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Atlanta Falcons’ Courtney Upshaw embracing challenge, opportunity

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw played strong-side linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens over the past four years, but the Falcons have converted him to a defensive tackle. He’s currently listed as the primary backup to starting tackle Grady Jarrett, and has plenty to prove on a one-year, $1.25 million contract.

“The Falcons are giving me a chance,” Upshaw said. “As you know, with the one-year deal, I’m here to try to make the best of it.”

Upshaw has embraced his move to tackle.

“It’s something new, but at the end of the day, I’m down for the challenge,” Upshaw said. “I appreciate coach (Dan) Quinn bringing me in and not just limiting me to one position. He’s trying to allow me to make plays in camp so that I can get on the field.”

Upshaw is expected to see plenty of action against Washington in Thursday’s preseason opener.

“I feel that it’s going good, but it could always be better,” Upshaw said. “I’m taking the good with the bad. My goal is to get better so that I can get on the field and help the team.”

He senses that the team is ready for the start of the exhibition games.

“Of course, we are all ready to get out here and see what we can do,” Upshaw said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys here along with myself and we appreciate that we’re here. We want to show that we can go out here and help the team.”

–While rookies Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell have dominated the spotlight at the linebacker position in training camp, veteran LaRoy Reynolds, who was signed in free agency, has quietly gone about his business.

Reynolds, who played for the Bears last season, was signed for $675,000 in free agency. He’s a speedy special teams player.

“I was just grateful to have another opportunity to do something,” Reynolds said. “After you get released, you are grateful for the opportunities that you do get. I was just excited to get here and be a part of the good group of guys.”

With the young guys being developed, Reynolds is not delusional about his status with the team.

“Just my energy, my juice and my leadership,” Reynolds said of what he can bring to the team. “I think that’s a big part of who I am as a person. Just being able to bring that to the younger guys and then on special teams. I can show the guys how to really practice. How to really go after it and how to be a part of the defense. For me, it’s just being that leader and having that role.”

–The Falcons had a special visitor at practice in wrestler Ric Flair on Tuesday.

The players were elated to see “The Nature Boy.”

“You could see the energy,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “He was talking with us and having some fun. It was great to have his support and to have him be a part of it today. You could tell that he’s a big fan and that we’re also big fans of his.”

During, the early team meeting, Quinn showed from clips for Flair’s wrestling days.

–In the Olympic spirit, Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones was asked who would be on the team’s 4×100 meter relay team.

“We got a lot of fast guys out here,” Jones said. “Robert Alford, Tevin Coleman, Aldrick Robinson, and probably myself. I’m trying to think of who else. Yeah, that’s about right.”

Jones believes he’d be the anchor.

“Most definitely,” Jones said. “That or third leg.”

–Falcons defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman is quietly going about having a strong training camp.

Hageman, who was drafted in the second round (37th overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft, has been moved to defensive end.

“He’s done a good job in that transition,” Quinn said. “Right now, he’s playing really solid ball and I think he’s improved player from the 2015 season at least now in training camp.”

Hageman played in all 16 games, including 12 starts. While he was stout against the run, Hageman didn’t make much of an impact as he finished with 27 tackles, one sack, no hurries, six quarterback hits and one pass defense.

Hageman is listed No. 2 behind Derrick Shelby at left defensive end. The Falcons want to see Hageman develop some consistency.

“Now, we’ve got to take it into the exhibition season games and allow that work to continue,” Quinn said. “We are pleased with the start of where he’s at heading into this year.”

NOTES: TE Levine Toilolo, who was the No. 2 tight end last season, is listed as the third tight end behind Jacob Tamme and rookie Austin Hooper. He has a hand injury. … SS Keanu Neal, who has what Quinn described as a trunk injury, may not play in the exhibition opener against Washington. Neal was the 17th player selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. … RB Terron Ward (ankle) missed the past two practices while recovering from his injury. Quinn said Ward was “day-to-day.” … CB Brian Poole, an undrafted rookie from Florida, is expected to play nickel back with the first-team defense against the Redskins.