FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) - Like all NFL teams, the Atlanta Falcons have some worrisome positions.
Receiver isn’t one of them.
Julio Jones and Roddy White are the primary targets, of course, but there’s plenty of depth behind them.
Leonard Hankerson has fully recovered from a 2013 knee injury that limited him to one game last season, giving the Falcons a reliable third receiver. Fourth-round pick Justin Hardy is making a good impression, and little-known free agent Nick Williams also is bidding to claim a spot on the 53-man roster.
Don’t forget special team aces Devin Hester and Eric Weems, either.
That could make things tough for new coach Dan Quinn when he ponders the final cuts.
“That’s one of the challenging parts of coaching in the NFL,” Quinn said Thursday. “At the same time, I love seeing guys going for it. It happens all over the league. Some positions on some teams, you’re deeper. Receiver happens to be one for us. I couldn’t be more excited about where they’re at, their mindset and their attitude to play ball.”
With White expected to miss the final two preseason games recovering from minor elbow surgery, including a contest Saturday night in Miami against the Dolphins, the Falcons (1-1) can give additional playing time to those players on the bubble.
The biggest beneficiary might be Wiliams, who went undrafted out of college but managed to get into five games with Washington last season as a rookie. Now, the unimposing 5-foot-10, 184-pounder is trying to pull off another long-shot bid in Atlanta.
He already has seven receptions in the preseason, tied with Hardy for the team lead.
“Anytime a guy goes down,” Williams said, “it’s always an opportunity to step up and get a few more reps.”
He’s eager to show the Falcons his versatility.
“I think I can play wide receiver in the slot, I can return, I can play on coverage units, I’m tough, I can run good routes,” Williams “I’m just trying to be a football player.”
Hardy had a better shot at making the team as a fourth-round pick out of East Carolina.
“I definitely belong here,” he said confidently. “I can play.”
The rookie is eager to learn from Jones, one of the most dominant receivers in the game, and White, who has more catches than any player in team history.
“This is a great place to be,” Hardy said. “Both those guys have had tremendous careers. Anytime I can get around them, I’m going to be a bug in their ear asking them questions.”
He feels the competition will make the position even stronger.
“All the guys are coming in to compete with each other and push each other to be better every day,” Hardy said.
NOTES: DT Ra’Shede Hageman has been cleared to play in Miami after going through the concussion protocol. … Quinn was still a bit uncertain about the status of RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who are coming back from hamstring injuries. The coach did say Coleman was further along and likely to play against the Dolphins. “I’m anxious for him to get in there,” Quinn said. “Unless there’s some sort of setback, I anticipate he’ll be ready to rock.” … The Falcons focused on red-zone offense during practice Thursday. … Quinn said he hasn’t decided whether the team will keep two or three quarterbacks. Rex Grossman was signed this week to join T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree in the competition to serve as Matt Ryan’s backup.
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