NFC South: Atlanta Falcons

Falcons Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
FLOWERY BRANCH, GA. -- A daily review of the hot topics from Atlanta Falcons' training camp:
  • The Matt Ryan-to-Julio Jones connection wasn't working at first, but the two eventually connected on a long ball down the left sideline where Jones caught the ball in stride over the shoulder. It drew the biggest reaction from the fans, who have anxiously awaited for Jones -- the star receiver -- to do his thing coming off foot surgery. He gained 10 pounds of muscle coming into training camp but still appears to have the same blazing speed. "I still feel like I can beat one-on-one matchups," Jones said. Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford did a good job keeping up with Jones throughout practice.
  • The Falcons again practiced in pads, which meant for some hard hits. Safety William Moore delivered a few punishing blows, as expected, while rookie linebackers Prince Shembo and Marquis Spruill put some nice pops on a couple running backs. "Guys had the day off yesterday, so we wanted to have some physical play out there," coach Mike Smith said. "There was goal line and short yardage in our install, so that kind of worked out really good for us to go out and bang. I thought it was competitive. One session was won by the offense. One session was won by the defense. And that's what you really want at this point in time."
  • Smith said linebacker Pat Angerer, who complained of headaches after Tuesday's practice, is going through the concussion protocol. It remains unclear when Angerer will be back in action. The Falcons continue to look at veteran linebackers. Also, rookie safety Dez Southward suffered a knee injury and will be sidelined for a week. Sean Baker ran with the second team defense at safety alongside Kemal Ishmael with Southward out.
  • Smith said he had a conversation with defensive tackle Peria Jerry after lunch, and Jerry said he was going to retire. Smith did not share details of the conversation but wished Jerry well. ... Smith said that "Friday Night Lights" will include a halftime show, then the Falcons will "go out there and play real football." So expect some hard hitting under the lights. ... Defensive end Tyson Jackson showed some veteran leadership by pulling rookie Ra'Shede Hageman aside to help tutor him on some pass rush technique. ... Outside linbacker Jonathan Massaquoi picked off a tipped pass to end practice. ... 6-foot linebacker Paul Worrilow played some nice defense in the end zone on 6-foot-8 tight end Levine Toilolo to knock the ball away.
  • Next up: KIA Motors "Friday Night Lights" at Archer High School in Lawrenceville, Georiga, today from 6:45 p.m. ET to 9:10.
Devonta Freeman has no worries.

The Atlanta Falcons' rookie running back must have felt like he won the lottery after receiving his $475,000-plus signing bonus as part of a four-year, $2.7 million contract. But flashing his new riches was the last of his concerns.

Taking care of his mother, Lorraine, was at the forefront of his thoughts.

"Me personally, I don’t want nothing," Freeman said. "I promise you. I can’t tell you one thing I want. It’s just good to know I ain’t got to want for nothing, and I can take care of my family. I don’t want no car. I’ve got a car.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesDevonta Freeman on his first pro contract: "As long as my momma's good and I know that I can always grab some money and buy her something, I'm good."
"As long as my momma’s good and I know that I can always grab some money and buy her something, I’m good. But there ain’t nothing that I want. I just want this opportunity to play football."

Freeman will have plenty of opportunity to prove his value immediately. A left hamstring injury is likely to sideline veteran starter Steven Jackson for the bulk of the preseason, allowing Freeman and Jacquizz Rodgers to receive more backfield reps in training camp and exhibition games. Freeman already has shown flashes of his ability to be an every-down back.

"He’s a good back, young back, fresh legs," running backs coach Gerald Brown said of Freeman. "He has good agility. I think he’s going to be a really good receiver for us. And I think at the end of the day, he’s going to be a good football player for us."

A number of folks around the organization, including the three-time Pro Bowler Jackson, have commented about Freeman’s humbleness.

It’s easy to understand the rookie's demeanor considering he grew up in a violent, drug-invested area of Miami known as the "Pork 'N Beans" projects.

His mentor Luther Campbell, an entertainer and rapper best known for his role as Luke Skywalker with the 2 Live Crew, offered the best explanation of Freeman’s surroundings.

"The only difference between the "Pork 'N Beans" and Afghanistan is that there are no roadside bombs," Campbell said. "Everything else, they’ve got.

"The big thing for me was to see Devonta get to college so he could get out of there and get a real roof over his head and some food every night. ... But sometimes you can’t worry about the situation you’re in. You just have man up and go to work."

Freeman figured he had to find a way to help his struggling mother, who worked at a hospital and a warehouse as she raised him and five siblings. So as a young teen, Freeman took on three odds job to help provide financial support.

The first was a job at Richardson Memorial Funeral Home, set up by another of his mentors, Dwight Jackson. Freeman’s responsibilities included opening the limo doors for the grieving families and handing attendees flowers to place at the grave site.

"I’d make $150, $200, depending on how many funerals," Freeman explained. "On a packed day, we’d have like four funerals, which meant $250. That was a lot of money."

Freeman kept his free days occupied by washing cars as well. One of the friends, "Junior," had a mobile wash attached to a trailer.

"I would wash like one car the whole day for four hours and would earn like $50. "I know how to wash a car, good. I could start my car wash company and I could wash cars like in the cracks, under the tires. I know how to do everything."

Freeman’s other work was doing chores around Campbell’s home. Campbell started the Optimist youth program and coached Freeman and then again as a volunteer coach at Miami Central high school before Freeman attended Florida State.

"And I was cleaning the walls in Uncle Luke’s house," Freeman said. "If anything, it taught us in life, nothing is free."

His hard work on the football field could result in a lucrative contract one day. If he achieves such status, don’t expect Freeman to alter his mindset.

"As long as I can make the team, play on Sunday, that’s all I want," he said. "The money, I guarantee you the money will be there if you check my bank account. I promise you that."

Falcons Camp Report: Day 5

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga -- A daily review of the hot topics from Atlanta Falcons' training camp:
  • The news of the day was the absence of running back Steven Jackson, who apparently tweaked his knee during Monday's first padded practice. Although coach Mike Smith said he fully expects Jackson to be ready for the season opener against New Orleans (Sept. 7), Jackson had a right hamstring injury that lingered longer than expected last season and kept him out four games. Jackson just turned 31 last week so there are obvious questions about his durability. At least the Falcons have a backup plan with veteran Jacquizz Rodgers and rookie Devonta Freeman. Smith said Antone Smith and Josh Vaughan also would get longer looks with Jackson out.
  • Quarterback Matt Ryan praised the play of rookie right tackle Jake Matthews, who continued his seamless transition to the NFL. Matthews rarely let's anyone get by him with his sound technique and stout frame. "I think Jake, his size and he's very strong, very athletic," Ryan said. "And he's smart. I think that's a great combination. When you talk about a guy who is drafted early and is going to be a cornerstone of the organization for a long time to come, it's a great combination to have. He's done it the way rookies should do it: kind of kept his mouth shut and handled his business the right way." Matthews hasn't shut it completely, however. "But then we got him up there singing last night in front of everybody, and he was pretty good," Ryan said with a laugh. "Probably the thing that has impressed me the most in the first week is his ability to sing. He's not scared to get up there and (let) a little bit of personality show through."
  • Veteran Osi Umenyiora, who has slimmed down, has shown a lot of speed a good hand movement with his rushes during pass-rush drills and full-team work. He even dropped into coverage on at least one occasion, showing his willingness to step out of his comfort zone to make the team. Umenyiora wondered about his role this offseason as the team transitioned to a 3-4 base defense, but there's plenty of room for him as long as he can get to the quarterback. And he's showing some young legs for a player set to turn 33 in November.
  • The offense didn't exactly shine on a second consecutive day of padded practice. In fact, there was some noticeable drops and some mistiming between Ryan and his receivers, even with Julio Jones back on the field after a day off. "We need to execute much better than we have," Ryan said. "But the effort's there. And I think that's been encouraging."
  • Linebacker Pat Angerer left practice early and did not return. Smith did not provide an update. ... Defensive tackle tackle Travian Robertson made his presence known in one-on-one pass-rush drills, obliterating center Peter Konz with a bull rush. Robertson has stood out in drills in an effort to earn a roster spot. ... Rookie defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman got some revenge on guard Harland Gunn during one-on-one pass-rush drills, swinging Gunn to the ground a day after Gunn stood him up twice.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice has received multiple fines since joining the team.

The offense? Bragging too much about the Pro Bowl linemen he tutored in the past such as Matt Birk, Todd Steussie, and the late Korey Stringer.

Center Joe Hawley couldn't help but laugh as he snitched on his new coach.

"He actually gets fined every time he name drops one of those guys in the meeting room," Hawley said. "He's always talking about these Hall of Famers and Pro Bowlers. And we're like, 'Come on, man. Stop living in the past.' He stops talking about it now."

Hawley said the fine usually entails simply giving Tice a hard time, but left guard Justin Blalock revealed a little more detail. Blalock and left tackle Sam Baker are in charge of levying such fines.

"He owes us a dinner or two, certainly," Blalock said. "A lot of time between the guys, we'll do push-up bets in lieu of money. But I'm not sure (Tice) can get down and do push-ups anymore."

Obviously Tice has learned his lesson.

"My goodness, he did it a lot during the offseason," Blalock said. "But he's starting to catch on to the games we play in our meeting room."

Tice certainly gets his revenge with his coaching verbal assaults on the field.

Falcons Camp Report: Day 4

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Atlanta Falcons training camp:
  • Showing some fight: The Falcons provided plenty of footage for HBO's "Hard Knocks" during Monday's first padded practice. Numerous fights broke out throughout the day. It started with offensive lineman Gabe Carimi and outside linebacker Stansly Maponga exchanging punches following a pass-rush, one-on-one drill. "Both sides don't want to take crap," Carimi said. "I don't think there's anything personal between us. We'll talk about it. We'll be fine in the locker room. We'll be fine the next day. I think we've got two, passionate lines, and I think that's a good thing." The scuffle had a domino effect as outside linebacker Jacques Smith and center Joe Hawley got into it with a heated exchange. Hawley took exception because Smith's a rookie, and he let the youngster know about it. Another veteran, guard Justin Blalock, had a problem with Smith's reaction, too. "Out here on the field, things are going to work a certain way: You're just not going to talk like that to certain people," Blalock said. "There are things in place to handle that type of stuff. Unfortunately, you had to see some of that today." Coach Mike Smith stepped in and used a couple of expletives to calm the situation. The rookie Smith later got into it with tackle Ryan Schraeder.
  • Tough enough: Coach Smith seemed to be a little annoyed when the subject of toughness was brought up, considering it was the first time real hitting took place. "Everyone wants to talk about toughness: If you play in the National Football League, you are a tough person," Smith said. "It's about being resilient. It's about being strong. It's about being physical. Everybody that plays in the NFL is tough. And I can't tell you I've ever been around a football player that plays in the National Football League that's not tough. ... But in terms of being physical, we've got to be a more physical football team."
  • Rocky road: There was a funny moment in practice when Matt Ryan lightly tackled cornerback Robert Alford after Alford picked off a pass and returned it. But it was no joke how the passing game with Ryan and T.J. Yates was a little out of sync. There was some solid defensive pressure, particularly from Jonathan Massaquoi, who threw Ryan's timing off on at least one play. The defensive backs also made plays by knocking the ball away.
  • Rookie watch: Right tackle Jake Matthews was solid throughout the entire day, rarely giving up ground and forcing pass-rushers out wide. He was consistent in one-on-one drills and during full 11-on-11 team work. Defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman didn't fare as well, getting stood up a few times by offensive guard Harland Gunn both in drills and full team work. Practice ended with one play ran at full speed, and linebacker Marquis Spruill made a nice tackle on fellow rookie Devonta Freeman.
  • Extra points: Coach Smith said the pad level was way too high during the first padded practice. ... New defensive lineman Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai looked the part up front with the pads on, barely getting push during one-on-ones and holding their own against double-teams. ... Julio Jones sat out practice, as planned. He'll be back Tuesday. ... Roddy White wore a thin knee brace but said it was no big deal. ... Team owner Arthur Blank attended practice.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Jonathan Massaquoi laughed when reminded how much emphasis there has been on the team's inability to address its pass-rush woes through free agency or the draft.

"I just feel like, hey, I’m going to continue to let everybody think what they want to think," Massaquoi said. "I have 10 guys on the field with me that trust me. I’ve got a coaching staff, I’ve got an organization that trust me and other guys to get the job done.

"Technically, nobody knows what’s going to happen in September. Technically, nobody’s been here except from the outside looking in. I mean, hey, let them say that. We’re going to be scrutinized whether or not we’re on the top, whether or not we’re down, whether or not we’re doing good. All I can do is get ready for Sept. 7, for New Orleans, and show the world what we’ve been doing."

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsAtlanta's Jonathan Massaquoi is confident the Falcons will generate pressure on opposing QBs, even if critics are skeptical.
That is quite a bit of confidence from a guy with just four sacks in 24 NFL games. But Massaquoi isn't caught up in numbers. Neither is Falcons coach Mike Smith, who would prefer to see consistent pressure and the defense getting of the field on third down rather than inflated sack numbers. The Falcons had the league's worst third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 45.9 percent of the time.

Smith is confident the group of pass-rushers will improve, starting with the 6-foot-2-inch, 264-pound Massaquoi.

"I think he’s maturing, not only as a pass-rusher, but he’s maturing as a football player," Smith said. "I think he has the skill set that we’re looking for to fit into multiple pieces of our defense.

"Jonathan, if you look at his numbers, they’re outstanding: his height, his speed, size, arm length. And he really had a productive second year. I feel like, in my conversations with him, that he left opportunities out there on the field. And I think he understands and realizes that, in retrospect, you don’t get second opportunities."

Indeed, Massaquoi has matured. He pointed to last season's game against the New York Jets -- during which he played 18 snaps at defensive end in a 30-28 loss -- as a perfect example of learning from your mistakes.

"The Jets was my only mismanaged game, mentally," he said. "My mental preparation wasn’t there. And I learned from that game. That’s why I’m in the position I’m in now. The biggest leap for me has been my mental preparation, my mentality coming into camp, my mentality off the field, my mentality coming back to here. All those [have] taken a leap. And it’s put me in this position right now. And I’ve got to continue to ascend."

The onus might be on Massaquoi to elevate his game, but with no elite pass-rusher, applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks has to be a group effort. Fellow outside linebacker Kroy Biermann is underrated when it comes to applying pressure, but he could be the wildcard. Players such as Jonathan Babineaux, Malliciah Goodman, and rookie Ra'Shede Hageman should enhance pressure from inside. And end Osi Umenyiora, who led the team with 7.5 sacks last season, will be used as a designated pass-rusher.

The training camp practices in pads should reveal a lot about if the pass-rushers are capable. Then again, the Falcons are highly unlikely to reveal much about how they plan to attack opposing quarterbacks scheme-wise once the regular season begins.

"The only way your performance is measured in practice is by your effort," Massaquoi said. "It doesn’t matter if you’re beating the guy. It’s your effort. And the end of the day, your effort can override a mistake. Effort’s everything. And attitude is No. 1."
Examining the Atlanta Falcons' roster:

The Falcons are counting on Ryan to play like an elite quarterback with a full complement of receivers and better protection. They feel like they upgraded the backup quarterback position by trading for Yates, the former Houston Texan who has a playoff win under his belt.


Jackson, who just turned 31, still has a good year left in him if he remains healthy. He looks rejuvenated. Freeman, a rookie fourth-round pick, will get a chance to push for touches and has been impressive to start training camp. Rodgers can't be forgotten because of his elusiveness. Smith is a valuable special-teamer, as is Josh Vaughan, who could sneak in.


Jones looked good during his first practice since last year's season-ending foot fracture while White came to camp with a new four-year contract extension in hand. Coach Mike Smith said he'll have a decision to keep five or six receivers, and Davis (foot surgery) might not be ready to start the regular season. Roby has value on special teams as a gunner. Undrafted rookie Bernard Reedy still has a serious chance.


No one is expecting another Tony Gonzalez out of this group, but the Falcons do expect Toilolo to make significant strides this season. Pascoe will be kept for his blocking.


The Falcons believe they have a solid starting five after signing the veteran Asamoah to play right guard and drafting the rookie Matthews in the first round to play right tackle. Both have looked the part at the start of camp. Baker also looks healthy coming off major left knee injury. Lamar Holmes has showed some fight at the start of camp but remains on the bubble.


As long as Soliai and Jackson do their jobs up front in the 3-4 in terms of stuffing the run and freeing up the linebackers to make plays, they'll be well worth the combined $25 million guaranteed despite not playing every down. Hageman, the second-round draft pick, is a mad man on the field and could find himself up front with Soliai and Jackson sooner than later. Peters is the wild card in the rotation depending on his health coming off an Achilles tear. Umenyiora, who has slimmed down and improved his speed, definitely has a spot as a designated pass-rusher.


The Falcons are counting on Massaquoi to be a consistent pass-rusher. Biermann looks healthy coming off an Achilles tear but the Falcons have him on a schedule of two days on, one day off. Starr, a seventh-round draft pick, hasn't really stood out to start training camp like he did during rookie minicamp.


The group will sorely miss Sean Weatherspoon (Achilles), who was lost for the season. Worrilow can tackle while Bartu can cover. The coaches are really counting on the fourth-round draft pick Shembo to step in and have an immediate impact. The late addition of Angerer could really pay off, provided he's healthy.


Trufant and Alford could make up one of the best cornerback tandems in the league in the future if Alford continues to mature. Trufant is there already. The high-powered, multi-receiver offenses around the league only increased the need for solid cornerbacks, and the Falcons have a battle for the third corner with McClain, Wilson and Javier Arenas, with Arenas likely the odd man out.


Moore has to take on more of a leadership role with his buddy Weatherspoon done for the season. Newcomer Lowery could be an upgrade over Thomas DeCoud at free safety provided the offseason was indicative of Lowery's ability. Zeke Motta (neck surgery) won't play this season.


Bosher is one of the best in the league, and Bryant is consistent. They just need to keep it going.

Falcons Camp Report: Day 3

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Atlanta Falcons training camp:
  • Julio Jones saw his most extensive practice action since undergoing right foot surgery and looked like the Jones of old after sitting out one day. His explosion was evident with every step, and he blew past Desmond Trufant on a play during one-on-one drills. "He's looking good, man," Trufant said of Jones. "To come back like he did ... he didn't do any of the (organized team activities). He was just doing rehab. He didn't miss a beat. That's exactly what we want to see. And he's going to definitely have a comeback season this year." Trufant joked that he got the best of Jones, 2 to 1, during the day. Regardless, Jones was spectacular and in sync with Matt Ryan. Despite how he looked Sunday, the Falcons won't change the game plan with Jones just yet. He'll be off again Monday.
  • Speaking of Trufant, he was at left cornerback Sunday after lining up at right cornerback at the start of camp. He was primarily the right cornerback last season. "Just wherever they play me, that's where I'm at," Trufant said. "Whatever they want me to do, that's what I'm willing to do." Both Trufant and fellow cornerback Robert Alford got plenty of work going up against a healthy Jones and Roddy White. "That's what a team is about: It's about giving each other a look," Trufant said. "And getting a look like that, I can't ask for anything better, Roddy and Harry (Douglas) included. We've got a good group of receivers. We've got a good secondary. Whoever we face, we're going to be ready."
  • Two rookie linebackers really showed up throughout Sunday's practice. Fourth-round draft pick Prince Shembo continued to make the adjustment from outside linebacker to inside and tipped away a T.J. Yates pass in coverage. His play was singled out by coach Mike Smith. "I'm just learning," Shembo said. "When I'm in there, take advantage of my opportunities. That's what I'm trying to do." Although Shembo continues to work with the second team, he has a shot to crack the starting lineup ahead of Joplo Bartu. Undrafted outside linebacker Jacques Smith also looked strong all around and tipped a pass as well.
  • The Falcons will have their first padded practice on Monday afternoon, giving the coaches a chance to get a better evaluation of what progress the players have made. "Well, we're getting as close as you can get to play real football tomorrow," Smith said. "We won't completely play real football because we're not going to cut block in practice. It's going to be a great evaluation, especially for the interior players on both sides of the line. We will get true evaluation starting tomorrow." Rookie Ra'Shede Hageman, Malliciah Goodman and Jonathan Massaquoi will be some players to watch.
  • First-team free safety Dwight Lowery had an interception, as did third-teamer Sean Baker. ... Safety William Moore wore a compression sock on his left leg at the start of practice but eventually took it off. ... Cornerback Josh Wilson received some medical treatment late in practice for what might have been related to cramping or a hamstring issue, but he continued. ... Devin Hester again made some impressive catches. ... Outside linebacker Kroy Biermann (Achilles) sat out, as scheduled, with Stansly Maponga running with the first team in place of Biermann.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Seeing long-armed, firmly built defensive lineman Malliciah Goodman explode up the gap only makes the Atlanta Falcons' coaches salivate.

They see a player with tremendous upside; a player who allows defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to be more exotic with his defensive fronts.

Goodman is just in his second year and maturing daily. He could be one of those players who stands out when the Falcons conduct their first padded practice on Monday afternoon.

"Malliciah, I think, is going to be a guy that can play a number of our packages and play different roles," coach Mike Smith said. "I think that Malliciah will play in our base package, he'll have a certain role. In our big sub-package, he'll have another role. In our sub-package, he'll have another role. So I think those are good questions that we have to answer because he can line up in many different places.

"I think as we go through the preseason, I think his strengths are going to become more defined. And we're going to be able to put him in those places where he's going to be able to play to his strengths."

Speaking of strength, Goodman bulked up this offseason in preparation for being more physical up front.

"I'm about 288, 290 (pounds) right now," the 6-foot-4 Goodman said. "I was in the mid-270s last year. I've just been eating, working out, putting the right things in my body. I've been having a high intake of calories and protein. Just working hard. My max (bench press) weight really improved. I feel a lot better in the trenches going against the guys."

Goodman played in 14 games last season. He played just 29 percent of the defensive snaps.

With the Falcons switching to a 3-4 base scheme and attempting to be multiple with their other looks, Goodman continues to try to find his comfort zone despite moving around a lot. New defensive line coach Bryan Cox has helped the adjustment.

"I'm getting very comfortable playing inside with the 3-technique (defensive tackle between guard and tackle)," Goodman said. "Last year, the defense was a little different. Now I'm inside playing the 3 and playing the 4 and 5-technique (3-4 defensive end). So I've been working on that with Coach Cox. He's been getting out of me.

"I'm more comfortable with the 3, just because of repetition. The going back and looking at the playbook and looking at Babs (Jonathan Babineaux) and also Tyson (Jackson), just studying them and seeing how they play blocks, how they strike their guy. I'm just learning about leverage and learning about that first step and what to look at. You've got to stop looking in the backfield and look at your guy; don't to be too anxious to jump in there. Just kind of be patient."
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Sam Baker adjusted his helmet with both hands, took a deep breath, then hunched down in his stance while eyeing Osi Umenyiora to his left.

The Atlanta Falcons left tackle, back from last year's season-ending knee surgery, hopped back with a quickness to block the rushing Umenyiora's path, then thwarted Umenyiora's rushing angle with a quick 1-2 counter of hands slaps.

Yes, it was just a drill between teammates at training camp. But the way offensive line coach Mike Tice applauded Baker's effort showed the offseason tutelage paid off.

Tice rode Baker about tweaking his pass set to help protect quarterback Matt Ryan better. Specifically, it's been about Baker setting more straight back rather than out toward the defensive end. Baker's previous method made him more susceptible to inside moves.

"He's actually changed it up quite a bit," Baker said of Tice revamping his set. "That's good because, going against a guy like Osi every day, he'll kind of get you into bad habits because he's so elusive and has a bunch of different moves.

"What (Tice) wants is a consistent set with a change-up every once in a while. But it's been really good for me."

Baker's play was really good two seasons ago, when he started all 16 games and helped keep Ryan upright during a 13-3 season and NFC Championship game appearance. But he wasn't foolish enough to overlook the shortcomings in his game even back then, particularly in terms of his set.

"I think I didn't change it up enough," Baker said. "I think I got real predictable with a lot of things. At one point, it was a lot of people that were knowing what (I) was doing. So, that's why I think (Tice) is going to help me a lot. He's such a good teacher. He'll tell you, 'Hey, this is what the problem is. This is how we're going to fix it.'"

Coach Mike Smith emphasized the importance of guys like Baker perfecting their sets in preparation for the regular season. Remember, Ryan was the most pressured quarterback in the league last season as he was sacked a career-high 44 times.

"To me, it's the key to being a good pass blocker," Smith said. "Everybody talks about the feet. It's not always about the feet. It's about the ability to set based on where the quarterback is going to be. And you also have to factor in where the defensive end is aligned. I think it does take an understanding of angles. It also takes an understanding of hand placement when you meet the rusher at the intersection point.

"I think it's very, very critical. I think it's often overlooked. ... The technical part of pass blocking is probably more important than anything. Sometimes, guys who are lesser athletes have been outstanding pass blockers because they understand angles and they understand hand placement."

Perfecting technique is the first step in Baker settling back in at left tackle. The other is remaining healthy coming off a significant left knee surgery.

Baker seems to be moving fine after missing 12 games last season, primarily due to his knee. Initially, he was concerned about the results following surgery.

"It was a patella repair, so it was one of those things where when I talked to Dr. (James) Andrews, he wasn't quite sure how it was going to go," Baker said. "But I feel good."

Baker hasn't worn a brace to start camp and didn't wear one much of the offseason.

"I always felt like it reduces the range of motion, with as much running as we do," Baker said. "It really hasn't been a problem up to his point."

Falcons Camp Report: Day 2

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Atlanta Falcons training camp:
  • It was interesting watching the pass-rushers continue their development under fiery defensive line coach Bryan Cox and outside linebackers coach Mark Collins. Players such as Jonathan Massaquoi, rookies Ra'Shede Hageman and Jacques Smith, and Malliciah Goodman showed some nice rush moves against various offensive linemen in one-on-one drills. Goodman took Terren Jones to the ground on one play. Hageman did nice work with getting his hands up toward the quarterback while rushing inside. There was spirited competition all-around between the offensive and defensive lines and pass-rushers.

    "You can see it's very competitive in a number of areas, the areas that we kind of been discussing all offseason," coach Mike Smith said. "We get through one more day tomorrow and we'll get an opportunity to really evaluate these linemen when we get into the pads."
  • Veteran newcomer Josh Wilson continued to work as the primary nickel back ahead of incumbent Robert McClain and Javier Arenas. Don't read too much into yet, however. Smith said all three players should get a chance to be the primary nickel during the exhibition games, so it's an open competition now. It also makes sense to get Wilson more work because he's not as familiar with the defense as McClain.

    "It's a competitive situation,'' Smith said of the nickel spot. ``We're going to give about three guys the same amount of reps. ... It's tough because 65, 67 percent is going to be your sub and the other 35, 33 are going to be base. Those guys are going to have to show what they can do in a little different situation. It's not like they're going out there and getting all the snaps that we're going to run in our training camp.''
  • Speedy Bernard Reedy continues to impress as an undrafted receiver. He seems to catch any ball within his range with ease and has a second gear that helps him explode by defenders. ``Yes, Bernard is very fast,'' Smith said. ``He's got elite speed. He ran by some guys yesterday. He's got a better understanding of what we're trying to do. I think he's definitely one of those guys who's going to be in the mix for a roster spot. We know we have our big three (Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas), Devin Hester, Drew Davis coming back. We've got to make a decision on our 53-man roster, whether we're going to have five or six wide receivers.''
  • Smith reiterated the plan with Julio Jones, who was held out of Saturday's practice as a precaution coming off foot surgery. He'll take every other day off for the first week of camp and be evaluated. Jones only did agility drills on a side field during Saturday's practice. And outside linebacker Kroy Biermann (Achilles) will be off Sunday as part of the two days on, one day off schedule he's on. A couple of those days fall on days off, so Biermann will miss just one true day of practice.
  • Desmond Trufant put in extra time after practice working on his skills. He continued to line up at right cornerback. ... Hester drew the biggest reaction of the day while catching a deep ball in one-on-on drills. ... Rookie linebacker Prince Shembo made a nice deflection of a T.J. Yates pass that earned praise from his veteran teammates. ... The Falcons signed wide receiver Jabin Sambrano to fill the roster void left after receiver Darius Johnson was waived. Johnson told the team he had enough of football and was considering coaching at his college, SMU, as a grad assistant.

Falcons Camp Report: Day 1

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Atlanta Falcons training camp:

  • The big news of the day was Julio Jones returning to practice for the first time since suffering a right foot fracture in Week 5 of last season. Coach Mike Smith said Jones will be limited during camp with one day on, one day off. Jones showed no ill effects while planting and cutting. His reps were limited during full-team drills and one-on-one coverage drills. "I thought it was very good," Smith said of Jones' first day. "You guys saw it. He was running routes very well. I thought the timing between he and [quarterback] Matt [Ryan] was good. We have a plan, a prescription that we're going to try to stay by for the first couple of weeks, and then we'll make an evaluation after that. It was great to see Julio back on the field."
  • Smith promised camp would get a little physical. Outside linebacker Kroy Biermann and rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews got into a scuffle that led to a punch thrown. Remember, Biermann missed most of last season with an Achilles tear, so he's no doubt itching to get back at it. "Kroy has not been able to be out on the field … I'm sure he's excited about it," Smith said. "And I'm sure that Jake is not going to back down from anybody. I imagine we'll have some of those types of battles all through training camp. Those things are good. It keeps it spirited, and we're going to have spirited football practices here in Flowery Branch up to the start of the first game."
  • The offensive line will be on the spot going into the season, so seeing some fight from Matthews on Day 1 was a good start. It also was impressive new starting right guard Jon Asamoah seemed to shove guys around with ease. He was on the attack against defensive end Tyson Jackson, his old teammate in Kansas City. Tackle Lamar Holmes, who is on the roster bubble, showed fight going against Tyler Starr in pass-rush drills, while veteran newcomer Gabe Carimi seemed to be frustrated with his performance during the same drill.
  • Smith declined to go into detail about why the team waived second-year receiver Darius Johnson before practice. Johnson contributed as a reserve receiver last season. "No, I'm not going to comment on the reason that Darius was released," Smith said. "We never do. But there was a transaction that we put in today, and he's no longer a member of our team."
  • Outside linebacker Jonathan Massaquoi, the guy the Falcons are counting on to provide a consistent pass rush, took a few plays off after grabbing his hamstring. But Massaquoi said he was fine despite being stretched out by a member of the training staff, so it might have been cramps. He returned at the end of practice.
The Atlanta Falcons begin training Friday afternoon, which means the return of wide receiver Julio Jones for the first time since a season-ending foot fracture last October.

Although Jones will be on a limited schedule during camp, fellow receiver Roddy White isn't overly concerned about his tag-team partner's practice routine.

"I'm worried about him in a sense that I just want him to play football," White said. "Being with Julio for the last few years, I know how great of a player he is. I know how great of a player he can be. And I just want him to be the best he can be. That's all I care about. If he's the best he can be, we're going to win. There's no doubt about it.

"I don't have any other concerns with him because we're like brothers. I want to see him be on the field throughout the whole season and just watch him destroy the NFL."

The Falcons held Jones out the entire offseason while he continued to recover from a second surgery on his right foot. He played in just five games last season and was on pace for 130 catches and more than 1,800 yards. In June, Jones expressed confidence in a full recovery without any lingering issues.

The precautionary approach with Jones this training camp is something White believes is necessary.

"I'd go with it every year to get to [the season opener] with everybody as healthy as possible and everybody rolling on all cylinders," White said. "Whatever it takes for him to get to Sept. 7 and be healthy, that's what I want to do."

White had his own health issues last year in dealing with a high ankle sprain and hamstring injury. He was held out a good portion of the offseason, in large part to grieve the loss of his younger brother, who was murdered back home in South Carolina.

In terms of how his body is feeling going into camp, White was asked if he expected to be limited at all.

"I don't know," he said. "I haven't gone over the schedule or anything yet. But probably not, because I didn't do too many OTAs [organized team activities]. We've got to work on timing."
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons moved one step closer to Friday's opening day of training camp as the veterans reported Thursday.

Many players had yet to report during the hour made available to the media. But at least center Joe Hawley pulled into the lot, fulfilling his promise when team mascot Freddie Falcon asked who was coming to camp this year.

The Falcons' media relations department said all the veterans reported, while all the rookies reported Tuesday. Here's a quick wrap-up of the few players that stopped to talk to the media.
  • Defensive tackle Corey Peters, who begins camp on the physically unable to perform list following last year's Achilles' tear, continues to target the season opener against New Orleans (Sept. 7) for his return. Peters isn't expected to do much in the preseason, even when cleared to practice. But he hopes not to start the regular season on the PUP list, which would sideline him for the first six weeks of the season. "I'm excited about it. I'm very optimistic about everything," Peters said. "Hopefully as the days move forward, we'll be closer to getting back on the field." Peters suffered the injury in a Dec. 23 loss at San Francisco last year. He did some light jogging toward the end of minicamp.
  • Wide receiver Drew Davis, also on the training camp PUP list after undergoing foot surgery, doesn't look like he'll be ready to start the season. His left foot was in a walking boot as he scooted his way into the training camp quarters. Davis was placed on the PUP list July 5 after having the procedure following some discomfort. Coach Mike Smith initially called it as six-week injury, which would have put Davis back on the field for at least the last two preseason games. But there is a concern about Davis' availability to start the season. He was not available to talk to reporters Thursday.
  • Defensive tackle Peria Jerry is entering a critical stretch. The former first-round pick hasn't played up to expectations and appears to be on the roster bubble, with players such as Paul Soliai, Tyson Jackson, and rookie Ra'Shede Hageman now in fold. Jerry suffered another setback last season with a knee sprain, but he seems to be beyond that injury. "I feel real good, real confident with myself," Jerry said. "You've got to go out each and every year and try to prove yourself. You know, we're just going to see what happens."
  • Newcomer Josh Wilson is ready to compete for the nickelback position against Robert McClain and Javier Arenas. "I think that every time we have a chance, everything is competitive out here," Wilson said. During minicamp, Wilson did a lot of playful jawing with receiver Harry Douglas, so we'll see if that continues with the cameras from HBO's "Hard Knocks" rolling throughout camp.
  • Running back/special-teamer Josh Vaughan and safety Kemal Ishmael were among the other veterans spotted on report day. ... Pass-rusher Stansly Maponga also was hanging around inside the building. ... Roddy White eventually showed up to sign his four-year contract extension. ... Rookie right tackle Jake Matthews made a cameo appearance on his way to sign autographs.
With the crew of HBO's "Hard Knocks" set to dissect the Atlanta Falcons' every move during training camp, the team avoided adding unnecessary drama to the equation.

In signing veteran wide receiver Roddy White to a four-year extension that includes $10 million guaranteed, the Falcons kept themselves out of a potentially messy situation.

Although White said Thursday, "I don't think I would have held out" and missed the start of training camp on Friday, the Falcons certainly didn't want the extension to be any type of distraction. The Falcons need White to be a happy camper, and need everyone to be on the same page going into such a critical season. They are trying to make last season's 4-12 implosion a distant memory, and the last thing the team needed was for one of its most respected players to feel disrespected.

"Where our football team is now, if we all stay healthy, we can win football games. That's the most important thing," White told on Thursday.

White, a four-time Pro Bowl receiver, expected all along to be a Falcon for life, particularly after the team expressed its desire to keep him in the fold. He simply wanted the organization to keep its word and follow through with what he anticipated would happen after the draft.

Extension talks hadn't even started until this week. The initial process was put on hold as White mourned the loss of his younger brother, who was shot to death in South Carolina in May. The team gave White his space as he grieved.

Negotiations heated up Tuesday, but there was some concern that a deal wouldn't get done. Then White's agents flew in to meet with the team Wednesday night, and the sides obviously worked diligently to get matters resolved before reporting time.

White brings levity to the locker room, along with a swagger. His vibe rubs off on the younger players. And, by the way, White can play a little bit, too. Although he turns 33 in November, his production toward the end of last season showed he has plenty left.

If White remains injury-free -- he was hampered by ankle and hamstring problems last season -- he should be ready for a productive season with tag-team partner Julio Jones (foot surgery) back in the fold.

"As long as I can stay healthy, I'll be a successful football player in this league," White said. "I don't feel like I'm down a step or I can't go out there and play. I've watched guys like Reggie Wayne before his knee injury, and he'd go out there every year and have 1,000-yard seasons. That's how I see myself, as that type of player.

"If I don’t get hurt, I feel like I can always be an elite wide receiver in this league -- especially for the next two or three years."

Things are looking up for the Falcons. Let's see how the rest of the drama unfolds.