Chalk Talk: Shanahan Prepping Offense for Houston

Andrew Hirsh:With Julio Jones on track to break the single-season receptions mark, he's been taking a lot of hits this year. How are you guys managing his workload on the practice field and during games to make sure he can stay fresh and productive throughout 2015?

Kyle Shanahan: We've limited him almost every week, so he's practiced as little as anyone I've had. Usually guys who don't practice struggle in the games, so it's a credit to Julio that he's done what he's had to do to get himself healthy and he still gets locked in. It's hard for guys to pay attention when they're not practicing; it hasn't been that way for Julio. He's been able to miss a lot of practice but still knows assignments and carry it over to the game.

AH: Given Jones' reception total and the minor injuries he's dealing with now, are you concerned about his body holding up?

KS: There's always concern. That's part of football. That doesn't mean you don't throw to him, though. When he's out there, he's running routes, he's getting open—and you're not going to not throw it to him when he's open. You're afraid he's going to get hurt; it's part of ball. That's why it's so important for these guys to take care of themselves throughout the week. I think Julio does as good a job of that as anyone.

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The Falcons will be back at home on Sunday as they take on the Houston Texans at the Georgia Dome. Some of the players are already gearing up in pink before the Crucial Catch game, which raises awareness for breast cancer.

AH:** You said earlier today that you really liked the way Roddy White performed in Dallas, even though he made just one catch that was negated by a penalty. Going over the tape, it's clear his effort in the run game was a big reason why Devonta Freeman did so well. How important is it for a receiver—especially an older one like Roddy—to have value as a blocker in this offense?

KS: It's everything. It's really tough to play in our offense if you don't block. Roddy did a real good job with that last week. We demand a lot out of our receivers in the run game, and they've done a good job, and they're getting better at it.

AH: Speaking of good blockers, Patrick DiMarco looked fantastic against the Cowboys. Not only did he play the typical fullback role; he also shifted around to other spots and looked comfortable there. How does it help your offense to have a fullback who can be so flexible in the system?

KS: Patrick was huge last week, especially losing Tamme there in the second quarter. We had to go two and a half quarters without a tight end, and that's a big part of our offense, using two tight ends. But DiMarco, without any practice, he jumped into that second tight end role. Just the professional he is, he knew his assignments (at TE) because he prepared on his own, even though he hadn't gotten reps there. Everyone saw the obvious things with him blocking well, but just being able to get lined up right—something we hadn't worked at him with—really helped us win that game.

AH: You've been moving the fullbacks around a lot since OTAs and training camp. How do those added wrinkles make the team more dangerous?

KS: It has to do with all the coverages we're going against, what we think it'll give. You get different stuff when you have a fullback out there compared to two tight ends or three receivers. You get different fronts, different coverages. We're not going to force anything, but we look at every personnel group every week. And if we feel we have an advantage in one, we're going to go with it. Just because we have a fullback on the field doesn't mean we have to go with a two back (set). Sometimes you motion the fullback out and get different looks schematically. We have the guys who are versatile enough to make that happen.

AH: With Tamme going through concussion protocol, Tamme's status for Sunday is still unclear. If he has to sit out, how will it affect the way you utilize the tight end position?

KS: It changes everything. you have to be able to adjust; that's part of football. You lose guys all the time. We like to use tight ends, but it helps that DiMarco is able to do both. Mickey (Shuler) stepped in this week after not being here and he's done a good job, stayed in shape. I think these guys will have to step it up if Tamme can't go, but we're counting on them to do it.

AH: Devonta was incredible last week, but 30 carries is a lot—especially when someone plays as tough and physical as he does. Are you concerned about his workload as Tevin Coleman continues to recover from his rib injury?

KS: It's definitely a fear when you only have two backs going. But they have to play. There's only two of them. If they do get hurt we have to adjust, and we have plans for that. Freeman takes care of himself, too. He's been real good this week. He's been making sure his body is fresh. He'll be ready on Sunday.

AH: Ryan Schraeder will see a lot of time against J.J. Watt on Sunday. What does he have to do to limit Watt's damage?

KS: He just has to play at the top of his game. It's a huge challenge. When it's not Watt, they have some other good players in there, too. So we're going to have a challenge across the whole offensive line, but it also doesn't just come down to the O-line. They're going to get to the quarterback fast. Our receivers have to get open. Our quarterback has to get rid of the ball. We have to be able to run the ball, also. It takes everyone.

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This Throwback Thursday, we're taking at look back at Falcons away from the field as we continue to celebrate 50 seasons, presented by Equifax

AH:** You now have four offensive tackles on the 53-man roster, including Jake Long. Do you have an idea when he'll be ready to contribute?

KS: There's not (a timetable). We're just evaluating him every week. And we also have Bryce (Harris) out there who's doing a good job too. We look at all four of our tackles, they all get reps, they all go. I think Jake's gotten better each week, not being in training camp, having his injury and getting his legs back under him. There's no really (specific) plan, but he's someone who gives us options and we go through all those options every week.

AH: Another guy who's yet to see regular season action is Justin Hardy. When do you think he'll be set to go?

KS: When we feel like he gives us the best chance (to win). I've been real happy with Hardy these last few weeks. He hasn't been active or anything, but he's done a real good job in practice. I think he looks better now than throughout training camp, so he's someone I'm real encouraged with. I don't know when it'll be, but I know there's going to be a time this year when we're going to need him. And the way he's going right now, he's going to be ready.

AH: Nick Williams seems like a similar receiver to Hardy. How has Williams—a long shot when camp began—earned his keep?

KS: Nick's been great. The game's not too big for Nick. He can go in there, he can separate, he knows all the positions so he gives us a lot versatility for when we do have injuries. We lost Tamme last week and we had to go to some four wide receiver sets on third down, something we never practiced, and Nick knew them. He was on top of it, very similar to DiMarco—guys who know the whole scheme and can help you in any situation.

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