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Atlanta Falcons

  Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel | Player Wire

  Injuries affecting Falcons ground attack

The Atlanta Falcons offense, which led the league in scoring last season, looked shaky against in its "dress-rehearsal" game for the regular season.

There was no running back Devonta Freeman, who is in the concussion protocol. They didn't get the ball to All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, who was making his exhibition debut after offseason foot surgery. And quarterback Matt Ryan, the league's reigning most valuable player, was off the mark on 7 of his 11 passes.

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has not been pleased with the offense's rushing attack during the exhibition season.

Freeman is set to return to practice on Monday and should give them a boost in practice.

"Devonta Freeman, you'll see back," Quinn said a day after an exhibition game loss to the Cardinals. "He'll return to play (Monday) in some individual (drills). So, that part is good from an injury standpoint."

Freeman, a two-time Pro Bowl player, is in the final stages of the league's five-step concussion protocol. He left practice Aug. 13 and has not practiced since.

"He's still going through the protocol and part of that is returning to practice," Quinn said. "He'll do some individual work. ... He'll start the return-to-play process with us beginning (on Monday)."

The Falcons' exhibition finale is scheduled for Thursday at home against the Jaguars and Quinn has already declared Freeman out for the game.

Freeman agreed to a five-year, $41.25 million contract extension that made him the highest-paid running back in the league earlier this month. The deal had a $15 million signing bonus and included $22 million in guaranteed money.

Last season, Freeman had 1,079 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns and 462 receiving yards with two touchdowns. In his three-year career, Freeman has rushed for 2,383 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Running back Brian Hill (ankle), a fifth-round pick from Wyoming, was battling for the third running back spot. He was declared out for the exhibition season finale with an ankle injury.

The injury hurts for Hill, who appears to be behind Terron Ward for the third running back spot.

"Brian, for sure, would have gotten extended carries again (against Jacksonville)," Quinn said. "We tried to feature him in each of the games to see what he can do. Really, in this system, to get more reps."

That Ward is playing better is no surprise to Quinn.

"It's Terron Ward's third year in the system," Quinn said. "That's over 30-something games for him watching and practicing and getting the looks at it. Brian is still gaining experience in it. For him to miss a week, this week, all of it counts, especially when you're first learning."

The Falcons are high on Hill, but he's off to a slow start rushing the football.

"He's improving, Brian is, on special teams," Quinn said. "We are going to keep working like crazy on offense. One of the areas of emphasis heading into the summer was catching out the backfield. It wasn't a big part of what he did at Wyoming. He's certainly improved in that area."

Ryan tried to connect on a couple of deep passes for Jones, but both were off the mark.

"We are going to take some opportunities down the field and give our guys chances," Ryan said. "They didn't work out and that'll be something that we talk about moving forward. That's part of the game. You're going to give your guys chances down the field. Some are going to hit and some don't."


Notes, Quotes


  Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was elated for his pal, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was made the highest paid player in the league on Monday.

They vacation and play golf together.

The Lions and Stafford agreed to a five-year $135 million contract, with $92 million of it guaranteed.

"I'm happy for Matthew," Ryan said. "Obviously, he's played really well on a high level for a long time. I'm happy for him. It's well deserved."

Ryan is set to make a base salary of $15.75 million in 2017 and $19.25 million in 2018. Ryan will likely get an extension in the offseason and won't play the 2018 season on his last contract, which was worth $103.75 million over six years.

"He's another guy," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said recently of team contract talks. "He's got a couple more years. We are going to settle in after this (running back Devonta Freeman) deal and see how the season goes on everything. Rest assured our time will come with Matt for sure. He knows that and we know that."

Ryan is fine with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian calling plays from the sideline.

Last season, the Falcons led the league in scoring at 33.8 points per game with former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan calling plays from the press box.

"I've done it every which way with the coordinators throughout the years," Ryan said. "It's whatever they are most comfortable with. He's done a good job on the sidelines for us."

Former Falcons coordinator Mike Mularkey called his game from upstairs from 2008 to 2011). Dirk Koetter, who was the offensive coordinator from 2012 to 2014, called from upstairs and the sidelines.

"He's a guy who's done it from the sidelines for most of his career," Ryan said of Sarkisian. "Maybe that's where he feels most comfortable, but we'll be good either way."


Strategy & Personnel



RB Devonta Freeman was cleared from the league's concussion protocol program and returned to practice. He was wearing a black no-contact jersey.

FS Damontae Kazee (ankle injury) was working off to the side with the trainers.

T Austin Pasztor (pectoral injury) was limited in practice and will not play in the exhibition finale against Jacksonville.

T Kevin Graf (ankle) was declared out of the exhibition finale on Thursday against Jacksonville by head coach Dan Quinn.

LB LaRoy Reynolds (chest) was declared out of the exhibition finale on Thursday against Jacksonville by head coach Dan Quinn. Reynolds, a reserve and special teams player, had started three games at weak-side linebacker this preseason.

QB Matt Ryan was 4 of 11 for 36 yards and one interception against the Cardinals.

DE Jack Crawford had a sack and a forced fumble against the Cardinals.

SS Keanu Neal had a forced fumble against the Cardinals.

CB Jalen Collins had a forced fumble against the Cardinals.


With Falcons LB LaRoy Reynolds out with a chest injury, rookie Duke Riley appears to have a shot at the starting weak-side linebacker spot. "We've been very encouraged by where he's at, at this point," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. "We see him taking on a big role for us at this linebacker spot." Riley was selected in the third round (75th overall) of this year's draft out of LSU. He played 32 snaps on defense in the 24-14 loss to the Cardinals and spent some time with the first unit. He had two tackles, a tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery.

"This week we felt that Duke made a really big jump," Quinn said. "It started back in practice in terms of the speed (and) the physicality that showed him playing even more downhill."


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