FLOWERY BRANCH - Almost a week after their training camp opened, the Atlanta Falcons finally worked Thursday for the first time with their full roster, including defensive end Ray Edwards and cornerback Brent Grimes.
A smiling Edwards, wearing No. 93, was flanked by defensive end John Abraham, receiver Roddy White, tight end Tony Gonzalez and cornerback Dunta Robinson as he walked onto the practice field.
Edwards appeared comfortable in the company of some of the team's other stars.
The Falcons ranked 20th in the league with 31 sacks, including 13 by Abraham, last season.
Edwards, who had 16.5 sacks the last two years with Minnesota, is expected to give the team a needed pass-rush complement to Abraham at defensive end. Kroy Biermann had only three sacks as a starting end last season.
Edwards was lured to Atlanta by a five-year, $30-million contract that includes a guarantee of $11 million.
The Falcons twice pushed back the start of their full-pads workout on Thursday afternoon while waiting on players to ratify the collective bargaining agreement.
The players' vote to approve the deal meant the Falcons' only free-agent addition, Edwards, and the free agents they have re-signed, including Grimes, were cleared to practice.
Grimes, a 2010 Pro Bowl pick, signed his $2.61 million first-round tender Thursday. He was a restricted free agent.
Also practicing Thursday for the first time in training camp were starting offensive linemen Tyson Clabo and Justin Blalock and linebackers Mike Peterson and Stephen Nicholas, who re-signed as unrestricted free agents.
By returning most of their starters and top backups from a 13-3 team, the Falcons believe they are in position to turn the NFL lockout into a positive.
Unlike teams that now must quickly adjust to new schemes, new coaches or new quarterbacks, the Falcons return most of their top players, including quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner and White.
The Falcons retained Clabo, Blalock, Nicholas, Peterson and kicker Matt Bryant as free agents.
Only Edwards and the rookies, including receiver Julio Jones, the first-round pick from Alabama, have to learn the playbook without the benefit of the normal offseason workouts and camps.
"I see that as absolutely a strength," said linebacker Coy Wire, the Falcons' player representative. "We have the familiarity of our schemes and our systems. We just have to get just a few of the new guys caught up.
"If it was strategy of management to keep the core guys of our group together, I'd say that was a smart play, given that we had such a short offseason and we had a pretty darn good football team last year. We just made a few adjustments and hopefully that's the difference we need."
The Falcons lost offensive guard Harvey Dahl, who signed with St. Louis, but return their other four linemen.
"We'd love to have 100 percent of the guys back, but given the fact we have the majority of our team back together is going to be a huge advantage for us compared with other teams," said fullback Ovie Mughelli.
"It's going to be a great thing for our team. We're just going to be a little ahead of the game compared with teams that don't have that continuity and that team structure."