Falcons have help if thin at WR Sunday
FLOWERY BRANCH — A bye week has provided no assurance Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will have all his wide receivers healthy for Sunday’s game against Miami.
Starting receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu were hurt and missed the second half of Atlanta’s 23-17 loss to Buffalo on Oct. 1. Jones appears to be on track to play against the Dolphins, though he only had limited availability on Wednesday as he returns from a hip injury. Sanu hasn’t returned to practice.
Backup Justin Hardy, who had the team’s only touchdown catch against Buffalo, also was out Wednesday with an illness.
Taylor Gabriel could move up as a starter in two-receiver sets.
Coach Dan Quinn says running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman give Ryan effective targets as receivers.
“We’re fortunate that we have depth at the (wide receiver) position, but we’re also fortunate
we have our running backs,” Quinn said Wednesday. “These guys can really make plays with the ball in their hands, too, not just taking a handoff but in the pass game as well.”
Coleman, third on the team with 13 catches, grinned as he talked about the chance to make an even
bigger impact as a receiver.
“I enjoy that a lot, catching the ball out of the backfield, going out there as a receiver and running routes,” Coleman said before adding for emphasis “I like that a lot. I want to be in open field as much as possible.”
Ryan used Coleman’s 39-yard sideline catch against Buffalo as an example of how the running backs can play like receivers.
“It’s huge to have those two guys as versatile as they are in the passing game,” Ryan said. “You look at the play Tevin made against Buffalo going down the sideline laying out for a ball on a vertical shot down the field. That’s about as good as any wide receiver in the league.”
Freeman had a combined 127 receptions the last two years.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody in the league doing a better job than he is,” said Ryan of Freeman as a receiver.
Sanu (strained hamstring) may be a longshot to return this week. Quinn remained confident there will be enough receiving options for Ryan, including tight ends Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo.
“I think the combination of the receivers, of Hooper’s development, of Levine, and the runners, all that maybe picks up some of the targets that went to other guys,” Quinn said.
Ryan and the Atlanta offense appeared to miss the team’s top two receivers against Buffalo. The Falcons were outscored 16-7 in the second half as they played without Jones and Sanu.
NOTES: LB Vic Beasley (hamstring) also was limited in practice. DL Courtney Upshaw (ankle, knee) did not practice. ... With PK Matt Bryant held out with a back injury, the team signed PK Mike Meyer to the practice squad. Meyer was with the team in training camp and the preseason . ...
The Falcons signed DE Jonathan Woodard to the practice squad and placed TE Joshua Perkins on the practice squad injured list . ... Quinn said Monday and again Wednesday players will stand together, with arms interlocked, during the national anthem on Sunday. He said the issue was discussed during the bye week, and the plan is to “move from protest to progress.” Falcons players all stood during the anthem before the Bills game.
Atlanta may still be without No. 2 receiver Mohamed Sanu against Miam on Sunday, which could lead to bigger receiver roles for players like Taylor Gabriel and tight end Austin Hooper (right).