The night before Atlanta's preseason opener, the Falcons were gathering at a hotel when their newest teammate, Cyrus Gray, arrived and introduced himself.
It was not an ideal time to join a new franchise. All of Gray's competition at running back had been immersed in Kyle Shanahan's scheme throughout the offseason; less than a week of training camp remained. Getting up to speed, and building a strong case for the 53-man roster, would require some fast learning.
Gray made sure to absorb information as quickly as possible. He dedicated himself to the playbook, and he spent a lot of one-on-one time with running backs coach Bobby Turner.
That effort paid immediate dividends: Gray turned in a solid debut with the Falcons, earning 18 rushes for 76 yards – a 4.2 average – against Cleveland, helping the Falcons win their second-consecutive game of 2016.
"His opportunity was there, and he took it," head coach Dan Quinn said about Gray. "So now, it's like, 'Hey man, you've shown it. So what can you do now on (special) teams? What can you do to back this performance up?' Because he showed that he can do it. He looked healthy, he looked quick. I came away really impressed."
Gray's longest run of the night, an 11-yard sprint, illustrated why he is equipped to succeed in Atlanta's outside-zone offense: After taking a handoff from Matt Simms, he sidestepped a would-be tackler at the line of scrimmage, found an open lane and cut downfield for a first down.
"He can stick his foot in the ground and get vertical," Quinn said. "So in the scheme, it's one gap at a time. … That's what this (offense) is about: making a decision and getting vertical. And he has the speed to do it."
Gray's sudden emergence has made a fierce position battle even more complex. Between him, Brandon Wilds, Gus Johnson and Terron Ward, the Falcons have no shortage of options for the No. 3 RB job. And with only two games left before the regular season begins, this storyline should only get more compelling in the next several weeks.