y STEVE WYCHE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/11/06
Flowery Branch â€” The Falcons' top 2006 draft pick, cornerback Jimmy Williams, will start Friday's preseason opener against New England, coach Jim Mora said.
Mora had planned for veteran Jason Webster to start at right cornerback along with starting defensive backs DeAngelo Hall, Lawyer Milloy and Chris Crocker, but Webster has been bothered by a foot injury for most of training camp and has rarely practiced.
A bone scan showed no fractures to Webster's foot, and Mora said Webster probably could play, but coaches and the medical staff don't want to risk harm to a player who over the past three seasons has missed 18 games to injury.
Williams, drafted in the second round from Virginia Tech, has worked with the first-team defense for all but the first few days of training camp and has drastically improved, Mora said. Mora is eager to see the 6-foot-2, 208 pounder against New England's higher-caliber players.
It also appears that rookies Adam Jennings and Jerious Norwood will handle kickoff return duties and Jennings will return punts. Cornerback Allen Rossum, who typically handles returns, is nursing a sore hamstring and could be held out of the lineup.
Special teams coach Joe DeCamillus said there is an open competition for all return jobs.
In other special teams developments, recently signed rookie Boone Stutz will handle all deep snapping duties tonight instead of six-year veteran Derek Rackley. The Falcons are looking hard at Stutz and camp invitee Josh Mallard at deep snapper, possibly as a means for salary-cap relief.
Eric Beverly probably will start at tight end in place of Alge Crumpler, who had offseason shoulder and knee surgery.
A Magic assist
NBA legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson attended Falcons practice Thursday after speaking to players before the light session and meeting with Mora Wednesday night. Johnson, who sported a red Falcons golf shirt while watching practice, was approached by several players and staffers after practice and took pictures and held brief conversations.
The former Los Angeles Lakers star and worldwide business mogul spoke to some of the team's veterans about leadership and means to sustain respect and success, which Mora said he thought resonated. Johnson, who owns property and several businesses in metro Atlanta, said he developed a friendship with Falcons owner Arthur Blank after meeting him during the Falcons-Eagles season opener last year.
Bryan Randall said being in the Falcons system for a season is working in his favor in his competition for the No. 3 quarterback spot with D.J. Shockley. Randall also said he won't be amused or bothered by the fact that Shockley, who is from Atlanta and played at Georgia, will be the crowd favorite.
"This is his hometown," Randall said. "If I was in Virginia, I'm sure the fans would be cheering for me. That's one thing I can't worry about. All I can do is go out and play. If I do what I'm supposed to do, things will work out."