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Falcons rookie DT Jerry misses practice with mild right knee sprain

The Atlanta Falcons can only hope that first-round draft pick Peria Jerry stays healthy in his rookie season.

Drafted 24th overall out of the University of Mississippi, Jerry left the early session of the Falcons' minicamp Saturday morning with a mild right knee sprain and didn't return for the late-afternoon practice. Jerry also didn't participate in the last minicamp session Sunday morning, the team announced.

Age: 23

Height: 6-2  Weight: 299

College: Mississippi

Experience: Rookie

Jerry seemed to catch his cleats in the grass Saturday morning after banging his knees together during a drill, but he was able to walk off the field under his own power. The Falcons weren't wearing protective pads during the practice; each of the minicamp workouts is non-contact.

Jerry has the physical tools the Falcons seek at defensive tackle, a position the team must retool after 350-pound Grady Jackson left for the Detroit Lions as a free agent two months ago.

Jerry ran the 40-yard dash in 5 seconds, an impressive time for a 299-pound man, at his pro day at Mississippi and led the Southeastern Conference last season with 18 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Jerry also had 32 tackles for negative yardage and 10.5 sacks during his junior and senior years.

However, durability is a concern. Before Mississippi's 2008 season opener, Jerry underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in the same knee he sprained Saturday, although he returned to start 11 of 12 games.

Jerry also missed the NFL Scouting Combine because of a sore groin. An ankle injury sidelined him for four games as a freshman, and he underwent offseason foot surgery after appearing in eight games as a sophomore.

Although he missed two minicamp sessions, Jerry will learn both tackle positions when he returns.

Smith is enamored with Jerry's "explosiveness off the ball." Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder believes Jerry, whom he describes as "a high-energy, high-effort guy," could help the Falcons move back the line of scrimmage with a hard style of play that could be "contagious and move through our defense."

The Falcons, who finished second in the NFC South last year at 11-5, ranked 24th in the NFL in total defense in Smith's first year as coach. They also ranked 25th against the run, 11th in scoring and 11th in sacks. Right end John Abraham finished with 16.5 sacks, third-most in the league, but VanGorder wants more production from a seven-man front that must replace Jackson and linebackers Keith Brooking and Michael Boley.

"The chemistry part is always a challenge each year, but any time you have a lot of new personnel to collectively bring them together with the same standards and expectations, I think that's something you're conscious of every day," VanGorder said. "You want them to be conscious of it."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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