- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons had their open session of organized team activities on Wednesday with a handful of players absent or out of action.
Starting receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White were not on the practice field, as expected. The Falcons continue to be cautious with Jones coming off foot surgery, while White is mourning the loss of his younger brother, who was murdered in South Carolina. Jones is not expected to return until training camp while White's timetable remains unclear.
"Our thoughts and prayers are still with Roddy and his family in this difficult time," coach Mike Smith said.
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, safety Zeke Motta, and defensive tackle Corey Peters were on the practice field but didn't participate while recovering from injuries. Weatherspoon still has a knee issue while Motta's status for the 2014 season is unclear after neck surgery. Weatherspoon did some light drills with the training staff during practice while Motta did some light running. Peters is coming off an Achilles' tear.
Rookie running back Devonta Freeman was excused from practice to attend the 20th Annual NFLPA Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles.
"It's basically mandatory that he goes," Smith said of Freeman. "He came to me and said,'Coach, I don't really want to go.' I said, 'You've got to go.' He said, 'I don't want to miss practice.' I said, 'Well, if you don't go, you can't be here at the facility. That's the way the rules are. So go enjoy California.' It's an honor for him to be chosen to go."
Here are 10 other observations from OTAs:
1. When defensive coordinator Mike Nolan screamed out "base defense" midway through practice, the Falcons move into a 3-4 setup with Tyson Jackson, Paul Soliai and Jonathan Babineaux up front, Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu as the inside linebackers, and Stansly Maponga and Jonathan Massaquoi rushing as outside linebackers.
2. Left tackle Sam Baker seemed to move around fine coming off what he called a complicated knee surgery. He did not wear a knee brace and practiced the entire two hours without noticeably sitting out reps. Smith felt Baker moved around "extremely well" on Wednesday.
3. Speaking of reps, tight end Levine Toilolo had an undisclosed injury that limited his reps, and he spent time with the training staff during the session. Bear Pascoe and Mickey Shuler got a lot of work as the blocking tight ends in double-tight end sets.
4. Outside linebacker Kroy Biermann, in his return from an Achilles' tear, had a pretty light day of work. He did spend extensive time early in practice working on his swim move with outside linebackers coach Mark Collins.
5. Another player emphasizing his technique was pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora, who worked on his spin move during a break in between individual drills. Umenyiora did individuals with the defensive tackles and defensive ends rather than the outside linebackers.
6. Rookie Prince Shembo, who appeared to line up more at outside linebacker during rookie minicamp, spent the majority of the day at inside linebacker. He did individual drills with the inside linebackers.
7. Free safety Dwight Lowery, a veteran signed this offseason, picked off a Matt Ryan pass that seemed to be a more of a miscommunication between Ryan and the receiver. Lowery spent the entire day with the first-team defense alongside strong safety William Moore.
8. Rookie defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman started yelling at himself after messing up one play. He seems to be really hard on himself. Nolan and defensive line coach Bryan Cox had to calm him down.
9. There were a couple of skirmishes. Shuler and Maponga got into it after Shuler pushed Maponga to the ground after the whistle. Earlier, offensive tackle Terren Jones mixed it up with defensive end Nosa Eguae.
10. Rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews showed great quickness throughout the day and looked more like a veteran next to the other four offensive linemen. Another rookie who stood out was cornerback Ricardo Allen, who made a tremendous play on the ball during one-on-one coverage drills.