1) Jones Making His Way Back: Julio Jones isn't practicing yet, but just his presence on the field is a sight for sore Falcons eyes. After missing last Wednesday's voluntary practice session, Jones was back with his teammates this week. Head coach Mike Smith added that tackle Lamar Holmes missed Wednesday's practice due to a death in the family. Along with Jones, all of Atlanta's rehabbing players are working hard: “Julio’s been out here all throughout our offseason program. He’s been working on the side with our athletic performance staff, like a number of guys. We’ve got a handful of guys that have not been cleared to practice. We’re optimistic about all our guys. We like the way they’re working not only in the field but how they’re working in the training room as well. “
2) Defensive Conundrum: Is it a 3-4 or a 4-3? That's the question on everyone's mind about this year's Falcons defense, but on Wednesday, Smith said not so fast. While discussing how outside linebackers will operate in this year's defense, Smith reminding everyone that the sub defense Atlanta fields (the one with five or more defensive backs) will be what they operate out of the majority of the time: “Our outside linebackers put their hand in the ground when we’re in the sub defense. Our sub defense is our base defense because we play it 65 percent of the snaps. We want one voice. They’re hearing one voice so that’s why we coached our coaching style in a different way.”
Smith added later that they will be an 11-man defense and will let opponents figure out what they want to call it.
3) New Face at Safety: We don't know much about safety Dwight Lowery, but that may change as we move closer to the season. Lowery was added in free agency during the offseason and has been putting in time opposite William Moore during OTAs. Lowery has ties to Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff dating back to Lowery's days at San Jose State and it was there that the safety played cornerback as well. With Atlanta's defense routinely fielding five or more defensive backs, it will be critical that the DBs on the field are versatile and can defend the pass. Lowery feels his experience all over the defensive backfield makes him a better safety: “As I progress throughout my career, I’ve played pretty much every defensive back position so you get to learn the responsibilities of all the other players. When you play safety, a position that’s more back and has to understand the whole picture, it’s easier to because I’ve been in those different spots.”
4) Growing Together: It's hard to not get excited about the young duo the Falcons have at cornerback. Some around the league felt Desmond Trufant deserved Defensive Rookie of the Year honors last season and second-round Robert Alford moved into the starting position late last season. They're back for their second season, fresh off a ton of experience in 2013 and they're already considering the possibility of being one of the better duos at CB in the league: “We want our names to be out there such as the Seahawks cornerbacks and the other cornerbacks. We want to put ourselves out there and let the league know we’re top-tier cornerbacks in Atlanta, too. Pretty much, we’re going out there competing and trying to show that we’re one of the top duos of corners in the NFL.”
5) Young Players Growing Up: The upside to last year's extra playing time for rookies and young players is the experience they got from it and what it could mean for this year, especially on defense. Smith reminded the media on Wednesday that there were times last season where six or seven rookies were on the field for his defense, which is not an enviable situation. This season, all that experience should come in handy and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan thinks young players like Trufant and Alford will only benefit from the playing time they received as rookies: "We had to rely on them last year, they played an awful lot for us. I would think with a year of experience they will be better this year. The thing all young players face is after that first year, the opponents also know a little about them too. Even though both players played well for us last year, going into this year they now have the challenge of getting better themselves but also the challenge of some other teams can look at them like they know who they are and will take them more serious than I did before. That’s the battle that a young guy faces.”