|Julio Jones lines up during the Atlanta Falcons 2011 Training Camp.|
In case you have not noticed, I have really enjoyed spending time at Falcons training camp, so yesterday was bittersweet. It was a beautiful morning to spend at The Branch, and because it was a Sunday, my husband and daughters were able to enjoy it with me, which was nice. Oh, and I got to hang out with Brent and Miko Grimes and hold their baby, Aiden, after practice, and I met Roddy White. No big deal. While all of that briefly distracted me from my sadness about the end of open practices, I certainly am sorry to see training camp come to an end.
Following a relatively sloppy preseason performance against Jacksonville on Friday evening, I was primarily looking at injury concerns, player efforts and performances, and general morale following Friday’s loss. Join me after the jump for one last training camp update.
When John Abraham appeared to be injured during Friday’s preseason game, I believe my reaction was something along the lines of, “Why are the Jacksonville Jaguars trying to ruin my life?” Moments later, when Peria Jerry went down, my reaction was, “WE NEED TO PULL ALL OF OUR STARTERS RIGHT THIS MINUTE OR OUR ENTIRE SEASON IS RUINED.” Obviously, nobody enjoys seeing injuries occur in preseason, and given that the Falcons have already dealt with a rash of minor injuries, in addition to one injury serious enough to warrant Justin Peelle’s injury settlement and release from the team, there is justification for some anxiety.
Thankfully, Abraham and Jerry both returned to the game on Friday, and both were on the field yesterday morning for practice. Also participating in practice was rookie Cliff Matthews, who had been taken to the locker room on Friday evening after a particularly scary hit.
Roddy White was held out of practice yesterday due to a bruise he sustained Friday evening, but he was on the field with the receivers and was involved in the drill process, even though he wasn’t technically participating. It appears that his injury is not anything serious. Corey Peters and rookie linebacker Akeem Dent continue to not participate in practice, and I did not see Dunta Robinson participating yesterday, either. It seemed that Chris Owens was taking most of his first team reps. Previously concussed third string quarterback J.P. Wilson also returned to practice.
Ray Edwards participated, it seemed to me, almost fully in practice yesterday, and he looked formidable. His pursuit of the quarterback is impressive. It is clear that there are no long-term health concerns with Edwards, and the coaching staff is simply bringing him along slowly to preserve his health. After what I saw yesterday from Edwards, it is my hope that he will play against Pittsburgh in preseason action this week. I am eager to see what he brings to the defensive line in a game situation, because I believe he will contribute in a very positive way.
Tight end Reggie Kelly participated fully in practice yesterday, and looked outstanding on some blocking drills, which is precisely what he is expected to do well for the Falcons.
Young wide receivers Tim Buckley, Brandyn Harvey, Andy Strickland, Drew Davis and Kevin Cone continue to make their respective cases for roster spots. The Falcons have a large group of talented wide receivers in camp, and the sad reality is that many of these guys will not make the final roster. These five, however, are doing their best to convince the coaching staff to make a space for them.
Strickland in particular had an outstanding performance yesterday, and he has shown an ability this preseason to get open in game situations. Unfortunately, during the Miami preseason game, both John Parker Wilson and Adam Froman failed to notice that Strickland was open, or connect with him on any passes. This may hinder his chances for a roster spot, especially with so much quality competition at the position.
Speaking of wide receivers, I have consistently been impressed with Eric Weems’ performances during camp. Following the rule changes that will impact return specialists, there was some speculation that Weems’ value to the team may be diminished. Weems is doing everything in his power to prove that he will contribute to the Falcons’ success not only on special teams, but also as a receiver.
After a particularly solid performance against Jacksonville on Friday evening, Bear Woods also seemed to have come into his own in practice yesterday. Over the course of the last couple of weeks, Woods has become more comfortable and familiar with the defensive scheme, and his comfort level is allowing for great improvement. Also impressive was safety Matt Hansen, who posted two interceptions during yesterday morning’s practice. Do not count this kid out for a final roster spot.
The tenor of practice yesterday was slightly different. The coaches seemed a little harder on the players, which, after what was largely a sloppy performance against the Jaguars on Friday, is not particularly surprising. At one point, Brian Van Gorder was insisting to one of his players, “You have to CATCH that!” A few minutes later, Van Gorder was screaming, “You’re scared to death! Learn to play football!”
Thomas Dimitroff silently observed much of practice, and spent some time speaking quietly with Smitty, removed from any players. With the first roster cut deadline looming, they have much to discuss.
Otherwise, the morale was much the same as it has been over the past few weeks of training camp. The sense of team unity is noticeable, and their excitement is evident. Matt Ryan and the first team offense looked particularly solid yesterday, with Matt completing a couple of beautiful passes to Julio Jones. Jacquizz Rodgers looked approximately as good as he did during preseason action against Jacksonville. He continues to impress. The team has excellent chemistry on both sides of the ball, and based on what I observed throughout training camp, we are in for a memorable season.