Falcons offensive tackle Jake Matthews watches from the sideline during Friday’s preseason game against the Dolphins. (Reuters)
ATLANTA — The Falcons drafted Jake Matthews No. 6 overall with the expectation that he will be a cornerstone of their offensive line for years to come.
Matthews got off to a rough start in his Falcons debut in Atlanta’s 16-10 win against Miami in the preseason opener for both teams. He was called for two penalties in his 19 snaps against the Dolphins, including a holding penalty that negated Antone Smith’s 76-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
On that play, Smith ran behind Matthews off right tackle. The penalty made it first-and-20 from the Falcons’ 24-yard line and they ended up punting after three plays.
“I didn’t realize (the penalty) was on me until later in the game,” Matthews said. “I was pretty disappointed when I found out. I will have to watch the film and see what happened.”
The penalties were demerits for Matthews, but quarterback Matt Ryan noted that the Falcons gained yards running behind him.
“Both sides we ran effectively but particularly behind a rookie guy,” Ryan said. “His first time out there, I thought Jake did a really nice job for us.”
Matthews has been groomed to play in the NFL for much of his life. His father, Bruce, is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and his uncle and grandfather also played in the league for years. Matthews said none of his family members were at the game Friday.
In spite of his background, Matthews said he was anxious about his debut.
“Definitely there was a little bit of nerves going in first time playing in the NFL,” Matthews said. “I thought I settled down really quick and did some good things. At the same time there are plenty of things to get better at. I’m excited to watch the film.”
The first penalty against Matthews, for illegal use of hands, was called on a third-and-three at the Dolphins’ 10-yard line. It didn’t cost the Falcons because it was offset by a penalty against the Dolphins, and Jacquizz Rogers scored on a two-yard run one play after the Dolphins were called for roughing quarterback Matt Ryan.
PENALTIES HURT SMITH: Falcons running back Antone Smith made a big play nearly every time he touched the ball in 2013.
Smith tried to pick up where he left off during the exhibition opener Friday against the Dolphins but his teammates kept making his big plays count for nothing. Smith had two large gains nullified by penalty.
Smith’s 34-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter was called back because Falcons veteran wide receiver Harry Douglas was lined up illegally. Smith ran 76 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter but a holding penalty on Matthews canceled it out.
Still, the speed and athleticism Smith showed on those plays had fans buzzing and earned unsolicited praise from Ryan.
“Both of those plays got called back but he showed the explosiveness that he has and the speed,” Ryan said. “He can change a game on any given play. That was fun to watch.”
Last season Smith rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns on just five carries (29.0 average). He never did earn regular playing time even though the Falcons were sliding to a 4-12 finish.
The Falcons signed Smith as a free agent in 2009 and he’s found his niche as a special teams ace. Before last season Smith had just one carry in his previous three seasons with the Falcons.
With Steven Jackson sidelined during training camp with a hamstring injury Smith figures to get plenty of touches in exhibition games along with veteran Jacquizz Rodgers. He surely opened some eyes on Friday.
“It’s a start,” Smith said. “It’s a first impression. That’s the biggest thing. I think my first impression was pretty good.”
YATES LOOKS STRONG: Falcons backup quarterback T.J. Yates, a native of Marietta, had a fine debut with his hometown team.
The Falcons acquired the former Pope High standout in a trade with the Houston Texans on June 18th after their offseason training program was completed. The Falcons sent linebacker Akeem Dent to the Texans for Yates, and released last season’s backup Dominique Davis.
Despite having just 12 practices with the Falcons, Yates replaced Ryan as the second-team quarterback against the Dolphins.
Yates played five possessions and led the offense to a field goal late in the second quarter.
“It felt pretty good,” Yates said. “It was good to get out there and kind of get in a rhythm. In training camp it’s hard to get in a rhythm in practice.”
Overall, he completed 7 of 16 passes for 127 yards. He also had two rushes for 8 yards.
“It was good to get out there and get a couple drives and move up and down the field and get in the swing of things,” Yates said. “It was good to get a feel for the offense in real game mode.”
Ryan was impressed with Yates’ day.
“I thought he went out there and executed nicely,” Ryan said. “He threw the ball well and got us into the right plays and the right checks.”
Sean Renfree came on in the third quarter and finished out the game.
“Sean made some nice plays, too,” Ryan said. “His comfort level in the offense showed tonight. He’s been around now, going into his second year. Worked really hard in the film room and was a big help for me last year.”