Every year of Kerry Meier's first three with the Falcons has included a major learning obstacle to overcome.
As a rookie, a knee injury took him off the field for the entirety of the season. It was the first significant injury of his playing career at any level. Instead of adjusting to life on the field as an NFL rookie, he was adjusting to life as a rehabbing player.
Last season's lockout during the offseason complicated his rehab and training camp threw everyone and their bodies into the football-contact fire immediately. The wide receiver quickly had to accept his physical progress and move on to the mental aspect of coming back from an major knee injury. The ability to be on the field and take hits and be physical was a major step for Meier and his development on his way back from an injury and as an up-and-coming player in the league.
This year, with those obstacles behind him, he's learning a new offense. It could be said for a player who has been through what he has in his first two years, the third obstacle is by far the easiest. Regardless, here he is, and he feels better than he ever has, mentally and physically.
"I definitely felt that through these OTAs, my body feels strong," he said following Tuesday's morning walk through. "I feel comfortable doing all of the movements that I ask my body to do. Right now I've never been more confident in what I'm doing with my body as well as mentally. I'm looking forward to finishing this week off strong and taking care of my body in July and coming back in August and being ready to roll."
Meier played one full season in college as Kansas' quarterback and finished his career there as the team's backup while setting school records as a wide receiver. The background as a QB and the ability to conceptualize the entire offense has helped him learn new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's new offense.
He's likely to be the team's fourth wide receiver on the depth chart, but that mainly means his role as a backup will feature the same versatility that he showed while at Kansas.
"What I like to think I'm capable of doing is being versatile and being able to step in and fall in behind Harry (Douglas), Roddy (White) or Julio (Jones) and not miss a beat if one of them needs to come off the field," he said. "... As we go with the wide receivers corps, the offense will go as well. Right now, the big thing is continuing to learn the nuances of what Coach Koetter's doing, the new folds and wrinkles that he's bringing in and learning each position. I think it's great if you can approach and learn the outside and the slot, because then you understand the whole concept of a play and not just one thing and one thing only."
It takes a certain kind of mentally-tough player to overcome injuries so early in a career and not be afraid of the extra work it takes to learn multiple positions. Though Meier didn't catch a single pass last season, he was on the field, sharpening his mind and his body. With the obstacles hurdled, he's beginning to take his place inside an offense that appears to be in tune with bringing out the best in each of its playmakers.
Meier may not be a playmaker just yet, but he's a jack-of-all trades type of player that will fill a vital role in more than one area.