The players had a scheduled day off on Tuesday, which was good, because we all had our hands full with the debut of Hard Knocks Tuesday evening. The Falcons hit the field again Wednesday afternoon in full pads to continue to prepare for Friday's preseason matchup with the Miami Dolphins.
Desmond Trufant is a remarkable young player. During training camp in his rookie season, what stood out to me about Trufant as he tried to adjust to the speed of the game was his desire to go up against Roddy White or Julio Jones on every practice snap. Today I watched Trufant find some space in the media box to fine tune his footwork while special teams drills were occurring. He is already a good young corner, and is having a solid training camp, but he's still working hard each day to improve. Trufant did have a nice pick in 11-on-11s on Wednesday.
Kemal Ishmael is coming along nicely. He looks comfortable in the scheme and draws praise from the coaching staff pretty consistently.
Devin Hester had a very pretty diving catch on Wednesday. His chemistry with Matt Ryan appears to be quite good.
Levine Toilolo is looking really good in the red zone. He made another beautiful catch on a Matt Ryan pass into the end zone today. I could see him really developing into a remarkable red zone weapon.
Devonta Freeman is successfully developing his pass protection skills. Toward the end of practice I was particularly impressed with how his technique has progressed. He looked pretty effective in pass protection situations.
I saw some technique issues with defensive backs that I didn't love. Josh Wilson didn't turn his head to look for the ball in coverage a couple of times, and once Robert McClain was playing too far off his man and allowed an easy sideline completion.
Pad level also remained too high on both sides of the ball for much of practice. That's a work in progress.
Toward the end of practice, the Falcons trotted Ryan Schrader out as an eligible receiver in a jumbo tight end situation, and it looked like Schraeder didn't get to where he needed to be. The ball sailed over his head. It's not a bad play call, but it probably needs some fine tuning.
There was another dustup between the offense and defense, one that briefly cleared the defensive sideline. It was short-lived. Javier Arenas pushed Devonta Freeman to the ground after a play was over, and Mike Johnson took exception to what Arenas did. It was a pretty minor altercation, but surely you'll see it on Hard Knocks.
Linebacker Marquis Spruill suffered what appeared to be a left knee injury toward the end of practice. There was no update on Spruill following practice as no information was available.
Steven Jackson is still out with a hamstring injury, and Gabe Carimi was also out for Wednesday's practice after suffering an ankle injury in practice on Monday.
Dezmen Southward looks to be nearly ready to get back to full speed. He was somewhat limited in practice Wednesday, but appears to be moving comfortably on his injured knee. Mike Smith said after practice that the team will give it another 24 hours before making a decision on whether or not Southward will be able to play at all on Friday.
Both Pat Angerer and Dwight Lowery watched practice from the sidelines as they continue to move through the league's concussion protocol.
Mike Smith spoke to the media after practice. On Hard Knocks, Smitty said, "I had an opportunity to view it at 6:00 yesterday morning. My focus was about giving our opponents potential competitive advantage. I thought that NFL [Films] and their producers and the producers at HBO did a wonderful job because there wasn't anything that I was concerned about, and that was my focus and will be my focus throughout the whole entire show." Smitty also said that he currently has no plans to bring back the sweet mustache he was sporting in the old footage featured in the Hard Knocks episode.
On the level of preparedness for Friday's game, Smitty said, "I know we're ready to play a game and go through the whole sequencing as a coaching staff and as players. Again, we don't have our entire package put in so we've got to limit what we're going to be able to do. There will be no game planning. We're anxious and excited about getting out there on Friday night."
On what to expect in terms of the player rotation on Friday evening, Smith said, "We've had a couple of meetings in regards to what we're going to do. We haven't finalized the rotation, but I think it will be something that you guys are familiar with. I think it's very important for us to evaluate the young players. We're going to go out there and play to win. We want to win every time we go out there, but we have to get work with our veterans as well. That's part of training camp. It's a fine line every time you go out there on the field about how much is enough work, too much work, or not enough work. You worry about injuries and exposing your guys to that, but you've got to go out there and work."
On the difference between game film and practice film, and the value of preseason tape to the coaching staff in the evaluation process, Smith said, "It's going to go a long ways because you don't practice and really get a true evaluation. When you play a game, there are 22 guys between those 53 and a third yards and they're out there competing against each other. Everyone else is standing on the sideline. There's nobody behind them to talk to them about move over to the right, move over to the left or give me this, give me that. They're out there playing the game, so it's probably the only way you get a true evaluation. I'm sure there are some guys that have done some really good things in practice that are going to have some issues and there are going to be some guys that have struggled in practice that maybe do better in the game."
On the backup quarterback competition, Smith said that it is still, in fact, a competition. Smith said, "I think it's been very competitive. One day there will be a lead by one of them, and the next day there will be a lead by the other. I think it's important that [T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree] have an opportunity to get an equal number of snaps, at least in practice and in the first and second preseason game. Then, I'll think we'll be able to make a determination on who's going to get the first reps in that third preseason game."
When asked if T.J. Yates would really be able to carry a game if forced into action, Smith said, ""He absolutely does. In the preseason, we've been in an install mode. We haven't installed our entire package yet, but we've been in install mode since the first day of training camp. When we go play this game, we're going to really condense it down. We're going to have a game plan. We want these guys to go out and compete. We want them to be assured that they're going to run the plays that they know they can run. We're not going to throw some exotics at them and things like that. We're going to do a great job as a coaching staff in evaluating the plays that we feel comfortable with, and we're going to let them run those plays so we can get a good evaluation."
On Julio Jones, Smith said, "I think Julio has looked fantastic. We've got him on a prescription of a set number of plays every other day. We've said that we would do that for at least the first two weeks of training camp and then we would make a determination on whether we would change it by upping his snaps or taking his snaps down or going to every day or every third day. Those are things that we want to get a little more information about, but when he's been out there playing with QB Matt Ryan, WR Roddy White, and the rest of the guys, it doesn't look like they've missed a step."
Julio Jones also spoke to the media following practice. Jones said that it was a little bit hot at practice, but that everything is going well.
When asked if he's feeling 100% or close, Jones said, "Yeah. Yeah, I feel good, you know? But I'm doing what they want me to do right now. Still limited reps--we still haven't made a decision yet on the game. We're still going to--I'm going to play it by ear. But I come out here every day just trying to get better, working with Matt for his timing and just--just making sure I stay in shape."
When asked if, next to his rookie season, this was the most anticipated preseason game Jones will have played in, Jones said, "Yes. You know, everybody's wanting to see me back out there on the field, just for the fans and everybody else. But I've still just got to be smart about it, because it is preseason. You don't want to rush anything and go out there and play a preseason game, and it really doesn't matter--if something happens. We've just got to be cautious. We've just got to take it one step at a time. Like I said, we haven't made any decisions yet as far as my playing time."
When asked if it's still exciting to know that in two days the team will be playing an actual opponent as opposed to going up against teammates, Jones said, "Man, I'm just happy football season's back around. I've been missing it. I've been down--this is the longest I've been without football. I just love coming out here, being able to practice. I've been without it for so long."
Jones was asked about the competition for the backup quarterback spot, and he said, "Both of those guys--well, all three of those guys behind Matt are pretty good. They're accurate and everything. But Matt's our guy right now. But I have confidence in those guys if something happens to Matt. You know, they'd come in and be able to sustain and take over the game."
When asked about how his role has evolved in terms of leadership, Jones said, "I just--just knowing the offense and knowing the concepts, you know? When I came in as a rookie, I knew how to run a slant--run this, run that. But I didn't know why I was doing it. Now I know the whole concept of the offense and I know--you know, I've got to run this route in order to pick for this guy to get this guy open. I didn't know that then, but I know it now, so I'm trying to teach these younger guys right now so they'll get a step on the game."
Jones was asked if he still enjoyed blocking as much as he did in college, and he said, "Oh, yes, most definitely. I mean, if you can't block, you can't play for the Atlanta Falcons. [Receivers coach] Terry [Robiskie], he harps on that. You either want to do it or you don't, and we're not going to have you on this team if you don't want to block."
The Falcons will take on the Miami Dolphins in preseason action in the Georgia Dome on Friday, August 8 at 7:00 p.m. The game will air on Atlanta's CW69.
Practice on Saturday will begin at 4:30 p.m. and will end at 5:45 p.m. at the team's training facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia. It is open to the public.