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Early Bird Report: Falcons' approach to improved tackling; Calvin Ridley among league's top rookies

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes an approach to shoring up the Falcons’ tackling as well as Calvin Ridley’s place among the NFL’s top rookies.

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The Falcons have struggled with tackling at times this season, and they face possibly their toughest test in that area this Monday with Giants rookie Saquon Barkley coming to town.

Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel was a reliable tackler during his NFL career, and ESPN’s Vaughn McClure believes he should pop in the tape of his technique as a player to show Atlanta’s defense ahead of Monday night.

"We still do some of those drills, individually," Manuel said, per McClure. "I do some where I show them exactly how to do it. It's just the first fundamental that we all learn. You have to have a passion to do it.

"The passion is to finish. I can't be lazy. I have to bring my feet every single time. So it's just the consistency of doing it and just talking to the guys about what happens at that point of contact, what happens to my feet, what happens to my eyes, just those finer points."

To read the rest of McClure’s piece on the Falcons’ tackling, click here.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

CBS Sports: Rookie of Year front-runners, contenders, sleepers

The Falcons and Giants have two of the NFL’s top offensive rookies through the first six games as Calvin Ridley and Saquon Barkley are off to strong starts. It’s no surprise then that Cody Benjamin had both of them near the top of his Week 7 NFL Rookie Power Rankings. Benjamin lists Barkley as a front-runner for a rookie of the year award, and he has Ridley under the “contender” section of his list.

“So much for his late draft-stock slide suggesting he doesn't have what it takes,” Benjamin writes. “Ridley got off to a quiet start, but if his season ended halfway through the year, he'd still have respectable numbers because of that awesome touchdown total.”

To see the rest of Benjamin’s list, click here.

AJC: Alas, for Falcons and Freeman, this injury is the new normal

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Steve Hummer provided his thoughts on the Falcons’ latest announcement that Devonta Freeman would join the list of players on injured reserve. While the news is certainly tough to hear for many fans, to Hummer, it’s a sign of the new normal for this team and Freeman.

“In this injury-cursed season, the news of Freeman’s impending surgery was among the least shocking developments, because doing without him has, regretfully, become the new normal,” Hummer writes. “It could remain that way. The ground isn’t getting any softer. And so much of his pay will count against the Falcons salary cap for at least two seasons yet that there is no simple way to move on if the injuries keep compounding. This is a real pickle, although front office types might employ a choicer word or two.”

To read the rest of what Hummer has to say, click here.

ESPN: Predicting the NFL’s next record-breakers

Falcons fans have been lucky to watch two of the best players at their respective positions play together for the better part of the last decade. Julio Jones and Matt Ryan have steadily etched their name in the team’s record books, and they may have a chance at some all-time NFL records before things are all said and done. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell took a look at which players could break some notable records in the coming years, and both Ryan and Jones are leaders in a category.

Using Bill James’ “Favorite Toy formula,” Barnwell notes Ryan has a 14.4-percent chance to claim the NFL’s all-time passing yards record at the end of his career. Jones, meanwhile, has a whopping 40.2-percent chance to top Jerry Rice’s all-time receiving yards record.

“Another wideout who has been blessed to spend his entire career with one quarterback is Julio Jones, who inexplicably can't find the end zone but is already up to 707 receiving yards in six games this season,” Barnwell writes. “Jones is on pace for 1,885 receiving yards (and zero touchdowns) in 2018, which would get him to 10,939 yards before turning 30. That would be the best mark in league history for a player through his age-29 season.”

To read the rest of Barnwell’s piece, click here.

ESPN: Ito Smith aims to ignite Falcons’ run game

The Falcons added yet another notable player to injured reserve yesterday as running back Devonta Freeman will have surgery on his groin. There is hope Freeman could return later this season if all goes well but until then, the Falcons will turn to Tevin Coleman and rookie Ito Smith to carry the load.

Smith is currently on a three-game touchdown streak, and he spoke with ESPN’s Vaughn McClure about his goals to help the team moving forward.

"I don't feel any pressure because you just have to keep doing what you're doing," Smith told McClure. "Y'all haven't even seen the surface yet out of the running backs or out of the whole offense. We haven't played a great game yet."

In six games this season, the Falcons have gained over 100 yards on the ground just once. Smith wants to help change that moving forward. Thus far in his rookie season, Smith has 32 carries for 102 yards and three touchdowns.

To read the rest of McClure’s piece, click here.

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