Smith’s role to expand after dazzling first impression

Falcons running back Antone Smith has quietly gone about his business of being a special teams star.

Last season, when the Falcons asked him to run the ball, he has been electric.

After another fine showing against Miami in the exhibition opener Friday night, the Falcons are now planning to get Smith more involved in the offense.

With Steven Jackson out with a left hamstring injury, Smith stole the show against the Dolphins with two dazzling plays in the 16-10 victory at the Georgia Dome.

Falcons coach Mike Smith said that Smith’s role must expand after watching him catch a check-down pass, elude a linebacker and race upfield for 34 yards.

Later, the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Smith broke into the secondary, set up a safety with a move and then darted past him on his way to an apparent 76-yard touchdown run.

“It is a start,” Antone Smith said. “I mean, it is a first impression. That is the biggest thing from the first game. It was my first impression, so I think my first impression was very good.”

However, both explosive plays were nullified by penalty.

“I mean, it is frustrating, but we know it is the first (exhibition) game for a lot of people out there, so a lot of stuff is changing,” the running back said. “We expect a lot of penalties.”

With the retirement of Jason Snelling, the Falcons need someone to step forward in the backfield. The Falcons want to improve their rushing game, which was ranked 32nd in the league last season at 77.9 yards yards per game.

“We feel like when you look at somebody like Antone Smith, who made some big plays for us and gives us some more explosiveness, we want to make sure that we see him do that again,” running backs coach Gerald Brown said. “Snelling was a playmaker. … That’s what we are looking for.”

In spot duty last season, Smith averaged 29 yards per carry in five attempts. He never did earn a shot at regular playing time even though the Falcons were sliding to a 4-12 finish.

On Smith’s 34-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter, Falcons veteran wide receiver Harry Douglas was lined up illegally, negating the play. A holding penalty on rookie right tackle Jake Matthews nullified Smith’s 76-yard run in the second quarter.

Smith is ready to take on a bigger role.

“I want the guys to have confidence in me,” he said.

Brown said that Smith’s blocking in pass-protection has improved and that should not be a factor that would limit his playing time.

“The guy who has really stepped up so far is Smith,” Brown said. “He’s shown that he understands protection and he backs it up with physical protection.”

Quarterback Matt Ryan was equally impressed with Smith’s big plays.

“He showed the explosiveness that he has and the speed,” Ryan said. “He can change a game on any given play. That was fun to watch.”

The Falcons signed Smith as a free agent in 2009. He had a solid career at Florida State after being tabbed the No. 1 all-purpose back in the nation in 2005 by

After going undrafted, Detroit gave him a tryout, added him to the roster and then released him before he ever appeared in a game. He had subsequent brief stints at Minnesota and Houston.

The Falcons signed him after they released quarterback D.J. Shockley in October 2009.

Smith has found his niche as a special teams performer. Before last season Smith had just one carry in his previous three years with the team.

“Antone’s a guy that can do some things when we get the ball in his hands,” Mike Smith said. “I would imagine we would want to make sure to help him get some touches, put him in an advantageous situation.”

For two plays that didn’t count Friday, Antone Smith created a major buzz.

“It’s really always about your first impression,” Mike Smith said.