Flowery Branch, Ga. --Peria Jerry knew his rookie season would be tough, but he didn't realize quite how tough.
Going down with a knee injury in Week 2 of last season meant the defensive tackle would be would rehabbing all season, instead of chasing down opposing quarterbacks.
Medically cleared to practice earlier this week, the 2009 first-round draft pick took to the practice field when the Falcons opened up training camp on Friday.
"It was good getting back out with the team and the D-line," Jerry said Friday afternoon. Just communicating with the guys, and talking with the guys as well as running around was fun."
With his first two practices behind him, Jerry feels like his NFL career is back on track and he couldn't be more happy about that.
"I actually went in and talked to Marty [Lauzon, Head Athletic Trainer] in the training room and he said 'Man I haven't seen you smile in so long. What's going on,'" Jerry said. "I said 'You just don't know how exciting it is just to be back out amongst the group.' I'm real happy about that."
Head Coach Mike Smith said earlier in the day that Jerry would be on a limited practice schedule for the first two weeks as a precaution. He and the coaching staff want to see how Jerry responds to his light work before they unleash him on quarterbacks.
"This will be a big afternoon for us to see how they handled the workload and then as we go through the offseason, we will continue to add to that workload and see what these guys can do," Smith said following Friday's morning practice.
Jerry acknowledged how valuable his teammates have been through the healing process, helping him come to grips with the injury and ultimately getting back onto the field.
"I've got some really good veteran guys beside me," he said. "Chauncey [Davis], Jamal [Anderson], they all have been there with me through the whole thing. It's just a process."
The former Ole Miss star knows the Falcons' pass rush last season was hindered because of his absence. While he's looking forward to getting back onto the field at full strength, he also understands the team needs his output. However, he doesn't feel the burden to carry the team's pass rush. He knows his teammates will support him there as well.
"I don't sense any of that pressure," said Jerry. "It is all a group thing and it is going to take work amongst all of us to get the sack numbers to go up. I don't think it will ever be just one person."
The playbook:Everyone envisions an NFL team's playbook as a massive document designed to befuddle opponents and make them look foolish every Sunday. That may be it's intent, but isn't as complicated as one might seem.
But it does have it's own set of complexities.
2010 third-round pick Corey Peters feels what happens within the plays is what separates the professional playbook from the college ranks.
"It's the little things that you have to adjust to," the defensive tackle said." You have to watch out for this and watch out for that. In college you just line up and go and it doesn't really matter what the offense is doing."
Fellow rookie Dominique Franks echoed Peters, saying he felt the terminology is what sets Atlanta's playbook apart from the one he studied as a cornerback at Oklahoma.
"It's more the verbage and getting that under your wing and making it where you come out here and can just go out there and play and not think as much."
Both rookies felt the plays themselves were similar and weren't that difficult to learn. But executing them the way the coaches want and at a higher level than what was expected of them in college is the challenge.
"In college the vocabulary is a lot different than what it is here," said Franks. "There's not a lot of learning the plays, but it's how to understand the checks and things like that."
Rookies first day:For a rookie, walking out onto the practice field in training camp as a paid football player can be both an intimidating and rewarding experience.
And then you have to play.
Putting the nerves aside and actualizing what they've studied is what they're paid to do and many rookies believe it's the most challenging part of their job.
For Peters, a player considered a team leader during his time at Kentucky, it's a different experience. Going from the player everyone looks to as the example of how to do things the right way to the guy making mistakes is hard.
"I'm excited about the opportunity and trying to get better," Peters said. "Of course the competitor in me won't allow me to be super excited about everything. I think one mistake is huge and I keep playing it over in my mind, but I'm going to get it done."
That reversal of roles is the biggest adjustment and learning how to get past the mistakes is critical to finding success as a rookie.
Finding the right lens through which to view those mistakes makes all the difference.
"You just keep things in perspective," said Peters. "We've got two more practices tomorrow. It's another opportunity to come out and do things better and not make the same mistakes twice. If we can do that as a team, we'll be great."
Franks believes the rookies are on their way toward making those progressions already. He sees a group of players willing to ask questions and leaning on the veterans for the know-how to make it through each day.
The younger players, he says, know they have to seek answers because they're not able to be on the field as much as the veterans, but when they are, they have to make every opportunity count.
"The young guys may not get as many reps, but we get our mental reps on the sideline and we study our playbooks even more," said Franks. "Because when it's your time to go in, you don't want to mess up those one or two plays and make the coaches believe they can't trust you."
Every rookie has to get past the first-day jitters quickly and move on to the next day. For most that's the most important lesson.