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Falcons In-Season News

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Matt Ryan on Ndamukong Suh: 'You know that he's a special player'

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan couldn't quantify just how much the starters will play in Saturday's preseason game atMiami, but he knows the first-team offense will get quite a test againstNdamukong Suh and the Dolphins' defensive front, no matter how many offensive snaps are played.

"He's not the only one," Ryan said of Suh. "Cameron Wake's a great player. They've got a lot of talent on that defense. I think it's a great opportunity for us.

"Obviously I've played against Ndamukong Suh a number of times in my career. You know that he's a special player. He's tough to go against. You've got to know where he's at. He's one of those guys in this league that you have to account for where he's at. So it will be a good test for us. And hopefully we'll be prepared and ready to go."

The Falcons faced Suh, formerly with the Detroit Lions, during a gut-wrenching 22-21 loss to the Lions in London last season. In that game, Suh had just three tackles without a sack or quarterback hit. But back in 2012, Suh hit Ryan four times and teamed with Lawrence Jackson for a sack, although the Falcons won the game 31-18.

The Falcons' first-team offensive line protected Ryan well in last week's preseason game against the New York Jets. This week, Suh should put right guard Chris Chester and center Joe Hawley to the test, while right tackle Ryan Schraeder will have his hands full against Wake.

Ryan has not been sacked through two preseason games, completing 10 of 11 passes for 161 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 158.3. The Falcons have outscored their two opponents -- the Jets and Tennessee Titans -- 31-0 in the first quarter.

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Falcons rookie Vic Beasley knows he doesn't have it all figured out yet

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Vic Beasley gets it.

Rather than be content with his strong showing in last week's preseason loss to the New York Jets, the Atlanta Falcons rookie used the game as a learning tool for improving his pass rush.

Yes, Beasley looked dominant rushing in unison with Adrian Clayborn on the right side. And yes, Beasley's jaw-dropping spin move against Jets tackleD'Brickashaw Ferguson conjured up memories of Dwight Freeney. However, Beasley was far from satisfied with his showing.

"I think I improved from the first game, but I've still got a lot of work to do," Beasley said. "I'm trying to do my best to become the best asset for this team."

Vic Beasley has been able to consistently pressure opposing QBs in his first two preseason games. AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Specifically, Beasley took to heart sound advice from his head coach and pass-rush guru Dan Quinn

"Just finishing at the top of my rushes," Beasley said. "I'm there, but I've just got to work on getting off the tackles, getting off the blocks. I had a couple of good ones, but there were ones that I needed to work off the tackle.

"I need that [critique]. I mean, Coach Quinn is there for me. I'm very appreciative of that because he's going to get me better."

The Falcons no doubt find it refreshing when a player as ultra-talented as Beasley views a solid performance as nothing special. Although he has yet to record a sack through two preseason games, Beasley is affecting opposing quarterbacks with his exceptional speed and powerful pushes.

Against the Jets, he made the three-time Pro Bowler Ferguson look like the rookie, at times. The spin move left Ferguson standing in his tracks and forced an incomplete, third-down pass by Ryan Fitzpatrick. Beasley also bull rushed Ferguson basically right up into Fitzpatrick's face.

"It felt pretty good, going against another talented player," Beasley said of Ferguson. "I mean [Falcons left tackle] Jake Matthews is obviously one of the talented players around here. Going against him every day is preparing me for the top talent around the league."

Beasley did have one of those off moments he referred to on a third-and-4 play when he rushed from the left side, got close to Fitzpatrick, but couldn't fight off the block from right tackle Breno Giacomini, who was feisty with Beasley several times. Had Beasley kept going strong, he might have drawn a holding penalty. Instead, teammate Robert Alford was flagged for defensive holding.

No one expects Beasley to get to the quarterback on every play, but he certainly understands he'll be held to a higher standard as a first-round draft pick. That's why he set the bar high immediately by declaring his goal to reach double-digit sacks this season.

When asked which play so far in the preseason represented his best pass rush, it wasn't a surprise to hear Beasley deflect the attention from himself.

"We had a sack by A.C.," Beasley said, referring to Clayborn. "I think we all worked together on that play. So, I think that was our best rush so far."

The soft-spoken Beasley, who flashes a boyish smile behind his braces, doesn't appear to be caught up in the glitz and glamour of the NFL. He just wants to play ball.

"I'm just humble, man," Beasley said. "I'm just blessed to be in the position I'm in. That's just my personality."

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Julio Jones talks about being 'Trick Montalban' for Madden release clip

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

It's pretty well known by now that Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones was one of the featured characters in a trailer for the new "Madden NFL 16" video. You can see the clip below:

Jones appears as "Trick Montalban," with his high-top fade and old-school overalls. The usually quiet Jones even drops a few lines, so it isn't just a cameo. He spent two days in Los Angeles for the shoot, which also included Rob "Half Top" Gronkowski of the Patriots, Antonio "Sticky Bun" Brown of the Steelers, coach Rex "Little Pepper" Ryan of the Bills, and Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers as Al Pacino.

"Gronk, Kaepernick, Antonio Brown, all those guys are great guys," Jones said. "We had a good time working with Dave Franco and Christopher Mintz. Those guys did a phenomenal job with us. They're real actors. We just kind of connect a little bit."

So how did the crew come up with Jones' character name?

"I don't know," he said. "It doesn't matter to me. I was just getting into the character. I could have been 'Beetlejuice.' I was just trying to get into the character and play the role."

As EA Sports explained, Trick Montalban is a play off the late Ricardo Montalban, a popular Mexican actor who was best known for his role as Mr. Roarke on the series, "Fantasy Island." EA Sports changed "Rick" to "Trick" to create Jones' character.

"Madden NFL 16" was released on Tuesday. Jones was given a 94 overall rating and 97 spectacular catch rating. He is the highest-rated overall player on the Falcons.

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Falcons coach Dan Quinn says rookie Tevin Coleman set for debut

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said rookie running back Tevin Coleman is expected to play in the third preseason game at Miami on Saturday coming off a hamstring injury.

Coleman suffered the injury during the first week of training camp while running a route. He missed the first two preseason games while nursing the injury, as did Devonta Freeman, who was nursing a hamstring strain of his own.

Coleman and Freeman are battling for the starting job.

"At this point, it looks like Tevin is a little closer than Devonta, just from the week of practice," Quinn said following Thursday's practice. "I'm anxious for (Coleman) to get in. And I know he's anxious."

Quinn went on to say only a last-minute setback would keep Coleman from playing.

"I'm anticipating him being ready to rock," Quinn said.

Receiver Roddy White (elbow surgery), strong safety William Moore (shoulder), running back Antone Smith (hamstring), and linebacker Derek Akunne (foot) all were ruled out for the Dolphins after not practicing all week. Quinn also said cornerback Desmond Trufant is out with a shoulder injury despite practicing. Defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman's status is unclear coming off a concussion, but Hageman practiced again Thursday after being cleared to start the week.

Quinn previously announced that newly signed quarterback Rex Grossman will not play against Miami after officially joining the team Wednesday. Grossman, who got in extra work following practice, plans to play in the final preseason game next Thurday against Baltimore.

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Real deal: Dan Quinn's positive attitude a plus for energized Falcons

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

Arthur Blank can feel the vibe, and it's all positive.

Whenever the Atlanta Falcons owner catches a glimpse of practice these days, Blank notices how the players feed off head coach Dan Quinn's energy. Blank sees a coach willing to accept mistakes as long as the effort is clearly evident. Such a philosophy has created a winning attitude for a team that has bottomed out the past two seasons with a combined 10-22 record.

"I think you get the most out of people -- whether it be an athlete or in business -- when they are not shackled by nerves and by fear of making mistakes," Blank said. "It doesn't mean they won't make mistakes. But I think they can be the best they can be, whatever that may be, if they feel free to make their plays, to use their athletic abilities, and to use their intellect.

"I think (Quinn) understands that. And I think we will get the most out of each individual player. And then the coaches will continue to coach the players up in areas where they have opportunities to get better."

This is not to say Quinn's approach is unique. It's just much appreciated, considering the negativity swirling around the team in recent years.

One returning player, who asked to remain anonymous, spoke about the dramatic difference in atmosphere compared to last season.

"Coach Quinn shows so much confidence in you from the get-go," the player said. "He comes up to you the first few practices and instills confidence in you; just motivates you in the right way. I never had a coach like Coach Quinn. He's awesome. And these are younger coaches who want to develop you.

"Last year with the coaching staff, it was like, 'You don't know what you're doing. You're an idiot. Get the **** out.' Now, you can play more free. You can play with confidence. You don't have to worry about making mistakes and going around walking around on egg shells."

In all fairness, tension was felt throughout the entire team last season with jobs on the line and losses mounting. Blank eventually fired head coach Mike Smith, and the majority of Smith's staff was not retained. However, two of the coaches known for their verbal assaults -- defensive line coach Bryan Cox and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong -- remain on staff and are well-respected, regardless of how many expletives they use. And holdover Terry Robiskie, the wide receivers coach, isn't someone to mess with, either.

That's not to say Quinn takes a carefree, G-rated approach to coaching. He's not afraid to raise his voice, when needed. It's just not a daily habit.

"I think like ripping a guy by fear, it can be a good emergency brake, " Quinn said. "But I think if you use it every single day, I think that's hard."

Quinn was asked if he's chewed any players out since taking over his first head-coaching gig.

"Yes, that's part of why the music is loud," Quinn said playfully. "I certainly do. I think you have to know when to grab a guy's attention. Our whole focus it to see how good you can get. As we get to know the players -- who needs more pushing and who needs an arm around them -- that's our responsibility as coaches to get to know the guys so well, that we can push this guy and take him as far as he can possibly go.

"Some guys need more constant nudging and pushing along, where other guys, a look or not can do it. It really depends on the player."

So far, everything has been well played by Quinn and his staff.

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Experience, knowledge of scheme give Rex Grossman edge for backup role

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

Rex Grossman wants to be a coach someday, but now isn’t the right time.

Had Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn or offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan reached out to Grossman back in the winter about an entry-level role on the staff, Grossman definitely would have listened. But the competitive side of the 35-year-old veteran quarterback figured he had a couple more playing years left in him after starting his career with the Chicago Bears in 2003.

Now Grossman finds himself back on a roster after the Falcons signed him to a one-year deal. The plan is for him to fill the unsettled backup role behind starterMatt Ryan, with T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree not playing up to par so far this preseason. The Falcons didn’t bring in a player with Grossman’s experience to be the third quarterback.

Rex Grossman's familiarity with Kyle Shanahan's offense from their days together in Washington and Cleveland should help him secure the backup spot. AP Photo/Nick Wass

That experience, particularly in Shanahan’s offense with the Redskins and Browns, should give Grossman a decisive edge over Yates and Renfree, right?

"That’s not for me to say,’’ Grossman said. "I don’t know.’’

The Falcons know they can’t go into the regular season without some type of stability behind Ryan, just in case the unexpected happens. Grossman won’t play in Saturday’s exhibition at Miami. That means Yates and Renfree will have a shot to improve their standing before likely battling Grossman in the preseason finale next Thursday against Baltimore -- if Yates and Renfree both survive the first roster cuts from 90 to 75 next Tuesday.

Quinn talked about what he wants to see from Yates and Renfree this weekend.

"Specifically from T.J., we would like to see the accuracy improve and the decision-making,’’ Quinn said. "And then for Sean, I would say just more time in the offense; more urgency at the line of scrimmage.’’

Renfree handled his late-game situation well in the Falcons’ preseason opener against Tennessee. He’s still viewed more as a third quarterback.

As for Yates, he knows he can no longer fall back on having a playoff win to his credit from his Houston days. He has to elevate his game immediately.

Quinn said he is undecided about keeping two or three quarterbacks, but the chances of Grossman and Yates being on the roster together are slim to none. Yates signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million, while Grossman also signed a one-year deal worth just about $1 million. Renfree, who still has practice-squad eligibility, has a base salary of $585,000 this season.

Grossman’s value extends beyond the way he can "spin it,’’ as Julio Jones said after watching the quarterback throw. Grossman’s knowledge of the offense can be an asset to younger teammates who still are trying to figure it out.

"If I were to be here, I would be maybe a (pair of) veteran eyes coming off the field, if you don’t want to talk to the coaches," Grossman said. "It would be, from my vantage point, I saw this. But only if (Ryan) asks me. I’m not going to be Mr. Coach or Mr. Backup Quarterback with all the answers. It’s somewhere in between there.

"We’re going into the third preseason game. I’ve been here a day. They’ve worked their ***** off to get to this point. But if I were here, I could definitely add a lot of knowledge -- if asked.’’

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The Legion of Whom? Dan Quinn Tries to Find an Identity for Atlanta’s Nondescript Defense

From the Fearsome Foursome and Purple People Eaters to the Steel Curtain and Orange Crush, historically great NFL defenses earn some great nicknames. With two consecutive Super Bowl appearances under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Seattle’s secondary certainly deserves its “Legion of Boom” moniker. But with Quinn now the Falcons head coach, he’s tasked with fixing an anonymous defense. Let’s call it the “Legion of Whom?”

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Quinn has left the boldest defense in the league to fix the blandest. Despite DeAngelo Hall’s best efforts, Atlanta hasn’t had a flamboyant defensive superstar since Deion Sanders was high-stepping it in one of those garish red helmets. Instead, the team’s star players have all been lunch-pail types like Jessie Tuggle, Keith Brooking, and John Abraham, but even those have recently been in short supply. When the Falcons defense has been statistically solid, it has still offered almost no defining features.1

Last season, Atlanta simply couldn’t touch the quarterback, finishing with only 22 sacks — a total equaled by Kansas City’s Justin Houston. While the franchise has landed in the bottom quarter of the NFL for sacks per dropback in each of the past six seasons, a strong Matt Ryan–led passing attack helped the Falcons overcome that weakness en route to three playoff appearances. Over the past two seasons, though, a total defensive collapse (no. 29 in defensive DVOA in 2013 and last in 2014) led to consecutive losing records and head coach Mike Smith’s dismissal.

In his place comes Quinn, who faces an intriguing challenge: Can he smoothly overlay the Seahawks’ scheme onto the Falcons’ roster, turning unheralded players into stars? Or are the likes of Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, and Michael Bennett the real reason Seattle has been so stingy? Atlanta fans certainly hope the former is true, and there is some historical precedent in their favor. Consider the Buccaneers of the late 1990s, who already had early-round draft picks Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch on the roster when head coach Tony Dungy and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin arrived. Those talented players didn’t become a league-wrecking force, however, until Dungy introduced what we now know as the Tampa 2, the zone-based defense he concocted while making three playoff appearances as Minnesota’s defensive coordinator.2

Even if Quinn doesn’t have the same level of defensive talent he did in Seattle, there are pieces to work with in Atlanta: underappreciated cornerback Desmond Trufant, who plays like Superman but blends into the NFL landscape like Clark Kent; speedy rookie defensive end Vic Beasley, the build-your-own-pass-rush kit selected no. 8 overall; young prospects like defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman and cornerbacks Jalen Collins and Robert Alford; and free-agent veterans like defensive linemen Adrian Clayborn and O’Brien Schofield, who were imported specifically to fill roles in the new scheme.

Schofield spent the last two seasons as a backup with the Seahawks, and it’s not uncommon for coaches to recruit their former players (see: Kelly, Chip) in hopes that familiarity with a system will hasten improvement.3 But that alone is no guarantee of repeating Seattle’s success. When Gus Bradley, Quinn’s predecessor in Seattle, became the head coach of the Jaguars in 2013, he brought along former Seahawks defensive linemen Chris Clemons and Red Bryant. Jacksonville still finished 2-14 and 3-13 with a below-average defensive DVOA in Bradley’s first two seasons.

Atlanta could face similar stagnation if it doesn’t improve its weakest defensive units. At linebacker, the Falcons might simply be playing a shell game with replacement-level players, pushing aside Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon for Brooks Reed and Justin Durant. The team’s safeties are suspect, and one very conspicuous absence is Pete Carroll, the cornerback whisperer who has created a dominant secondary in Seattle without spending high draft picks outside of Thomas.

vic-beasley-falcons.jpg?w=1024&h=576DANIEL SHIREY/GETTY IMAGES

In Quinn’s favor, however, is a revitalized defensive line that can serve as the foundation for the straightforward and aggressive 4-3 defense he’s installed.4 That isn’t just a preseason platitude; not having complex plays allows defenders to play instinctively. In last season’s two-gap system, defensive linemen had to engage the offensive line before reacting to which way the play was going. The current one-gap system allows them to immediately charge toward the ball in hopes of creating big plays.5

With Quinn’s simplified system, the most distinctive role is the Leo, an undersize defensive end/linebacker hybrid who rushes from the weak side, and it looks like Atlanta nabbed a good one in the draft. Nobody, not even a dominant college player, is a sure thing when transitioning to the NFL,6 but Beasley boasts both on-field production (33 career sacks at Clemson) and impressive combine measurables. Even more importantly, he has looked the part in preseason action.

Although the final scores of preseason games are meaningless, there is value in observing what happens when both starting lineups are on the field. Atlanta has been able to create pressure with four-man rushes, a sight for sore eyes after years of watching patty-cake up front. And while it’s hard to decide whether to assign credit to a revived Falcons defense or blame to quarterback Marcus Mariota, the no. 2 overall pick playing in his first NFL game, it can’t be bad for Atlanta that the defense recorded an interception and fumble on Tennessee’s first two possessions. Against the Jets, the Falcons continued the onslaught, allowing only one touchdown in six drives across from veteran signal-caller Ryan Fitzpatrick.

In Quinn’s system, there are essentially two defensive lines used for different situations. The beefy front (for Atlanta, this includes Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson, last season’s free-agent acquisitions) tries to stop the run on first and second down while the Leo attacks the quarterback in what is essentially a 3-4 alignment. Success in those situations creates long third downs, letting four agile pass-rushers take the field in the nickel package — the exact type of lineup Seattle used to flummox Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII.

It’s the passer-pressuring iteration of the defensive line that has produced optimism about the Falcons’ chances this season, especially if Beasley and Clayborn continue to line up next to each other and go for broke. Against the Jets, Beasley caused havoc on third downs by (1) planting his hand into offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s chest and bull-rushing his way to Fitzpatrick, who stepped into a Clayborn sack; (2) using an inside spin move against Ferguson, knocking down Fitzpatrick after forcing him to rush an incomplete pass; and (3) knocking down a pass after executing a perfect looping stunt with Clayborn.

Although Beasley is the sexy addition to the lineup, don’t discount the arrival of Clayborn, who missed almost two full seasons with the Buccaneers because of injuries but looks to still have the explosiveness that made him a first-round draft pick in 2011. There is also promise of a breakout from Hageman, last year’s second-round pick, who played minimally in his rookie season; he has pass-rushing ability from the inside and is expected to start at the 3-technique, ahead of veteran Jonathan Babineaux.

With Todd Bowles and Jim Tomsula dealing with mutinies and exoduses this offseason, Quinn might have the easiest route to the playoffs for a first-time head coach. Let’s not forget: Even though the Falcons finished 6-10 last season, they were playing for the NFC South title in Week 17. They still have weapons on offense — consistent Matt Ryan, elite Julio Jones, and promising young running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman — and could return to the postseason with even a modicum of defensive improvement. For that to happen, Quinn won’t rely on the kind of shutdown secondary he had in Seattle. If Beasley & Co. can meet their potential and forge Atlanta’s new identity in the trenches, his defense will be getting plenty of boom up front.

Jason Bailey (@_jasonbailey_) is a Grantland copy editor

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Falcons reward Julio Jones for approach, high level of play

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

Julio Jones had the right approach all along and was rewarded for it Saturday.

Instead of pouting or acting defiant about his unresolved contract situation, theAtlanta Falcons two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver went about his business. Jones never skipped a day of offseason workouts. He never took a rep off during minicamp. And he reported to training camp just as early as some of the undrafted rookies.

Oh, and Jones is arguably the most dangerous deep threat in the league, which is why Falcons owner Arthur Blank made the franchise’s best player a much richer man with a five-year contract extension. ESPN Insider Chris Mortensen said the deal is worth $71.25 million, $47.5 million guaranteed. The guaranteed money tops the likes of The Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson, Dallas Cowboys' Dez Bryantand Denver Broncos' Demaryius Thomas, who recently signed five-year extension.

Maybe now Jones can go buy that Mercedes-Benz Blank urged him to consider.

Jones, 26, was in the driver’s seat all along. He knew the Falcons weren’t going to let him reach free agency next season.

Even if he had to play out the final year of his contract, worth $10.176 million, Jones figured Blank and the Falcons would satisfy his demand for a new deal soon enough. Not to mention Jones has a savvy agent in Jimmy Sexton, a guy Blank constantly referred to through the last two weeks as a person with which the organization had a great relationship.

Maybe the only concern separating Jones from a lucrative, long-term deal was the right foot fracture he suffered during the 2013 season that limited him to five games. Jones answered any doubt about his health with a franchise-record 1,593 receiving yards last season on a career-high 104 catches. No wonder general manager Thomas Dimitroff spoke up this offseason and said he had no concerns about Jones’ foot moving forward.

Now all Jones has to do now is go out and perform like a big-money player. He will be showcased plenty in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, with Shanahan moving Jones around to different receiver spots. Jones, who scored six touchdowns last season, is likely to be more of a red zone threat with the way he’ll be utilized this year.

Teammate Roddy White lobbied all along for Jones to be the highest-paid receiver in the league. Although Jones didn’t surpass Calvin Johnson’s $16.2 million per year, he certainly got paid.

"I’m a happy man," White said Saturday about his close friend.

The Falcons are even happier to have Jones in the fold for foreseeable future.

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Tannehill throws for 145 yards, Dolphins beat Falcons 13-9

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Ryan Tannehill threw for 145 yards in less than a half despite working behind a makeshift offensive line, and the Miami Dolphins beat the Atlanta Falcons 13-9 in an exhibition game Saturday night.

While Tannehill wasn't touched, counterpart Matt Ryan was sacked three times in four series.

Miami center Mike Pouncey departed in the first half because of a knee injury and is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Sunday. His departure left the Dolphins (1-2) with only two starting offensive linemen at their regular positions.

Tannehill, who played six series, went 15 for 19 with one score before leaving shortly before halftime with Miami leading 7-3. His touchdown pass covered 2 yards to Rishard Matthews.

Throwing mostly short, Tannehill is 33 for 41 during the exhibition season for 303 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

"Guys are getting open and making plays for me down the field," Tannehill said. "I'm making good decisions and getting the ball in the right spot. There are plays I don't do perfectly, but I feel like we're going in the right direction, and we have to build on what we've done."

The Falcons (1-2) ran 15 plays against Miami's first-team defense, netting 33 yards passing and minus-1 rushing. Ryan had a perfect 158.3 passer rating in each of the first two games, but against Miami he settled for 3 for 7 for 49 yards, including a 28-yard completion to Leonard Hankerson.

BACKUP QBS

Falcons: T.J. Yates, battling for the backup job behind Ryan, went 18 for 28 for 187 yards.

Dolphins: Miami played three centers in the first half, including Pouncey, and got Tannehill out of the game just in time. Replacement Matt Moore was shaken up and lost a fumble when he was sacked by O'Brien Schofield, who beat starting right tackle Ja'Wuan James.

ATLANTA RECEIVERS

Free agent Nick Williams, bidding to claim a spot on the Falcons' 53-man roster, led them with four catches for 43 yards. Teammate Julio Jones sat out shortly after the announcement of his $71.25 million, five-year contract extension.

INJURIES:

Dolphins: Kick returner LaMike James departed with a chest injury, and reserve cornerback Zack Bowman left with a thigh injury.

Falcons: Backup tight end Tony Moeaki was sidelined with a thigh injury, and backup tackle Tyler Polumbus hurt his knee.

MIXED RESULTS FOR SPECIAL TEAMS

Falcons: Williams and Devin Hester collided when both tried to catch a kickoff in the second quarter. The ball squirted away, but a teammate recovered.

Matt Bryant went 3 for 3, kicking a 50-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, also making 43- and 39-yarders.

Dolphins: John Denney, who has seniority on the roster entering his 11th season with Miami, short-hopped a snap to backup punter Matt Darr, who was tackled by the Falcons.

Andrew Franks, challenging incumbent Caleb Sturgis for the kicking job, went 2 for 2, from 32 and 51 yards.

RUNNING BACKS

Falcons: Tevin Coleman, who started after missing the first two games with a hamstring injury, carried four times for 2 yards.

QUOTABLE

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin on the way his team pressured Ryan: "They got after the quarterback real well. He had a hard time setting his feet and throwing the ball and looking downfield."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said his defense showed improvement, but his offense was "a little bit inconsistent in terms of protection and the run game. We got into some negative situations in terms of down and distance."

UPGRADED STADIUM

The game was the first since a two-year renovation project began at the Dolphins' stadium. Two escalators were not working, there were problems with credit card machines, and the press box elevator was shut down. But team president Tom Garfinkel said glitches were expected, and he declared the opening a success.

Fans fled their seats when rain fell in the first quarter, and they'll welcome the canopy that will be erected early next year to cover most of the stands.

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Falcons' Leonard Hankerson catches on while Jerome Smith drops ball

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

Here are some highs and lows in terms of individual performances from theAtlanta Falcons' 13-9 loss Saturday to the Miami Dolphins:

HIGHS

Paul Worrilow: The middle linebacker continued his impressive preseason by flying all over the field and getting his hands on balls in pass defense. He ran across the field on a third-and-1 play to drop Lamar Miller for a 1-yard loss. Worrilow was credited with a team-high six tackles in limited work.

O'Brien Schofield: Signed for his speed off the edge, Schofield came blazing off the edge and forced a fumble by Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore that was recovered by fellow Falcon Adrian Clayborn. The defensive front continues to do positive things.

Leonard Hankerson: He's still making plays look routine as he caught three passes for a team-high 50 yards, including a play of 28 yards. If Roddy White(elbow surgery) is not back for the season opener, Hankerson appears to be a more than capable replacement.

LOWS

James Stone: The projected starting left guard took a significant step back in both his pass protection and run blocking. Stone struggled miserably against Dolphins defensive tackle Earl Mitchell.

Robert Alford: He's played well most of the offseason and is sure to be an impact player this season, but Alford no doubt would like to take back giving up a 2-yard touchdown reception to Rishard Matthews, who used his body to shield off Alford.

Jerome Smith: It was a questionable call at the end of the game, but the running back was given a fumble that sealed victory for the Dolphins. You never want to see that happen with roster cuts around the corner. And Smith already had a fumble in another preseason game.

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Falcons can't let Matt Ryan enter season running for life

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

A few thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons 13-9 loss to the Miami Dolphins:

What it means: The Falcons struggled to keep Matt Ryan upright in the passing game and also struggled to open holes in short-yardage run situations, which means the offensive line still has significant strides to make. The starters faced a tough task against Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake and the Dolphins' defensive front, but that's shouldn't be an excuse for guys being thrown around like rag dolls. The effort has to be better going into the regular season or else the Falcons better go find some offensive line help. Ryan can't be running for his life.

Play of the game: Arthur Blank going up to Julio Jones pregame and hugging his wide receiver after Jones was rewarded with a five-year extension reportedly worth $71.25 million, with $47.5 million. The moment was well played.

Stat of note: The Falcons surrendered four sacks total in the first half, with Ryan being sacked three times and T.J. Yates taking the other sack. Ryan hadn't been sacked in the first two preseason games. Yates got sacked two more times while playing the entire second half. Sean Renfree and Rex Grossman did not play.

Injuries of note: Coach Dan Quinn said Devonta Freeman was close to making his comeback from a hamstring strain, but Freeman sat out the game, meaning he's unlikely to play at all this preseason. But the obvious goal here is to have Freeman at full strength for the Sept. 14 season opener against Philadelphia. During the game, backup tackle Tyler Polumbus went down with knee injury. The Falcons already are short at the position with Lamar Holmes recovering from a broken foot. Maybe it's time to give veteran Jake Long another call, if Long's knees are healthy.

What’s next: The final preseason game is next Thursday at the Georgia Dome against the Baltimore Ravens. It will be the final chance for some players to state their cases for remaining on the 53-man roster. The 90-man roster has to be sliced to 75 by Tuesday, then the second cuts to 53 have to made by next Saturday.

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Slick run earns Tevin Coleman Falcons' game ball

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

On a night during which the Atlanta Falcons' offense struggled to get going in a 13-9 loss to the Miami Dolphins, at least one of the young players got a chance to flash his playmaking potential.

Rookie running back Tevin Coleman, making his debut after missing the first two games with a hamstring strain, didn't see much action. But Coleman did deliver one jaw-dropping moment when he took a first-quarter handoff fromMatt Ryan, got stopped for what appeared to be a loss, but did a spin off the defender and kept his balance to turn it into a 6-yard gain.

Again, it was just a flash, but it was a nice welcome-to-the-NFL moment for Coleman, who finished with four carries for a net of 2 yards after being dropped for a couple losses. He could have more highlight moments as he battles Devonta Freeman for the starting job.

In terms of making plays throughout the game, middle linebacker Paul Worrilowdeserves the Falcons' game ball for his overall performance, which included a team-high six tackles.

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Falcons have to fix offensive line issues quickly

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

Six sacks. Eight quarterback hits. Countless quarterback hurries.

Saturday night looked more like the Atlanta Falcons of the previous two seasons with how miserably the offensive line struggled. Starting quarterback Matt Ryanwas sacked three times in four series of work, while backup T.J. Yates was sacked another three times in the Falcons' 13-9 preseason loss to the Miami Dolphins.

Sure, the Dolphins' starting defensive front might be one of the best in the league, led by game-changing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. But that's no excuse for being manhandled the way the Falcons were at Sun Life Stadium.

"No doubt we had some (issues) tonight," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said after the game. "Again, I'll go to the other side and give (the Dolphins) some credit with the way they played tonight, too. I think that's the number one thing: "Let's go back and take a look at it and go back and see all the areas that we can improve, and that's going to be the sole focus heading into practice on Monday."

The offensive line woes went beyond just pass protection. Once again, the Falcons failed to get the running game going, even with rookie Tevin Coleman in the lineup for the first time this preseason following a hamstring strain. The Falcons managed just 50 yards on 24 carries, and the Dolphins had 10 tackles for loss in the game.

"From the offensive side, I thought we were a little bit inconsistent in terms of protection and in the run game," Quinn said. "We had some first downs to get going to extend some and then a penalty threw us back one time. A tackle for a loss threw us back one time where we got into some negative situations in terms of down distances."

Left tackle Jake Matthews, left guard James Stone, center Mike Person, right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Ryan Schraeder made up the starting offensive line for the Falcons. Joe Hawley, who started the first two preseason games, mysteriously came off the bench as Person got the nod. Hawley continues to experience soreness in his right knee, which he had surgically repaired following last year's ACL and MCL tears, but Hawley indicated he would be ready to fight through the pain.

The Falcons obviously missed Hawley's presence and will miss him more if he's not capable of enduring a full regular-season game due to knee concerns. He brings a toughness that was missing Saturday. And his great quickness and lateral movement should be an asset in the new outside zone blocking scheme.

That being said, the problems are much bigger than just one person. Stone, who emerged at left guard and essentially sent Jon Asamoah to the bench, struggled miserably against Dolphins defensive tackle Earl Mitchell. More often than not, Stone got pushed back throughout the game. And Chester, who actually stepped into his familiar right guard spot following Asamoah's demotion, had his own issues against Suh. Plus Schraeder got overpowered at times.

"That's one of those things when we are going up against a very good defense up front, pass protection is a premium," said Ryan, who completed 3 of 7 passes for 49 yards after being nearly flawless the first two preseason games. "We did not do a good enough job with that early on, but that's the way that it goes sometimes in games. You are going to have slow spots and you have to keep battling. That's what Dan Quinn talks about all the time -- we have to finish."

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Falcons trim roster to 76; put Lamar Holmes on PUP

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

The Atlanta Falcons sliced their roster from 90 to 76 on Sunday by cutting 13 players and placing tackle Lamar Holmes on the physically unable to perform list.

The Falcons released tight end Mickey Shuler and waived the following players: linebacker Boris Anyama, wide receiver Marquez Clark, running back Michael Ford, wide receiver John Harris, defensive tackle Warren Herring, nose tackleDerrick Hopkins, offensive tackle Matt Huffer, cornerback Michael Lee, offensive guard Eric Lefeld, linebacker Terrell Manning, defensive end Sam Meredith, and center Valerian Ume-Ezeoke.

None of the cuts were much of a surprise, although Clark showed some flashes at the receiver position.

The Falcons have to trim one more player off the roster by Tuesday at 4 p.m (ET) to reach the 75-man limit.

As for Holmes, he remains sidelined with the broken right foot suffered during minicamp. Holmes was demoted during minicamp and appeared in jeopardy of being cut prior to the injury. With the Falcons slim at right tackle and Tyler Polumbus suffering a knee injury during Saturday's preseason game at Miami, Holmes might have a better chance to stick once he gets healthy. He's still not viewed as a good fit in the outside zone blocking scheme that relies on linemen with good footwork and lateral quickness.

The Falcons have to set their 53-man roster by 4 p.m. ET Saturday.

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Devin Hester glad he can be on same page with Matt Ryan

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

Despite the offensive woes the Atlanta Falcons experienced during Saturday’s 13-9 preseason loss at Miami, one positive was the chemistry between Matt Ryanand Devin Hester on two pass plays totaling 21 yards.

Hester, who entered the preseason unsure of his role in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, looked comfortable running his routes while using his elusiveness to gain extra yards after one of the catches. Such cohesion with Ryan has been brewing throughout practice. Several times this preseason, Ryan has pulled Hester aside for extended conversations about why there was miscommunication on a given route. Even during Saturday’s game, Ryan was animated pre-snap in making sure Hester was lined up correctly on a play that resulted in an 8-yard completion from Ryan to Hester.

Hester, who is adjusting to playing all the receiver spots rather than just the slot, recalled one of those practice scenarios with Ryan.

"We did like a down, out and up type deal,’’ Hester explained, "and in the past when we ran the out, if the corner played over the top, he’d back-shoulder it to me. And so I was expecting him to back-shoulder it, and he threw it deep. And he said, 'You were right on that one, but the next time it comes up, if that guy’s playing over the top of you, let’s back-shoulder it.’ Four plays later, that came up, and we back-shouldered it and made a good play on it.

"It’s just little small things that come with practice and timing. You get all your kinks and knots out in practice. That was one of those instances where we did something in previous years. We just had to get back on the same page.’’

The manner in which the dialogue between Ryan and Hester transpired is important to note. Hester realizes he doesn't run every route perfectly. When he does make a mistake, at least he knows Ryan’s approach to correcting the matter won’t be condescending.

Such wasn’t the case during Hester’s time alongside Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in Chicago. The main reason why Hester asked not to play offense during his final year with the Bears was because of his strained relationship with Cutler.

"If we weren’t on the same page, Jay just didn’t say anything to me,’’ Hester said. "He just wouldn’t (throw) to me. That’s just how he was.

"With Matt, if he sees something that he feels needs to be changed, he’ll come to you and say, 'Hey man, what do you think about doing it this way? It will give us a clearer look, and I’ll be able to get the ball to you.’"

Leadership is a quality Ryan displays on a daily basis despite not being overly vocal. Falcons coach Dan Quinn, in his first year, has gotten a better feel for that quality in Ryan this preseason, including observing those exchanges with Hester.

"Matt has that kind of respect because we all see the amount of time that he puts into it, and I think as a teammate, you get a lot of regard and respect for those guys,’’ Quinn said. "Say, 'Look how hard this guy’s going for it in terms of preparation, the energy he brings, the detail that he goes with it.’ I respect those both ways, from the quarterback to the receivers.’’

Hester, the most accomplished kickoff returner in league history, certainly appreciates having Ryan as his quarterback, regardless of how many offensive snaps or targets he gets come game day.

"He’s just an all-around quarterback,’’ Hester said of Ryan. "He goes through his progressions. He makes the right reads. He doesn’t care who’s out there, he just expects guys to make plays. Whoever the defense gives the opportunity to make the play, that’s who he goes with.’’

And the Falcons know Hester is capable of making plays with the ball in his hands.

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Matt Ryan: 'It's important for me to win games'

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

Kyle Shanahan had RG III [Robert Griffin III] in Washington andJohnny Manziel in Cleveland. Does your being more of a pocket passer clash with what Shanahan likes to do offensively?

Matt Ryan: I think Kyle has kind of been a chameleon. Kind of everywhere he’s gone, he’s had different guys to play with him. And I think he’s shown that he’ll kind of adjust to whatever personnel they have. I think it’s been great. He’s really, really bright. He’s really, really smart [and] has great ideas. He’s open to kind of trying to do some things that I like, and I think the combination of the two has been really good.

Q: You made the Pro Bowl last season as a replacement for Tom Brady. How close are you to joining that elite group of QBs?

Ryan: It’s important for me to win games. At the end of the day, that’s what we’ve got to do.

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Matt Ryan gets thumbs-up but needs line help

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

A quick observation of quarterback Matt Ryan and how he has played in preparation for the season opener on Sept. 14 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Ryan kicked off the preseason on fire through the first two games. He was 6-for-6 for 86 yards and a touchdown in the preseason opener against Tennessee, then went 4-for-5 for 75 yards and a touchdown against the New York Jets as the Falcons' first-team offense outscored the Titans and Jets 31-0 in those first quarters combined.

Ryan has shown how well he has picked up Kyle Shanahan's offense with the bootlegs and all that goes with it. Shanahan and head coach Dan Quinn have constantly talked about how impressed they've been with Ryan's athleticism, but Shanahan was even more impressed with how good Ryan is with his eyes.

But as good as Ryan was in the first two preseason games, he took a step back in the third preseason game against the Miami Dolphins. Ryan, who played early into the second quarter, was under duress as the offensive line failed. He was sacked three times in 17 snaps. Ryan finished the game completing 3 of 7 passes for 49 yards. Although the line faltered, Ryan missed some throws he usually would make regardless of pressure.

There's no doubt Ryan has command of the new offense. And he has the perfect fallback plan if all else fails with the ability to throw to a dynamic receiver inJulio Jones. But in order for Ryan to play at a high level, he has to remain upright. The game against the Dolphins and their dominant defensive front is something the Falcons can't afford to repeat in the regular season -- starting with the Eagles in Week 1.

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Jake Matthews not at practice; William Moore returns

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Left tackle Jake Matthews was not on the field Monday for Atlanta Falcons' practice while nursing a strained back, while strong safety William Moore was back in action coming off a calf injury.

Matthews' status is unclear. He slowly worked his way back into the lineup this offseason after having January Lisfranc ligament surgery in his left foot.

Tyler Polumbus lined up at left tackle in place of Matthews.

Also not suiting up for practice were wide receiver/return specialist Devin Hester, linebackers Justin Durant and Brooks Reed, running back Antone Smith, tight end Tony Moeaki, linebacker Joplo Bartu, and safety Robenson Therezie. Hester has been dealing with turf toe and Smith a hamstring strain, while Durant and Brooks were sidelined by foot and groin injuries, respectively. Both players previously missed some practice time this preseason as a result of groin injuries.

Moeaki suffered an ankle injury against the Dolphins and is not expected to practice this week.

Cornerback Desmond Trufant continued to practice coming off a shoulder injury, as did running back Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman coming off their respective hamstring strains. Linebacker Derek Akunne also practiced coming off a foot injury.

Wide receiver Roddy White was not on the field as he continues to recovery from minor elbow surgery.

Also of note, Mike Person lined up with the first team at left guard the beginning of practice, while James Stone lined up with the second team. Stone struggled in a starting role against the Dolphins.

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Falcons line still in flux; Jake Long still being considered

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

James Stone looked well on his way to securing the Atlanta Falcons' starting left guard spot. Then he got hit with a punishing combination and fell to the canvas.

Stone knows he struggled miserably against Miami Dolphins defensive tackleEarl Mitchell last Saturday night. More often than not, he found himself getting pushed back rather than moving forward. And Stone didn't need to review the tape to recognize how poorly he played.

"Just the lapses in technique," Stone said. "I felt like that's everything we've focused on and harped on. And when you don't go out there and translate to the field, those are the things that irritate you. That's why you have to get back and just continue to work at it even harder."

Stone found himself working with the second team during Monday's practice coming off the bad outing during which he contributed to Matt Ryan being sacked three times. Mike Person, who started training camp as the first-team left guard, was back in the same position ahead of Stone.

"We've been moving around all camp, so I'm not bothered or anything like that," Stone said. "Wherever they need me at, that's where I'm going. ... We're all out here grinding. Wherever you're needed, that's where you go."

The game of musical chairs between Stone and Person is symbolic of what unfolded along the line this entire preseason. Monday's first-team lineup consisted of left tackle Tyler Polumbus, left guard Person, center Joe Hawley, right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Ryan Schraeder. Left tackle Jake Matthews, the anchor of the line, was sidelined with a back injury.

With Matthews sidelined and Polumbus banging his knee against Miami, one has to wonder if it's time for the Falcons to make a move on veteran free-agent tackle Jake Long, who previously worked out for the team. Falcons coach Dan Quinn was asked if Long remains under consideration.

"Yes, somebody we still have talked about, for sure," Quinn said. "And a guy we have lots of regard for. Not a topic that we've discussed with him in that length. ... I'll wait to see where we're at in regard to the injuries before we move forward in that way in terms of future players."

The tackle situation -- provided Matthews is not out long -- seems like a minimal concern compared to the uncertainty along the interior. Hawley continues to experience soreness after having the ACL and MCL repaired in his right knee. He didn't even start the last game at Miami, with Person getting the nod at center. It appears the Falcons are preparing Person to start at center if Hawley's knee keeps him from enduring the regular-season grind. Then again, Quinn likes what he has seen from Person as a run-blocker.

"No. 1, in the run game, he can really come off the ball," Quinn said of Person. "He's got that versatility where it's center and guard, and then where are the best combinations that go with that? But we've been impressed by Mike just in terms of his ability to play both spots, the toughness in the run game."

And what about Hawley's knee?

"Honestly, this last game, it started feeling back to normal," Hawley said. "You know, I think it's just a process. I'm ready to go. It's strong; it's stable. It's just dealing with the little soreness. Hopefully, it gets better as the year goes on. I think that's what's going to happen."

And what about Jon Asamoah, who started at right guard before being demoted in favor of Chris Chester? The 6-foot-4-inch, 305-pound veteran has the size to give the Falcons what they need as a pass-protector, but Asamoah does not have the footwork or lateral quickness to excel in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's outside zone-blocking scheme. Asamoah is unlikely to regain a starting role, although he has handled it all with class.

"I play for myself, my family, and then the guys in that room," Asamoah said. "I love those guys. When guys are doing well, I just support them. And I just try to be ready."

With Chester apparently set at right guard, why hasn't Asamoah gotten a look on the left side?

"I'll do whatever they ask me to do," he said. "But I've been on the right a long time."

We'll see how the Falcons line up in the practices leading up the Sept. 14 opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. Thursday's final preseason game against theBaltimore Ravens is unlikely to reveal much, particularly if Matthews is out of the lineup and the starters are rested.

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Former Falcons third-rounder Dezmen Southward hopes not to be cut

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

Second-year Atlanta Falcons defensive back Dezmen Southward knows he's fighting for his job this week with no guarantee he'll secure a spot on the team's 53-man roster.

Southward came to the Falcons last year as a third-round draft pick out of Wisconsin. Although he recorded an interception and a sack, he had minimal impact as a rookie while playing free safety. Then he made the transition to cornerback under new coach Dan Quinn, who viewed the 6-foot-2-inch, 210-pound Southward as possessing the ideal body type and speed he desires at corner. Southward has not had a smooth transition to the new role, though, and hasn't really made any plays this preseason.

"The speed and the length that you see when we played at the end of the line, that's what I like," Quinn said of Southward. "The transition, sometimes when you see a lot at safety and you move over to corner, where I don't have to have the wide vision as much as I do, so I think the transition sometimes can be easier going from safety down the corner than vice versa, where I look at a little and then I go back into the middle and I look at a lot. In that way, we've been pleased with him at the end of the line."

Thursday's final preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens is important to Southward if he hopes to open the eyes of the coaches before the roster is set Saturday by 4 p.m. ET.

Dezmen Southward's transition to cornerback has been shaky, putting him on the roster bubble. Bill Kostroun/AP

"I don't see it as any more important than any other game," Southward said. "Every game is very important in terms of you want to go out and show what you've learned and that you can compete and play at a high level.

"I'm not going to say the transition (to cornerback) has been crazy difficult. But definitely, anytime you make a transition, it's hard. I think just getting the eyes and getting that discipline, you're looking at different things. Your keys are totally different. Your technique is totally different. And that's something that I'm trying to embrace and trying to continue to get better, and I feel like I have. But in that sense, I'm very excited about this game."

Southward hasn't been as physical as he's needed to be or made enough plays on the ball to make a strong impression. The cornerback group ahead of him includes starters Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford along with newcomerPhillip Adams, rookie second-round pick Jalen Collins, and even undrafted rookie Kevin White.

Injury issues haven't helped Southward's cause, either, as he had offseason wrist surgery and arthroscopic knee surgery in May.

"The knee hurt me a little bit," Southward said. "At the same time, it wasn't so much the knee as it was the timing of it. If it was something I could have gotten done a couple of months earlier, it would have been a totally different story. But the fact that it was so close to camp, you don't get a chance to get exactly where you want to be. It's a little setback, but everyone playing football has setbacks. It's not really an excuse or anything. It's not a crutch for me."

Being a higher draft pick puts a little added scrutiny on Southward. The Falcons already have cut ties with three of the nine members of the 2014 draft class in fourth-round pick Prince Shembo, fifth-round pick Marquis Spruill, and seventh-round pick Yawin Smallwood -- all linebackers.

Southward has a close bond with Spruill, who never recovered from tearing his ACL as a rookie.

"Marquis is a good friend of mine, but everyone has a different situation," Southward said. "I think no matter how high or how low of a draft pick you are, you can't succumb to or view it as more pressure. That's not how I see it at all. I see it as an opportunity. I see it as an opportunity to improve, to get better and fight. What are we all if we can fight through a little adversity? That's something that I'm looking forward to showing that I can do. I don't think it's going to be a big deal for me."

So if the coaches sat him down right now and asked why he belongs on the roster, how would Southward respond?

"I just think my work ethic, the way I work and the way I grind," he said. "I'm not sitting here complaining or crying about many other things that other guys would. I fight through injuries. I come to play and I prepare. And I'm continuing to get better."

We'll see how it all comes together for Southward on Thursday night as he sits on the roster bubble.

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Julio Jones should be higher than No. 20 in top 100 rankings

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

ESPN's top 100 player rankings, which involved 71 total voters in the form of ESPN analysts, Insiders, reporters, Stats and Info experts along with Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders, has Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jonesranked as the 20th best player in the league.

Here is the commentary that went with Jones' ranking:

“He’s as good as anybody if you assume he’s on the field – but you don’t assume that,” said an NFC evaluator. Jones did play in 15 games last season, and 104 catches 1,593 yards seem like a good baseline for him over the next 4-5 seasons. But he has missed at least a game in each of his first four seasons, including 11 in 2013. But the voters love him. “Big things are ahead,” said a voter. “The league’s easiest schedule and a monster contract extension.”

Personally, I disagree with such a ranking. The top 10 includes the following players, in descending order: J.J. Watt, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ndamukong Suh, Rob Gronkowski, Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, Richard Sherman, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Brown.

Jones belongs in that top 10, ahead of fellow receivers Bryant and Brown.

Jones led all receivers last year with 31 receptions of 20-plus yards. Brown had more receptions (129) than Jones (104) because he was targeted 18 more times.

Jones just got rewarded with a long-term contract extension that included $47.65 million guaranteed, the most of any of the top receivers, including Johnson. The Falcons obviously realized they have arguably the most explosive receiver right up there in the same league with Johnson.

One other receiver ranked ahead of Jones in the top 100 was Demaryius Thomasat No. 18. Jones definitely should be higher than Thomas no matter how you assess it.

Also in the top 100 was Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan at No. 69. Nine quarterbacks are ranked ahead of Ryan, which is probably fair for now as Ryan tries to take that next step and guide his team to postseason success.

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Falcons Brooks Reed (groin) could face surgery; Jake Matthews (back) still sidelined

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said left tackleJake Matthews and outside linebacker Brooks Reed have been ruled out for Thursday's final preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens because of injuries.

Reed, who has been dealing with groin and hip injuries since signing a free-agent contract with the Falcons this offseason, is supposed to get a second opinion on his latest groin injury. Quinn said the second option will determine if surgery is necessary, although the team is not ready to go that route just yet. Reed initially said he didn't need surgery.

"We certainly are concerned," Quinn said of Reed's injury. "So we're just trying to get it right in terms of him getting the strength back to feel like it's just in the right spot. ... He's got such a toughness and edge-setting pressure. We're just trying to get him where he's feeling at his best."

Reed, who last played with the Houston Texans, signed a five-year, free-agent deal that included $9 million guaranteed. If he has groin surgery, that could jeopardize his season, depending on the severity. Fellow newcomer O'Brien Schofield is listed as the backup at strongside linebacker behind Reed.

As for Matthews, Quinn addressed the back situation.

"I'm not going to go there until they tell me to," Quinn said. "We always have, 'OK, what could be down the road?' But I'm more the other way like, 'He's going to be good,' until he's not."

Quinn did not rule out any other player for Thursday night, although wide receiver Roddy White won't play and is still on the mend following arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow. White is expected to resume some type of activity next week with padding protecting the elbow.

Running back Devonta Freeman, who has yet to play in a preseason game after straining his right hamstring the first week of training camp, is unlikely to play Thursday night as well. Freeman continues to experience a little pain when he attempts to cut, although he's participated in practice this week.

Also sidelined during Tuesday's practice were wide receiver/return specialist Devin Hester (turf toe), linebacker Justin Durant (foot), tight end Tony Moeaki(ankle), and running back Antone Smith (hamstring), among others. LinebackerJoplo Bartu (quad) had a helmet on at the start of practice, then went over to a side field for exercises with the athletic performance staff.

Also, the Falcons made their 75-man roster limit by the 4 p.m. deadline by reaching an injury settlement with former second-round pick Peter Konz, a center/guard out of Wisconsin. Konz, who recently had knee surgery and was placed on IR last year with an ACL tear, started 28 games in three seasons with the club.

Konz was in the final year of his contract and due a base salary of $879,345 this season.

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Peter Konz (knee) injury settlement gets Falcons to 75-man limit

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons reached an injury settlement with center/guard and former second-round draft pick Peter Konz, the final move to get the roster down to the 75-man limit by Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline.

Konz, who tore the ACL in his knee during last year's 29-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7, underwent another knee procedure a few weeks back after feeling discomfort. He was in the final year of his contract and set to make a base salary of $879,354 this season. His cap figure was $1,141,827.

Here's a complete look at the transactions:

Most significant move: Definitely Konz. He was one of two players remaining from the team's 2012 draft class (along with third-rounder Lamar Holmes, who is on the PUP list), and Konz was the first pick of that class because the Falcons traded their first-rounder in the 2011 Julio Jones deal. Konz started 28 of 39 games played in three seasons with the Falcons but lost his starting job several times, including to current starting center Joe Hawley. Konz never played with great strength and got pushed around too often. Remember, he completed just 18 bench-press reps in the NFL combine coming out of Wisconsin, which was probably a good indication of what was to come.

What's next? The Falcons have to cut from 75 to the roster limit of 53 by Saturday at 4 p.m. ET. Draft picks such as cornerback Dezmen Southward (3rd round), Stansly Maponga (5th round), Cliff Matthews (7th round) and Tyler Starr (7th round) are on the roster bubble, while the quarterback battle will depend on how veteran Rex Grossman fares in his first action against the Ravens in Thursday's preseason finale. If Grossman plays well, the Falcons will have to decide what to do with T.J. Yates or Sean Renfree, with Grossman likely getting the nod as the backup behind Matt Ryan. Renfree remains eligible for the practice squad.

Falcons' cuts: LB Boris Anyama, WR Marquez Clark, RB Michael Ford, WR John Harris, DT Warren Herring, NT Derrick Hopkins, OT Matt Huffer, CB Michael Lee, G Eric Lefeld, DE Sam Meredith, C Valerian Ume-Ezeoke, CB Jonathon Mincy, TE Mickey Shuler.

Other moves: Placed OT Lamar Holmes (foot) on physically unable to perform list; reached injury settlement with C/G Peter Konz (knee).

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Breaking down Julio Jones' $71.25 million contract extension

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

The Atlanta Falcons signed their best player through 2020 as wide receiver Julio Jones got $47 million guaranteed in a five-year, $71.25 million extension. He received a $12 million signing bonus.

Here is how the deal breaks down, according to ESPN Stats & Information:

2015

*Base salary: $2.5 million

Signing bonus proration: $2.4 million

*Roster bonus: $7.5 million

Workout bonus: $6,045

Cap value: $12,406,045

Cash value: $22,006,045

*Base salary and roster bonus fully guaranteed

2016

*Base salary: $9.5 million

Signing bonus proration: $2.4 million

*Roster bonus: $4 million

Workout bonus: $0

Cap value: $15.9 million

Cash value: $13.5 million

*Base salary and roster bonus fully guaranteed

2017

*Base salary: $11.5 million

Signing bonus proration: $2.4 million

Roster bonus: $0

Workout bonus: $0

Cap value: $13.9 million

Cash value: $11.5 million

*Base salary guaranteed for injury only; becomes fully guaranteed on 3rd day of 2016 league year

2018

Base salary: $10.5 million

Signing bonus proration: $4.5 million

Roster bonus: $0

Workout bonus: $0

Cap value: $12.9 million

Cash value: $10.5 million

2019

Base salary: $12.5 million

Signing bonus proration: $2.4 million

Roster bonus: $0

Workout bonus: $0

Cap value: $14.9 million

Cash value: $12.5 million

2020

Base salary: $11.426 million

Signing bonus proration: $0

Roster bonus: $0

Workout bonus: $0

Cap value: $11.426 million

Cash value: $11.426 million

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Devin Hester, Justin Durant ruled out of Falcons' preseason finale

  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn previously ruled out left tackle Jake Matthewsand outside linebacker Brooks Reed for Thursday's final preseason matchup with the Baltimore Ravens, and a few more players were added to the list Wednesday.

Wide receiver/return specialist Devin Hester, who has been battling turf toe, along with weakside linebacker Justin Durant, with a foot injury, won't play. Also ruled out were the following players: cornerback Desmond Trufant(shoulder), running back Antone Smith (hamstring), tight end Tony Moeaki(ankle), linebacker Joplo Bartu (quad), and safety Robenson Therezie(undisclosed). Wide receiver Roddy White is not expected to return to activity until next week coming off minor right elbow surgery.

Running back Devonta Freeman, who hasn't played in any preseason game following a hamstring strain, was not ruled out, but might not see the field. Some of the key starters typically are rested in the final preseason game anyhow. Last season, Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, then-starting running back Steven Jacksonand White all sat out the fourth preseason game.

Strong safety William Moore, who was sidelined the past two preseason games with a calf injury, also was not ruled out.

In terms of injury concerns, Quinn couldn't share details of the extent of Matthews' back strain. As for Reed, he was scheduled to get a second opinion on his injured groin to determine whether surgery would be required.

Trufant, who hasn't played in any preseason game, said he'll be "ready for war" by the time the regular season starts Sept. 14 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

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