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Falcons notebook: Milner injuries leave team shallow at tight end
Falcons tight end Martrez Milner is out with toe, ankle and knee injuries. Coach Mike Smith said Wednesday that there's no timeframe for his return - photo by Time file photo
FLOWERY BRANCH — Since Alge Crumpler left the team for Tennessee via free agency in March, tight end hasn’t been expected to be a position of strength for the 2008 Falcons. But now that Martrez Milner is injured, the depth is even more spotty.

Milner, a West Hall graduate, hasn’t practiced recently due to multiple leg injuries, and coach Mike Smith said Wednesday there’s no timetable for his return.

“He’s got a toe and a knee and an ankle (injury), all on the same leg,” Smith said. “I’m encouraged by him being out of the boot so early, but it's going to take some time, and it’s a matter of when he can really put some weight on that (leg).”

Milner, who the Falcons picked in the fourth round of the 2007 draft, is considered the team’s most athletic tight end. He caught nine passes in eight games last season before an ankle injury sidelined him for the remainder of his rookie year.

Under the new coaching staff, he was being employed primarily in a motion-oriented H-back position before the current rash of injuries cropped up. The team has brought back former Georgia Tech tight end George Cooper since Milner has been out.

The other tight ends on the current roster — starter Ben Hartsock, Jason Rader and rookies Keith Zinger and Brad Listorti — are all considered more valuable for their blocking ability than their receiving prowess.

Hartsock, the only member of the unit with an NFL reception to his credit, caught a career high 12 passes last season for the Titans. Zinger, a seventh-round pick out of LSU, caught three passes last season for the Tigers, and Listorti had 39 receptions in his UMass career.

Traditionally, Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has favored tight ends as blockers. During his three years as the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh and in two years as Buffalo’s head coach, no tight end in Mularkey’s run-heavy system caught more than 20 passes in a season.

A plan comes together
The Falcons have a plan in place for how they will divide the quarterback snaps in Saturday’s preseason opener in Jacksonville, but Smith declined to give specifics.

“We have a plan for how we’re going to do the rotation for the quarterback,” he said. “It’s really going to be determined by series, so the number of snaps in those series will determine the percentage each quarterback gets.”

Earlier in the week, he said that a starter will be named today.

In Wednesday’s morning session, Joey Harrington, Chris Redman and Matt Ryan all saw action with the first team offense.

Injuries, etc.
Probable starters Todd McClure, Laurent Robinson and Chris Houston were among the injured Falcons not taking part in Wednesday’s drills, but Grady Jackson was back in full pads.
Smith said by Friday the team would have a clearer picture on which of the injured players will be available for Saturday’s game.
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