- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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Although Falcons coach Mike Smith wouldn't rule out Motta for 2014, Smith did indicate extra precautions are being taken with the second-year player.
"I know that he hasn't been cleared at this point in time," Smith said Friday. "I know that he has a scan. And right now, we're projecting that he's not going to participate in any of the offseason program. We're targeting, like a couple of our players, training camp."
Motta underwent surgery Dec. 22 after suffering a cervical fracture at C1 against the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 8. An indication of his toughness was the fact that he played through the injury the very next week against the Washington Redskins -- his first NFL start. Motta replaced then-starter Thomas DeCoud (concussion) and had five tackles while playing all 68 snaps.
Smith indicated Motta's injury flared up in practice, which resulted in the surgery. The initial recovery time was supposed to be four-to-six weeks. Obviously, the severity of the injury wasn't exactly known at that particular time.
Motta, a former seventh-round draft pick from Notre Dame, was expected to be more of a special-teams contributor than a regular in the defensive rotation. But the lack of depth and consistency at the safety position alongside former Pro Bowler William Moore increased Motta's value as a tough guy who could tackle.
If Motta is unable to play this season, the Falcons will rely on rookie Dez Southward and second-year player Kemal Ishmael for depth behind Moore and likely starting free safety Dwight Lowery, a veteran newcomer.
Southward, the third-round draft pick from Wisconsin, has an opportunity to contribute immediately if he lives up to the promise the Falcons see in him.
"The more intelligent thing to do is look at it as a situation where I don't care about the depth, it's more so about me," Southward said. "It doesn't matter what the depth chart looks like if I'm not good enough to play. So I pride myself in trying to work every single day to get better. And hopefully, I'll fill in some of the pieces to the puzzle. If not, I'll continue to work until I get there."
Besides Motta, the Falcons also are being extra cautious with wide receiver Julio Jones (foot surgery), defensive lineman Corey Peters (Achilles’ surgery), and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (knee sprain). Outside linebacker Kroy Biermann (Achilles’ tear) also is coming off a major injury.
Starting left tackle Sam Baker is coming off major knee surgery, but Baker recently told ESPN.com he was set to be cleared for full activity.