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Falcons draft picks off to a slow start

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons, who are hoping to get major contributions from their rookie draft class, have not seen much early from what was considered a strong group by many draftniks.

First-round pick Vic Beasley, a defensive end, started the preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans but didn’t record a sack and drew a penalty. Second-round pick Jalen Collins, a cornerback, who is coming off foot surgery that limited his play over the offseason, is struggling in coverage. He gave up a touchdown pass against Tennessee.

Third-round pick Tevin Coleman, a running back, has been out since Aug. 5 with a hamstring injury after impressing early in training camp.

Fourth-round pick Justin Hardy, a wide receiver, had a bobbled ball that turned into an interception against the Titans.

Fifth-round pick Grady Jarrett (defensive tackle), sixth-round pick Akeem King (cornerback) and seventh-rounder Jake Rogers (tackle) have blended into the atmosphere.

Beasley opened at left defensive with the starting defense and was a part of the unit that created two turnovers and returned one for a touchdown. He admitted to being a little anxious in his first NFL game.

“Really, when I just hit the field, realizing that the time is now and I’m actually in the NFL,” Beasley said. “This is a new chapter in my life.”

Linebacker Justin Durant had an interception and linebacker Paul Worrilow scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown.

Beasley had some pressure on Durant’s interception.

“I think it went pretty well,” Beasley said. “We got off to a good start at the beginning. I’m looking forward to getting started this week coming up.”

The Falcons moved Beasley around on the defense as he plays what they call the Leo position.

“Coach (Dan) Quinn has a great scheme, and I’m just buying into it and looking forward to what he has planned,” Beasley said.

The Titans gave Beasley a lot of respect and tried to double-team him at times.

“Welcome to the NFL,” Quinn said. “Chip (blocks), tight ends and tackles.”

The defense, which was ranked last in the league in 2014, wanted to come out with a new attitude. Beasley and his pass-rushing skills are a big part of their plan.

“Coach Quinn is emphasizing getting the ball back, and I think we did a pretty good job of that,” Beasley said. “We just want to do that every time that we take the field.”

Beasley, who played at Clemson, had a good vantage point on Durant’s play.

“I was just trying to get some pressure on the quarterback,” Beasley said. “I put my hand up and was able to help cause an interception.”

The Falcons also had a sack from defensive end Tyson Jackson.

“I think we got good pressure on (Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota),” Beasley said. “I think it affected him throughout the game. We just have to make it roll throughout the whole game when the second guys and third guys come in.”

Quinn was proud of his prized rookie.

“I can’t wait to go through it with him, and there are some things we can improve on,” Quinn said. “Every time that we come in, we have to keep on improving. I know he had fun playing.”

–Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Coleman, who are both recovering from hamstring injuries, returned to the individual portion of practice and were in full pads on Monday.

“We’ll see how they respond,” Quinn said. “The individual part is challenging as it goes and then the next step will be to put them in the (team) work.”

Freeman and Coleman also did some extra running with the trainer.

“I felt pretty good to get back out there,” Freeman said. “I’m progressing slowly, but daily.”

Coleman said, “It’s been real frustrating to watch my team get out there and compete. I want to be a part of that.”

The Falcons’ rushing attack was lackluster in the opening exhibition game. The running backs rushed 30 times for 69 yards (2.3 yards per carry). The new staff is trying to balance out the offense and establish the rushing attack.

Freeman, who was drafted in the fourth round in 2014, and Coleman, who was selected in the third round this year, suffered mild hamstring strains on Aug. 5 and 6 and were projected to miss two to four weeks.

“Mentally, I’ve been repping it,” Freeman said. “I feel like you need that to be a full pro. Take mental reps, while you can’t take physical reps.”

The Falcons are aiming to have them back for the third exhibition game on Aug. 29 at Miami, which is their regular-season dress rehearsal.

“As we take it through the week, then we’ll have a good sense for it,” Quinn said. “We are certainly hoping to have them back for (Friday’s game against the Jets), but we are only going to put them out (there) if they are ready to rock.”

–The Falcons have passed on re-signing linebacker Prince Shembo, who recently settled his court case in Gwinnett County.

The Falcons signed three players and released one Sunday to go back up to the 90-man limit for training camp.

“I think that we are just happy right now where we are at with the linebackers,” Quinn said. “We’re just trying like heck to keep working those guys as we are going through it.”

Felony animal-cruelty charges against Shembo were recently dismissed in Gwinnett County after he pleaded to a misdemeanor and a fine. Shembo had been waived by the team after being charged with killing his ex-girlfriend’s dog on May 29.

Because it was established that the dog bit Shembo first, the charges were reduced. He pleaded to a misdemeanor and a $1,000 fine.

Shembo could still be subject of the NFL’s player-conduct policy and may face a suspension if he re-signs with another team.


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