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Friday Night Lights: Justin Hardy, Antone Smith stole the show

Rookie Justin Hardy and fan favorite Antone Smith both turned in memorable performances at the Falcons' annual Friday Night Lights event.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It was an uncharacteristically comfortable August evening at Buford High School as the Falcons took the field for their annual Friday Night Lights event. The weather was beautiful, Falcons fans were out in full force, enjoying the weather and the show.

As expected, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were both sidelined with hamstring injuries. Brooks Reed, who had the delightful combination of a groin/hip strain and a stomach virus yesterday, was also sidelined today. Following practice, Dan Quinn said that they're taking Freeman and Coleman's injuries day by day. Quinn said that he thinks Brooks Reed may be back on the field sooner than the running backs.

Cliff Matthews remained out with an ankle injury. Vic Beasley, Justin Hardy and Jonathan Asamoah, all of whom missed Thursday's practice with a stomach virus, returned to the field Friday evening. Charles Godfrey left practice with a laceration to his head which shouldn't cause him to miss any time, and Antone Smith looked a little shaken up after one play. When asked after practice if he had the wind knocked out of him, he said it was something along those lines.

The team went through some of their normal warmups, stretching and drills, and then went into 11 on 11s. There were some interesting personnel combinations and some great performances by individual players. There were also a lot of interesting personnel groupings, particularly on offense. The team is clearly trying to find the right fits along the offensive line in particular.


  • Justin Hardy excelled on Friday. He has such a good combination of speed and reliability as a receiver. He looked particularly good on some deep routes, including what was essentially the game-winning touchdown at the end of the evening.
  • Antone Smith also had a great day. He looks really comfortable getting outside for big gains, and he caught the ball well, too. He's getting more reps with Coleman and Freeman out for the time being, and he's taking advantage. After practice, Dan Quinn described Smith's performance on Friday as, "a terrific night by him."
  • The team continued to shake up the offensive line combinations, with Mike Person taking some reps at center with the first team again.
  • Levine Toilolo continues to demonstrate improvement consistently in both receiving and blocking. Tonight was no exception. Toilolo cut inside on Kemal Ishmael to pull in a nice reception in one-on-one drills.
  • Running back Michael Ford, who signed with the Falcons on Friday, hit the field with his new team and was determined to make the most of the opportunity. On one carry, he wouldn't stop running even after the refs had blown it dead. He was determined to make an impression.
  • With Freeman and Coleman currently out of commission, many have asked about Jerome Smith. Smith is really hesitant at the line of scrimmage, and I think it hinders his productivity. That's probably why he hasn't stood out as much as Terron Ward.


  • Paul Worrilow seems to be improving in coverage, even managing a nice pass break up in one-on-ones against Antone Smith.
  • Ricardo Allen got pushed around a bit in run support, where his size may be a bit of a factor. However, he was excellent in coverage, demonstrating good instincts and the range necessary to succeed in the free safety role. In one-on-ones, Allen maintained his interior position and didn't allow the receiver to get separation. Allen also had a nice pass break-up in 11-on-11s. He's still taking the first team reps at free safety.
  • Adrian Clayborn, Vic Beasley and Jonathan Babineaux have shown they're able to get into the backfield throughout OTAs, and they did so again tonight. They're just coming off the snap really quickly.
  • RaShede Hageman spent a fair amount of time on the field with the first team and looked like he belonged there.
  • Stansly Maponga had a forced fumble and recovery. He also looked really fast coming off the snap. Many fans hoped that this coaching staff would be able to help develop Maponga and Malliciah Goodman to help them reach their full potential, and for Maponga, at least, it looks like it's happening.
  • Tyler Starr is another player who seems to be much improved. I think the simplified scheme is beneficial for Starr, who was able to pressure T.J. Yates Friday night.
  • Grady Jarrett was getting really good push up front and was really effective setting the edge. His grasp of the scheme and adjustment to the speed of the game is impressive.
  • Jalen Collins, who has struggled a bit to adjust to the speed of the game, allowed Bernard Reedy to get separation without much difficulty. On the next play, however, Collins corrected his technique, staying with his receiver through the play. Collins still needs a lot of development, but he's coming along.

Special Teams

  • Keith Armstrong told us after practice that he's very impressed with all of the rookies and their dedication to learning what they need to know to succeed in special teams play. "The young guys are really into it. They're hungry," Armstrong said. "They're coming up for extra meetings; we're not having to go to them. That's a great thing. They have a really good attitude."

Were you at Friday Night Lights? What did you think of how the Falcons performed on Friday?