NFC South: Atlanta Falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter admitted he might have underestimated Devin Hester.

Hester
Of course Koetter knew Hester came to the Falcons from the Chicago Bears as arguably the greatest return man in NFL history. But Koetter wasn't quite sure what type of offensive weapon Hester could be.

"I must admit when Devin came, just because he didn't play much receiver for Chicago last year, in my own mind, we were getting a great return guy," Koetter said, "and he's far exceeded my expectations as a wide receiver.

"Excellent ball skills; very quick in and out of his breaks; a really good route runner for a guy who's not known as a wide receiver. So, Devin will definitely have a role on offense."

Hester did not play a single down at receiver last year with the Bears, in large part due to a disconnect with quarterback Jay Cutler. Hester asked to be taken off offense going into the 2013 season as he focused strictly on returns.

Hester's last catch in a regular season game was against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 9, 2012. He had five catches for 39 yards in a 21-14 loss.

This preseason, Hester caught six passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. Both of his scores came on runs after the catches, which obviously opened the eyes of both his teammates and coaches.

He is expected to give the Falcons a much-needed boost on special teams with his explosive return ability.

"It's not Devin; it's the entire unit," special teams coach Keith Armstrong said about the key to springing Hester free. "Everybody's got to do their job."

2014 Predictions: Atlanta Falcons

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
8:00
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ESPN.com Atlanta Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: New Orleans Saints

The game is sure to be competitive, as is typical of this rivalry. It will be hard for the Falcons to outscore Drew Brees. Prediction: Loss


Week 2: at Cincinnati Bengals

This will be a very tough road test for a team still trying to figure out its defensive identity. Contending with top receiver A.J. Green won't be easy. Prediction: Loss


Week 3: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One of the best games for the Falcons last season was their home contest against the Bucs. New Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith won't make it easy, but Matt Ryan and his weapons should have a decisive edge over Josh McCown and his arsenal. Prediction: Win


Week 4: at Minnesota Vikings

The Falcons signed Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai to shut down the run. There will be no better test than going against the league's best in Adrian Peterson. Prediction: Win


Week 5: at New York Giants

Wouldn't it be something if Osi Umenyiora had a big game against his former team? Eli Manning doesn't look as good as he used to. Prediction: Win


Week 6: Chicago Bears

The debate in this game will be about which team has the better receiver combo between Julio Jones-Roddy White and Brandon Marshall-Alshon Jeffery. Give Jones and White the edge at home, with ex-Bear Devin Hester sprinkled in. Prediction: Win


Week 7: at Baltimore Ravens

All good streaks have to come to an end. The Falcons will have a tough time containing Ray Rice. Prediction: Loss


Week 8: Detroit Lions

This game in London could go either way. The Lions seem destined to hurt themselves with foolish penalties. Prediction: Win


Week 10: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs have a chance to be dominant on defense with Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David. They'll have things figured out by this time of the season. Prediction: Loss


Week 11: at Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton still has some maturing to do and doesn't have a strong offensive line in front of him. If the Falcons can just contain the run, they'll be fine. Prediction: Win


Week 12: Cleveland Browns

The sideshow might be at full tilt if Johnny Manziel is starting at quarterback by this time. The Brown still stink. Prediction: Win


Week 13: Arizona Cardinals

The Falcons got dismantled in the desert last season, so they know what to expect this time. Will former Falcon John Abraham be in the Cardinals' lineup? Prediction: Win


Week 14: at Green Bay Packers

Everyone saw how miserable the Falcons were playing in the cold and snow at Lambeau last season. It will only get worse with Aaron Rodgers back in the lineup this time. Prediction: Loss


Week 15: Pittsburgh Steelers

The fear factor seems to be gone when it comes to playing the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger, however, is capable of executing big plays and making the Falcons' defense miserable. Prediction: Loss


Week 16: at New Orleans Saints

Unless the Saints have wrapped up the division and the No. 1 seed and intend to rest their players, the Falcons won't win this game. However, it will be close, again. Prediction: Loss


Week 17: Carolina Panthers

The Falcons ended last season with a pathetic performance against the Panthers, allowing Ryan to be sacked nine times. It won't happen again, even if they're just playing for pride. Prediction: Win


Predicted Record: 9-7

 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The first regular-season game of Jake Matthews' career won't be an easy challenge.

Matthews
When the Atlanta Falcons rookie left tackle lines up against the New Orleans Saints Sunday, he'll encounter most of the same players that harassed quarterback Matt Ryan with eight sacks and 16 quarterbacks hits in two games last season.

"Just from what we were going over, they are really big, athletic guys," Matthews said of the Saints' front seven. "They do a really good job mixing up their pressures and stunts. So, I think it's going to be really good challenge for us up front. I think we're going to be ready for it."

Matthews is likely to see plenty of Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan, two edge-rushers capable of coming from either side. The duo combined for 24.5 sacks last season. And, as Matthews stated, the Saints definitely like to run their share of twists, as they did in last season's game at the Georgia Dome.

Holding down the Saints' pass rush can't all be on Matthews, of course. The Falcons need a group effort, and especially need Lamar Holmes to hold his own at the right tackle spot. Having veteran Jon Asamoah at right guard should help Holmes' cause.

Matthews appreciates how the line gelled during the preseason, when Ryan was sacked just twice while attempting 37 passes.

"It's been real well," he said. "Obviously, losing a guy like Sam Baker is something that hurt us a little bit. But I think we've bounced back well. And coach (Mike) Tice has done a really good job of keeping us together and getting a good game plan ready for us. I think we're on the right track."
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The tone of Atlanta Falcons strong safety William Moore's voice lowered a notch as he recalled last year's second meeting with rival New Orleans, a game won 17-13 by the Saints.

During that contest, Moore found himself matched with Saints game-changing tight end Jimmy Graham near the sideline. Graham ran his route outside then quickly broke back inside to get down the field for a 44-yard touchdown reception from Drew Brees.

"When you become too physical on a play that they run all game, they wait for that right moment for you to be physical again and they give you the double move,'' Moore said Monday. "It's called game-planning.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsSaints tight end Jimmy Graham had a pair of scores in two games last season against Atlanta.
"For me individually, I had nightmares about that play. I wish I could take it back. But, you know, as a player, if you want to become elite, you've got to be able to have a short-term memory. I learned from that play and I got better off that play.''

Collectively, the Falcons have to find a way to be better at defending arguably the best tight end in the game as the Saints come to town Sunday. Graham had five catches for 100 yards and a touchdown in last year's game at the Georgia Dome. In New Orleans' two wins against Atlanta last season, Graham had nine catches for 145 yards and two scores. He has 500 career receiving yards and seven touchdowns against the Falcons through four NFL seasons.

The 6-foot-7, 265-pound Graham, a former basketball player in college, presents matchup nightmares because of his size, speed and leaping ability.

"It comes down to executing your play and the stuff you've got going on,'' Moore said of containing Graham. "You can't too much worry about Jimmy Graham. He's explosive. He does things other tight ends don't do. But at the same time, you worry about what you've got to do. Your technique should allow you to put you over an edge over what he's got going, if you execute.''

It will be interesting to see what type of coverages defensive coordinator Mike Nolan utilizes against Graham, particularly with having to contend with talented receivers such as Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and rookie Brandin Cooks. No one on the Falcons roster is truly capable of matching up with Graham, one on one, although promising rookie linebacker Prince Shembo could be an intriguing option for that role in time.

Cornerback Desmond Trufant didn't shy away from going head to head with Graham.

"Just how they line up, I'm definitely going to encounter him,'' Trufant said. "I'm going to just be physical, just like any other matchup. I'm going to believe in what I'm doing and have confidence to go compete.

"I don't put nobody on a serious pedestal like that. Everybody breathes the same air. We all compete. He's a great player. We just have to bring it to him, pretty much.''

One aspect all the Falcons defenders have to be conscious of when it comes to defending Graham is the league's emphasis on defensive holding and illegal contact.

"You can't think about it too much because then it will slow you down and you'll end up giving up a big play,'' Trufant said. "Obviously, you're aware of it. But we'll see. ... We play the game. We can't focus on how they're calling it too much.''
Come Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons' coaching staff will get a true measure of the offseason upgrades up front on both sides of the ball.

Speaking strictly from an offensive perspective, offensive line coach Mike Tice certainly doesn't expect his guys to back down against the NFC South favorite New Orleans Saints. In other words, you won't see a repeat of last season's Week 1 matchup, when a sliding Matt Ryan was hit by Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro without any of the Falcons' linemen really getting in Vaccaro's face afterward.

Asamoah
Holmes
Evidence of the renewed toughness was displayed in the third preseason game against Tennessee, when a number of linemen -- most notably center Joe Hawley and tackles Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder -- ran to Ryan's defense after Ryan took a finger to the face mask during a confrontation with Titans linebacker Zach Brown.

"The one thing they won't be, they won't be punked over by anybody," Tice said of his line. "That's encouraging."

Whether or not the offensive line keeps Ryan upright is another story. Last season, the Falcons quarterback was sacked eight times and was hit 16 times in two losses to the Saints. For the season, Ryan was pressured on a league-high 204 of his dropbacks, contributing to him being sacked a career-high 44 times.

This preseason, Ryan was sacked twice while playing 79 snaps behind a rebuilt offensive line that now includes rookie first-round pick Jake Matthews at left tackle and veteran Jon Asamoah at right guard to go with holdovers Hawley, Holmes and left guard Justin Blalock.

Although the Falcons still have significant strides to make with their run blocking, Tice was extremely pleased with the pass protection during the preseason.

"I'd lose a lot of sleep if we were getting our ass kicked in pass protection, but we're not," Tice said. "We're not going to be a run-first team, so we'll get the runs cleaned up. We've just got to keep protecting that quarterback."

The Saints will pose quite a challenge for Matthews and Holmes off the edges with Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette, a duo that combined for 24.5 sacks last season. But what really hurt the Falcons in the last meeting between the teams was the inside pressure from Akiem Hicks, who destroyed then-Falcons right guard Garrett Reynolds.

Hicks won't be able to push around Asamoah, unless a minor groin injury resurfaces and affects Asamoah's play. The backup at right guard is Gabe Carimi, who had a solid preseason before suffering an ankle injury but appears to be fully recovered now.

Tice gave his general thoughts on the challenge posed by the Saints' front.

"I can tell you this," Tice started, "I know all their players are pretty good."
The Atlanta Falcons announced the signing of eight players to the practice squad on Sunday.

The group includes rookie cornerback Ricardo Allen, a fifth-round draft pick who was unable to secure a spot on the 53-man roster. The other seven include defensive tackle Travian Robertson, offensive guard Harland Gunn, outside linebacker Jacques Smith, safety Sean Baker, offensive tackle Terren Jones, wide receiver Bernard Reedy and running back Jerome Smith.

The NFL expanded the practice-roster limit to 10 this season.

The Falcons also confirmed the addition of linebacker Nate Stupar via waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Stupar replaced veteran linebacker Tim Dobbins on the 53-man roster after Dobbins was released Sunday.
One of the interesting aspects to emerge from the Atlanta Falcons' trimming of the roster to 53 was how many quarterbacks were left in the mix.

It turned out to be three.

Along with starter Matt Ryan, both T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree were part of the 53-man roster established on Saturday. Yates and Renfree battled for the backup role this preseason, and coach Mike Smith refused to declare a winner.

The Falcons obviously felt it would have been too risky to waive Renfree with hopes of adding him to the practice squad. Renfree seemed to have the edge for the backup role until Yates caught fire in the final exhibition game at Jacksonville. Yates completed 15 of 20 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the Falcons' 24-14 win.

Yates seems likely to get the first opportunity if something happens to Ryan, just based on veteran experience. He has a playoff win under his belt while in Houston and has played in 13 regular-season games with five starts.

The Falcons traded linebacker Akeem Dent to the Texans in exchange for Yates.

Renfree, a seventh-round draft pick out of Duke in 2013, spent last season on injured reserve.

Last year, the Falcons went with just two quarterbacks in Ryan and Dominique Davis, who was released. Davis played in just one game in 2013.
Most significant move: From a draft perspective, the biggest surprise was the Falcons cutting ties with fifth-round pick Ricardo Allen out of Purdue. The rookie cornerback didn't do much during the preseason, but you figured the Falcons would keep him around regardless. Obviously the coaches felt they needed more veteran experience going into the season, which is why Josh Wilson and Javier Arenas will back up starters Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford and likely top nickel Robert McClain. Allen's status means both of the team's fifth-round picks from this season won't be on the 53-man roster. The other, linebacker Marquis Spruill, was placed on injured reserve after ACL surgery.

Wild card: Waiving defensive tackle Travian Robertson was somewhat surprising, considering how well he played during training camp. The Falcons no doubt are counting on second-round pick Ra'Shede Hageman to be more consistent along the defensive line during the regular season after an up-and-down start. They also must feel as if veteran Corey Peters won't have any setbacks coming off last year's Achilles' tear, although Peters did not play during the preseason. Also, the Falcons kept rookie center James Stone and released offensive tackle Terren Jones although it seemed like having more depth at tackle was a more pressing need. Some would argue that guard Harland Gunn also deserved to be kept ahead of Stone.

What’s next: The Falcons might have to consider putting in waiver claims if they feel it could help upgrade the roster. The two positions that stand out are at pass-rusher and inside linebacker. The Falcons cut ties with two inside linebackers in Pat Angerer and rookie seventh-round pick Yawin Smallwood. Offensive tackle and safety might also be a need. Of course, the Falcons have to formulate their practice squad, with guys such as Allen, rookie receiver Bernard Reedy, and rookie outside linebacker Jacques Smith as prime candidates. Reedy was a favorite to stick on the roster, but the Falcons obviously valued the special-teams ability of veteran receivers Eric Weems and Courtney Roby.

Falcons moves: Waived: WR Jeremy Ebert, WR Bernard Reedy, OT Terren Jones, OG Harland Gunn, S Sean Baker, TE Mickey Shuler, CB Ricardo Allen, OLB Jacques Smith, DT Travian Robertson; DE Nose Eguae, FB Maurice Hagens, CB Jordan Mabin, WR Freddie Martino, S Kimario McFadden, TE Jacob Pedersen, OL Adam Replogle, DT Donte Rumph, LB Yawin Smallwood; Released: LB Pat Angerer, OL Pat McQuistan, RB Josh Vaughan; Waived/injured WR Geraldo Boldewijn (hamstring).
The Atlanta Falcons continued to shave their roster down to 53 players by releasing rookie outside linebacker Jacques Smith, a league source told ESPN.com.

As an undrafted player out of the University of Tennessee, Smith immediately developed a reputation for being rugged after several training camp fights with his teammates. Then he was ejected from the third preseason game against Tennessee when he took a shot at Titans rookie tackle Taylor Lewan. The latter cost Smith a $8,268 fine.

Smith could end up on the Falcons' practice squad, if he clears waivers. The coaches seem to like his passion and energy, as long as he doesn't cross the line.

Smith being taken out of the equation means Tyler Starr, another outside linebacker and seventh-round draft pick, should make the team.

Also let go by the Falcons on Saturday morning, according to multiple sources, were tight end Mickey Shuler and wide receiver Jeremy Ebert. Shuler was in a battle with Bear Pascoe as the No. 2 tight end behind Levine Toilolo. Shuler could be claimed off waivers. If not, he has one year of practice-squad eligibility remaining.

Ebert played well in the exhibition finale at Jacksonville, but the numbers at wide receiver did not work in his favor.

The Falcons entered Saturday needing to make 10 more cuts to reach the 53-man roster limit.
If you based Ra'Shede Hageman's progress on some of the scenes in HBO's "Hard Knocks," you might think the Atlanta Falcons' rookie was on the roster bubble.

Hageman
In reality, defensive line coach Bryan Cox sees the potential in the second-round pick from Minnesota, which is why Cox continues to ride Hageman about his conditioning and motivation.

Some of the results of Cox's tough love were evident during last Saturday's preseason game against Tennessee. Hageman showed flashes of his unique ability with his first sack and a nice stuff on a run play from his defensive line spot. He played 45 defensive snaps, second on the team among defensive players behind Javier Arenas (46).

"I think he experienced something that he never experienced in terms of the strain on his body," coach Mike Smith said of Hageman. "He had a lot of plays, and plays in the NFL are different than plays in college football. The strain on your body is completely different.

"Like the way that Ra'Shede has come along all through training camp. You see his strength. He's a big, strong man. And he's going to be a guy that's help us in the rotation of our defensive line."

Hageman (6-6, 318) assessed his performance in the 24-17 loss.

"Really, it was the fatigue that got me, man," he said. "But I had to keep on pushing for it. I made a sack for my team and there was a little celebration. But at the end of the day, it's all about winning."

It's been well-documented how frustrated Hageman tends to get with himself. Such was caught on camera during "Hard Knocks" when Hageman pulled his shirt over his head as Cox criticized his play in the film room.

"I've just got to keep on moving forward," Hageman said. "Can't really get mad at the play I don't make. I've obviously got to learn from them. I have to watch and critique the film to get better. But overall, I'm progressing."
The second-to-last episode of HBO's "Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons" featured a coach going on a classic, profanity-laced tirade in the meeting room.

And guess what? It wasn't defensive line coach Bryan Cox this time.

Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong displayed his true character as the show began with him going off on his units. Remember, the Falcons had both a punt and kicked blocked in the second preseason game at Houston.

Armstrong directed his fury toward three players in particular: Malliciah Goodman, Jacques Smith, and Ra'Shede Hageman.

"Some of you guys think you're better than it; you think you're above it," Armstrong said to the group about special teams. "Who do you think you are? The game don't mean enough to you. And that's very f---ing apparent. You better wake up and get your pride in the game.

"Come in here and you're going to go out there and play like s---. Now, the s--- was coached the right way. I don't want to hear any excuses. Selfish ass."

ESPN.com sent a text to one of the players in the room who appeared to be shook up by Armstrong's words. The players responded, "I was."

Here's a few more highlights from the show:
  • Cox continues to ride Hageman hard and doesn't think the rookie is in good enough shape at this point. That's why Cox had Hageman out running sprints -- or at least trying to run -- after a practice. Hagemen didn't take too kindly to the criticism, but he responded with inspired play in the third preseason game against the Tennessee Titans.
  • After rookie outside linebacker Smith got ejected for throwing a shot at Tennessee Titans offensive lineman Taylor Lewan, Cox was the first to tell Smith what his fate could be. "You might have just cost yourself a spot on the roster," Cox said as Smith exited the field.
  • Center Joe Hawley is being called Joe "Brawley" after getting into a fight in three consecutive weeks, starting with the rookie Smith, then the rookie Hageman, and then during a joint practice with the Titans during which he was ejected. So, it's easy understand why Hawley uses pottery as a calming mechanism.
  • Receivers coach Terry Robiskie genuinely wasn't happy with the way star receiver Julio Jones and Roddy White played in the second exhibition against Houston. He thought they were trying to be too cute.
  • Speaking of receivers, Devin Hester's handed out one of his Chicago Bears jerseys to fellow receiver Harry Douglas. That might be worth quite a bit of money if Hester, arguably the greatest return man of all time, makes the Hall of Fame.
  • During one day of practice, coach Mike Smith moved the session indoors due to inclement weather. As the storm continued, the power went out inside the indoor practice field, forcing practice to end prematurely.
  • During the first roster cutdown, everyone seemed to take the news well except rookie quarterback Jeff Mathews from Cornell, who obviously struggled picking up the verbiage of the offense. On the flipside, veteran safety Tyrell Johnson handled his release with such class, complimenting the Falcons for being a family-type atmosphere where people actually care about the players. "It's not like that at other places. ... You're just a body somewhere else."
  • Rookie running back Devonta Freeman got a pedicure, and actually liked it.
  • The other coaches admire how defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is able to stay in shape at age 55 by sweating it out on an exercise bike. Nolan actually was spotted doing some serious stretching before Tuesday's practice.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- All three of the Atlanta Falcons' candidates for the nickelback role were on the field for special teams at the start of Tuesday's practice.

The battle between Robert McClain, Javier Arenas, and Josh Wilson remains unsettled, according to coach Mike Smith. But McClain, also a standout on special teams, would appear to have a decisive advantage.

Whatever the case, the trio will get one more chance to compete in Thursday night's final preseason game at Jacksonville.

Smith refused to reveal which of the three would be up first in the nickel spot.

"I don't really want to talk about who's going to get the first look, but all three are going to play," Smith said. "I don't think you can read into who gets the first snaps. It's going to be a matter of guys getting an opportunity to go out there and compete. We will put them in much quicker in the ball game then we have in the previous weeks. They won't take a whole half. It will be rotations by series."
  • Right guard Jon Asamoah, who sat out Monday's practice with a slight limp, was back on the field with a helmet for Tuesday's session. It's unclear how much work Asamoah did because media is now only allowed to view the start of practice. He held the heavy bag for his fellow offensive linemen at the start of individual drills as they worked on their hands. Smith said Asamoah's apparent leg injury wasn't serious, so it was good news to see him back on the field immediately.
  • Speaking of offensive lineman, Gabe Carimi had his second day of practice coming off an ankle injury and is poised to make a final push for the starting right tackle spot. "Gabe will play in the game," Smith said of the final exhibition. "He's had an opportunity to practice. We need to get an evaluation. Gabe, unfortunately, was injured in the scrimmage against the Tennessee Titans and missed basically all of the preseason. And we need to get a good evaluation. He'll get a look at multiple positions, if we can."
  • Extra points: Rookie safety Dez Southward remained sidelined at practice as he continued to go through the concussion protocol. ... Running back Steven Jackson, who returned from a left hamstring injury, practiced for the second consecutive day. ... Rookie linebacker Prince Shembo was not on the field for the start of practice, but he emerged just before the start of individual drills. ... Former Falcons backup quarterback Dominique Davis signed with the Tennessee Titans.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice didn't expect rookie first-round pick Jake Matthews to be perfect in his first NFL game at left tackle.

He wasn't.

Matthews got whistled for a false start and a hold in the first quarter of Saturday’s 24-17 exhibition loss to Tennessee. Then in the second quarter, he was beat on an inside move that led to Matt Ryan getting sacked.

"He jumped the guy, and he brought his feet together," Tice said of Matthews. "He got out of balance. He rushed it."

The line, as a whole, protected Matt Ryan well, which pleased Tice. But the run blocking wasn't up to par, and Matthews contributed to those woes.

"He had a couple of brain farts out there thinking," Tice said. "He had some growing pains, some learning things. He had a couple mistakes. He had a mental and, obviously, he gave up a sack.

"He didn't struggle, but he had more bad plays than he had on the right side. And he’s in there for three practices. We figured that it wasn't going to be smooth sailing, especially against a couple of good players."

Tice sees no reason to panic, however.

"He'll be better [today]," Tice said. "And he'll be better in the game this week, if we play him. And we'll go from there."

Everything seemed so simple for Matthews as he dominated at right tackle throughout training camp. Seeing him stonewall guys in practice became a regular occurrence. He even performed well against Houston pass-rush demon J.J. Watt in joint practices against the Texans.

"I thought the first time through, J.J. got him," Tice said. "I thought the second time through, it was a tie. And I thought in the team stuff, I thought Jake fared very well. So that’s a good thing. You want to go against the best players."

Then starting left tackle Sam Baker goes down with a season-ending knee injury in the game against the Texans, immediately forcing Matthews to the left side. Although he played left tackle last year at Texas A&M, even Matthews admitted it would take some time to readjust.

The biggest thing Tice rode Matthews about at right tackle was improving his right hand. That's no longer the case.

"His right hand got fixed when he moved to the left side," Tice said. "I told him, 'If I knew that was going to be fixed when I moved you to the left side, I would have moved you sooner.’ He said, `I would never do that to Sam Baker.'"

"His hands are better on the left side, much better than on the right side. He probably has more confidence."

Now, it'’s just a matter of Matthews getting into a left tackle routine.

"He's been in a right-hand stance since April or whenever the hell I got him -- May," Tice said. "He's done everything at right tackle since the first week. He didn't miss a snap with the ones. He’s probably got the most plays of any lineman on our team in the offseason and in training camp. And then all of sudden, poof, you’re a left tackle. It’s going take a little bit of time.

"He'll get all that cleaned up. It's just going to take a little time. It’s not going to happen by Jacksonville, either. We don’t expect it to."

How Matthews progresses as a run blocker might be the aspect worth monitoring the most moving forward.

"Like many young players [who] are coming into this league from a passing program, he's got a long way to go with his run blocking," Tice said. "When he played for Mike Sherman, he was in a pro-style offense. So he’s done it all before. Then [Texas A&M] came in with the new staff and went to the passing stuff and the two-point stance. He's just got to continue to work on it and feel comfortable in his stance."
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- While most of the attention remains on rookie Jake Matthews' switch to left tackle, the competition continues to determine which player will be the Atlanta Falcons' starting right tackle for the Sept. 7 season opener against New Orleans.

"It's wide open, man," offensive line coach Mike Tice said.

Schraeder
Lamar Holmes, Gabe Carimi, and Ryan Schraeder all have a shot, although Holmes was the guy called upon first when starting left tackle Sam Baker suffered a season-ending knee injury and Matthews switched from right to left. But Carimi, who just returned to practice Monday off an ankle injury, didn't play in the first three preseason games.

Tice assessed all three players, starting with Holmes.

"Lamar's a big, good-looking athlete," Tice said. "I like that kind of player. He's played (in the past). He's really worked hard to get better at his technique. He's really worked hard to eliminate mental mistakes. I like where he is right now. He's coming off two good games."

Tice had Carimi in Chicago, when the Bears made the former Wisconsin Badger their first-round draft pick.

Carimi
Carimi
"Gabe was having a great camp before he got hurt -- as good as anybody in the room," Tice said. "I felt like his best value for us was going to be as a swing guy. Now that we've had the injury to Sam, that opens up a chance for Gabe to compete with Lamar and Ryan for the right-tackle spot."

Both Holmes and Carimi have 15 or more career starts. Schraeder has four, all at right tackle last season.

"Ryan is very intelligent," Tice said. "He can play both sides, which is important. He's athletic. He's tough. But he's got a long way to go with his technique. It's inconsistent."

Carimi, considered a draft bust in Chicago, might have been the favorite had it not been for the ankle injury suffered during a joint practice with the Tennessee Titans. And the Falcons' brass no doubt wants to see Holmes emerge, being that he was a third-round draft pick in 2012.

Holmes
"It's going to be a hell of a battle," Tice said. "Ultimately it's, of course, coach (Mike) Smith's decision. And we'll make sure that all three of them have enough plays this week to make a fair evaluation."

Tice believes Holmes took a step forward against the Titans Saturday night.

"Lamar has a high ceiling," Tice said. "He's using his hands better. The main thing with him, as a young player, is the consistency with his technique. We need to continue to strive to be consistent.

"But I'm a fan. I'm a fan of all three of the guys, of course. We're going make sure that all three have enough reps this week for (Smith) and I and whoever else is involved in the decision to make the decision."
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- As the Atlanta Falcons returned to practice Monday, one significant starter watched from the sideline.

Asamoah
Right guard Jon Asamoah, one of the team's top acquisitions this offseason, was held out of practice with an unspecified injury. Asamoah exited Saturday's preseason game against the Tennessee Titans earlier than the rest of the starting offensive line. He was replaced by Harland Gunn.

Coach Mike Smith was asked about Asamoah's status.

"Jon Asamoah was held out for precautionary reasons for practice today, and we don't anticipate that it will be any issues at all for him moving forward," Smith said.

Smith declined to comment about the injury.

"We're getting too close to the first game to be talking about injuries," Smith said. "We're out of camp. Hope you guys respect us for that."
  • Wide receiver Julio Jones, who scored a 52-yard catch-and-run touchdown in Saturday's 24-17 loss to the Titans, said he's still getting up to speed. Jones practiced Monday as he continues to be back on a normal schedule. "I can get up to speed good, I can't hold it as long as I want to hold it, like, over the course of a game," said Jones, who returned from last year's season-ending foot surgery. "The way I play, even in the running game and everything, I want to be able to do that the whole game full speed. I don't feel like I'm there yet." Based on his touchdown, it sure looked like Jones is the same player of old.
  • Besides running back Steven Jackson making his return from a left hamstring injury Monday, the Falcons also got back offensive lineman Gabe Carimi from an ankle injury and tight end Mickey Shuler back from a concussion. Carimi is in the mix at the right tackle spot along with current starter Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder. "There's still a lot of evaluating to do, not only at the right tackle position, but at all of the positions," Smith said. Specifically, Smith said no one has won the backup quarterback spot or nickel back job just yet. Sean Renfree, who stayed late following Monday's practice, seems to have the edge over T.J. Yates. At nickel, incumbent Robert McClain seems to be in good position ahead of Javier Arenas and Josh Wilson.
  • Extra points: Smith on Desmond Trufant absorbing blame for the 63-yard touchdown against the Titans: "I know he stood up and said, 'Hey, it's on me.' That's being a great teammate. I think it's good for all of us for guys to step up and say that. But it's a team game. It's not a one-person game." ... Smith wouldn't say which players would be held out of Thursday's final preseason game, but one can expect the primary starters to sit. He didn't rule out rookie Prince Shembo playing alongside Joplo Bartu at inside linebacker ... Rookie safety Dez Southward, who suffered a head injury against Tennessee and appears to be going through the concussion protocol, did not practice Monday. ... Outside linebacker Jacques Smith and Tyler Starr stayed late after practice working on their pass-rush moves.

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