FLOWERY BRANCH — Kerry Meier was the last player off the practice field at the Atlanta Falcons’ training camp on Sunday morning.
The receiver kept running goal-line routes and catching soft lob passes over his shoulder while his teammates were signing autographs or headed to the locker room.
Meier says he’s determined to make up for lost time after missing his 2010 rookie season with a knee injury.
“You can never catch enough balls,” he said. “In a day’s practice, I try to maximize the number of catches I get in. It can definitely pay off in the long run.”
Meier, a fifth-round pick from Kansas in 2010, impressed coaches in training camp last year before hurting his right knee in a preseason game against New England. He missed the season following surgery but has participated in every practice in camp.
“I’ve been really surprised that he hasn’t had to miss any time in practice,” coach Mike Smith said. “He did a great job in his rehabilitation. ... For him to be able to come out here and not miss a snap so far in training camp, I think that says a lot about his work ethic in the offseason.”
Meier is wearing a wrap but no brace on the right knee. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, he gives the team a big target at receiver — especially important after Michael Jenkins was released and Brian Finneran wasn’t re-signed.
First-round pick Julio Jones is expected to join Roddy White, coming off his third straight Pro Bowl berth, as Matt Ryan’s top targets. Harry Douglas returns as a possible No. 3 receiver.
That leaves room for Meier to re-emerge with an important role.
“He’s got to do a lot of stuff that Finneran did last year,” White said. “He’s got to come in there and get those third-down catches for us and get those seam routes and things like that.
“You need a guy who can go out there and do what Kerry can do, because he catches the football really well. He’s a tough cover. He’s a big, strong kid and he can run and do a lot of good things. I’m just happy he’s getting his chance to show what he can do. I hope he has a lot of success this year.”
Meier converted from quarterback to wide receiver for Kansas and had a school-record 102 catches for 985 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior. He set another Kansas record with 226 career catches.
Meier was earning praise from Smith in training camp last year before the knee injury.
The receiver continued to impress his coach with his dedication to his rehab, even during the NFL lockout that prevented him from using the team’s facilities.
“Prior to the end of the season we knew he was ahead of schedule and he continued to do that when he wasn’t able to work out here at the facility,” Smith said. “He was working off-site but he was working with some people who were communicating with our guys. We knew through the months of April and May that Kerry was ahead of schedule.”
Meier said his recovery is ongoing but he has cleared an important step by taking the first hits on the knee.
“It felt great, just being able to move around freely and confidently and do the things I once did,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about banging the knee on the turf and thinking something is wrong. It’s great to be able to go against the turf and pop up and run back to the huddle without worry.”
NOTES: Smith said offensive guard Mike Johnson is recovering from a concussion and his status is day to day as he follows NFL protocol on head injuries. Johnson was hurt in Thursday’s practice. ... Smith said two seventh-round picks, offensive guard Andrew Jackson and defensive end Cliff Matthews, “might be two of the best-looking guys in the draft class.” Jackson, from Fresno State, is working at guard and tackle. Matthews, from South Carolina, could earn immediate playing time on special teams as well as a backup role behind starting ends John Abraham and Ray Edwards.