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Falcons replicating game speed, ramping up competition

When Dan Quinn says the Falcons will play fast and physical football, it's not just talk.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

When you think of Dan Quinn, the words "fast" and "physical" might come to mind. It was evident from Tuesday's practice as the team kicked off the third phase of OTAs that these are not just words to Quinn.

Everything was fast. The pace was intense. The team was as physical as they could be in a no-contact situation. The defense is attacking the ball, and the offense is fighting to protect it. Competition is at peak levels as guys not only battle for positions but also battle against their counterparts on the other side of the ball to make each other better.

Quinn was thrilled with the way players responded to the pace and intensity of practice. "I think, one, we wanted to learn how to really practice fast and against each other, but doing it safely," Quinn said. Obviously in a situation where contact is carefully regulated by the CBA, there's a balance to strike.

The pace and the intensity of the competition on the field are designed to prepare players for game day situations. "When we become a really good practicing team, that's when it'll carry over into the game," Quinn said. "So number one, just the tempo and the attitude that we're trying to practice with. Outside linebackers going against tight ends, guards and centers going against defensive tackles, wide receivers going against DBs -- that type of competition where you get to go back and forth against somebody, that's really what will make us, and that was one of the things I was most pleased about as we got started into practice today."

The way the new-look Falcons practice may not seem fully structured, but there is a method to the madness. It's all about being prepared to succeed on the field in September. "The fast pace, in terms of the attitude and the style and you hear the music -- really, what we're looking for is not a clean environment in which to practice, because that's really not how you play, where everything just lines up just right and there's not so much noise," Quinn said. "The energy, the situations that we put the guys in, it's intentional for that to make it more competitive, more -- what would seem like chaos to a lot of other folks, but for us, that's how you play the game, and that's why we're trying to create so many of those scenarios every day."

Quarterback Matt Ryan stressed the difficulty of game planning against speed. This transition to playing fast and physical will be an advantage for Atlanta. "I think speed is key. It's trying to play against -- scheme is one thing," Ryan said. "You're going to game plan week to week for scheme, but trying to replicate speed day in and day out is huge."

Speed of the game is usually a challenge for rookies adjusting to the NFL, but Ryan said the pace of practice eases that transition as well. "Particularly for guys that are just coming into it. The more you can replicate how fast a game moves on a practice field, the better off those young guys are going to be and the more productive they're going to be early," Ryan said. "So I think with the scheme that we've got, it allows guys to go out and play fast and play fast in practice, and when you practice well, I think you play well. And so hopefully we can do that moving forward."

Devonta Freeman said the team's going to have to be able to run fast to execute the new offensive scheme, so the pace of practice is helping facilitate that. "The way this offensive scheme is set up is perfect," Freeman said. "You've definitely got to be in shape and you've got to be able to run fast and stuff, man, make great reads, and the outside zone scheme is great for us."

Freeman, who won a National Championship with Florida State, speaks from experience when he says that the pace of practice reminds him of the way winning teams approach their preparation. "I've been on winning teams, National Championship teams - championship teams a lot," Freeman said. "I can tell -- like the pace we go on, the competitiveness that Coach Dan Quinn is trying to get out of us every day definitely looks like a Super Bowl [team]."