Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith had one message for his rookies on Monday at the team's first rookie minicamp practice:
For the players gathered at Flowery Branch on Monday, their primary objective was to continue to learn the Falcons way of doing things.
"I think that's the biggest thing, when they left here a week ago they didn't have any idea where the cafeteria was or where the meeting rooms were," said Smith after Monday's initial practice. "The familiarity and just for them to relax. They've been very successful football players and that's why they're here and we want to give them an opportunity to come in and compete."
Smith said the practices, three more to come this week, would be run in similar sequences and order as last weekend's full-team minicamp. His hope is to continue to get his young players up to speed; a speed that flashed by them as the team's veterans largely controlled last weekend's gathering.
The lack of the more experienced veterans gives the rookies more face time with the coaches and more snaps to learn. The head coach believes the learning curve is still steep for the rookies, but the extra time and rookie-on-rookie evaluation is critical.
"At the minicamp these guys did not get many snaps so they're getting all the snaps, getting all the attention," Smith said. "It becomes very evident that they've got a lot to learn even though we gave them a bunch of information there in the first five practices it was a little bit overwhelming for them."
Due to the quantity the players are being exposed to, Smith believes the rookies will need to learn and get up to speed as quickly as possible. Despite his reminder to relax, the rookie-only minicamp is about relearning minicamp lessons and absorbing the playbook.
It could be the most intense study session in their football lives.
"Whether they've had to cram for a test in college or they've got a bunch of information they've got to digest, this is the biggest cram that they're ever going to have," said Smith. "They need to really get in here in these next seven days, until next Monday, and try to get as much information as they can about our system."
Monday's minicamp marks the first rookie minicamp Smith has conducted in his three years with the Falcons. In past years, the team's rookies gathered in informal practices to continue to learn, but the coaching staff changed things up this year.
"We felt like it might be beneficial to put it in a more structured fashion so the guys will learn how we practice, learn how we meet," said Smith. "These guys have basically gone through the same thing that they went through in minicamp in terms of the sequencing of the day."
Offensive linemen Rob Bruggeman, Blake Schlueter, and Jose Valdez, running back Antone Smith, and wide receiver Andy Strickland, all members of last year's practice squad, joined the team's 25 rookies. All seven 2010 draft choices were also present at Monday's minicamp.
--Daniel Cox, Atlantafalcons.com Contributing Writer