The Atlanta heat is bad, we all know it. This summer it seems particularly bad. So excuse some of the Falcons if they want to rumble during these nearly unbearable days of training camp in the summer heat.
Also, excuse them because that fire, energy, and intensity on defense is going to help this team reach new heights.
Wednesday afternoon I made it to Flowery Branch for my first visit to training camp. I try to go at least once or twice every year, and hopefully will make it back for the duel practices with the Patriots.
Obviously, I have some thoughts from the day on the Falcons practice facility.
The first is that Sean Weathersoon is going to be a player, and a very good one at that, and probably sooner rather than later. He brings it in every drill, and every play, sometimes to the chagrin of his teammates. He explodes into his opponents, whether it is making a tackle, or taking on a blocker. Yet, while he demonstrates this type of explosion, he’s also quick and instinctive in pass coverage. This is a guy who warrants watching very closely, he and Curtis Lofton are going to be a very, very, good linebacking duo in very short time.
Mike Peterson can no longer play sideline to sideline like he could in his prime, nor be as effective in pass coverage, but he can still lay the wood, and still provide leadership on defense. He’s an intense player who can get into the heads of opponents, as evidenced by starting a mini-scuffle during one on one blocking drills.
Jamaal Anderson may be closer to becoming a useful piece of the Falcons defensive line. There were a couple of times he could be found in the offensive backfield, which is a good sign. From a pure physical standpoint, the 6’6 Anderson is pretty imposing and certainly looks the part of an impact defensive lineman.
Unfortunately production hasn’t followed. After all, you can’t judge a book by its cover.
However, the Falcons plan to use him more at defensive tackle on passing downs, trying to use his athleticism to create mis-matches inside. To prepare for this role, he’s added a little bulk to be stronger inside. Early returns are it’s an improvement.
While Anderson will still likely see time at end, Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury will steal some snaps, most certainly in passing situations. Anderson has the size and strength to be a good run stopping end, and help with the run defense (the Falcons run defense improved down the stretch a year ago), so don’t be surprised if he, as the Falcons have stated earlier in camp, plays several plays at defensive end in the base defense.
Granted, you don’t use a top ten pick on a defensive end with the expectations that he’ll become a solid player in run support, but you make the best with what you have. While Anderson will likely never play well enough to warrant the pick that was used on him, he may yet be a solid defensive lineman in this league, and could be valuable this season.
In the secondary, William Moore ran with the second team, but was clearly the leader of that unit, barking out the calls on defense, in a role he seemed relatively comfortable in. The problem will be him breaking into the starting lineup. Thomas DeCoud is bordering on being a potential pro-bowler, and Coleman provides veteran leadership. I would not be surprised though, if by the end of the year, it’s the two youngsters roaming the secondary for Atlanta.
Brett Grimes has among the best ball skills of any corner I’ve seen play. The problem is that he has no size. In practice, Grimes was the only corner who seemed to be able to stay with Roddy White in any capacity.
Rookie Dominique Franks got a nice welcome to the show moment by Roddy White, himself. Trying to jam White on a quick slant, White easily dislodged Franks, and within two seconds was five steps clear of the rookie for an easy throw by Matt Ryan. I don’t think people realize just how strong Roddy White has gotten, he’s no longer the frail string bean that entered the league a few years ago.
Tony Gonzalez is probably still the best all around tight end in the game. His route running skills and ability to catch the football in traffic are second to none. When he catches the ball he always makes the proper first move with the ball in his hand as well. What separates Gonzalez though is his blocking skills. Gonzalez man handled people in the one on one blocking drills, looking like an offensive lineman in both strength and technique.
Antoine Smith, the former ballyhooed recruit for Florida State that never quite became the star he was supposed to blossom into, had his moments. He’s quick and shifty, and seemed okay as a blocker.
If Jerius Norwood can’t get healthy, or can garner a draft pick via a trade, he could be expendable. Jason Snelling’s place in the backfield rotation is set in stone, but Norwood’s injury history leave him as a wild card.
Clearly, a healthy Norwood would be the best thing for the Falcons, he’s capable of explosive plays and changing games with long runs, or catching the ball out of the backfield. But if he’s not healthy, Smith might provide a capable replacement.
Speaking of catching balls out of the backfield, Falcons coaches say they want Michael Turner to be more involved. Well, from what I saw Wednesday, there’s a reason he hasn’t been all that involved to begin with.
Matt Ryan looks much like he looked last year at this time, in control of the offense, accurate, and with the ability to make whatever throw needed. He made several nice touch throws on fade type routes along the sidelines. The bigger thing for Ryan though was that he looked healthy, planting and moving around with ease.
Alcorn State product, Tim Buckley, and undrafted free agent who impressed coaches in OTAs showed me why. Buckley is a little thicker, at least to the eye, than Weems, and quicker, again, to the eye. Buckley showed really good quickness, and his hands certainly didn’t seem to be a weakness.
With Harry Douglass back to return punts, and Dominique Franks drafted to return kicks, Weems’ value as a return man is greatly diminished, as such might be his chances to make the 53 man roster. If Buckley doesn’t make the team, the practice squad is definitely a possibility.
Speaking of Douglass, he showed no ill effects from the knee injury suffered early in camp last year. The good news is that it happened early in camp, so he’s a full year recovered from the injury. On one slant play, he caught the ball and quickly exploded up field, looking the speedy, dynamic, big play threat the Falcons offense lacked last year (no offense Marty Booker).
Another guy to watch in the passing game is Kerry Meier. The guy catches everything you throw to him, and he does a great job of getting position against defensive backs. He’s also quicker than one might assume.
The list of weapons at Matt Ryan’s disposal seems to have grown.
The kicking game, which doomed the Falcons last year, still isn’t settled, but I will say this, both kickers have strong legs, but the edge has to go to the more consistent Matt Bryant at this point.
In any event, the 2010 Falcons look like a team practicing with a purpose. Mike Smith says they don’t make their team goals public, but everyone knows what their goal is this year, to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
If there’s one thing clearly evident with these Falcons it’s that they are deep, very deep, especially on both lines. There is competition galore, and not just for starting spots, but for those final spots on the roster too. It’s a talented roster, and a well coached roster. What the 2010 season holds can’t be known for months, but it definitely holds lots of promise.