BUFORD – Given the general absence of structure, discipline and an agitated man with white hair blowing a whistle, it could’ve been worse. It’s not like two dozen Falcons players showed up again on Tuesday to practice (sort of) at a public park and started complaining that somebody forgot to bring the blender and the pina colada mix.
But the fact is, the most emotion anybody showed probably came after rookie Julio Jones made a spectacular leaping catch on a pass from Chris Redman in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown, and at least three players on defense screamed, “We called time out!” and another yelled, “Out of bounds!”
Sorry guys, no officials.
Also no replay.
Also . . . really?
Welcome to make-shift practices, a byproduct of the NFL lockout.
This is what I don’t understand. NFL players complain all the time about the league mandating mini camps and offseason practices (which the NFL wonderfully refers to as “organized team activities” because it sounds more like a fun outing to the dinosaur museum than sweating your 320-pound butt off in 90-percent humidity). And yet, during the lockout, when players are forbidden from having contact with coaches, they decide to organize practices.
“Yeah, it’s a little bit of a contradiction,” wide receiver Michael Jenkins said. “You do get tired of the year-long process. But you want to do some stuff to stay in a football mode. It doesn’t have to be three mini camps and 15 OTA practices. What we’re doing now is pretty good.”
What they’re doing is north of a lounge chair and south of the real thing. They’re not being drilled by coaches or taught in meetings. It’s debatable how
much these workouts are accomplishing. But any motion is better than no motion, even if it lacks emotion.
Falcons players, up to 30 at a time, have been meeting twice a week for about four weeks now. Many of them lift weights together at a gym first. (From backup quarterback John Parker Wilson, who arrived at a park with his equipment bag and his golf clubs in the back of his car: “Usually me, Matt [Ryan] and Finn [Brian Finneran] go to one gym, and the bigger guys go to another. They’re doing their meathead workout.”) Then they all get together on a practice field and run passing drills for an hour.
“We even have this script of 30 plays we made up,” said Wilson, holding out the sheet.
No pads. No hitting. But at least nobody was holding a Pabst.
“The only thing we’re not doing that I wish we were doing is hitting,” safety William Moore said. “Maybe we can at least start playing flag [football]. Or may just take them down to the ground a little bit. You know. Just a tap.”
The other thing they’re missing: seclusion.
On Tuesday, their practice was adjacent to tennis courts where lessons were being given. A youth soccer game was across the parking lot. Shortly after the workout started, a little league baseball team lined the outside of a fence, watching Chris Redman throw a football. None, as far as anybody could tell, carried a video camera or wore a Patriots T-shirt.
The workouts were organized by Coy Wire and Matt Ryan, although the team’s starting quarterback missed Tuesday’s practice. His excuse: He had to give a speech.
“He had a speaking engagement but you’re not supposed to miss practices,” said Finneran, who could be objective about this, since he’s technically not a Falcon any more. “Our fine committee will come up with something. Usually it’s like $10 a minute. He missed the whole thing so we’re probably talking about $500. That should cover dinner.”
If nothing else, at least there’s something to be said for camaraderie. A number of veterans have taken part in the practices. Jenkins: “We even got Roddy [White] to show up once. He didn’t do anything though. He just watched.”
Wilson again: “You come out and you try to be as organized as you can. But you can’t simulate the practice setting. It’s not the same.”
Then again, it’s only June. And they’re probably getting more accomplished than anybody in an NFL board room right now.
By Jeff Schultz