It was wonderful to be back at The Branch for training camp. The heat, the humidity and the sun beating down on us all serve as reminders that football season is really just around the corner.
The very first day of camp does not provide a ton of insight into how the team is shaping up. At this point, everything is still pretty fresh for the new players, and a lot of what's happening is just getting players up to speed on schemes and fine-tuning technique.
In scrimmage situations, however, you can tell that the intensity is high and that players were eager to be on the field. Desmond Trufant knocked down Roddy White in drills pretty early in practice, although it was clearly unintentional and there was no drama that resulted from it. A tussle between Jake Matthews and Kroy Biermann was a different story. At least one punch was thrown, although I couldn't see which player was the perpetrator. It's nice to see some fight out of these guys, particularly Matthews, so early in the preseason process.
And it's not just Matthews showing some fight on the practice field. The offensive line across the board looks to be in shape and ready to go, and Jonathan Asamoah is shaping up to be a stellar addition to that unit. He was really successful holding his own in scrimmage situations. Another player that impressed me in minicamp and the first day of training camp was Lamar Holmes. Perhaps it's just Holmes maturing as a player, perhaps it's Mike Tice's influence, but he has shown a lot of fight out there. Sam Baker looks healthy and is moving around well, so that's encouraging.
It was really, really nice to see Julio Jones back in action yesterday. Jason Kirk has an exclusive update.
Can report Julio Jones has two feet, both attached to his legs.— Jason Kirk (@JasonKirkSBN) July 25, 2014
The Hard Knocks crew is out in force, but they are extremely unobtrusive. Biermann might disagree with me, as they had him do a lot of up-downs after practice until they got just the shot they wanted.
One thing I really enjoyed watching was Osi Umenyiora helping a younger player with technique. There has been speculation from fans that Umenyiora may be disgruntled about being relegated to more of a situational role, but it appears that he's pretty much a team player, and his attitude seems fine to me.
Head coach Mike Smith, Roddy White, Steven Jackson, and Tyson Jackson all spoke to the media following practice.
Smitty said he thought the first full day of training camp went very well. He was pleased with how the rookies were acclimating after having arrived at camp a couple of days earlier than the veterans reported. Not surprisingly, Smitty said, "We're trying to get the first three days in shorts and helmets done so we can get into some padded work." Seeing what the players actually do in pads helps the coaching staff begin to really evaluate the talent on the roster.
On Darius Johnson, Smith had no comment. As an aside, it's worth noting that ESPN's Vaughn McClure, who absolutely knows his stuff, had this to say about Johnson yesterday.
I guess released WR Darius Johnson told folks he had enough with football and plans to go coach at SMU. We'll see.— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) July 26, 2014
On Julio Jones, Smith said that he was pleased with the way Jones looked running routes. They're taking it easy on Jones, expecting him to have one day on and then one day off of practice for the first couple of weeks to ensure that he has no setbacks prior to the season. Smitty was pleased with the chemistry between Ryan and Jones. Smitty also said that everyone--from the coaching staff to Matt Ryan--enjoyed seeing Roddy White on the field as well. White was held out of minicamp as a precaution.
On Jon Asamoah and Tyson Jackson, Smith said, "The offensive line, defensive line--they haven't had a really good chance to really play the game of football." Smitty went on to say that because of the elements of the current CBA that regulate contact in practices, it does make it difficult to really know how these units are performing. Sunday will be the first padded practice. Smith said that Asamoah brings stability to an offensive line unit that desperately needs it.
On player intensity, Smitty said, "I would like to see the intensity level from day one be much higher than it's been in the past." When asked about the dust-up between Biermann and Matthews, Smitty said that he thought they probably were just going through a feeling-out process, drawing a laugh from the media. Smitty said that he thought Biermann was excited to be back on the field after suffering a season-ending injury in week two last season, and that Matthews isn't going to back down from anybody.
On Roddy's contract, Smith said, "His goal was to finish his career as an Atlanta Falcon--that was our goal," and, "I'm happy for us as an organization that we got a very good player that's going to be around for a number of years and that's going to help us win a lot of games."
On Jonathan Massaquoi, Smith said that his maturation has been good. He's gotten bigger, and the things they're asking him to do fit Massaquoi's skill set very well.
Roddy White told the media that he just had to learn to cope with not being able to play some games last season. That was an anomaly for a player who had a serious string of consecutive starts going when he was finally forced to sit with the high ankle sprain and hamstring injury that plagued him last season. White said, "This year I just want to just be out there every game...to get out there and play football to the best of my ability."
White said that he's not necessarily doing anything different to strengthen the ankle that was injured last season, but that he and the training staff just stay on top of it. "I'm about to go in there right now," White said, "and do exercises and stuff like that. Every day you've got to be doing something just to make sure that doesn't happen again."
White said that coming into training camp after a 4-12 season brings an added sense of urgency and that everybody is more motivated.
When asked if he needed a couple of days to get his timing back with Matt, White said, "Man, we've been together for seven years, man. Time is overrated when you've been with a guy for seven years, you know? We just go out there--we pitch and catch. We may miss one here or there--other than that, man, we just go out there and do what we've been doing."
White was asked how it feels without Tony Gonzalez out there, and White said that it is a little difference without Gonzalez, but White said that it will fall to Harry Douglas and Devin Hester to help make up for the lost production resulting from Gonzalez's retirement. White also said, "And Ju (Julio Jones) is going to have to be Ju. As long as he can be him, we're going to be fine."
Tyson Jackson said that he thought his first day of training camp with a new team went well. When asked what it was like to transition to a new team, Jackson said that this was the first time since entering the league that he's been with a new team, but he is trying to come in and be a leader and help the team win a lot of games.
Jackson was asked what was appealing about the Atlanta Falcons, and Jackson said that Atlanta's track history of success in the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era was the primary aspect that appealed to him as a free agent. "You look for things like that in free agency," Jackson said.
Steven Jackson also spoke to the media. Jackson talked about the importance of camaraderie and balance on a football team. Jackson also said that he's looking forward to getting in pads. He said, "Everyone's pretty athletic in the National Football League, but when you put those pads on, you can see who has the heart and determination."
Jackson talked about the importance of the running backs and offensive line trusting each other in the running scheme. He said the trust is the most important component of a successful running game. When asked when that trust begins to develop--whether over the course of the offseason or in training camp and preseason--Jackson said, "It starts in your heart."
Discuss day one of training camp in the comments, and let us know if you have any questions about day two. We'll try to address them as the day progresses.