Thursday February 11th, 2016 6:39PM

Change prevalent as Falcons open mini-camp

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
FLOWERY BRANCH -- One after another the tight spirals dropped out of the hot, thick Flowery Branch air into the outstretched arms of receivers Tuesday on the opening day of mini-camp for the Atlanta Falcons.<br /> <br /> However, the nearly perfect passes did not originate from Matt Ryan or any of the other Atlanta quarterbacks. Instead, star receiver Roddy White was doing his best Ryan impersonation as he was relegated to player-coach and mentor as he recovers from an injury.<br /> <br /> "I've been throwing balls for seven years here and I can throw a strike," he said during his after-practice interview at the Falcons Complex. "But I don't think they'll let me trade positions. My job is to help the young guys learn the system and get ready for the season. That's what (we're) doing."<br /> <br /> The 'we' also included Julio Jones, who missed most of last season with a foot injury and is also taking mini-camp to prepare for the season.<br /> <br /> "It's been tough not being able to practice but we're helping the new guys and just getting ourselves ready for the season," Jones said.<br /> <br /> The Falcons will need all the help they can get going into the 2014 campaign.<br /> <br /> After suffering a disappointing 4-12 2013 season in which the Falcons began the year as Super Bowl contenders, change was expected by virtually everyone in the organization, and those who follow the team.<br /> <br /> From a new tight end to new linebackers and offensive linemen to even the weather change was prevalent throughout on Tuesday.<br /> <br /> Coach Mike Smith said shaking things up will be a constant theme as the Falcons try to get themselves back in the Super Bowl conversation.<br /> <br /> "Really it's about competing and we want everyone competing for their job," Smith said. "Well the first thing we wanted to do was change our schedule of when we practice. This is the time we're going to practice during training camp. It was a little warmer than the guys are used too but they got through it okay."<br /> <br /> White and Jones even joked a little about the new time and obviously different weather conditions. He and Jones are being looked on as mentors mainly during the offseason to the younger receivers like rookie free agents Bernard Reedy and Geraldo Boldewijn.<br /> <br /> "It was hot out here today. More so than usual when we practice. I was surprised the guys were going out there and competing they way they did. But I thought it was a good practice overall," White said.<br /> <br /> "We're working with the younger guys to try and show them how things are done and what to expect and help them compete and help the team. We would like to be out there but we'll get our chance later on."<br /> <br /> Reedy, out of Toledo, in particular made several nice catches on the run and showed off his speed on a reverse.<br /> <br /> Another change fans will certainly notice will be at tight end. Gone is future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, and the battle for the No. 1 spot could rage on until the opening weekend between Bear Pascoe, who has the most experience, Levine Toilolo, Mickey Shuler, and rookies Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak.<br /> <br /> "Levine made a couple of nice plays and Bear and Mickey have started games in the league but all five of those guys are competing and that's what you want," Smith said.<br /> <br /> Change along the offensive line was also a certainty after watching Matt Ryan hit the deck more than Gerry Cooney last season. Jake Matthews, the Falcons lone first round pick in the May draft, highlights what most experts feel will be the key area to whether they can get back to elite status or remain near the bottom of an ever-changing league.<br /> <br /> Five-year veteran Joe Hawley worked mainly with the first unit at center but four-year veteran Peter Konz also got some work at center with the first team. Matthews, Sam Baker, and Lamar Holmes shared time at left tackle throughout the practice.<br /> <br /> "I like what we have accomplished so far not in pads so you have to put a little asterisk by it but the competition has been outstanding and that is what we want to have," Smith said. "As we move through training camp everyone is going to get a chance to compete."<br /> <br /> With the loss of Sean Weatherspoon for the season the linebacking group also will draw plenty of attention, especially after the Falcons ranked near the bottom in most every defensive category last year.<br /> <br /> "We've got some really young guys that we drafted and their heads are spinning a little right now as we have them on overload," Smith said. "You can see their athleticism and they can make some plays but they also give you some of those 'what in the world were you thinking plays' as well. They're going to get a chance to compete and it should be an interesting battle all the way through training camp."<br /> <br /> One area of strength coming into the mini-camp was at cornerback with Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford along with Robert McClain and Javier Arenas.<br /> <br /> Trufant and Alford both knocked down several passes Tuesday and displayed the talent that could garner notice around the league. The defense as a whole forced three turnovers.<br /> <br /> "The defense attacked more which I liked to see and forced some balls on the ground. Robert showed a lot of speed out there and ran down several passes. I liked what I saw for the first day," Smith said.<br /> <br /> The Falcons will continue the mini-camp Wednesday with another afternoon practice beginning at 3:30. It is open to the public. They will wrap-up the three -day camp on Thursday with a 10:30 a.m. practice that is not open to the public.
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