Atlanta Falcons: 2014 NFL Training Camp

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 announced they have parted ways with 12 players, meaning the roster stands at 63 going into Saturday's final cutdown.

The Falcons still have to trim 10 more players to get to the 53-man limit.

The list of waived players includes defensive end Nosa Eguae, fullback Maurice Hagens, cornerback Jordan Mabin, receiver Freddie Martino, safety Kimario McFadden, tight end Jacob Pedersen, offensive lineman Adam Replogle, defensive tackle Donte Rumph and linebacker Yawin Smallwood, a seventh-round pick.

Released were veterans Pat Angerer, Pat McQuistan and Josh Vaughan.

This means players such as wide receiver Bernard Reedy, tight end Mickey Shuler, outside linebacker Tyler Starr, quarterback Sean Renfree, safety Sean Baker and defensive tackle Travian Robertson remain in the mix heading into Saturday.

Atlanta Falcons' projected roster

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
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Examining the Atlanta Falcons' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
You can't ignore the way Yates played in the preseason finale at Jacksonville, completing 15 of 20 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. It was a backup-worthy performance. Now, the Falcons will have to decide whether to keep three quarterbacks or take a chance of losing Sean Renfree with hopes of keeping him on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

Should be interesting to watch this group develop. Whatever happens, Smith proved himself worthy of more touches with an outstanding preseason. Let's see if he is truly incorporated into the game plan, as promised.

RECEIVERS (6)

Here is my thought: As much as it would be great to see undrafted rookie Bernard Reedy make the 53-man roster, the Falcons have to think special teams here. Weems and Roby are guys willing to throw their bodies all over the field to make a tackle or secure a block. And with as disastrous as special teams were this preseason, the Falcons need strong contributions from guys like Weems and Roby. Reedy ends up on the practice squad.

TIGHT ENDS (2)

Pascoe wins the backup role for his blocking, but Mickey Shuler put up one heck of a fight. A concussion kept Shuler out of the most important preseason game and thus, gave Pascoe a little more advantage.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)

Holmes should be set as the starting right tackle after a strong preseason. Some of Konz's mistakes in the preseason finale make me wonder if rookie James Stone might get serious consideration as insurance at center.

DEFENSIVE LINE (7)

I really, really want to put Travian Robertson on this list. Seriously. But something tells me he is going to be one of the toughest decisions in the room. We will see how it unfolds.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)

It was a tough battle between rookies Starr and Jacques Smith, but Smith likely hurt his cause by being ejected for unnecessary roughness in the third preseason game.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)

Still believe Shembo will grab a starting role over Bartu sooner than later. Veteran Pat Angerer doesn't make the cut.

CORNERBACKS (5)

Although Wilson hasn't been spectacular, the Falcons need experienced cornerbacks to go up against some of these high-powered, multiple-receiver offenses they will have to face. That is why McClain, Wilson, and Arenas need to be part of the defensive rotation as extra defensive backs.

SAFETIES (5)

Baker was added here just in case Lowery and Southward have lingering concussion issues. Both missed time this preseason because of concussions, and Lowery saw his 2013 season end prematurely because of a concussion.

SPECIALISTS (3)

As long as these three guys are just doing their jobs, everything should be fine.
There are obvious concerns about how Lamar Holmes will perform if he maintains a starting role this season.

At least Holmes' first appearance as a starter in 2014 wasn't too shabby.

Holmes
The Atlanta Falcons right tackle had a solid performance in Saturday's 24-17 preseason loss to the Tennessee Titans. He played 47 snaps and didn't allow a sack or pick up a penalty. Not to mention he shoved a guy aside after quarterback Matt Ryan took a finger to the face mask from Titans linebacker Zach Brown.

"It's a mindset, just like coach (Mike) Smith always says: We're going to play right there on the line, but not over the line," Holmes said of showing some toughness. "We've got to keep playing aggressive and keep doing what we've got to do to protect our quarterback."

Ryan was sacked once against the Titans as he played six series and 47 snaps. No one on the first-unit offensive line, save for maybe right guard Jon Asamoah, performed above standard in the run game, so Holmes wasn't flawless. Still, it was interesting to see him hold his own while rookie Jake Matthews had a few hiccups over at left tackle.

Matthews moved from right tackle to left after Sam Baker suffered a season-ending knee injury. It forced Holmes to take over for Matthews on the right side.

"I had ups and downs," Holmes said of Saturday's game. "But it's something I can learn and keeping building off of."

Holmes needs to build confidence if he hopes to maintain a starting role. He is battling both Ryan Schraeder and Gabe Carimi at the position, with Carimi expected back from an ankle injury this week.
Examining the Atlanta Falcons' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
Renfree hasn't looked too bad this preseason and has a good grasp of the offense. T.J. Yates? Well, he's looked terrible, so Renfree should have the backup job secured.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

Rodgers is making a strong push to get his share of touches despite how excited the organization is about Freeman. And Rodgers continues to be solid in blitz pickup, too.

RECEIVERS (6)

If the Falcons didn't have two big, dynamic receivers such as Jones and White, I'd say rookie Geraldo Boldewijn would have a serious chance because of his size. But I give the nod to Reedy for his ability to go get the deep ball. The toughest decision might be between veterans Weems and Courtney Roby because both could be special-teams aces. I'll give Weems the nod because he can spell Hester on returns and because White went to bat for him.

TIGHT ENDS (2)

Last week, I had Mickey Shuler behind Toilolo as the backup. However, a concussion was a tough setback for Shuler as he missed the most crucial preseason game. So Pascoe is the No. 2 guy.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)

Since both Sam Baker (knee) and Mike Johnson (foot) were lost for the season with injuries and Carimi (ankle) missed the first three preseason games, the Falcons have to keep extra bodies for depth. That's why Gunn and Jones make this list.

DEFENSIVE LINE (7)

The rookie Hageman got his first sack in the last preseason game and seems to be getting adjusted. Let's see if his maturation continues. Goodman has made some plays as well, including on special teams.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)

Maponga has played with a lot of energy and enthusiasm as of late, and general manager Thomas Dimitroff even noticed. Undrafted rookie Smith is walking a fine line. First, he mixed it up with a few of his teammates in practice. Then Smith ticked off coach Mike Smith with an unnecessary roughness penalty against the Titans. His toughness is good but he has to settle down.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)

Shembo appeared to take advantage of his increased reps in the third and most crucial preseason game. It was interesting to see him start the second half against the Titans ahead of Bartu. Shembo will assume the starting role at some point.

CORNERBACKS (5)

McClain secured the nickel back role, in my opinion, over Josh Wilson and Arenas. I left Wilson off this time because he hasn't made enough plays. Arenas has showed up.

SAFETIES (4)

Ishmael continues to show his ability to tackle and will continue to press Lowery for a starting role. Southward has to go through concussion testing after getting banged up in the third preseason game.

SPECIALISTS (3)

As long as these three guys are just doing their jobs, everything should be fine.
Most significant move: The most eye-opening move had nothing to do with a player getting released. It was offensive lineman Mike Johnson being placed on injured reserve after suffering a foot injury during Saturday night's preseason loss to Tennessee. Johnson was on IR last season and made his way back. He was used as the extra tackle against the Titans, then suffered the foot injury. Maybe he had a chance to make the 53-man for depth following Sam Baker's season-ending knee injury, but Johnson was on the bubble and struggling in practice.

Wild card: Again, there were no real surprises, but you thought maybe undrafted quarterback Jeff Mathews would get a longer look in the final preseason game Thursday night. Instead, he was let go. The Falcons liked his size (6-foot-4) and his intelligence coming out of Cornell. Mathews seemed to be at least a top practice-squad candidate, but maybe not anymore. The Falcons are likely to keep two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, so maybe they want to get one more look at the Sean Renfree-T.J. Yates battle, although Renfree seems to have the backup job behind Matt Ryan.

What’s next: The Falcons have some interesting decisions to make after facing the Jacksonville Jaguars in the final preseason game. They have to determine how many receivers they want to keep with undrafted rookies Geraldo Boldewijn and Bernard Reedy trying to make a final push. They have to decide how many defensive backs they want to keep. And they have to keep in mind depth concerns at linebacker and along the offensive line. Some other players to keep an eye on in terms of fighting for jobs include safety Sean Baker, outside linebacker Tyler Starr and defensive tackle Travian Robertson.

Falcons moves: IR: OL Mike Johnson (foot), LB Marquis Spruill (ACL); PUP: WR Drew Davis (foot), S Zeke Motta (neck); Released: S Tyrell Johnson; Waived: DE Theo Agnew, LB Brenden Daley, LB Darin Drakeford, S Devonta Glover-Wright, WR Julian Jones, QB Jeff Mathews, LB Walker May, RB Jerome Smith, WR Tramaine Thompson, TE Brian Wozniak.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It shouldn't have been much surprise to see Atlanta Falcons rookie inside linebacker Prince Shembo running alongside Paul Worrilow early in Monday's practice.

Before training camp started, coach Mike Smith promised Shembo would get serious consideration for a starter's role. Then defensive coordinator Mike Nolan talked about Shembo having the best physical stature of anyone on the roster at inside linebacker.

Shembo didn't totally overtake Joplo Bartu during Monday's session, but his increased reps with the first unit seemed to indicate a depth-chart move on the horizon.

"I think that Prince has had a very good training camp," Smith said as the team broke camp Monday. "We have to continue to be in an evaluation mode and get these guys ready and prepared. Obviously, whether he's the first man in or the guy that's out there, he's got to get some work with the first group.

"And we will make sure that we get an evaluation where he's playing against some of the [caliber of] players that he'll be playing against in September, October, November."

Shembo came to the Falcons as an outside linebacker but made the transition to inside linebacker almost immediately. His pass-rush skills were evident in the first exhibition against Miami, when he recorded a sack. His effort and intensity are evident every snap. Now, Shembo has to prove himself in coverage, be a sure-tackler, and show an ability to communicate well when he's asked to relay the defensive signals.

In Saturday's 32-7 loss to the Houston Texans, Shembo played 27 snaps and had three tackles. He was in with the starters on a goal-line play that resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run for Texans running back Alfred Blue.

"He's been in our goal-line defense from the very start, so it wasn't something that we did this past game," Smith said. "Prince has done everything that we've asked. He's very conscientious in the classroom. He's eager to learn. And Coach [Glenn] Pires has done a really good job with him in getting him prepared."

Falcons Camp Report: Day 17

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Atlanta Falcons training camp:
  • The big story Monday before the Falcons officially broke camp was rookie Jake Matthews' move from right tackle to left tackle following a season-ending knee injury to Sam Baker. Left guard Justin Blalock joked with Matthews about it being their first date together. The Falcons thought it would be a happy marriage with Matthews from the beginning, which is why they drafted him sixth overall. Matthews played left tackle last year at Texas A&M, so the transition back to the left side didn't seem to bother him one bit. It was interesting seeing him fight against veteran designated pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora as Umenyiora rushed off the right side. "We've got a ton of talent on this defense," Matthews said. "Every day, it's a challenge for me to go out and block. But it's been good for me. [Umenyiora's] one of the best that ever played. I'm excited to work with him and get better from him."
  • Defensive tackle Corey Peters returned to practice and participated in individual drills, meaning he's no longer on the physically unable to perform list. Peters tore his Achilles against San Francisco on Dec. 23 of last season. "Corey's way ahead of schedule in terms of his rehabilitation with his Achilles," coach Mike Smith said. "It's going to be fun to watch him get indoctrinated into what we're doing this season with coach (Bryan) Cox. We're going to take it slow. The next question may be whether we're going to have him ready for the first game. That's going to be something that will be determined (on) how he handles the next couple of weeks."
  • Javier Arenas was the primary nickelback during Monday's practice as the Falcons continue to weigh competition at the position. Smith said before Saturday's loss at Houston he wanted to figure out the best man for the job between Arenas, Robert McClain, and Josh Wilson. Arenas will get the first shot this Saturday against Tennessee. "I think we still have a lot of decisions to make in terms of who's going to be our nickel," Smith said. "We're going to rotate a little bit differently this week than what we did in the first two games. There's really been three guys who have been competing for it .... This is Arenas' chance to get his reps in there. And then we'll make a decision going into the fourth preseason game on who's going to be our starter at nickel."
  • There was a bit of an altercation between outside linebacker Jonathan Massaquoi and center Joe Hawley. After Massaquoi kept screaming at Hawley, Smith stepped in and warned how Massaquoi could get a 15-yard penalty for continuing to run his mouth. The Falcons have been penalized 19 times for 171 yards in two preseason games.
  • Extra points: Julio Jones looked rather smooth in catching a touchdown pass behind Desmond Trufant on a perfectly executed fade with Matt Ryan. ... Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who tore his Achilles this offseason, was in a walking boot and out supporting his teammates Monday. He once yelled from the sideline for the defenders to get proper depth on their drops. .... Offensive tackle Gabe Carimi walked around the practice field all day but remained sidelined coming off an ankle injury. ... Devin Hester had a drop over the middle on a bullet from Ryan. ... Terren Jones played with the second team at left tackle as Ryan Schraeder was at right tackle. ... Harry Douglas corralled a Hail Mary pass.
Examining the Atlanta Falcons' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
Yes, the Falcons traded linebacker Akeem Dent to the Houston Texans in exchange for T.J. Yates, but Yates looks far from ready to assume the backup role after a dismal preseason showing against his former team. Renfree hasn't been spectacular but he knows the offense better.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

Jackson appears almost ready to return from a hamstring injury, so it doesn't look like anything will linger like last season.

RECEIVERS (6)

Hester showed his value as a receiver against the Texans. Undrafted rookie Bernard Reedy should make it if Drew Davis starts the season on PUP coming off foot surgery.

TIGHT ENDS (2)

It's a very close battle but I'm giving Shuler the nod over Bear Pascoe at the moment just based on how Shuler continues to make plays in the passing game. Pascoe could be right back in front next week with his blocking.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

With Sam Baker expected to be lost for the season with a ruptured patella tendon, Matthews is expected to be moved over to left tackle from right tackle. Carimi, still recovering from an ankle injury, should have more value now as a right tackle candidate. And the addition of Jones to the mix is about having more depth at the tackle spot, although adding a veteran could be possible.

DEFENSIVE LINE (7)

Umenyiora looked good as the designated pass-rusher in the preseason loss to the Texans. Hageman is starting to figure things out and it showed in his play Saturday night.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)

Smith earned more reps this past week as fellow rookie Tyler Starr sort of fell out of the picture. Starr has to have a strong last two preseason games.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)

Shembo continues to progress and should get an opportunity to seriously challenge starter Bartu sooner than later.

CORNERBACKS (6)

Just changing it up a little with adding Arenas because he has had some moments. Allen has to show himself more.

SAFETIES (5)

Ishmael, who had an interception against the Texans, might put some pressure on Lowery for the starting role. Southward displayed his speed on special teams the last time out. Maybe Sean Baker remains in the mix for safety depth.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Nothing has changed here except Bryant and Bosher are coming off getting a kick and punt blocked, respectively.

Falcons Camp Report: Day 16

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
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HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Atlanta Falcons training camp:
  • The Falcons had their second of two joint practices against the Houston Texans in preparation for Saturday's exhibition. The day involved a lot of situational work, including more red zone and two-minute drill, plus a series with the Falcons backed up deep near their own end zone. Coach Mike Smith was pleased, overall. "I thought it was a good work," Smith said. "We worked on a lot of situations. ... I thought it was very good work. We had some guys that we held out that we have on their normal routine. I think that sometimes gives other guys opportunities to play and grow."
  • Speaking of getting opportunities, rookie receivers Bernard Reedy and Geraldo Boldewijn got more chances with both Julio Jones and Roddy White resting, as scheduled. Boldewijn actually caught a touchdown pass from Matt Ryan during the red-zone period. "I thought some young guys got a chance to compete at a different level than they've been competing," Smith said. "(Boldewijn) did a nice job. And Reedy got an opportunity to get more reps. (Jeremy) Ebert got an opportunity to get more reps. That's what these practices are really about: the evaluation process."
  • The defensive line and pass-rushers found it a tough go, at times, against the Texans offensive line. But the Falcons had their moments. Nose tackle Paul Soliai pushed an opponent back what seemed to be 10 yards during one-on-one drills, while Jonathan Babineaux was simply consistent during the same session. Veteran Osi Umenyiora showed off a nice spin move later in practice. And Kroy Biermann went at it hard with former Falcons teammate Tyson Clabo early in practice. Several defensive linemen and linebackers got a little irked with Texans offensive lineman Mike Farrell, who seemed to take the field looking for a fight. Cliff Matthews came the closest to coming to blows with Farrell.
  • Speaking of fights, there was a little tension between Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant and Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins after Trufant broke up a pass during a drill. The two glared at each other. Then Hopkins and Falcons cornerback Josh Wilson got into it, with Wilson throwing a punch at Hopkins. But Hopkins might have instigated with a push. "It was even with me, really," Trufant said of the squabble. "(Hopkins) and I, we were just battling all day and just competing. It's a full-contact sport. Tempers are going to flare. But we're just competing."
  • Extra points: Trufant was getting medical treatment on the side near the end of practice but said it was just cramps. ... Rookie outside linebacker Jacques Smith saw more second-team reps running alongside Stansly Maponga behind starters Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi. ... Ryan got picked off a couple times during drills. ... There was a little trash talk between Falcons safety William Moore and a member of the Texans coaching staff after Paul Worrilow appeared to stop the runner in the end zone for a safety. Moore started yelling, "All day. All day." The person going back and forth with Moore appeared to be Texans head coach Bill O'Brien. ... Running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) and offensive lineman Gabe Carimi (ankle) remained sidelined.
  • Next up: The Falcons have Friday off.
HOUSTON -- It was no surprise to see Houston Texans pass-rush terror J.J. Watt have dominant moments during Wednesday's joint practice with the Atlanta Falcons.

Watt
Watt
The 25-year-old, two-time Pro Bowl defensive end pushed back left guard Justin Blalock on consecutive plays. Then he obliterated backup guard Mike Johnson with a one-hand push that had his Texans' teammates roaring his name.

"He's a beast," Blalock said of Watt. "He's a hell of a player. This is a great opportunity for our front to go up against a top-notch defensive front. They're really stacked over there; a lot of top-notch players. It's going to be interesting down in the trenches the whole week."

Watt rushed both from the inside and the edge and lined up on both sides. Right guard Jon Asamoah and rookie right tackle Jake Matthews did the best job contending with Watt, at least for a couple of plays.

Now the Falcons have to face Watt for another day of practice on Thursday and then again during Saturday night's exhibition game.

"He's a stud," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said of Watt. "I've played against him before. ... Really good player. His work ethic, you see that when you practice against him. How he competes every snap, that's impressive to see."

The Falcons' line competed hard as well. Left tackle Sam Baker was solid, at times, going up against Texans rookie sensation Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall draft pick. Matthews had a few moments against another talented pass-rusher in Brooks Reed, although Reed's quickness led to Matthews holding him around the neck during one play.

Regardless, Reed was impressed with the Falcons rookie.

"He's good," Reed said of Matthews. "It looks like he's got good technique, good form. And he seems like a pretty physical player. So, he seems like he has a lot of potential.

"You win some, you lose some. When you're out there and you're starting, it doesn't matter if you're a rookie or not because guys are going to go just as hard. That's something that I'm sure he understands."

Falcons Camp Report: Day 15

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
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HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics from Atlanta Falcons training camp:
  • The Falcons had the first of two joint practices with the Houston Texans on Wednesday morning. More than anything, it was a chance for the offensive line to work against a rather talented Texans front seven, led by J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed and rookie Jadeveon Clowney. "I thought we got some really good work,'' Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "Coach [Bill] O'Brien and his staff did a really good job putting the practice together. Thought we went out and got a chance to work against each other. But I only saw one side of the ball. And I was back and forth. So I really don't have a true evaluation. But I thought that they worked hard. It was a different sequencing for us, coming out here in the morning. Look forward to watching the tape and seeing what tomorrow brings.'' Smith is likely to see his offensive line -- specifically Justin Blalock and Mike Johnson -- getting dominated by Watt. Rookie Jake Matthews held his own but had some trouble with Reed at one point, while Sam Baker went head-to-head with Clowney, who appeared to force Baker into a holding penalty later in practice. Nobody on the Falcons' defensive line seemed to do anything overly spectacular.
  • Quarterback Matt Ryan hit Harry Douglas for a touchdown pass at the end of practice and Douglas was demonstrative with his celebration. It helped that Ryan got a little extra time to throw due to solid protection up front. Ryan was asked about the timing with his receivers at this particular point in the process. "I think we're about right where we need to be this time of the year,'' he said. "We've got some things to clean up, but I think our timing has been pretty good.'' Ryan continues to re-establish his rhythm with Julio Jones, who remains on a day on, day off practice schedule with an increased workload when he participates. Jones praticed Wednesday so he's likely to be off Thursday, unless there is a last-minute change.
  • Unlike what we've grown accustomed to back in Flowery Branch, Georgia, no significant fights broke out during Wednesday's practice. There seemed to be just one truly heated moment when Falcons rookie fullback Maurice Hagens got into it with former Falcons linebacker Akeem Dent, who was traded to the Texans in exchange for quarterback T.J. Yates.
  • Running back Jacquizz Rodgers, running with the first team with Steven Jackson (left hamstring) still sidelined, had a little added motivation to perform well in practice. Rodgers is from the Houston area and had about 12 relatives and friends at the practice. "It's always good to come home,'' Rodgers said. "Got my family here. Gives them a chance to see us practice firsthand.''
  • Extra points: Ryan on Texans linebacker Justin Tuggle, the son of former Falcon great Jessie Tuggle. "I think he's doing a good job. He's really filled out. He actually started off at B.C. [Boston College], so I was fan of his early on.'' ... Offensive lineman Gabe Carimi returned to the field as an observer for the first time since suffering an ankle injury during a joint practice with the Tennessee Titans. ... Linebacker Tim Dobbins, who suffered an ankle injury in last week's exhibition opener against Miami, returned to practice and faced his former teammates. ... Rookie Kimario McFadden had an interception off a tipped pass. ... The Texans had receiver Andre Johnson, running back Arian Foster and linebacker Brian Cushing back to practice off injuries.
  • Next up: The Falcons and Texans conclude their two-day joint practices with another 8 a.m. session Thursday.
FLOWERY BRANCH, GA. -- There is no doubt the Atlanta Falcons have gotten tougher this season just based on the bigger bodies along the offensive and defensive lines and the nastier attitudes players have brought to training camp.

But will that translate to a return trip to the postseason in 2014?

The Falcons still have some questions to answer, some wrinkles to iron out after last season's 4-12 finish. If all goes as planned, Matt Ryan will play like one of the top-tier quarterbacks in the league because he won't have to throw under such duress and he'll have his top threat back in Julio Jones. If all goes as planned, the running backs, led by Steven Jackson and rookie Devonta Freeman, will help give the Falcons much-needed offensive balance.

If all goes as planned, newly added defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson will help shut down the run, forcing opponents to be one-dimensional and allowing defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to find creative ways to get pressure on quarterbacks and create turnovers.

And if all goes as planned, Devin Hester will prove he's still the greatest return man in the game and will help the Falcons win a few games simply on his own dynamic talent.

We'll see how it all unfolds.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeJulio Jones
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellJulio Jones is fully healthy,which is bad news for the rest of the NFC South.
1. Jones' return: You can't overstate how much Jones means to this offense. The Falcons sorely missed his big-play ability last season as opposing defenses had it easy. With Jones back and looking fully healthy coming off a second foot surgery, the Falcons have their explosion back. Jones put on 10 pounds of muscle and still has his breakaway speed. Where he really might thrive more than ever is the red zone, given that Ryan no longer has Tony Gonzalez as his security blanket. Also expect Jones to draw his share of defensive holding penalties against outmatched cornerbacks.

2. Jake Matthews' arrival: The rookie first-round pick brings more stability to what was a pathetic offensive line last season. Throughout training camp, the right tackle has been like a brick wall in pass protection and has been equally impressive as a run blocker. There are still questions about how the line will fare as a whole. But there's no doubt Matthews has perennial Pro Bowler written all over him. With veteran right guard Jon Asamoah next to Matthews, the right side of the line should be the least of the Falcons' concerns.

3. No-nonsense coaches: Offensive line coach Mike Tice and defensive line coach Bryan Cox are new to the staff -- and they don't take crap from anyone. Some players need a kick in the butt rather than positive reinforcement, and Tice and Cox have no issue raising their voices. The players seem to respect them both. The offensive linemen have taken well to Tice tweaking their techniques. Maybe the defensive linemen aren't so enthused about Cox making them do up-downs after mistakes, but it's only going to make them more mentally focused.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Although no one should doubt Nolan's unique ability to be creative with his packages, the simple fact is the Falcons don't have a dominant pass-rusher. Sure, Jonathan Massaquoi has a lot of promise and veteran Osi Umenyiora slimmed down and seems to have a good year left in his body, but there's not a guy who strikes fear in opposing offensive tackles. With Drew Brees and Cam Newton in the division and Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco also on the schedule, pressure will be imperative.

2. There continues to be a concern at inside linebacker. Paul Worrilow should be fine and will have a place in the lineup for a lot of years to come. But Joplo Bartu, currently alongside Worrilow in the 3-4 setup and in the nickel defense, has some strides to make. Bartu has had a good training camp and can cover tight ends with no issues. But he's still learning on the fly, coming from outside linebacker last year. The Falcons have a lot of faith in rookie Prince Shembo, but he's also transitioning from outside to inside and will have a learning curve. There's a lack of depth at the position, too, with Sean Weatherspoon (Achilles) and rookie Marquis Spruill (ACL) out for the season.

3. Injuries took a toll on the Falcons last season with players such as Jones, Jackson, Weatherspoon, Roddy White and Kroy Biermann all either being shelved for the season or at least missing games. The injury bug has again bit the Falcons in training camp with three players (safety Dwight Lowery, linebacker Pat Angerer and offensive tackle Terren Jones) suffering concussions, two players (Gabe Carimi and Tim Dobbins) suffering ankle injuries, and one player (Spruill) tearing an ACL. The Falcons can't have a rash of major injuries this season. If they do, at least they'll have better depth than a year ago.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Although 6-foot-3-inch, 302-pound center Joe Hawley was pushed around a little bit in the preseason opener against Miami, the Falcons can live with that for a couple of plays a game because Hawley brings so much toughness and is so quick and athletic when it comes to pulling.

  • Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford continue to evolve as a duo and should be one of the most feared cornerback tandems in the league for years to come. Expect them to be much more physical this year.
    [+] EnlargeDesmond Trufant
    AP Photo/Joe RobbinsDesmond Trufant teams with Robert Alford to give the Falcons a top-notch CB tandem.

  • Some folks wondered about White's health because he seems a little hobbled and continues to wear a light brace on his left knee. But White showed no ill-effects against the Dolphins and looked like the Roddy White of old.

  • Robert McClain appears to be ahead in the battle for the third cornerback right now, with Javier Arenas maybe a tad ahead of Josh Wilson at this point. Wilson has to start making more plays.

  • No one is panicking over Hester fumbling the ball in his first exhibition. The defender got a good hit on him. Hester, historically, has been secure with the ball on returns.

  • Safety Kemal Ishmael continues to impress the Falcons, specifically with his tackling. If Lowery's concussion issues resurface, Ishmael should be more than capable to handle a starting role next to strong safety William Moore.

  • Explosive running back Antone Smith deserves more touches. Enough said.
HOUSTON -- Maybe T.J. Yates won't get a chance to challenge Garrett Graham at the TPC golf course inside the Woodlands Country Club, but at least the Atlanta Falcons quarterback will get a chance to enjoy a few memories with the tight end Graham and some of his other former Houston teammates.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yates
John Bazemore/AP PhotoQB T.J. Yates threw for 127 yards in the Falcons' preseason game against Miami on Aug. 8.
Yates, of course, was traded from the Texans to his hometown Atlanta Falcons this offseason in exchange for linebacker Akeem Dent. With the teams scheduled to have two joint practices in Houston Wednesday morning and Thursday morning in preparation for Saturday night's preseason game, Yates will be in familiar surroundings.

"Man, I've got a ton of friends on the Texans," Yates said. "Most of my draft class that I came in with -- J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed, a couple of the offensive linemen. I spent three years there and made a lot of memories, a lot of friends. It will be special to go back. It will be fun.

"It's going to be weird being on the other side. But, I'm excited to go back."

Yates, a former fifth-round draft pick out of North Carolina, has the distinction of winning the first playoff game in Texans' franchise history when, as a rookie, he helped them to a 31-10 triumph over the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2011 postseason.

"That was something special not only for me, but the entire organization and the city of Houston," Yates said. "It was kind of just taking a step as a program. That was a big deal for everybody. That's something that I'll obviously remember forever."

Yates doesn't have any ill feelings about the trade.

"It was something that my agent and (Texans general manager) Rick Smith had been talking about for a while," Yates said. "They were kind of throwing around the idea. It got me in a better situation than I was there. And I thank both organizations for executing the trade.

"I couldn't have landed in a better situation for my family, myself: being back at home and being with an organization like it is here and learning from one of the better quarterbacks in this league. And a great coaching staff. I couldn't be happier."

Yates knows firsthand how much of a challenge it will be for the offensive line and rookie right tackle Jake Matthews to practice and play a game against a player the caliber of Watt.

"My advice? Be ready, because he's one of the best in the league," Yates said of friend Watt. "Hopefully (Matthews) won't have to face him head on. Usually a guy like J.J., you're trying to put at least four hands on him at all times. That will be a good test for Jake and all of our offensive linemen. They've got one of the stronger front sevens in the league."

Yates is familiar with the other big challenge the Falcons will face in Houston.

"It's also going to be a good test for us to go down there and practice in the heat," he said. "Think about the hottest practice you've ever had and add something to it. It's a different world out there. You practice in the morning to try and beat the heat, but it's 100-percent humidity at 8 o'clock in the morning. It's just a different world. You've just got to get over the initial shock of how hot it is."

Yates, by the way, is locked in a battle with Sean Renfree for the backup role behind Matt Ryan. Coach Mike Smith said not to read too much into how reps are distributed this week, but Smith wants to establish a No. 2 guy by the third preseason game against Tennessee.

Against Miami last week, Yates completed 7 of 16 passes for 127 yards while working with a group of inexperienced receivers.

"I thought I did good," Yates said. "I was a little off with some of the receivers. That just takes time, getting with those guys, and practicing over and over with them. You have to learn how they run routes. Every receiver is different. Some routes are steps. Some are shorter and some are longer.

"It's more of just getting on the same page with the receivers, more operation at the line of scrimmage, and just getting used to this offense and getting used to the coaches calling the play into me and me relaying it to those guys. That's what the preseason's for. That's what training camp is for."

Falcons Camp Report: Day 14

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
6:15
PM ET
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- A daily review of the hot topics from Atlanta Falcons training camp:
  • Coach Mike Smith moved the final open practice of camp to the morning so the Falcons could get used to the schedule they'll have in Houston the next few days during joint practices with the Texans. "We wanted to get some timing today in terms of our practice, in terms of doing it in the morning, so we got the guys up early this morning," Smith said. "The next two days, we're going to switching our emphasis to morning practice and doing our walkthrough in the afternoon."
  • Rookie running back Devonta Freeman was back as a full participant after leaving practice on Monday. "Devonta was just dehydrated from practice," Smith said, "and we wanted to be very precautionary and take him off the field. We got him re-hydrated and he's ready to go." Freeman should get plenty of touches in the exhibition against the Texans with Steven Jackson slowly working his way back from a left hamstring injury. Antone Smith should get more looks as well.
  • The heat might be an issue an issue in Houston, with temperatures in the 90s. Falcons quarterback T.J. Yates, who was traded from Texans, warned that it's a different type of hot in Houston. "I thought (Monday) was probably the closes that we're going to get to the weather that we're probably going to have in Houston," Smith said. "It's going to be muggy. It's going to be humid. We've got to do a good job of hydrating when we get on the plane. We've got to make sure that we drink 20 ounces of fluid per hour on the flight, and that's one of the things that our guys will be reminded to do. And it's going to be important that we pre-hydrate and then stay hydrated down there because it's going to be competitive. Houston has got a good football team. They've got some very good athletes. I'm looking forward to watching some of our offensive linemen go against their pass-rushers."
  • Big nose tackle Paul Soliai got his 300-plus body up in the air and nearly picked off a Matt Ryan pass over the middle during Tuesday's practice. He looked like a defensive back dropping into coverage. "It was a good drop (move)," Soliai said. "I’m not really a dropper; I was just doing my job and fortunately I was there at the right moment and should have made a play." When a big guy can move like that, you understand why the Falcons are so high on Soliai and the impact he'll have up front this season.
  • Extra points: The Falcons did their share of red zone and goal line work on Tuesday -- areas Smith said needed to improve from the exhibition. ... Offensive lineman Gabe Carimi and linebacker Tim Dobbins remained out of practice coming off ankle injuries. ... Wide receiver Julio Jones did not practice but did participate in the walkthrough session ... Rookie receiver Bernard Reedy got some looks with the first-team offense. ... Both Desmond Trufant and Dwight Lowery came up with interceptions. Lowery corralled a pass tipped by Josh Wilson. ... Linebacker Paul Worrilow made a nice play to break up a pass in goal-line situation.

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