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D. Orlando LedbetterD. Orlando Ledbetter

Smith ready for pads to start popping

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FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons coach Mike Smith is looking forward to the team’s first padded practice on Monday.

The team spent major resources on revamping both the offensive and defensive lines this offseason. Smith believes that his staff can get a much better evaluation in full football equipment.

He plans to take full advantage of all of the padded practices allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.

“We’re going to be on the same schedule that we’ve used in the past,” Smith said after Saturday’s practice. “Some of our drills that we are doing during those practices has changed, but in terms of the padded practices it will be very similar to what we did last year.”

Smith will use between 11 and 13 padded practices.

“It depends on if you want to count shells as a padded practice or not,” Smith said. “We’ll be able to get a lot of work done.”

The revamped offensive line will be under the most scrutiny. Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked 44 times and the offense finished ranked 29th in rushing in 2013.

“The message has been real clear that we wanted to get bigger and stronger in the lines,” Smith said. “We’ve accomplished that in number of ways. First with the returning players, they’ve gotten bigger and stronger in the weight room. We’ve added through free agency and our first two draft picks.”

Now, they’ll get to assess some fundamental football issues of blocking and tackling.

“They’ve got to have their pads on to really get evaluated,” Smith said.

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