Falcons notebook: Injury bug bites, rookies shine

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Through the first 11 days of training camp, the Falcons’ key players eluded the injury bug. On Monday during a combined practice with the Cincinnati Bengals, it reared its head for the first time, as linebacker Sean Weatherspoon did not finish practice and wide receiver Julio Jones also was held out of most of practice.


The team did not disclose what the injuries were; NFL policy does not force them to do so until the regular season.


Jones originally was scheduled to speak to the media on Monday, but because of his injury status the team did not make him available. Head coach Mike Smith said they held Jones out for precautionary reasons.


Smith carefully worded what he said about Weatherspoon so as not to refer to what happened during Monday’s session.


“I haven’t really talked to the trainers yet in terms of what came out of this practice,” he said. “There was some contact. It was a very competitive practice.”


All that Smith would say about Weatherspoon in particular was that the player left practice and that he had no update on the situation. Earlier during the practice, Falcons director of sports medicine and performance Marty Lauzon was seen having a conversation with general manager Thomas Dimitroff in which Dimitroff appeared upset.


Weatherspoon is one of the keys to the Falcons’ defense. The team’s first-round pick in 2010, he has started all 29 games in which he has played over the past two seasons, amassing 241 tackles in that span, among the highest on the team. He also has seven sacks over that time and one interception, which came last season.


Green vs. Jones is a dud


When these sessions were scheduled with the Bengals (there will be another on Tuesday), one of the main plotlines of the day was expected to be that of Jones and Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green, the former Georgia Bulldog. Jones was selected fifth overall in 2011 by Cincinnati and the Falcons had tried to move up to take him there but the Bengals wanted too steep of a price so the Falcons worked out a deal with Cleveland instead to take Jones one spot later. Both have since earned Pro-Bowl berths.


However, Green did not make the trip because of a knee injury and will not participate in Thursday’s first preseason game against the Falcons at the Georgia Dome.


One player who knows both well is Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who was Jones’ teammate at Alabama.


“They’re different receivers,” Kirkpatrick said. “They got different mindsets but they all got the same goals. They want to win and they want to score touchdowns and I feel they do both of their jobs perfect. The only thing I could say is Julio probably is a little bit more in-the-weight-room-type guy, stronger.”


Kirkpatrick said that Jones did not take any reps so he did not have the chance to go against him. Kirkpatrick was asked about Jones’ instant success since arriving in the NFL.


“It was amazing,” Kirkpatrick said. “The work he put in and the work ethic he got, I already had a feeling what type of athlete he’s going to be at the next level. As long as he continues to grow and don’t get sidetracked by all the hype, he’ll be amazing.”


New rule outlaws certain hits


On Sunday, a crew of officials met with the Falcons to explain some new rules changes and interpretations. One of them involves a hit by a player with the crown of his helmet which now will result in a 15-yard unnecessary roughness foul.


Under the new criteria, it seems that the highlight-reel hit that Falcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers put on Seattle’s Associated Press All-Pro safety Earl Thomas in the playoffs last January would be illegal.


Jerome Boger, the referee who worked last season’s Super Bowl, gave the presentation, as well as a presentation to the media on Monday. Boger said only four plays from last season would have qualified for a penalty under the new rule. He did not say if Rodgers’ was one.


The criteria are that a player must line up his opponent, lower his head and land a forcible blow with the crown (top) of his helmet outside of the tackle box. In reviewing replays of Rodgers’ run, it would seem that the play met all of those criteria.


“I’m not sure if it would or wouldn’t but as running backs it’s our instincts to protect ourselves,” Rodgers said. “We’re going to try our best to try to adjust to the game so we won’t get suspended or get fined.”


Falcons’ corners get a new look


For the first time, the Falcons’ top two draft picks, first-rounder Desmond Trufant and second-rounder Robert Alford, got to work against a quarterback other than a teammate since they were drafted in April.


Trufant had a nice break-up of a throw by Bengals starter Andy Dalton and Alford intercepted him with a great break on the ball.


“I really noticed (No.) 21 out there, what was it Trufant?” Dalton said. “You can tell he’s really confident in his abilities. I just remember watching a little bit of him — whether it would be the Senior Bowl or whatever it was going through the draft process — I liked him. I thought he was a good player. And you can see that here. He’s confident in everything he can do. He’s a talented guy.”


Falcons head coach Mike Smith also thought the duo benefitted from the workouts.


“This gives them an opportunity to go out and compete against different guys, running different routes, different route combinations,” Smith said. “They’re not looking at splits and knowing what routes are going to be coming so it was a good learning experience for them probably more so tonight when we watch the tape than what happened on the field.”