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Atlanta Falcons 53-man roster projection

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

The Atlanta Falcons open training camp on July 31 at their home facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Here's a 53-man roster projection:

Quarterbacks (3): Matt Ryan, T.J Yates, Sean Renfree

Running backs (3): Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Antone Smith (cut:Jerome Smith, Terron Ward)

Fullbacks (1): Collin Mooney (cut: Patrick DiMarco)

Wide receiver (6): Julio Jones, Roddy White, Devin Hester, Eric Weems,Leonard Hankerson, Justin Hardy (cut: Carlton Mitchell, Nick Williams,Bernard Reedy, Freddie Martino, Marquez Clark)

By The Numbers

4: Matt Ryan has four straight 4,000-yard passing seasons, tied for the 2nd-longest active streak behind Tom Brady (9 straight).

88.4: Julio Jones has averaged 88.4 receiving yards per game since the start of 2011, the 2nd-highest rate in the NFL.

116: The Falcons have 116 sacks since the start of 2011, the fewest in the NFL.

Tight ends (3): Jacob Tamme,Tony Moeaki, Levine Toilolo (cut:Mickey Shuler, Beau Gardner)

Tackles (4): Jake Matthews, Ryan Schraeder, Tyler Polumbus, Matt Huffer (cut: Lamar Holmes, Jake Rodgers)

Guards (4): Jon Asamoah, Chris Chester, Mike Person, Peter Konz(cut: Harland Gunn, Eric Lefeld, Adam Replogle, Jared Smith)

Centers (2): Joe Hawley, James Stone (cut: Valerian Ume-Ezeoke)

Defensive tackles (4): Ra’Shede Hageman, Jonathan Babineaux, Paul Soliai,Grady Jarrett (cut: Joey Mbu, Warren Herring, Ricky Havili-Heimuli)

Defensive ends (3): Tyson Jackson, Adrian Clayborn, Cliff Matthews (cut:Sam Meredith)

Inside linebackers (4): Justin Durant, Paul Worrilow, Nate Stupar, Derek Akunne (cut: Joplo Bartu, Marquis Spruill, Allen Bradford)

Outside linebackers (2): O’Brien Schofield, Brooks Reed (cut: Tyler Starr,Boris Anyama

LEO (3): Vic Beasley, Kroy Biermann, Malliciah Goodman (cut: Stansly Maponga)

Safeties (3): William Moore, Ricardo Allen, Kemal Ishmael (cut: Charles Godfrey, Sean Baker, Damian Parms, Robenson Therezie, Terell Floyd)

Cornerbacks (5): Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Jalen Collins, Akeem King, Phillip Adams (cut: Dezmen Southward, Jonathon Mincy, Michael Lee,Kevin White)

Kicker (1): Matt Bryant

Punter (1): Matt Bosher

Long-snapper (1): Josh Harris

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2015 Atlanta Falcons training camp preview

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/14157/atlanta-falcons-training-camp-preview

The Atlanta Falcons open training camp on July 31 at the Falcons' headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Here's a closer look at the Falcons camp, which wraps up on Aug. 19:

Top storyline: The biggest news going into camp won't be settled on the field. The contract situation of star receiver Julio Jones is certain to grab the headlines. Jones has one year left on his deal and is scheduled to make $10.176 million in 2015. He just saw two other top receivers, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas, sign five-year, $70 million deals with more than $40 million guaranteed. Although owner Arthur Blank, general manager Thomas Dimitroff, and coach Dan Quinn all have expressed a desire to keep Jones for years to come, no negotiations occurred while Jones participated in the offseason program. The general feeling around the organization is that Jones will be signed to a lucrative, long-term deal before the start of training camp -- if Blank is comfortable with the price, of course. In the past two years, the Falcons signed franchise quarterback Matt Ryan and veteran wide receiver Roddy White to extensions right at the beginning of camp. We'll see if they follow suit with their best player and most explosive offensive threat.

Position battles to watch: The top battle to keep an eye on is the one between second-year running back Devonta Freeman and rookie third-round pick Tevin Coleman. Both players performed well during the offseason, and Freeman really caught Quinn's eye with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Coleman had a minor setback at the end of minicamp with a mild groin strain, but he's pretty confident in his ability to earn the starting job. The battle betweenLeonard Hankerson and White at receiver could emerge as the most intriguing and talked about of them all. The coaches really love what Hankerson brings to the offense, but White is viewed as the natural starter. If anything, Hankerson's emergence should serve as motivation for White, a guy who has earned the respect of his teammates and opponents over 10 NFL seasons. Folks are accustomed to seeing White as Ryan's second option at wide receiver behind Jones. Three-receiver sets could include Jones, White, and Hankerson. Another clash worth watching will be between third-year cornerback Robert Alford and rookie second-round pick Jalen Collins. The 6-foot-1, 203-pound Collins has the size and length Quinn desires outside in press coverage. However, Alford (5-10, 186) had an outstanding offseason -- particularly competing against one of the league's best big receivers in Jones -- and proved himself worthy of remaining outside opposite Desmond Trufant rather than being kicked inside as a nickelback. And finally, we'll see if converted cornerback Ricardo Allen holds down the starting free safety spot he appeared to earn during the offseason or ifKemal Ishmael or Charles Godfrey challenges to line up next to strong safetyWilliam Moore.

2015 TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW

nfl_playoff_d1_288x162.jpg

NFC

EAST: DAL | NYG | PHI | WAS
WEST: ARI | STL | SF | SEA
NORTH: CHI | DET | GB | MIN
SOUTH: ATL | CAR | NO | TB

Veterans to watch: We mentioned White above. He turns 34 in November and knows his body isn't going to hold up like it used to. In fact, his left knee continues to ail him and might lead to some days off during camp, although Quinn wouldn't immediately reveal plans to lighten White's workload. White is eager to show folks he's still got something left in the tank. Defensive linemen Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai both need to show they were worth the hefty investment ($25 million guaranteed combined) that the Falcons made in them prior to the 2013 season. Although Jackson receives the most scrutiny, Soliai has struggled to adjust to the new defense and really could have a minimal role. Newcomers<a data-ipb="nomediaparse" data-cke-saved-href="http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/_/id/13449/o"href="http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/_/id/13449/o" brien-schofield"="">O'Brien Schofield, Adrian Clayborn, Tony Moeaki and Hankerson all signed one year "prove-it" deals coming off injuries, which should serve as added motivation as they attempt to make positive impacts. Linebacker Justin Durant, another newcomer, could emerge as a defensive leader, provided he remains healthy.

Rookies to watch: All eyes will be on first-round pick Vic Beasley, a player the Falcons are counting on to immediately revive their pass rush. Beasley already announced his goal to reach double-digit sacks in his first season, which seems attainable based on his tremendous speed and athleticism. Beasley views himself as an every-down player, but the Falcons won't ask him to be such as he settles into the Leo pass-rusher role. He needs to concentrate on his strength, which is pressuring the quarterback. Defending the run will come, in time. Also keep an eye on fourth-round pick Justin Hardy, the receiver from East Carolina. He's an ideal slot receiver and a guy capable of establishing separation with his precise route-running. Hardy immediately impressed Ryan, who said Hardy will play a key role in the offense's success. Of course, Collins and Coleman should have immediate impacts as well, while fifth-round pick Grady Jarrett has the motor to crack the defensive line rotation.

Bubble watch: The veteran defensive lineman Jackson, who was the third overall pick in the 2009 draft by Kansas City, hasn't had the type of NFL career most anticipated. Now Jackson finds himself in a position where he needs to experience a revival. He's focused on dropping weight to play defensive end in the new scheme, but Jackson also needs to concentrate on making plays rather than just eating up blocks. Will the Falcons cut him? Well, Quinn said there's a role for a big spacer-eater such as Jackson in this defense. But if Jackson can't fulfill that role, you wonder if the team will go ahead and cut ties despite the $6.4 million in "dead money" tied to Jackson. His release would free up $2.25 million against the cap. Other bubble players include tackle Lamar Holmes, who hasn't impressed the new coaching staff and then suffered a broken foot during minicamp, as well as center/guard Peter Konz, and outside linebacker Stansly Maponga -- three draft picks under Dimitroff. Konz could save himself with his ability to play both guard and center. Tight end Levine Toilolo, a fourth-round pick of Dimitroff's, is likely to fall behind both Jacob Tamme and Moeaki at the position, but the 6-foot-8 Toilolo should at least stick as a red zone target. Linebacker Joplo Bartu, a starter the last two seasons, is on the outside looking in because he lacks special teams value. Not to mention Bartu is coming off a $50,000 fine from the NFL for an alcohol-related arrest.

On the line: There is plenty of uncertainty about how the offensive line will hold up or even come together, for that matter. First and foremost, left tackleJake Matthews (Lisfranc) and center Joe Hawley (ACL/MCL) have to return fully healthy off their respective surgeries. Right guard Jon Asamoah has to show he can get out and run in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's outside-zone blocking scheme, and right tackle Ryan Schraeder has to show he's capable of maintaining a starting role. Veteran newcomer Chris Chester should settle in as the starting left guard if Asamoah pans out on the right side. And with the way injuries crippled the line last season, guys such as James Stone, Mike Person and even Tyler Polumbus have to show they can be reliable backups, something Polumbus was unable to display upon joining the team this offseason. The most pressure of the entire offensive line will be on Matthews, who has to shake off his inconsistent rookie showing that was marred by injury.

For daily updates at camp, check out the Atlanta Falcons clubhouse page.

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Atlanta Falcons position preview: tight ends

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

The Atlanta Falcons begin training camp July 31 at their home facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia.

Leading up to the start of camp, we'll take a look at the team, position by position. We started with the quarterbacks and followed with the running backs,offensive line and wide receivers. We now move on to the tight ends.

The cast: Jacob Tamme (8th season), Tony Moeaki (5th season), Levine Toilolo(3rd season), Mickey Shuler (4th season), Beau Gardner (1st season)

Jacob Tamme should provide a boost to a tight ends unit that ranked last in the league in receiving yards last season. Tim Rasmussen/The Denver Post/Getty Images

2015 cap numbers: Tamme ($1,387,500), Toilolo ($660,146), Shuler ($585,000), Moeaki ($585,000), Gardner ($435,000)

The coach: Wade Harman (2nd season with team)

Key number: Last year, Falcons tight ends ranked last in the league in receiving yards (241), second to last in targets (53) and second to last in receptions (33), according to ESPN Stats and Info.

For starters: Tamme, who spent his first seven NFL seasons primarily catching passes from Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and Denver, made an immediate impression with his pass-catching ability this offseason. He looks poised to come in and become a real threat in Kyle Shanahan's offense. It's hard to compare him to a guy such as future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, but Tamme can be the type of reliable pass-catcher the Falcons haven't had at the position since Gonzalez's retirement. The 6-foot-3-inch, 230-pound Tamme isn't going to overwhelm you with his size, but he finds a way to get open and is fluid with his routes. Tamme signed with the Falcons after seeing his offensive role diminish in Denver. The one thing Tamme is not known for is his blocking, which is why the Falcons also signed the veteran Moeaki. If Shanahan starts a game in a two tight-end set, Tamme and Moeaki likely would be the pair on the field. Moeaki just has to stay healthy.

Backup plan: Again, Moeaki's health will be a key part of the equation here if he hopes to be a successful No. 2 tight end. He tore his ACL and fractured his shoulder while a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, then he had a lingering hamstring injury in Buffalo that led to an injury settlement. Even last year with the Seahawks, Moeaki missed some playoff action due to a calf injury. He is capable of being a solid all-around player if he can remain on the field. He should be able to help both in the passing game and in the run game as an extra blocker. The third tight end is Toilolo, the guy the Falcons groomed to be a starter after Gonzalez retired. Unfortunately, Toilolo didn't play with a lot of confidence last season while starting all 16 games. He had 31 catches for 238 yards and two touchdowns, but Toilolo also had four drops on 51 targets, including three drops in a home loss to the Chicago Bears. The 6-foot-8-inch Toilolo has to be a red-zone threat rather than a liability.

Saturday: Defensive line

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Atlanta Falcons position preview: Defensive line

Vaughn McClure

ESPN.com

The Atlanta Falcons begin training camp July 31 at their home facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia.

Leading up to the start of camp, we'll take a look at the team, position by position. We started with the quarterbacks and followed with the running backs, offensive line, wide receivers, and tight ends.

We now move to the defensive side of the ball and the defensive line.

2015 cap numbers: Soliai ($4,400,000), Jackson ($3,850,000), Babineaux ($3,619,791), Clayborn ($2,062,500), Hageman ($1,212,691), Matthews ($745,000), Goodman ($684,272), Jarrett ($496,963), Mbu ($436,667), Havili-Hemuli ($435,000), Herring ($435,000), Meredith ($435,000)

The coach: Bryan Cox (2nd season with team)

Key number: The Falcons pressured opposing quarterbacks on just 22.8 percent of their dropbacks last season, the fourth-worst percentage in the league behind the Bengals (20.4), Browns (21.1), and Titans (22.7), according to ESPN Stats & Info.

For starters: In the base defense, Jackson could be at one defensive end spot and Goodman at the other with Soliai at nose tackle and Hageman as the three technique (defensive tackle). That would appear to be the best front four against the run, at least for now. Jackson, who has dropped weight to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, needs to be more of a playmaker than a space-eater, while Soliai's adjustment to the speed of the defense remains a mystery because he doesn't have the ideal quickness and footwork. With so much of the game played in the nickel package these days to combat passing offenses, look for Babineaux and Clayborn to be on the field plenty as pass-rushers along with rookie Vic Beasley and newcomer O'Brien Schofield. Clayborn should line up at defensive end, too, but rushes better from the right side than the left. He acquired Erb's palsy at birth which caused nerve damage to his right shoulder and arm. Hageman might be the key figure in the whole equation as a guy talented enough to be a dominant force, if he can keep his head straight. He worked his body into shape this offseason and wasn't getting winded during offseason practices like he did as a rookie last season. Falcons coach Dan Quinn, a defensive line guru, likes to rotate bodies to keep guys fresh on the field, so being a starter doesn't necessarily carry as much weight. The most important thing is generating pressure and containing the run.

Backup plan: When you start talking about guys capable of coming off the bench and making an impact, Jarrett might be the first guy who comes to mind. The rookie has a high motor and is capable of playing multiple positions. He'll put pressure on the veterans for a starting job, but he needs to get stronger and get accustomed to the speed of the NFL. Quietly, Matthews was a solid contributor in limited reps last season. The new staff obviously saw his value both as a reserve and a special-teamer. Mbu might be the surprise guy to watch. He's already impressed Cox with his ability and could be an undrafted rookie who makes the team as a backup nose tackle. This is the deepest the Falcons have been on the defensive line in quite a while, so let's see if it pays off in the end.

Sunday: Linebackers

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Atlanta Falcons position preview: linebackers

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

The Atlanta Falcons begin training camp July 31 at their home facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia.

Leading up to the start of camp, we'll take a look at the team, position by position. We started with the quarterbacks and followed with the running backs,offensive line, wide receivers, tight ends, and defensive line.

We now move on to the linebackers.

The cast: Justin Durant (ninth season), Kroy Biermann (eighth season),O'Brien Schofield (sixth season), Allen Bradford (sixth season), Brooks Reed(fifth season), Nate Stupar (fourth season), Paul Worrilow (third season), Joplo Bartu (third season), Stansly Maponga (third season), Marquis Spruill (second season), Tyler Starr (second season), Vic Beasley (first season), Derek Akunne(first season), Boris Anyama (first season),

2015 cap numbers: Reed ($3,140,000), Beasley ($2,635,496), Durant ($2,210,416), Schofield ($1,700,000), Bradford ($660,000), Bartu ($586,667), Worrilow ($585,667), Stupar ($585,000), Starr ($521,474), Spruill ($477,870), Akunne ($435,667), Anyama ($435,000)

The coach: Jeff Ulbrich (first season with team)

Key number: Worrilow finished fifth in the NFL with 142 tackles last season and topped all inside linebackers with 1,034 snaps played.

For starters: Although Worrilow has led the team in tackles each of his first two NFL seasons, he has been the target of criticism for the plays he doesn't make. As he settles into the middle linebacker role in more of a 4-3 scheme, Worrilow has taken the necessarily steps this offseason to improve his mobility.The coaches trust in him because he's an intelligent player, so we'll see if he evolves into more of a playmaker. The veteran Durant steps in at weakside linebacker, and he's more than capable of making plays all over the field. Durant simply needs to remain healthy. He's already emerged as a vocal leader, something the Falcons needed following the departure of Sean Weatherspoon to the Arizona Cardinals. At strongside linebacker is Reed, a player known more for his run-stopping ability. A groin injury limited his participation during the offseason, so more about Reed will be revealed during training camp. Although the rookie Beasley views himself as an every-down player, the coaches won't force him into that role immediately. He'll play that hybrid, "leo" pass-rusher role under the tutelage of head coach Dan Quinn, who works exclusively with the leos. The Falcons need Beasley to play to his strength: getting after the quarterback.

Backup plan: Many wondered why the Falcons re-signed Biermann. The fact is, he wasn't brought back to be a starter. But Biermann, who led the team with 4.5 sacks and eight tackles for losses last season, will get a chance to rush on occasion from the leo while also getting an opportunity to play some strongside linebacker. He has to play solid when he gets his opportunities. Schofield, familiar with the scheme from his days alongside Quinn in Seattle, brings great speed off the edge and has the versatility to play both strongside linebacker and leo. Stupar, who could develop into a standout on special teams, has value on defense as a smart guy capable of playing all three linebacker positions. A sleeper to watch is Akunne, an undrafted player who could push for a roster spot. Bartu, who started 27 games the last two seasons, is on the roster bubble and brings no special-teams value. Maponga is on the outside looking in, too. And Spruill is an unknown, coming off an ACL repair.

Monday: Defensive backs

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Atlanta Falcons position preview: defensive backs

Vaughn McClure

ESPN.com

The Atlanta Falcons begin training camp Friday at their home facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia.

Now, we'll look at the defensive backs.

The cast: FS Charles Godfrey (ninth season), SS William Moore (seventh season), CB Phillip Adams (seventh season), CB Desmond Trufant (third season), CB Robert Alford (third season), SS Kemal Ishmael (third season), S Sean Baker (third season), FS Ricardo Allen (second season), CB Dezmen Southward (second season), CB Jalen Collins (first season), CB/S Akeem King (first season), S Damian Parms (first season), CB Jonathon Mincy (first season), CB Kevin White (first season), S Robenson Therezie (first season), CB Michael Lee (first season), CB Terell Floyd (first season).

2015 cap numbers: Moore ($5,368,750), Trufant ($2,227,117), Godfrey ($1,137,500), Collins ($986,879), Alford ($927,654), Southward ($737,373), Ishmael ($596,474), Adams ($585,000), Baker ($510,000), King ($488,195), Parms ($436,000), White ($435,000), Lee ($435,000), Floyd ($435,000), Mincy ($435,000), Therezie ($435,000).

The coach: Marquand Manuel (first season with team).

Key number: Trufant has 33 passes defensed over his first two NFL seasons to go with five interceptions.

For starters: The Falcons have the makings of a fierce cornerback trio in Trufant, Alford and the rookie Collins. Trufant has showed signs of being a true shutdown corner and should take another step under the tutelage of Manuel, a hands-on coach who played eight NFL seasons as a defensive back. Trufant definitely has confidence in his ability, and believes he's among the NFL's elite. As for Alford, he seems fully recovered from last year's season-ending wrist injury and had a spectacular offseason. He'll enter training camp intent on showing the coaches he can play outside in this scheme despite being a little shorter (5-foot-10) than what head coach Dan Quinn desires in his cornerbacks. The 6-1, 203-pound Collins has the length and speed to excel as a press corner, but his progress this offseason was limited coming off foot surgery. With as much time as defenses spend in the nickel package, the Falcons essentially need three starting-caliber players such as Trufant, Alford and Collins. At strong safety, Moore not only has to provide leadership as a veteran, he also needs to stay on the field coming off major shoulder surgery. During camp, he'll have to adjust to a new face next to him in Allen, who surprisingly emerged at free safety. He might not be the long-term solution, but Allen has made a smooth transition from cornerback thus far.

Backup plan: Ishmael is the forgotten man in the safety equation, but he shouldn't be. He led the team with four interceptions last season -- including one returned 23 yards for a touchdown -- and is one of the team's better tacklers. If Ishmael was more of a free safety type, he'd be right in the starting lineup next to Moore. Since Ishmael is better suited as an in-the-box-type safety, he'll have to settle for a reserve role for now. But he'll get opportunities, for sure. The veteran Godfrey was penciled in as the starting free safety going into the offseason but was surpassed by Allen. One has to wonder if he'll even have a spot on the team now. Maybe the rookie King, listed now at cornerback, will revert to his college days and end up providing depth at safety. Adams appears to be a solid, low-cost offseason addition as a player capable of filling in at cornerback, particularly at nickelback. Southward made the move from safety to corner, then was sidelined by knee surgery after previously having wrist surgery. On the field, he has to play a lot tougher to keep a roster spot.

Tuesday: Specialists

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Former Lions, Falcons WR among Broncos coaching interns for training camp

Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will have three participants in the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship join their coaching staff during training camp.

Jason Phillips, KiJuan Ware and Gerard Wilcher will participate in all team meetings and practices. The Broncos veteran players report Thursday to the team’s suburban Denver complex, and the team will have its first full practice of this year’s camp Friday morning.

Phillips played five seasons as a wide receiver with the Detroit Lions (1989-90) and Atlanta Falcons (1991-93) and had been the offensive coordinator at SMU after a nine-year stint at the University of Houston. Phillips led the nation in receiving yards as a player at the University of Houston in both 1987 and 1988.

Ware is currently the quarterbacks coach at Williams College and Wilcher is the defensive coordinator at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Wilcher has also been a coaching intern previously for the Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals.

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Atlanta Falcons position preview: specialists

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Devin Hester made the Pro Bowl in his first season in Atlanta. AP Photo/John Bazemore

Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

The Atlanta Falcons begin training camp Friday at their home facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia.

Leading up to the start of camp, we'll take a look at the team position by position. We started with the quarterbacks and followed with the running backs, offensive line, wide receivers, tight ends, defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs.

We conclude this series with a look at the specialists.

The cast: kicker Matt Bryant (15th season), punter Matt Bosher (5th season), kick returner Devin Hester (10th season), long-snapper Josh Harris (4th season)

2015 cap numbers: Hester ($3,708,333), Bosher ($3,355,000), Bryant ($2,483,333), Harris ($760,000)

The coach: Keith Armstrong (8th season with team)

Key numbers: Hester holds the NFL record with 20 career touchdown returns; Bryant has a streak of 38 consecutive field goals from within 50 yards; Bosher ranked eighth in the NFL last season with a 43.3 percentage rate of punts inside the 20.

Many happy returns: The Falcons signed Hester as a free agent before last season to inject life into the return game. Well, he made the Pro Bowl and led the league with 1,128 kickoff return yards and had one punt return for a touchdown -- his record-setting, 62-yard touchdown against Tampa Bay that gave him his 20th career return score. Although Hester turns 33 in November, he still possesses elusiveness. A possible limited role on offense at wide receiver could equal fresher legs for Hester on returns.

Just for kicks: Bryant is one of the league's best, which is why the Falcons signed him to a three-year contract extension. He tied for sixth in the league last season in field goal percentage, converting 90.6 percent (29-of-32). Bryant was 8-of-8 on field goals from 40 to 49 yards. And his seven converted field goals from 50 or more yards topped the NFL. As for Bosher, he had a few uncharacteristic hiccups throughout last season but is more than capable of being a solid punter. He netted 40.8 yards per punt, which also speaks to the coverage unit.

Tackling the issue: Speaking of coverage, we can't talk about special teams without mentioning some of the other key contributors. Wide receiver Eric Weems continues to be a special-teams standout and led the team with 11 special-teams tackles last season. Linebacker Nate Stupar is another key contributor and had seven special-teams tackles last season. And running back Antone Smith, coming off a broken leg, has the speed and and desire to make plays in coverage. It helps when you have one of the best special-teams coaches in the business in Armstrong, who actually interviewed for the Falcons' head-coaching job before Dan Quinn was hired. Armstrong has the tools to be a successful head coach one day.

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Jake Long to work out for Atlanta Falcons

Chris Mortensen, NFL reporter

Jake Long is set to work out for the Atlanta Falcons Tuesday afternoon and is a possible target as a free-agent signing by the NFC South team, according to league sources.

Long is coming off his second consecutive ACL surgery after injuring his knee in late October, but he has been cleared for physical activity by Dr. James Andrews, who performed the operation. He was undergoing a physical exam by the Falcons' medical staff before his scheduled workout Tuesday.

Long was the first player selected in the 2008 NFL draft, two picks ahead of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. He was named to four Pro Bowls in his five seasons with the Dolphins but opted for free agency to sign a four-year, $36 million contract with the St. Louis Rams in 2013. He suffered his ACL injuries in his two seasons with St. Louis. He also suffered a torn left triceps with the Rams in 2013.

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Falcons' Devonta Freeman eager to reunite with college pal Red Lightning

Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons second-year running back Devonta Freeman looks forward to reuniting with his old friend Frankie Grizzle-Malgrat, better known as “Red Lightning” to college football fans.

Freeman played at Florida State, where Grizzle-Malgrat gained fame as the team’s fiery, red-haired ballboy. Grizzle-Malgrat is set to join the Falcons on Friday as an equipment intern for training camp. He was profiled by ESPN in this story.

“That’s my boy,” Freeman said of reuniting with Red Lightning this week. “I’ve known him since my freshman year at Florida State. He’s just cool as s---.”

Part of the reason Grizzle-Malgrat gained a following was his mad dashes down the sideline and his willingness to step up in defense of the players. Such was the case with Freeman during a game against Florida. After Freeman took what appeared to be an excessive hit out of bounds, Grizzle-Malgrat gave the defender a light shove -- and helped Freeman to his feet.

“You saw that clip? He always did stuff like that,” Freeman said. “You know Jameis [Winston] would run over there, and Red Lightning was the ball boy on the other sideline. You know how the other team would try to crowd up on you, like they would do with Jameis? Red Lightning would always be over there like, 'Get off him.’ He would throw his body in there. He did that a lot.

“Red Lightning would get into it every game for us. He was ready to fight folks to protect us. I was happy they eventually got him back over to our sideline.”

Freeman said he hasn’t talked to Grizzle-Malgrat yet but is eager to see him come Friday. Red Lightning was on the Florida State sideline when Freeman & Co. won the national title.

“You’d love him, man. He’s just a good guy,” Freeman said.

Maybe the Falcons will like him enough to keep him around the entire season.

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Former Lions, Falcons WR among Broncos coaching interns for training camp

Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will have three participants in the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship join their coaching staff during training camp.

Jason Phillips, KiJuan Ware and Gerard Wilcher will participate in all team meetings and practices. The Broncos veteran players report Thursday to the team’s suburban Denver complex, and the team will have its first full practice of this year’s camp Friday morning.

Phillips played five seasons as a wide receiver with the Detroit Lions (1989-90) and Atlanta Falcons (1991-93) and had been the offensive coordinator at SMU after a nine-year stint at the University of Houston. Phillips led the nation in receiving yards as a player at the University of Houston in both 1987 and 1988.

Ware is currently the quarterbacks coach at Williams College and Wilcher is the defensive coordinator at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Wilcher has also been a coaching intern previously for the Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals.

Never heard of him.

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Unclear where Atlanta Falcons stand with Jake Long

Vaughn McClure

ESPN.com

The Atlanta Falcons obviously are looking into all options to improve the offensive line.

As ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Tuesday, the Falcons brought in 2008 first-overall pick Jake Long for a physical and workout. He did not immediately sign with the team. And ESPN's Dan Graziano reported Long is in New York Wednesday for another visit with the New York Giants.

That doesn't automatically take the Falcons out of the mix, if they are at all interested. But it's not a good sign when a player leaves town.

The Falcons need depth at offensive tackle, with starting left tackle Jake Matthews' status for training camp unclear coming off foot surgery to repair a torn Lisfranc ligament. Matthews was limited during the offseason but felt confident about being fully ready for training camp. Ryan Schraeder appears to have locked down a starting spot at right tackle but behind him and Matthews, there isn't much to rave about.

Lamar Holmes appears destined to start camp on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) after breaking his foot during minicamp. Holmes, who was demoted from first-team left tackle during minicamp while replacing Matthews, will be on the roster bubble once he gets healthy.

Veteran Tyler Polumbus, who started 42 games at right tackle for the Washington Redskins, didn't really impress upon joining the Falcons this offseason. He ended minicamp playing some left tackle, but he might not give the Falcons the added insurance they desired at the position.

So what about Long? He turned 30 in May and is coming off a second consecutive ACL surgery. He started all 16 games in each of his first three seasons with the Miami Dolphins. Then Long missed 16 games the last four seasons with both the Dolphins and St. Louis Rams. He is probably viewed more as a backup than a starter at this point in his career.

The Falcons need lineman capable of getting out and running to block in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's outside-zone blocking scheme. If Long's knee issues keep him from doing such, there's no reason to sign him.

Here is one team's report on Long prior to the start of the 2014 season:

"Tough and aggressive. One of the better run-blocking left tackles in the league. His pass protection has declined as he struggles to mirror quicker speed rushers. ... Injuries are taking a toll on Long, who is best suited as a right tackle to handle power as he struggles with speed and especially quick inside moves. But he still has the size, feel, and toughness to hold up as a starter, but is declining.''

That report was before Long tore the ACL in his right knee again last season.

The Falcons begin training camp Friday, so we'll see if they make a move. If not, they might have to turn to rookies Jake Rodgers and Matt Huffer for depth at tackle.

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Arthur Blank supported drafting Jalen Collins despite failed drug tests

Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank said he supported the team's decision to draft cornerback Jalen Collins despite Collins' multiple failed drug tests at LSU.

At least two NFL teams flagged Collins in pre-draft reports as a result of his marijuana use. Following the draft, the Falcons' second-round pick confessed to failing at least three drug tests while in college.

"I think it's a line that the personnel department, the medical staff, and coaching staff has to look at carefully," Blank told ESPN.com this offseason, referring to Collins and the failed tests. "You look at what occurrences have taken place in the young man's life: Is there a consistent pattern over a long period of time? Has he dealt with it? Does he acknowledge it? In this case, has he dealt with any ability to go through rehab? Do you feel, after going all through that, that this is behind him?

"If you scratch the surface of any human being, you're going to find mistakes. So you accept that and you move on with him."

There has been much talk over the years about the "Falcons filter" and the organization's tendency to steer clear of players with such off-the-field concerns.

"The filter is a filter: It's not designed to be a complete, solid shield," Blank said. "You filter out players that you don't think are going to add and fit into the chemistry and the culture of our organization. We think Jalen will. The coaches are satisfied. Personnel is satisfied. And our medical staff is satisfied as well."

Collins appreciated Blank's backing.

"It's a great feeling to know that the owner of the team is supporting me and has confidence in me," Collins said. "It just gives me that extra boost, that extra motivation to stay on the right course and do the right thing."

Collins was considered a first-round talent but fell to the 42nd overall selection. Former New York Giants and Detroit Lions cornerback Corey Raymond, who coached Collins at LSU, said he warned the cornerback long ago about his off-the-field habits.

"I always told him that off-the-field stuff was going to cost him one day,'' Raymond said. "He started listening to me eventually. His mom was very involved. She was the one who helped him out the most in those situation. He grew up and matured going into camp of his junior year. He started to get it.

"A habit like that, you can control it or it can control you. Something like that will cost you a lot of money. Some cats, they don't see the difference in making $2 million instead of $10-$15 million. They don't see that part of it because of immaturity.''

Blank was asked if he prohibited the team from drafting another player with a questionable background: Randy Gregory. The pass-rusher from Nebraska appeared to be on the Falcons' board until he admitted testing positive for marijuana at the February NFL combine. Gregory was considered a top-10 prospect but fell to Dallas in the second round as the 60th overall selection.

"I don't ever want to put myself in position where I have to veto anyone,'' Blank said. "And if I've hired the right coach and coaching staff and have the right folks in personnel, they'll take care of vetoing. They'll understand our culture without me having to impose my authority or will on it. That should always be unnecessary. It never has been necessary for me to do that in all my years here.''

As for Collins, he is expected to compete with Robert Alford for a starting role. Collins was limited during the offseason coming off foot surgery. He will report to training camp with the rest of the team Thursday. The Falcons' first training camp practice is scheduled for Friday from 10 a.m. to noon ET.

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Falcons running back Devonta Freeman ready for training camp battle

Mechelle Voepel

ESPN.com

The Atlanta Falcons hold their first training camp practice Friday morning, and plenty of eyes will be on the starting running back battle between Devonta Freeman and rookie Tevin Coleman.

Freeman holds the top spot right now coming off a strong offseason. Plus Freeman's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and run routes like a receiver give him an added advantage.

"Yes, it should give me an edge," Freeman told ESPN.com. "I know what I can do. It's all about getting everybody to believe in me. I just can't wait to show the world what I can do and what I'm capable of.

"I go out there every day and prepare super-hard, like it's a game. The coaches will tell you. The players will tell you. Every day, I'm going to be like that. I don't care what no man says. Nobody has to tell me that I need to do this or I need to do that. I'm always going to try and do what's unexpected. The coaches know. They've been around some of the best talent in the world. And they know I'm going to go over and beyond to an even higher level."

Freeman respects Coleman's ability, just like he respects the entire NFL.

"Everybody is talented in this league," Freeman said. "Ain't no body in the league sorry, or else you wouldn't be in the league. I mean, you might have some people that get lazy and you might put a label on them and say they're sorry. But, everybody is talented. Everybody has God-given ability.

"Our whole team is good, if you asked me. Just keeping it real. If someone chooses to be lazy, that doesn't necessarily mean they're sorry."

The competition between Freeman and Coleman is certain to intensify once the Falcons put on pads. Wearing shorts in the offseason didn't really give them a chance to work on the running game and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's outside-zone blocking scheme. The scheme emphasizes a one-cut-and-go mentality for the running backs.

"I've been doing the one-cut game since little league, not to be cocky about it," Freeman said. "That's easy. It's just football. You've got to be precise. You can't overthink. The minute you overthink, you miss the hole. The holes in the NFL close up so quickly. You have to hit it full speed; no looking back. That's how I go."

Freeman is confident the Falcons can be successful this season after last season's 6-10 finish.

"I feel like the way Thomas Dimitroff, Mr. Arthur (Blank), and Mr. Scott (Pioli) put the team together is phenomenal, especially what we're doing on the offensive end," Freeman said.

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Falcons WR Roddy White says he was mistaken for man punished for crowd noise

Mike Sando

ESPN.com

While discussing the subject of Tom Brady and the deflation of footballs, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White revealed a story related to his own team's punishment for violating NFL rules.

The Falcons lost next year's fifth-round draft pick and received a $350,000 fine for illegally piping crowd noise into the Georgia Dome during the past two seasons. The league pointed the blame on the Falcons' former director of marketing, who was coincidentally also named Roddy White.

And yes, some folks out there thought the player White was involved.

"People started calling my phone asking me if I was pumping in crowd noise," the veteran receiver said. "And I was like, 'How am Im going to pump crowd noise into the stadium when Im on the field? I was like, 'It aint me.'

"I had no idea we were even doing that [piping in noise]. I dont particularly think the dome is a loud place, anyway. I mean, its loud during certain games, but its not consistent. Not to say its bad. Its not [bad] to the point where I think we should have been doing that. That cost somebody their job."

Falcons president Rich McKay was suspended from the league's competition committee as a result of the violation. McKay has not yet been reinstated, but commissioner Roger Goodell and executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent are expected to discuss the matter soon.

On the topic of Brady and his four-game suspension for his role in deflating footballs before last year's AFC Championship Game, White maintained the same stance he expressed on Twitter back in May.

"I dont understand how youre going to suspend somebody four games for saying you deflated a football," White said. "That doesnt make sense. Weve got too much other stuff in the league thats going on, man. But I just feel like everybody is trying to get back at [the Patriots] because theyre always finding ways to win. This is a way that you can hurt them."

White said he is not overlooking the whole integrity-of-the-game aspect.

"At the end of the day, if you do something wrong, you deserve to be punished," White said. "If you literally did something wrong. Deflated footballs? Thats reaching so bad. You are really reaching to try and find anything with that."

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