Given that training camp and preseason are the proving grounds for the 90 players on the Falcons' roster right now, and given that they represent the first glimpse of real football most of us have had in months, it can be difficult to know how to sort through what you're seeing and hearing.
You know what I mean. You see players impress in non-contact drills, or against fellow deep reserves, and it's hard not to get excited. At the same time, you may see a player look only okay against the team's starters, but that can be a sign of bigger and brighter things ahead for that player. With a little input from veteran training camp observer Jeanna Thomas, I've put together a short list of what to look for if you're experiencing camp first-hand.
- What players do is less important than the situation. You want to see players impressing, but it's more important to look at the context in which they do or do not succeed. Is this young linebacker running with the starters and holding his own? Is this veteran receiver dropping passes because his hands aren't improved, or because the backup quarterback throwing to him is throwing shaky balls?
Context is key, in other words, and it becomes even more critical as we move into preseason. Bernard Reedy impressed in mini-camp because he was hauling in passes from Matt Ryan and blowing by everyone, which makes him worth watching now. What he does when full contact is allowed and players like Desmond Trufant are motivated to stop him will start to tell the tale.
- Pay attention to young players getting special attention from coaches. Particularly Keith Armstrong, Jeanna notes. If they're getting individual attention from the coaching staff, it's due to a weakness the team wants to correct or because they're seeing something worth cultivating. Why particularly Armstrong? Because special teams can be the ticket on to a team for a young player still growing on offense or defense.
- Keep your eyes glued to the roster hopefuls. This goes along with the last point, but it's worth making. While you want to see how Matt Ryan looks out there, training camp is just a warmup for veterans like him that are guaranteed starting roles on the team. The ones you want to watch are the potential Paul Worrilows, Joplo Bartus and Darius Johnsons, i.e. late round rookies, undrafted free agents and veterans like Pat Angerer who are trying to revive their careers. Those guys will be scrapping hard for spots, and the process of them separating themselves from the dozens of other hopefuls who will be cut begins today.
- Stay cool. This one comes to us from friend of The Falcoholic Jay Adams, who just was tested for and diagnosed with pre-melanoma. Wear sunscreen, wear a hat and have bottled water on hand, particularly during this first weekend when the temperatures are expected to climb into the low-90's.