Five Things We Learned In Camp: Day 18

Posted Aug 18, 2013's Daniel Cox shares his final five observations from Russell Athletic Atlanta Falcons Training Camp's wrapup session Sunday

1. He’s Back: The great one returned for the last day of camp on Sunday as the team prepares for the third week of preseason, the most important week for starters. Tony Gonzalez said he would be back and he did, in fact, return, rejoining his teammates Sunday, and it didn’t look like he’s missed a beat. Gonzalez picked up his practice routine quickly, getting in extra catches before the practice session began as well as blocking work. During a run-game session with the offensive line, Gonzalez took some second-team reps to get in some extra work and during 11-on-11s, he was back with the starters, supplanting Chase Coffman and Levine Toilolo, who had both been competing with the starters in Gonzalez’ absence. The first pass of the day in the full-team session went to Gonzalez and he caught it with no problem. Gonzalez didn’t drop one of the four passes that went his way during Sunday’s practice in 11-on-11 sessions. After practice, head coach Mike Smith was asked about the thought process that went into allowing Gonzalez to take a few weeks off from camp: “I absolutely looked at all the different scenarios and I believe this: any player that I coached that goes to 15 Pro Bowls and has a situation with his family that would force him to miss time, I’d gladly do it for him and I think our players understand that.”

PHOTOS: See Images From The Final Day Of Camp

2. Update On Nicholas: Linebacker Stephen Nicholas left practice early on Saturday and on Sunday he was not present. Smith said Nicholas sustained a leg injury and will not play in the upcoming game against the Titans. He added that many starters traditionally don’t play in the fourth preseason game and that would likely be the case for Nicholas as well. The head coach did say he expects Nicholas ready for Week 1 of the regular season.

3. Bartu Continues Strong Showing: One player who has benefitted from some of the injuries the Falcons have experienced during the offseason and training camp at linebacker is rookie Joplo Bartu. The undrafted rookie continues to play well and on Sunday he saw some first-team reps at linebacker with Sean Weatherspoon. Bartu said his four installations of the defense have gone smoothly and he’s just tried to grab the coaches’ attention daily: “It’s been great. I’m just trying to put my best effort out here and try to impress the coaches. (I just) come out here and work hard and see where that gets me.”

4. Under-the-Radar Kicker: The Falcons are set at kicker with Matt Bryant, but there may a dark horse candidate on the roster, as well. Backup rookie kicker Jeremy Shelley performed well against the Ravens in Week 2 when given the chance. On Sunday, he kicked seven straight field goals from around 35 yards out as the team watched on. His last attempt was from 51 yards out and he nailed it between the uprights. Shelley has shown he can be insurance should anything happen to Bryant.

5. Loving Nolan’s Scheme: Hearing Kroy Biermann speak about playing in coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme helps you understand why he is looking forward to his sixth season in the NFL so much. Faced with the opportunity to play a lot of roles on defense, Biermann said Sunday the best thing about playing for Nolan is his willingness to put players in positions to make things happen: “I think as a whole unit, guys really love his scheme and the way he coaches, the kind of coordinator he is and the man that he is. He’s a good dude and tries to put guys in the best possible position to make plays and be successful. That’s what he’s about. It’s fun playing with him in his scheme because it’s set up for guys to be successful.”

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The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on represent those of the individual authors. Unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Atlanta Falcons’ organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. The writers’ views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Falcons officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.