Weatherspoon has fun as Falcons open camp

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FLOWERY BRANCH, GA. (AP) - Falcons coach Mike Smith was smiling cautiously as training camp opened on Friday.

Smith was happy because all the players lost to injuries in 2009 were back and his top 2010 draft pick, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, signed just in time for the first practice.

Smith was cautious because he knows it will be difficult to avoid injuries through two-a-day practices in intense heat.

“The biggest thing for us is to stay healthy, especially in the first 10 days of training camp,” Smith said.

“I think throughout the league as you watch, there’s going to be a lot of guys missing time. We want to have our guys on the field.”

Weatherspoon, the first-round pick from Missouri, signed a five-year, $17.5 million contract, including $10.5 million guaranteed. The deal was completed late Thursday.

“My main goal was just to make sure I was out here for practice,” Weatherspoon said after Friday’s first practice. “You don’t want to miss any time out there on the field. It was a big deal to me, getting here.”

Weatherspoon is learning both outside linebacker positions in the Falcons’ 4-3 scheme.

“It was fun to get out there and run around and just try to make some plays and knock the rust off a little bit and get back in the swing of things,” he said.

Weatherspoon is projected to eventually replace 34-year-old Mike Peterson, who is serving as the rookie’s mentor.

“He knows everything that’s going on out there,” Weatherspoon said. “He’s played this system for so long. He knows exactly what’s going on so I kind of lean on him.”

Weatherspoon was the Falcons’ last draft pick to sign.

Smith also celebrated the return of three key players who had season-ending knee injuries in 2009: defensive tackle Peria Jerry, cornerback Brian Williams and receiver Harry Douglas.

Jerry and Williams are possible starters.

Douglas was projected as the team’s No. 3 receiver and punt return specialist before he suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in last year’s training camp.

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