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Falcons QB acting as a player-coach
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BUFORD — Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan says he doesn’t mind working as a player and a coach during the NFL lockout.
Such is life when players are not allowed to report to work and can’t talk to their bosses.
But the lockout hasn’t kept Ryan from trying to bring his teammates together. He gathered about 30 players for 7-on-7 drills — offense vs. defense — in a scripted session Tuesday on an immaculate practice field at Buford High School, 15 minutes south of the Falcons’ training complex.
“This is just something to keep us sharp,” Ryan said. “We’ve all been doing it long enough to understand what’s beneficial. You kind of put on your coaching hat and work on some things you want to work on.”
It was the Falcons’ first time together on a field since losing to Green Bay in the playoffs.
Atlanta draft pick Julio Jones, taken No. 6 overall, has attended some of the passing sessions Ryan has held with Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White. Neither receiver came Tuesday.
Falcons backup quarterback John Parker Wilson indicated that Jones still isn’t running at full speed. The former Alabama standout had a foot stress fracture discovered in February, but he still ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds a couple days later at the NFL combine.
Jones underwent surgery in Tuscaloosa when he returned from the combine.
“He looks skinnier on TV than he is in person,” Ryan said of the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Jones. “When I first met him, he was enormous. I was like, ‘This guy is a monster.’ But he’s smart, intelligent and we talked about some offensive football.
“I think he’ll be really good in our system.”

Michael Jenkins, the incumbent starting receiver opposite White, knows he will have to work hard to keep Jones from taking his job.

“You knew at some point we were going to get another receiver with a high pick,” Jenkins said. “It’s all about the business, and you know how it is. Added competition makes everybody better.”

Wilson, who played with Jones at Alabama when the Crimson Tide went 12-2 in 2008, believes Atlanta fans shouldn’t worry about Jones’ health.

“He’s gotten a lot bigger, and it looks like he’s gotten a lot stronger,” Wilson said. “He was catching balls the other day, and his reach is still so amazing. It’s pretty sweet. He couldn’t run. He’s still working on his foot from when he messed that up, but he looks good. He looks really good.”

Without White, Jones or tight end Tony Gonzalez present, Ryan threw passes to Jenkins, Harry Douglas, Brian Finneran and others. Fullback Ovie Mughelli was on the field, too.

Defensively, five starters — cornerback Brent Grimes, safety Thomas DeCoud and linebackers Curtis Lofton, Sean Weatherspoon and Mike Peterson — ran the coverages. Lofton is still half-speed as he recovers from two arthroscopic surgeries on the same knee, but he still made some calls before Ryan took the snap.

Lofton also attends some of the four-day-a-week conditioning sessions hosted by Falcons linebacker Coy Wire in nearby Cumming.

“It’s good to have players out here doing this because nobody has to be out here right now,” Lofton said. “It says a lot about this team. We’ve got something special going on here. We’ve just to keep working hard and hopefully get to a championship some day.”

During brief time when the NFL lockout was lifted, Ryan spoke on the phone with coach Mike Smith, coordinator Mike Mularkey and new position coach Bob Bratkowski to help the quarterback map out some practice sessions with no official team supervision.

“We’ve got the same offense coming back,” Ryan said. “We’ve got a lot of guys on the defensive side of the ball out here, so the calls are going to be the same. We just need to polish some things up and get a little bit of work in together. Fortunately enough, we’ve got a lot of guys who live here during the offseason and that’s not the case in every organization, so I think that helps.”

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