Osi Umenyiora is expected to fill the Falcons’ pass-rushing hole left by the departure of John Abraham. Returning starter Kroy Biermann will look to build on a solid season pressuring the quarterback.
After those two, there are no proven pass rushers on the Falcons’ roster. That has added some urgency for the team to get a look at rookie Stansly Maponga, who participated in his first full practice Sunday since recovering from left foot surgery in March.
In spite of Maponga’s injury (broken metatarsal), the Falcons drafted him in the fifth round of the April draft out of Texas Christian because of his potential to shore up their weakness.
“They brought me in for one reason only and that’s to pass rush,” Maponga said.
Maponga said he had two foot specialists examine him and both were optimistic that he would be able to play this season with no issues. Falcons tackle Lamar Holmes had a similar foot injury before his rookie season in 2012 and wasn’t ready to play until the fourth exhibition game.
Getting Maponga on the field early in camp bodes well for his chances of playing significant snaps during exhibition games, which would allow the Falcons to make a full evaluation on him before the season. Atlanta plays the first of four exhibition games on Aug. 8.
“I know that he was excited about being able to get out there and fully participate like the rest of the team,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “He did a nice job.”
In addition to Maponga, candidates to earn time as pass rushers include rookie third-round pick Malliciah Goodman and Jonathan Massaquoi, a fifth-round draft pick in 2012 who played sparingly last season. Cliff Matthews, a seventh-round draft pick in 2011, also played just a handful of snaps in 2012.
Maponga is getting work at both end positions after he was used primarily on the left side in college.
“The way our defense is, you have to do both sides,” he said. “I’m going to get used to it. Right now, I’m just getting used to everything. We’ll see where it goes.”
Trufant’s training: Rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant is playing both right cornerback and nickel back early in camp.
“Things are definitely moving pretty fast out there, but the more that I’m learning the playbook, the more comfortable I’m getting,” Trufant said. “I’m feeling good out there.”
The right cornerback position is open, but the Falcons like to cross-train players at several positions. There are some nuances to the different positions.
“There are different calls,” Trufant said. “I played some nickel in college before. But it’s just about learning the system and the more I learn the system, the more comfortable I’ll get.”
It’s been a pretty bumpy start to training camp for Trufant, who’s adjusting to the speed of the pro game while attempting to cover Pro Bowl receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot over the first three days,” Trufant said. “I feel like I’m getting better. I’ve made some mistakes obviously, but as long as I’m playing hard and going 100 percent, I feel that I’m just going to continue to get better.”
Talk it up: Trufant and fellow rookie cornerback Robert Alford have had running dialogues during practice with White, known as one of the more colorful trash-talkers in the league. At times the words have led to some spirited sparring between the veteran and the rookies.
White said that’s the way he likes it.
“I absolutely love that,” he said. “Any time you get guys out there that want to talk and go out there and compete, you have got to love guys like that. We’ve got a lot of competitors on our team and as long as they come every and bring that kind of energy, they will be fine throughout the season.”
First contact: The Falcons practiced in full pads Sunday for the first time. There was some hitting but tackling was discouraged to avoid injuries.
“I thought it went very well,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “The guys were very focused, we didn’t have a lot of mistakes and the guys competed. They weren’t on the ground a whole lot which is something we wanted to make sure (of). First impressions on the field, I thought that was a nice way to start.”
Put on them: New rules require all players except for kickers and punters to wear knee and thigh pads. That has caused some grumbling among players who say the pads slow them down and can be uncomfortable while not adding much in the way of safety.
“I just put them on today and I look like I’m back in high school,” White said. “These pads right here don’t really slow me down. I guess they are for protection and we’ve got to wear them.”
Staff writer D. Orlando Ledbetter contributed to this article.