Originally created 07/31/98

Falcons rookies discovering there's a lot to learn



SUWANEE, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons rookies are finding NFL life is faster, rougher and more technical than their college days, but one thing is the same -- you've got to study.

"The more time you spend studying, the better you'll be. I study from about 10 to 11:30 (p.m.) after meetings," said right tackle Ephraim Salaam, a 6-foot-7, 300-pound seventh-round draft choice from San Diego State.

Salaam and his fellow rookies are studying plays, not textbooks, as they try to adjust to whole new ball game.

"The faster you can assimilate information, the better off you are," he said. "We put in five or six new plays every night. We can't go on instinct yet. Snap counts and other stuff -- that's all running through your head."

The Falcons expect their nine draft choices and nine undrafted free agents to contribute, but they don't yet know how much.

During training camp, each rookie spends extra time on certain areas. For Salaam, it's eating. Coaches want him to add 10-15 pounds. Receiver Jammi German, a third-round pick, is learning to get free at the line of scrimmage.

First-round pick Keith Brooking, a linebacker from Georgia Tech, said so much is being thrown at him, it's starting to run together. One of the biggest adjustments is offensive holding.

"Guys hold 10 times more than in college," he said. "When the refs were here, I was asking, `Is this a hold?' and ` Is that a hold?' And they were pretty much telling me they weren't going to call it in games."

Brooking, along with teammates Salaam and Bob Hallen, who is working at guard and center, look like they might get some playing time. So do German and punt returner/receiver Tim Dwight, a fourth-round pick.

"(Brooking) is working through a lot, but a guy that works that hard is going to improve," said coach Dan Reeves. "Jammi is a natural. He does things you don't teach, as far as making adjustments and feeling where people are.

"We've probably put Tim in too many places (receiver, punt returner, kick returner), but you can see the explosion," Reeves said. "He really uses his hands well, and he's a bigger target than he looks (5-8, 182), because he extends. Ephraim is very smart, has good foot quickness and recovers extremely well."

Some of the Falcons undrafted college players are also making some impressions, including 6-6, 320-pound right tackle Jose Portilla of Arizona.

"Jose is a big guy that moves a lot better than his size," Reeves said. "But third (-string) guys work mostly against other third-group guys. A lot will depend on how they look against better players."