FLOWERY BRANCH — The Atlanta Falcons welcomed Grady Jackson back to their training table on Tuesday.
"He gobbles up space," coach Mike Smith said of the massive nose tackle. "He’s going to gobble up at least two blocks on plays."
Smith wasn’t trying to make a play on words about the 345-pound Jackson.
It’s just that size and stature are inevitable topics of conversation any time the 12th-year veteran is discussed.
"I’ve been around guys that weigh in Grady’s range," Smith said. "In Baltimore we had the big tackles. It’s going to allow other players to be free. When you design a defense, you try to get an unblocked defender at the point of attack and he’ll help us in that way."
Jackson, Smith and Atlanta defensive line coach Ray Hamilton worked together last year in Jacksonville. Smith was defensive coordinator and Hamilton the line coach when Jackson signed with Jaguars in Week 9.
Bobby Petrino, Smith’s predecessor, made Jackson a free agent, and caused a fury among the Falcons’ experienced defenders, when Atlanta released their sacks leader halfway through 2007.
After the Jaguars were eliminated in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs at New England, Jackson told his agent, Angelo Wright, to work out another contract with the Falcons.
Without Petrino, who unexpectedly quit last year after just 13 games, Jackson knew he wanted to return to his adopted hometown and finish his career with Atlanta. Jackson also insisted he holds no resentment against the Falcons after he sued them in March 2007 for invasion of privacy and defamation because of an alleged leak of his medical records.
The lawsuit was resolved two months later.
"This is where I wanted to be," Jackson said. "I wanted to come here with the guys I played with, and I feel like I can make an impact with them. Just to play with them again, I think, is real great."
The way Petrino abruptly resigned and left for Arkansas has been well-documented. Veteran Falcon defenders like Lawyer Milloy, John Abraham and former cornerback DeAngelo Hall used words like quitter, coward and liar to describe their former coach.
Jackson, who was equally critical as he talked to reporters last year in Jacksonville, maintained the same stance Tuesday.
"Petrino did it, but it was his way, and it’s just proven, you know, that he don’t know football," Jackson said. "So I’m back now, and that’s the good thing."
Abraham, a three-time Pro Bowl defensive end, was delighted the Falcons brought back a respected veteran with 507 tackles, 331/2 sacks, eight forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries in six career stops with five NFL teams.
"Having a big veteran guy who knows how to play the inside and knows how to (beat blocks) is good for me," Abraham said. "It’ll free me up."
Though Atlanta signed 353-pound Rashad Moore as an unrestricted free agent in March, his quickness and strength compare less favorably to Jackson’s. The Falcons don’t know if Trey Lewis, who started five of nine games as a rookie last year, will be able to play this year.
A knee injury ended Lewis’ 2007 season early, and he will miss at least the next 12 weeks after sustaining more damage while walking down some steps a couple of months ago.
Though Abraham should face less double-team blocks with Jackson inside, the mammoth tackle also give Atlanta’s new starting middle linebacker, either second-year veteran Tony Taylor or rookie Curtis Lofton, more freedom, too.
The Falcons moved five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Keith Brooking to the weakside in mini-camp.
"I think we felt as a staff and organization that we needed to get bigger up front," Smith said. "We’ve got some guys that really work hard, but we don’t have the (huge) guys that can gobble up space. We’re looking forward to everything working out and having Grady here."Notes: Cornerback Von Hutchins will miss the season with a foot injury. After signing on the second day of free agency in March, Hutchins was projected as the No. 1 nickel. The Falcons re-signed Glenn Sharpe, whom they released as an unrestricted rookie free agent four days ago, to take Hutchins’ place on the roster. ... Rookie defensive lineman David Patterson was released. ... Center Todd McClure (back) and defensive end Jamaal Anderson (hamstring) missed both practices Tuesday.