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Falcons WR Jones practices, could play Sunday vs. Vikings

Falcons rookie WR Julio Jones, who has exploded in recent weeks, was a late scratch last week with an injury.

Falcons rookie WR Julio Jones, who has exploded in recent weeks, was a late scratch last week with an injury.

FLOWERY BRANCH — Julio Jones may be on the verge of returning from his latest hamstring injury.

Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith said the rookie receiver was back at practice Thursday, raising hopes that he’ll be able to play against the Minnesota Vikings.

Jones missed two games with a strained left hamstring, then hurt his right hamstring in his second game back, an overtime loss to New Orleans. He did not play in last weekend’s victory over Tennessee and hasn’t practiced since the Saints game.

“It’ll be encouraging to see him out practicing and not working with our athletic performance department,” Smith said after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s done a nice job in his rehabilitation, working with those guys. So tomorrow, we’ll give him an opportunity. If it goes well, we’ll progress to Friday and give him back-to-back days of work.”

Jones was taken No. 6 overall by the Falcons, who gave up a huge package of picks to Cleveland in hopes that another dynamic receiver would be the missing link in an otherwise productive offense. That hasn’t worked out as planned, and Jones has been slowed by injuries. Still, the rookie ranks third on the team with 30 receptions for 498 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Falcons (6-4) have struggled the past two weeks to score touchdowns in the red zone, an area that Jones could certainly help in Sunday’s can’t-lose game to the Vikings (2-8).

The outlook wasn’t as optimistic for nickel back Kelvin Hayden, who went out against the Titans with what was initially described as a foot problem. Smith was more specific after practice, describing it as a toe injury.

Hayden didn’t even come out to the field Wednesday to work with the trainers, an indication he’s not close to returning. But safety William Moore was back at practice in a limited role, showing progress after missing the last two games with a quadriceps injury.

Cornerback Brent Grimes (knee) also skipped practice, while 30-somethings John Abraham, Todd McClure and Tony Gonzalez took a routine day off.