FLOWERY BRANCH, GA
Anytime a NFL team goes 4-12, there is going to be an excuse. And right after last season, you heard the Atlanta Falcons say had to get ‘nastier’ to get back on top.
Well, there is little doubt they are well on their way to accomplishing that goal. With new players on both lines of scrimmage, there is a level of intensity that wasn’t in place last season for the Falcons. That has been proven by several fights during the first few days of practice.
Last Friday, it was rookie offensive lineman Jake Matthews going up against defensive end Kroy Biermann. Then Monday, there were two good dust-ups. First, undersized pass rusher Stansly Maponga challenged tall offensive lineman Gabe Carimi and then rookie linebacker Jacques Smith went up against offensive lineman Ryan Schraeder.
Credit the defensive players for having the guts to take on linemen who both had five inches of height on them. But the skirmishes proved this will be a different camp for the Falcons.
“It’s expected,” said head coach Mike Smith. “Guys are competing. They’re fighting for jobs. That’s not the way to fight for a job. The way to fight for a job is to do it between the whistles. As I said early on last April, it will be a little bit different. I don’t anticipate it changing. I think there’s going to be some guys competing every single time they come out on the field because there are lots of rosters spots. Nobody is guaranteed anything.”
Smith did scoff however at the talk the Falcons needed to get tougher. He preferred a few other terms.
“It’s about being resilient. It’s about being strong. It’s about being physical,” he said. “Everyone that plays in the NFL is tough. I can’t tell you that I’ve ever been around a football player that plays in the National Football League that’s not tough to throw his body around and put his body through that. But in terms of being physical, we’ve got to be a more physical football team. That’s what we’ve been talking about since last season – being a more physical football team.”
Ok, it might be semantics – tough, resilient, strong, physical. It comes down to not wanting to get pushed around anymore. That happened way too much last season.
And as it should, it all starts on the lines of scrimmage. That’s where the new names will be the key. On offense, Matthews is new on the right side with veteran guard Jon Asamoah. While on defense, free agent signees Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson will combine for 641 pounds of muscle to team with veteran Falcon Jonathan Babineaux in the new 3-4 defensive scheme.
You should be able to tell right off the bat in next week’s first exhibition game that the lines look different. It was apparent from watching one practice Monday. These guys have been told in so many words, “Don’t get pushed around anymore.”
There are questions. There are concerns. Can the team stay healthy? Will the linebackers be good enough on defense? Will the scheme and new looks on defense confuse the opponents? Will the running backs give the offense a variety so it’s not just a passing team? But as long as the lines of scrimmage do their work, this team should be better.
They say teams win football games up front, and if that’s the case the Falcons may be on their way to erasing the dismal 2013 season. New players and a new attitude may just be the answer.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at email@example.com.
Is the Falcons running game already in trouble with another injury to Steven Jackson…