Originally created 08/14/97

Camp shows Falcons at full strength



SUWANEE, Ga. - The Atlanta Falcons' best hope of surprising the NFL this year - maybe their only hope - is to stay healthy.

So far, so good.

The Falcons broke training camp Wednesday without a single injury that could cause a player to miss the regular-season opener at Detroit on Aug. 31.

Of course there still are two preseason games and several practices remaining. That's plenty of time for the Falcons to experience the kind of anguish that the Jacksonville and Carolina franchises have suffered with injuries to starting quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Kerry Collins.

But for now, the Falcons are better off than many teams. Coach Dan Reeves said he can't remember the last time he's been this close to full strength after nearly four weeks of camp.

"I don't even like to talk about it," Reeves said. "We've broken camp, but preseason isn't over. Let's wait to see what happens."

The Falcons' most serious injury is starting left guard Robbie Tobeck's broken left thumb. Tobeck missed last week's 20-17 victory against Tampa Bay and won't play in Saturday's home game against Washington. But he should be back for the preseason finale at Jacksonville on Aug. 22.

Both of the players who have missed an extensive time in camp - tight end Ed West (ankle) and cornerback Juran Bolden (ankle) - are back at work. West played in the Tampa Bay game.

Starting receiver Bert Emanuel, who sustained a right hip-pointer against Tampa Bay, returned to practice Wednesday after missing two days. The only players other than Tobeck who didn't practice Wednesday were reserve running backs Gary Downs (hamstring) and Fred Lester (elbow), linebacker Ruffin Hamilton (elbow) and defensive tackle Troy Bailey (ankle).

With the end of training camp, players were allowed to leave the Falcon Inn and return to their homes. Reeves required players to share motel rooms during camp. Former coach June Jones gave some veterans their own rooms.

Training camp didn't end without the traditional hazing of the rookies. Some were taped to their beds while they slept Tuesday night and then doused with water.

"They got me pretty good," tight end O.J. Santiago said. "They used tape, hot water, cold water, you name it. I'm not even going to say everything that happened."

Running back Byron Hanspard said the veterans taped his ankles together and then painted undisclosed words on his backside.

"They caught me sleeping. I guess I didn't expect it," said Hanspard, who rushed for 70 yards on seven carries against the Bucs. "But it wasn't no big thing."

Most NFL coaches look the other way during rookie hazing unless it gets out of hand.

"As long as nobody gets hurt, I'm all for it," Reeves said. "I think if you're part of the NFL and you were a rookie you went through it, and it's just something that you like to see keep going."