FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There was a tangible energy in the air at the Falcons training facility on Thursday morning. The Brotherhood was back on the field for the first day of 2017 AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.
At this point of the year, every team hopes to be entirely healthy. Fortunately, the Falcons are about as close to healthy as they can be. No players were on the Physical Unable to Perform list to begin practice, and only three were limited in their activities: Julio Jones, Takkarist McKinley and Taylor Gabriel.
Speaking with the media after practice, coach Dan Quinn provided a quick update on where that group stands.
"We have three players that are limited right now -- meaning they do our night walkthrough, they do the individual skill parts, some group periods that aren't full speed -- and those three players are Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel and Takk McKinley," Quinn said. "They'll probably go through that for a few days with us, making sure they get back up, and then we'll work them in next week into the full-team periods. Or at least that's the goal heading in."
Let's dive a little deeper into each player's individual situation with training camp now officially underway.
Jones missed two games last season due to a foot injury, and he underwent surgery to remedy that problem in early March.
The All-Pro receiver looked comfortable moving around during the individual periods, and it's understandable if the coaches are playing it slow with Jones. As arguably the best player as his position in the league, there's not much for Jones to prove in training camp. The Falcons will need him in November and December, they don't want any setbacks in July.
"He's communicated with me over the summer the running that he's done. So, I think he felt good on most of his cuts," Quinn said after practice. "He's such a specific guy, there's certain things that may bother (him) and certain things that won't. So we'll just work through those to make sure he's getting the routes and the timing with Matt (Ryan), especially during the individual and group periods, and then when we can get him into the team stuff, we will. He'll participate in the walkthrough portions, too, to make sure the install part is staying on top of."
Fans are anxious to see what the Falcons have in their 2017 first-round draft pick, and understandably so. McKinley is expected to form an impressive pass-rushing duo with reigning NFL sack leader Vic Beasley, but his recovery from shoulder surgery has limited what he can do thus far.
Seeing McKinley out there actively participating with the defensive linemen during the individual periods was a bit of a pleasant surprise. The rookie looked strong going through his first training camp practice and, afterwards, said he felt good.
"It felt good. It felt great," McKinley told reporters. "It felt great to be out there with the team and just get back to football. I mean, my last game was in November. It's good to be back to football."
McKinley's first day was encouraging for those hoping to see more of him sooner rather than later and Quinn said he was "real optimistic in seeing him," but this is just one step in his recovery process. Earlier this week, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff expressed hope that the rookie pass-rusher would see action in either the third or fourth preseason game, but nothing is guaranteed.
"I'm just trying to go out there and go as hard as possible," McKinley said. "I played with the shoulder for two years, but, like I said, you've got to take it slow. You don't want any setbacks. So, for me, it's just about going out there and going as hard as I can every day."
Claimed off of waivers just before the start of the 2016 season, Gabriel emerged as one of the most exciting breakout players in the NFL. The speedy receiver signed his second-round tender earlier this spring and is expected to be a big part of the offense again in the fall.
For now, however, he's still dealing with a lower leg strain. Gabriel is participating in individual drills with the receivers, but he isn't yet participating in full-team periods.
Because Gabriel relies so much on speed and agility, the Falcons are being cautious to make sure he is fully healthy before pushing the accelerator all the way to the floor.