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Falcons In-Season News

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Falcons' Devonta Freeman inspired by grandmother's breast cancer fight

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

Devonta Freeman entered the NFL driven from day one. As he approaches the start of his second season with the Atlanta Falcons, the talented running back has more reason to be motivated.

The inspiration has nothing to do with his ongoing competition with rookieTevin Coleman.

Freeman referred to his 59-year-old grandmother, Calryn, as the strongest person he knows. He has watched her battle breast cancer courageously since 2012, and she took a major step toward recovery after a June 20 mastectomy.

"Yes, she’s beating cancer," he said. "My grandma, she’s strong. She’s a true survivor. She has always been the backbone. She always kept the family together. I really didn’t want to put it out there because I wanted to treat her regular so she could go about her everyday life, although she understood she had cancer."

Freeman couldn’t help but publicize the positive news after his grandmother’s surgery. He posted an Instagram picture of the two of them together after the procedure.

"He was like, 'I'm about to do this selfie right now,' and I was like, "I look a mess. I don’t even have any makeup on,'" Calryn Freeman said with a laugh. "I didn’t know he was going to put it on Instagram. That part, he tricked me. I thought he was kidding.

"He told me, 'You don’t need any makeup on, grandma. You look good the way you are.'"

Calryn still has obstacles to overcome. Among them, making sure no heart ailments or blood clotting occurs after the surgery.

"I’m not in pain right now," she said. "It’s God. I have the best doctor in the world and I’m feeling no pain. So I’m blessed.

"It’s been a big hospital bill, and Devonta offered to pay for everything. I told him, 'I can get my insurance. That’s what I worked all these years for.' … He loves me so much."

Freeman, who grew up in Miami housing projects, provided a little insight into the close-knit bond he has with his grandmother. She couldn’t attend his football games when he was a child, in high school or in college at Florida State partly because of her work schedule and partly because she said her scoliosis makes it uncomfortable to sit for an extended period. She also took in more children after her daughter and Freeman’s aunt, Tamekia N. Brown, died of a heart attack at 24. (Freeman wears the No. 24 in honor of his aunt.)

"She was always working," Freeman said of his grandmother. "Like I said, she was the backbone of the family. She would have to put in overtime. But she always prayed for me, and I always talked to her before every game. I always made sure to tell her how much I love her before the game."

Freeman often turned to his grandmother for advice.

"She always tells me I can do whatever I want to do," he said. "She always tells me, 'Be confident and never let anybody outwork you; stay focused and believe in God and trust in God.' She always tells me that I have a shield over me and I’m covered in the blood of Jesus. She prays for me all the time and tells me, 'Don’t ever let anyone look down on you. Don’t let anyone belittle you.'"

Freeman clearly took her words to heart en route to the NFL. Although he didn’t receive the number of touches he wanted during his rookie season, he never dropped his head. When the Falcons decided to draft another running back in Coleman, he didn’t flinch.

"The whole offseason was about staying patient and just working hard," Freeman said. "Back in the day, I tried to get it all in one take. I used to try to kill myself to get there. But now, I have a different focus."

The preseason should provide a glimpse of what to expect from Freeman as he looks to solidify a starting role. For the third exhibition game (Aug. 29), the Falcons travel to Miami to face the Dolphins. The matchup gives Calryn Freeman the opportunity to see her grandson play in person for the first time.

"I’m going to be there," she said. "God spared my life, so I’m going to be there. I have to see Devonta. That’s my baby, too."

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Falcons' Paul Worrilow intent on becoming playmaker in new scheme

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

When Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Paul Worrilow huddled with new position coach Jeff Ulbrich this offseason, the goal was to establish a play-making mentality rather than being satisfied just playing a role.

For a guy who led the team in tackles the last two seasons, such a conversation might have seemed a little discomforting. However, Worrilow took Ulbrich’s words to heart, particularly coming from a guy who played 10 seasons at linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers.

Worrilow knows his coach believes he’ll excel in the Falcons' swarming, attacking 4-3-under a defense that incorporates some 3-4 personnel tendencies.

"It’s all about knowing when you can take your shots and knowing where your help is," Worrilow said. "I think in the past, it was like, 'This is my responsibility and this is where I’m going,' instead of taking those shots.

"[in this defense], you know what the offense is doing; their tendencies and you know where your help is -- where you can take a shot and you’re not going to hurt the team and the integrity of the defense. It allows you to take those chances and play a lot faster. You want to make plays that change the game. That’s why you’re out there."

Worrilow, undrafted out of Delaware in 2013, collected 269 total tackles his first two NFL seasons. He realizes none of those statistics really matter when you're playing on one of the league's worst defenses and making tackles down the field. He's also taken measures to improve his tackling, realizing he's missed his share.

"I'm buying into everything [the coaches] have installed," Worrilow said. "We've had a huge emphasis on tackling; being taught a way that you really haven't been taught before. It's a lot of detail, which is good. It's going to be a good payoff."

Worrilow is known as a highly intelligent player on the field. Off the field, he continues to put more time into studying tendencies, as Ulbrich encouraged him to do.

"I’ve learned a whole lot since Coach Ulbrich came in," Worrilow said. "Getting a different perspective from him has been a big thing. He’s been somebody who has had to prepare for these games. The things that he’s seen … I mean, I feel like I’m light years ahead of before.

"I’ve always put in a lot of time. Now, I feel like I’m more dialed in to the things that I need to be."

Worrilow dropped weight and improved his flexibility this offseason to better prepare himself for the style of football coach Dan Quinn desires.

“He is one of the guys that define grit,'' Quinn said of Worrilow. "He just won’t back off. When you go and see him, and the communication that he has, he is always trying to improve. That part of the game you see it all the time. He is very critical of himself, but at the same time he is really developing into a leader."

Worrilow appreciates the high praise but doesn't seek it.

"Those are not the things you pay attention to," he said. "I'm just keeping my head down, trying to be vocal out here, and just staying focused on the immediate: what I can do today."


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Falcons RBs Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman sidelined by hamstring woes

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons starting running back Devonta Freeman suffered a right hamstring strain Thursday and was unable to finish practice.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn did not immediately provide a timetable for Freeman's return.

"Hopefully, for him, it's a quick turnaround," Quinn said of Freeman. "He's such a passionate competitor. You can see how disappointed he was not to be able to finish today. So hopefully, we'll get him back out here soon. He is an absolute competitor. Just every day, he brings it. And he stands for a lot of the stuff I love about our team: attitude, intensity, toughness and wanting to compete."

The Falcons also were without rookie running back Tevin Coleman, who is competing with Freeman for the starting role. Coleman also has a hamstring strain and has missed the past two days of practice.

With Freeman and Coleman out of the lineup, undrafted rookie Terron Ward got some first-team reps after an impressive showing in camp the past few days. Returning veteran Antone Smith and second-year player Jerome Smith also are in the running back rotation.

"It will be a unique opportunity to get some of the guys some more turns," Quinn said. "Hopefully the other guys will be back quickly, too. But I love the group -- I really do in terms of the attitude they're trying to establish. It's unfortunate, but at the same time, the next guy is up."

In other news, first-round pick Vic Beasley was one of a handful of players held out of practice with stomach illnesses. He joined fellow rookie Justin Hardy, right guard Jon Asamoah and outside linebacker Brooks Reed, who is battling a hip-groin injury as well. Quinn expressed hope to get all three players back for the Thursday evening walk-through.

The Falcons' first preseason game is Aug. 14 at home against the Tennessee Titans. There is a strong possibility that both Freeman and Coleman could miss the game, depending on the severity of their respective hamstring strains. The lowest grade of hamstring strain typically calls for a 2-to-4 week recovery period.

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Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan staying patient with offensive line

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had a simple response when asked when he wanted to settle on five starting offensive linemen to run his outside zone blocking scheme.

"The first day of (offseason) OTAs, you would like it," Shanahan said with a laugh. "Rarely does it happen. We're still not there yet, because guys are coming back from injury and we're trying to be smart with them and ease them in. Hopefully we come out in Week 1, and it's our group. And hopefully, it's not the first week they've been playing together.

The Falcons hope Jake Matthews can anchor an offensive line that has been in flux in training camp. Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports

"My whole career, there's only probably been one year for me that the whole line stayed healthy, so you're going to have to play with a group of guys as it goes."

The starting group appears likely to be Jake Matthews at left tackle, Chris Chester at left guard, Joe Hawley at center, Jon Asamoah at right guard, and Ryan Schraeder at right tackle. Matthews (foot) and Hawley (ACL/MCL) are coming off major surgeries, and Schraeder suffered a right hamstring strain at the beginning of training camp. Asamoah was sidelined during the offseason with a severe ankle injury and missed the Wednesday and Thursday of this week with a stomach illness.

James Stone, Tyler Polumbus, Mike Person, and rookie Jake Rodgers have worked with the first unit. Stone had been at center while Hawley recovered, but now has seen time at right guard for Asamoah. Person, who had been playing left guard, worked at center Wednesday while Polumbus, a tackle, worked at left guard Thursday. Polumbus took some snaps off Wednesday and Person did the same Thursday as both appeared to be nicked up.

Shanahan wouldn't single out one group as better than any other combination.

"I don't want to get into specific players, but the quicker you can get your starters out there, the better," Shanahan said. "We have some obvious guys that have been hurt that are obvious starters. But then we've got some competition at a lot of those spots, too.

"We don't have anybody penciled in yet. We've got about 15 guys out there. We had a couple guys got hurt yesterday and a couple today. We'll keep rolling them all in, and we'll see how it ends up."

A few quick-hitters from the sixth practice of training camp:

  • Veteran defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn continued his impressive camp showing with some explosive burst and speed rushes.

  • Rookie cornerback Jalen Collins struggled in 1-on-1 drills, getting beat byLeonard Hankerson on a deep ball and then by Devin Hester on a quick stutter-and-go move. After each play, Collins got an earful from secondary coach Marquand Manuel.

  • Matt Ryan had an animated discussion with Hester at one point during practice. Apparently, the two weren't on the same page about a route. But the discussion was not a confrontation.

  • Cornerback Desmond Trufant got flagged for a defensive hold in 1-on-1 drills against Freddie Martino.

  • Tight end Levine Toilolo made an outstanding, diving catch, adding to his impressive camp showing.

  • The offense protected the ball better than it did Wednesday, but there was a fumble right at the end of practice. It appeared to be rookie Terron Ward on the carry.

  • First-round pick Vic Beasley, fellow rookie Justin Hardy, right guard Asamoah, and outside linebacker Brooks Reed all had stomach illnesses and missed practice. Cliff Matthews (ankle) also was sidelined.

  • The music playlist included Busta Rhymes ("Pass The Courvoisier"), Sly and the Family Stone ("Thank You"), and Waka Flocka, Flame ("Hard In The Paint").

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Falcons DC Richard Smith likes early signs of stronger pass rush

ESPN.com staff

ESPN.com

Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith has reason to be optimistic.

Every day he watches rookie pass-rusher Vic Beasley compete during training camp, Smith realizes how special a talent he has at his disposal.

"Hes done a great job," Smith said of Beasley. "I like the effort that hes playing with. Hes got that elite quickness. And whats going to be fun and will help him continue to develop is that every day is a good battle between him and [Jake] Matthews going against each other.

"Well see what happens when the game times come, but he can be as good as he wants to be. Right now, I like the attitude and the work ethic. And hes slippery. Part of that is just God-given ability."

Every day that he sees veteran defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn explode off the line, Smith understands why head coach Dan Quinn and assistant head coach Raheem Morris were so enthused about what Clayborn could add to the defense.

"We brought Clay in and we thought he was special with his elite quickness," Smith said. "And you love his toughness."

Beasley and Clayborn are two key elements of the equation as the Falcons look to enhance what has been a pretty much nonexistent pass rush. The Falcons have a league-low 83 sacks over the last three seasons and have allowed opponents to convert 45 percent or better on third down the last two seasons.

Thats why reviving the pass rush is critical as the Falcons hope to make a significant defensive turnaround.

"With the pass rush right now, Coach [bryan] Cox and Coach Quinn have done a great job mixing and matching and throwing different guys around, Smith said. "We have linebackers rushing. Weve got D-linemen rushing. Clayborn has helped us with speed and he can also play outside and inside. Babs (Jonathan Babineaux) helps. Ra'Shede (Hageman), you can keep him there for the nickel package for his quickness. RaShede is a big, powerful man."

Smith didnt stop there.

"Weve got Scho (OBrien Schofield), with his speed. Weve got Grady Jarrett who gives us some quickness and speed on the inside, too. And our backup guys are relief pitchers.

"Right now, its practice. Its one thing playing in shorts. Its one thing lining up with pads. The next thing is playing in actual games. It will all work itself out."

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Kyle Shanahan now even more impressed with Julio Jones

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan knew what type of dynamic playmaker he inherited in Julio Jones.

Watching Jones perform this offseason and through six training camp practices simply made Shanahan develop even more respect for Jones' explosive ability.

Julio Jones has wowed his new offensive coordinator with his toughness and explosiveness. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

"Just physically ... I mean, I loved Julio coming out of college [and] I've always known how talented he is,'' Shanahan said. "Just to be around a guy who is as explosive as he is but who can still break down and cut and attack the football and see the ball ... and his toughness. The guy doesn't take a play off. He's physically tough and mentally tough. He's very fun to coach. And he makes you a better coach.''

Jones, who set a franchise record with 1,593 receiving yards last season despite missing one game, vowed to be even better this season. So far in training camp, he has made dynamic catches look routine while improving the play of cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.

Jones and veteran Roddy White made up a fierce dynamic duo a few seasons back. Injuries and age have caught up to White, who turns 34 in November. But White insists he can have an impact on offense, if he remains healthy.

Shanahan was asked about White's role.

"I've been really excited about Roddy and how he's shown up to training camp,'' Shanahan said. "I've been a fan of Roddy's my whole career. He really came to this camp ready to go. I could tell he worked real hard throughout July. He's in great shape. He's running hard. He's put himself in a position to have a good year and to stay healthy. I'm excited to work with him and see how it ends up for him.''

Shanahan also has a familiar face at receiver in Leonard Hankerson, a player he coached in the same role with the Washington Redskins. Hankerson has stood out throughout the offseason and training camp, obviously using his knowledge of Shanahan's scheme to his advantage.

"'Hank' is a real good player,'' Shanahan said. "Anytime you've played in this system -- especially I was with Hank two years before I came here -- you have an advantage because you've done this stuff. You know the coaching points. Nick Williams the same way. He was with us in Washington.

"They had a little bit of an advantage in OTAs. The other guys are starting to catch up, though. Everyone has had the reps. It starts to even out. It definitely should by the season. And then, you're hoping the next man up: Everyone's playing. You don't really care who the starter is; who's out there. It's the Golden State Warriors.'''

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With Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman ailing, Falcons sign a running back

As Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman nurse hamstring injuries, the Atlanta Falcons added another body to the running back group.

Michael Ford, formerly with the Chicago Bears, signed a two-year, minimum-salary deal on Friday. The 5-foot-10-inch, 216-pound Ford has some elusive ability and can catch the ball out of the backfield. The Bears also used him in the return game during the 2013 season. Ford last was with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.

The Falcons saw both Freeman and Coleman suffer hamstring strains this week as they battled for the starting job. Coleman missed two days of practice, and Freeman injured his right hamstring during Thursday's session. A mild hamstring strain (Grade 1) typically takes 2-to-4 weeks to fully heal, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see Freeman and Coleman miss next Friday's exhibition opener against the Tennessee Titans.

It's unclear whether Ford will suit up for the Falcons' "Friday Night Lights" practice at 7:20 p.m. ET. The running backs expected to get the reps include veteran Antone Smith, second-year player Jerome Smith, and impressive rookieTerron Ward.

The Falcons waived wide receiver Freddie Martino to make room for Ford. Also, the team waived/injured undrafted rookie tight end Beau Gardner after he suffered a serious knee injury in practice. The team signed 6-foot-4, 260-pound tight end D.J. Tialavea as a replacement.

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Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman still sidelined

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

BUFORD, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons remained without running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman for Friday night's practice as both players continue to nurse hamstring strains.

The injuries are expected to sideline them for at least two weeks, although head coach Dan Quinn wouldn't put a timetable on their returns or rule them out for next Friday night's exhibition opener against Tennessee. Quinn remains hopefully about the duo returning to individual drills next week.

"I think we're going to take it day by day and see how quickly in terms of getting well," Quinn said. "And then we will put them back out there when they're ready to let it rip, and not until then. But there's no timeline at this point in terms of when they'll be, when they won't be. We're hoping to have both of the guys back sooner than later."

Freeman and Coleman watched from the Buford High School sidelines Friday asAntone Smith, Terron Ward, Jerome Smith and newcomer Michael Ford got the reps at running back. Ward actually was up first with the starters but had a fumble midway through practice, while Jerome Smith also fumbled later on. Antone Smith continued to show the explosiveness that resulted in five touchdowns of 38-plus yards last season, including a long of 74 yards. But Antone Smith also got hit below the belt late in practice and was in pain.

Ford has an explosive moment early in practice while running with the backups. The crowd roared after the nifty run.

In other news, rookies Vic Beasley and Justin Hardy, as well as veteran right guard Jon Asamoah, returned to practice after missing Thursday with stomach illnesses. Outside linebacker Brooks Reed had the same illness but missed Friday's practice as he continues to battle a groin/hip injury. Defensive lineman Cliff Matthews (ankle) also missed another practice. Safety Charles Godfrey left Friday's practice with a cut on his forehead.

Quinn was asked if Reed's lingering injury is a cause for concern.

"Hopefully, he may even be back before them," Quinn said, referring to Reed returning before Freeman and Coleman. "So hopefully he can work back into some as we get started on Sunday and Monday."

The Falcons have Saturday off before returning to practice Sunday morning.

A few quick-hit items from the seventh practice of training camp:

• Hardy continued to impress at receiver, making a solid, in-stride catch on a nice deep ball from T.J. Yates, then finishing practice with a touchdown reception.

James Stone seems to be getting more and more reps at right guard with Jon Asamoah coming off a stomach illness as well as an offseason ankle injury. Stone, who had filled in at center with Joe Hawley recovering from knee surgery, might be hard to keep off the field in the outside zone blocking scheme. He looks rather fluid getting out and running in it.

Mike Person, who had been with the first team at left guard, continued to get some work as the backup center behind Hawley.

• Wide receiver Eric Weems dunked the ball over the goal post after scoring a touchdown. Although officials were on the field, no flag was thrown.

Nick Williams had some impressive moments as receiver, while Levine Toilolocontinued to impress with his pass-catching.

• Rookie defensive lineman Grady Jarrett showed some nice burst in individual drills going against Stone and Person.

• Quinn said defensive coordinator Richard Smith and assistant head coach/defensive pass-game coordinator Raheem Morris will coach from the box this season while offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will coach on the field.

• The music playlist by DJ Jay Envy included E40 ("Tell Me When To Go"), Silento ("Watch Me") and Rae Sremmurd ("No Flex Zone").

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Falcons running back Antone Smith ready whenever number called

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

BUFORD, Ga. -- It was no surprise to see the guy wearing the No. 35 jersey bouncing through defenders like a pinball, finding the hole, the exploding up the field.

Yes, Atlanta Falcons fans are used to seeing Antone Smith break off big plays. Remember, he scored five touchdowns of 38-plus yards last season and averaged a whopping 51 yards per scoring play. But Smith's big-play ability has been in hibernation ever since he broke his leg last November at Carolina.

Friday's practice at Buford High School sure made it look like Smith was back to his old self, even if he didn't want to admit it.

"I'm getting there," Smith said. "I'm right where I need to be at this time right now."

Smith has been the forgotten man in running back rotation with so much emphasis on the competition between likely starter Devonta Freeman and rookieTevin Coleman. But with both Freeman and Coleman likely sidelined the next two weeks with hamstring strains, Smith should be featured more in practice.

However, the Falcons opted to let undrafted rookie Terron Ward immediately take first-team reps following the injuries to Freeman and Coleman. Maybe it's because the coaches just want to give the younger guys more work. Or maybe folks just don't realize how dynamic a player Smith can me.

"If they don't know, the biggest thing is you just have to go there and prove it," Smith said. "It's all about getting a job and making the 53-man roster. You want to show what you can do. That's all you want to do."

Of course Smith wants a lot more touches once the regular season rolls around. That might be tough with Freeman having such a strong training camp and showing versatility as a pass catcher out of the backfield. And the Falcons didn't spend a third-round pick on Coleman to make him sit, especially coming off a 2,000-yard season at Indiana.

"It's all about competition," Smith said. "Everybody wants to get the guy. Everybody wants to be No. 1. But you know me. I'm patient. Whenever things come my way, I'm going to take it and run with it."

Smith was asked about the general concern regarding the injuries suffered by Freeman and Coleman.

"It's not a concern at all," he said. "It's the next guy up. You've just got to play to the same expectations."

For Smith, expectations are an explosive play with every touch.

Antone is going to excel in this one cut and go scheme. We definitely have some great young RBs that should make this running attack lethal!!

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Falcons rookie cornerback Jalen Collins learning on the fly

Brett Okamoto

ESPN.com

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Jalen Collins didn't make any excuses.

The Atlanta Falcons rookie cornerback knows he has struggled so far through training camp. The tongue-lashings he's routinely gotten from secondary coach Marquand Manuel only reinforce the fact.

"You just handle it the way you handle any tough practice: take it with a grain of salt, get on the film, see what you did wrong and try to correct it," Collins said.

So what has been the biggest issue hindering his play?

"It's really all about the eye discipline," Collins said. "If you put your eyes in the wrong place, your body's going to do the wrong thing. You just have to be disciplined with your eyes."

Such wasn't the case for Collins last week when he got torched back to back by Leonard Hankerson and Devin Hester in 1-on-1 drills. No one expects Collins to be a lockdown guy on every play, but those two instances illustrate how far he has to go.

"When you mess up on the little things over and over, it does get a little bit frustrating," Collins said. "But you've just got to calm yourself down and keep going."

His encounters with the team's top player, Julio Jones, also have been an education.

"It's really definitely a learning experience to see what other great receivers are going to be like around the league," Collins said. "Going against him, I just try to do my best every time. I try to take something away from it every time."

Collins came to the Falcons as a second-round pick out of LSU. The 6-foot-1, 203-pound defensive back possesses the ideal size and length to develop into the type of press cornerback Falcons coach Dan Quinn desires. But Collins already had one obstacle working against him after failing multiple drug tests in college. He said those matters are behind him and he has the support of team owner Arthur Blank.

Collins also had to overcome a pre-draft foot surgery, a procedure which limited his offseason participation. He started to feel himself again at the end of minicamp.

Now, Collins has to prove himself worthy of serious playing time alongside Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Many assumed Collins would surpass Alford playing on the outside, but Alford's strong offseason and start to training camp would indicate otherwise.

As the Falcons prepare for their exhibition opener against Tennessee on Friday, Collins appears to be the fourth cornerback behind Trufant, Alford, and likely nickelback Phillip Adams.

"They haven't worked me at nickel any, but just kind of watching and seeing, you kind of learn it," Collins said. "If they need me in nickel, I'll be more than happy to play it."

Assistant head coach Raheem Morris, the defensive pass game coordinator, talked about how Collins has handled his struggles.

"As a young corner, you see this all the time," Morris said. "You get into this league and guys get faster; routes get more crisp. When you're in practice, you've got to go through the growing pains now. Better now than later.

"He's taken (the criticism) like a champ. He's a coachable kid. We loved everything about him in the draft process. Hopefully we can get him going in the right direction."

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Practice fights highly unlikely for Dan Quinn-coached Falcons

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Joe Hawley, or "Brawley" as some would call him, knows a little something about fights erupting at practice.

Last year, during joint training camp sessions with Tennessee, the Atlanta Falcons' center was ejected by officials after a skirmish with Titans safetyMichael Griffin. You had to wonder if both teams were playing to the cameras, with HBO's "Hard Knocks" recording every move.

"I didn't do anything for the cameras," Hawley said. "Anything I was involved in was just frustration. Last year, the whole thing during training camp was preaching toughness. I think that kinda got to the team."

Hawley also had heated exchanges with rookie teammates knows first-hand how Quinn expects players to conduct themselves. Schofield spent the previous two years in Seattle, where Quinn was the defensive coordinator.

"Coach Quinn was never big on fighting," Schofield said, "and it's mainly because he truly believes in, 'We're all brothers. We're all in this thing together.' Especially with the rules, you can't go into a game and fight somebody and it be OK. Even if you're trying to make peace with a fight, you could be subjected to a fine.

"So coach Quinn's whole thing is don't practice it, and don't close-hand punch somebody because you're going to get ejected. If you do it in practice, you get kicked out of the drill. You can understand the concept of what he's doing because when you're losing reps, you're losing the opportunity to get better."

That's not to say all Seahawks practices were tame, particularly with guys such as outspoken cornerback Richard Sherman on the roster.

"I've seen a lot," Schofield said. "Who fought in Seattle? Whoever was talking trash. We had a bunch of competitors. And Pete [Carroll] was different. Pete was kind of OK with it, a little bit. But coach Quinn, even over there, he didn't want that.

"Coach Quinn's philosophy is you practice like you're going to play. And he's not going to tolerate fights in practice because if someone goes and does it in a game, it's going to affect the whole team. Now, we're going to lose a player who we were counting on. For me, I totally agree that we should be protecting each other any way in practice. [Quinn] always says, 'If you see a guy falling down, don't finish him. No need to finish your teammate. We need that guy. Hold him up. Protect the team.' And that's part of the team rules."

Quinn was asked to share his thoughts on training camp fights.

"I think the biggest thing is we want to keep our poise," he said. "Part of keeping poise is there are going to be times when you're going to be furious at a guy, but part of having that poise is knowing 'I've got another play to go.' I think it's kind of going the other way, in terms of practice. ...Do the tempers get out of control and we get sideways sometimes when we're competing so hard? Yeah. But it's really coming back to that poise."

Such poise has been evident through the Falcons' first 10 practices of camp.

"You've got to appreciate that because at some point, some people don't understand that when a fight happens and you don't leave it on the field, sometimes it can go into the locker room, and that's not what you want," Schofield said. "You don't want it to affect team chemistry.

"Yeah, things will happen in the heat of the moment. It's competitive nature. You might push a little after the play, and that's fine. But as far as a close-hand fist and trying to wrestle guys to the ground, coach Quinn's not going to have it."

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Falcons owner Arthur Blank notices rookie Vic Beasley, on special teams

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank already knew what type of talent he had in Vic Beasley, but even Blank was surprised by what he saw from the rookie last Friday night.

``Speed,'' Blank said. ``I watched him the other night during `Friday Night Lights',' and I said to myself, `Holy crap. That's not a defensive end.' And I just watched him run during special teams. It was like, `Are you kidding me?' So, I like what I see.

``He's going be everything we had hoped for. He's got a great attitude. He's working hard. The coaches are pleased, which is the most important.''

Vic Beasley has already made a good impression on the Falcons both on and off the field. Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

It's interesting Blank made reference to Beasley on special teams. One wouldn't expect the eighth-overall pick in this year's draft and the prize piece of the defense to be a special teams regular, particularly after Beasley cramped up chasing kick returner Eric Weems early in training camp. However, the humble pass-rusher has a team-first mentality.

``Coming in as a rookie, you've got to be open to different things,'' Beasley said. ``I haven't played special teams since my redshirt freshman year, so I'm open to whatever I can do to help the team.''

Before anyone starts to panic, Beasley is unlikely to show up much on special teams once the regular season begins. Falcons coach Dan Quinn provided clarity on the matter.

``I think it all depends on the role that he plays in base [defense],'' Quinn said. ``The main thing is now, there's going to be a time in the season where it's all hands on deck. If somebody went down, you've got to be ready to cover a kick. If you ain't never done it, it's hard.

``Some of what's now is emergency, contingency planning, and we're hoping that Vic is a featured part of the defense. But if there comes a time where going on punt the wing just got hurt, `Got you.' If there's a time where he's not playing a high percentage [of defensive snaps], the speed and athleticism is something we'd go with [on special teams]. All of this is totally by design. All the Leos are on special teams. We're going to get everybody ready. We don't want guys jumping in there saying, `I don't know what the **** I'm doing.' It's like, `Yeah you do. You did it all training camp.' ''

Quinn appreciates how Beasley has handled the workload on defense and special teams drills.

``He's a totally accountable guy,'' Quinn said. ``He understands, and he's always trying to get it right. He's off to a great start.''

Speaking of Beasley on defense, it's clear he will be the team's featured pass-rusher. What remains unclear is his role in run defense.

``He's been really good [against the run],'' Quinn said. ``He plays an outside technique a lot, which he's done at Clemson.''

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Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman James Stone not caught up in starting role

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When the Atlanta Falcons broke into situational full-team drills Tuesday, the first-team offensive line continued to be left tackleJake Matthews, left guard James Stone, center Joe Hawley, right guard Chris Chester, and right tackle Ryan Schraeder.

The emergence of Stone is part of the reason former starting right guard Jon Asamoah finds himself working with the backups. However, Stone hasn't approached the situation as if he's won a starting job just yet.

"I'm just working in camp, man," Stone said when asked about being a starter. "I'm trying to get as good as I can at whatever position and at all the positions in the inside."

The Falcons need to find continuity along the line if they hope to run Kyle Shanahan's outside zone blocking scheme effectively. It was quite a challenge at the beginning of training camp, with linemen tripping over each other while trying to get out and run laterally. Tuesday, the line appeared to be much more in sync with the same five working together rather than the mixing and matching of days past.

Finding such chemistry in the offseason was impossible with Matthews (Lisfranc foot) and Hawley (ACL/MCL) coming off major surgeries.

"It's just good to have the injured guys back and myself, trying to work to get better," Hawley said. "I know Jake is out there. [We're] starting to jell. It's a different kind of system. It relies on a lot of teamwork as an offensive line; combination blocks. And we're starting to jell pretty good.''

Hawley spoke specifically about developing a connection with a new right guard in Chester, who signed with the Falcons this offseason but played under Shanahan in Washington.

"I love Chester," Hawley said. "He's a great guy. And having him in our room has helped me out a lot because he's run this offense for a long time with Kyle Shanahan. So having him in the room and playing next to him, he's a very talented player. He has a lot of experience. And just trying to get better like him."

We'll see how much Matthews, Stone, Hawley, Chester, and Schraeder play together during Friday's exhibition opener against Tennessee. Falcons coach Dan Quinn wouldn't commit to how long he would play the first units but said some starters will play longer than other starters based on experience.

A few quick-hit items from the 10th practice of training camp:

  • Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman remained sidelined by hamstring strains, while outside linebacker Brooks Reed and defensive lineman Cliff Matthews were still out with hip/groin and ankle injuries, respectively. All four players ran through variety of drills on a side field, and Coleman appeared to be quicker and more fluid with his motions than the other three. The strains suffered by Freeman and Coleman last week are expected to be two-week injuries, at minimum.

  • Wide receiver/kick returner Devin Hester returned to practice after sitting out two days with a toe/ankle issue. He did not participate much.

  • Starting linebacker Justin Durant once again saw his practice reps limited, as has been the case at least two other times during camp. Quinn said Durant is "healthy" after previously suffering a groin injury. Joplo Bartu got first-team reps with Durant dressed but resting.

  • Running back Antone Smith ran with the starting offense late in the practice, likely an indication of what to expect in Friday's exhibition. Jerome Smithwas second up with undrafted rookie Terron Ward, who played with the starters the last few days, third in the rotation.

  • Rookie pass-rusher Vic Beasley and Matthews had a fierce battle at the start of one-on-one pass-rush drills.

  • The Falcons were down one safety after undrafted rookie Terell Floyd was waived.

  • The music playlist at practice included Nelly ("#1"), Nore ("Nothin'"), and Wiz Khalifa ("Black & Yellow").

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Bryan Cox on Falcons defensive line: We're going to send a wave of people

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox wouldn't pinpoint which group of players represents the most potent pass-rush foursome of the bunch.

"Who we send out as a starting group really is not that important because we're going to send a wave of people," Cox said following Monday's practice.

Sure, the Falcons haven't played a game yet, but there's reason for Cox to be optimistic about the pass rush coming from multiple sources this season. It all starts with first-round draft pick Vic Beasley, who's quickness and athleticism have been on display throughout training camp. Then Adrian Clayborn appears to be next in line with his ability to explode off the edge or power through the interior.

The other capable pass-rush contributors include Ra'Shede Hageman, O'Brien Schofield, Jonathan Babineaux, and rookie Grady Jarrett

"I call him `Truck Driver,'" Cox said of Jarrett. "He looks like a truck driver and he has the work ethic of a truck driver. When you talk about him, just his quickness and his speed. You talk about Vic Beasley and the stuff you saw on tape with him -- his first-step quickness, his speed. And he's shown toughness, quite honestly, I didn't know he had. So I'm impressed with him as well."

Cox also praised Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai for slimming down to better fit coach Dan Quinn's attacking, 4-3 scheme. He also noted how backup Kroy Biermann is looking a lot healthier than he was last season. And Cox singled out the play of undrafted rookie Joey Mbu as the backup nose tackle.

Despite all the above, Cox wouldn't declare the Falcons have all the defensive line depth they need.

"It's a lot better," Cox said. "Is it absolutely everywhere that we need it? Probably not. But the coaching staff, we've worked together. We've all looked at it. We've all been able to say, 'That guy fits. That guy doesn't fit.' (Defensive coordinator) Richard Smith has done a really good job. Q (Quinn) has done a really good job of just giving us information: Here's the player, here's the ideal fit, this is what we're looking for. But we have more of those kinds of guys on the roster now in terms of what we're looking for."

A few quick-hit items from the ninth practice of training camp:

• Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman remained sidelined by hamstring strains, while wide receiver/kick returner Devin Hester missed his second consecutive day with a toe/ankle injury. Also, outside linebacker Brooks Reed continued to be sidelined by a groin/hip injury, and reserve defensive lineman Cliff Matthews remained out with an ankle injury.

• The offense worked a lot out of the two-tight-end set with pass-catching specialist Jacob Tamme and blocker Tony Moeaki. We'll see if that's the typical, first-down formation come game day.

• Undrafted rookie Terron Ward continued to run with the first-team offense at running back with Antone Smith behind. Smith is listed as third on the depth chart behind the injured Freeman and Coleman. Quinn said he likes Ward's attention to detail. Smith had a fumble during practice.

• The defensive backs, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford included, still have some work to do regarding keeping their hands off the receivers. There were several flags thrown in 1-on-1 drills, including one against Trufant.

The music playlist included Kris Kross ("Warm It Up, Kris"), Public Enemy ("Bring The Noise") and Naughty By Nature ("Feel Me Flow").

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Attorney: Felony charges against ex-Falcons LB Prince Shembo dropped

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

Felony charges against former Atlanta Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo for killing his ex-girlfriend's Yorkshire terrier were dismissed last week after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of cruelty to animals, Shembo's attorney Jerry Froelich told ESPN.com.

The end result was a $1,000 fine, according to Froelich, plus community service which is still being discussed. Shembo also has volunteered to make a donation to a charity related to animal safety.

"The government decided that the dog bit him and he kicked it, and he shouldn't have kicked it," Froelich said. "I feel like I could have won the case. [shembo] just wanted to get it over with. He wanted to get on and move on with his NFL career. He's in the best shape of his life.

"I believe he was overcharged to begin with. The caseload I presented, it should have never been a felony. But I couldn't get a trial until January or February. Again, he wanted to move on with his life."

The incident occurred in mid-April, and Shembo was arrested and charged on May 29. The Falcons released him the same day.

Shembo, 23, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Falcons in 2014 out of Notre Dame. He started three games as a rookie last season and recorded 59 combined tackles.

Shembo still faces the possibility of discipline from the NFL if he is picked up by a team.

"We will review the court record, do any other follow-up that is necessary, and make a determination on potential discipline as appropriate," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

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Falcons' Roddy White, Julio Jones keep close bond with Titans' Harry Douglas

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

There will be a noticeable difference for Roddy White when he runs out the Georgia Dome tunnel Friday night.

True, White and the Atlanta Falcons have a new coach guiding them in Dan Quinn. And White has new receivers alongside him in Leonard Hankerson and rookie Justin Hardy. But as much as it's time to start a new chapter, White knows the feeling will be different without No. 83 in the huddle.

Yes, Harry Douglas will be missed.

"I love him like a brother," White said. "It's bigger than football. He was great for the organization. He did a lot of great things for us. And I'm going to especially miss him in pregame. He was our energy."

Douglas, a third-round draft pick of the Falcons in 2008 and an Atlanta-area native, will walk into familiar territory for the first time as the opponent. The veteran receiver is now with the Tennessee Titans after the Falcons released him this offseason.

Douglas has fond memories of dancing in the middle of the pregame circle and hyping up his teammates. He'll try to treat Friday like another game, although he knows such will be a tall task based on the relationships he established through seven seasons.

"The toughest part, really, is not being able to be around Roddy and Julio (Jones) and my receivers coach, Terry Robiskie," Douglas said of joining a new team. "We did everything together, off the field. Roddy and I hung out a lot (this offseason). The guys came to a dinner before I left town. We went bowling together: me, Roddy, Julio , Matt (Ryan), (Leonard) Hankerson, (Eric) Weems,Antone (Smith).

"Even though we're on different teams, we're still truly brothers from another mother. Our families talk to each other all the time. It's truly a brotherhood. I asked Roddy for some tickets and he said, 'I got you.'"

Douglas' release came as a surprise to many in the Falcons' locker room. He posted 1,067 yards receiving in 2013, the same year Jones went down with a season-ending foot fracture. A lingering left foot injury hampered Douglas' play last season. Then when the Falcons changed coaching staffs with Kyle Shanahan coming in as the offensive coordinator, Douglas became a casualty. The team saved $3.5 million against the cap by cutting him.

"I understand this is a business," Douglas said. "I don't let a business get in the way of emotions. Was I upset? Of course. You're naturally going to be upset. But I had no harsh feelings toward anyone in the organization. I did know they had to do what they had to do. And on my end, I had to do what I had to do.

"It's one of those things where you try to stay in good standing. I had a great seven years there. But it was time for both of us to move on."

Jones said it was difficult to see Douglas go.

"We're still family," Jones said. "It's a business. I know he's going to do great things over there. And I know he's going to be pulling for us. ... No doubt it hurt, because he's like a brother to us. We did a lot of things together. We still hang out and kick it."

It's hard to imagine Friday being just any other game for Douglas, even if he tries to treat it as such.

"It's football," Douglas said. "Whether I'm an opponent or whether I'm in the Dome as the home team, it doesn't matter to me. It's another football game for Harry."

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Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant sidelined with shoulder strain

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufantsuffered a shoulder strain and is expected to miss Friday night's exhibition opener against the Tennessee Titans, coach Dan Quinn said.

Trufant watched from the sideline the last two days as the team went through light practices. There was no immediate indication that Trufant was injured.

"He strained his shoulder, so we're kind of taking it day by day with him,'' Quinn said. "And hopefully, we'll have him back in the next couple of days.''

Trufant is the team's top cornerback and a key figure in the Falcons' revamped defense. He and fellow starter Robert Alford continue to grow together while facing the likes of Julio Jones and Roddy White in practice.

Although Quinn stopped short of saying Trufant is out Friday, the coach said the team is leaning in that direction. If Trufant is sidelined, as expected, Phillip Adams would likely start alongside Alford in the base defense with Alford, Adams, and emerging rookie Kevin White all on the field in the nickel package.

Rookie second-round pick Jalen Collins continues to fight his way up the depth chart. Based on the alignment during recent practices, Collins continues to run with the backups and hasn't been used in the nickel package with the first-team defense. Collins admitted he has struggled at times while making the transition to the pro level.

Outside of Trufant, running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are expected to miss Friday's game with hamstring strains. Outside linebackerBrooks Reed continues to nurse a groin injury he suffered during training camp but expects to be ready for Week 1 of the regular season. Reed said he does not need surgery. And defensive lineman Cliff Matthews remains out with an ankle injury.

Quinn said offensive linemen Jake Matthews (Lisfranc foot) and Joe Hawley(ACL/MCL) are expected to see action Friday although both are coming off major surgeries.

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T.Y. Hilton contract might drive up price for Falcons' Julio Jones

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

As reported by ESPN Insider Adam Schefter Thursday, the Indianapolis Coltsand receiver T.Y. Hilton reached a five-year, $65 million deal with $39 million guaranteed.

Since the Falcons are in the middle of negotiations with top receiver Julio Jones, you have to wonder if Hilton receiving such a contract gives Jones' agent, Jimmy Sexton, reason to bump up the price for his client. Jones has one year left on his deal and is scheduled to make $10.176 million this season.

Everyone appears to be on the same page between the Falcons and Jones. Team owner Arthur Blank said he wants Jones to be a lifer, and Jones responded by reiterating he wants to be a Falcon for life. But now, Blank has to back his statement by opening up the checkbook.

Sexton is part of the CAA group that recently negotiated five-year, $70 million contracts for top receivers Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas, deals which included $40-million-plus guaranteed. The argument can be made that Jones is in a different class than Hilton, who is a very good player who was posted back-t0-back 1,000-yard seasons, but the 5-foot-9-inch, 178-pound target it not the same big, physical specimen as the 6-3, 224-pound Jones.

Sexton secured a six-year, $114 million deal for Miami Dolphins defensive tackleNdamukong Suh, a deal which included $60 million guaranteed. In other words, don't expect Sexton to settle. He's probably going to push it to the maximum for Jones and try to reach somewhere near the $16.2 million per year earned by the league's highest-paid receiver, Detroit's Calvin Johnson. At least $15 million per year for Jones makes plenty of sense, considering he is a game-changer.

Now, the Bryant and Thomas deals were different circumstances because both players played under the franchise tag and there was a deadline to get the deal done. The franchise tag could come into play with Jones, too, if no long-term deal is reached before next offseason. Although such seems unlikely, it's always a possibility. The franchise tag is expected to be $14 million next year and could reach $16 million the year following, meaning the Falcons have the ability to tag Jones twice at $30 million. But again, that scenario seems unlikely. It does offer another guideline, however, into how much Jones should get in terms of average per year. Around $15 million or more just makes sense, unless Sexton wants to wait and see how much Antonio Brown gets from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

We'll see how it all unfolds, but certainly the Falcons and Jones want to resolve the contract situation before the Sept. 14 season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on ESPN's Monday Night Football.

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NFL rumors roundup

Atlanta Falcons Only

This is what I admire about Julio!!!!!!

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Five teams on the rise in 2015

http://espn.go.com/nfl/insider/story/_/id/13427882/darrelle-revis-new-york-jets-football-outsiders-teams-rise-2015-nfl

Atlanta Falcons (6-10 in 2014)

Mean wins: 8.9 | Playoff odds: 49.2% (sixth) | Wins Super Bowl: 3.0% (14th)

It has been a tough couple of seasons for the Falcons. After five straight winning seasons, the Dirty Birds have gone just 10-22 over the past couple of years. But with new head coach Dan Quinn comes new hope for a playoff push in Atlanta.

The most likely improvement for the Falcons is going to come where Quinn is an expert: defense. Last year, Atlanta had the worst defense in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders' metrics. The Falcons could expect change even without a new head coach, simply because defense tends to regress toward the mean more than offense. The teams that finished dead last in defensive DVOA between 2003 and 2014 improved to an average rank of 20th the following season. But it also helps that Quinn has a strong coaching record and that the Falcons used the eighth overall pick on the pass-rusher we projected to be at the top of this class,Vic Beasley.

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Good first step for Atlanta Falcons defense in preseason opener

ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- The fast and physical defensive style Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn has preached from Day 1 was evident in the team's preseason opener Friday night.

Rather than a bunch of players hesitating and thinking too much, Quinn's 4-3 attacking scheme featured defenders exploding off the line and flying to the football. It was a big reason why middle linebacker Paul Worrilow came up with a 14-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown after Jonathan Babineaux forced a fumble from Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota. And it was a big reason why weakside linebacker Justin Durant was able to pick off a Mariota pass to set up a field goal. On that play, Durant benefited from intense pressure applied by rookie pass-rusher Vic Beasley, who got a hand up to distract Mariota before Durant picked it off.

Ten of the first 17 points the Falcons scored in their 31-24 triumph over the Titans came as a result of the defense. That's a stark contrast from defensive efforts fans have grown accustomed to the last few seasons.

"Those are huge for us, to show that we can be ballhawks," Quinn said. "I was so pleased to see that, early on especially. The way we went after the ball, the tackling as well. Those two things were at the front of our list: tackling (and) our ability to ballhawk. For us to get a couple right off the bat, that was a huge part of the game."

That's not to say the Falcons should be content with how they played by any means. After the first-team defense flourished, the backups struggled and gave up big plays. Still, creating turnovers is always a positive.

"All week, every week in practice, we preach running to the ball," Worrilow said of his fumble return. "That's just one of those situations where things happen when you run to the ball. Just ran up, saw it was loose and it came right to me."

Evidence of a possible defensive renaissance for the Falcons came on the sixth play of the Titans' first series, when Tyson Jackson -- yes, Tyson Jackson -- sacked Mariota for an 11-yard loss. Nose tackle Paul Soliai had the initial pressure up the middle. And Jackson and Soliai were signed before last season simply to be run-stuffers.

Of course, the addition of Beasley is the one aspect expected to bolster the defense the most. His versatility was evident simply in the way he rushed from both sides of the line. He played the run well, too.

"It was good to see the speed," Quinn said of Beasley. "I also saw it with Adrian (Clayborn). I think that is a nice package for those two guys working on the right side together. We are going to keep working that as well."

We'll see if the defense keeps working in the Falcons' favor leading into the season.

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Falcons rookie Vic Beasley shows versatility in NFL debut

Vaughn McClure

ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- Atlanta Falcons first-round draft pick Vic Beasley saw a little bit of everything in his NFL debut Friday night.

The highly touted rookie rushed from both sides of the line, though more often from his comfort zone on the right. He encountered double teams from the Tennessee Titans' offensive linemen and absorbed chip blocks from their tight ends.

Did Beasley expect to see all that in just 10 snaps?

"Not necessarily," Beasley said. "I thought it would be just a lot of 1-on-1. I think it's the respect that comes with the game. I'm just looking forward to becoming a better player and working."

Oh, and Beasley also took a shove in the back from Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan, a former first-round pick himself. Beasley and Lewan engaged in some trash talk too.

"Oh yeah, it was definitely a competitive game," Beasley said with a smile. "Talk back and forth. Good player on good player, so he helped me critique my craft, (and) I'm helping him."

In Friday's 31-24 win, Beasley showed he's prepared to help the Falcons plenty as they try to improve what has been a nonexistent pass rush. His first step is explosive, and his counter moves have been on display daily in practice against teammate Jake Matthews. He gave fans a glimpse of his athleticism Friday when he stretched his arm in the air while applying pressure to Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota. Beasley obviously affected Mariota's vision as Mariota threw an ill-advised screen pass that was intercepted by Falcons linebacker Justin Durant, setting up a field goal.

"I was just trying to get pressure on the quarterback and just trying to disrupt the quarterback," Beasley said. "I was able to at least get a hand up and cause an interception."

Probably equally impressive was what Beasley showed as a run defender. He vowed to refine that aspect of his game in order to become an every-down player. The way he fought off a Lewan block to chase down and tackle Titans running back Bishop Sankey showed Beasley is capable of being effective against the run.

"It's just buying into what Coach (Dan) Quinn has schemed up here and the plan that he has for team," Beasley said. "I trust him, and I just want to do what he has planned. And I think it's paying off for me."

Beasley did have one hiccup in his limited action. He was flagged for being offsides on a second-and-8 play, allowing the Titans to convert a first down a play later. Such is to be expected when an "excited" kid from the Atlanta suburbs plays his first game in home surroundings.

Quinn wanted to review the tape before giving a full assessment of Beasley's play, but the coach liked the flashes he saw and the added attention Beasley drew.

"Welcome to the NFL, right, in terms of chips, tight ends, tackles and that Leo spot?" Quinn posed. "I can't wait to go through (the film) with him and show the things that we can improve on. ... I know he had fun playing. I wanted to see how close the guys could get and how fast they could play. It was an awesome start to get rolling."

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Dan Quinn has concerns at running back with another injury

Brett McMurphy

ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- Don't be surprised if the Atlanta Falcons sign another running back in the next day or two.

They entered Friday night's exhibition against the Tennessee Titans already without their top two backs sidelined after Devonta Freeman and rookie Tevin Coleman suffered hamstring strains in practice. And now, third-stringer Antone Smith suffered his own hamstring injury after scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run in the game.

"Hopefully, Antone can come back quick," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "We are anticipating seeing Devonta and Tevin getting back in action, and hopefully they can progress through the week. They're both working really hard, so they're getting close."

Freeman and Coleman suffered their injuries last week, and the mildest hamstring strain (Grade 1) calls for a two-week recovery period, at minimum. They've been doing agility drills on a side field during practice, and both suited up for pregame warmups and individual drills Friday.

"It was really by design," Quinn said of Freeman and Coleman suiting up but not playing. "That was part of their rehab, and this is our first time going together through the process. There is a real process for getting ready to perform. I wanted them to go through that process, especially for Tevin because this was his first real time. The next game it won't be, 'Well, what are we doing? How do I go through pregame?' How do I get ready?'

"I thought it was a good lesson for those guys and also part of the rehab, I want them to enjoy the time with the guys. Go through the pregame and get ready, and hopefully this week we will have those guys back. Then they can have a normal functioning pregame next week."

All that being said, the Falcons are likely to be extra cautious with Freeman and Coleman throughout the preseason. The last thing they need is to go into the regular season with lingering effects from the hamstring strains. The offense is counting on a strong running game in the new outside zone blocking scheme, plus Freeman offers so much more with his pass-catching ability.

The Falcons don't have a full practice again until Monday. By then, it's likely to be undrafted rookie Terron Ward, second-year player Jerome Smith, and newcomer Michael Ford taking all the practice reps, unless another running back is signed. Jerome Smith had seven carries for 25 yards against the Titans while Ford had 11 carries for 20 yards and a touchdown. Ward carried the ball three times for 6 yards.

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