Posted: 6:00 am Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Countdown to camp: Day 9 – Special teams 

By D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester takes a break during the mini-camp. Atlanta Falcons players workout during the second day of mini-camp at the team's facilities in Flowery Branch, Wednesday, June 18, 2014. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester takes a break during the mini-camp. Atlanta Falcons players workout during the second day of mini-camp at the team’s facilities in Flowery Branch, Wednesday, June 18, 2014. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

FLOWERY BRANCH — The start of the Falcons training camp is nine days away. The first practice is set for Friday, July 25.

We started our countdown by looking at the new assistant coaches Mike Tice, Wade Harman and Bryan Cox. Today, we’ll start a position-by-position look at the roster.  

We’ll peek at the special teams, which finished last season ranked 26th in the league.

The big offseason pick up was the addition of Devin Hester, perhaps league’s best-ever return man.

Hester, 31, has posted staggering numbers over his stellar career.

“Devin Hester brings a ton of experience and a ton of ability,” assistant head coach/wide receivers Terry Robiskie said. “He brings a lot of records (with him). He’s already told me that he’s in the record books in the NFL. He reminded me of that already. The thing that I had to remind him of is that he doesn’t have any records with me. None of those records he has are helping me.”

Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong is looking forward to unleashing Hester.

“He knows what the home run ball looks like,” Armstrong said. “I think that one thing that I really enjoy is the way that he’s approaching it. He’s approaching it like a pro. He’s not approaching it like, ‘hey, I’ve been there before.’ He knows and understands that this is a different team. A new team. He’s taking that professional approach to it.”

Falcons linebackers Joplo Bartu (59) and Yawin Smallwood (54) run through drills during the mini-camp. Atlanta Falcons players workout during the second day of mini-camp at the team's facilities in Flowery Branch, Wednesday, June 18, 2014. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Falcons linebackers Joplo Bartu (59) and Yawin Smallwood (54) run through drills during the mini-camp. Atlanta Falcons players workout during the second day of mini-camp at the team’s facilities in Flowery Branch, Wednesday, June 18, 2014. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Armstrong expects Hester’s presence to lift the entire group.

“When guys know that somebody is back there that …knows how to hit it, they are going to start blocking (better),” Armstrong said. “That sense of urgency will pick up.”

The Falcons experimented over the offseason with how to utilize Hester. He’s slated to mainly be the kickoff returner and possibly earn spot duty as the punt returner.

“He’s done the punts,” Armstrong said. “We haven’t quite gotten to that part of it. We’ve got some options, which is a good thing. Arenas was back there, (Robert) Alford, Harry (Douglas), (Robert) McClain and Hester (over the offseason.)”

Hester was the league’s leader in kickoff-return yardage with 1,436 on 52 returns last season.

The Falcons averaged 8.3 yards on punt returns, which ranked 20th in the league. They averaged 24.4 yards on kickoff returns, which ranked 10th.

“We’ve got some depth at the position,” Armstrong said. “We’ve always had to find a guy. We’ve kind of built some depth.”

Armstrong was also experimenting with his coverage units.

“I’m trying to massage it out. I’m trying to move guys around and not let them stay in one spot for the spring,” Armstrong said. “I have to find out what they can do. We tried to move them around so we could get a better idea of what they can do.”

The Falcons covered punts well in 2013. They gave up 7.6 yards per return, which ranked 8th in the league. They need to improve the kickoff coverage team. The Falcons gave up 24.8 yards per return, which ranked 25th.

“Last year, we ran into the snag where we had so many injuries that so many of the guys that we were training, ended up being starters,” Armstrong said. “We were training on the run.”

Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News annual ranks the league’s special teams units. The league’s 32 teams are ranked in 22 categories and assigned points according to their standing – one for best, 32 for worst.

The Falcons were ranked 26th in the league with 408.5 points last season.

PROJECTED 2014 TRAINING CAMP DEPTH CHART

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 13 Darius Johnson, 14 Courtney Roby, 18 Freddie Martino, 89 Bernard Reedy,

LT 72 Sam Baker, 76 Lamar Holmes, 74 Terren Jones

LG 63 Justin Blalock, 68 Gabe Carimi, 67 Adam Replogle

C 61 Joe Hawley, 66 Peter Konz, 62 James Stone

RG 75 Jon Asamoah, 69 Harland Gunn

RT 70 Jake Matthews, 79 Mike Johnson 73 Ryan Schrader

TE 80 Levine Toilolo, 86 Bear Pascoe, 82 Mickey Shuler, 81 Jacob Pedersen, 49 Brian Wozniak

WR 84 Roddy White, 83 Harry Douglas, 15 Geraldo Boldewijn, 16 Julian Jones, 87 Tramaine Thompson

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 T.J. Yates, 12 Sean Renfree, 9 Jeff Mathews

RB 39 Steven Jackson, 32 Jacquizz Rodgers, 35 Antone Smith, 33 Devonta Freeman, 30 Josh Vaughan, 34 Jerome Smith

FB  42 Patrick DiMarco, 45 Maurice Hagens, 43 Roosevelt Nix

4-3 DEFENSE (with an extra line for the nickel back)

RE 95 Jonathan Babineaux, 50 Osi Umenyiora, 96 Jonathan Massaquoi, 90 Stansly Maponga

DT 99 Tyson Jackson, 91 Corey Peters, 92 Travian Robertson

DT 96 Paul Soliai, 97 Peria Jerry, 98 Cliff Matthews, 65 Donte Rumph

LE 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 98 Malliciah Goodman, 49 Tyler Starr, 64 Nosa Equae

OLB 71 Kroy Biermann, 48 Brenden Daley, 45 Jacques Smith

MLB 55 Paul Worrilow, 52 Tim Dobbins, 54 Yawin Smallwood

OLB 59 Joplo Bartu, 53 Prince Shembo, 51 Marquis Spruill, 46 Walker May,

RCB 21 Desmond Trufant, 28 Javier Arenas, 37 Ricardo Allen,

NB 26 Josh Wilson, 27 Robert McClain, 28 Javier Arenas, 41 Dezmen Southward

LCB 23 Robert Alford, 24 Jordan Mabin, 43 Devonta Glover-Wright

SS 25 William Moore, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 40 Kimario McFadden, 22 Zeke Motta

FS 20 Dwight Lowery, 41 Dezman Southward, 29 Sean Baker

SPECIALISTS

K 3 Matt Bryant, 6 Sergio Castillo

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 17 Devin Hester, 28 Javier Arenas, 14 Courtney Roby

PR  17 Devin Hester, 27 Robert McClain, 28 Javier Arenas

LS  47 Josh Harris

 H 5 Matt Bosher

TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE

Date                                                      Practice Times (public availability)

Tuesday, July 22                                Rookies report

Wednesday, July 23                          Veterans report

Friday, July 25                                    Practice 3:30 – 5:50 p.m. (open to the public)

Saturday, July 26                              Practice 3:30 – 5:50 p.m. (open to the public)

Sunday, July 27                                 Practice 3:30 – 6:05 p.m. (open to the public)

Monday, July 28                               Practice 3:30 – 6:05 p.m. (open to the public)

Tuesday, July 29                               Practice 3:30 – 6:05 p.m. (open to the public)

Wednesday, July 30                        Players’ Day Off (No Media Availability)

Thursday, July 31                              Practice 3:30 – 6:05 p.m. (open to the public)

Friday, August 1                              “Friday Night Lights” at Archer High School (Lawrenceville)

                                                            6:45 – 9:10 p.m. (open to the public)

Saturday, August 2                          Practice 3:30 – 5:30 p.m. (open to the public)

Sunday, August 3                             Practice 3:30 – 6:05 p.m. (open to the public)

Monday, August 4                           Combined Practice w/Tennessee  3-5:30 p.m.                                                (open to the public)

Tuesday, August 5                           Players’ Day Off (No Media Availability)

Wednesday, August 6                    Practice 3:30 – 6:05 p.m. (open to the public)

Thursday, August 7                         Pregame Walkthrough (No Media Availability)

Friday, August 8                                Falcons vs. Miami Dolphins

                                                                Georgia Dome

                                                                7:00 p.m. ET – CW69

 Saturday, August 9                          Practice 4:30 – 5:45 p.m. (open to the public)

 Sunday, August 10                           Players’ Day Off (No Media Availability)

 Monday, August 11                         Practice 3:30 – 5:50 p.m. (open to the public)

 Tuesday, August 12                         Practice 10:00 a.m. – 12:35 p.m. (open to the public)

 Wednesday, August 13                 Combined Practice w/ Houston Texans (Houston, TX)

Thursday, August 14                       Combined Practice w/ Houston Texans (Houston, TX)

Friday, August 15                             Pregame Walkthrough (No Media Availability)

Saturday, August 16                        Falcons at Houston Texans

                                                                NRG Stadium

                                                                8:00 p.m. ET – CW69

 Sunday, August 17                           Players’ Day Off (No Media Availability)

Monday, August 18                         Practice 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. (closed to the public)

                                                                Break Camp

MANDATORY MINICAMP REVIEW

Q&A with Falcons QB T.J. Yates

Falcons to practice with Titans, Texans in training camp

Falcons coach Mike Smith will try to rebound from first losing season on Hard Knocks 

Sam Baker is back to help line re-establish its identity

Falcons WR Roddy White: ‘Hard for me to deal with’ death of a brother

How much the Falcons rookies will be paid

Rookies getting advice on NFL life

Open competition in training camp will be good for Undrafted Rookies

 THE LATEST FROM OTAS

Sean Weatherspoon suffers season-ending Achilles injury

What’s next for Sean Weaatherspoon?

What’s next for the Falcons at linebacker?

Javier Arenas gets to watch longtime role model

Falcons cut Szczerba, Yoklic

Falcons minicamp is open to the public

VIDEO CORNER

Sean Weatherspoon to miss 2014 season

Matt Ryan on Harry Douglas’ contribution to the offense

Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox

Falcons tight end Levine Toilolo

Falcons assistant head coach Terry Robiskie on Devin Hester

Falcons coach Mike Smith on OTAs

22 comments
Dman
Dman

The Falcons will have one of the top special teams in the league this year due to adding Hester and Arenas. Reminds me of when we added Billy "White shoes" Johnson. He was at the end of his career and all he did was play great for a few more years. Hester will do the same.

Michaelee
Michaelee

The Falcons are going to need magic galore if they expect to rebound from last season's disastrous debacle. The parts are in place but it will fall on the coaching staff to motivate this team into winning plus finishing off opponents instead of just tying to maintain a lead as they have in past seasons.

Another problem is the opening game of the season, they take on the Saints right out of the box. If (A Big IF) they can manage to whip them on opening day, it could be a huge motivator for the players on the team as a whole to move forward back in that winning form they had for several years.


But then again with Smitty and his laid back approach to just slide by opponents, it is hard to get hopes up that one season after 4-12, that the team can make another run in the playoffs. Punt returner or kickoff returner, it will take much more than a player with great return abilities to place the team in good scoring position to score touchdowns rather than field-goals. Dropped passes, penalties, bad play call decisions was reasons why they put 3 on the board rather than 7 in the red zone.  How does that work for ya?

Flacons_go_2-14
Flacons_go_2-14

Why is Perrier Jerry still on the rooster? They cut him than resigh him again?

Anoter Tommy Dummytroff misteak.

Flaocns finnish 2 - 14 and get the fist over all pix. Maybe if we R lucky they will pix anoter QB

RogerHenslee
RogerHenslee

Hester will help most as JSSN said in the punt game and hopefully take 1-2 KR to the house. His best days are behind him for sure, but our punt return has been terrible. If he can just be above average it will pay huge dividends for the falcons in field position. Of course the falcons are paying him a premium but that's ok, cause it was required to get his services...Hopefully he can help a bit as a WR too

JSSN
JSSN

He (Franks) was fair catching for a reason. McClain took some risks (his returns along sidelines), still they never had a return that made you think they fixed the blocking issues

“When guys know that somebody is back there that …knows how to hit it, they are going to start blocking (better),” Armstrong said. “That sense of urgency will pick up.” -- Keith Armstrong

Therein was the main problem. It started to creep in during Weems's last season. They haven't blocked the return game worth a toot! It was illustrated by the Franks period. You could see the kid fighting the natural urge to take return risks because of the Smith admonition on field position and turnovers.

Unless they are going to use Hester in the punt game, it is a waste. People have neutralized the kickoff game simply by kicking out of the end zone, even in the outdoor games. If you kick to him, then you're asking for the negative result.

Dasdguy
Dasdguy

Kick return game should be improved. Anything would be and improvement over 'Fair catch Franks'..

JSSN
JSSN

@Dman

Shoes wasn't a great returner in Atlanta, but his receiving improved and he really made hay catching passes!

Dman
Dman

If Smitty had gone for 7 and they didn't get it, you would have said "should have gone for 3".

BigCrimson75
BigCrimson75

@JSSN  Doomsday Alert!! Doomsday Alert!!

JSS -- You know the Falcons had a top 5 ST unit for several years under Smitty.

Solid kickers, solid coverage units & solid return units.

-----

........and NO, when Franks is waving his hand to the zebras when there isn't a player within 20 yards, that's not on the blocking.

DOrlandoLedbetter
DOrlandoLedbetter moderator

@JSSN Good points!! Coach Armstrong clearly is hopeful that the blocking will improve.

Dasdguy
Dasdguy

@JSSN 

I agree.  Franks was doing what he was told.  Saying Hester is a waste in the KR is yet to be seen.

JSSN
JSSN

@BigCrimson75

and I said nothing about the coverage teams. I have nothing bad to say about them.

JSSN
JSSN

@BigCrimson75

Like I said, they took all the instincts out of the kid. Where is the "Doomsday" in that?

They were top 5 return until the last year of Weems as the return man. Ironically, his last year when they moved the kickoff forward to the 35 again, they fail back in return yards. You're gonna tell me that 2011 Weems had the same success in 2010 in the punt or the kick return game?

So now, what say ye?

Dman
Dman

If I know I'm blocking for the best return guy in the game today, I'm blocking harder because I know he can go every time he touches the ball. Falcons will give a better effort with Hester.

JSSN
JSSN

@Dasdguy

I didn't say he was a "waste" in terms of KR (kick returns). But it is the toughest element of the kick game because it is too easy to kick the ball out of the playing end zone.  However, punts are an intangible because he's able to make a punt return game  look great. It is where he maximizes his worth like he did last season in Washington. That was just sick!

BigCrimson75
BigCrimson75

@JSSN @BigCrimson75  You're right, Weems production slipped in 2011. So much so, I wasn't disappointed we let him walk.

But you can't compare Weems to Hester. Hester makes his own holes.....ans there won't be any "Franks fair-catches" coming this season!! :)

JSSN
JSSN

@Dman

Has he morphed into DeSean Jackson? The Way back machine going into overdrive?


Dasdguy
Dasdguy

@JSSN 

Hopefully the Birds may glean from him some of the same magic.

JSSN
JSSN

@BigCrimson75

If they aren't going to use him in the punt game (that's what we were talking about), then it is all the same. 

Oh, do a Devin Hester fair catch web search! See ya!