In the Falcons' first practice since starting cornerback and nickel back Brian Williams was lost for the season to a knee injury, Head Coach Mike Smith said the team was trying to develop a rotation on Wednesday.
Chevis Jackson, who started all of last season, worked out at nickelback and safety Jamaal Fudge, who went through training camp with the Falcons but was later cut, also worked in at nickel, Smith said.
"We're just trying to get a rotation in and get guys prepared because of the loss of Brian we have to have contingency plans in the secondary."
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Rookie safety William Moore, who has played in two games on special teams but has yet to play on defense, pulled a hamstring on Sunday and did not practice on Wednesday. So the Falcons have become a little thin in the secondary, depth-wise.
Fudge played for the Falcons last season and played his two previous seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars when Smith was the defensive coordinator there.
"We're hoping that Jamaal can give us some depth there at the safety position," Smith said. "…There's some flexibility with Jamaal. Jamaal knows our system, played multiple positions, both strong and free safety, and also in the preseason worked as a nickelback, so he gives us some flexibility, and at this time of the year you've got to have some contingency plans when you're putting your 45-man roster together."
Jackson, who has played far less this season than he did in 2008 when he played more than 600 snaps, said preparing for Sunday against Dallas is no different for him than it was in any of the five previous games.
"You just prepare like you're going to play a game and you never know what's going to happen, that was evident last week, so you've got to be ready," he said.
Jackson was asked about the difficulty of stepping in late in the fourth quarter last Sunday for Williams after Williams went down. On his first play, he was beaten by Bears tight end Greg Olsen for a touchdown reception that tied the score at 14-14.
"It was fine," Jackson said. "Going in there, you've got to perform. You got to make the play. I let him get inside on me by a step. Try to do better."
Jackson said he has no problems with confidence and said "if anything, it's better" than last year.
As far as cornerback and who will play there, the situation is murkier. Smith said on Monday that rookie Christopher Owens, Jackson and Tye Hill, whom the team acquired at the end of training camp from St. Louis, would all get a look.
Hill is in his fourth season and is accustomed to starting. In his rookie season he missed some games to start the season, then finished with a total of 10 starts. He started seven of eight the following season and four of four in 2008, as he battled injuries in his second and third years.
He has been inactive through the first five games of '09.
"It's definitely hard, you know what I'm saying," Hill said. "The thing about is I've been hurt a lot, too, so I've sat on the sideline to watch, but I've never been on the sideline to watch while I was healthy."
He also refused to sugarcoat what it's been like to learn the Falcons' defense.
"It is kind of hard, I'm not going to lie about that," he said. "The good thing about me is I've played partly, halfway of this system before. So it really didn't take me as long as what I was thinking it was going to take – it didn't take me as long as I thought it would to catch on.
"I'm still learning, of course, seeing as I've only been here two months. I'm picking it up pretty well. Any time you come in, the position I have come in to play at the end of training camp is definitely difficult and hard but also for the coach to put you on the field because of the simple fact that they have never coached me… They have to have a comfort level and I also have to have comfort level to get out there."
Hill was asked if he were aware of the situation last year of Domonique Foxworth. Similar to Hill, the Falcons acquired Foxworth shortly before the end of training camp. Foxworth sat a few games to learn the system, then proved a valuable contributor before departing via free agency.
"I am aware of him coming in last year and what happened with him," Hill said. "I just want to play. I'm pretty sure that's the mentality he came in with and he's been pretty successful. He came in and helped this team to win and that's what I want to bring also."
Fullback Ovie Mughelli (calf), who missed last Sunday's game, running back Jerious Norwood (hip flexor), who was injured on Sunday, and Moore (hamstring) did not practice.
Smith sounded hopeful about Mughelli, but not so much about Moore.
"Ovie, we're hoping we can get Ovie out here tomorrow to move around a little bit and Jerious is day to day," Smith said. "Both of them didn't participate today and we're working to get them back as quick as we can.
Of Moore, Smith said, "I can't say, he'll be ready to go this week, but we're going to try to get him out here as quickly as we can."
Norwood told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this about his injury.
Wide receiver Brian Finneran also did not practice on Wednesday, but his absence was listed under "not injury related." Michael Turner (chest) and tight end Justin Peelle (ankle) both were limited in their participation.
Shockley Cut for Smith
Quarterback D.J. Shockley, the former University of Georgia and North Clayton High star, was cut from the practice squad to make room for running back Antone Smith. Mike Smith said that with Mughelli and Norwood unable to practice, the team needed a player at running back for practice.
"We released D.J. off the practice squad and signed Antone Smith and it was a decision we made because we felt it was the best combination of players on the practice squad to get prepared this week," Mike Smith said.
He described his namesake as a "strong, fast urgent running back that's had some opportunities and been on practice squads with other teams." Smith said the Falcons gave Smith a workout.
Smith, a Florida State standout who led the Atlantic Coast Conference with 15 touchdowns in 2008, was originally signed as a free agent by Detroit. He also has spent time with Houston and Minnesota this season.