FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - The Atlanta Falcons are counting on Jimmy Williams and Jerious Norwood to fill major roles this year.
Unfortunately, the team's top two rookies might need more time before coach Jim Mora can count on them without reservation.
"You really like for the young guys to learn those lessons in the preseason," Mora said Monday. "You are always telling them the game is faster and the players are bigger, but until something like that happens to them they think they got it."
Williams, a second-round cornerback from Virginia Tech, and Norwood, a third-round running back from Mississippi State, were criticized by Mora after Sunday's 28-point loss at Green Bay.
Williams, who many NFL observers thought would need little time to replace Jason Webster as the right-side starter, learned some hard lessons.
In the first quarter, his facemask penalty against Packers receiver Robert Ferguson helped set up Brett Favre's deflected touchdown pass to Bubba Franks three plays later.
Williams successfully defended a crossing route and was credited with three tackles, but he also was flagged for putting his hands in the face of receiver Rod Gardner in the second quarter. That 5-yard penalty set up first-and-goal, at which point Williams was too far inside and out of position when Najeh Davenport emerged wide-open for Favre to find in the left side of the end zone.
The 6-foot-2, 213-pound Williams still hasn't faced any direct, deep threats in single coverage. Mora would like for the Titans or the Jacksonville Jaguars to challenge Williams before the games are meaningful.
"I would like to see them go deep on him and see how he reacts," Mora said.
Mora couched some of the criticism of Norwood he expressed at Lambeau Field after watching film. Not long after the loss, he described Norwood as failing "to show up."
Norwood ran impressively in a win over New England, gaining 93 yards from scrimmage on seven carries and two catches, but Mora thought he "hit a wall" in averaging only 2.4 yards on eight runs and picking up only six yards on his lone reception at Green Bay.
Decision-making, particularly in picking up blitzes and recognizing a new defensive front, hurt Norwood the most.
"If he was forced into a larger role, then his protection would be my No. 1 concern," Mora said.
The Falcons return to practice today.