For the first time in several seasons, there will be some intrigue around the normally mundane Atlanta Falcons’ mini-camp.
Four-time All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, who’s in a contract dispute with the team, will not attend the mini-camp, which will held Tuesday through Thursday.
Jones alsoskipped the voluntary organized team activities.
Here are five things to watch at mini-camp, which will be open to the public on Wednesday:
1. Jones watch: Jones, who has been working out with Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens, will not attend.
The Falcons were expecting Jones to take part in the entire offseason program, but after the market for wide receivers skyrocketed, Jones apparently chose to work on his own.
Jones wasn’t the only high-profile player to skip OTAs around the NFL. New England quarterback Tom Brady and Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown also stayed away from OTAs.
Seattle safety Earl Thomas and Oakland linebacker Khalil Mack also are skipping their respective team’s mini-camps.
2. Fullback battle: The Falcons elected not to re-sign fullback Derrick Coleman, who was signed by Arizona.
Three unproven players in the NFL, Daniel Marx (245 pounds), Luke McNitt (249) and Ricky Ortiz (233) are fighting for the opening.
The Falcons need to improve their short-yardage rushing package. The best lead blocker will likely earn the starting spot.
The battle to replace Coleman, who was also one of top special teams players, will rage well into training camp.
“We’ve got three young guys in here right, all of which are doing a nice job, but we are not in pads yet,” offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said.
3. Ridley fitting in: Rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley was dazzling during OTAs as he ran precise routes and flashed his 4.43 speed.
“The thing that has really impressed me about Calvin is that he is an extremely hard worker,” wide receivers coach Dave Brock said. “Really good in the classroom. He does a great job of having the ability to take it from the meeting room to the field. What a hard worker he is and how humble he is. Those characteristics, those traits, give you a chance to be a really good player.”
Ridley, who played at Alabama, was the selected in the first-round (26th overall). He’s the lone unsigned draft pick, but the team isn’t anticipating any major issues on getting his slotted deal done.
Ridley’s four-year deal will be worth $10.9 million with a signing bonus just over $6 million, an NFL source told Zach Klein of Channel 2 Action News.
4. Defensive line watch: The Falcons were hit hard along the defensive line in free agency. The team was not able to re-sign defensive tackle Dontari Poe or defensive end Adrian Clayborn.
Poe played 786 snaps (74.6 percent) and Clayborn played 567 (53.8 percent), which was second- and third-most on the team. Clayborn led the team in sacks with 9.5.
Poe signed a three-year, $27 million deal with Carolina and Clayborn signed a two-year $12 million deal with New England.
At tackle, the Falcons drafted Deadrin Senat in the third round, signed veteran Terrell McClain and are getting back Jack Crawford from injury.
At defensive end, the Falcons hoping that second-year end Takkarist McKinley recovers from shoulder surgery and turns into a force. Also, Vic Beasley and Brooks Reed are on hand.
“I like how we’ve been working,” defensive line coach Bryant Young said. “There’s a certain seriousness to it. I like the focus of the group.”
5. Injury update: The Falcons are hoping to get back rookie wide receiver/defensive back Russell Gage, a sixth-round (194th overall) draft pick, for mini-camp.
He suffered what Falcons coach Dan Quinn called a ‘tweak’ and was working off to the side with trainers during the open OTA session last week. Normally, a tweak is described as a hamstring injury.
Also, defensive back Leon McFadden (stomach flu), left guard Andy Levitre (arm), right guard Wes Schweitzer (undisclosed) and McKinley (shoulder) are on the injured list.
Safety Quincy Mauger, who was rehabbing his knee, was released by the team.
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