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Lockout now history, fans watch Falcons get to work
Many were eager to see teams new players
Fans watch an open practice Friday during the first day of the Atlanta Falcons preseason training camp in Flowery Branch. It was the first day of workouts after a labor dispute threatened the NFL season. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

FLOWERY BRANCH — Fans loyal enough to stand in the blazing summer heat Friday to catch a glimpse of the Atlanta Falcons' practice really weren't taking sides over which party was right in the NFL's labor dispute.

They were just ready to see some football.

A sizeable group of fans showed up at the team's South Hall County complex to watch the first workouts since the lockout officially ended Monday after an 18-week work stoppage.

Lucky for the fans, the lockout ended just in time for the team to report to training camp with only 14 days to prepare for the first preseason game Aug. 12 against the Miami Dolphins at the Georgia Dome.

"I feel like the committed fans are going to support the team regardless," said Falcon fan Tim Bragg, an assistant football coach at Chestatee High School. "They love the team rain or shine."

"The fans are still going to be here to support the team," said Zach Rhyneer, a rising junior and football player at Habersham Central High School. "I expect the Falcons are going to have a good season."

With training camp officially open, fans were eager to see the team's new players. Friday marked the debut of first-round draft pick Julio Jones, a wide receiver taken No. 6 overall from Alabama.

To draft Jones, Atlanta gave up five draft picks to Cleveland. Was it worth bundling so many trade picks for one player? Vince Williams of Cumming thinks so.

"With Julio Jones, we have two deep threats now and can help (quarterback) Matt Ryan in really stretching the field," Williams said. "I thought it was a good move."

Atlanta fans agree the Falcons are close to putting together a championship team coming off a 13-3 season, NFC South Division title and a disappointing first-round playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, the eventual Super Bowl champions.

The Falcons made a move during the first day of camp by signing free agent defensive end Ray Edwards, last with the Minnesota Vikings.

Atlanta's defense looks to be solid with 11 starters returning, though cornerback Brent Grimes remains unsigned. Falcons fans are hoping all the pieces combine to get them one step closer to a Super Bowl championship.

"I never thought the season was going to come," said 12-year old Mason Sexton of Gainesville. "I'm really happy they're finally back playing."

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