Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong was pleased with Robert McClain’s debut as the team’s No. 1 punt returner, but stopped short of naming him the starter for the Carolina game, which is set for 1 p.m. Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
McClain had two returns for 27 yards. On his first return, he gained 27 yards, but Arizona challenged the play. After a review, it was ruled that he stepped out of bounds after 13 yards.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Armstrong said. “He made some smart decisions.”
The Falcons, hoping to return some pop into their return game, opened the season with Harry Douglas at the top returner. After he moved into the starting lineup because of the injuries at wide receiver, rookie cornerback Robert Alford took over for one game. Alford was yanked because he fumbled.
McClain had not handled punts during his three NFL seasons, but was named All-Big East by media during his final season at Connecticut in 2009. He returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown against Cincinnati that season.
“I thought he got vertical,” Armstrong said. “He got up the field. He looked confident. When the ball was caught, he got up the field, and that’s what you want out of your returner. You have to get vertical in this league. You can’t run sideways.”
When asked if McClain has won the job, Armstrong said, “We’ll see. It’s week-to-week with everybody. He had a really nice game.”
McClain said he’s ready to retain the position.
“I’m going to prepare like I’m going to be in there,” McClain said.
Injury report: The Falcons listed 10 players, including eight prospective starters, on the injury report.
Offensive tackle Sam Baker (knee), linebacker Akeem Dent (ankle), offensive lineman Joe Hawley (elbow), safety William Moore (hip), defensive tackle Peria Jerry (toe), defensive end Osi Umenyiora (knee) and offensive guard Garrett Reynolds (knee) were limited in practice.
Wide receiver Roddy White (ankle/hamstring), running back Jason Snelling (ankle) and linebacker Stephen Nicholas (thigh) did not practice.
White, who has missed two games after 133 consecutive games played, started running on the side with the trainers last week and is inching closer to a return.
Falcons coach Mike Smith told the Charlotte media in a conference call that it’s too early to tell if White will be ready in time to face the Panthers.
Etc.: Former Falcons defensive end Patrick Kerney, who played with the team from 1999 to 2006, was recently named vice president of player benefits and NFL Legend operations by the league. Kerney retired in 2010 and earned his MBA in finance from Columbia in 2012. He then founded his own consulting firm focused on providing financial advice to current and former NFL players. … Smith has a 7-3 record against Carolina. … The Falcons have not been able to sustain good starts all season. They’ve outscored the opposition 44-3 in the first quarter before things started to slide downhill. They’ve been outscored 181-122 in the remaining three quarters. … Rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant leads the team with seven pass breakups, according to the coaches’ film review stats. … Punt-team gunner Antone Smith leads the team with six special-teams tackles. “It’s important to him,” Armstrong said. “You can’t say enough good things about his effort and his dedication.