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Falcons In-Season News

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Falcons backup quarterback spot behind Matt Ryan wide open

Vaughn McClure

ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- T.J. Yates didn't enter training camp thinking he was entitled to anything.

Although the Atlanta Falcons quarterback has one playoff win under his belt and essentially ran offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme when he played for Gary Kubiak in Houston, Yates knew how key preseason games would be in determining the backup to starter Matt Ryan.

So when Falcons coach Dan Quinn announced after Friday's 31-24 win over Tennessee how the job is "100 percent still a competition" between Yates and Sean Renfree, Yates wasn't taken by surprise.

"DQ's central theme of this program is competition," Yates said after the game, referring to Quinn's message. "We are competing at every position every single day. I have to earn my spot on this team, like everybody else."

Yates would be the first to admit his first live action this season was a little shaky. He took over for Ryan after one series and completed 9 of 15 passes for 105 yards with an interception in 32 snaps. He was sacked once and had a passer rating of 53.5.

Yates, who ran his share of bootlegs, wishes he had a couple of passes back as he was obviously off target. There appeared to be miscommunication between himself and rookie receiver Justin Hardy on the interception.

Meanwhile, Renfree completed 6 of 7 passes for 68 yards in 23 snaps. His passer rating was 107.1.

"Just managed the game," Renfree said. "I think we had a couple of run options that we did a good job with. Our guys did a good job with communication. That one was one thing Kyle, I know, wanted to see us to do was get in and out of the huddle quickly and go out an execute. And our guys did a good job."

So where does the competition go from here? Monday's practice might give more of an indication, if reps start to change. Quinn singled out Renfree for his command of the offense and called his ending "awesome," making you wonder if a shift might occur.

Renfree hasn't seen his NFL career get going yet after joining the Falcons as a seventh-round pick out of Duke. He was placed on injured reserve as a rookie in 2013 due to a preseason shoulder injury and hasn't played in a regular season game yet.

"Fortunately, I was able to work with a good physical therapist," Renfree said of his shoulder. "The guys here have been great to me. I was able to come back quick. It's not easy. Everybody goes through injuries every year."

Fortunately for the Falcons, Ryan hasn't been one of those injured guys. He has not missed a start since the 2009 season. The coaches hope the streak continues. Then, the backup plan won't even come into play.

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Atlanta Falcons: Falcons coach Dan Quinn said the battle for the backup quarterback spot behind Matt Ryan is 100 percent a competition. Once the Falcons return to practice Monday morning, it will be interesting to see how T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree respond to Quinn's challenging words. Renfree managed the game well in Friday's 31-24 preseason win over the Titans, while Yates had his struggles. -- Vaughn McClure

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Down three top running backs, Atlanta Falcons sign another

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

As Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman and Antone Smith recover from hamstring injuries, the Atlanta Falcons signed another running back to add depth at the position.

Evan Royster, formerly a sixth-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins out of Penn state, was one of three players the Falcons signed Sunday along with linebacker Terrell Manning and cornerback Travis Howard. The Falcons released offensive lineman DeMarcus Love.

Royster, 27, played under Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan when Shanahan held the same title with the Redskins. The Washington Post reported a lack of speed as the reason Royster didn't last in Washington.

The Falcons seem confident about Freeman, Coleman and even Smith being ready for the regular season. The hamstring strains Freeman and Coleman suffered during the first week of training camp were two-week injuries, at minimum. Neither played in Friday's exhibition opener against the Titans, although both suited up for pregame warmups and participated in individual drills. Freeman injured his right hamstring, while Coleman's is unclear.

Smith injured his hamstring on a 1-yard touchdown run in Friday's 31-24 winover the Titans. The medical staff looked at his left leg after he limped to the sideline.

With the roster move made Sunday, the Falcons now have a running back rotation of undrafted rookie Terron Ward, second-year player Jerome Smith, recently signed Michael Ford and Royster. That seems likely to be the foursome for Friday's preseason game in New York against the Jets.

As for the signing of Manning and Howard, Falcons coach Dan Quinn will provide more clarity on the team's intentions following Monday's practice.

The team is a little bit banged up at cornerback with starter Desmond Trufantrecovering from a shoulder injury and reserve Dezmen Southward not fully recovered from a knee scope. But the signing of Howard doesn't necessarily mean Trufant's status is a significant concern.

Manning has name recognition after being selected by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft. He's been with seven different teams and has played in games with the Packers, Chargers, Bears and Giants.

Howard was picked up as an undrafted free agent with the Houston Texans in 2013. He also spent time on the practice squads for both the Patriots and Giants.

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Play-action works to perfection for Falcons, Matt Ryan in first live action

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

There has been a lot of talk about how effective play-action passes will be inAtlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme.

Of course, the Falcons first have to establish a potent running game, which they should be able to do behind the trio of Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, andAntone Smith. But even without Freeman and Coleman out of this past Friday's preseason opener against Tennessee with hamstring strains, quarterback Matt Ryan worked play-action to perfection.

QB Matt Ryan used more play-action in the Falcons' exhibition win against Tennessee. David Goldman/AP

Ryan, who completed all six of his passes for 86 yards and a touchdown in one series of work, set up his 13-yard scoring toss to Julio Jones with perfectly executed play-action. On first-and-10 from the Titans' 30, Ryan faked the hand-off to Terron Ward up the middle. With the Titans' linebacker frozen, Ryan dropped back and found Jones crossing to the right side of the field for a 16-yard pickup. Jones lined up left, inside of a motioning Leonard Hankerson.

"Obviously, the play-action is huge," Ryan said. "When you can get it going and you make the defense defend the run, it opens up some lanes kind of in the back end. Worked perfectly [Friday night]. Got the linebackers to suck up and then had some space behind there. And Julio ran a great route and made a great catch. It was a big play for us."

Ryan's second pass of the game was a play-action fake to Smith and pass to Jones down the middle for a 26-yard pickup. It was the longest connection between the two as Jones finished with four catches for 61 yards and the score. Plus Ryan ran play-action in a 12-yard pass play to fullback Patrick DiMarco. Smith again sold the run well.

It will be interesting to see how much play-action is used in the third preseason game at Miami, when the starters are expected to get their most extensive action. Maybe by then, Freeman and Coleman will be back in the mix to give a true preview of what to expect during the regular season.

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Roddy White: 'Sky's the limit' for Julio Jones

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

How much do you feel you have left in the tank going into the 2015 season?

Roddy White: I’m ready to go. I feel like I’m in good shape. I feel ready to roll. I have no body issues or nothing like that. I’m 4 pounds lighter than I usually weigh, which is good. I usually come in at 212, somewhere like that. Now I’m way under 210. I’m coming in about 208. I feel lighter. I feel like that’s going to help me get through the season. And also, I’ve been changing my diet and eating healthy foods and stuff like that. I just want to be healthy for 16 games. I missed two games last year, and I still caught 80 passes, right over 900 yards. I feel like if I can play 16 games, then I can really be productive.

Q: What’s Julio Jones' greatest strength? Do you have a story/anecdote that helps show that in action?

White: To me, he’s good at so many things. He’s able to run. He’s big. He’s strong. He can run routes -- underneath routes, intermediate routes. He can go out there on the outside. He doesn’t have really any weaknesses in his game. And every year, he’s gotten better. It’s amazing for me to see how football-savvy he has gotten over every year. He’s just gotten better and better mentally, in just understanding what people are trying to do to him and what he has to do to go out there and win on routes. I mean, the sky’s the limit for him. I just want to see him go out there and play 16 regular-season games and see what type of numbers he puts up. When we went down to Green Bay, we called a play, and we actually put a pump on the play, and it wasn’t even supposed to be a pump. It was supposed to be a slant-and-go. So we’re running the play, and he catches a (79-yard) ball and gets tackled at the 3-yard line. He and Matt kind of made it up on the fly. That’s just knowing the personnel, knowing the person you’re going against. And they did that all in one episode and didn’t take a miscommunication or a missed throw or a second time around to get it, you know what I’m saying? Just executing that and going out there and them hitting that play just speaks volumes of them just growing as a tandem and Julio having a better understanding of the game.

You figure out people’s intelligence on the football field on what they do when they’re not on the football field, if that makes any sense. The classroom teaches us so much because everybody's watching the film. Just for Julio to always have the right answers and to always know what to do … sometimes, that’s just saying that you’re doing something different on this route because the defender was leaning this way. Julio is far from his first and second year, when they just wanted him to do one thing, and that’s run deep routes and be explosive. He’s into the route tree. He knows the route tree. He can run every route. That’s how you expand your game. That’s how you catch 100 balls a year.

Last year, you said the offense had the potential to score 30 points per game. Will Kyle Shanahan’s bringing a new philosophy to town take away from the offensive explosiveness, particularly in the passing game?

White: You can score 30 points in this scheme -- if you can run the ball. I tell everybody that our most productive games since I’ve been an Atlanta Falcon are when we’ve been able to run the ball. Running the ball makes those plays over the top so much easier. It’s so much easier to play call when it’s second-and-5 than second-and-10. We need to run the ball. We need to be able to run the ball. I’ve never had a problem with us running the ball because it shortens the game and it alleviates pressure on the quarterback. Anytime you can have a run game, the game is going to be much easier.

It’s always important to be a high-scoring team, no matter what you do. In the NFL, people score points. Last year, we didn’t score as many points as we wanted because teams just kept the ball away from us, and they just dictated the clock. Every time I looked at the time of possession, we would be losing the time of possession, which means we didn’t have enough possessions and plays to win games. If you can't execute and you’re going three-and-out once or twice in the game and you’re only getting six or seven possessions, that literally means you have to score touchdowns when you get those possessions. You can’t kick field goals if you want an opportunity to win. Just looking at how other teams were playing us and how they were controlling the game, that’s what we want to do this year.

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Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman limited in return to Falcons practice

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons running backs Devonta Freemanand Tevin Coleman returned to practice Monday following hamstring strains but saw limited action.

Both players were injured in the first week of training camp. Coleman strained his left hamstring running a route, while Freeman strained his right one doing the same a couple days later. During Monday's practice, they mostly stood and watched after light individual drills.

"I feel good," Freeman said. "It's a great progression. Still taking it one day at a time. It's just exciting to be back out there and having fun with the boys. I feel like I'm back a part of something even though nobody never left me out. Just being out there grinding with them, feeling the pain (of competition), felt good."

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman injured his hamstring during the first week of training camp and had been sidelined since. AP Photo/David Goldman

Said the rookie Coleman, "I feel pretty good. Just getting back out there practicing with my team. I'm not going 100 (percent), but it just feels good to be out there moving a little bit."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn previously said the first step in getting the two back on the field would be individual drills. Next is participating in 11-on-11, so that aspect will be worth monitoring the rest of the week.

There is a strong chance both Freeman and Coleman will be held out of Friday's exhibition against the New York Jets, just like they missed the first preseason game against the Tennessee Titans.

"I'll leave it up to coach," Freeman said of his status for Friday. "I'm not sure yet. But if I can, I'm definitely going to go."

Injuries at running back have been a recurring theme for the Falcons throughout training camp. After Freeman and Coleman, third-string running back Antone Smith suffered his own hamstring injury against the Titans. Smith did not suit up for Monday's practice and his status remains unclear.

The Falcons signed veteran Evan Royster Sunday to add more depth at running back. Undrafted rookie Terron Ward took the initial, first-team reps Monday followed by Jerome Smith, Michael Ford and Royster.

Quarterback Matt Ryan was asked about adjusting to a new offense geared toward an improved running game without the top running backs in there to establish a rhythm.

"Obviously, you'd like to have everybody every time you go on the field," Ryan said. "But that's kind of not the case in this sport. Guys are going to get nicked up at different times, and you've got to adapt and you've got to move forward.

"I thought some of our running backs stepped up and did a nice job the other night. Jerome Smith, I thought, came in and played really well for us. He was physical in the run game; ran the ball really well. But his pass protection was really, really good. Those are the encouraging things: When guys have opportunities to play and showcase what they can do, it's great to see that. But certainly, we would like to have (Coleman, Freeman and Antone Smith) back."

A few quick-hit items from the 13th practice of training camp on Monday:

  • With starting cornerback Desmond Trufant sidelined with a shoulder injury, the Falcons had a different look in the secondary -- for a least a few snaps -- with Phillip Adams, Jalen Collins and Kevin White playing outside at corner while Robert Alford got work at nickelback. Some thought Alford might kick inside anyhow once Collins emerged as the corner opposite Trufant, but Alford's strong play outside and Collins' struggles had prevented that from happening so far. Still, Quinn said getting Alford some reps in the nickel role Monday was planned. "It was really important," Quinn said. "It was one of things I was looking forward to today's practice. He's such a competitor inside. He's a real good tackler. So, I think he's got nickel ability. We've tried Phillip in there as well. So, there's a number of guys we're going to roll through. It's another skill that you can add to the team. Rob has that, too."

  • Outside linebacker Brooks Reedreturned to practice, as promised, off a groin injury but only participated in individual drills. Reed said the injury does not require surgery, so his return was a positive step toward a full recovery. Reed missed the first preseason game against Tennessee, as did Devin Hester(ankle/toe) and Cliff Matthews(ankle), both of whom practiced but were limited Monday.

  • The same first-team offensive line that started the preseason game against the Titans -- Jake Matthews, James Stone, Joe Hawley, Chris Chester and Ryan Schraeder -- continued to work together Monday. Quinn singled out Chester for his play in the first exhibition.

  • The music playlist at practice included Michael Jackson ("Wanna Be Startin' Something"), Jay-Z and Kanye West ("In Paris") and DJ Snake/Lil Jon ("Turn Down For What").

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Falcons safety Ricardo Allen getting up to speed thanks to film study with wife

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

It's not uncommon for Atlanta Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen to be lectured about his play while eating dinner. In fact, it's the norm.

This is not a reference to nightly sessions inside the training camp dining hall alongside veteran teammates. This has nothing do with lessons learned from defensive pass coordinator Raheem Morris or secondary coach Marquand Manuel, either.

The person most likely to critique Allen's footwork or tackling technique after-hours is the same person who dissects film with him regularly; the same person who quizzes him about formations drawn up on a grease board: his wife, Grace.

"It was a new extreme getting the white boards, but it's pretty much like a date night," Grace said. "And we'd be like, 'All right, let's have some dinner and we're sitting down at the table, so let's study some film.'"

Ricardo Allen, the second-year, once-cut player who continues to make a seamless transition from cornerback to safety, became an avid student of the game during his sophomore year at Purdue. He would pluck clips of Charles Woodson off YouTube and meticulously dissect them. Now, he's ramped up his study habits in preparation for an unexpected starting role in coach Dan Quinn's defense.

As the Falcons move closer to the Sept. 14 season opener against thePhiladelphia Eagles, Allen would be the first to single out Grace for aiding his preparation.

"She studies just as much," he said. "She can tell me what I do wrong before I even notice. One time I overran a play and she was like, 'The reason you overran that play is because you crossed your feet.'

"I sit on the ground and draw every formation, every coverage known to man. She'll be like, 'In this formation, who travels with the tight end?' I'll be like, 'The strong safety travels with the tight end.' Then she'll be like, 'Where's the nose tackle at?' And I'll say, 'The nose tackle is away from the tight end.' Where's the three-technique at? 'To the tight end's side.' When she's quizzing me and we're going through defenses, you just naturally learn it."

Ricardo and Grace Allen sit on a hill overlooking the field at training camp. Courtesy Grace Allen

Ricardo and Grace started dating at Purdue in 2012 and got married this past April. Grace played soccer and ran track in high school, but her passion for football evolved while watching Ricardo blossom into an NFL prospect and eventual fifth-round draft pick.

"He's always been smart," Grace said. "He's always studied. That's been his craft. But this year, it's not like we were just going to study. We were going to draw it out, too. And we were going to write everything out, and be very specific. It would be abnormal if we didn't do it."

The primary focus of their film study these days is Earl Thomas, the All-Pro free safety who thrived in the Seattle defense Quinn previously coached. Ricardo, who's 5-foot-9 inches and 187 pounds, actually went to a Colts-Seahawks game two seasons ago to get a closer look at how the 5-foot-10-inch, 202-pound Thomas plays. The trek was well before Allen found out he would be asked to play a similar role in the same defense.

"I had already watched all of his film from 2014, but I had to go back and watch 2013 and 2012, too," Ricardo said of Thomas. "He's amazing in the open field. He erases all bad plays. Anything that goes wrong, he's there. He never stops his feet. He knows how to close as much ground as possible, and he gets the shot on them and gets them down. I don't like to jinx people, but he very rarely misses tackles."

Grace noticed something, too.

"I don't really follow a lot of teams other than Ricardo and the Falcons, but (Thomas) has that dog in him," she said "I want to be careful saying this because everyone's trying to compare Ricardo to Earl, but I see a lot of that same heart. Something they always say about Ricardo is his size and he's not big enough, bad enough. And I always say to him, 'If size is what mattered, the elephant would be the king of the jungle, and he's not.'

"It's about that heart, and that's the same thing I see in Earl."

Ricardo continues to impress his teammates and coaches daily with his rapid maturation. He'll have the pressure of being the team's last line of defense, but he looks capable of covering plenty of ground.

"I train hard in practice," he said. "I make my mistakes in practice so when I get in the game, I know what's going to happen. I know what the running back is going to do when he tries to push my cushion. I know if I'm already pushing to my leverage, it's very rare that he's going to try and cut back into me because he's most likely going to try and bounce it. You've got to learn to see things before the play even happens."

Studying with Grace has made him see things that much clearer.

Damm his wife would be a valuable poster on these boards, lol

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Falcons banged up in secondary with William Moore, Desmond Trufant

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- By the time the Atlanta Falcons wrapped up Tuesday's practice, two of the four starters in the secondary were out with injuries.

Cornerback Desmond Trufant was sidelined again with a shoulder strain he suffered last week. And then during Tuesday's practice, strong safety William Moore exited the field with a strained calf and didn't return.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he didn't have an immediate update on Moore or defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, who suffered a face/neck injury in practice. Quinn did, however, sound optimistic about Trufant's return.

``Hoping that he'll be back working in individual starting in the next day or so,'' Quinn said of Trufant. ``He had a strain with it that we just had to calm it down, and now it's back where he can go and get the contact again. So, we're hoping in the next day or two to get him back.''

Trufant didn't play in the first preseason game against Tennessee, while Moore played well against the Titans in 10 snaps. Moore was limited throughout the offseason while recovering from major right shoulder surgery so the last thing he needed was another injury concern.

These bumps and bruises emphasize the need for quality depth across the board, including in the secondary. The absence of Trufant and Moore from full-team drills Tuesday means guys such as cornerback Phillip Adams and strong safetyKemal Ishmael got more extensive reps.

``It's next man up in terms of the philosophy,'' Quinn said. ``The standard doesn't change in terms of how we go. It's unfortunate Des and William weren't able to be out there today, but the opportunity for other guys to get turns, to get with the group and say, `Hey man, you can count on me, too.' I think that's the message that came across. And we totally do [count on them] with those guys.''

In other injury news, running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, as well as outside linebacker Brooks Reed, participated in a portion of 11-on-11 drills coming off their injuries. Freeman and Coleman had been sidelined with hamstring strains, while Reed suffered a groin injury early in training camp.

Quinn said the players are day to day, meaning their status for Friday's preseason game against the New York Jets remains unknown.

A few quick-hit items from the 14th practice of training camp on Tuesday:

  • Wide receiver Leonard Hankerson continues to impress with his flawless route running and ability to catch with ease. If he remains healthy, Hankerson should be a real asset for quarterback Matt Ryan.

  • Sean Renfree continued to work with the second-team offense behind Ryan, with T.J. Yates third up. Renfree and Yates have rotated at times during camp, and this week's setup likely indicates the rotation for Friday's game against the Giants.

  • Safety Sean Baker had a chance to pick off a Yates pass but dropped it. Rookie cornerback Jalen Collins also was in position for a pick down the sideline but the pass got through to Bernard Reedy, who made a nifty catch.

  • Hall of Fame pass rusher Bruce Smith was at practice again offering his expertise to the defensive line and coach Bryan Cox.

  • The music playlist included DMX (``Ruff Ryders' Anthem''), Rob Base (``It Takes Two''), and 2Pac (``All Eyez On Me'').

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Falcons tight end Levine Toilolo catching on in third season

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There was no need for Levine Toilolo to go back and dissect each one of his four drops from last season. The third-year Atlanta Falcons tight end knew what went wrong even before any coach pointed it out on film.

"I mean, little things: taking my eyes off the ball and trying to get up the field before you secure the catch," said Toilolo, who had three drops alone in a loss to the Chicago Bears. "It's simple things like that. This offseason, I tried to get back to the basics. It's really just pitch and catch out there."

Yes, Toilolo has made it look easy with an impressive training camp. Then in last Friday's 31-24 preseason win over Tennessee, he made the most of his opportunities with three catches for 36 yards. His grab down the sideline fromT.J. Yates even inspired resting starting quarterback Matt Ryan to run over and pull Toilolo from the ground in celebratory fashion.

Tight ends coach Wade Harman, who was the Falcons' assistant offensive line coach last season, notices a remarkable difference in Toilolo's play.

"I think he's got a little more confidence going," Harman said. "I know he lost some confidence last year on a couple of balls in there. I know he spent a lot of time in the offseason just working on his hands and just being confident that he can do it. I think it's him just having a little more confidence in himself and his ability."

Toilolo learned behind legend Tony Gonzalez as a rookie in 2013. Then last year as the starter in all 16 games, Toilolo's biggest claim to fame was filling in at right tackle due to a slew of injuries along the offensive line.

The Falcons obviously weren't content with what they had at tight end, which is why they signed established pass-catcher Jacob Tamme along with pass-blockerTony Moeaki. It left Toilolo as the third tight end in certain sets during practice, but it didn't mean he would be squeezed out of the tight end picture completely.

In fact, Falcons coach Dan Quinn singled out Toilolo for his blocking during one training camp practice. Then the 6-foot-8, 265-pound Toilolo started to make every catch within reach, earning notice from the coaches, players and fans alike.

"For me, it's just trying to change the mindset of just being here to compete," Toilolo said. "Every ball that's up there, you're obviously trying to make a play. I think for me, I'm just trying to relax and get back to playing football.

"The whole tight end group has done a good job of pushing one another. You see one guy make a play and it makes you want to work that much harder. When you get your opportunity, you want to make sure you take advantage of it."

Toilolo also soaked in some sound advice from Harman.

"Coach Harman does a good job of every day reminding me to play big," Toilolo said. "He says, 'You have this frame; make sure you use it. When the ball is out there, don't just concentrate on catching it, but attack it and go get it.' That's definitely helped me."

Harman believes there's a place for Toilolo in Kyle Shanahan's offense even despite the additions of Tamme and Moeaki.

"No question: You can't have enough good tight ends," Harman said. "As a tight ends coach, you love as many as you can to get out there on the field. If we can get in 13 personnel (1 back, 3 tight ends, 1 receiver) -- get all of them out there, if you can. If they're multifaceted and have that ability to do different things, and if you can get them on the field and they can run block and catch passes, they give you a lot of versatility."

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Julio Jones credits friend, teammate Roddy White for maturation

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

In a recent interview with ESPN.com, Atlanta Falcons veteran receiver Roddy White praised close friend and fellow receiver Julio Jones for elevating the mental aspect of his game over the years.

"Just for Julio to always have the right answers and to always know what to do ... sometimes, that's just saying that you're doing something different on this route because the defender was leaning this way," White said. "Julio is far from his first and second year, when they just wanted him to do one thing, and that's run deep routes and be explosive."

When told of White's comments, Jones appreciated the kind words but deflected the attention away from himself.

So what went into Jones' maturation?

"Roddy went into it," said Jones, now in his fifth season. "That's what went into it. Just talking to him early on with Roddy, he just helped me out a lot as far as being a professional, and just knowing how to practice and read defenses.

"I already know Cover 3, Cover 2, everything else. But it's a lot of times, defenses try to take you away and they do certain things that you wouldn't be ready for. And he showed me how to break stuff down like that. Moving forward, I've become a student. Now, I can kind of do it on my own. Like I said, he taught me."

Jones couldn't pinpoint one specific game or circumstance that sparked his mental growth.

"Just every year, every day, I just try to better myself," he said. "What can I do better to make it easier for me and my teammates?"

Jones, who set a franchise record with 1,593 receiving yards last season, has made it look easy throughout training camp while adjusting to lining up in different spots in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme.

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Falcons starter Ra'Shede Hageman sidelined with concussion
  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons starting defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman suffered a concussion and is out for Friday's preseason game against the New York Jets.

Hageman, last year’s second-round draft pick from Minnesota, suffered what Falcons coach Dan Quinn called a face/neck injury during Tuesday's practice. After further evaluation, it was determined that Hageman sustained a concussion.

"Hopefully, we'll get him back out here shortly," Quinn said of Hageman. "He's doing well."

Quinn said Hageman currently is undergoing the concussion protocol. That involves meeting with an independent neurologist and then a progression of exercises and baseline tests. After that, Hageman must be cleared by both a team physical and the independent neurologist. It is typically a one-week process for the mildest concussion. Hageman's helmet also must be evaluated by the equipment manager to determine if it is safe for use.

Jonathan Babineaux is likely to start in place of Hageman on Friday. The veteran Babineaux ran with the first team during Wednesday's final training camp practice.

In other injury news, Quinn said starting strong safety William Moore is day-to-day with a calf strain suffered during Tuesday's practice. Kemal Ishmael ran with the first team in place of Moore on Wednesday.

"Hopefully, we'll have him back out here soon," Quinn said of Moore.

Also, running back Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman continued their rehabilitation from hamstring strains, but their availability for Friday's game remains in doubt. Quinn said he wants to measure their levels of soreness during the next day to see if they are ready for full action. Both players received limited 11-on-11 reps Wednesday.

Outside linebacker Brooks Reed falls under the same guidelines as Freeman and Coleman as he continues his recovery from a groin injury. Reed saw his most extensive reps Wednesday, but the team practiced in shorts.

Starting cornerback Desmond Trufant remains sidelined with a shoulder strain but said he's "good," and running back Antone Smith sat out his third consecutive day coming off a hamstring injury. Offensive lineman Peter Konzmissed practice while being evaluated for knee soreness. He suffered an ACL tear last season.

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Joe Hawley won't let knee soreness deter his season plans

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons center Joe Hawley knew before training camp started his surgically repaired right knee wouldn't be back to full strength anytime soon.

With camp now complete, Hawley stopped short of saying his knee feels closer to normal. He went through a full day of work Wednesday during a pad-less practice.

"Yes, it's sore," Hawley said. "It hurts every day coming out. It's structurally stable; strong. It's more of the fatigue I get in the atrophy I had in trying to build the muscle up. So, just trying to get in the weight room and continue to strengthen it. I'm doing like leg press and different rehab stuff. Just keeping the muscle strong is the important thing.

"The knee is stable itself. It's just kind of nicks and pains here and there. It's something I'm going to have to deal with the whole year, probably."

Hawley tore the anterior crucial ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) in the knee last September at Minnesota. He had surgery Oct. 9 of last year, then was limited during the offseason. Hawley didn't participate much in 11-on-11 drills at the start of camp. Then he gradually saw his workload increase, although the coaches also increased center reps for Mike Person as added insurance.

James Stone, who started at center in place of Hawley last season, emerged as the best option at left guard over Person.

Now, the Falcons head into their second preseason game against the New York Jets Friday with a first-team line of tackle Jake Matthews, left guard Stone, right guard Chris Chester, and right tackle Ryan Schraeder, and Hawley. This appears to be the group set to start the Sept. 14 season opener against Philadelphia. The only question mark might be if Hawley's knee can hold up through an entire game.

"Oh yeah it can," Hawley said. "Like I said, it's not structural. It's just a fatigue thing. It's staying on top of it; making sure it doesn't get too swollen. Has it gotten swollen? Not really."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn was asked if Hawley's knee is something the coaches will monitor.

"Not necessarily monitor for us," Quinn said. "We have monitored all of the guys. But with Joe, the strength is there. For him to continue to battle, I think that's part of the rehab process of him getting back. We're anxious for him to keep developing and keeping pushing with that confident like, 'OK, I've got it.' "

Hawley, even if not 100 percent, will be a key figure for the Falcons as they adjust to an outside zone blocking scheme. Former Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice often praised Hawley for having the athleticism to get out and pull from the center spot. Such good movement and lateral quickness are essential in the new scheme as the Falcons look to establish the running game.

A few quick-hit items from the 15th and final practice of training camp on Wednesday:

  • Quinn singled out second-year outside linebacker Tyler Starr, who made some nice tackles in last Friday's preseason opener against Tennessee and also had an interception near the end of Wednesday's practice. "We're training him at Sam and also some at Leo," Quinn said. "We're trying to look at him as the nickel pass-rusher. We like the length. We like the strength that he's playing with. So, yeah, he's in there battling for it." Starr entered this season coming off major shoulder surgery.

  • Robert Alford got a little more work at nickel back with Phillip Adams andJalen Collins playing outside at cornerback. Quinn loves the versatility Alford has and still likes Alford outside opposite Desmond Trufant. (Trufant remained sidelined with a shoulder strain.)

  • Although they've had very strong camps, both wide receiver Leonard Hankerson and tight end Levine Toilolo had noticeable drops Wednesday.

  • The music playlist included Run DMC ("It's Tricky") and Fetty Wap ("Trap Queen").

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Leonard Hankerson rises, Jalen Collins falls during camp

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- In general, Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn was pleased with his first training camp, which concluded Wednesday.

Before camp even began, Quinn said he wouldn't have any joint training camp practices with other teams, as the Falcons did last year and in the past. It appears they won't be happening in the immediate future, either -- which might be a positive, considering all the fights at joint practices league-wide.

"That's out of my mind right now," Quinn said. "I like the way that we've worked against each other, so I don't feel that we've lost a competitive edge anywhere to say, 'Well we're really going to have to bring it out on somebody else.' I felt like the guys battled and went for it against one another."

Of course, players such as Matt Ryan and Julio Jones looked spectacular in camp. And rookie first-round draft pick Vic Beasley was as good as advertised. But there were others who stood out -- and those who didn't.

Here are five players we picked who helped their status, and five we think hurt their standing:

FIVE ON THE RISE:

Leonard Hankerson, WR He was signed as a free agent primarily because of his familiarity with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme from Washington. Hankerson made plays that make you wonder why he wasn't more productive with the Redskins. Then again, he had a serious knee injury in 2013 that stunted his growth. If Hankerson continues to shine on Sundays like he did in practice, then the Falcons might be unstoppable in the passing game.

Adrian Clayborn, DE: The 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers first-round pick can revive his career in Atlanta. Based on his camp showing, Clayborn is on his way up. He rushed from the right edge and the interior and showed jaw-dropping speed and explosiveness. Anyone familiar with Clayborn's visits with former Falcon and pass rush guru Chuck Smith understands how serious he is about being an impact performer.

Ricardo Allen, FS: The once-cut, ex-practice squad cornerback is one of the feel-good stories of camp. He made the transition to safety look easy and has earned a chance to start next to likely strong safetyWilliam Moore. Allen has the range, athleticism and intelligence to be effective as the Falcons' last line of defense, even if his 5-foot-9, 186-pound frame says otherwise.

James Stone, LG: Stone spent the offseason and the start of camp filling in at center as Joe Hawley continued to work back from knee surgery. Then the coaches saw something they liked when Stone was moved to guard. Stone and veteran Chris Chester at right guard helped the whole line function better in the new outside zone blocking scheme. Plus, Stone's versatility in playing center makes him that much more valuable.

Allen Bradford, LB: Quinn, formerly the Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator, obviously felt a level of comfort with a player who previously played in his defense. Bradford, who was converted from running back to linebacker with the Seahawks, showed up in camp with his speed and nose for the football. He's got an edge to him, and the Falcons needed more nastiness on defense. Bradford can bring it, even if in a reserve and special teams role.

FIVE TAKING A FALL:

Jalen Collins, CB: The rookie second-round draft pick from LSU was expected to immediately challenge Robert Alford for a starting role outside at corner. Instead, Collins struggled with his technique and discipline, making him a daily punching bag for Jones and other receivers. In all fairness, Collins' growth was stunted by pre-draft foot surgery. He's going to make rookie mistakes, but Collins has to start showing signs of the promise the Falcons saw in him.

Jon Asamoah, RG: Asamoah was the one starter to lose his job during camp when he was demoted in favor of Chester. He doesn't have the foot quickness or build to thrive in the zone blocking scheme, but Asamoah still has value for a team needing offensive line depth. The one aspect the Falcons might miss is Asamoah as a pass protector and another big body in short-yardage situations.

Dezmen Southward, CB: The 2014 third-round draft pick is on the outside of the roster bubble after making the switch from free safety. Injuries haven't helped Southward's cause. First, he had offseason wrist surgery. Then he had a knee scope. Even if the knee still bothered him during camp, Southward needed to show something. He didn't.

Peter Konz, G/C: Konz started 25 games his first two seasons. Now, the 2012 second-round draft pick might be out of a job. He is another player who needed to make progress coming off a serious injury after last year's ACL tear. Instead of turning to Konz behind Hawley when Stone switched to guard, the Falcons gave tackle/guard Mike Person reps at center. Then Konz doesn't even practice the last day of camp because of knee soreness. He brings no value.

Kroy Biermann, OLB: Biermann has been the target of much criticism. He had an opportunity to flash with newcomer Brooks Reed sidelined most of camp by a groin injury. However, Biermann didn't show much while working with the first-team defense. The jury is still out on whether he'll be an asset or liability. The next three preseason games should provide an answer.

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Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman will be game-time decisions vs. Jets

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said the status of running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will be a game-time decision before Friday night's preseason game against the New York Jets.

Freeman and Coleman continue to work their way back from hamstring strains. They had limited participation in full-team drills upon returning to practice this week. During Thursday's light practice/walkthrough, Freeman and Coleman watched as undrafted rookie Terron Ward took the bulk of the first-team reps during 11-on-11 drills.

"We're going to take them all the way up through that tomorrow," Quinn said of Freeman and Coleman. "They both participated some today, then we'll kind of take them through tomorrow. I like where they're at."

Quinn said strong safety William Moore, defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman and offensive lineman Peter Konz are out for Friday's game. Moore suffered a calf strain in practice this week and wore a sleeve on his left leg to protect the injury. Hageman is going through the concussion protocol. Konz experienced some left knee soreness likely related to the ACL tear he suffered last season.

Although Quinn didn't officially rule out cornerback Desmond Trufant and running back Antone Smith, both seem unlikely to play after sitting out all week. Trufant has a shoulder strain and missed the exhibition opener against Tennessee. Smith suffered a hamstring injury on a 1-yard touchdown run vs. the Titans.

Trufant said he'll be just fine for the start of the regular season.

Outside linebacker Brooks Reed continued to get increased reps Thursday in his return from a groin injury. His status for the game remains unclear.

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Jacob Tamme: Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan have similarities, differences

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

Tight end Jacob Tamme caught 154 passes from Peyton Manning through seven seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos. He has yet to catch a pass from Atlanta Falcons teammate Matt Ryan in a live game.

Regardless, Tamme's extensive work with Ryan this offseason and throughout training camp has given him a sense of what to expect from his quarterback this season.

What's the biggest adjustment in catching passes from Ryan as opposed to Manning?

New Falcon Jacob Tamme sees plenty of similarities between his former QB, Peyton Manning, and Matt Ryan. Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini

"The difference is just in the way the offense operates," Tamme said. "With Peyton, a lot of times, he's diagnosing a lot of things at once, and he might hold on to it for an extra second to throw it somewhere that maybe it's not supposed to go, on paper.

"With Matt, he's a tactician in the same way, but our offense is calibrated a little bit differently. So, there's a little bit more timing; a little bit more play-action game that wasn't necessarily a part when I was around Peyton."

Manning's Colts and Broncos used more 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers), with Manning often checking at the line of scrimmage. Ryan, in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's offense, will use 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two receivers) and 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) with an emphasis on the run and play-action.

"They both have a lot of similarities; all the things that you want in a quarterback and all the things I love playing with in a quarterback -- the way that they lead in the huddle, in the meeting, on the practice field,'' Tamme said. "It's been fun for me to see that being around Matt for the first time. You could tell quickly he had a lot of the same qualities as Peyton.''

We all know about Manning screaming Omaha as part of his pre-snap routine, and Ryan appeared to shout out his own version of the same during training camp. So, which quarterback is louder, particularly in the huddle?

"Equal loudness," said Tamme, who got his first live action with Ryan during last week's preseason opener. "With Matt, I can't wait to get out there that first time when we're down by three and need to make a drive to win the game because Matt's already done that a bunch, and I'm looking forward to getting a chance to be a part of that with him.

"With Peyton, it was the same way. You feel confident when those situations come up. When those situations come up, you feel like, 'Hey, let's go.' It will be the same with Matt as it's ever been with Peyton, for me.''

By the way, Manning has an NFL-record 51 game-winning drives in 17 NFL seasons, the most by any quarterback since the merger (1970), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Ryan has 26 game-winning drives, the most by any quarterback since he entered the league in 2008.

Lastly, Tamme talked about Manning's deep ball as opposed to Ryan's. Obviously, the 39-year-old Manning doesn't have the same arm strength he used to, particularly after multiple neck surgeries. By contrast, the 30-year Ryan has plenty of firepower left in his right arm, as he showed throughout training camp with some incredibly accurate long balls.

"Matt does a great job throwing the deep ball,'' Tamme said. "Peyton ... what season is this for him? It's up there. So, I would say if you had a throwing distance competition now, Matt probably wins.

"Look, they can both throw it deep. They can both throw it on the money deep, which is what really matters. You can throw it as far as you want incomplete.''

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Robert Alford willing to play any role in Atlanta Falcons' defense

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Keep an eye on Robert Alford Friday night.

Since the Atlanta Falcons' starters are expected to play more against the New York Jets, Alford could see some snaps in the nickel role rather than just outside at cornerback. It's the alignment coach Dan Quinn has utilized this week, allowing Phillip Adams and rookie Jalen Collins to work outside with starterDesmond Trufant sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Although Alford entered the preseason intent on proving he belongs outside at cornerback opposite Trufant, he has no issues kicking inside to cover slot receivers.

"It's something that I always did in college," Alford said. "When Coach (Quinn) and them came to me about starting outside and then moving to nickel this week, I was cool with it. That's more experience that I get instead of just playing outside. I want to show that I'm versatile. This is my chance this week."

That being said, Quinn made it clear how pleased he has been with Alford's performance outside. Many figured Alford might get pushed into a nickel role anyhow after the drafting of the 6-foot-1-inch, 203-pound Collins, a player with the ideal length and speed to be the type of press corner Quinn desires in his scheme. However, Collins' ongoing struggles indicate he might be far from ready to assume a starting role.

The 5-foot-10-inch, 186-pound Alford isn't too concerned about any competition.

"The first thing I said when they came to me about (nickel), I told them I still want my chance to be starting outside," Alford said. "Of course, I'll move inside whenever they need me to and do that, too."

Alford plays bigger than his size, with a physical style capable of disrupting big receivers. He just needs to play with more discipline and avoid penalties, something he has worked diligently on this offseason and preseason thanks to officials being at practice.

Whether his stint at nickel this week is a cameo or a sign of things to come, Alford needs to be effective against the variety of receivers he and his fellow defensive backs will see throughout the season. Tampa Bay has arguably the most dangerous tandem in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Then with New Orleans, there is Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks. And early in the season, the Falcons have to contend with Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz of the New York Giants.

The biggest obstacle for the Falcons' secondary right now is getting Trufant and strong safety William Moore (calf) back healthy.

"Des, he's going to be back," Alford said. "He's doing good. Every day I speak to him, he says he's getting better and better. We'll have him back before the first game; hopefully next week."

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Matt Ryan's many options in Falcons' pass game should be on display

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

The Atlanta Falcons continue preseason play at 7:30 p.m. ET Friday vs. the New York Jets at Metlife Stadium. Here are a couple of things to watch for during the game:

Why watch: The Falcons are likely to be without top running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman as they continue to work their way back from hamstring injuries. That means keep an eye on the passing game again afterMatt Ryan and Julio Jones worked to perfection in one series of action last week. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said the starters should get more snaps, so let's see if Ryan gets a chance to spread the ball around to guys such as tight end Jacob Tamme, who was not targeted last week, and savvy veteran Roddy White, who looked fresher in training camp than he did during minicamp. We might also get a glimpse of how Ryan plans to utilize impressive rookie receiver Justin Hardy. Defensively, keep an eye on the rush combinations of Vic Beasley and Adrian Clayborn working in unison on the right side and the possibility of Beasley teaming with O'Brien Schofield on the left side.

Did you know: Falcons radio host Dave Archer holds the franchise high for passing yards against the Jets in a regular-season game. He threw for 350 yards back in 1986. The Jets won that game, 28-14, at Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium.

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Ryan, Falcons starters sharp early in 30-22 loss to Jets

  • Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons' starting offense are already clicking.

They just need the rest of their teammates to catch up before the regular season begins.

Ryan was sharp for the second straight preseason game, leading Atlanta to touchdowns in both of his series before the New York Jets came back to beat the Falcons 30-22 on Friday night.

"He's really feeling it, in terms of his familiarity of the offense, where he has the ownership of it," coach Dan Quinn said.

Ryan finished with a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating while going 4 of 5 for 75 yards, including a 60-yard completion to fullback Collin Mooney, and a 2-yard touchdown toss to Leonard Hankerson. Rookie Terron Ward also had a 4-yard touchdown run for the Falcons (1-1) who carved up the Jets' touted starting defense.

"The first drive was jump-started by the explosive play by Collin Mooney," Ryan said. "When you get going and you want to start fast, those plays help a lot. Then we did a great job of finding a way to punch it in in the red zone."

Ryan was 6 of 6 with a TD pass to Julio Jones in his one series with the starters last week against Tennessee.

Meanwhile, Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets' starters sputtered until facing Falcons backups midway through the second quarter. New York (1-1) was sparked by the defense on a safety by first-round pick Leonard Williams; the former USC star has 1 1-2 sacks.

"He made two big plays," coach Todd Bowles said, "and kind of turned it around for everybody."

Chris Ivory followed less than two minutes later with a 33-yard TD run, and Fitzpatrick found Brandon Marshall for a 2-point conversion that cut New York's deficit to 14-10.

Observations from the game:

FITZ FITTING IN

Fitzpatrick, who played just one series last week, finished 13 of 19 for 118 yards before being replaced by Bryce Petty late in the first half.

"There's definitely some room to grow after that performance," Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick is starting with Geno Smith out six to 10 weeks with a broken jaw after being punched last week by then-teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali.

STARTING FAST

Mooney took a short pass from Ryan on the Falcons' second play from scrimmage and outran linebacker Quinton Coples for a 60-yard gain that put the ball at the Jets 23. After Darrelle Revis was called for defensive holding, Ward ran it in from 4 yards to make it 7-0.

The Jets went three-and-out on their next possession, and Devin Hesterreturned Ryan Quigley's punt 59 yards to the New York 4. Three plays later, Ryan found a wide-open Hankerson for a 2-yard score.

YELLOW FLAGS

The Jets were called for 10 penalties in the first half, and finished with 17. The Falcons were penalized just six times.

BACKUP QBS

T.J. Yates was 8 of 15 for 78 yards and an interception, while Sean Renfree was 10 of 14 for 94 yards as the two rotated throughout in the competition to back up Ryan. Yates also converted a 2-point conversion on a pass to Levine Toilolo early in the fourth quarter after Michael Ford's 1-yard TD run.

Petty finished 12 of 19 for 168 yards, including a 13-yard TD pass to DeVier Posey late in the third quarter that put the Jets up 23-14.

OFFENSIVE DEFENSE

Jamari Lattimore had a 37-yard interception return that set up Nick Folk's 29-yard field goal that put the Jets up 16-14 with 3 seconds left in the half. Rontez Miles scooped up a fumble on a botched handoff by Renfree and returned it 57 yards for a score in the third quarter.

INJURY UPDATE

Falcons: WR Roddy White was scratched before the game with an elbow injury that is not believed to be serious. LB Derek Akunne left with an injured foot, while RB Evan Royster had an injury to his midsection.

Jets: WR Jeremy Kerley, S Durell Eskridge and RB Daryl Richardson all suffered concussions. CB Dashaun Phillips injured a rib. WR Shaq Evans has a sprained back, while T Ben Ijalana left with a knee injury.

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Rookie Vic Beasley, Devin Hester help jump-start Falcons against Jets

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

The Atlanta Falcons' second preseason game, on the road against the New York Jets, featured some big plays on both sides of the ball in a 30-22 loss.

The first-team offense, led by quarterback Matt Ryan, marched 85 yards on six plays on the first possession, capped by rookie Terron Ward's 4-yard touchdown run. Then after Devin Hester's show-stopping, 59-yard punt return, Ryan capitalized with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson.

"The first drive was jump-started by the explosive play by Collin Mooney," Ryan said, referring to a 60-yard catch-and-run by his fullback. "When you get going and you want to start fast, those plays help a lot. Then we did a great job of finding a way to punch it in, in the red zone. On the second drive, the credit goes to Devin [Hester] and the punt return team for setting us up down there. We got the ball on the 3 or 4-yard line, whatever it was, three plays and we were able to punch it in."

On defense, the Falcons forced five consecutive punts by the Jets, spearheaded by the pass-rush efforts of rookie Vic Beasley and Adrian Clayborn. It's only preseason, but there's reason to be optimistic about the flashes the Falcons have shown thus far.

QB depth chart: The battle for the backup spot behind Ryan continues to be up in the air. T.J. Yates came in after Ryan, but Yates proceeded to rotate series with Sean Renfree. Yates had a poor throw that led to an interception, and he was sacked for a safety as a result of poor blocking. He then responded with a long drive later. Renfree didn't do anything spectacular. Yates finished 8-of-15 for 78 yards; Renfree 10-of-14 for 94 yards. So, the battle will continue, unless the Falcons decide to sign a veteran.

Maybe that dude can start: Mooney, the fullback, made a strong case to get the nod over incumbent Patrick DiMarco. Off play-action by Ryan, Mooney rolled out of the backfield and broke loose on that 60-yard play. It helped set up a 4-yard touchdown run for Ward, an undrafted rookie, and Mooney even helped clear the path for Ward with a decent block. Not to mention Mooney ran down and made a crushing tackle on special teams, which certainly opened the eyes of the coaches.

Who got hurt? Well, the Falcons didn't lose any of their first-teamers during the game, but it was a little surprising to see veteran wide receiver Roddy Whitemiss the game with what the team called an elbow injury. White practiced during the week and didn't seem to have any issues, although his reps were limited. The initial word was the injury wasn't anything serious. White, who entered training camp nursing an ailing left knee, likely would prefer to rest now and preserve himself for the regular season. Undrafted rookie linebacker Derek Akunne exited the game with a foot injury in the second half, and running backEvan Royster got shaken up late in the game. The Falcons played without running backs Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman and Antone Smith, who continue to recover from hamstring strains. Also out were cornerback Desmond Trufant (shoulder), strong safety William Moore (calf), defensive tackleRa'Shede Hageman (concussion) and offensive lineman Peter Konz (knee).

A surprise player who looks amazing: Maybe it's not a surprise anymore, but Hankerson continues to make you wonder why he wasn't more of a threat when he was a member of the Washington Redskins. Hankerson ran a nice crossing route on a 2-yard touchdown reception. Hankerson had three catches for 15 yards in limited duty. He makes catches look routine in practice. And Hankerson said the devastating left-knee injury he suffered two seasons ago is no longer an issue.

Rookie watch: As mentioned, Beasley looked amazing with his pass-rush skills, including a devastating spin move and a powerful bull rush. He tipped at least one pass as he continued to rush from both sides. Defensive lineman Grady Jarrett saw some time at right defensive end as well as rushing from the interior. Cornerback Jalen Collins continued to have his struggles in coverage and had another learning moment while contending against one of the league's most talented receivers in Brandon Marshall. Receiver Justin Hardy had an up-and-down night.

When it was starters vs. starters, the Falcons looked ... Dominant. Ryan engineering two scoring drives, and the Falcons have outscored opponents 31-0 in the first quarter through two preseason games. Then, the first-team defense flew all over the field and shut out the Jets with a swarming effort. The defense didn't start to struggle until the backups and third-teamers entered the game and began to miss tackles and blow assignments. Then again, those second- and third-tier players were going against the Jets' starters initially.

One reason to freak out: The offensive line had some shaky moments, as a whole. The starters weren't bad but there were some mistakes here and there. And centerJoe Hawley picked up a penalty on a late shove. But if anything happens to starting tackles Jake Matthews orRyan Schraeder, Tyler Polumbusdefinitely won't be the answer with the way he struggled Friday. So, the Falcons better consider dishing out a little more money to get Jake Long, if Long's knees are healthy.

Greatest of all time: Hester, who had been bothered by turf toe and missed the first preseason game, showed he still has it at the age of 32 with that 59-yard return. He enters his 10th NFL season as the NFL's all-time record holder with 20 career return scores. He looks destined to add to that total this season.

Communication issues: On the safety the Falcons gave up, guard James Stone and tight end Jacob Tamme had poor communication that led to rookie phenom Leonard Williams taking Yates down for the sack. Such happens when guys are not used to working together.

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Falcons show pass-rush potential behind Vic Beasley, Adrian Clayborn

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

The Atlanta Falcons may have finally discovered their pass rush.

A team that has ranked 25th or lower in sacks per pass play the last five seasons suddenly looks more than capable of applying intense pressure. The flashes shown by rookie Vic Beasley and veteran Adrian Clayborn on the right side of the line in Friday's 30-22 preseason loss to the New York Jets gave coach Dan Quinn plenty of reason to be optimistic.

"It was good to see Vic play fast," Quinn said in his postgame radio interview with Dave Archer. "It was good to see him and Adrian -- they're getting their timing and their chemistry together over on that right side."

The first-team defense played well as a whole, helping to force the Jets into five consecutive punts to start the game. First and foremost, the Falcons were able to stop the run. Then guys such as Paul Worrilow, Justin Durant and Kemal Ishmael made plays in the back seven.

But when it came to third down, Beasley and Clayborn pinned their ears back and got after it. On a third-and-9 play during the Jets' first drive, Beasley pushed back three-time Pro Bowl left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson while Clayborn made a quick swim move past guard James Carpenter to move quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick off his spot. Fitzpatrick ran a couple of yards but was taken down by Worrilow and Durant to force a punt.

Later, on a third-and-14 play set up by Jonathan Babineaux's tackle of running back Chris Ivory for a 4-yard loss, Clayborn sacked Fitzpatrick, thanks in large part to Beasley's bull rush of Ferguson that essentially knocked Ferguson into Fitzpatrick. Clayborn just cleaned up the mess.

And finally, Clayborn and Beasley teamed up on a stunt that resulted in Beasley rushing up the middle and tipping a Fitzpatrick pass incomplete on third-and-6, forcing another punt.

Beasley showed the full arsenal all night, rushing from both sides and even giving folks a taste of a devastating spin move.

Quinn's 4-3 attacking scheme has the Falcons playing a lot freer and faster, but the added speed of Beasley, Clayborn and O'Brien Schofield obviously has elevated the level of play. Schofield himself nearly got a sack while pressuring Fitzpatrick.

The pass rush group of Beasley, Clayborn, Babineaux and Schofield looked dominant. Babineaux saw more snaps with Ra'Shede Hageman sidelined with a concussion.

"We wanted to come out and play our style of football," Babineaux said. "Unfortunately, our first unit, we didn’t go out there and get the ball back -- our type and style of football -- but we got after them. We got to the ball and tried to harass the quarterback a few times in the backfield and tried to make some plays."

The Falcons finished with three sacks and four quarterback hits. Stansly Maponga got a sack for the second consecutive game as he looks to earn a roster spot.

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Falcons 22 vs.Jets 30 final score: Atlanta starters put the pedal to the floor, backups slam on the brakes

By Dave Choate @TheFalcoholic on Aug 21, 2015, 10:54p 109

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Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

It was a good game for what mattered, and a lousy game for the remaining three quarters.

Look, it's preseason. We shouldn't get excited about this team just yet, but after watching the starters absolutely annihilate the opposition in two straight games, I can't really help it.

You have to ignore three full quarters of football to feel good about this game, which is tough no matter what time of year it is. Nonetheless, we saw the Falcons' starters take care of business against a Jets team that boasts a truly strong defense, which is about as encouraging a sign as you'll get in preseason.

The starters were uniformly excellent, with the defense shutting down an inept Jets offense, and the Atlanta offense just burning an impressive collection of talent. When we turned to the backups, things got truly ugly, which is why this team's fortunes in 2015 are so dependent on health. This is a team that simply can't afford to take major hits across the board in the health department, so we'll simply have to hope they do not.

Here's a few observations.

  • The passing offense is almost unfair. Leonard Hankerson did nice work in relatively tight spaces, Collin Mooney looks like a bulldozer, and Ryan looks comfortable and confident behind his offensive line.
  • The backup quarterback battle is far from settled. T.J. Yates made a couple of nice passes, but also threw a pick. Renfree couldn't get things going, but looked accurate when he was able to throw passes. This one will likely come down to the third preseason game.
  • Nobody has done more for their chances of making the roster than Nick Williams, Stansly Maponga, and Collin Mooney. All three played well last night, and all three loom as potential favorites for those last spots
  • Remember, it's preseason. If injuries strike you're going to have to worry about this football team, but if they stay relatively healthy, the result of this one matters very little. Considering the Falcons were without Hageman, Trufant, Freeman, Coleman, Antone Smith, and William Moore, this went quite well.
  • TWO POINT CONVERSION TO LEVINE TOILOLO.
  • Injury continues to strike. The Falcons potentially lost Derek Akunne and RB Evan Royster tonight, leaving them perilously thin at running back for yet another week.
Next week sees the Falcons squaring off against the Dolphins. Join us all week for more coverage, and check back tomorrow morning for recaps, takeaways and more from Falcons-Jets.

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Falcons WR Leonard Hankerson not caught up in preseason hype

Sterling Xie

ESPN.com

He was the talk of Atlanta Falcons' training camp, yet Leonard Hankerson would rather not even talk about it.

The fifth-year receiver doesn't walk around thinking he's accomplished anything because he really hasn't. Any whispers of Hankerson being the X-factor for the Falcons this season is meaningless to him right now.

I mean, my job is to just go out there and do whatever I can, whatever is possible, to help the team out, Hankerson said. Whether its making a block, whether its special teams, whether its catching the ball or whether its coaching up young guys, I feel like I can bring a lot to the team. Whatever Im called upon to do, thats what Ill do.

If Hankerson can consistently play in the same fashion has has during the offseason and preseason, his number could be called often. He looks like a legitimate option behind Julio Jones. And Hankerson's role could become even more important if the swollen elbow that veteran Roddy White started experiencing the last few days turns into a significant issue.

The 6-foot-2, 211-pound Hankerson gave the NFL world a glimpse of what has been going on at Falcons headquarters when he scored on 2-yard touchdown reception from Matt Ryan in Friday's 30-22 preseason loss to the New York Jets. Hankerson had three catches for 15 yards while running the same offensive system he grew accustomed to in Washington under Kyle Shanahan, now his coordinator again in Atlanta.

Ryan seems extremely comfortable targeting Hankerson.

I think Hank is doing an awesome job, Ryan told Falcons radio analyst Dave Archer during a postgame interview. He's a guy that shows up every day. He works extremely hard. He's a quieter guy, but he's intense. I've been really pleased with what he's brought to our team.

Hankerson's familiarity with the scheme has made his transition seamless. His size and speed is an asset, and he's shown a willingness to catch the ball over the middle and absorb contact. He looked nearly flawless throughout training camp.

I feel like I had good one, Hankerson said of camp. Its probably been my best so far. But there are still things I can go out and get better on whether its my route-running. I feel like my job is to catch the ball. I think I probably had one drop, maybe. You always want to come out perfect, but it happens. But I feel like I had a good one. I went out and I did what I wanted to get done. I competed. And thats all I can do.

Moving forward, health is the biggest concern tied to Hankerson. He suffered anterior cruciate ligament and lateral collateral ligament tears in his left knee back in 2013 that limited him to 11 games in the last two seasons. Hankerson said there is no lingering pain in the knee.

But watching Carolina top receiver Kelvin Benjamin go down with a season-ending ACL tear only reinforced to Hankerson how quickly things can turn for the worse.

Thats a tough situation, Hankerson said of Benjamin. The NFL, it's like a band of brothers. You want everybody to come out healthy. Unfortunately, its a tough sport. When something like that happens, you hate to see it. At the same time, youve got to have each and everybody protecting each other. But its just the nature of the game.

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Roddy White to have elbow surgery, but expected to play Week 1

2h - NFL RODDY WHITE +2 more

Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

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Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White will have minor surgery on his right elbow Monday but will not miss the Sept. 14 season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Dan Quinn said Sunday.

Roddy White will have surgery on his right elbow but is expected to be ready for Week 1. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

"He'll certainly be back for Week 1," Quinn said.

White has been experiencing swelling due to loose particles in his elbow. The injury flared up following Thursday's light practice. He did not play in Friday night's 30-22 preseason loss to the New York Jets.

Quinn said he believes White's surgery will be arthroscopic. An arthroscopic debridement is the normal procedure associated with White's type of injury. Such a procedure typically involves a maximum four-week recovery period.

With White sidelined, preseason standout Leonard Hankerson emerges as the No. 2 receiver behind Julio Jones going into Saturday's preseason game against the Miami Dolphins -- the game during which the starters see the most extensive action. Hankerson scored a 2-yard touchdown against the Jets and has consistently caught the ball throughout training camp. He played under Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan when both were with the Washington Redskins.

"I mean, my job is to just go out there and do whatever I can, whatever is possible, to help the team out," Hankerson said. "Whether it's making a block, whether it's special teams, whether it's catching the ball or whether it's coaching up young guys, I feel like I can bring a lot to the team. Whatever I'm called upon to do, that's what I'll do."

The 33-year-old White previously expressed a desire to play in all 16 games this season after missing two games last year with hamstring and ankle injuries. White had his left knee drained before minicamp in June, a procedure he expects to repeat midseason.

White is the franchise record holder with 10,357 receiving yards on 765 career receptions, with 62 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl four consecutive seasons from 2008 to '11.

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