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Hankerson, Hardy ready to step up if White is out

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons insist that wide receiver Roddy White, who will have elbow surgery on Monday, will be ready for the season.

They believe that White, the team’s all-time leading receptions leader, will take the field on Monday Night Football against the Philadelphia Eagles in his familiar role opposite Julio Jones.

However, the Falcons, who have revamped the unit over the offseason, have some new weapons if White is not able to answer the ball. After letting wide receiver Harry Douglas leave in a salary-cap move, the Falcons signed former Washington Redskins wide receiver Leonard Hankerson and drafted Justin Hardy in the fourth-round out of East Carolina.

Both had had strong games against the New York Jets and could fill the No. 2 and No. 3 spots if White has a setback along the way.

White will undergo minor elbow surgery on Monday for the removal of loose bodies in the right joint that caused swelling. White, who developed the swelling late last week, was scratched from the team’s 30-22 loss to the Jets on Friday night.

“Pretty minor stuff but it caused some swelling,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Sunday afternoon. “It wasn’t from a hit. It just kind of came up unusually. So he’s going to get that done tomorrow and hopefully, then in a week or so, he’ll be good to go.”

Asked if there was some concern that White might miss the team’s opener Sept. 14 against Philadelphia, Quinn replied, “None.”

But coaches are always optimistic about quick recoveries. The Falcons had hoped to have running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman back sounder from their hamstring injuries suffered on Aug. 5 and Aug. 6.

If they are also off on White’s timetable, Hankerson and Hardy would be next up. Devin Hester would also figure in the depth at the position.

Hankerson has caught four passes for 27 yards and a touchdown over two exhibition games. Hardy leads the team with seven catches for 94 yards, including a 31-yard gain.

Hankerson, 26, was signed to a one-year contract in free agency after playing four seasons in Washington, where he caught a career-high 57 passes in 2012 under new Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. He was expected to compete to earn the top spot behind Jones and White. Hankerson, who was slowed by a hip injury as a rookie in 2011, is trying to battle back from knee surgery last season.

Hardy set the record for most career receptions in FBS history last season. He played in 63 games for the Pirates and finished his career with 387 catches for 4,541 yards and 35 touchdowns. He broke the record against Tulane last season in a 34-6 victory. He moved past the previous record of 349 set by Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles in 2011.

Hardy had only a Division II scholarship offer in high school before ending up at East Carolina as a preferred walk-on. He signed with Fayetteville State, but was given a release to walk on at ECU. He spent his first season on the scout team before earning a scholarship a year later and quickly earning a lead role in the pass-heavy offense.

“It’s also an opportunity for Justin Hardy,” Quinn said. “Frankly, those two guys have had probably more turns that some of the other receivers and I think it’s beneficial for both those guys who haven’t had the experience Rod has day-to-day to get more turns.”

Also, Nick Williams has turned some heads at wide receiver for the Falcons.

“When a guy of Roddy’s caliber isn’t out there, yeah, you’re bummed that you’re not able to have him there,” Quinn said. “But you love to see the opportunities for guys and Nick is a great example of that, of someone who keeps competing and battling for it. He’s someone we definitely want to keep looking at.”

The Falcons are positioned nicely to replace White in the near future and perhaps down the road.

–Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has not been pleased with the performance of the rushing attack.

“We’ve got a long way to go in that area,” Quinn said.

A review of game tape underscored “a breakdown at one spot” that led to failed plays. The team went through a walk-through practice Sunday to address some of those breakdowns.

“I can’t wait to get going back with them this week and make that again a point of emphasis,” Quinn said. “We know the exact style that we want to do it and the technique of how to do it and now it’s just a matter of getting the reps and continuing to work on it.”

The Falcons are hoping the return of running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman from hamstring injuries can breathe some life into the rushing attack.


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