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FALCONS NOTEBOOK: Atlanta begins to make tough decisions with cuts

ATLANTA — Former Georgia State running back Donald Russell was among the 11 players cut by the Falcons late Sunday.

With right tackle Mike Johnson on injured reserve with a season-ending ankle injury, the roster now stands at 78 players. The team must be at 75 by 4 p.m. today.

Tight end Tim Biere, fullback Devonte Campbell, linebacker Nick Clancy, tight end Colin Cloherty, quarterback Seth Doege, defensive end Cam Henderson, tackle Jeff Nady, safety Troy Sanders, center Matt Smith and defensive end Brandon Thurmond were also released.

“This move from 90 to 75 is difficult, but it’s not nearly as difficult as what takes place when we go down to our 53,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “I think that it is fairly clear what we have to do.”

The final cut-down to 53 players must be completed by 9 p.m. on Saturday. The Falcons open the regular season at the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 8.

“When we go down to 53, those are some very difficult decisions,” Smith said. “There are a lot of young men who have worked their tails off for us since April that are not going to be on our team when we play … It’s always a tough time.”

Doege, Russell, Biere, Smith, Nady and Henderson did not see any action against the Titans.

Gonzalez returns: The Falcons didn’t waste any time getting tight end Tony Gonzalez back involved in the offense.

On the second play of the game, quarterback Matt Ryan threw a pass to Gonzalez for a 7-yard gain.

Gonzalez was happy that Ryan called his number so early.

“I’ve been happy with my progress since I’ve been back,” Gonzalez said. “I can take a little pride knowing that I wanted to do that. I took care of myself for those weeks that I wasn’t here. I was preparing myself for when I got back here.”

Gonzalez finished with two catches for 21 yards. He was only targeted two times.

“I tried to hit the ground running,” he said. “I didn’t want to let my teammates down, nor myself down.”

After a unique offseason where he was allowed to stay home with his family, Gonzalez made his exhibition season debut before entering his 17th season in the National Football League.

“Personally, I felt good,” Gonzalez said. “I felt fine. There is room for improvement, there always is. I’ve only been back for four days or whatever.”

Stunting issues: The Falcons have been picked by many prognosticators to win the NFC South and be a Super Bowl contender. They have not shown many flashes of brilliance during the exhibition season.

“We’ve got to play better,” Gonzalez said. “There is no doubt about it. It’s just a preseason game. It is that dress rehearsal, but we have got to play better.”

He figures the offensive line, which gave up six sacks to the Titans, will address its issues. Also, the receivers will not drop so many passes.

He didn’t feel that the line was manhandled, even though they gave up so many sacks.

“It’s not about physically being beat,” Gonzalez said. “Some of the stunts gave us trouble along the offensive line. Some of those balls, we have to catch those balls and we normally do. Having Roddy (White) back in there is going to help us down the line.”

White missed the game after suffering an ankle injury against Baltimore on Aug. 15.

Etc: Defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann had a game-high seven total tackles (five solo) with two sacks, three tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. …Linebacker and defensive signal-caller Sean Weatherspoon made his exhibition season debut. He finished with three tackles. … The run defense didn’t hold up against the Titans, who rushed for 171 yards on 36 carries (4.8 yards per carry). …The team had no injury updates on cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh/quadriceps) or kicker Matt Bryant (back). …The Falcons (0-3) face the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3) at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Georgia Dome.