The first weekend of 2015 XFINITY Atlanta Falcons Training Camp started on Saturday at Falcons headquarters in Flowery Branch. The players hit the field while fans watched from the hill.
Free agency is one of the trickier portions of the NFL schedule to navigate. Fans regularly expect general managers to acquire high-priced, superstar-level talent, and when that doesn't happen, a sense of disappointment can quickly arise.
But monster contracts backfire all the time, and such deals can have detrimental, long-term consequences. A quick look around the league reveals a telling trend: Many successful organizations build from within and limit their precarious signings, while those who struggle are often hampered by free agent additions who underperform.
So it makes a lot of sense to avoid big names and use free agency to fill out the depth chart with low-risk, high-reward players. That's exactly what the Falcons did this offseason, and if the beginning of XFINITY® Training Camp is any indication, it could pay off in a big way.
Two acquisitions that look especially good right now are wide receiver Leonard Hankerson and tight end Jacob Tamme. Hankerson, who played for the Redskins when offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan held the same job in Washington, has been the best wide receiver at Flowery Branch thus far.
He's made his presence felt on the outside and over the middle; he's displayed great hands; and, perhaps most importantly, he seems to be gaining the trust of Matt Ryan.
"I'm just doing what I got to do, putting in the work," the former Miami Hurricane said. "Coming in, doing your job, being consistent and making things happen."
New head coach Dan Quinn is happy with Hankerson's progression and views the 6-foot-2 receiver as an integral part of the offense moving forward.
"I think it's the length, he's got such a big catching radius," Quinn said. "You've probably seen some of the sideline plays, he's got such a knack for keeping it in bounds and going to stretch for the ball, so that's probably one of the biggest things that stand out for me with Hankerson."
Quinn likes what he's seen from Tamme, as well. The veteran TE showed a lot of confidence in the past few days and impressed with numerous catches in high-traffic areas.
"That hasn't changed from all the way from OTAs" Quinn said. "He's had catches behind and down low. We're just trying to find ways to feature him. He's got a unique style of how to get open, where to go find it. I think there's a good rhythm with him with that."
As mentioned before, Tamme has enjoyed a lot of NFL success when given the opportunity. In 2010, for example, he quietly tallied 631 receiving yards and four touchdown catches for Indianapolis when Dallas Clark suffered a wrist injury. Then, in 2012, he registered 555 yards and two TDs.
Had he not spent much of his career behind Clark and Julius Thomas, he would have likely blossomed into a true No. 1 tight end.
The 30-year-old now has that opportunity, and a big reason why is the man under center.
Tamme has spent almost his entire NFL with Peyton Manning, and he sees a lot of the same traits in Ryan, who has a chance to take a big personal step forward in 2015.
"Peyton has been a huge part of my career, and he's a great friend of mine. It's hard for me to go somewhere and feel like I was not falling off a cliff at the quarterback position," Tamme told the Associated Press. "This is one of the few places where you could go and feel like you weren't.
"Matt has been awesome. I love working with him. He's got a lot of similarities with Peyton — the way he leads, the way he approaches the quarterback position. I've got a lot of respect for that, so I'm really excited."