FLOWERY BRANCH — Jake Matthews' first live NFL action gives Atlanta coach Mike Smith reason to think the No. 6 overall draft pick has potential to become an elite player.
Matthews, the team's staring right tackle, graded out well following his professional debut as the Falcons beat Miami 16-10 in the exhibition opener for both teams.
After watching the film, Smith praised the rookie, who had a couple of penalties but mostly held his own in 24 snaps — several of them against former All-Pro defensive end Cameron Wake.
Smith said Saturday that Matthews, whose father Bruce played tackle and is a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, "is on a fast track to be a great player in this league."
Matthews acknowledged being nervous, but was generally pleased with his performance, particularly in helping quarterback Matt Ryan direct a 15-play, 77-yard opening touchdown.
He held up Wake long enough for Ryan and Roddy White to connect for a 12-yard completion on third-and-eight from the Miami 40.
"I had pretty good protection," Matthews said. "We had a good first drive that led to a touchdown. I just held my spot on the line. Honestly, that is what we needed on the first drive. I thought we picked up blitzes also. You know, pretty good overall."
Left tackle Sam Baker, a starter for the Falcons since his rookie season in 2008, believes the offensive line showed flashes of promise.
That was hardly the case last year.
Atlanta's maligned front was a primary reason the team struggled to a 4-12 record as Ryan was sacked a career-high 44 times and the running game finished as the league's worst.
"I thought we communicated well," Baker said. "We played with good tempo. Guys were getting down the field and doing a lot of the things we've been talking about all offseason."
Matthews, who starred at Texas A&M and returns to his home state next week when the Falcons visit Houston, was disappointed that his second-quarter holding penalty wiped out a 76-yard touchdown run by Antone Smith.
The play unfolded from Matthews' side of the line. His flag was one of nine thrown against Atlanta for minus-82 yards.
"We have to play smarter in terms of the penalties," Smith said. "We can't have these types of numbers as we go through the season, but I did like the effort and the attitude that the guys approached the game with."
Ryan, who was pressured an NFL-high 203 times last season, liked what he saw from Matthews.
"Being his first time out there," Ryan said, "I thought Jake did a really nice job for us."
Notes: White did not practice and stayed inside team headquarters during the 1 hour, 45-minute session for a scheduled day off. Smith said he will be back on the field Monday. ... WR Julio Jones, who missed the final 11 games last year with a broken foot and was held out of the exhibition game, made a few impressive plays in practice, including a red zone TD catch over the middle. ... FS Dwight Lowery and reserve LB Pat Angerer returned to the field after sitting out the last few days in the NFL concussion protocol. Smith said both are scheduled to participate when the team practices in full pads Monday.