Falcons special-teams coordinator Ben Kotwica was not proud of his unit for suffering a blocked punt on the first attempt of the season against the Vikings on Sunday.
“We thought we had very good preparation going it,” Kotwica said. “It’s disappointing when that isn’t reflective in the results. That can just be one play. I own it. I have to do a better job of preparing the guys.”
The Falcons didn’t pick up a last second-shift by Vikings linebacker Eric Wilson, who then shot through the gap to the left of long-snapper Josh Harris and was unblocked.
“That was part of it,” Kotwica said of the shift by Wilson. “But we didn’t execute what we had practiced. I’ve got to do a better job of getting those guys ready to go.”
Kenjon Barner, who showed up on the injury report with an ankle injury Thursday, was limited in practice.
Barner had four punt returns for 46 yards (11.5 yards per return), with a long of 18 yards. He had two kickoff returns for 44 yards with a long of 26 yards.
“I thought Kenjon did a nice job,” Kotwica said. “He showed toughness in catching the football especially under some traffic. He did a nice job with the ball security. Made the first guy miss.”
Ito Smith has worked on returning kickoffs and wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy have been the backup punt returners.
The special teams could also be without speedy coverage guy Russell Gage, who’s in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
“We have options there,” Kotwica said. “(Cornerback Kendall) Sheffield did a really nice job with his speed and play last Sunday. (Cornerback Damontae) Kazee is another guy that we can work in there. There are some options. We’ll just see how it plays out.”
The Falcons’ punt coverage unit will be challenged by Eagles punt returner Darren Sproles, a three-time Pro Bowler who has returned seven punts for a touchdown.
“It’s going to be important for us, not only to protect and get the ball delivered, but also swarm him and limit his return yardage,” Kotwica said.
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