Falcons wrap up Rookie Mini Camp

Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith has wrapped up the teams rookie mini camp and is happy with the progress of his rookies but know there is so much more that the youngsters have to learn to be on par with the veterans come the preseason.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do with these young rookies that our coming in to catch up with our veterans,” Smith said. “When we can really go out and do football, and what I mean by do football, is work against each other and not against air like we are in the coaching sessions here in phase two of our offseason program which we certainly hope changes in the future, because it is not the most beneficial for players or coaches.”

In other news, the Falcons broke ground on their new $1.2 billion retractable roof stadium that will also be the home of a newly acquired MLS franchise that will begin play in the new stadium in 2017.

Be sure to get your Falcons tickets now for your selected games.  Cheap tickets and great seats are still available!

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Chargers Place Merriman on Injured Reserve and Are Ready to Release Him

Technically, the Chargers could re-sign him. That almost certainly will not happen because General Manager A. J. Smith has had a contentious relationship with Merriman and his agents.

Drafted in 2005, Merriman had 39 ½ sacks in his first three seasons. Because of a variety of injuries, he has had only four in the three seasons since.

He was suspended for four games in 2006 after testing positive for steroids.

He also brought unwanted attention off the field. He was arrested just before the 2009 season after Tila Tequila, the reality television star, accused him of battery and at his suburban San Diego home. No charges were filed, and Merriman and Tequila settled dueling lawsuits.

After sitting out most of this year’s off-season workouts and part of training camp to protest his contract status, he was slowed by an Achilles’ injury and then a calf injury. He had only five tackles and no sacks in limited action.

A publicist released a statement in which Merriman was quoted as saying: “I am approaching this situation as an opportunity to grow as a player and to bring my leadership and talents to a new organization.”

FAVRE BOTHERED BY ELBOW quarterback , who has started a record 289 straight games, said he would consider sitting out a game or two this season if the tendinitis in his right elbow got worse. Favre, 41, did not practice Wednesday.

CHANCE VICK COULD PLAY Coach Andy Reid said he had not ruled out quarterback , recovering from a rib cartilage injury, from Sunday’s game against Vick’s old team, the Atlanta Falcons. Kevin Kolb is expected to start, but Reid said that Vick could return to practice by the end of the week. If that does not happen, Vick will miss his second game.

CUTLER COMING BACK Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said he expected to start Sunday against the after missing a game because of a concussion. Cutler said doctors “wanted to make completely sure” he was ready before clearing him Monday. He said that he felt good enough to play against Carolina last Sunday but that extra precaution was taken.

KIPER RESPONDS TO CLAIMS Mel Kiper Jr., a college football analyst for , defended himself after an article in Sports Illustrated accused him of helping a sports agent win college football players as clients.

Kiper is an influential voice during the draft, offering fans his impressions on how high players will be chosen, and by which teams.

In the article, a former agent, Josh Luchs, said that Kiper worked with another agent, Gary Wichard. One passage described how Wichard asked Kiper to call him while he was trying to recruit a player to give the impression that the agent had deep connections in the news media.

“In the agent business, people know Gary and Mel are close, and some people suspect that Mel ranks players more favorably if they are Gary’s clients,” Luchs wrote.

Kiper defended his reputation.

“Conversations with players, which are occasionally facilitated by agents, are a valuable way to get to know the players,” Kiper said in a statement. “These conversations have never compromised my integrity, and my 32-year record supports that.”

ESPN ended its own investigation into the matter after Kiper issued his statement. KEN BELSON

GIANTS’ KIWANUKA RECOVERING Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, who missed the last two games with a bulging disk in his neck, rode a stationary bike in practice and did agility drills on the sideline. Although surgery has not been ruled out, he spoke optimistically about returning this season.

Center Shaun O’Hara, who missed the last three games with a left ankle injury, participated in individual drills and hoped to practice Thursday and play Sunday.

“It’s taken longer than I would have liked,” O’Hara said. “I’m pushing.” MARK VIERA

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N.F.L. May Suspend Players for Harsh Hits

Anderson also said the competition committee could consider rules changes in the off-season to ban all hits using the helmet.

On Sunday, violent helmet hits sent linebacker Zack Follett to the hospital on a backboard (he was released Monday) and caused receiver DeSean Jackson to forget the play on which he was injured. linebacker James Harrison knocked two players out of the game with head injuries.

More egregious was the hit by New England safety Brandon Meriweather on Baltimore tight end Todd Heap. Meriweather launched himself into Heap, a clear violation of the rules (Meriweather was penalized). Anderson called that hit “agitating” to him.

“The way football is played, it’s going to be difficult, but it may be necessary,” Anderson said of banning all hits involving the helmet. “All things will be on the table as we evaluate and look at this. It’s critically important. It’s not just a career-threatening situation for a guy like DeSean Jackson. But maybe life-altering.

“Very frankly, we don’t want to see another Darryl Stingley on our watch,” Anderson continued, referring to the wide receiver who was paralyzed by a Jack Tatum hit in a 1978 preseason game and .

The N.F.L. has focused on player safety with increasing urgency in recent years, as study after study has indicated the long-term effects of head injuries. But with so many scary hits in such a short time, opinion seemed to coalesce quickly for the first time Sunday that while the N.F.L.’s intent with the rules change clamping down on such hits was good, its follow-through needed to be stronger than fines to enact a sea change in a generation of players raised on highlight reels glorifying big hits.

Anderson, who sounded agitated Monday morning, said he was struck by comments made Sunday night on ’s pregame show by the former coach and the former safety Rodney Harrison, who called for suspensions for helmet-to-helmet hits. Harrison had a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the game, and some opponents considered him a dirty player. On Sunday, Harrison said that when he played, fines did not get his attention, but suspensions did.

“They underscored what folks have surmised, and that is, fines don’t do it,” Anderson said. “Fines, in some people’s situations, are just the cost of doing business.”

George Atallah, a spokesman for the players union, said that although the union supported any rules changes that would improve player safety, it was equally concerned about having a fair and transparent process for suspensions and appeals.

John Mara, the Giants’ president and a member of the competition committee, said Monday that an attempt to write rules to eliminate all hits with the helmet might be extreme. Games are played with remarkable speed and ferocity, and each rules change demands that players and coaches modify the way they play.

Running backs like the ’ Adrian Peterson lower their heads to deliver a blow as they are being tackled, and defensive players are taught from Pop Warner days to “explode” into their target. When members of the competition committee meet with current players at the scouting combine each February, players, most of them defenders, say that rules changes are making it impossible for them to do their jobs.

Mara said, “Our response is, we don’t think it’s impossible, and No. 2, if we have a choice between making it impossible to do your job and protecting somebody from a concussion or a serious neck injury, we’ll choose the latter.”

Mara said he, too, was troubled by the series of plays Sunday. He said that a few years ago, it seemed to him that leading with the head was becoming the preferred tackling technique, but that rules against launching at a player seem to have reduced the number. He also cautioned against overreacting, citing predictions that the injuries would increase this season after a spate of injuries in Week 1.

“These are bang-bang plays,” Mara said. “They have a fraction of a second to make a decision. I’m not sure I want to go crazy over what happened yesterday. I want to see at the end of the year. We look at tape of every single one of those hits. Then you have a good understanding of if there is a trend here.

“To me, it would be almost impossible to legislate it completely out of the game.”

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