The buzz word around the Atlanta falcons this off season has been ‘Toughness’, the reason? The Falcons want to get tougher and nastier in the trenches, something that was highlighted during last year’s 4-12 season but in reality has been a long term issue. If there was a word to avoid this off season and beyond it would definitely be injuries, although this is true of all 32 teams the Falcons will be more wary than before due to the number of injuries sustained in 2013.
One way to get training camp started with bang is running the Oklahoma drill, something that has not been done in Atlanta since Mike Smith has been the head coach. For those not familiar with this drill that is often run at college programmes but less so in the pro’s, here is a brief description of the exercise: The most common format of this drill involves two players lined up three yards opposite one another. A corridor is set up typically using three blocking bags on each side of the players lined up top to bottom to create a wall, and the walls are spaced about one yard apart. This creates an area of about three feet by nine feet. The two players, at the sound of the whistle, then run at one another and the drill is over when one of the players is on the ground, or if a ball carrier is involved when he is tackled. If a player is able to drive the other player out of the corridor, that also ends the drill.
We’ll for a start you’ll see this on Hard Knocks but this seemed to have got things going as several fights broke out including rookie offensive lineman Jake Matthews instigating a scuffle with defensive end Kroy Biermann in which Matthews apparently came out on top. Now training camp scuffles are common and will take place at all 32 camps this year as they do every year but the number of scuffles at Flowery Branch, Atlanta is as high as I can remember with reports of four of five altercations, perhaps a testament to the Falcons new found toughness. The most costly of these could have been rookie defensive lineman Ra’shede Hageman injuring his hand punching center Joe Hawley, the second of Hawley’s disagreements this camp. Early reports of a fractured hand have now been downplayed and the latest reports suggest Hageman will not miss any time at all.
Head coach Mike Smith who was not happy with the fighting was quoted as saying: “I think we’re all talking about competing and fighting for jobs but we’re not talking about fighting each other,” Smith said. “We’ve got to understand that. It’s not what we’re about. We’re about competing and going out and trying to win a job, but we’re not about fighting one another and that’s something that happens when it gets hot. Today it was hot — hotter than what we’ve been used to practicing (in).”
Other injuries of note include running back Stephen Jackson who missed the majority of 2013 with a hamstring injury and has sustained another, although this time it was his other hamstring that was tweaked although Smith believes his starting running back will be ready to play in week 1 on September 7th. The Falcons have a potential early problem as the free safety position as Rookie Dez Southwood suffered a left knee injury although this is expected to only keep him out of action for one week and free agent signing Dwight Lowery who seemed to be ahead in the race to win the starting job suffered his third career concussion and is going through the league’s concussion protocol before he can return. In response to this Atlanta signed former Lions safety Tyrell Johnson who has been in the league since 2008. As for Julio Jones, who missed 11 games last year with a foot injury the Falcons have set a practice schedule of every other day for Jones so not to risk injury to their star receiver.
Away from injuries but just as worrying was the early camp form of left tackle Sam Baker who was apparently being beaten on a constant basis by defensive end Osi Umenyiora and if the problem continues into the season Baker could lose his job with Jake Matthews moving over to left tackle and it’s certainly something to keep an eye on. On the plus side Falcons fans will hope that Umenyiora will abuse more left tackles once the season starts. On a more positive note, Jake Matthews was not the only rookie to impress during camp as running back Devonta Freeman caught the eye as did linebacker Prince Shembo and wide receivers Jeremy Ebert and Bernard Reedy demonstrated superior speed and evasive cutting ability against Atlanta’s best cornerbacks.
In Additional Falcons news defensive tackle Peria Jerry was forced to retire due to injury after five years in the league that was blighted by injury and will go down as bust.
The Falcons start their pre-season at home to the Miami Dolphins this Friday the 8th of August.