Blame to spread for Falcons’ offensive line woes

Smith said it’s not always obvious which offensive lineman is to blame when the protection breaks down. He said during the regular season any potential problems with protection would be accounted for when game plans are developed.

Still, no matter the circumstances, there’s a bottom line to what happened against the Titans.

“We can’t have our quarterback get hit that many times,” Smith said. “We’ve got to get better.”

Much of the outside scrutiny was directed at Lamar Holmes, who has started at right tackle since Mike Johnson suffered a season-ending injury early in camp. According to Pro Football Focus, Holmes was responsible for two of the sacks and three other quarterback pressures against Matt Ryan in 24 pass plays.

“We gave up way too many sacks and often times people want to pinpoint it on one person,” Smith said. “That’s not always the case… . It’s a unit and the unit didn’t play very well.”

Holmes practiced with the starters on Monday with Ryan Schraeder occasionally filling in, which has been the typical pattern.

Pro Football Focus assigned left guard Justin Blalock responsibility for two sacks and two hurries, center Peter Konz responsibility for one sack and one hurry and left tackle Sam Baker responsibility for two quarterback hits and one hurry.

The Titans used more defensive line stunts than is typical for an exhibition game, which contributed to the protection issues for the offensive line.

“You look at the tape, it’s a half a step here and there, recognizing (the stunts) and bumping back just a hair faster,” right guard Garrett Reynolds said.

Reynolds, Konz, and Holmes are playing larger roles for the Falcons this season because of attrition and Johnson’s injury.

“For the most part (the chemistry) is developed,” Holmes said. “It’s getting better. Week by week and day by day we are starting to communicate and talk more.”

Injury report: Cornerback Asante Samuel didn’t practice Monday after leaving the Titans game with what the team reported as a thigh injury. But Smith said he anticipates Samuel will be ready to play in the regular-season opener Sept. 8 at New Orleans.

Kicker Matt Bryant, who sat out Saturday with a sore back, did not kick during practice Monday. Smith said Bryant also would be ready for the season opener.

Wide receiver Roddy White (ankle) has been out since leaving the second exhibition game and linebacker Stephen Nicholas (leg) was injured during practice last week. Neither player returned to practice Monday but Smith said they should be ready for the season opener.

Defensive tackle Peria Jerry, who left the game Saturday with what the team said was a jaw injury, practiced Monday.

Shine in dime: The Falcons have used rookie Joplo Bartu as one of the linebackers in their nickel package for much of the preseason. Against the Titans they used him as the lone linebacker in the dime package and Smith said the results were good.

“I thought he handled it pretty well,” Smith said. “He had a nice forced fumble on the quarterback scramble. He did some things in coverage that we liked.”

The Falcons are looking for better pass coverage from their linebackers after Nicholas struggled defending tight ends last season.

Strong return: Fullback Bradie Ewing played about 15 snaps in his first game since suffering a knee injury during the 2012 exhibition opener. Ewing returned to practice last week after missing three weeks with an undisclosed ailment that he said isn’t related to the previous knee injury.

“He did a nice job in his first action coming back,” Smith said.

Ewing is expected to start at fullback and also be a key contributor on special teams.

Roster moves: The Falcons on Monday released rookie wide receivers Rashad Evans, Marcus Jackson and Marcus Sales. All three players were signed as college free agents.

The moves got Atlanta’s roster down to the limit of 75 in advance of Tuesday’s NFL deadline. Teams must trim rosters down to the regular-season limit of 53 players by Saturday. They can sign players to the eight-man practice squad beginning Sept. 1.

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