FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Looking for clean play in real games, the Atlanta Falcons welcomed additional enforcement to Wednesday’s practice.
For the first time under coach Dan Quinn, a full crew of seven officials worked the session in their black and white striped shirts – plus a head official in a black shirt.
The Falcons normally have three officials at practices. A change was needed after Atlanta was called for 16 penalties, including 10 on defense, in last week’s 27-24 loss at Indianapolis.
Quinn said he talked to players before practice about eliminating mistakes, including turnovers, before Sunday’s game against Tennessee.
“Let’s make sure we’re only fighting one team,” Quinn said. “No more self-inflicted wounds that derail us. We’re fighting Tennessee and only Tennessee. … I wanted to make sure we got the point across.”
The Falcons have 35 penalties through three games, tied with Cleveland for the NFL lead.
It was time for more whistles – even if quarterback Matt Ryan says he barely noticed the additional striped shirts.
“You focus on other things out there than the refs,” Ryan said.
Quinn said there is a “100 percent” sense of urgency for Atlanta (1-2) against the Titans.
He said one measure to address repeat violations of penalties will be “in-house discipline, so to speak.”
The in-house discipline may be administered in players-only meetings, possibly including fines.
“We all have a lot of money, so $100 is not going to mean much,” said defensive end Adrian Clayborn.
Offensive guard Jamon Brown said multiple penalties are “definitely going to cost you a pretty penny.”
“It makes you more aware about playing clean,” Brown said before adding any fine levied by veteran players wouldn’t be the most painful punishment.
“It’s more the dishonor of being called out,” Brown said.
Added Clayborn: “Nobody wants to get called out by your teammates.”
Penalties are not Atlanta’s only problem. Another factor in the slow start is a minus-4 turnover ratio.
Quinn, in his fifth season, is coming off a 7-9 finish in 2018 that was his first losing record in Atlanta. Injuries were a major problem last season, and now the Falcons have lost another key starter.
For the second straight opening month of a season, the Falcons must overcome a season-ending injury to strong safety Keanu Neal, who suffered a torn left Achilles tendon against the Colts.
The Falcons have fresh memories of how to adjust to losing Neal. As was the case last season, Kemal Ishmael will move up as Neal’s primary replacement. There will be different combinations in the secondary on third down and passing situations.
Jamal Carter was signed from the practice squad to provide depth at safety. Carter had 11 tackles in 16 games as a rookie with Denver in 2017. He was signed to Atlanta’s practice squad on Sept. 2.
Quinn said Carter “showed some of the traits” of speed and toughness the team liked through his three weeks of practice with the Falcons.
“Sometimes you need your shot, need your chance,” Quinn said, adding Carter has the talent to take advantage of the opportunity.
The Falcons had workouts for veteran safeties George Iloka and T.J. McDonald before bringing up Carter on Tuesday.
The Falcons placed Neal on injured reserve, waived punter Matt Wile and signed offensive tackle John Wetzel. Wile was re-signed to the practice squad on Wednesday, when punter Matt Bosher had only limited participation with his right groin injury.
Running backs Ito Smith and Kenjon Barner were held out with concussions. Barner also has a knee injury. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (toe) also did not practice.
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