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Falcons high on rookie Anderson

Two months of offseason workouts are over with, but for Falcons rookie defensive end Jamaal Anderson the real work begins now. “He’s got all the physical tools that you want,” Falcons defensive line coach Kevin Wolthausen said to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We knew we were getting a guy with all the physical tools, but he has only played the position for three years, so there’s a lot of things, as you look, that more experienced players can feel and see. Some things are still new to him, which is normal. “From now through training camp will be huge for him.”

Huge in more ways than just preparing to be thrust into a key role on a defense that will enter into training camp on July 26 full of uncertainty. Without practicing in pads, it’s been really hard to get a read on Anderson’s ability to fill the position occupied for years by leader and tough guy Patrick Kerney, who left to Seattle via free agency. Within the next few weeks, Anderson, the eighth overall pick in this year’s NFL draft out of Arkansas, should sign a contract that will make him one of the highest-paid players on the team — a salary that will generate high expectations and scrutiny.

Buffalo Bills safety Donte Whitner, last season’s No. 8 pick, signed a five-year, $29 million contract with nearly $14 million guaranteed; Anderson figures to get paid more than that. Anderson said contract negotiations will fall in place in due time, so he’s not particularly worried about that aspect of his transition. That’s because he’s occupied with trying to learn his role on the field and with his teammates. “I’m just another rookie out there,” said the 6-foot-6, 277-pound Anderson. “I’m getting the same treatment as all of them, and that’s expected. I’m just trying to earn a spot.”

Anderson is adapting well, but without going against a tight end or a tackle in full-contact drills, measuring his growth is difficult, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. Determining his pass-rushing ability is much easier, however. “In the passing game he does a nice job,” Zimmer said. “He’s got a good countermove and nice power off the edge. We just got to keep working with him on some of the run stuff. Typically, left ends don’t have much pass rush. Jamaal does. If we can get the run part done, it will be very good for us.” Because the interior of the defensive line is somewhat unsettled, Anderson’s rapid development is crucial.

Right end John Abraham is a pass-rushing demon, when healthy, and Anderson, who had 17.5 sacks and 32 tackles for losses in college, was drafted to complement him. After two more weeks of offseason workouts at the team facility, Anderson plans to work out with a private trainer in Los Angeles until training camp begins. Whether his contract will be complete by then is going to always be a question for high draft picks, but Anderson said he’s aware of everything he needs to do once he’s in camp. “It’s a challenge to come in and play with these big boys but we wouldn’t have chose to play this game if it wasn’t for that,” Anderson said. “We know why they drafted us. It’s our opportunity to take what they gave us.”

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