Ryan Debuts at Camp
There were signs Saturday that No. 7 jerseys may become yesterday's fashion for Atlanta Falcons fans.
Some fans attending the Falcons' opening day of minicamp wore No. 2 jerseys in early tribute to the team's new hope at quarterback, rookie Matt Ryan.
The Falcons used a committee approach to replace Michael Vick during the 2007 season, but the team is hoping Ryan will be his long-term replacement and its new franchise player.
Vick's No. 7 has not been given to another Atlanta player since he began serving a 23-month prison sentence after pleading guilty last year to federal charges of bankrolling a dogfighting ring. Vick has been suspended indefinitely by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and faces state dogfighting charges in Virginia.
Vick still has fans in Atlanta, but Ryan's No. 2 is the new attraction at the merchandise tent.
``It's pretty cool to see people wearing your jersey, I'm not going to lie to you,'' Ryan said. ``It's nice. I appreciate their support. Hopefully, I can play well and get more 2 jerseys in the stands.''
The quarterback's top-billing on the team was obvious at the end of the first practice.
Other rookies collected veterans' helmets and gear to take off the practice fields, the job expected to be filled by first-year players.
Ryan, however, was asked to join some of the team's top veterans for an autograph session.
Make no mistake. From day one, Ryan is one of the team's stars, if not the biggest star. Such is the expectation that goes with being the third overall pick in the NFL draft.
Ryan is the future, and Saturday's two practices gave the former Boston College star his first opportunity to prove that future can begin in his rookie season.
``I thought Matt threw the ball well out there,'' Falcons coach Mike Smith said. ``Like anybody going out there on his first practice, I thought he was a little bit nervous and had some jitters.''
The jitters were obvious to others, including veteran receiver Brian Finneran, who is making a comeback from two knee surgeries. One of Ryan's first passes was an unimpressive completion to Finneran.
``I caught it, but I knew he probably was not happy with the way that first one came out,'' Finneran said, adding he was impressed that Ryan walked up and promised the next pass attempt would come with more authority.
``The next one was gorgeous,'' Finneran said. ``He made up for it.''
Ryan was looking forward to the next practice.
``It's just nice to have that over and settle in,'' he said. ``I'm just kind of in the flow.''
Smith said he was sure all the rookies' ``heads are swimming right now'' as they try to learn plays and routines in their first minicamp. Smith is beginning his first year, so the playbook is new for all the players, but the veterans had a minicamp before the draft.
Ryan shared snaps with two of the 2007 starting quarterbacks, Chris Redman and Joey Harrington, and backup D.J. Shockley, who is returning from a knee injury.
``It's kind of like being a freshman,'' Ryan said. ``You have to take your lumps, try to learn from it and try to earn the respect of your teammates. That's what I'm trying to do.''
The rookie class includes another first-round pick, offensive tackle Sam Baker, the former four-year starter at left tackle at Southern Cal.
``It's definitely cool to go through the process with somebody,'' Baker said. ``I think that definitely helps.''
Baker's father, Arena Football League commissioner David Baker, attended the practice.
``There's nothing I like better than being in tennis shoes, shorts and a baseball cap and watching your boy,'' said the elder Baker.