Early Bird Report: Falcons returners have a great teacher; ranking Super Bowl paths and more


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes the Falcons' coach who knows a thing or two about returning kicks as well as a ranking of each team's path to the Super Bowl.


The Falcons are in search of a new kick and punt returner this season, and they've got a pretty good coach out there to help evaluate. Leon Washington, whose eight kickoff returns for touchdowns are tied for the NFL record, is currently a coaching intern with the Falcons.

"I'm just in a position to come and share my knowledge of the game, especially in the return game, giving these young guys something to look at, some of the things I learned," Washington told Matt Winkeljohn of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I think everyone at this level has a gift athletically. Mentally, it's trying to give the guys an advantage about how to approach the return game."

Atlanta currently has five primary competitors for their open returner roles, including Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, Ito Smith and Reggie Davis. The most intriguing option at kick returner may just be Ridley, who had a 34-yard return on the game's opening kickoff against the Chiefs.

The competition will continue Saturday when the Falcons take on the Jaguars.

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

ESPN: How the NFL has enforced new helmet rule, and what's coming next

Through the first two weeks in the preseason, there appears to be plenty of people worried by the frequency in which penalties pertaining the new helmet rule have been called during games. Referees have called 51 such penalties in 33 games so far this preseason, but is that rate going to be sustained?

ESPN's Kevin Seifert took a deep dive into the new helmet rule and the penalties resulting from it this preseason, and he explains what's likely to happen with the regular season starts. If you'd like to read more on this subject, click here.

CBS Sports: Ranking the Super Bowl paths for all 32 NFL teams

Let's be clear, every single road to the Super Bowl is extremely difficult. With that understanding, some roads are slightly easier than others. John Breech of CBS Sports set up a formula to help determine the difficulty of the path each NFL team faces, and the Falcons are near the top.

Atlanta has the eighth-hardest journey to well, Atlanta, actually, but they do have the easiest path in their own division. The NFC South holds the fifth through eighth-hardest schedules, which is a testament to just how difficult the division actually is.

"If the Falcons are going to collapse in 2018, it will probably come at the end of the season when they have to play three December games outdoors," Breech writes. "The Falcons are just 4-6 in their past 10 outdoor games played in December."

To see the rest of the list and how each team's schedule ranks, click here.

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