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Falcons begin first minicamp with new head coach Smith
New Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith looks on as his players stretch Monday before minicamp in Flowery Branch. - photo by The Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH — Mike Smith’s first post-practice news conference on Monday lasted 10 minutes and didn’t include any questions about Michael Vick.

That’s the fresh start the Atlanta Falcons need.

The first day of a three-day minicamp was designed as the chance for players and coaches to become comfortable with each other under Smith, the former Jacksonville defensive coordinator hired in January.

Many mainstays from last season, including Warrick Dunn, DeAngelo Hall, Alge Crumpler and Rod Coleman, are gone. And there was no mention of Vick, the former quarterback who missed last season and is serving a 23-month prison term after pleading guilty to federal charges in a dogfighting operation.

That cast a pall on the 4-12 2007 season, which intensified when coach Bobby Petrino quit after 13 games to coach at Arkansas.

The emphasis Monday was on moving past last season.

“A lot of guys know we’ve got a fresh start after things that happened here,” said D.J. Shockley, who joins Chris Redman and Joey Harrington at quarterback.

Monday was a learning experience for players and coaches. One of the first lessons for Smith: Winter has not abandoned north Georgia.

“How about that spring weather?” asked Smith, who first walked onto the practice fields in shorts before finding temperatures in the 40s and going back inside for a black Falcons warmup suit.

New general manager Thomas Dimitroff has added several free agents, including running back Michael Turner, kicker Jason Elam and defensive backs Erik Coleman and Von Hutchins.

There is much anticipation for the April 26-27 NFL draft, when the Falcons have the No. 3 pick, four selections in the first two rounds and 11 overall.

This week’s minicamp may help Smith and Dimitroff make final decisions on draft priorities.

“In terms of making hardball decisions, I don’t know that we can do that in three days, but I think we’ll have an idea of how guys learn and what they can retain because we’re going to throw a lot at them in the next two days,” Smith said. “It’s been very important for us as a staff to have a chance to evaluate everybody.”

For some, the early minicamp for teams with new coaches was different. For Harrington, the April camp is status quo.

“Well, I think I’ve done this every year,” Harrington said. “It’s not new to me. I think this is eight head coaches in seven years. I’ve had a lot of early minicamps.”

Redman finished last season as the starting quarterback and took snaps with the first-team offense Monday. The Falcons are expected to draft a quarterback for the future.

The mood Monday was upbeat, especially in 11-on-11 drills at the end of the practice.

Turner, recovering from offseason surgery on his left shoulder, was one of eight players who were observers Monday. He was the prime offseason signing after backing up LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego.

“I’m taking it slow right now,” Turner said. “Don’t want to have a setback.”

Shockley, recovering from a knee injury that kept him out last season, said he is about 90 percent but does not yet have clearance to practice.

“I haven’t had any setbacks or problems,” Shockley said. “As soon as they clear me I’m ready to go. If they cleared me today I’d be ready. It’s just when they feel comfortable letting me go.”

Among others held out were offensive tackle Todd Weiner, defensive tackle Trey Lewis, linebacker Michael Boley and receiver Brian Finneran, who hasn’t played since 2005 due to two reconstructive surgeries on his left knee.

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