FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Deion Jones had sound advice for teammate and good friend Duke Riley after the rookie Riley missed four tackles in Sunday's season-opening victory against the Chicago Bears.
"I told him to go watch my first two games and see how many tackles I missed," said Jones, who led all rookies with 106 tackles last season. "And I told him, 'It's not a good thing, but it's something that can change. It's something that can be corrected. As long as it's not a habit, you know what I'm saying? You're getting all the rust off, getting to play like a real full game for the first time in months. It's as long as you use that hustle and bustle about yourself in how you fly to the ball.'"
Riley took the words of his fellow LSU Tiger to heart.
"I mean, everyone is going to miss a tackle," Riley said. "I'm just so hard on myself. Those are tackles I should have made, regardless of it's my first game and I'm a rookie. And [Jones] was telling me that guys don't go down as easy as they did in college. That's something I'll get correct for this next game."
So when did Jones give Riley the pep talk? "Shoot, right after the game, the day after," Riley said. "I hang with Deion all the time, every day."
Riley certainly showed the speed and tenacity that earned him a starting role at weakside linebacker in the big base package. He felt he did "some good" against the Bears. But wrapping up and not stopping his feet has to be an emphasis.
Defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel assessed Riley's play while addressing the rookies as a whole.
"I know some of you guys understand this: the first game you covered, how excited you were," Manuel told the media Wednesday. "There were some miscues that he had. You know, he missed a couple of tackles. But his intent, you love his intent. You love the fact that he was in tune to everything that was going on. He made plays on special teams. He forced things on defense. Same with Takk [McKinley]. Same with [Damontae] Kazee.
"So we had a couple guys on defense that made plays on teams, and that's really what we ask them to contribute, and make defense a bonus. If we can get better on teams, we'll be better on defense. The better field position for us, the longer [the opposing] offense has to go."
Riley's next test comes Sunday night against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Riley played 49 of 67 defensive snaps and had five tackles in the opener as the Falcons relied on their big base package with Riley, Jones, and De'Vondre Campbell at linebacker. The Falcons are likely to play much more nickel against the Packers, and Riley could be part of a committee asked to keep up with talented Green Bay tight end Martellus Bennett along with Campbell and strong safety Keanu Neal.