rob said, we've got to go to the film and just see what we could have done better."

Safety William Moore offered his take on the penalty situation.

"Flags kicked our ***," Moore said of the Houston game. "We had some opportunities to get off the field on third down, and we come up with some silly-*** penalties. And the refs weren't any lighter on us. We gave up 200-something yards in penalties. Hopefully that doesn't happen during the season."

The starters are scheduled to play the entire first half and possibly into the third quarter against Tennessee on Saturday, so we'll see if the penalty issues are corrected.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Falcons' Holmes regains focus after loss

By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Lamar Holmes admitted his mind wasn't totally there at times this offseason. Based on the circumstances, it's easy to understand why.

Holmes was excused from a June 4 session of organized team activities after his grandmother, Olivia Sanders, had passed away in her Gastonia, North Carolina, home the day before. In talking about her death Monday, Holmes' lip started to quiver.

It's evident how much his grandmother meant to him.

"It was a dramatic blow because my grandmother, that's my heart," Holmes said. "She was the glue to our family; both sides of my family. She held everybody together on certain occasions. When she wanted the family together, everybody would just go to her house laughing and joking.

"For her to pass, and for me to be up here and not really get to see her ... my mom called me and told me she was seeing signs of it. I didn't know how bad it was. And for me not to be there to give her a kiss goodbye, it hurt."

Holmes said his grandmother, 69, died of heart failure. The reality of the matter didn't settle in until the funeral on June 9.

"For me to have to go to the funeral home and just see her lying there ... it was just a gigantic blow to our family," he said. "We still haven't recovered from it yet."

Holmes said he found it difficult to focus upon returning to practice.

"The day after I got back, it was kind of hard because the image that kept playing in my head was my grandmother in the (casket)," Holmes said. "But after talking to (senior director of player affairs) Kevin Winston, he was like, 'Your grandmother wouldn't want you walking around here like a sad pup. She would want you to go out there and play for her.'

"The instant he said that, it kind of hit something in me. I was like, 'You know Kevin, you're 100 percent right. I'm going to do exactly like that.' "

Holmes won't get to share the news with his grandmother about possibly being back in the starting lineup at right tackle. Sam Baker's season-ending knee injury led to rookie Jake Matthews being switched to left tackle, allowing Holmes to immediate step in on the right side.

Although Holmes struggled this offseason and was somewhat on the bubble before Baker's injury, he kept a positive outlook, thanks in part to his grandmother's words.

"She always told me to have fun doing what you love," he said. "That was the main thing she always said. As long as you're having fun, can't nothing be wrong. She always preached that. With this opportunity now, she'd tell me to enjoy it."

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Practice report: Jones' final day of rest?

By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- As the Atlanta Falcons returned to practice Tuesday, top receiver Julio Jones was a spectator in a fishing hat.

It was his scheduled day off after a day on, but coach Mike Smith said both Jones and outside linebacker Kroy Biermann are set to return to a normal practice routine after being limited throughout training camp.

"We're going to start increasing all of these guys as we get closer to the opening game of the regular season; the Saints game," Smith said. "It's important for us to have all of our guys ready to go that are going to play and have to go out and play 60 snaps. That's not possible if you're not practicing every day. So you're going to see, over the next 10 days, a change in our team in terms of the routine of who's practicing and who's not. ... The prescription has changed in terms of the number of reps [with] the guys and the days that they'll be working."

On the line: Smith was asked about Lamar Holmes' day working with the first team at right tackle: "Lamar is playing the right tackle with [Ryan] Schraeder this week, and I think he did a nice job," Smith said. "Lamar has played both on the left and the right side. It's not anything new for him. We had plans to get him cross-trained during this camp. And I think this gives us a lot more flexibility. Now we have three guys competing at the right tackle [including Gabe Carimi]. But we also have to have guys that can slide inside and play some guard. Some tackle is going to have to play some guard. We've got two that have done that: Gabe Carimi and Schraeder."

Back to work: Defensive tackle Corey Peters practiced for the second consecutive day after being restricted coming off last year's Achilles tear. Smith said Peters is way ahead of schedule in his return. Peters had complete faith in being ready for the regular season from the start. "If it was up to me, I would have tried to get back out there three or four weeks ago," Peters said. "But I think that it's been a good process. Thinking about it now, I'm happy that I waited."

Extra points: Tight end Mickey Shuler, who is battling Bear Pascoe for the backup job, is going through the concussion protocol and did not practice Tuesday. ... Wide receiver/special-teamer Courtney Roby was excused from practice to be back in Indianapolis with his wife for the birth of their child. ... Joe Hawley talked before practice about being mic'd up for "Hard Knocks." ... Steven Jackson (hamstring) and Carimi (ankle) were held out of practice.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ferguson hits home for William Moore

By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons safety William Moore, who is from Missouri, is very familiar with outrage and violence currently making headlines in the city of Ferguson.

"My family is there. That's where I grew up, in Ferguson," Moore said following Tuesday's practice. "I've got a lot of family there and a lot of friends. I try to stay as far as I can away from it as far as being out there. But I also talk to them."

The situation has grown tense in Ferguson after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson. Brown was unarmed.

"I mean, what's going to be done is going to be done," Moore said. "I wish [brown's] family the best. And I pray for all of them."

Moore was asked how many relatives he has in Ferguson.

"Auntie, cousins, nephews, little cousins. I've got a lot," he said. "And, like I told you, that's where I grew up at around 6 years old. And the craziest part, I don't remember. My mom and my sister had to tell me. I knew we grew up in St. Louis. I forgot Ferguson.

"It sucks what's going on. But I wish them the best, though."

Moore played high school football in Hayti, Missouri, then attended the University of Missouri.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hard Knocks Part 3: Ryan not playing

By Vaughn McClure

The third episode of HBO's Hard Knocks with the Atlanta Falcons aired Tuesday evening, and one of the interesting aspects was the X-rated language used by quarterback Matt Ryan.

Obviously, Ryan was extremely bothered by the team's performance in last Saturday's 32-7 exhibition loss to the Houston Texans.

In the locker room afterward, Ryan asked in a not so subtle way for each player to get their "mind right so we can go out there and have a good week of work and go play the way we're capable of."

Ryan clearly takes his leadership role seriously. Here are some other highlights from the show:

Defensive line coach Bryan Cox was must-see TV again as he addressed his defensive linemen in the meeting room. He showed a picture of one of his daughters and told them to keep away from her. The message seemed intended for Theo Agnew, who befriended Cox's daughter on Instagram. Then after Cox showed a picture of his 30-year-old daughter, nose tackle Paul Soliai asked Cox his age. "Forty-six," Cox said. "I told you I started (having sex) when I was 10."

Julio Jones looked as confident as ever during practice with the the Houston Texans as he announced he couldn't be stopped. At the same time, Jones talked about still progressing mentally to where he's not thinking about his surgically-repaired foot while running routes.

Rookie Jake Matthews knew he was going to move from right tackle to left tackle moments after starting left tackle Sam Baker left last Saturday's game against the Texans with a torn patellar tendon. Offensive line coach Mike Tice made as much clear to Matthews on the sideline when he said, "When you wake up tomorrow morning, you'll be our left tackle. All right? So, get your mind right."

Matthews is learning how to play the piano, according to Baker.

Texans star J.J. Watt seemed to talk down to Matthews when he referred to him as "little rookie" while discussing Matthews with Falcons coach Mike Smith.

Rookie running back Devonta Freeman had to leave practice one hot day in Flowery Branch due to dehydration. It was revealed he felt that way because he didn't eat breakfast that morning. Fellow rookie Jacques Smith got a little beat by the heat the same day as we saw our first vomiting scene.

William Moore reignited his rap career with freestyle in the training room, but it didn't compare to the ones he performed on the now-defunct "D-Block" episodes.

Rookie wide receiver Bernard Reedy gave everyone a chuckle when he dissed the Houston Texans mascot, Toro, when walking on the field for joint practices with the Texans. Toro wanted a fist bump.

Speaking of those practices, Harry Douglas taking a swing at Texans safety D.J. Swearinger wasn't a shock, considering Swearinger's endless trash talk. But receivers coach Terry Robiskie wasn't pleased with Douglas' reaction.

Tight end Levine Toilolo surprising had a little soul in his voice with his version of Biz Markie's "Just a friend."

It was interesting to see "Hard Knocks" go behind the scenes into rookie linebacker Marquis Spruill's left ACL reconstructive surgery, performed by head team physician Spero Karas.

Special team coach Keith Armstrong tried to pull off a "wax on, wax off" Karate Kid reference in criticizing a player's special teams style, but it didn't work. Neither did Ryan's joke telling in the quarterback meeting room.

The oddest scene had to be quarterback T.J. Yates sitting in the classroom alone barking out signals to himself as he continued to digest the new offense.

Center Joe Hawley's work with pottery will be featured on the next episode.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Julio Jones to increase workload

By Vaughn McClure

ESPN.com

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, who admitted having a mental hurdle to overcome following a second right foot surgery last year, said Wednesday the doctors reassured him his foot is fully healed, and he will increase his practice schedule.

Jones saw his first game action since Oct. 7 of last year during the team's 32-7 preseason loss at Houston last Saturday. He played 19 snaps and caught two passes for 20 yards while being targeted four times.

"It was good, man, just being back out there on the field,'' Jones said. "I'm still a little rusty, but that's what preseason is for -- to get back on the same page with Matt Ryan and making those plays.''

During Tuesday's episode of HBO's "Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons,'' Jones talked about still having to overcome a mental hurdle with his foot in terms of running routes.

"It's just a part of it, just mentally,'' Jones said. "Just being back out there on that field and being cautious, you know. Those guys try to come up and tackle you. You're still trying to protect your foot. But the doctors said everything is 100 percent. And I just have to believe in them and just get my confidence back.''

Jones was asked how his body felt the day after the game.

"I felt good,'' he said. "I mean, no pain. I'm still doing a lot of treatment.

"Right now, they're going to increase the workload. I practiced today. And then tomorrow, also I'm going to practice.''

After sitting out the offseason, Jones had been on a day-on, day-off schedule when training camp began. He should get plenty of work during Saturday's third exhibition against the Tennessee Titans, which is a dress rehearsal for the regular season.

The Falcons open the season Sept. 7 at home against the rival New Orleans Saints.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Practice report: Jackson progressing

By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Although Steven Jackson's workload continued to be limited to drills on a side field, the Atlanta Falcons running back keeps progressing in his recovery from a left hamstring injury.

Coach Mike Smith didn't rule out having Jackson back in the mix for some preseason action, but the target all along has been the Sept. 7 season opener against the New Orleans Saints.

"Steven is working and has increased his workload with the athletic performance people," Smith said. "He's come out and done back workouts. ... We're encouraged by what he has done over on that side with the athletic performance crew."

Smith said he wouldn't count out Jackson playing in the final exhibition at Jacksonville (Aug. 28), but that game typically is a showcase for players on the bubble.

Smith also wouldn't speculate on Jackson's return to practice, although he pointed to how defensive tackle Corey Peters returned to the field sooner than expected coming off an Achilles' tear after the team thought Peters might not be ready for Week 1 of the regular season.

"It's going to depend on the individual in terms of how he feels," Smith said, referring to Jackson. "And once the doctor gives him the clear to go, then he'll go."

Injury update: Smith said left tackle Sam Baker, who tore the patellar tendon in his right knee Saturday night, had surgery Aug. 20. "He's doing well," Smith said. "I haven't had a chance to talk with him, but I did get a report. The procedure went well." ... Smith said safety Zeke Motta will begin the season on the physically unable to perform list coming off neck surgery. That means Motta will miss the first six games of the season. But Motta's not expected to return in 2014. ... Offensive lineman Gabe Carimi remained sidelined with an ankle injury but is expected to play in the final preseason game at Jacksonville. ... Tight Mickey Shuler (concussion protocol) was not on the field Wednesday.

Backup plan: The Falcons want to have the backup quarterback position solidified following Saturday's exhibition. Based on Sean Renfree's somewhat steady play and T.J. Yates horrible outing in Houston, Renfree looks to be well in the lead. "I think he's done a nice job," Smith said of Renfree. "He and T.J. Yates are competing for our backup quarterback. Both of them will get an opportunity to play in the game this week as well." Smith said Renfree was able to stay involved mentally, despite suffering a shoulder injury last season and being on injured reserve. "When you can't do it, physically, you've got to keep these guys engaged, mentally," Smith said."

Practice squads: The NFL decided to add two more players to what was the eight-man practice squad. "We're very excited about adding two practice-squad players," Smith said. "The first thing it does is it gives (more) men an opportunity and a job, so I think all the players have got to be excited about that. For us, it gives us an opportunity to evaluate more players. It's all about development in this league. You're going to have injuries in this league. When you have two more players on your practice squad, you're going to get an opportunity to be very familiar with those [players]."

Extra points: Tight end Levine Toilolo was the last player to leave the practice field as he caught passes out of the Jugs machine. ... Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong was rather vocal with the special teams unit at both the beginning and end of practice following a dismal showing thus far in preseason. ... Jake Matthews and Joe Hawley worked on some long-snapping after practice, maybe in case of an emergency situation. Josh Harris is the long-snapper. ... Receiver Courtney Roby remained away from the team as his wife gave birth in Indianapolis.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Osi Umenyiora in a rush to add to game

By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Not a week goes by without Osi Umenyiora connecting with his Hall of Fame friend and former New York Giants teammate Michael Strahan.

The two talk two or three times a week. Their latest conversation had much to do with Umenyiora trying to find ways to reinvent his game so he can be an effective designated pass-rusher for the Atlanta Falcons this season.

"Two days ago, I was talking to Strahan about the bull rush that he did," Umenyiora explained. "And I was asking him how he was able to do that so well. And he was like, 'Just take it up the field a little bit more, stutter, and bull.'

"Strahan not only was my teammate, he is a really good friend. We did so much together. He really taught me so much as a man and as a football player."

You have to admire that Umenyiora, who turns 33 in November, continues to be a student of the game. He obviously doesn't want to walk away from football as an old guy on the decline.

In fact, the slimmed-down Umenyiora looked youthful in Saturday's exhibition loss to Houston. He had a couple snaps with tremendous pressure, including one resulting in him batting a ball in the air.

"I thought Osi did some good things," coach Mike Smith said. "He got more snaps. And he got an opportunity to rush the passer. I thought that he affected the passer."

The Falcons need Umenyiora to have quality snaps, with doubts about their ability to generate pressure. Sure, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will be creative, but the Falcons need a group effort without an elite pass-rusher.

Umenyiora hopes to be elite, in spurts. It's no secret the Falcons want to limit his reps to keep him fresh. Being a designated pass-rusher was something he approached the coaches about last season when he wasn't producing.

"Last season, it started off pretty well," Umenyiora said. "But then, as the season wore on, teams just kept on pounding and pounding. I think toward the end, I might have gotten a little tired. Late in the season, I think after the grind and the way things were going, I wasn't as fresh as I needed to be."

In terms of keeping fresh now, Umenyiora helped his own cause by dropping 20 pounds down to the 240-pound range. New defensive line coach Bryan Cox constantly emphasizes the importance of taking advantage of his fresh legs and newfound burst.

"First off, he wants me to run off the ball and show my speed," Umenyiora said of Cox. "I had kind of gotten away from really showing my speed a lot because I became more of a technical rusher. I was beating people with technique. But Coach Cox said, 'Osi, you have the speed to win wide. So bring that out.' So I took his advice and I've been doing that more: running off the ball. And it's been working pretty good, too."

Another coach offered helpful advice. Umenyiora studied Dwight Freeney this offseason with hopes of adding a spin move to his arsenal. After being shut down by left tackle Sam Baker during practice, Umenyiora decided to ditch the spin move, until offensive line coach Mike Tice suggested otherwise.

" Tice was like, 'Do you ever work on your spin?' I was like, 'I worked on it and I tried it, but it didn't work,'" Umenyiora said. "And he was like, 'Man, with your speed and your explosion, you should keep working on that move because if you get that move down, they won't be able to block it.'

"Coming from an offensive line coach, I was like, 'Let me take that advice.' So I started back working on it again. And it's worked pretty much every time I've done it.' "

If it all comes together for Umenyiora, maybe he'll add to his 82.5 career sacks and show why rookie left tackle Jake Matthews just referred to him as one of the best pass-rushers to ever play.

"That's funny, man. That's crazy," Umenyiora said of Matthews' words. "He's a very good player, too; very good young player. He's going to be here 15 years.

"After a while, after you've been doing it for so long … I don't think I've had a really good season, to my standards, in the past two seasons. When everyone starts telling you that you can't do this and you're bad, you kind of forget what type of player that you are. Anytime you hear that respect from people, it's refreshing and reminds you of the things that you're capable of doing."

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

WR Drew Davis to start on PUP

By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drew Davis, who underwent foot surgery after minicamp in June, will begin the season on the physically unable to perform list, coach Mike Smith told ESPN.com.

Davis' injury initially was supposed to sideline him for six weeks, but the timetable changed. Now, he'll be forced to miss the first six weeks of the regular season.

Davis had a few strong moments last season as the Falcons played without Julio Jones and with Roddy White not fully healthy. Davis caught 12 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns in 16 games. He started three contests.

Davis will not count against the 53-man roster while on PUP. Neither will safety Zeke Motta, who is recovering from neck surgery. It essentially opens up two roster spots for bubble players, at least for the first six weeks.

With Davis out to start the season, one of the undrafted rookie receivers could stick on the 53-man roster. Speedster Bernard Reedy is a top candidate.

"Yes, it gives Reedy a chance to make your roster,'' Smith said. "Again, there's multiple positions that are going to be determined on what happens this weekend and next Thursday.

"[Geraldo] Boldewijn, hey, he's had a good preseason. You can't discount any of those guys. We're halfway through the preseason. We get two more evaluations. So it gives us an opportunity to see those guys.''

Jones, White, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester comprise the primary group of receivers. Veteran Courtney Roby should make the team based on what the Falcons believe he brings on special teams.

Reedy has impressed since the offseason with his blazing speed and ability to be a long-ball threat. The 6-foot-4 Boldewijn has size to advantage, while Tramaine Thompson has had some moments himself.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Falcons bring back Eric Weems

By Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons brought back a familiar face Thursday by signing wide receiver/special-teamer Eric Weems to a one-year contract.

Weems (5-9, 195) entered the NFL with the Falcons back in 2007 as an undrafted free agent from Bethune-Cookman. He spent five seasons with the team before signing with Chicago Bears in 2012.

Weems was waived by the Bears last week in favor of Santonio Holmes, allowing Weems to test the free-agent market. Weems apparently took a physical with the Tennessee Titans this week and was poised to sign, but negotiations hit a last-minute snag.

Weems' deal with the Falcons materialized late Wednesday night, according to a source familiar with the talks. Star receiver Roddy White actually went to bat for Weems with the coaching staff.

The Falcons apparently view the 29-year-old Weems as a rugged, physical player capable providing a boost on special teams, particularly in coverage and as a blocker. Last week's preseason loss to the Houston Texans magnified some of the special-teams issues. Special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong groomed Weems to begin with, so obviously Armstrong feels confident in what the veteran brings to the unit.

Weems still holds the Falcons' franchise record with a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown at Tampa Bay in 2010. But the Falcons added ex-Bear and arguably the best return man of all time in record-setter Devin Hester to handle the return duties. Weems simply provides added insurance in the return game, if called upon for those duties.

At the top of Weems' wish list after parting ways with the Bears was rejoining the Falcons. He owns a house in the Atlanta suburbs and has stayed connected with players on the team. Weems was at an Atlanta Hawks game this offseason alongside Harry Douglas.

The addition of Weems brings an interesting dilemma in terms of the receiver situation. White, Douglas, Hester and Julio Jones are the main pieces of the group, while Courtney Roby is expected to stick as a special-teamer. With Drew Davis set to start the season on the physically unable to perform list, there will be an extra spot for a receiver. Coach Mike Smith said an undrafted rookie receiver such as Bernard Reedy had a better chance to make the 53-man roster based on Davis' status, but Smith said that before Weems signed a one-year deal worth $730,000.

To make room for Weems, the Falcons waived receiver Jabin Sambrano.

*Really don't understand this move to bring in weems!*

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To make room for Weems, the Falcons waived receiver Jabin Sambrano.

*Really don't understand this move to bring in weems!*

Really? Politicians do it all the time to keep their constituents minds off what really matters and when they know they're on the hot seat. Coaches & Gm's do it all the time. Leeman Bennett was known for it.

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Really? Politicians do it all the time to keep their constituents minds off what really matters and when they know they're on the hot seat. Coaches & Gm's do it all the time. Leeman Bennett was known for it.

LOL, I hear you JB but the sh1t doesn't make sense at all.

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