Falcons head coach Mike Smith's first words to the media following Friday's first rookie minicamp practice were: "I'm glad to be back."
After an offseason last year that saw a lockout and no true offseason to work with his players, Smith was happy to be back to his old routines, but not everything was a routine.
Smith said it was the first time he's actually been involved in a rookie minicamp. In past offseasons, the entire team conducted a mandatory minicamp after the draft. Small changes were made to the offseason sequencing to incorporate the rookie minicamp and later the full-team minicamp in June, but Smith said he thought it was productive, even for the first day and he was thrilled with the enthusiasm of his young players.
"I think our guys are excited about playing football," Smith said. "Their energy was outstanding. We've got a lot to learn in the next two days to get these guys up to speed with the rest of the team when they start working out with them on Tuesday."
Smith so far sees an advantage in letting the rookies spend some one-on-one time with the coaching staff before the veterans get involved in practices. Veterans will require coaching as well and in some ways the coaching they receive is more critical. Smith thinks letting the rookies get their feet wet in the Falcons way is helpful to their development.
"My observation from the first day... it allows (the rookies) to kind of ease into it," he said. "In the past we've had our mandatory minicamp with all of our veterans here. ... This is a little easier to work into it. We slow the installation down in terms of the coaching staff and these guys get an opportunity to learn it at a slower pace."
In total, the Falcons had 46 players present for Friday's first practice at the rookie minicamp. Six were players from last year's roster, most of whom spent their time on the practice squad. Six others were the member of Atlanta's 2012 Rookie Club and the remainder were college free agents, including 10 players present on a tryout basis.
The practice lasted for just less than an hour and a half and one of the day's highlights was an interception by linebacker Matt Hanson during the team session.
Third-round pick Lamar Holmes was present, but did not practice. Smith said he sustained an injury and is being evaluated.
"Lamar's got a minor issue with his foot," he said. "It's more precautionary right now. We'll try to get him back out here. It won't be here in this minicamp. I think it'll be closer to when we start our OTAs later this month. It's something that came up in his post-draft physical."