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Falcons rookies Anderson and Blalock shining already
Falcons 4 col BW
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Joey Harrington drops back flanked by center Todd McClure, left, and rookie Justin Blalock, right, during football training camp drills Sunday in Flowery Branch, Ga. - photo by Associated Press

    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Four days into training camp, Jamaal Anderson and Justin Blalock are enduring a crash course with the Atlanta Falcons.

    The Falcons’ top two draft choices knew they would start not long after they arrived at team headquarters three months ago. New coach Bobby Petrino never hesitated to endorse Anderson as the No. 1 left-side defensive end and Blalock as the starter at left guard.

    So far, so good for the rookies, but Anderson and Blalock both occasionally wonder if they’re taking two steps up for each one they take back.

    ‘‘Luckily, it’s hasn’t been too bad yet,’’ Blalock said on Sunday. ‘‘Of course, we only have about half of our stuff in, but with the help of the coaches and the guys, they’ve made it pretty easy for me.’’

    Adjusting to the demands of the NFL is tough on any newcomer, but the weight of responsibility seemed to hang heavily as Blalock walked off the field on Sunday.

    With his eyes glazed over and his body soaked in sweat and exhaustion, Blalock looked forward to a cold shower and a warm meal, but a hard work ethic was one reason he set a school with 51 straight starts and helped the Longhorns win a national title two years ago.

    None of that experience, however, could prepare him for facing a defensive end as strong and fast as John Abraham.

    ‘‘Whew, I’ve blocked him a couple of times, but it’s not like it was just me,’’ Blalock said Sunday. ‘‘I had some help.’’

    Abraham, when healthy, is one of the NFL’s premier pass rushers. The three-time Pro Bowl end showed as much last year in Atlanta’s season-opening victory, harassing Carolina with five tackles, two forced fumbles, one batted down pass and two sacks for minus-20 yards.

    At least Blalock, the 39th overall draft pick, can learn some tricks from linemates like left tackle Wayne Gandy and center Todd McClure, a pair of veterans with a combined 21 years of experience.

    ‘‘I’ll eavesdrop on their conversations sometimes and try to pick up a little hint or two,’’ Blalock said. ‘‘They can bring experiences they’ve had over the years to this scheme, and their knowledge helps me tremendously.’’

    Anderson, the No. 8 overall pick, has a bigger gap to fill for the Falcons at left end, a position that Patrick Kerney held the last seven years. Kerney, who signed with Seattle in March, was the second-best sack specialist in Atlanta history.

    Potential and talent are all Anderson has now. As a junior last year at Arkansas, he had 13.5 sacks, but none of them hold meaning when he sees four-time Pro Bowl tight end Alge Crumpler dropping into his stance.

    Crumpler has all the assets of a star. He can catch passes, avoid tackles, shed blocks and pass-protect as well as any NFL tight end.

    ‘‘He looks amazing out there, strong as an ox and quick, too,’’ Anderson said. ‘‘You’re just not used to facing a player with that kind of talent in college, but a lot of this stuff is already sinking in.’’

    As coordinator Mike Zimmer and line coach Kevin Wolthausen are constantly telling him, Anderson believes that repetitive work on his skills and responsibilities will soon begin paying off.

    ‘‘There’s no doubt I can handle what the coaches are asking me to do, and they’re steady feeding me and steady feeding me,’’ Anderson said. ‘‘I just need to keep digesting all this information on the field and in the film room, and sooner or later it’ll just become second nature.’’