It’s been quite the whirlwind week around the NFL, where you need a virtual scorecard to figure out which player is where and what player remains to be signed.
With the free agency period smushed together with the opening of training camp after the lockout was lifted on Wednesday, teams like the Atlanta Falcons were left scrambling to sign their rookie class, ink their own free agents, sign undrafted rookie free agents and go shopping for their pick of other teams’ free agents.
Instead of a marathon, “NFL Free Agentpalooza 2011” turned into a frenzied 100-yard dash, with the end still not in sight.
Falcons coach Mike Smith thinks that things so far have unfolded according to plan.
“It seems like it’s about four months ago (that the lockout ended,” he told reporters at the opening of training camp in Flowery Branch, Ga. on Friday. “This week has been a long week.
“We had a plan in place in terms of what we wanted to do personnel wise. We had a plan with what we wanted to do with our team when we got back. We had to remain on top of the sequencing of how we wanted to practice.”
Sequencing is going to be important, especially for the Falcons rookie draft class of 2011, lead by first round pick Julio Jones. The lockout robbed those players of valuable preparation time in minicamps and other offseason training activities.
Jones, however, is a bit ahead of the curve, having worked out with Matt Ryan and a lot of the rest of the team in “unofficial” practices at Buford High School. That helped give him an edge on the first day of practice.
“I know more of the offense than the other rookies,” Jones said. “But in camp, I can see what they’re going through because when I came to (the offseason workouts) I didn’t know what was going on. Now at practice, the speed is up tempo. … It was very important, just getting my timing down with Matt and catching balls with him.”
Two Falcons free agents leave the nest: As intimated on joltleft.com on Thursday, Falcons P Michael Koenen was poised to bolt the Falcons for greener pastures. No one had the slightest idea of exactly how green. Atlanta SB Nation’s Jason Kirk picked up on a piece in the Petwerreport, which said that the NFC South rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers lured away Atlanta’s punter with a six-year, $19.5 million deal, $6.5 million of which was guaranteed.
There’s no way that Atlanta could possibly take a $3.25 million cap hit on a punter, remain under the cap and make a legitimate Super Bowl run, especially when the team drafted Miami P/K Matt Bosher to handle the punting duties this season.
Atlanta will also begin the season with at least one new member of the offensive line. ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas reports that Harvey Dahl agreed to terms on a four-year deal with the St. Louis Rams.
Atlanta addressed its primary concern when the club signed RT Tyson Clabo to a five-year. $25 million deal on Thursday. Signing Dahl or even free agent Justin Blalock is mere gravy considering that the Dirty Birds drafted guards Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley last season and nabbed former Fresno State guard Andrew Jackson late in this year’s draft.
The Burner’s ready for blastoff: The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter reports that RB Michael Turner has completely recovered from offseason groin surgery and arrived at training camp completely healthy.
Also at camp with a clean bill of health was WR Kerry Meier, who was cleared to return to practice. The 2010 fifth round draft pick missed his entire rookie campaign after suffering a right knee injury in the preseason. However, the rookie stuck around after the surgery and followed the team around both at home and on the road.
“When it all happened, the first thing I wanted to do was stick around,” Meier told reporters on Friday. “There was no other place I’d rather do my rehab and treatments. … With last year, me not being able to help out, it added fuel to my fire. It got me to wanting to make the team, that much more.”
Still a no-go: With the timing of the end of the lockout, linebackers Stephen Nicholas and Mike Peterson may have inked new deals with the club, but they were no-shows at the first day of practice and will be absent until Aug. 4 under rules restricting them from practice until the start of the NFL calendar year.
Let’s just say that the linebacker area of the Falcons dorms are a little bit quiet right now.
“We got an empty room in my dorm,” second-year linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “We’re waiting on those guys to fill that. We look forward to getting them back.”
Of course, Nicholas and Peterson were not the only Falcons that missed the first day of practice. Atlanta has not signed restricted free agent CB Brent Grimes and WR Eric Weems, QB John Parker Wilson and DT Vance Walker, who are exclusive-rights free agents.
Atlanta must also grapple with whether to sign RB Jason Snelling and Blalock, who are unrestricted free agents. Snelling is rumored to be talking to the Rams.
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