FLOWERY BRANCH — Roddy White practiced for the first time Monday as one of the highest-paid receivers in the NFL.
"I’ve just got to go out there and do what I’ve been doing the last two years," said White, who rejoined the Atlanta Falcons after missing the first eight days of training camp in a contract dispute. "Go out there and catch the ball, make some plays and set up scores. The rest will take care of itself."
He certainly took care of the financial part by agreeing to a six-year deal worth about $50 million, including $18.6 million in guaranteed money, which puts him in the same neighborhood as receivers such as Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, whose $10 million-a-year salary makes him the league’s highest paid at that position.
White, a first-round pick who struggled early on, really blossomed in 2007. Now he must prove he’s worth that sort of investment.
"I can’t go out there say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to catch 90 balls’ or ‘Oh, I’ve got to catch 100 balls,’" White said. "If you do stuff like that, you’ll be pressing. I don’t want to go out there and press. I want to relax and play."
The Falcons will gladly accept White putting up similar numbers to the last two seasons.
He had a career-best 88 receptions and set a franchise record with 1,382 yards receiving in 2008, ranking fourth in the NFL. He earned his first Pro Bowl appearance and became the first receiver in team history to post consecutive 1,200-yard seasons.
But entering the final year of a contract that would have paid him $2.28 million, White decided to hold out for a long-term deal. He got what he wanted, eliminating the possibility of becoming a restricted free agent in 2010.
Coach Mike Smith wasn’t pleased with White’s tactics, saying it cost the team valuable practice time with its full complement of offensive players.
"When you don’t have your best players, you’re not going to be as efficient as you possibly can," the coach said. "When anybody misses time, that’s time you can’t make up. Time is the most important commodity — probably more than money. You can get that money back, but you can’t get that time back."
White is eager to catch up. During a two-hour morning workout at the Falcons’ suburban training complex, he dropped a couple of passes, but got in plenty of time with the first team. He was one of the last players to leave the field, hanging around to catch some extra balls.
Despite the missed time, he hopes to play in the preseason opener at Detroit on Saturday.
"I think I’m in pretty good shape," said White, who spent the last week working out in Birmingham, Ala., where he attended UAB. "I’ve just got to get out there and hear the huddle calls and get the plays down, just listen to the snap counts. I don’t want to get too anxious out there, but hopefully I can get out there on Saturday and get in some reps. If Coach Smith says go, I’m going."
Smith said he’ll monitor White’s progress over the next few days before deciding if he’s up to playing in the first exhibition game.
"It’s going to be on Day 2 and Day 3 that we really have to take a good look at it," the coach said. "He’s in pretty good shape in terms of conditioning, but it’s a little bit different when you go out to run pass routes."
Marty Booker also made his first appearance for the Falcons. He was signed after third receiver Harry Douglas sustained a season-ending knee injury during a practice last week.
"I know some of the concepts of the offense," Booker said. "It’s just a matter of coming in and catching up with these guys. These guys have already been here a whole week."
Booker looks forward to playing with quarterback Matt Ryan, who had a brilliant rookie season while leading the Falcons to an unexpected playoff berth.
"It’s good to finally play with a pretty good quarterback," said Booker, who has played with pass-challenged teams in Chicago and Miami during his 11-year NFL career. "I’ve had like 20 different starting quarterbacks. I can adjust to that, but to come in and have a No. 1 guy, and a guy as impressive as he is, that’s always a plus."
But Booker will only play a supporting role. White is being counted on to put up the big numbers, which he fully expects to do in an offense that also includes one of the NFL’s leading rushers, Michael Turner.
"We’ll have a lot of big explosive plays this year out of our offense," White said.