FLOWERY BRANCH, GA –Some Falcons players found themselves learning new roles this week as the team began to game plan for Friday's matchup with the Miami Dolphins.
Jerseys worn over regular Atlanta practice jerseys donned numbers like 19, 23, 34, 80, 52 and 58, all playmakers for the Dolphins and players the Falcons know they'll need to stop.
The player rookie running back Dimitri Nance was assigned wasn't completely unfamiliar to him.
Nance, in more ways than one, resembles Miami's running back Ricky Williams.
Both stand at 5-foot-10, only 10 pounds separate their weights and they have a similar quick, hard-charging running style. Nance also flows dreadlocks from underneath his helmet, a look Williams made synonymous with himself early in his career.
The comparison is one Nance has heard before. He said Wednesday some of his teammates used to call him "Ricky" during his career at Arizona State.
The role of scout team running back is a foreign one for Nance, who never owned that job in college or in high school. It's a first for him, but he understands he's there to help the Falcons defense prepare for a victory.
"You've got to service the defense," Nance said. "You want the team to win so you've got to go in there and just do the best you can."
Preparing for practice each day to be a different player is a challenging task at times, but he's aided by the fact that the Dolphins run similar plays as the Falcons at times. However, he's responsible for showing the defense Miami's dangerous Wildcat offense and he said that was the most difficult part, but ultimately he focused on running the play as the playcard described it.
The biggest concern for any young player who is suddenly performing the duties of an opponent's player is if they'll get lost in the evaluation process. Nance said the coaching staff assured the young players that won't be the case. The practice expectations for the Falcons will remain the same.
"They told us they're still watching us and evaluating us while we're doing scout stuff," he said. "You still have to go out there and play hard."
Point of no return:When kickoff specialist and punter Michael Koenen has lined up for kickoffs this preseason, he's accomplished his primary objective.
So far in this exhibition season, Koenen and his special teams unit have not allowed a return of a kickoff, putting the opposing team's offense consistently on the 20-yard-line to begin.
Koenen has shown his strong leg already in the preseason, and last season his ability to prevent returns was never more evident than in a Week 2 victory over the Carolina Panthers. His five kickoffs in that contest were all touchbacks, tying a team record.
The five-year veteran came back in Week 10 and tied that record — again against the Panthers — and also showed his leg in the punting game, posting a career-long 70-yard punt.
The kicker feels holding the team to no return — or as little return as possible — is always the goal.
"It's always a goal to start them inside the 20-yard-line," Koenen said Wednesday. "If I can do that from touchbacks, that's great. If I can do that by putting it in the corner so our guys can get down there and cover it, then that's great. Obviously, touchbacks mean there isn't a return on you. But there will be. When that comes, hopefully it's high and outside and our guys can get down there and cover."
He believes a booming kick is as much science as technique, describing the act of a kickoff as an explosion of energy.
"You're trying to get as much power behind it as you can and at a trajectory that's going to put it high and hopefully in the end zone," he said. "It's an exertion of all your energy at a certain moment."
Running free:The Falcons will welcome the return of running back Jerious Norwood on Friday and Matt Ryan is excited to have him back.
After missing the first two preseason games with a hip injury, Norwood returned to practiced last Saturday and is expected to be ready for action against the Dolphins. Ryan believes Norwood brings a different dynamic to the offense and is glad for the addition.
"He's certainly a weapon for us," Ryan said. "Anytime you can get him on the field and get the ball in his hands there's a chance he can take it the distance because he's such an explosive guy. It'll be nice to have him back."
Ryan believes the fifth-year running back has been around the game long enough that the missed preseason time won't change how ready he is for not only Friday night, but the regular season as well.
"He's an experienced guy," the quarterback said. "He's been around here a long time. He's been in this offense for three years now. I expect him to come out and play well. He's not going to miss a beat. He knows the game plan really well. It'll be fun."
Head coach Mike Smith is looking for the same thing from Norwood as he is from other returning injured veterans. Norwood is joined by cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Brian Williams, as players who are seeing their first live action of the preseason. They expect the same kind of disciplined and consistent football from them as they do all the players participating.
"(It's) no different from what we want from the other guys, to come out and play efficient football," Smith said. "It's the biggest tuneup in the preseason in terms of the number of snaps that our guys are going to play. We want to see them play well."