The Falcons' top draft picks, cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, are being thrown into the proverbial football frying pan.
Instead of easing the rookies into the offseason action, the Falcons, who must replace three of their top five cornerbacks, had them trying to cover Pro Bowlers Roddy White and Julio Jones on the first day of minicamp.They didn't get much of a break against Harry Douglas and Drew Davis, the No. 3 and 4 four receivers last season, either.
The Falcons let cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Christopher Owens go during free agency. Grimes signed with Miami and Owens with Cleveland. They released Dunta Robinson, who signed with Kansas City.
Asante Samuel returns to man his left cornerback spot. They also have nickel backs Robert McClain and Dominique Franks, who have seen NFL action.
There's a hole on the right side of the defense that the Falcons are hoping Trufant can fill. Alford has a shot at becoming the nickel back and perhaps playing outside in the future.
Jones plans to do his part to help the team develop rookie cornerbacks.
"They are trying," Jones said. "But you have two Pro Bowlers out there, me and Roddy, and we've got Harry Douglas and Drew Davis. We can go out there and make plays and we've been in the offense so long.
"Just having a great quarterback like Matt Ryan, it makes it hard for those guys to come right in. One thing I can say about them is that they give effort. They don't give up. You can see how hard they are going to compete."
Trufant was playing the left side and White got wide open in the middle of the defense. There might have been a miscommunication in the zone defense.
On another play, White got open deep against the fleet Alford but juggled the ball and Alford made the interception.
"When you draft the guys that we drafted early, we are anticipating that they are going to play," coach Mike Smith said. "I think that we believe that they have the skill set to be successful at the corner position. We're going to give them every opportunity to play."
Trufant missed most of the OTA sessions as he finished up his academic work at the University of Washington.
Alford, who played at Southeastern Louisiana in the Southland Conference, has been on hand for much of the offseason program.
"They are going to be getting their training under fire because they are going to be playing against a group of wide receivers that I think are as good as any when you start talking about Julio Jones and Roddy White," Smith said. "Going against those guys every day ... I found out very quickly that those two young men are very competitive."
The Falcons gave up 242.4 yards passing last season, which ranked 23rd in the league.
The Falcons are hoping the two rookies, who both run sub-4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, can help them with tighter man-to-man coverage. They believe the rookies will hold up during their baptism by fire in practice.
"When you've got that competitive drive, it bodes well for you having success in the NFL," Smith said.
As the Falcons finished their mandatory minicamp Thursday, coach Mike Smith made it sound as if the only stormy issue was the weather that drove the team inside earlier in the week.
And that is despite the fact that quarterback Matt Ryan is still looking for a new contract, which might be enough to make many teams edgy.
"I'm really pleased with how our guys really finished our non-game-playing season," Smith said Thursday. "They've been very focused. They adjusted well on Tuesday when we had to go inside. We had a good practice there and they came out today and finished off strong. I thought the competition was good and we've got a lot of tape to evaluate on these guys over the next seven or eight days."
Ryan said his contract situation was not a distraction and both he and team officials act as if a deal is inevitable and is just going through the usual motions.
"All I need to worry about is taking care of my business on the field," Ryan said. "I have to do everything that I can to be the best player that I can be. I've always had the opinion that if you do that, the rest of the stuff falls in place.
"I'll kind of leave that with people experienced in dealing with that, my agents and with our front office. I have got a lot of confidence in both sides that we're going to get this done and hopefully I'll be here for a long time."
In fact, there seemed to be more commotion this week about the backup quarterback job than anything about the starter.
After playing as the No. 3 quarterback and not playing a down last season, Dominique Davis wants to secure the No. 2 spot, which is technically open because the Falcons did not to re-sign Luke McCown, who moved to the New Orleans Saints in free agency.
"I'm just trying to be sharp in the meeting room and apply it out here on the field," Davis said. "I'm trying to show these coaches that I'm out here working hard, trying to learn and trying to secure this No. 2 spot."
Davis had some excellent moments in last year's exhibition games, completing 33 of 56 passes for 402 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
And this year he feels he has a stronger command of the offense.
"It's a lot slower," he said, referring to his perception of the speed of the game. "Just as far as calling the play in the huddle, the cadence and just sounding more confident in the huddle."
Davis, who made the roster the hard way—through regional combines after passing for more than 7,000 yards at East Carolina—has been a backup to Ryan before.
He was a redshirt freshman at Boston College during Ryan's senior season there. He later transferred to Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College and led that team to a national JC championship before moving to East Carolina.
Cornerback Asante Samuel did not take part in practice Thursday after he landed awkwardly Wednesday as he broke up a pass. He was on the sidelines Thursday with his right ankle taped.
The Falcons turned down the opportunity to appear on the HBO documentary "Hard Knocks" twice, but will make an appearance this season anyway when this year's featured team, the Cincinnati Bengals, play their exhibition opener Aug. 8 at the Georgia Dome.
"I think you call that a cameo appearance," Falcons coach Mike Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Wide receiver Drew Davis, who signed in 2011 as an undrafted player, has carved out a niche on the roster.
"He had his first touchdown catch against Philadelphia last year, so he's gotten a taste of what it means to score a touchdown as a wideout," coach Mike Smith said. "He's gotten better. The thing he has improved immensely on is his contribution on special teams."
Davis, fighting to be the top receiver behind Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas, must continue to play well on special teams.
The Falcons announced that they will open training camp on July 25. The Falcons will conduct 33 sessions, including walkthroughs and practices, at their training facility.
For the fourth time in as many years, the Falcons will conduct combined practices during training camp. Atlanta will practice with the Cincinnati Bengals in Flowery Branch, on Monday, August 5 and Tuesday, August 6. The Falcons hosted combined practices with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New England Patriots in Flowery Branch in 2010, traveled to Jacksonville in 2011 and held combined practice with the Tennessee Titans in Dalton, GA in 2012.
On Friday, August 2, the Falcons will hold their "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage at Bobby Gruhn Field at City Park Stadium in Gainesville.
Weak-side linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (knee surgery) and strong-side linebacker Stephen Nicholas (sports hernia) participated in all three days of minicamp.
Free safety Thomas DeCoud fell awkwardly on Tuesday and the trainers looked at his right groin. He was held out of Thursday's minicamp session with what coach Mike Smith called an "upper leg" injury.
Rookie Defensive end Stansly Maponga (ankle surgery in March) is expected to be limited in the first two weeks of training camp.
Quote To Note:
"Don't get me wrong, I ain't no health nut. I eat candy, brownies, and whatever the case may be, but I just parted ways with (beef and pork). I'm just trying stuff. I'm young, and I wanted to try it out and see how it felt. Then just talking to Tony Gonzalez about how healthy he eats and everything else. I feel a lot better. I feel like I recover a lot better."
—WR Julio Jones on giving up beef and pork in his diet.
*FRANKBULLIT*Tight end Tony Gonzalez was selected as the Good Guy Award winner by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).
"Everything that Tony does, he does it first class,"
Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "When he comes to practice, he's going to make sure that he's going to give it his all. When we play games, it's the same thing. I think when he deals with the media, he is first class. That's a great way to describe Tony.
Quote To Note:
"He's probably about close to 10 pounds heavier than he was at the end of the season. He's worked extremely hard. He's a guy that we are counting on being a part of our rotation."
—Falcons coach Mike Smith on defensive end/tackle Cliff Matthews.
Phillipkeith Manley was one of the surprise stories of last season as he made the 53-man roster.
He was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Toledo and impressed the coaches with his physical brand of smash-mouth blocking once they put on the pads.
But instead of competing for the starting right guard spot, Manley, who returned to the offseason program overweight, is in a fight with himself to retain a spot on the roster.
Manley, who wouldn't reveal his weight, is listed at 6-5 and 309 pounds. He clearly weighs at least 30 pounds more than his listed weight.
He's spending extra time with the strength and conditioning trainers in the Falcons' athletic performance department and is consulting with a nutritionist in order to save his once promising career.
"He's really coming around as far as that aspect of it," offensive line coach Paul Dunn said. "He needs to get himself to where he's working not only in competition with some of the other players, but he's also working in competition with himself to get himself down to a good playing weight."
Manley knows that he has placed himself in a tough situation.
"I came in a little bit heavier than I did last year," Manley said. "I've already lost about 20 pounds or so. I'm still confident."
Unrestricted Free Agents
(not tendered offers)
FB Mike Cox (not tendered as UFA).
LB Mike Peterson (not tendered as UFA).
Restricted Free Agents:
Exclusive Rights Free Agents:
Draft Choices Signed
CB Robert Alford (2/60): $3,401,398/4 yrs, $853,744 SB/$1,077,744 guaranteed.
DE Malliciah Goodman (4/127): $2,557,088/4 yrs, $397,088 SB.
TE Levine Toilolo (4/133): $2,460,584/4 yrs, $300,584 SB.
DE Stansly Maponga (5/153): $2,346,740/4 yrs, $186,740 SB.
S Kemal Ishmael (7/243): $2,205,896/4 yrs, $45,896 SB.
S Zeke Motta (7/244): $2,205,896/4 yrs, $45,896 SB.
Draft Choices Unsigned
CB Desmond Trufant (1/22).
QB Sean Renfree (7/249).
T Sam Baker: UFA; $41.5M/6 yrs, $18.25M guaranteed.
TE Tony Gonzalez: UFA; $14M/2 yrs, $3.5M SB.
S William Moore: Potential UFA; $29.512M/5 yrs, $8.25M SB/$14M guaranteed.
G Garrett Reynolds: Potential UFA; $2.58M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB/$700,000 guaranteed.
RB Antone Smith: Potential RFA; $1.425M/2 yrs, $65,000 SB.
FB Patrick DiMarco: FA Chiefs; terms unknown.
RB Steven Jackson: UFA Rams; $12M/3 yrs, $3.5M SB/$4M guaranteed.
DE Osi Umenyiora: UFA Giants; $8.5M/3 yrs, $2.5M SB/$5M guaranteed.
DE John Abraham (released).
T Tyson Clabo (released/post-June 1 designation).
CB Brent Grimes: UFA Dolphins; $5M/1 yr, $2.25M SB/$3M guaranteed.
S Chris Hope: Not tendered as UFA/Lions; terms unknown.
C Todd McClure (UFA; retired).
QB Luke McCown: UFA Saints; 1 yr, terms unknown.
WR Kerry Meier (released).
CB Christopher Owens: UFA Browns; $1M/1 yr.
TE Michael Palmer: Not tendered as RFA/Giants; terms unknown.
CB Dunta Robinson (released.
DE Lawrence Sidbury: UFA Colts; terms unknown.
OT Will Svitek: UFA Patriots; 1 yr, terms unknown.
RB Michael Turner (released/failed physical).
DT Vance Walker: UFA Raiders; $1.3M/1 yr.