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Crash Course


There are two players on the Falcons who've yet to play any snaps on offense or defense, but are causing quite a stir.

The additions of Kelvin Hayden and James Sanders near the end of the preseason turned up a few eyebrows in the Falcons' fanbase and otherwise. They were added to the final roster without hardly a practice.

Atlanta's general manager Thomas Dimitroff's familiarity with the well-liked Sanders during his days with the Patriots went a long way toward that decision. Hayden's best known for his Super Bowl interception and touchdown return while with the Colts, the team that drafted him in 2005 in the second round.

An injury ended Hayden's season last year and made teams shy away, but for what the Falcons want from Hayden, he's yet another bold and perfect move by Dimitroff. Like Sanders, he brings a winning pedigree. In the Falcons, Hayden sees a team with expectations on its back and he's excited to be a part of another team that expects to win a lot.

"Expectations around here are to make it to the playoffs," Hayden said last week. "Everyone wants to make the playoffs. But to believe it and mean it are two different things."

Hayden added that the Falcons mean business.

When I think of Sanders and Hayden I think of two guys in a classroom, illuminated by the film on the screen in front of them, furiously writing things down. When head coach Mike Smith speaks of the two guys learning the system, he often uses the term "crash course." The overtime work is necessary because the two veterans are here for a reason. Although the duo's time on the field was limited against the Bears, that could change in the coming weeks.

"James Sanders played on special teams," Smith said on Monday. "Kelvin Hayden did not play in the ball game (Sunday) but let's be perfectly clear: We want to get those guys out on there the field as quick as we can. When we feel comfortable with that scenario, we're going to put them out there because they are two good football players that can help us win some football games."

Sanders can be expected to provide a veteran influence to the young safety tandem of William Moore and Thomas DeCoud. Hayden's veteran play will be welcomed in the competition at the nickelback spot, currently manned by youngsters Chris Owens and Dominique Franks. Hayden's even more important entering Week 2 when you consider that Owens, the Week 1 starter, is battling an ankle injury that has kept him out of practice this week.

Smith said Thursday the duo would definitely play on special teams against the Eagles. The evaluation process for how ready they are to take part in defensive snaps is an ongoing process. Because of how late they were brought in they're behind the eight ball, but all the extra work they're doing is helping.

"We continue to try to get them comfortable with our system and the more comfortable they become with it, then the more comfortable we're going to be with putting them in the ball game," Smith said.

For veterans like these two, the comfort level should almost be there. It might not be a surprise to see them helping the Falcons to a victory on Sunday. After all, that's why they're here.

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