In Flowery Branch, Ga., which, quite honestly, has a whole bunch of flowery branches. It's out in the sticks, 50 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta -- just where the Falcons like it. The players stay in oversized condos, with seven-foot beds, right on campus, avoiding the hotels in the area. Come to think of it, there aren't any hotels in the area. (Exaggeration!)
1. The guy on the sidelines today is a vital man to the cause. I feel sorry for defensive end Ray Edwards, even though he did sign a five-year, $27.5-million contract Friday with the Falcons. He had 26.5 sacks over the last four years, and if he gets 26.5 over the next four, Falcon fans will likely consider him a disappointment. Edwards can't practice until the CBA is officially ratified, so he watched from the sideline during the breezy afternoon practice. But the pressure's coming for the new Atlanta left end.
2. Julio Jones is hurt, but he says you shouldn't pay attention to it. "It's nothing,'' he said of the bone bruise on his right foot, suffered Friday in the first practice of his NFL career when he got stepped on while going in motion. "I can go full speed. They just want to be cautious.'' An X-ray and CAT scan showed no break Friday, and he was out on the practice field Saturday, running -- apparently -- unencumbered. For what it's worth, he is one determined hombre. Interviewed him after practice today, and he looked me in the eye on every answer. "I don't care about stats,'' he said. "I never will. I just want to win.'' I relayed the quote to GM Thomas Dimitroff. "Music to my ears. A receiver with no diva qualities.''
3. I really liked Jacquizz Rodgers. The fifth-round pick from Oregon State is thicker than I thought, as fast and shifty as I thought, and, from what I hear, stronger than I thought at the point of attack. I just know this: When he took the ball behind the line in the two practices I saw, everyone on the coaching and scouting staff watched intently.
Kroy Biermann, defensive end. The man known more for his girlfriend (a Real Housewife of Atlanta) than his football saw the Falcons sign a free-agent defensive end, Ray Edwards, to take his place, in essence. The Falcons haven't lost hope in Biermann, but he had plenty of chances last year, and he had only three sacks. The fact that he can't get to the quarterback with any regularity left the Falcons no option but to go pay for Ray Edwards this week. He will be a revolving defensive end between the left and right sides, which is one step away from the revolving door out of the organization if he doesn't get to the quarterback more this year.
Quarterback coach Bob Bratkowski got drummed out of Cincinnati as offensive coordinator and found a home here as quarterback coach, replacing Bill Musgrave, who went to the Vikings as offensive coordinator. Of course, coaching Matt Ryan's not going to be the hard part. But the backup situation here is interesting. John Parker Wilson impressed the front office and coach Mike Smith last year, and he could push Chris Redman for the No. 2 job once he's able to practice; as an exclusive rights free agent (for some idiotic reason), Wilson can't practice until the ban on free agents practicing is lifted in the next few days.
I enjoyed a nice rectangle of chicken pot pie in the Falcons cafeteria with owner Arthur Blank at lunch. (He had the southern delicacy as well.) Light, flaky crust, with chunks of white-meat chicken breast and not the oily dark meat that sometimes plagues chicken pot pie. Along with a fresh garden salad with lite ranch and a cranberry juice cocktail, the camp-meal tour got off to a promising start. Grade: B+.
September will not be kind to the Birds. At Bears, home for the emotional Mike Vick reunion, at feisty Bucs. The good thing for Atlanta is that five of the last eight are home. Which, of course, means five of the first eight are on the road. One other thing about the schedule: Matt Ryan gets to relive his Tramon Williams nightmare in Week 5, when the Packers return to the Georgia Dome.