Falcons get a good 'Gage' on Lamar Jackson with rookie scout-teamer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons' defense needed a good feel for what they might see from elusive Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson during Sunday's game (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Russell Gage answered the call.

Gage, the Falcons' rookie wide receiver/defensive back, added to his versatile résumé by doing his best Jackson impression on the scout team in practice, and it wasn't a difficult transition.

"I played a lot of quarterback in high school and I ran that same read-option [offense], so I understand exactly how it goes," Gage said. "I rushed for like 2,000 yards, so I get it.

"You know Lamar is a run-mentality guy. I mean, he can throw the ball, but he's a run-mentality guy. So, yeah, they put me in that role. Anything I can do to help the team, I'm going to do it."

The Falcons used Gage, Marvin Hall, and Mohamed Sanu to simulate Jackson, although most agreed Gage offered the best impression in terms of running with the ball.

Gage, a sixth-round draft pick, was timed at 4.42 in the 40-yard dash at LSU's pro day. Jackson, from Louisville, told a reporter he ran a 40 time of 4.34 with turf toe prior to being drafted No. 32 overall.

Jackson enters Sunday's game with 329 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on 65 attempts, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He rushed 26 times for 119 yards in a win against the Cincinnati Bengals, then followed with 11 rushes for 71 yards and a touchdown in last week's win against the Oakland Raiders to make him 2-0 as the Ravens' starter.

"It's huge to get that scout look, especially when you're dealing with a unique guy like Lamar Jackson," linebacker De'Vondre Campbell said. "He's got elite speed for somebody at the quarterback position, so you want to be able to try and match those looks. And Gage, his movement skills definitely mirrored a lot of the stuff that Lamar does. Russell has some freaky athleticism, so I feel like he was a good look for us."

The Falcons (4-7) are preparing for the possibility of two varying styles of quarterbacks with Ravens veteran Joe Flacco returning to practice Thursday off a hip injury. The challenge with Jackson, however, is likely to be much more difficult than the pocket-passing Flacco, especially considering how the Falcons have struggled stopping the run. During a current three-game losing streak, the Falcons have surrendered 164.3 rushing yards per game and 5.54 yards per rush.

"You look at it as a guy who can throw from the pocket, but he also can make plays happen," Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said of Jackson. "He's very electric. It adds a different dimension, meaning it's going to be hard for one guy to stop him.

"Is he as big as Cam [Newton]? Nah, he's not a big as Cam. Is he as powerful as Cam? Nah, he's not. But is he as elusive as anyone else? Yes, he is. And that's the combination of his ability and what he's done in his entire life. You guys have seen him do it. He didn't hold that [Heisman] Trophy for [nothing]."

It would help the Falcons to have Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones and his speed back in the lineup Sunday for the first time since early season foot surgery. But coach Dan Quinn, although upbeat regarding Jones' status, did not fully commit to playing Jones just yet.

No matter how they line up, the Falcons have to be disciplined against the read-option and be leery of Jackson's ability to go down field, even if throwing isn't his biggest strength. Sanu, who has completed 6 of 6 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns in his NFL career, played the role of Jackson, the passer.

"I'd go in and do the throws, just to give the defense a good look," Sanu said. "But Gage does a really good job running the ball, with his body movements. He's doing a phenomenal job."

We'll see how that translates for the defense on game day.