FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Corey Peters battled doubts about his future in the NFL after he tore his Achilles tendon late last season.
Eight months later, the Falcons' defensive tackle is back on the practice fields and the doubts are gone.
Peters, a third-round pick out of Kentucky in 2010, said Tuesday he's expecting to play when Atlanta opens its regular season on Sept. 7 against New Orleans.
Peters said the devastating injury on Dec. 23 at San Francisco made him wonder if a comeback would be possible.
"I think that always creeps in," Peters said of the doubts. "I was just battling a little bit of depression, a little bit of everything. It was just a bad thing, an accumulation. The season went bad as a team. The way I ended it was not how I wanted to go out."
Peters was placed on the physically unable to perform list as he missed offseason workouts, the team's minicamp and most of training camp.
He made his return to practice on Monday, when he was removed from the PUP list. He was back in full pads on Tuesday.
Coach Mike Smith said Peters is "way ahead of schedule" in his rehabilitation. Peters agreed.
"It's been a long process and to see the progress I've made, I think that's an accurate statement, considering where I was in March and April," Peters said. "It's been a long and slow process, a lot of hard work, but I'm just happy to be back out here and to be a part of the team, really."
The Falcons have two preseason games remaining, including Saturday night's home game against Tennessee. Peters said that's enough time to have him ready for the season.
"Hopefully starting when I did will put me right at three weeks of practice before the opener, and I'm comfortable with that," he said.
Peters said the team's medical staff prevented him from rushing his return.
"I think they've done a good job of kind of taking it out of my hands and not allowing me to make all of the decisions because if it was up to me I would have tried to get out there three or four weeks ago," he said. "I think it's been a good process. Thinking about it now, I'm happy I waited because I feel a lot stronger. I think it's going to be good in the long run."
Smith said Peters and wide receiver Julio Jones, who is returning from a broken foot, would see more consistent practice time in the next two weeks.
Peters has started in 53 of his 56 career games. He set a career high last season with five sacks, ranking second on the team.
As Peters focused on his comeback, the Falcons worked in the offseason to boost the defensive front. Veterans Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson were signed as free agents. Jonathan Babineaux was re-signed and the team drafted Ra'Shede Hageman in the second round.
"Paul is a very smart guy," Peters said. "Already, just by talking to him, I've learned so much about things to look for on film. Just little things, little nuances. He can predict a lot of things before they happen. Tyson just brings a great physical presence. ... I think the unit is going to be much improved."