Falcons’ Caleb Huntley bet on himself, and he’s winning

FLOWERY BRANCH – With running backs Cordarrelle Patterson and Damien Williams on injured reserve, Falcons rookie running back Caleb Huntley is ready to pitch in and help the rushing attack keep rolling.

The Falcons (2-2) will need to run the ball when they face Tom Brady and the Buccaneers (2-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

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Huntley, who played at Locust Grove High, went undrafted after a stellar career at Ball State and spent all of last season on the practice squad. He was back on the practice squad at the start of this season.

The Falcons called him up in Week 2 against the Rams. He got a carry and rushed for three yards. Last week, with Patterson’s knee starting to bother him, the Falcons promoted Huntley from the practice squad Saturday.

Patterson started Sunday, but during the game, the Falcons shifted the rushing load to Huntley, Tyler Allgeier and converted running back Avery Williams.

Huntley came through with 58 yards rushing on 10 carries, including a 5-yard touchdown run that gave the Falcons a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Huntley, who was a two-time All-Mid-American Conference selection, has had a taste of the NFL action and wants more.

The job isn’t finished, like (Lakers legend) Kobe (Bryant) said,” Huntley said. “Still have to work. Still have a lot to prove it. Because at the end of the day, I want to be great.”

Huntley, who started playing youth football at an early age, has been proving himself since high school. He was three-star recruit, as rated by 247Sports, and had he a scholarship offer from Western Kentucky snatched because of poor grades.

He ended up at Ball State and ran for 1,000 yards as a freshman. As a sophomore in 2018, his season was cut short because of an Achilles injury. In 2019, he returned to rush for 1,275 yards. He finished his career with 2,902 yards rushing and elected to enter the NFL draft instead of taking an extra COVID-19 season.

He bet on himself, and while he didn’t get drafted, things are working out thus far.

“He’s a guy that’s showed up for work every day,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said of his practice-squad season. “He’s had a great attitude and a great mindset.”

Huntley ran the ball 20 times for 91 yards and had a 30-yard touchdown run during the 2021 exhibition games.

“He showed some flashes in the exhibition season last year,” Smith said. “Came back and followed up.”

He led the Falcons in rushing with 38 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown during the 2022 exhibition games. Smith noted Huntley’s work habits and that he’s a physical runner.

Essentially, the Falcons elected to keep Huntley and move on from running back Qadree Ollison, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2019 draft out of Pittsburgh.

In addition to Huntley, Allgeier and Avery Williams, the Falcons have running back B.J. Baylor on the practice squad.

Patterson is out for at least four more weeks, and Damien Williams, who suffered a rib injury in the season opener, can return after the Tampa Bay game.

“I just feel like everybody in our (group) has that mindset and want to get physical, punishing the opposing team,” Huntley said. “If you do that, you break their will, and that’s how you win the game.”

Huntley got the ball on eight of the 10 consecutive runs in the third and fourth quarters against the Browns that helped to turn the game around for the Falcons.

“That makes your blood boil because that’s what we like to do,” Huntley said. “We like to run through people’s faces, get downhill and try to get yards after contact.”

Huntley was hoping that day would finally come for him.

“Honestly, I never thought it would come, but it’s here,” Huntley said. “Just a super-fun experience to be around guys like our (offensive) linemen, the other backs, everybody just pitching in for one common goal and that’s a (win).”

Practice-squad players get $207,000 per season, or $11,500 per week. Players come and go from the practice squad as rosters churn around the league.

Huntley had to stay focused during that year of basically being on a week-to-week contract.

“It’s just crazy, the difference between this year and last year is just preparation,” Huntley said. “After last offseason, I just mentally prepared myself and physically prepared myself to be in this position. I didn’t think it would be out of the ordinary to be in the position. I just didn’t know if I was going to get the opportunity. When it came, I was ready.”

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 NFL schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20

Oct. 9 at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

Oct. 16 vs. San Francisco, 1 p.m.

Oct. 23 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

Oct. 30 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m.

Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

Nov. 10 at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.

Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

BYE WEEK

Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD