Well, we had a feeling this year's preseason would be a bit more physical, and it was just that Monday in the first practice with pads.
Two big fights erupted during a practice where head coach Mike Smith allowed the players to tackle to the ground, which most said was the first time in his tenure he's allowed that to happen.
Big offensive tackle Gabe Carimi was challenged by defensive end Stansly Maponga. The two traded blows and then went to the ground. Smith ran over from the main practice field screaming for the entire group to get back to work and that they were wasting time.
Then a while later, offensive lineman Ryan Schraeder landed body blows on linebacker Jacques Smith, who lost the battle.
There is little doubt the fights were good TV for the cameras filming HBO's Hard Knocks. With probably 25 or so personnel around shooting the NFL documentary, it's very evident this is a different practice season for the Falcons.
But that is not keeping them from doing their job to prepare for the season. There is little doubt there is more enthusiasm in camp. The Falcons were not kidding when they promised more spirited practices and more physicality this season.
It's also apparent the lines of scrimmage are much improved. When you watch the defense, there is a huge amount of beef on the line of scrimmage with Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson, who combine for 641 pounds.
Plus, there is also little doubt the offensive line is better. Jake Matthews is really impressive. He does not look like a rookie on the field, which shouldn't be a shock considering his family history in the NFL. Matthews rarely got beat on drills and held his own on the right side of the line.
It's also evident that Joe Hawley is in charge of the line of scrimmage. He's taken over for Peter Konz as last year's main starter, and Hawley looked more like Todd McClure running the OL on the field.
One player that also stood out was second-year lineman Ryan Schraeder, who at 6-7, 300 pounds looks even bigger than last year. Also, Mike Johnson looks healthy. How long will that last? Well, if Johnson can stay on the field, he will combine with Schraeder, Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes to give Atlanta its best depth in years on the offensive line.
As for the skill players, there is no doubt that 4th round pick Devonta Freeman will add speed to the running backs. He was urged on for most of the practice by veteran Steven Jackson, who could lose carries to the rookie.
At linebacker, Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu are clearly in charge. It will be interesting to see how veterans Tim Dobbins fits in. Pat Angerer looks more like a special teams player now, although he did look healthy following his knee surgery last year.
The young linebackers will be fun to watch. The competition will be good at that position, with 4th rounder Prince Shembo showing great athleticism. You can almost tell the Falcons want him to have a significant role on the team.
Where will the pass rush come from? Osi Umenyiora will definitely have that role, but you can bet Kroy Biermann will visit the backfield as much as possible.
Biermann, by the way, went head-to-head with Matthews all day. Both players will be better for facing each other after camp is finished. Matthews will know what to expect from a high-energy pass rusher, while Biermann will know exactly how to challenge a huge mountain of a man on the line of scrimmage.
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