FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Because the role that wide receiver Harry Douglas was expected to play for the Falcons in 2009 was multi-faceted, his loss for the season to an ACL tear in his left knee has left a number of holes for the team to fill.
With Roddy White still not at camp because of his holdout, the first team offense worked out at times on Thursday with Michael Jenkins, Brian Finneran and Troy Bergeron. Eric Weems, who played six games with the team last season, catching one pass for four yards, also will be in the mix with the first-team offense, Head Coach Mike Smith said.
As for the team's moving forward, Smith's mantra has been that "one player's misfortune is another player's opportunity;" however, he said personally he is "very disappointed" for Douglas.
Practically speaking, the team now will need more from the players at the bottom end of the depth chart at wide receiver.
"It makes some guys have to get cross-trained," Smith said. "We always talk about cross-training. Some younger guys are going to be overloaded. Basically, where they were learning one position, they're going to have to work multiple positions and there will be a learning curve as far as that is concerned."
Asked if the rotation as of right now would be Jenkins, Finneran and Weems, Smith responded, "If we had to go right today that would be the rotation. Of course, there's a lot of water to go under the bridge between now and the first game."
Another player in the mix is Bergeron, who was a star in the now-defunct Arena Football League, playing three seasons with the Georgia Force. He was the league's rookie of the year in 2005 and a second-team all-league selection in 2007. The graduate of Columbus' Shaw High School spent 2006 training camp with the Falcons before being released. Last year the Buffalo Bills signed him to their practice squad in Week 13.
"He's a guy who will be asked to expand his role in terms of what he needs to learn position-wise," Smith said of Bergeron.
Bergeron also expressed disappointment for Douglas and said he was unsure what the vacancy meant for him.
"For me, I don't know what the opportunity is here," he said. "I just know I want to go out there and try not to make mistakes and just learn – learn what the coaches are telling me and just try to use it on the field."
Bergeron returned kickoffs in the Arena League, but not punts, which the league's rules did not include. Bergeron was not in a group of players fielding punts on Thursday morning during a special teams practice, but he said he would be willing to do so.
"I try to go out there and catch every morning just to let them see me," he said. "Hopefully, I'll get in there. I'll do whatever it takes -- if it's returning punts or running down punts -- I'll do whatever it takes to make [the team]."
Players returning punts included Jerious Norwood, who returned kickoffs last season and ranked fourth in the NFC with an average of 25.7 yards per attempt, Weems and Chandler Williams. Williams was a seventh-round draft pick in 2007 who spent that entire season on the practice squad of the Miami Dolphins, then was invited to last year's Falcons' training camp before the team cut him on Aug. 30. The team re-signed him on Nov. 11 to the practice squad.
"I don't know how much experience [Norwood] has actually doing it in games, but he's a guy who's always trained to do it," Smith said. "Eric Weems has very, very good hands and has done a nice job catching the ball and Chandler Williams is a guy who we hope to develop. There's a lot of things that can happen between now and the first ballgame."
Weems was Douglas' roommate in the dormitories at camp and was disappointed for his friend. But an opportunity now presents itself to him.
"I feel comfortable returning punts," he said. "I returned a little bit in college so I'm definitely comfortable with that."