Falcons seeing rookie progress

FLOWERY BRANCH - Matt Ryan isn't the only rookie having a good training camp with the Atlanta Falcons.

As expected of a quarterback drafted No. 3 overall, Ryan commanded everyone's attention with a 105.7 passer rating as Atlanta opened the preseason with a 20-17 loss at Jacksonville.

First-year Falcons coach Mike Smith was also impressed, for the most part, with his other high draft picks:

· Left tackle Sam Baker gave up a sack to Paul Spicer that was nullified by a Jaguars offside penalty, but the 21st overall pick out of Southern Cal essentially held his ground against Jacksonville's 10th-year defensive end;

· Atlanta's second-round pick, linebacker Curtis Lofton, tied for the team lead with six tackles;

· Chevis Jackson, the first of three third-round picks, started at right cornerback in place of Chris Houston (shoulder) and worked well in man-to-man and zone coverages.

· Atlanta's second third-rounder, receiver Harry Douglas, caught two passes for 19 yards, but also was penalized twice on consecutive plays for a false start and an illegal shift.

'One thing that I thought was most positive was that we were very physical,' Smith said of the team. 'I thought in the first half we went toe-to-toe with those guys.'

Much of the Falcons' success or failure at quarterback likely could depend on how well Baker, whose primary job is to protect the blind side of Ryan and starting quarterback Chris Redman, plays this year.

Under former coach Bobby Petrino, Atlanta's offense scored just 16.2 points per game, the NFL's fourth-lowest average. Quarterbacks were sacked 47 times to tie for seventh-worst.

Entering this week's preseason home game against Indianapolis, injuries and inexperience threaten to undermine the offensive line for a second straight year.

On Monday, center Alex Stepanovich, who has worked as a starter since longtime incumbent McClure left practice in the first week of camp, was carted off the field with a back injury.

After practice, Smith said it was still too early to give a prognosis on Stepanovich.