- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Although Steven Jackson's workload continued to be limited to drills on a side field, the Atlanta Falcons running back keeps progressing in his recovery from a left hamstring injury.
Coach Mike Smith didn't rule out having Jackson back in the mix for some preseason action, but the target all along has been the Sept. 7 season opener against the New Orleans Saints.
"Steven is working and has increased his workload with the athletic performance people," Smith said. "He's come out and done back workouts. ... We're encouraged by what he has done over on that side with the athletic performance crew."
Smith said he wouldn't count out Jackson playing in the final exhibition at Jacksonville (Aug. 28), but that game typically is a showcase for players on the bubble.
Smith also wouldn't speculate on Jackson's return to practice, although he pointed to how defensive tackle Corey Peters returned to the field sooner than expected coming off an Achilles' tear after the team thought Peters might not be ready for Week 1 of the regular season.
"It's going to depend on the individual in terms of how he feels," Smith said, referring to Jackson. "And once the doctor gives him the clear to go, then he'll go."
Injury update: Smith said left tackle Sam Baker, who tore the patellar tendon in his right knee Saturday night, had surgery Aug. 20. "He's doing well," Smith said. "I haven't had a chance to talk with him, but I did get a report. The procedure went well." ... Smith said safety Zeke Motta will begin the season on the physically unable to perform list coming off neck surgery. That means Motta will miss the first six games of the season. But Motta's not expected to return in 2014. ... Offensive lineman Gabe Carimi remained sidelined with an ankle injury but is expected to play in the final preseason game at Jacksonville. ... Tight Mickey Shuler (concussion protocol) was not on the field Wednesday.
Backup plan: The Falcons want to have the backup quarterback position solidified following Saturday's exhibition. Based on Sean Renfree's somewhat steady play and T.J. Yates horrible outing in Houston, Renfree looks to be well in the lead. "I think he's done a nice job," Smith said of Renfree. "He and T.J. Yates are competing for our backup quarterback. Both of them will get an opportunity to play in the game this week as well." Smith said Renfree was able to stay involved mentally, despite suffering a shoulder injury last season and being on injured reserve. "When you can't do it, physically, you've got to keep these guys engaged, mentally," Smith said."
Practice squads: The NFL decided to add two more players to what was the eight-man practice squad. "We're very excited about adding two practice-squad players," Smith said. "The first thing it does is it gives (more) men an opportunity and a job, so I think all the players have got to be excited about that. For us, it gives us an opportunity to evaluate more players. It's all about development in this league. You're going to have injuries in this league. When you have two more players on your practice squad, you're going to get an opportunity to be very familiar with those [players]."
Extra points: Tight end Levine Toilolo was the last player to leave the practice field as he caught passes out of the Jugs machine. ... Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong was rather vocal with the special teams unit at both the beginning and end of practice following a dismal showing thus far in preseason. ... Jake Matthews and Joe Hawley worked on some long-snapping after practice, maybe in case of an emergency situation. Josh Harris is the long-snapper. ... Receiver Courtney Roby remained away from the team as his wife gave birth in Indianapolis.