FLOWERY BRANCH – Falcons rookie wide receiver Drake London, who was selected eighth overall in the NFL draft, was all smiles after his first rookie minicamp practice Friday.
“To touch some grass,” London said about his upbeat spirit. “Like, literally at the end of the day, I’m out here playing the thing that I love, which is football.”
London suffered a fractured right ankle Oct. 30 against Arizona which ended his college season in the eighth game. He missed USC’s final four games, but still led the Pac-12 with 1,084 yards receiving.
This was his first action since.
“It was just a blast to be out here playing football again,” London said. “Especially under my circumstances, not being able to play football since last October. So, it feels really, really good to be out here with the guys. Be out here with my new coaches. I’m just trying to get acclimated as quick as I can.”
London said he fully participated in practice and did not have any restrictions from the team.
“It felt great,” London said of his ankle. “No, not at all (when asked if it hurt). I feel great, and I’m going to leave it at that. ... No restrictions at all. I was able to do everything. I feel happy about that.”
During the opening portion of practice, the Falcons weren’t going full speed. Coach Arthur Smith said he’s going to ease the rookies back into shape after what has turned into a long pre-draft period of workouts, interviews and flights around the country for most of them.
London said his best 40-yard dash time was 4.5 seconds, which dismissed any speed concerns. Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans, who had similar concerns, ran the 40 in 4.53 seconds, which helped separate him as a prospect on his way to becoming the No. 7 overall pick in 2014.
London understood that his rehabilitation is still ongoing.
“I mean, it is a longer-term thought process at the same time, but I mean, I always had the mentality that I was going to come in and do all that I can,” London said. “They didn’t put any restrictions on me, so I’m going to keep on going.”
The Falcons were thin at wide receiver after Russell Gage left in free agency, and Calvin Ridley was suspended indefinitely for gambling. London, who’s 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, is a big part of their plans moving forward.
London, who also played some basketball at USC, has a reputation as a physical player.
“Yeah, you know, football is a physical game,” London said. “It’s a game of physicality. And if you don’t have that, you’re losing part of the game. So, I try to use that to my best of my abilities and use my attributes as much as I can.”
Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot instructed observers to look at London’s plays in which he’s fighting for yardage along the sidelines.
“It’s just personal will and will for the team at the end of the day,” London said. “I came here to try to get (wins), and if it means me having to a fight off two of three dudes to get the extra five yards, I’m going to do it.”
He doesn’t talk a lot of smack on the field.
“At the same time, I got to earn my respect,” London said. “I’m not going to be yapping at vets and things like that. But no, I would say I try to lead by action and just do what I can. Do my part. At the same time uplift others.”
London arrived Thursday and signed his four-year contract that’s worth up to $21.5 million. The Falcons also could pick up his fifth-year option.
“It was amazing,” London said. “My life just changed, and I couldn’t be more thankful for it.”
London knew what he wanted to gain from minicamp.
“Just the mental part of the game,” London said. “You know, learning all the plays. Getting it right with, with all the phrasing and everything. I’m working on that right now. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
London has talked to Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts, who offered some tips from his rookie minicamp. He also has rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder as his roommate.
“We’ve just been going over plays and chopping it up,” London said. “I mean, honestly, he’s like me, in a sense. We’re on the same mission. I’m happy we came in together.”
Ridder showed some of the leadership that helped guide Cincinnati to the College Football Playoff last season.
“He pulled us over,” London said. “It’s like, we messed up a lot today. It’s just part of being a rookie and Day 1, he brought us over and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get this (expletive) together.’ ... Excuse my language. But he got us together. That’s just the leader he is, so I’m following his footsteps.”
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