During one of the first plays of XFINITY® Training Camp, Antone Smith took a handoff from Matt Ryan, sprinted toward the outside, cut a corner and was gone.
Falcons fans have grown to be accustomed to such runs from the 5-foot-9 back, who has a strong reputation for his highlight reel potential. The numbers don't lie: Since the NFL/AFL merger, only Smith has registered six scrimmage TDs of 35-plus yards in his first 25 career touches.
The film doesn't lie, either. His explosiveness, along with blazing second gear speed and superb vision, are the reasons this aforementioned stat exists. They're why he's remained in Atlanta while a number of high profile RBs have passed through town.
Nonetheless, there have been concerns about his viability moving forward. Smith, 29, suffered a broken leg in November, and although Atlanta re-signed him to a one-year contract in March, it's been unclear whether he is capable of being a home run threat again.
One padless practice isn't enough to form a definitive evaluation; however, as he exhibited on Friday, Smith still possesses the rare quickness that's afforded him so much success. And that could mean big things in 2015.
"I felt pretty good out there," he said. "Leg feels pretty good. As a whole, as a team, we looked pretty good. We made mistakes, but it's the first day. It'll happen."
Smith also claimed that he is 100 percent healthy and will be prepared for opening night against Philadelphia.
"I'm confident, I'm ready now," he added. "No question."
The Atlanta Falcons are back in Flowery Branch. The team kicked off 2015 XFINITY Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Friday morning.
Smith and everyone else in the backfield will benefit from Atlanta's new playbook. Coordinator Kyle Shanahan has installed his version of the outside-zone blocking scheme — a system known to maximize the ground attack — and with this change, a newfound sense of optimism has developed.
"This is running back heaven right here," Smith said with a grin. "I mean, coach Shanahan has the attitude that he wants to run the ball. Movement on the front line is what makes it work. We're going to have some big holes out there. They brought the right (O-linemen) in."
Dan Quinn has stated he wants the running backs more involved in the passing game, and Smith, who finished 2014 with 13 receptions for 222 yards and three TDs, figures to get more touches as a result. He made a number of impressive receptions on Friday and even lined up out wide during an 11-on-11 drill — perhaps a sign of what's to come.
"When you get the running game going that certainly helps a quarterback and passing game, so I'm all for it," Ryan said in June. "We have to do what we can do to be the best offense we can be. Balance is one of those things that allow you to be a great offense."
Indeed, there are many reasons to believe Smith will continue to prosper in Atlanta. But the Florida State graduate has a lot of competition.
Devonta Freeman, a second-year pro, and Tevin Coleman, a rookie from Indiana, both plan on earning the starting RB job. The battle between those two will be fierce. They'll likely handle the bulk of the carries, but Smith, as determined as anyone, doesn't plan on taking a backseat.
Conversely, he expects to build on what he accomplished in 2014, a season in which he scored four touchdowns of 40-plus yards in just 10 appearances.
"Whether it's running the ball, catching the ball, special teams — no matter what, I want to make my mark," said Smith. "And I'll make my mark by playing to the best of my ability to make this team win."