The 2014 edition of Friday Night Lights was a tremendous success, as more than 12,000 fans packed the stadium at Archer High School to watch the Falcons partake in various drills and a short scrimmage. Below are a few thoughts from the event.
- Bernard Reedy wowed us early on by scoring a touchdown in each of his first two reps of one-on-one work. His speed, which has been well-documented over the last few days, is electrifying, and the fans were quick to notice. There were a lot of people wondering who was out there in the No. 89 jersey, and many left with strong impressions of the Toledo product.
- It was tough to gauge the performance of the running backs, as defenders were careful not to dole out any big hits, but Devonta Freeman looked very good. His vision appears to be as good as advertised, and his quick feet allowed him to change directions to turn broken plays into significant gains. He did struggle in pass protection, but I suppose it would be unfair to expect him to be a stout blocker at this point. Again, tough to evaluate RBs in this environment, but Josh Vaughn had some big runs.
- Paul Soliai is a big, big man, and you can't fully appreciate his size until you see him in person. He and I made eye contact during warm-ups and a wave of fear naturally flowed through my body. This team sure needs a guy like him. There were a few snaps when he and Jonathan Babineaux lined up next to each other, with Babineaux on the left side, and together they ate up a lot of space. This provided stand up linemen and 'backers some added room to move around. I really enjoy seeing the 3-4 formation, especially with a humongous nose tackle at the center of it all.
- On a related note, Ra'shede Hageman out-muscled opposing linemen on a number of occasions and made a nice pass deflection that required some ups. I'm very curious to see how he progresses over the next few weeks and throughout his rookie campaign. If he can effectively spell Soliai when the veteran needs a rest, that'll give the front seven a huge boost.
- Paul Worrilow is definitely bigger and faster than last year. Not only has he become even more physically imposing, but he is moving around with the kind of confidence you like to see from a defensive leader. I don't know if he can replicate last season's numbers, but I've yet to find a reason to believe he's experience a sharp dip in production. While we're talking about linebackers, Prince Shembo looked sharp in coverage.
- Jake Matthews. Damn. The kid is phenomenal. He was a rock every single time I focused on him -- which was roughly 10-12 snaps -- as he consistently neutralized every defender who came his way. Matthews has the brute strength necessary to be an NFL lineman, this much we knew; but his technique is so far beyond the average 22-year-old pro. Between him and Jon Asamoah, the right side of the O-line appears to be in good hands. Talk about a breath of fresh air...
- Dwight Lowery did go down with an apparent head injury, but he also showed some nice coverage skills and batted a few balls down -- as did Javier Arenas. Josh Wilson had a pick during the scrimmage to go along with a few pass deflections.
- Speaking of the secondary, I thought that unit as a whole fared extremely well. Desmond Trufant was badly burnt by Jeremy Ebert during a 1-on-1 rep, but he, Robert Alford, Sean Baker, Arenas, Wilson and several others impressed me.
- The organization and Archer did a phenomenal job putting on the event. Things started slow with lots of stretching and mundane drills, but it wasn't long before the crowd got into it. Fans were particularly affectionate toward Roddy White, who was the subject of a few chants throughout the evening. Skydivers during the national anthem and post-scrimmage fireworks were nice touches, as well.
- I'm sure HBO got some fantastic footage, but the Hard Knocks crew was hardly noticeable. I spoke briefly with one of the cameramen, and he said he hasn't felt or heard any negative reactions from the players, coaches or staff thus far. Everyone I sat with knew Hard Knocks in Atlanta, but most were unaware the crew was in attendance until it was pointed out to them. Harry Douglas and Roddy White did put on a bit of a show for the cameras when they had downtime, when the two had a dramatic yet lighthearted chat on the sidelines, which I'm sure will make for great TV.
What did you see in the scrimmage?