FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — On Tuesday, the Falcons will board a flight to Houston in preparation for some midweek joint practices, followed by a Saturday preseason tilt with the Texans.
On Monday, the Falcons completed one of their last Georgia-based afternoon sessions of training camp, which breaks in seven days. That alone should get the juices flowing for those who can’t wait for the regular season to begin.
Here are four anecdotal observations from Monday’s practice, which included QB Matt Ryan and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones.
Assuming Steven Jackson (hamstring) will be ready for Week 1 (against the Saints) and presuming that Devonta Freeman’s early exit from Monday’s practice was nothing more than a precautionary occurrence, Atlanta’s backfield has a chance to be fearsome and explosive in 2014.
Especially when factoring in the diverse talents of Antone Smith (two nullified plays in Friday’s preseason opener against the Dolphins, tallying 110 yards and one touchdown) and Jacquizz Rodgers, who scored Atlanta’s only TD against Miami.
(Head coach Mike Smith labels Freeman’s Monday malady as "nothing serious.")
But all that positive speculation takes a backseat to reality, particularly when watching the Falcons emphasize between-the-tackles rushing during a portion of intermittent scrimmaging.
This live-action competition took place roughly a few minutes after Freeman left the field with a blank stare (revealing nothing about his status), leaving Smith and Rodgers to log the vast majority of reps against the Falcons defense.
Which brings us to this: It may be unwise for Atlanta fans and media to clamor for an undisputed No. 1 tailback in the season opener, if Jackson isn’t ready to go. Instead, the strength of Freeman, Smith and Rodgers may involve their capacity for complementing one another through a 60-minute game.
On body type alone, Freeman (107 total yards on Friday), Rodgers and Smith possess many similarities. But each one brings a different interpretation of the proverbial "change-of-pace" back — not unlike how three renowned chefs might uniquely attack the seemingly mundane task of cooking beans and rice for a large cluster of diners.
Or in scientific terms, if this delicate group dynamic is anything like the "Schrodinger’s cat" principle (click here for a full explanation) … we won’t know if the Falcons’ rushing attack is alive or dormant — until we open the box on Sept. 7.
It’s not uncommon for receivers, old and young, to experiment with one-hand catches during drill work.
But on Monday, Jones added a degree of difficulty to the task, extending his right arm, placing that hand out — with palms facing down — and instructing his practice "QB" to throw line-drive balls at or below his hand.
In essence, Jones was attempting to pull down medium-velocity balls with only his thumb and pinkie finger — which seems like an impossible task.
To Jones’ double credit, he caught a few balls here and there. But he also had the good sense to know that most one-handed grabs occur when the receiver gets leverage on the ball, using his palm and fingers to seal the deal.
There’s a yin-and-yang effect to contact practice drills involving the offensive and defensive lines.
When the O-line (coached by Tice) succeeds in a pass-rush simulation, the D-line (coached by Cox) must carry the burden of momentary failure.
And when the D-line executes a textbook stunt bull-rush — freeing up Osi Umenyiora for a ramming-speed clean shot at the quarterback (this happened on Monday) — the O-line bears the responsibility … and the brunt of Tice’s follow-up critique.
And yet, there’s usually a clear line of demarcation separating the great special teams from the porous ones.
The 2014 Falcons have a chance to hang with the cool kids in the special-teams realm, thanks to the addition of Devin Hester, who owns the all-time NFL record for punt-return TDs (13).
On the downside, there’s a reason why the Chicago Bears were willing to let Hester sign with Atlanta. He turns 32 in November and has only three total touchdowns over the last two seasons (two receiving).