By CHARLES ODUM, AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons couldn’t wait to show their stadium’s fully functioning retractable roof to their biggest practice crowd.
The Mercedes-Benz Stadium roof was closed for all but one Falcons regular-season game in the facility’s 2017 debut season. The Falcons proved the roof is now ready for action by opening and closing the structure before Sunday’s rare stadium-based training camp practice.
“It was cool to see it open today, for sure,” said quarterback Matt Ryan.
All the same, Ryan was grateful to see the eight massive petals on the camera lens-like retractable design close again. After practicing in the heat for the first two days of training camp, cool temperatures for an indoor session were a welcome change.
“We weren’t mad that we were in air conditioning today for training camp,” he said, smiling.
Coach Dan Quinn said he is looking forward to more open-air home games this season.
“How many times in this part of the country have we all driven to the stadium and said ‘Man, this would be one awesome day to have it open,'” Quinn said. “I think that will be a really significant part of the fan experience here.”
The Falcons said more than 60,000 tickets were distributed for the practice. The team called the practice a sellout, even though there were empty seats, because all the tickets available, at $5 each, were sold. The Falcons said it was a team record for a training camp practice.
The large turnout led Falcons owner Arthur Blank to remember the Falcons holding training camp at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, when he bought the team in 2001.
“A huge day was 200 people,” Blank said. “We don’t practice normally at MBS, but it’s incredible. I think it’s a great tribute to the fan base, a great tribute to the organization and the relationship we’ve built with the fans. I’m thrilled to be here today to watch it and enjoy it.”
Sunday was the team’s first practice in pads. Quinn said his players always are motivated by the first practice when hitting is allowed. He said it was an extra perk for the players to practice before a much bigger crowd than can attend training camp at the team’s practice facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia, about an hour north of downtown Atlanta.
“When I told them what we were doing, they were really pumped to hear how many people would be here for practice today,” Quinn said. “It does add an element of excitement where the performance for practice ramps up a little more with so many fans here.”
After seeing their scoring offense decline from No. 1 in the NFL in 2016 to No. 15 last season, the Falcons put an emphasis on running plays inside the 20 in their 11-on-11 drills.
The practice ended with Ryan scrambling to his left and passing to Mohamed Sanu for a touchdown.
NOTES: DE Takkarist McKinley was held out with a bruised right shoulder. He has had surgeries on both shoulders the past two years. “We’ll see what it looks like for tomorrow,” Quinn said before adding McKinley could have other scheduled days off in the next two weeks. RB Ito Smith (foot) and OT Ty Sambrailo (right hand) also are considered day to day after being held out. WR Calvin Ridley, who had a minor hamstring injury on Saturday, practiced and showed no sign of the injury. … Training camp returns to the team’s practice facility on Monday before a day off on Tuesday.