|Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Julio Jones discuss their impending NFL domination.|
Yesterday was an absolutely beautiful morning to spend at The Branch watching the Atlanta Falcons training camp. There was a nice, cool breeze--truly an anomaly in this part of the world in August. It was nice to not be distracted by the oppressive heat and humidity that is normally a constant at training camp, because there was much to observe during yesterday's practice.
After some outstanding, and some less than stellar, performances on Friday evening, I kept an eye on some of the players who put in memorable performances one way or the other during the Falcons' first preseason game, and will compare and contrast their efforts in the preseason game against Miami with their output in camp. After the jump, I’ll go through those players one by one, and give you an update on the defensive line, some injury issues and concerns, and the overall morale during practice.
Dominique Franks made an impact on the collective consciousness of Falcons fans everywhere with his outstanding punt return efforts during Friday’s preseason game. In addition, he looked fully capable at the nickel position, and showed an ability to put pressure on the opposing quarterback--just ask Dolphins backup QB Matt Moore. In camp, Franks continues to outshine Chris Owens, and Franks participated in some first team scrimmage reps yesterday during practice. In my opinion, Franks’ diverse skill set and value as a backup punt returner give him the edge over Owens at the nickel position.
Many fans were a little surprised at how Jacquizz Rodgers was utilized during Friday’s game, and I was disappointed in Rodgers’ performance compared to what we have seen from him during camp. Yesterday, while participating with the first team during a scrimmage, Quizz had no difficulty weaving directly through our first team defense, which has been the norm for him throughout camp. I am eager to see what this kid can do in a game situation with the first team blocking for him, and hope he gets that opportunity against Jacksonville this week.
Matt Bosher’s efforts on Friday were adequate, but Ken Parrish seemed to have a better leg. It is possible that this position may be more hotly contested than we initially thought, although I do find it difficult to believe that the Falcons would cut a punter they drafted, even in the 6th round. In yesterday’s practice, Bosher and Parrish took equal reps. Bosher has performed well in camp, and nerves may well have been a factor on Friday. Hopefully Bosher’s performance in game situations will begin to be more reflective of what we are seeing from him in camp.
I have been eager to get a look at Ray Edwards in action, and I did finally see him participating in a set of non-contact drills against the offensive line. The good news: Edwards looked solid on the drills. His mobility seems fine, and he had no difficulty planting his feet. He didn’t look hesitant at all while moving through the drill, and is obviously ambulatory enough to participate to that extent. The bad news: as of yesterday, Edwards is still not participating in contact drills. I suspect the coaching staff believes that the long-term benefit of a healthy Edwards on our defensive line this season far outweighs any interest in having him participate fully in training camp and preseason games, and I would tend to agree with that assessment.
During drills and in scrimmage situations, our first string defensive line consisted of John Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux, Kroy Biermann and Peria Jerry, with Jerry filling in for an injured, but thankfully not seriously so, Corey Peters. Second and third strings seem to generally consist of some combination of Lawrence Sidbury, Trey Lewis, Chauncey Davis, newcomer Carlton Powell, Cliff Matthews, Kiante Tripp and Emmanuel Stephens. We have some decent depth at the position, and once we have Peters and Edwards healthy and at full participation, I think we will be looking at a formidable defensive front four with considerable potential for rotation to keep the starters fresh.
Training camp is an arduous time for these players, and injuries are starting to rear their ugly head. The new CBA includes provisions that reduce the practice time permitted, but even with less time on the practice field, the strain is beginning to be evident. It’s hot, they are working hard, and the lockout has resulted in varying levels of preparedness.
While trying to cover Julio Jones, Dunta Robinson cramped up and had to take a minute to stretch. DB Chris Owens was shaken up pretty badly during drills while trying to cover Eric Weems. He did return to the field a few minutes later. Also, WR Doug Beaumont was hurt during red zone drills and it took him several minutes to collect himself. The wear and tear of training camp is taking a toll on these players.
Concussed third string QB John Parker Wilson is still under NFL concussion protocol, and obviously did not participate in practice yesterday, but was on the field with the other quarterbacks being a good teammate. Here’s wishing J.P. a speedy recovery.
DT Corey Peters, out with a knee injury that will not require surgery, was not on the field that I noticed, nor was TE Justin Peelle, also dealing with a knee injury. I am hopeful that they were inside the facility rehabbing their respective knees and preparing to be back on the field in the very near future.
For the players who are confident of their place on the 53 man roster, morale is high and their confidence is apparent. This team has great chemistry. As the defense made their way to the field for a scrimmage against the offense, John Abraham and Jonathan Babineaux were play-fighting with each other, which was humorous, and much more acceptable than Tyson Clabo and Kroy Biermann literally fighting, in a non-playful way, each other during Sunday’s practice. Ovie Mughelli and Sean Weatherspoon are exhibiting contagious enthusiasm on the practice field. Roddy White and Julio Jones talked at length with the WR coach about some plays while they weren’t actively involved in drills, while Matt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez intently discussed offensive concerns. The players are exhibiting a nice balance of focus and fun.
For the players who are not assured of a roster spot, however, this is a stressful time. During special teams drills, a group of rookies on the sideline were standing in the wrong spot and thus impeding the drill. The rookies were reprimanded, and their discomfort with the correction was visible. This is a really challenging time for these guys who desperately want to make the team, and any mistake, even being in the wrong spot on the sidelines, may be a mistake they cannot afford.
Along the same lines, I noticed for the first time yesterday that more individualized instruction and feedback is being directed toward some of these specific players who would be considered “on the bubble.” If you pay attention, you can start to discern the direction the team will likely move in as they develop the 53 man roster for the coming season. Based on coach feedback during drills, I recommend keeping an eye on young WRs Tim Buckley and Brandyn Harvey. I’m not certain how they would fit into our roster considering our depth at WR, but both have had outstanding camp performances, and Harvey in particular was impressive in Friday’s preseason game.
I will be back in The Branch this Sunday for the last training camp practice that will be open to the public, and will do my best to set aside my sadness about the end of camp in order to bring you an update. In the meantime, if you have any questions, or if there is something specific you would like me to watch for on Sunday, post a comment. And, if you want to see some photos I took last week at training camp, take a look at this FanPost.