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FALCONS NOTEBOOK: LB Banks relishes first NFL game with Falcons; Atlanta looks back on sluggish start

Roddy White and the Falcons lost, 34-10, late Thursday night during their preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Falcons’ offense and defense looked like it had a lot of work to do before the regular-season opener.

Roddy White and the Falcons lost, 34-10, late Thursday night during their preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Falcons’ offense and defense looked like it had a lot of work to do before the regular-season opener.

ATLANTA — Atlanta Falcons linebacker Brian Banks, who spent five years in prison wrongfully accused of rape, made his long-awaited NFL debut Thursday night.

Banks entered the Falcons’ preseason opener in the fourth quarter and registered a tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Falcons lost, 34-10.

“It was out of control,” he said. “Just running out there — the flames, the cheers, the crowd. I wasn’t nervous at all, but just the emotion of running through the tunnel, the adrenaline that comes with it, is better than any roller-coaster ride you could get on.”

Banks, 28, spent five years in prison and five years on parole after he was wrongly accused and convicted of rape while he was at Poly Tech High School in Long Beach, California.

He was a highly regarded college recruit who dreamed of playing in the NFL at the time that he was convicted. That dream was put on hold until he was finally exonerated in 2012 after the woman came forward and admit she’d lied.

Banks first tried out for the Seattle Seahawks, who are coached by Pete Carroll. Carroll had recruited Banks when he was at USC.

Banks signed with the Falcons in April. Four months later, he finally appeared in a game, albeit an exhibition.

He was credited with stopping Bengals running back Dan Herron late in the fourth quarter.

Banks is considered a long shot to make the roster. But he may get another chance when the Falcons take on the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday.

“Do I have to make it? I don’t feel like I have to, but I want to — not just for myself but for my family, for the people who’ve supported me and believed in me,” Banks said. “For people who’ve lost hope in their own (life). If I can be some kind of vessel, to show people that no matter the hard time you experienced, you can still succeed, I want to put out that positive energy, to never quit and never give up.”


FALCONS LOOK SLUGGISH TO BEGIN YEAR:

ATLANTA — In perhaps the most anticipated season in Falcons history, the team showed its needs much improvement to legitimize its status as a Super Bowl contender.

While last season’s 13-3 team fell 10 yards short of the Super Bowl, there clearly is more work to be done after facing the rugged “Hard Knocks” Cincinnati Bengals in the exhibition season opener Thursday night at the Georgia Dome.

The starting offense — playing without future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez (family leave) and receiver Julio Jones (tight hamstrings) — was sluggish and didn’t run effectively with newly acquired running back Steven Jackson. The first-team defense was steady but not spectacular.

Quarterback Matt Ryan led the offense to a lone field goal in three possessions. The Falcons tried to run some I-formation power on a third-and 2 of their first possession, but Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins, a former Georgia Bulldog, plowed through the rebuilt right side of the line and stuffed Jackson in the backfield.

Kicker Matt Bryant came on to kick a 37-yard field goal before the Bengals scored 17 consecutive points on their way to a 17-3 halftime lead.

During the opening drive, the Falcons caught the Bengals in a cornerback blitz. Ryan connected with receiver Harry Douglas for a 42-yard gain. Ryan, who recently signed a five-year, $103.75 million contract extension, completed six of nine passes for 89 yards before giving way to backup quarterback Dominique Davis.

The defense didn’t allow a score as it opened with five defensive linemen and two linebackers. Defensive ends Kroy Biermann and Osi Umenyiora started along with tackles Peria Jerry, Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux. Linebackers Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas started.

The defense forced three punts — but no three-and-outs — while going against the Bengals’ first-team offense, which was without its top player in wide receiver A.J. Green, another former Georgia player.

With the season-ending injury to Mike Johnson (fractured fibula, dislocated ankle) on Tuesday, Falcons coach Mike Smith planned to keep a watchful on the right tackle position.

Holmes, who was selected in the third round (91st overall) of the 2012 draft, played only seven snaps last season after having surgery on his left foot for a stress fracture. Schraeder, 25, is the second-oldest rookie among the undrafted free agents, behind linebacker Brian Banks (28).

Schraeder, a native of Wichita, Kan., didn’t play football in high school. After a few years in the work force, he decided to play at Butler Community College in Kansas before having two productive seasons at Valdosta State.

“It will be a competition,” Smith said. “Of course, Lamar has been there a lot longer, but there is going to be competition. We may look at moving someone and cross-training them because when you get to game day, you’ve got to have seven guys (activated) and you’ve got to have guys that can play multiple positions.”

Holmes played well into the second quarter with the first and second teams before giving way to Schraeder.

Last season, the Falcons were 1-3 in their exhibition games before winning their first eight regular-season games on the way to the NFC South title and the NFC Championship game.


Falcons flash new moves on defense with Umenyiora

ATLANTA — One of the storylines of training camp has been how Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan plans to use defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who’s been standing up in some situations.

Against the Bengals on Thursday night in the exhibition opener, Umenyiora stood up in a two-point stance at right end on third-and-3 from Cincinnati’s 17 during the Bengals’ third possession.

“The read-option has created that,” Nolan said recently.

Umenyiora said he’s never had to stand up before during 10 seasons in the NFL.

“It’s not like it’s a scheme we invented where he has to stand up, but when you play the read-option, you have to have some vision of some things,” Nolan said. “It’s part of the NFL now, so because of that you will see a lot of guys do that.”

The Falcons have planned for the read-option and pistol offenses for much of the offseason, but Cincinnati is a more conventional team.

In the regular season, the Falcons will see read-option teams Carolina (twice), Seattle and Washington. They also will play San Francisco’s pistol offense.

“It’s very difficult to have your hand in the dirt and play certain things from that stance because on your first step it puts you in a bad position for what can happen next sometimes,” Nolan said. “If you are blitzing or something like that, it doesn’t.

“Osi and every other defensive end in the league, there are going to be times where they will wise-up to it real fast, and they will need to. They are going to need to do more than one thing out of it or they are telegraphed on that play.”

g Money ball: Running back Steven Jackson, who opted out of a $7 million contract to leave the St. Louis Rams, is happy with his decision. He finished with 8 yards on five carries behind the rebuilt offensive line.

“Football is the ultimate team sport, and after being there so long and not being able to even compete in the postseason, it takes a toll on you,” Jackson said. “The way the game has evolved, going to more of a passing league, I know realistically my chances to win the Super Bowl are numbered. Atlanta presented a great opportunity.”