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With Vets Out, Young Players Get Reps


Despite the OTA sessions this offseason being voluntary, the Falcons have had exceptional turnout as they head toward their mandatory minicamp next week. A select few veterans have missed time during the offseason and only two rookies had to miss any time.

First-round pick Desmond Trufant missed the first two weeks of OTAs as he finished up his degree at Washington and fourth-rounder Levine Toilolo was out as well finishing his studies at Stanford. Both Pac-12 schools operate on the quarter system and were required to finish school before joining their team. Trufant joined the Falcons on Thursday and Smith said Toilolo would join the team later in the week.

Linebackers Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon have been present during the offseason workouts, but they haven't been on the practice as they rehab. Smith said on Tuesday he "fairly confident" both starting linebackers would be on the field practicing for minicamp next week.

One of the bright spots in having some of the veterans off the field through these workouts has been the extra time younger players have seen on the field.

"I think it's really good for the young guys," head coach Mike Smith said. "These are guys that we are counting on contributing this season. They're getting lots of reps. Asante (Samuel) is not here this week. We know where he is and we knew he wasn't going to be here. It gives Robert (Alford) and Desmond (Trufant) an opportunity to get more reps, which they really need."

Alford, the team's second-round pick, has been with the team throughout OTAs and in Samuel's occasional absence, Alford has joined Dominique Franks and Robert McClain as the team's top three corners on the field.

With wide receiver Roddy White in and out of OTAs, Julio Jones has been given a valuable opportunity to step in and lead, something the third-year receiver hasn't had to do much of in his short career.

Chase Coffman, the team's third tight end last year, has also taken advantage of missing veterans and extra time. With Tony Gonzalez out and last year's primary backup gone, Coffman has gotten valuable first-team reps and taken the opportunity to show he can be an option both this year and in the future behind Gonzalez and after future Hall of Famer retires. Coffman has made a number of impressive catches during the offseason practices, using his height as a weapon, not unlike his predecessor.

In Trufant's first action on the field Tuesday, quarterback Matt Ryan said the rookie's athleticism is the first thing that jumped out at him.

"He's an athletic kid, that's for sure," Ryan said. "He moves pretty well. That's the thing I noticed the most during one-on-ones. Once we get out there practicing we're so focused on us individually and collectively as an offense that we won't really get a chance to look at him, but we'll see on film as we continue the next two weeks. I'm sure he'll keep getting better and keep getting acclimated."

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