Falcons’ special teams ready for exhibition action

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons special-teams coordinator Marquice Williams has to evaluate the entire 90-man roster looking for players who can help on the special-teams units.

Several players will get the opportunity to make a first impression when the Falcons play the Lions at 6 p.m. Friday at Ford Field.

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“I look at it as a good problem for us as coaches,” Williams said. “We get an opportunity to evaluate all 90 guys on the roster. It’s an opportunity for us to put guys in position to showcase their talents, their attributes and what they bring to the team. So, we’re excited and fired up as we get ready for the Lions.”

Williams has roles for all of the players and can’t wait to evaluate some of the rookies.

“Look at our entire roster, the rookie class that we brought in and even the older guys we brought in like (wide receiver Cameron) Batson,” Williams said. “AK (Arnold Ebiketie) is doing good. DeAngelo Malone, he’s working hard. Troy Andersen, he’s playing a lot of different positions. (Stanley) Berryhill, all those guys.”

Williams said he couldn’t name all of the rookies but noted that they all have been working hard.

“We want to showcase their talents, whether it’s open-field tackling, ball security, running with the ball in space, or blocking and tackling in space,” Williams said.

The Falcons are set at place-kicker with Younghoe Koo. He has made 20 of 23 field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter and overtime in 30 games with the Falcons. Koo helped the Falcons reach a 7-10 record last season with three game-winning kicks.

The Falcons signed veteran punter Bradley Pinion this offseason. He’s played with San Francisco (2015-18) and Tampa Bay (2019-21). Pinion also kicks off, and 418 of his 530 kickoffs (78.9%) have been touchbacks. He has averaged 43.7 yards per punt over his career.

Pinion is looking forward to getting some action in the exhibition games.

“You kind (of) have to get the reps in,” Pinion said. “I love live reps. So, getting those live reps in is huge. Just getting used to the flow of the game. (Exhibition) games are always nice.”

Pinion wanted to land with the Falcons.

“Soon as I kind of knew that I was going to get cut in Tampa, it was one of those situations where Atlanta was my top choice, honestly,” Pinion said. “It’s only about an hour-and-a-half from where I live in the offseason. It’s a dream come true to play this close to Clemson. This is close to home.”

The Falcons were in the punter market after not re-signing Dustin Colquitt, who came in and stabilized the position last season.

“Couldn’t have been a better circumstance, honestly,” Pinion said.

Cordarrelle Patterson wants to return more kickoffs this season.

Patterson has returned eight kickoffs for touchdowns, which is tied with Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington for the most in NFL history. He’s been discussing getting more kickoff returns with Williams.

“That record is the record. That’s a real stat,” Williams said. “OK, so when I look at that, it’s real, but at the end of the day, whether it’s CP, Avery (Williams), Batson, OZ (Olamide Zaccheaus), (Damiere) Byrd, whoever we put back there, we’re going to play the best 11 players. We’re going to put our team in the best position personnel-wise to win ballgames. That’s what is important, winning ballgames.”

Patterson is a four-time Pro Bowler as a returner.

“If CP is back there, and we’re in a position where we feel like those are the best 11,” Williams said. “The best 11 are going to be on the field.”

How much Patterson is used as a returner will depend on his workload on offense.

“He had a very important role in our offense, too,” Williams said. “Again, it’s what can help put our team in the best position. If a guy is playing, and he has a huge role on offense, huge role on defense, he might be able to have a minimal role on special teams.”

The Falcons are looking to improve from being ranked 23rd in the annual special-teams rankings compiled by longtime NFL writer Rick Gosselin.

“This whole entire roster is going to help us on special teams,” Williams said. “If you start from player No. 1 to player No. 53. We get down to that 53-man roster. All those guys, plus the 16 guys on the practice squad. Those guys are going to help us.”

Rookie Jared Bernhardt, a former lacrosse player, will see some special-teams action.

“I mean, he’s a very smart football player,” Williams said. “He understands the game. He’s a fast learner. Whether it’s about returns or getting down on coverage, you tell him one time, work with him in the walk-through one time, and he gets it.

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