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Atlanta's Peria Jerry causing a stir

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There’s a buzz about a first-round draft pick in Atlanta Falcons training camp and, in this case, we’re not talking about receiver Julio Jones.

We’re talking about Peria Jerry, the defensive tackle the Falcons drafted in the first round in 2009. Listening to his teammates and coaches and even watching Jerry move around in Thursday morning’s walk through gave me flashbacks to when I was here right about this same time of year in 2009.

Jerry was showing all sorts of signs of being a player who would have an immediate impact in his rookie training camp. He instantly claimed the starting job next to Jonathan Babineaux and the Falcons thought they’d be set in the middle of the defensive line for a long time.

But disaster struck in the second game of that season when Jerry went down with a major knee injury. He came back in 2010, but, largely by design, played a limited role as a backup.

“Last year, coming off that knee injury, he wasn’t himself all the way,’’ middle linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “He really worked hard during the lockout and you can see a big difference in him. He’s an explosive player, a really explosive player and he’s really strong. He can play the gap and he can get to the quarterback and that’s what you want out of a defensive tackle.’’

Rookie Corey Peters did a solid job as a starter last season, but it sounds like there’s a chance Jerry might be working his way back into the starting lineup.

“Peria was drafted in the first round for a reason,’’ cornerback Dunta Robinson said. “When you see him on the field now, it just looks he’s playing with a lot more confidence. He’s out there running around and he’s loving football again. He can just focus on football now and I think he’ll be a devastating force for us.’’

Teammates and coaches are quick to point out Jerry is practicing without the knee brace he wore all of last season. When told that Robinson said he saw more confidence from Jerry this camp, coach Mike Smith said that’s accurate.

“I think that’s a great way to put it,’’ Smith said. “He’s very confident. He knows he can stick that leg in the ground, especially against the run and he’s able to bend on it as he’s rushing the passer. Peria, we feel like, is a guy who can get up the field. That’s the thing we liked as far as his skill set, he was a very active guy in terms of creating negative yardage plays.

“Peria did a very good job in the offseason. He came in very fit physically. He’s stronger than he was last year. When you’re talking about that type of injury, the second year is generally better than the first.’’