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Falcons notebook: Smith expects Baker to be back 'sooner rather than later'
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FLOWERY BRANCH — Atlanta coach Mike Smith says Falcons rookie left tackle Sam Baker is expected back this season after having lower back surgery last week.

The Falcons said Baker had a discectomy, a surgery to remove herniated disc material, in California last Thursday.

Smith said Baker is back in Atlanta and was instructed to "stay off his feet" for most of the first week of his rehabilitation.

Smith said it is too early to set a timetable on Baker’s return but said "we’re thinking it’s going to be sooner than later."

"Until we really get him going in the rehab process we’re not really sure how long it’s going to be, but at this point we’re optimistic," Smith said.

"The procedure went well, according to doctors."

Baker, a first-round pick from USC, has started five games.

He missed the Oct. 26 game at Philadelphia with what was called a hip injury, but specialists found a problem in his lower back.

Baker also missed the Sept. 28 game at Carolina with a concussion after leaving two games earlier in the month with head injuries.

Todd Weiner has started the last two games at left tackle.

The Falcons signed free agent tackle Wayne Gandy last week, and Gandy played a backup role in Sunday’s 24-0 win at Oakland.

NFC honor for Ryan

Quarterback Matt Ryan was named NFC offensive player of the week after completing 17 of 22 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns against the Raiders.

Ryan threw two touchdown passes to Michael Jenkins. The Falcons scored three touchdowns and added a field goal on their first four possessions.

Ryan completed 77.3 percent of his passes, a high mark for his rookie season.

His set following his performance against the Oakland Raiders in a 24-0 victory.

Ryan recently was named NFC rookie of the month for October, when the Falcons were 2-1 with wins over Green Bay and Chicago.

No-huddle, no problem

The Falcons dominated the Raiders last week, posting an overwhelming 30-3 advantage in first downs, while relying heavily on the no-huddle scheme.

Ryan appeared comfortable in the no-huddle.

The first 15 plays were orchestrated before the game, and Ryan continued to move the offense while calling audibles at the line.

Smith said he began installing the no-huddle offense on the team’s second practice of mini-camp in May.

"I’d say we probably ran 400 snaps in no-huddle prior to the first game," Smith said. "It’s something as a coach, we put things in the incubator ... and watch it and evaluate it and make adjustments when we need to and when we feel comfortable with it we’re going to bring it out."

The Falcons obviously were comfortable.

"I think not just our quarterback, but our entire football team has done a nice job, when we’ve asked them to take on more, they’ve been able to take on more," Smith said.

"We want to be a team that controls not only the line of scrimmage, but we want to control the tempo of games as well."

Ryan said he believes he has made "a pretty good adjustment" in his first eight NFL games.

"There’s a lot of difficult things that you have to learn in the NFL," Ryan said.

"I think I’ve been taking it in stride and learning things week in and week out. I’ve been applying them to the practice field and I feel like I’ve been getting better.

"It hasn’t been an easy adjustment. There are certainly a lot of things that you have to learn when you come into this league and I still have a long way to go."


The Falcons will play the first of three straight home games on Sunday against New Orleans after playing four of their last five games on the road. The team won three of the five games, including road games at Green Bay and Oakland.

The Falcons will play Denver and Carolina at the Georgia Dome the next two weeks.

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