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Falcons Training Camp Report: August 11th and 12th

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A summary of the last two open practices of Falcons training camp.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Good

Free safety Sean Baker has made a strong case for a roster spot, or practice squad at the very least. Baker had a heads-up pass breakup yesterday and has consistently shown that he has good instincts.

Bernard Reedy has continued to impress. Today he had two spectacular catches. He runs clean routes, has reliable hands, and is incredibly fast.

There were some concerns about Matt Ryan's accuracy earlier in camp, though as I kept saying, the days that Ryan's accuracy seemed to fluctuate were also extremely windy days. His accuracy has been fine, and he's had excellent chemistry with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, and Devin Hester.

Maurice Hagens is doing all he can to make the coaching staff's final roster decision at fullback a difficult one. I thought Patrick DiMarco had it locked down with a very strong performance in the first week or so of camp, but Hagens had a good game against the Dolphins and has continued to impress in camp, particularly with his receiving abilities.

Ra'Shede Hageman is still fine-tuning his technique, and has a way to go there, but he's just so strong. During position drills Monday, Hageman pushed Adam Replogle all the way onto the practice field. If he can channel his physical strength and aggression into effective technique, he's going to have significant impact on the field.

The Bad

It seemed like Dezmen Southward struggled some in knowing where he needed to be on the field on Monday in particular. Missing the time that he was forced to sit out with the knee injury did likely slow his development.

As much as I like Antone Smith and think he needs more touches, he's just not great in pass protection.

Tyler Starr is definitely progressing, and I've been impressed with how his technique has improved over the course of camp. It just seems like he has a hard time finishing in one-on-one and scrimmage situations, and it looks to me like functional strength remains a concern for Starr.

The Funny

If you missed it, please enjoy this video by the Falcons' own Reid Ferrin of Desmond Trufant, Josh Wilson, and others singing along with the theme song from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

The Injured

Linebacker Tim Dobbins remains sidelined with an ankle injury sustained in preseason action against the Dolphins last Friday.

Offensive lineman Gabe Carimi has yet to return to the practice fields after suffering an ankle injury last week.

Devonta Freeman left Monday's practice and did not return, but it was confirmed by head coach Mike Smith Tuesday that Freeman was simply dehydrated. Freeman practiced fully on Tuesday.

Monday's Post-Practice Comments

Mike Smith spoke to the media after Monday's practice. When asked about the Dolphins game film from rookie tackle Jake Matthews, Smith said, "I thought Jake had a very good first game. I think anytime you go out there and play your first one, there's going to plays that you like, and plays you don't like. But I think there were some really impressive plays, and I thought there were some teaching and learning moments for him. I think he's going to be a great player. He's on a fast track to being a good player in the NFL. He's got all the tools, and he's got the mental makeup. I really liked how he handled that first game - the ups and the downs of it."

As the Falcons were preparing to depart for Houston for combined practices with the Texans, Smith was asked several questions about the Texans and the combined practice process. On what the team can learn from the combined practices against the Texans, Smitty said, "Again, we're still in the evaluation process. There's going to be a lot of guys that get some things in the ball game in week one, that are going to get an opportunity to play a little bit more in week two, not just only in the game, but in practice. When you practice against someone else you get to evaluate them against players that they haven't seen, or haven't been working against for 15 practices. We want to get some special teams work done. We've been moving a lot of guys around in the special teams, to evaluate the guys in different roles, so we'll continue that while we're there."

On the format of the combined practices with the Texans, Smith indicated that it should be a similar format to the combined practice with the Titans, with some differences in how the team approaches situational drills since they are farther along in the preseason process now. Smith also confirmed that the rules will be the same in terms of fighting with the opposing team or tackling players to the ground not being permitted.

On the performances of T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree in the first preseason game, Smitty said, "Well, we had a plan that we put in place for the entire preseason. It was based on trying to give them equal reps in the first two games, and maybe make a decision on the third game on who's going to go. I wouldn't read anything into who goes in first or second because the plan was put in place before we had our first game. We've gotten TJ (Yates) more reps at practice, simply because he wasn't with us during the offseason. I wouldn't put anything into who goes in second and who goes in third in this week's game."

When asked about Hard Knocks, Smith said, "I had an opportunity to watch the first episode at 6 o'clock in the morning last Tuesday, and my concern when you're watching the show is that there is no competitive advantage that we're giving to our opponent coming up in this season. So I'm focused on what's being said, in terms of on the football field. I know a lot of it is not about football, it's about our team, and our organization, and my focus strictly when I'm watching it is hearing words that don't need to be in there that might give our opponents an advantage."

On whether the players are enjoying Hard Knocks, Smith said that he wasn't sure and that the players would need to speak on that themselves, but Smith went on to praise the NFL Films crew's hard work and professionalism, saying, "They've been here now, seems like forever, but they are very professional. NFL Films does a great job, in terms of being in the background, and you really don't know they're there. I think those guys work their tails off. They're here just as long as we are. They don't have as big of a staff as we do, in terms of help around here, so those guys work hard."

Smith provided an update on Steven Jackson, saying, "Well, Steven's progressing. He's still working with our athletic performance group. The first steps are to get back out on the field and do some work, and he was able to get back out on the field, and not work with the coaches, but work with Marty and his staff over on the side."

On whether or not Antone Smith had earned more looks, Smith said, ""Yes he did. After the Buffalo game last season, which really showed what kind of explosion he has, we felt like we have to give him an opportunity to touch the football. He continues to warrant having touches, and we'll continue to use him in the backfield and as a special teams player because up until this year his main value has been as a special teams player. I believe he's one of the top special teams players in the League, but he's gotten an opportunity to touch the ball on the offensive side, and he's taken advantage of those opportunities."

And Smith is apparently happy about Antone Smith earning more touches. Smitty said, "This is a guy that's done everything that we've asked. He's worked his tail off, and every year I think he's improved as a player. I think there's definitely packages that he can be involved with in our offense, and every year you distribute the ball a little bit differently. Up to this point he's shown that he deserves touches."

Antone Smith also spoke with the media yesterday. Smith was asked if he changed his preparation this offseason following his explosive play last season, and Smith said, "I prepared basically the same. I mean, every year I prepare like I'm the guy. That's just how I--mentally how I think. I do everything the same--I lift, I run--I mentally get myself right--I get my flexibility right. So I mentally perform and prepare every year the same, pretty much. I'm kind of more wise and more--that's what I do. I don't try to beat my body down as much--now I'm older."

When asked if his body was still ready to get out there and carry the ball as much as possible, Smith said, "I actually have no miles on my legs. My miles are pretty low. So I'm pretty much good to go."

Tuesday's Post-Practice Comments

On what the team accomplished during Tuesday's practice, Mike Smith said, "Well, we wanted to get some timing done today in terms of our practice--in terms of doing it in the morning. We got the guys up early this morning, because the next two days we're going to be switching our emphasis to morning practice and doing our walk-through in the afternoons. So that was the first thing, and then we worked on some two-minutes and goal line short yardage--some of the things that we need to clean up from the [Miami] game, especially down there in the red zone. The next step is to get on the bus, get to the airport, and head to Houston and go mobile for four days--five days."

When asked what he thinks about the team's progression from day one of camp through today, Smitty said, "I think that we've done some things very well at times, and I think that we've done some things that we've got to get better at, and that's the way training camp is. It's going to be one day you're feeling good about one segment of your offense or defense, and the next day you're going, "Damn, where was that offense yesterday," you know? So it's up and down. I do like the way that the guys are competing. That's the main emphasis for us, and everyone knows what the situation is in terms of roster spots, and they are playing the game like it's supposed to be played. I look forward to watching them finish off camp. We will--when we come back, we'll have one day of double session, and then we're going to get into game plan mode. It's already here when we get back to Atlanta. But we've got a lot of work to do in Houston."

On preparing players for the Houston heat, Smitty said, "Well, I thought yesterday was probably the closest that we're going to get to the weather that we're probably going to have in Houston. It's going to be muggy--it's going to be humid. We've got to do a good job of hydrating when we get on the plane. We've got to make sure that we drink 20 ounces of fluid per hour on the flight, and that's one of the things that our guys will be reminded to do. And it's going to be important that we pre-hydrate and then stay hydrated down there, because it's going to be competitive. Houston has got a good football team. They've got some very good athletes. I'm looking forward to watching some of our offensive linemen go against their pass rushers. They've got an outstanding wide receiver who's going to challenge some of our defensive backs. And Arian Foster--I know he's been banged up a little bit at the running back position--if he goes, we're going to see one of the top running backs in the league. So we're going to be able to gauge ourselves against some very good individual players."

When asked how one would measure the "toughness" that has become such a buzzword of this offseason, Smitty said, "How do you measure it? I think that you measure it every day and watch the physicality of the practices, and we've got to be smart when we talk about being physical. It's easy to throw the word "tough" around--it's really being about physical, and when you're physical you win the line of scrimmage, and when you win the line of scrimmage you enhance your chances of winning football games. It doesn't change--it's always been that way. And we've got to continue to watch our guys perform and make sure that they're performing with the physicality that we want as a coaching staff."

When asked about the Hard Knocks preview for the new episode that will air Tuesday evening, Smith clarified his perspective a bit on the issue of good penalties and bad penalties. Smith said, "I think there are smart penalties, and there are dumb penalties, and not just 15-yard penalties and not just in defense of a teammate. But you have to understand what's a good penalty and what's a bad penalty, and at certain points in games or if something happens in a game, there's good penalties. If a guy's running by you as a DB, and you pull him down, and it's a holding and not a DPI, it's a five-yard penalty--those are smart penalties. If you're an offensive guy and the defender's going to intercept it--tackling him and having OPI is a really good penalty. So there are smart penalties, and there are dumb penalties. And we stress that."

Smith was also asked to clarify if it's expected that players will come to the defense of teammates on the field when necessary. Smith said, "Absolutely, and that's always been the case. I don't know where this perception comes from. I mean, over the tenure that we've been here, we've been an in-your-face, don't back down--and again, sometimes reality is not what's being perceived. And we are a tough football team. This is a group of men that worked their asses off."

What's Next

The Falcons will have combined practices with the Houston Texans on Wednesday and Thursday in Houston, Texas. The Falcons will face the Texans in a road preseason matchup on Saturday, August 16th at 8:00 p.m. in NRG Stadium in Houston.