Over the offseason, Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong said he wanted to take a look at wide receiver Taylor Gabriel as a punt returner.
The Falcons elected not to re-sign former Pro Bowler Eric Weems and have an opening at punt and kickoff returner as a result.
Andre Roberts was signed in the offseason and is the leader to land both the kickoff and punt return jobs.
Taylor, Roberts, Reggie Davis, Marvin Hall, Josh Magee, Devin Fuller were the six players catching punts Friday. Fuller later left practice with a knee injury.
“In college I did it,” Gabriel said about returning punts. “Cleveland, I did a little of it in the preseason. I’m comfortable with both.”
Gabriel, who’s limited in practice with a lower leg injury, is not worried about getting an injury while playing on special teams.
“I think you shouldn’t think of it like that,” Gabriel said. “Just being helpful to the team. ... if I can go back there and make a play for the team, if I have the opportunity, I’m the type of guy to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Roberts, who played with Detroit last season, has impressed.
“Speed,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “He’s got very good change of direction. I’m sure that’s why the punt returning has been so good. As a kickoff returner you have to have speed, the long speed to make one cut and go. As a punt returner, it’s a different job where you have to have lateral quickness for a guy who’s coming full speed to dodge him and get up field.
“He’s unique because he can do both. ... Those are the rare guys.”
Quinn is fine with the experiment to see if Gabriel can return punts and not kickoffs.
“That’s one of the jobs we can look at, and it creates more touches,” Quinn said. “That’s an (opportunity) to get more touches for him. That’s something that we definitely want to look at.”
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