It was a rough trip to Atlanta for tackle Jake Rodgers. Everything that could go wrong certainly did. "I had a couple delays, missed my connecting flight," Rodgers said. "Didn't get in until about 11:00 or something the night before, so didn't get to the facility until about probably midnight. It was a long day. I was flying for about 16 hours, I think."
The travel challenges and the late arrival impacted his first day of minicamp, but he felt that Saturday was an improvement for him. "Today was a lot better day," Rodgers said. "I kind of struggled a little bit yesterday, just was a little behind everybody else and didn't sleep a lot the night before. But today was a lot better. I felt really good about it."
Rodgers says there's a lot for a rookie offensive lineman to learn when it comes to the zone blocking scheme Atlanta will employ this season. "It still gets pretty physical, honestly, but it's definitely a lot of technique, and the technique's a lot different than what I'm used to, so there's definitely a learning curve there," Rodgers said. "But I'm starting to pick it up now. I'm feeling good about it."
We've heard much about the expectation that the offensive line will run quite a bit in this new scheme, and Rodgers confirmed it. "A lot of the offense is about just turning and running...it's literally turning and running to the sideline, almost," Rodgers said.
At Eastern Washington, Rodgers' team had more of a passing offense, but he feels comfortable run blocking as well. "We did throw the ball a lot," Rodgers said. "We had a good quarterback, good bunch of receivers, so we liked to use them. But yeah, I feel pretty good in the run game, too."
Having played both tackle positions enhances Rodgers' value as a player. "I actually played mostly right, but I played some left, too," Rodgers said. "I'd bounce around all over. So that's something I guess is a value for me, is I can play either side."
Rodgers likes working with new offensive line coach Chris Morgan. "He seems like a great guy. He's a good teacher," Rodgers said. "He's all about teaching technique. He doesn't scream a lot or anything, but he's a really good teacher and I like playing for him so far."
As for Atlanta's other seventh rounder, defensive back Akeem King, rookie minicamp is an adjustment, but it's been a good experience so far. "It's been good. It's learning a lot," King said. "It's pretty tough right now, being back into the grind and whatnot, but learning something new day by day, just trying to get better day by day."
It's not just the pace of Dan Quinn's practices, but also the climate that presented challenges for the rookies during minicamp. "It was definitely hitting me unexpectedly. It was definitely a lot faster than -- and I'm from Cali, so the humidity and all that kicks in, too, but it's just something you've really got to grind through," King said. "But the first day was rough. Like, I remember we just did the warmup and I was like -- (gasping) -- like, man, it's going to be a hard day."
The promises of a simplified defensive scheme seem to be coming to fruition. "It's pretty basic. It's just don't get beat deep, basically," King said. "That's what they teach, basically, and it's either cover three or man. It's simple."
King also is versatile and confident he can play any position in the defensive backfield. "This last season, I played the full year at safety, and I was mainly the down safety in the box and stuff, so definitely already accustomed to all that stuff," King said. "So if they want me at corner, nickel or safety, I could play either one of those."
When asked about new secondary coach Marquand Manuel, King had effusive praise for the former NFL player turned coach. "I'm so grateful for Coach M, because the reason he got into it is just because he's a player and he knows," King said. "He said he always wanted a coach that would coach him like he coaches us, and he just really does everything for us. Like if you need him anytime in the day he's there, and he just understands what you're going through. He understands how you want to be coached."
That doesn't mean Manuel is a pushover. "He's hard on you sometimes, but he means no harm by it," King said. "He just wants to get your further every day. That's all he's here to do, is just get everybody better every day. I couldn't have asked for a better coach than Coach M. I'm definitely grateful for him."
It should make Falcons fans happy that, for a team that gave up too many explosive plays last season, the coaching staff is focused on reigning that in. "Definitely eliminating the big play. That's what they harp on the most," King said. "Don't get beat deep. Stop the fade route. Definitely that, but that's no problem for me."
The coaching staff is also working with the rookies on the elements of fundamentals. "I'm just trying to work on the step kick out of our press release right now, so that's probably the biggest thing I'm trying to work on right now is just getting my steps right out of press technique," King said. "But as far as getting, staying over the top, I mean, I can run, so it's not a problem for me."
King looks forward to learning from the veterans in his position group as well as facing receivers like Roddy White and Julio Jones in practice. "I'm definitely going to just watch the veterans, how they play, how they work, their work ethic. Definitely going to be studying the veteran corners more than anything and just learning a lot from them because they've been here longer than me, so they definitely know how it works around here," King said. "So definitely be watching out for them, and you couldn't ask to go against better receivers. You've got the best in the league, Julio Jones and [Roddy] White, so they're going to prepare you for anyone you play. If you can guard them, you can guard anyone in the league. So I'm definitely grateful to have that advantage. You want to play with the best, so that's what they've got here."
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