FLOWERY BRANCH — Not only did the Atlanta Falcons place both cornerback Kelvin Hayden and linebacker Mike Peterson on injured reserve, ending their seasons, but head coach Mike Smith also handed out news that linebacker Stephen Nicholas would likely not be able to play in the Week 17 game against Tampa Bay.
“We don’t anticipate Stephen Nicholas being back this week,” said Smith. “So we’ve got to have some guys get caught up and up to speed at different positions.”
The shuffle will work as follows:
Linebacker Spencer Adkins will play weakside linebacker in place of Nicholas and Peterson, who will undergo surgery to repair his triceps tendon. Rookie linebacker Akeem Dent will begin cross-training at ‘Will’ linebacker and the Falcons moved linebacker Robert James from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.
“Spencer’s the one that’s taken the most reps out there at the position that Mike’s playing,” said Smith. “So right now Spencer will be starting in his position and we’ll also have to now cross-train Akeem Dent. He had not cross-trained at that position so Akeem’s now got to be ready to go and, of course, Robert (James) has played the ‘Will’ linebacker for us. Again, we’ve always got to have guys cross-trained.”
In addition to Nicholas not being able to practice Wednesday, two other Falcons missed work and three only slightly worked. Defensive end Ray Edwards sat out with a knee injury and wide receiver Kerry Meier missed because of a groin injury.
Veterans John Abraham, Tony Gonzalez and Todd McClure skipped most Wednesday’s practice, as they do each week, because Smith has them in Greybeard protocol (Smith’s way to ensure the older players get enough rest).
Seven players were limited in practice Wednesday.
Wide receivers Harry Douglas (groin/shoulder) and Julio Jones (ankle) didn’t take every repetition with the receiving corps. Also limited were cornerback Brent Grimes (knee), tight end Reggie Kelly (back), linebacker Curtis Lofton (ankle), tight end Michael Palmer (knee), and running back Michael Turner (groin).
Smith said Turner sitting out, along with his declining numbers over the past five weeks, have nothing to do with health.
“We’ve been resting Michael on Wednesdays, in our Wednesday practices,” said Smith. “He has had a groin that’s bothering him. That’s what’s been listed on his injury report, but we’ve been trying to keep him out on Wednesday to reduce his workload and then get him back out here on Thursday and Friday. Sometimes we’ve held him out on Thursday as well, based on how he’s feeling and the recommendation of the doctor and trainer.”