The Falcons started their official preparation for this Sunday's season opener against the New Orleans Saints today. As is standard, the media was permitted to view the first 30 minutes of practice, which primarily consists of warm-ups and special teams drills. New inside linebacker Nate Stupar hit the ground running, literally, taking part in special teams drills with his new teammates.
Today was also the last day in Flowery Branch for the Hard Knocks production team. It was interesting seeing the coaching staff and trainers say their farewells. The crew was really professional throughout the process, and everyone I spoke to who was a part of the production team was extremely nice. It is going to be weird not seeing them around the practice fields anymore.
Mike Smith said after practice that the team will have a better feel for whether or not Corey Peters is prepared to play after a full workload this week. Otherwise, Smith said that the team is in pretty good shape in terms of injuries.
Several players spoke to the media prior to practice and shared perspectives on the coming season, and particularly about this Sunday's matchup with New Orleans.
On the rivalry with the Saints:
Jonathan Asamoah: From the second-from the second I got here they let me know this is a big deal, and week one's going to be wild, physical. So it's been since I got here.
Devonta Freeman: Yeah, I heard about [the rivalry]. I heard it's one of those big things like Florida State and Florida. So I heard it's a big rivalry. Of course, I love big games. Come and show up when it's time.
Ra'Shede Hageman: It's a big rivalry. At the end of the day, it's a game-it's an important game-you want to start off the season 1 and 0, obviously. But we're going through the whole game plan and just-you can tell, it's a different tempo and a different mindset in the locker room. So I'm just trying to keep my head down and keep moving forward.
Dwight Lowery: [Teammates haven't told him] much, but I feel it, you know? We haven't really talked about rivalries and things of that nature, but just seeing the demeanor of the coaches and the players and things like that, I know it's something of a rivalry so to speak, but I'm not too sure. Hopefully I'll be caught up to speed by Sunday.
On the transition from preseason to regular season action:
Jonathan Asamoah: It's just-now it's back into work as usual. Now it's game week. We're prepared-we'll be prepared.
Joe Hawley: [The third preseason game] was a dress rehearsal and that was really promising. I thought the ones came out and played well. We just need to build on that and continue to improve and start the season off on a high note.
Ra'Shede Hageman: It's a lot more serious-you can just tell just in the locker room and just how the veterans are carrying themselves. But at the end of the day, I'm just kind of just observing and just studying plays and being in my book and kind of listening to the veterans and just how they speak and understand their language. But this is game one, so I'm really just kind of observing.
William Moore: We had a great preparation. You look back at game three of the preseason-we played a lot, and we usually then play the fourth game of the preseason, because [they] gave us a good look-gave us a few series as a defense as a whole. And I think our preparation's going to be more than great going into this first week. From a conditioning standpoint, that's the only difference is because you haven't played a full game against starters and against Drew Brees. So it's going to be a very overwhelming experience going into the season.
On the offensive line's preparation and chemistry:
Jonathan Asamoah: [Offensive linemen cross-training] was a good chance for everyone to get a chance at different spots and move around, because you know during the course of the season things are going to happen and guys are going to have to step up. So it prepared us for anything that may come down the line.
Joe Hawley: Yeah, they have a great defensive front and a great D-coordinator who dials up a lot of different pressures. They can rush the passer really well. So we're going to have to establish the run and protect Matt as best we can.
I think the chemistry's great. We have a lot of players with a lot of experience, even the depth, and we've all been together a while. Obviously bringing in Jake Matthews-he's a new guy, but he's a great talent, and he's only going to help us improve. I think from a chemistry standpoint, we're probably one of the strongest groups on the team.
On the running backs:
Jonathan Asamoah: These guys have got some skills. I've been around some really good backs and I know-I kind of see traits, and as long as we do our job, they're going to be good.
You always want to keep a great offense off the field, so that's going to be a huge key for us-running the ball and attacking these guys any way we can.
Jake Matthews: Yeah, that's kind of one of the big things we talked about-keep their offense off the field-because Drew Brees is a really good player. So getting the run game going, having really good balance is going to be so much more crucial for us.
Joe Hawley: I mean, week one, playing against our rivals at home in the Georgia Dome is going to be really exciting. We had a little bit of extra time here on Monday to look at a game plan. To get the run game going is huge. Being able to run the ball with the kind of weapons we have on the offensive side really opens up the pass game and helps Matt out a lot. So we'll spend this week preparing and getting right.
Coach Tice, he really wants us to get explosive plays in the run game-not only efficient runs, but explosive plays, and we have the players to do that in the backfield. There are a lot of different types of players that complement each other, so I think we'll be good.
On Hard Knocks:
Joe Hawley: Yeah, it actually wasn't what I thought it would be. It was a lot more-they weren't as in your face. It was lot more-you wouldn't notice them. And I actually enjoyed it. It wasn't too bad.
William Moore: No doubt about it, that was a great opportunity to show what we've got going on here in Atlanta. Not only that we're a winning football team, it's that we have character on this team. We have some guys that have a sense of humor-you know, like to have fun in what we do. And we get the job done at the same time. So it was a good experience, man.
On facing Drew Brees:
Ra'Shede Hageman on facing Brees in his first regular season NFL game: I mean, he's human, you know? At the end of the day, good preparation during this week-hopefully I'll be making a sack. But he's a good quarterback, but at the end of the day, I've got to study his weaknesses. And I mean, I feel like hopefully we can get pressure in the backfield and make plays.
Desmond Trufant: We've got to stay disciplined. He'll fool you with all his pump fakes, his up-tempo offense-so you've got to line up quick. And you've got to disguise well and just when the ball's in the air, you just go make plays.
William Moore: He does the kind of double moves and pump fakes, so you've got to respect Drew Brees and what he can do. You don't want to bite on too much stuff. You just-you want to be just right against him. He's one of the top quarterbacks in the league.
On Jimmy Graham:
Desmond Trufant: He's a mismatch as a big target. He's explosive. He's competitive, strong, so we've just got to swarm to the ball when he gets the ball.
William Moore on the keys to success against Graham: Being physical and knowing your job, because Jimmy Graham, he's like a receiver-he's an athletic tight end. And he doesn't do much out of the way that you shouldn't expect. He can do anything. He can double move you, etcetera, etcetera. But it comes down to knowing your job and not thinking too much on guys like that.
It comes down to executing your play and the stuff you've got going on. You can't too much worry about Jimmy Graham. He's explosive, you know? Like I said, he does things other tight ends don't do. But at the same time, you worry about what you've got to do, you know? Your technique should allow you to put you over the edge over what he's got going if you execute.
William Moore on getting beat by Graham last season on a double move: Absolutely. That was one of those moves where they set up, you know? And when you become too physical on a play that they run all game, they're waiting for that right moment for you to be physical again and they'll give you the double moves. It's called game planning. But for me individually, I had nightmares about that play. I wish I could take it back. But as a player, if you want to become elite, you've got to be able to have short-term memory. And I learned from that play and I got better off that play.
On how the defense is coming together:
Osi Umenyiora: I mean, that's what it looks like. But then again, it's just been preseason. So I think these first couple of games are a good chance to really gel and see where we are as a defense.
Desmond Trufant: Yeah, definitely. Like I said, we had over a thousand reps in training camp, so we're gelling together and we did good in the preseason as well. But we know we've got to take it to that next level starting this week. So we're going to practice hard this week and we'll be ready.
William Moore: Definitely. That was the emphasis going into the preseason was individually, do your thing, and try to get better as an individual, but number one is try to build the chemistry of this defense, because most of these guys haven't been together. We-all the way around the board, we've got new guys, almost. And I feel like going down the preseason we continued to build the chemistry of this team, and our emphasis going into the season is, number one, stopping the run. And that's going to be important.
On expectations for this Sunday's game:
William Moore: I don't feel like it's going to be a high-scoring game. I feel like it's going to become a low-scoring game because defense is going to step up. And you've got two great quarterbacks-on both sides of the ball. So I just feel like it's going to come down to defense, and both teams are going to have to step up big.
On the important issue of whether or not Willy Mo will drop a new track for the 2014 season:
William Moore: No doubt about it. I’m about to drop World War III. Tell [fans] to be on the lookout for it. It’s in the making right now.