ATLANTA — A three-day minicamp next week will provide new Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff a pre-draft look at their veteran players in practice situations.
The minicamp begins Monday and may help Dimitroff and his staff make final decisions about the team’s most pressing needs in the April 26-27 NFL draft.
The Falcons have filled some needs through free agency, signing running back Michael Turner, kicker Jason Elam, tight end Ben Hartsock and defensive backs Erik Coleman and Von Hutchins.
This will be the first chance for Smith and Dimitroff to look at veteran quarterbacks Chris Redman, Joey Harrington and D.J. Shockley in live football situations on the practice fields. Dimitroff must decide if he will look for a quarterback high in the draft.
The Falcons have the No. 3 overall pick, four picks in the first two rounds and 10 selections overall.
Smith said he likes what he has seen of his veteran players in offseason conditioning drills, but he said he’s looking forward to the three days on the practice fields.
"We’re going to be able to evaluate the guys who are healthy enough to go out and play," Smith said at last week’s NFL meetings. "We’re going to be a young football team, enthusiastic. The early returns from our offseason workouts have been outstanding."
The Falcons cut running back Warrick Dunn, tight end Alge Crumpler and defensive tackle Rod Coleman and traded cornerback DeAngelo Hall after their 4-12 2007 season.
Smith said the team still has some leaders, including defensive end John Abraham and linebacker Keith Brooking, and he said he begins camp with "a solid group of receivers," including Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Laurent Robinson and Joe Horn.
Redman is expected to open the season as the starting quarterback, but the Falcons are expected to draft a quarterback. They may consider Boston College’s Matt Ryan with the No. 3 overall pick.
"I think he’s an outstanding player," Smith said. "He comes as advertised."
Smith said the decision on when to take a quarterback may depend on who is taken with the first two picks.
"The dynamics of the draft change," Smith said. "It really depends on who’s picked in front of us. Not only in the first round but the second, third and fourth rounds."
Other possible first-round picks for the Falcons include LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and Virginia defensive end Chris Long.
Smith said the minicamp will give his staff a chance to introduce some basics from the playbook.
"What we want to get across at our first minicamp, we want guys to learn our system first and foremost," he said. "The coaching staff, we’ve been trying to install bits and pieces. Guys have to understand what you’re saying and how you’re saying things.
"The second thing is to establish how we’re going to do things. It’s going to be new for everybody. How are we going to lineup in stretch lines? How the sequencing of our practices goes so when our rookies and newcomers come in after the draft, they’ll at least be able to say this is how we do things."