Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Jake Matthews, second from right, blocks during a drill on the field during training camp at Falcons Training Complex. (Reuters)
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Two rookies could start in the Atlanta Falcons’ star-studded offense.
Onlookers suspected offensive lineman Jake Matthews, the sixth overall pick in the draft would start. The question was whether he’d start at left tackle or right tackle. He’s appears to have already locked down the right tackle spot.
Few suspected fourth-round pick Devonta Freeman was in line to be a centerpiece of the first team when the Falcons open the regular season.
But after running back Steven Jackson, who turned 31 three days before the start of training camp, couldn’t make it to the second padded practice, the Falcons are preparing Freeman to be ready to start.
Jackson suffered a right hamstring injury, the fourth consecutive season that he’s suffered a soft-tissue injury early in the season.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith pointed out that it was not the hamstring that Jackson injured last season, when he suffered an injury to his left hamstring in the second game of the season. Smith said he expected Jackson to ready for the season-opener against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 7.
As a fallback, running backs coach Gerald Brown has to get Freeman ready to play just in case Jackson is not able to make it back. Jacquizz Rodgers, who used to split the backup duties with the retired Jason Snelling, hasn’t shown that he can carry the load of a featured back.
Freeman, 5-foot-8, 206 pounds, rushed 173 times for 1,016 yards last season and became Florida State’s first 1,000-yard rusher since former Falcon Warrick Dunn accomplished that feat in 1996.
“He catches the ball so well out of the backfield, I can see his role in future being one where he’s in there in passing situations,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “He’s got some things to learn when it comes to pass protection, but when you see him in space, he’s really, really talented.”
Freeman’s work with the ones is a surprise, but Matthews appears to be everything that Falcons wanted.
Matthews has opened camp strong. He’s pushing folks around and has learned the playbook. Matthews won over veterans with his singing and by staying quiet. Yeah, he had to perform light-hearted stage acts with other rookies on Monday.
“He’s done it the way a rookie should do it,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “He’s kept his mouth shut and handled his business the right way. He’s been pretty quiet.”
“He was pretty good,” Ryan said. “I was impressed. But probably the thing that has impressed me the most in the first week is his ability to sing. He’s not scared to get up there and show a little bit of his personality.”
Matthews knew how to win over the vets. He got tips from his dad, uncle and cousins.
“My main goal, like I said from day one, is to prove that I’m worth that pick,” Matthews said. “I just think that I’m with a great organization. I’m glad to be here and I’m just going to keep working.”
Matthews is getting a lot of help from the veterans.
“(Left tackle) Sam Baker is a guy that I’ve been talking to a lot,” Matthews said. “He’s done it a long time and has done it the right way.”
Matthews got into a shoving match with defensive end Kroy Biermann on the first day of practice. He sent a message to the veterans that he won’t be taking any extra rookie hazing.
“The biggest thing that I need to focus on is that I need to get more consistent,” Matthews said. “I have to understand where the ball is going and how things are designed. That’s something that I think I can still get better at. Being at this level, there are still plenty of things to work on.”
NOTES: The Falcons were off Wednesday. … NT Travian Robertson, a seventh-round pick in 2012 who has played in 12 games with no starts, has been mentioned as one of the early surprises in camp.