FLOWERY BRANCH – Since the Falcons were eliminated from the playoffs two weekends ago, youth is being served.
A host of rookies -- offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds, defensive end Lawrence Sidbury, linebacker Spencer Adkins and defensive tackle Vance Walker -- all played extensively in the Falcons' 31-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
The group joined rookie cornerback Christopher Owens, who has started the last five games, in seeing some major action.
With first-round pick Peria Jerry and second-round pick William Moore both on injured reserve, contributions from the 2009 draft class had been slowly incremental.
But on Sunday, once the Falcons went up 24-0, Reynolds was sent into the game.
"I thought Garrett did a nice job," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "On his very first play, he had a knockdown block. It was a good start."
Reynolds' main assignment was formidable: take out former Pro Bowler Marcus Stroud.
"I thought that he held his own and did a good job," Smith said.
Reynolds, a 6-foot-7, 310-pound tackle from North Carolina, was inactive for the first 11 games, but has played over the last four games. His action against the Bills was his first from scrimmage. Though drafted as a tackle, Reynolds has been cross-training at guard since the preseason.
"It went pretty well," Reynolds said. "It was a blast just getting back out there and running around. I was happy to get to play again."
Reynolds, a fifth-round pick, started 26 games at tackle while at UNC.
"You have to be a lot quicker with your hands because stuff happens so much faster at guard," Reynolds said. "My hands have definitely improved. I would just say that the quickness off the ball is different. At tackle, you've got a little bit more space and you are setting back."
Reynolds has spent his time dutifully watching the veterans and doesn't hesitate to ask questions. However, it was tough being inactive for the first 11 games.
"Of course that keeps you motivated, keeps you working so that you can get out there," Reynolds said. "It felt a little weird after playing so much in college."
In addition to Reynolds, Sidbury, the team's fourth-round pick from Richmond, had a fumble recovery against the Bills and returned it for a touchdown.
"I think the young guys are really coming along," Sidbury said.
Owens had his first career interception. He was in coverage against Terrell Owens and made the play on an overthrown pass.
"It was a big moment for Chris," Smith said.
It was also redemption for Owens, who had been beaten on a deep scoring pass in the previous game against the New York Jets.
"I got the first one in the record books," Owens said.
The rookies find themselves in the midst of the team's campaign to post back-to-back winning seasons.
"This is a big week for us," Owens said. "The young guys are playing. We just have to keep it up."
Adkins played on specials teams against the Bills.
"We had a great game as a unit," Adkins said. "We played fast and we played fun. It's been like a learning process. Every day, there is something new that I'm learning."
Adkins, a sixth-round pick from Miami, is learning to play both outside linebacker positions.
"I knew it wasn't going to be an easy go-around," Adkins said. "I knew it wasn't just going to come to me like that. I was prepared to work hard."
Walker, the seventh-round selection from Georgia Tech, did not record any tackles against the Bills, but Smith cited him after the game for his strong play.
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