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Milner ready to earn starting spot

POSTED: July 30, 2008 5:02 a.m.
TOM REED /The Times

Atlanta Falcons second year tight end Martrez Milner, a West Hall High grad, takes part in the opening day of training camp Saturday in Flowery Branch.

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FLOWERY BRANCH — Martrez Milner was moving at real game speed during the opening day of Atlanta Falcons training camp Saturday in Flowery Branch. When the football came in the direction of the Falcons second-year tight end and West Hall High graduate, he latched onto the pass and darted toward the end zone like he was going for a touchdown.

Even the times he didn’t follow his assignment to perfection, he hustled back to the line of scrimmage or off to the sideline for the next offensive rotation to get onto the practice field.

"That’s what the coaching staff wants us to do is to work hard on every play," Milner said. "And if we make the play then we have to finish it."

Falcons coach Mike Smith says that Milner is entering training camp as the No. 1 tight end on the depth chart, but the former University of Georgia tight end doesn’t want to take that preseason status for granted. He looks at the tight end unit as one group, and the best man will be able to win the starting job.

"I want to be the starting tight end when the season begins, but that decision isn’t up to me," Milner said. "It’s up to my performance and if the coaches believe in me."

Milner is conscious not to take his standing for granted. He wants to earn the starting job and be the leader at tight end on week 1 against the Detroit Lions. The 2002 West Hall graduate is focused on living up to the coaching staff’s expectations and catching a grasp of the playbook.

"What we like is Martrez’s versatility at tight end," Smith said. "He’s good on the line but he also moves well down the field."

Falcons tight ends coach Chris Scelfo says that Milner is still considered a rookie with a new coaching staff in place and the fact that he was limited to about 180 snaps in 2007 season before going on the injured reserved list with an ankle injury in week 10 against the Carolina Panthers.

Milner had nine catches for 50 yards last season before missing the final six games of 2007.

"We’re going to depend on Martrez to do his job," Scelfo said. "As a team, everyone has a role to do and the tight ends are certainly a big part of it."

Milner isn’t just adjusting to the pressure of becoming a potential starter in the NFL, but the fact that he’s playing right at home in Hall County. The 6-foot-4, 259-pound tight end still says it hasn’t completely sunk in yet that he’s putting together a pro career right in front of the people that supported him while growing up.

"There’s pros and cons to everything," Milner said. "So I take it all with a grain of salt and I’m trying having fun with it.

"I’m pretty sure when it hits home with me that I’ll be even more excited to be here."

After the first day of practice was complete, it was time for Milner to show the fans his appreciation for showing up to cheer on the Falcons. He spent time shaking hands, posing for pictures and signing autographs for those that showed up to South Hall to help usher in the 2008 season.

He says it’s a much more peaceful atmosphere at training camp this season without the distractions that surrounded the Falcons in 2007.

"The atmosphere is a whole lot better," Milner said. "It seems like more of a family concept.

"This is what camp is for; to build your team."



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