FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Mike Davis couldn't wait to check in for his first training camp with his hometown Atlanta Falcons.
"I'm here early," Davis said Tuesday. "I think that speaks for a lot. I got here about 8. I'm just ready to go."
Davis had an edge over many of his new teammates. He could pack light for a short drive.
"This is all I have — my backpack," the running back said. "Home is nothing but 30 or 50 minutes from here."
Davis, a native of Stone Mountain in metro Atlanta, was the biggest addition for the cost-cutting Falcons in the offseason. He signed a two-year deal worth $5.5 million, after leading the Carolina Panthers with 642 rushing yards and six touchdowns last season.
Davis was the perfect fit for an Atlanta team looking to energize a lackluster ground game.
"I feel like everybody always dreams of playing at home," said Davis, who remains in the NFC South Division despite the move. "Growing up, I was a Falcons fan. Alge Crumpler, (Michael) Vick, I've seen everything growing up. So of course the Falcons were my dream team, and to actually play for the Falcons is a dream come true."
Davis started 12 games last season after Christian McCaffrey, limited by ankle and shoulder injuries, played only three games.
The Falcons are starting over at running back after finishing next to last in the league with their average of 3.7 yards per carry in 2020, ahead of only the Pittsburgh Steelers' 3.6. Atlanta did not bring back its top three running backs: Todd Gurley, Brian Hill and Ito Smith.
Qadree Ollison, a 2019 fifth-round pick, and Cordarrelle Patterson, also a wide receiver and return specialist, are among the other candidates to earn playing time at running back.
The need to develop a running game ranks as one of the training camp priorities for first-year head coach Arthur Smith. He directed a productive ground attack as the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, led by Derrick Henry, the NFL's top rusher the past two seasons.
When he was hired by Atlanta, Smith said the Titans' rushing production was the result of "playing to the strengths of your players."
"We had Derrick Henry in Tennessee," Smith said. "There's only one Derrick Henry. Certainly think we're not going to go find the next Derrick Henry. We'll adapt to the players we have here in Atlanta."
The rebuilding task for Smith was further defined by last month's trade of wide receiver Julio Jones to the Titans for draft picks, including a 2022 second-round selection.
Without Jones, the Falcons' career leader in catches and receiving yards, Calvin Ridley enters camp as the No. 1 receiver. The trade of Jones also opens more room for rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, the No. 4 overall selection in the NFL draft, to join Ridley as a top target for quarterback Matt Ryan.
The Falcons drafted Pitts instead of an eventual replacement for Ryan, 36, who remains durable and productive. The Falcons must develop a new backup for Ryan in camp after Matt Schaub retired. AJ McCarron enters the preseason as the probable backup.
The Falcons released running back Tony Brooks-James on Monday, when they signed outside linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbe and offensive tackle Jason Spriggs. Spriggs was a second-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2016 who played in eight games with the Chicago Bears last season.
Not ready yet
The Falcons will have limitations on their offensive line during their first practice of training camp Thursday after placing two linemen, including starting right tackle Kaleb McGary, on the physically unable to perform list.
Also placed on the PUP list Wednesday were offensive tackle Matt Gono — he wore a neck brace when he reported for camp Tuesday — and defensive tackle Deadrin Senat. The team did not list reasons the players will not be ready to participate Thursday, but players placed on the list during training camp can be activated at any time.
McGary, a 2019 first-round pick, started in 13 games in 2020 after starting all 16 as a rookie. Gono started in three of Atlanta's last four games in 2020.
Senat, a third-round pick in 2018, has failed to earn consistent playing time. He appeared in only a combined seven games the past two seasons, including five in a backup role in 2020.