The Falcons’ plan called for quarterback Matt Ryan to have all of his weapons on the field for the third exhibition game against Tennessee.
The return of tight end Tony Gonzalez was supposed to allow Ryan, wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, running back Steven Jackson (a key offseason acquisition) and Gonzalez to go through a dress rehearsal against the Titans at 8 p.m. Saturday in Nashville.
With White set to miss the game with an ankle injury, the group will not be together against the Titans. In fact, they likely will not take the field together until the season opener against New Orleans on Sept. 8.
Jones missed the exhibition opener against Cincinnati on Aug. 8 with tight hamstrings. White was injured in the second game against Baltimore on Thursday. Gonzalez is returning from family leave and was not on hand for the first two games.
Ryan thinks he and the receivers will have no issues with developing a rhythm when everyone gets on board.
“I don’t think so,” Ryan said. “I think that’s just part of how it goes. When all three of those guys are out on the field all together, it makes it even more difficult for a defense. But each of those guys has done their part and has themselves prepared. I think we’ll be fine once we get going.”
Ryan clearly was excited to have Gonzalez back.
The future Hall of Fame tight end, who’s back for his 17th season, took part in the first two practices before he returned to California for three weeks. He went there to fulfill some family obligations that he committed to when he thought he would retire after last season.
Knowing that Gonzalez would miss the time, Ryan went to California in mid-July to work out with him before training camp started.
“He takes care of himself extremely well and is always really prepared,” Ryan said. “I knew that we’d have a couple of weeks to work together before the season gets started. We’re going to be ready to go.”
Gonzalez has been back for two practices.
“It really hasn’t taken all that long,” Ryan said. “In two days, we’ve gotten back to some of the things we’ve been doing for four or five years. That was nice.”
Ryan and Jones clearly were on the same page against Baltimore, as they connected on three plays for 55 yards and an 8-yard touchdown.
Ryan has been with White the longest and feels they can reconnect quickly.
“I’m happy it’s a preseason game,” Ryan said. “You like to have him out there every chance that you get. It will be different. Every game that I’ve played in the NFL, he’s been right there playing for me.
“He’ll get himself right in the next couple of weeks, and hopefully he’ll be out there when the season opens up.”
Ryan has been more than pleased with the play of Jackson, who shined in the exhibition game against the Ravens. He had 42 yards on eight carries and caught a pass for 13 yards.
Jackson is expected to step into the role that was filled mainly by Michael Turner the past five seasons. Turner was released over the offseason.
“When running the football, he’s extremely physical and shifty,” Ryan said. “Then catching the ball out of the backfield he was great as well. He’s one of the few running backs in the league who is a three-down running back.”
Last season, Ryan was able to guide the Falcons to a 13-3 mark, the NFC South title and the NFC title game while leaning heavily on White, Jones and Gonzalez.
Ryan played 99 percent of the offensive snaps, while White (93 percent), Gonzalez (91 percent) and Jones (79 percent) were used heavily. If White gets out of the gate slowly, Ryan is more than comfortable with Harry Douglas, who played 55 percent of the snaps last season.
“He’s a guy that flies under the radar with some of the other guys that we have on our offense,” Ryan said. “He’s certainly capable of making big plays.
“I think with Julio out the first game and then Roddy being out a little bit of the second game, he’s had an opportunity to get in there and play a little more and be targeted a little bit more. I think he’s doing a really good job for us.”