Intriguing international talent on Falcons roster

- Alex Gray says, yes, he gets the questions you'd expect as he gets to know his new Atlanta Falcons teammates.

"'Do you drink lots of tea?'" said Gray. "'Have you met the Queen?' I'm going to have to start coming up with some funny answers, I think.'"

Gray is happy to be an ambassador of sorts for his home country -- England -- and for his former sport -- professional rugby -- as he starts a new career with in the NFL.

"I was given a choice, do I stick with my rugby career or do I take the leap of faith and go for this?" said Gray. "It's not something I could turn down."

Gray is part of the NFL's International Player Pathway program, a new venture where each team in the NFC South gets an additional roster spot to be filled with a player from overseas. That player will spend the 2017 season on the practice squad, so they won't be able to play in any games. The idea is to grow the game of football outside the United States; and for teams, it's a chance to try and find talent in unexpected places.

"You can imagine how difficult that would be for all of us, to go and play another sport in another country," said Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, who's been trying Gray at tight end and says he could work out as a fullback as well.

Gray is just one of several Falcons with roots in Europe. Receiver Anthony Dable is from France, and played professional football in Germany before spending last training camp with the New York Giants.

"Any league should think about developing the league, going global," said Dable, who is listed on the team's roster at 6'4, 220 pounds. "You've got guys that love football and want to learn and want to compare themselves to the next level and see what they can do, I think that's a great opportunity for us guys."

There's more: Andreas Knappe is a 6'8 offensive lineman who grew up in Denmark before playing college football at the University of Connecticut. He and Gray have football experience and could be developmental projects for the Falcons, with Gray being a little further away from being NFL-ready.

One international success story joined the team in the offseason: defensive lineman Jack Crawford has played 5 NFL seasons, most recently with the Dallas Cowboys, and played college football at Penn State. He grew up in London, and has seens the NFL's efforts to expand their reach working.

"I see it continuing to grow, I think they've done a great job spreading it out," said Crawford, who added that the Super Bowl is now treated almost like a holiday in England, much like in the United States. "The international games help. It helps someone like me who comes from a different country, my fan-base is growing in my home country."

The benefit for the NFL is clear when it comes to becoming more of a global game: more fans can lead to more revenue in many different ways. Teams like the Falcons are happy to take any edge in finding and developing young talent. The players, including the former rugby standout Gray, are not just trying to be ambassadors for football back home: they're trying to make it in one of the world's most competitive leagues.

"I haven't left a very good rugby career just to say I've done it, that's not who I am," said Gray. "I decided to do this and I'm going to make it work."

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