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Falcons: Bring on the heat

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

FLOWERY BRANCH -- Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and tight end Tony Gonzalez say despite their success together, there is room for improvement.

And for them, it starts with extra repetitions at practice.

"Yeah, no question," Ryan said Wednesday. "When you have crucial situations in games like we had last year, a number of times, you want something to fall back on, and training camp is a good time to get those reps in."

On fourth-and-goal in Week 15 last year at the New York Jets, Ryan and Gonzalez connected for a 6-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Without that touchdown, the Falcons' embarrassing streak of failing to have consecutive winning seasons in their 44-year history would've continued.

"That play we ran against the Jets was a play we ran the first day of camp," Gonzalez said. "It adds up. It does add up."

Despite sweltering conditions at the 2 1/2-hour session Wednesday, Atlanta did its first work of camp in goal-line, third-and-one and "backed-up" situations.

Players don't want to look too far ahead with training camp less than a week old. Many of them feel as if the Sept. 12 season opener against Pittsburgh is months away, so they want to avoid making mistakes that could irritate coaches and make everyone's job harder.

"We work on percentages in terms of how often we're going to (see) something, and you're going to get an average of three series of downs in the red zone," head coach Mike Smith said. "We're probably going to get one third down-and-short, and when that arises we have a call in our back pocket we feel really good about."

When the Falcons acquired Gonzalez in an April 2009 trade with Kansas City, they knew they were getting more than the NFL's career-leading statistical tight end.

They traded for a savvy veteran who could read coverages accurately, run-block effectively, chip defensive ends, outrun linebackers after a catch and prove too big for defensive backs to tackle.

Though Gonzalez is adamant the NFL should eliminate two-a-day practices to reduce wear and tear during training camp, the 34-year-old also sees some benefits in working hard and long.

"The playbook (consists of) about 200-250 plays, and you have to know all of them," he said. "You cannot mess up. Everybody has to be on the same page. If one guy messes up, the whole play is screwed up. The other side of the situation is you better be prepared, and that's why we're out here twice a day, I guess, for better or worse."

Ryan, 25, acknowledges that training camp doesn't come easily, but when he looks back to the 10-7 win over the Jets, who advanced to the AFC title game, he believes the team benefits.

"It takes time," said Ryan, the 2008 NFL offensive rookie of the year. "It takes years and years and years to play with somebody and know exactly what they're going to do and have that complete trust in them. I think we're making strides on that."

.970g Notes: Smith said LCB Dunta Robinson (hamstring) will miss the scrimmage Friday night at nearby North Gwinnett High School. Robinson has been out since Sunday. ... Smith doesn't know if RB Jerious Norwood (hip) will be able to play. Norwood has been out since Monday. ... WR Harry Douglas fully participated in practice for the first time since suffering a knee injury that kept him out the entire 2009 season. ... DT Peria Jerry, who missed 15 games with a knee injury, worked in 11-on-11 drills for the first time since camp opened last Friday.