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Long-shot prospects impress Falcons

The SportsXchange

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After less than a full week of training camp, the Atlanta Falcons are pleasantly surprised by a trio of undrafted prospects.

Coaches report they like what they see from linebacker Joplo Bartu, an undrafted free agent rookie out of Texas State; wide receiver Martel Moore, an undrafted free agent rookie out of Northern Illinois, and linebacker Brian Banks, an undrafted rookie free agent out of, well, prison.

The Falcons signed Banks as a free agent in April after he visited several other teams in a well-publicized attempt to get back into football after being exonerated and released following five years in prison.

Banks was a great player at Poly High in Long Beach, Calif., who verbally committed to USC in 2002. But after being falsely accused of rape by a classmate, he opted for a plea bargain of 41 years. He was freed last year after the alleged victim confessed to false testimony.

Banks played for the Arizona team in the UFL last year before the league ceased operation in October. Earlier this year, among the NFL teams he visited was the Seattle Seahawks, where coach Pete Carroll knew Banks from the days he recruited him to USC. But the Seahawks did not sign him.

After OTAs, minicamps and almost a week of training camp with the Falcons, Banks is still a long shot to make the roster, but is making significant progress, according to linebackers coach Glenn Pires.

"I think he's taking advantage of the offseason," Pires said. "He's progressing well like all of the other young guys. I think he's going to have the opportunity."

Pires said he was not surprised by Banks' play thus far in training camp.

"I think he's on schedule," Pires said. "I think that's the best way I can describe him right now. He had a good offseason. He works hard. He's very conscientious and ready to compete when we get ready for the preseason games."

Meanwhile, Pires expresses cautious optimism for Bartu, too.

"Him along with Brian and (Nick) Clancy, they are progressing well and all working together," Pires said of Bartu. "That is all going to work itself out down the road."

Moore has won more of his battles than expected in the one-on-one passing drills early in training camp.

"I've got to take it one day at a time," Moore said. "I have to make the most of any opportunity that I do get. Any group that I go with, the ones, twos or threes, I have to make the most of my opportunities, blocking or catching the ball."

Moore, 6-0 and 183 pounds, is running his routes fluidly and making great cuts. He helped to lead the Huskies to the Orange Bowl last season. He had 1,083 yards receiving and caught 13 touchdowns for the Mid-American Conference champs.

"I still have to get better and I'm learning from Roddy (White), Harry (Douglas) and Julio (Jones) every day, said Moore, a native of San Antonio, Tex.

Moore ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 and 4.57 seconds March 12 at Northern Illinois' Pro Day, according to NFL.com's Gil Brandt. He also had an impressive 35-inch vertical jump.

--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.
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