Patrick Kerney remembers how uncomfortable he felt during his rookie mini-camp and offseason training sessions in 1999. A first-round pick out of Virginia, Kerney felt some culture shock from the hard-line approach of former position coach Bill Kollar.
Bill Johnson, the Falcons' line coach since 2001, can bark with the best of them, but he's more a teacher than a disciplinarian. Kerney thinks Johnson's homespun tales and country-boy personality helped tackle Jonathan Babineaux, a second-round pick from Iowa, and end Chauncey Davis, a fifth-rounder from Florida State, realize the demands they face are tough but not insurmountable.
"I think it's very important stuff," Kerney said. "This game is so much about -- particularly defensive line -- it's so much about staying alive and fighting and scrapping and executing your job precisely. It's just so important that they learn at a young age that (details) matter."
Babineaux believes the team has him slotted in a perfect spot behind hard-charging pass rusher Rod Coleman. Commitment to year-round weight training and conditioning helped Babineaux keep his stock high at the combine and at his campus workout.
That's a different story from the one Chad Lavalais scripted last year. Despite destroying Southeastern Conference opponents as a senior, Lavalais dropped to the fifth round. At one point in his career at LSU, Lavalais was projected as a high second-rounder.
Babineaux didn't make the same mistake. Conversations with Falcons scouts made it clear that Atlanta projected him to join Coleman, Lavalais and Antwan Lake in Johnson's four-man rotation.
"I think that they need somebody in the inside," Babineaux said. "I knew they were going to be looking for someone and I talked to Atlanta on several occasions, and they said, 'Don't be surprised if we pick you.' I knew they had their second pick coming up and I was just waiting for that phone to ring."
Johnson wants Davis to learn both end positions, but he's projected to play behind Kerney, who would switch to the right side when starter Brady Smith takes a break.
"I like to use power sometimes just dependent on the situation," Davis said of his pass rushing. "But I like to do a little bit of everything. I like to bull rush, I like to run around them, and every now and then I might spin, though there isn't too much of that."