The Falcons held their first of two combined practices with the Cincinnati Bengals, their opponent for their first preseason game on Thursday, and seeing the team go up against a real opponent in practice was refreshing.
And it wasn't just any opponent. The Bengals were a playoff team last season in a competitive division--the eventual Super Bowl champions were the Bengals' division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. Cincinnati's defense finished the 2012 season ranked sixth in yards allowed per game, eighth in the league for points allowed per game and third in the league in sacks last season.
The Bengals are featured on this season's run of Hard Knocks, the training camp television series on HBO, so their crew was also present.
The Falcons have, in the past, held combined practices with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the New England Patriots and the Tennessee Titans. All of that is mostly logical--Mike Smith was the defensive coordinators for the Jaguars prior to being hired by Atlanta in 2008, Thomas Dimitroff caught Atlanta's eye while he was the Director of College Scouting for the Patriots. The combined practice with Tennessee was held at a neutral location that was geographically convenient for both teams. As far as the Bengals, Mike Smith and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis worked together under Brian Billick in Baltimore.
Overall, the Falcons looked very good against the Bengals in drills. The Bengals got off to somewhat of a slow start, as the Falcons set the tone for the tempo of the practice.
Although Cincinnati's defense is stout, Matt Ryan looked very effective in drills against them, despite the fact that Julio Jones generally did not participate in team drills, which head coach Mike Smith indicated was primarily precautionary.
Dominique Davis did not lose a step with orange and black staring him down from across the line of scrimmage. He continue to look the most prepared for the backup quarterback spot.
Sean Renfree, however, looked a little rattled against an actual opponent. It's really not surprising--the NFL is new for him, and Cincinnati's defense is aggressive.
The Falcons have released an unofficial depth chart, and currently, the QB position breaks down with Matt Ryan as the starter, Dominique Davis at backup, Sean Renfree behind Davis, and Seth Doege behind Renfree.
Steven Jackson looked really, really good against the Bengals defense in drills. Incidentally, Jackson was also involved in a minor altercation with Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, so look for that on HBO's Hard Knocks for sure. But when I say "minor," I really mean that it was minor, and that was the only drama of the entire day.
Beyond Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers still looks evasive, Jason Snelling looks reliable, and some younger rookies, Donald Russell and Ronnie Wingo, Jr., are trying to make an impact on the coaching staff as they move toward final roster decisions.
Julio Jones was limited in practice yesterday. Coach Smith did not disclose any injury information about Jones, and suggested that limiting his workload was precautionary.
Drew Davis took Julio's first team snaps, and the team's unofficial depth chart supports the idea that Davis has overtaken Kevin Cone in the competition for the fourth wide receiver spot on the roster.
Roddy White looked phenomenal against the Bengals. Harry Douglas also had a really good day, again.
Chase Coffman looks very, very good. The Falcons have more on Coffman's efforts in camp on their official site. As the depth chart stands now, the top three tight ends are Tony Gonzalez, Coffman and rookie Levine Toilolo.
Cincinnati's defensive line is aggressive, but in team drills Atlanta's offensive line held up generally well against them. There were some struggles in individual position drills against Cincinnati's defensive line, but the team drills are a much better indication of the offensive line's level of preparedness. Alec Shirkey covered the offensive line in detail, so you should read that as soon as possible.
The team's unofficial depth chart gives a clear view of the leaders in the position battles along the line. Peter Konz is listed as the starter at center, with Joe Hawley as the backup; Mike Johnson is listed as the starter at right tackle, and Lamar Holmes is the backup.
Matt Bosher looks pretty good.
The defense was primarily on the far field, so I didn't get the best look, but D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shared this good news about Osi Umenyiora.
Cliff Matthews continues to impress at defensive tackle. He put a lot of pressure on Cincinnati's interior line in drills yesterday.
Kroy Biermann got some more work at outside linebacker yesterday.
Mike Nolan just shouted to defensive line coach Ray Hamilton to ask if he could use Biermann for a bit. The life of a hybrid. #aftc13— Jay Adams (@FalconsJAdams) August 5, 2013
Y'all, Robert James really does look good in camp these days, and he's getting some first team snaps as a result.
CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora spoke with Brian Banks after practice, and it's worth reading his perspective.
While the Falcons have yet to issue an official statement on the injury sustained by Sean Weatherspoon during yesterday's practice, early reports suggest that it is a severe dislocation, which would likely mean that Spoon would be ready to play by week one of the regular season.
The sizable crowd got a taste of William Moore's new track, World W.A.R. II, prior to practice.
Both Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford looked very good against Cincinnati; read Alec Shirkey's take for more details.
Asante Samuel was gregarious, as usual, with a never-ending stream of good-natured trash talk. Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com went into detail about Asante, and it's a fun read.
If you're looking for some summer reading--or, more accurately, some reading for what's left of summer--here's a suggestion that may provide a glimpse into what makes Smitty tick.
How do you feel about the Falcons' progress so far during training camp? What do you think we can expect from the team Thursday against the Bengals?