published Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Atlanat Falcons work under lights

GAINESVILLE, Ga. — It’s still too early for coach Mike Smith to say which young players are solid candidates to make the Atlanta Falcons’ 53-man roster.

As is his custom at the team’s annual Friday Night Lights event, Smith held the Falcons’ veteran starters out of the live tackling drills.

Quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Steven Jackson, defensive end Osi Umenyiora, cornerback Asante Samuel and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones stood on the sideline and watched while roster hopefuls hit and tackled on Gainesville High School’s field.

“It wasn’t all of the first-team guys, but there were a handful of guys that did not participate in the scrimmage,” Smith said. “This was probably the longest time we’ve been on the field as a team this offseason.”

Rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant, a first-round draft pick, was one of the few designated starters to work with the second team.

With quarterback Dominique Davis throwing passes to receivers Drew Davis, Kevin Cone and other second-teamers, Trufant held his own in coverage and looked sharp in breaking up a potential touchdown pass in an earlier drill against No. 3 receiver Harry Douglas.

Rookie tight end Levine Toilolo, a fourth-round draft pick who’s trying to beat out Tommy Gallarda and Chase Coffman for the No. 2 behind Tony Gonzalez, caught some tough passes over the middle.

Linebacker Joplo Bartu, an undrafted free agent rookie from Texas State, looked good in ball pursuit, beating blocks and tackling backup running backs.

Smith and his staff were planning to stay up late and watch the film to see which young players held mistakes to a minimum.

“We’re looking to make sure everyone is good on their assignments, and the second thing is the execution,” Smith said. “We know there are going to be some guys making mistakes, but we need to make sure we’re making them full speed.”

The Falcons, coming off a 13-3 season and a spot in the NFC championship game, said that 14,250 fans watched the workout.

Team director of event marketing Roddy White, who is not related to the star receiver, said it was the largest crowd to attend a Friday night event.

Smith had an NFL officiating crew work the scrimmage. He was pleased that just three flags were thrown after the Falcons led the league last season with fewest penalites.

The same crew will be at the team’s training complex Monday and Tuesday when the Falcons host the Cincinnati Bengals for combined practices.

Atlanta and Cincinnati open the preseason Thursday night at the Georgia Dome.

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