1. Antone Smith Looking To Step Up: In 2013, veteran running back Antone Smith came out of nowhere to be a surprise part of the Falcons offense. Although limited in his offensive role with just five carries on the year, he made the most of all of them, finishing with 145 yards and two touchdowns. His yards-per-carry average? An eye-popping 29.
In 2014 XFINITY Atlanta Falcons Training Camp, the fifth-year running back is looking to take another step toward a bigger role in the offense with a crowded backfield around him. The Falcon spent a fourth-round pick on running back Devonta Freeman out of Smith's alma mater of Florida State, but Smith said he's feeling up to the level of competition.
"That's every year in the NFL," Smith said Sunday. "If you don't want the competition, you shouldn't be playing here. That's just point-blank. You should know that just by being a pro. There's somebody every year trying to come and take your job. My mindset every year is to compete. That's it. That's just how I was grown — just compete every year, no matter what."
The speed and flash Smith displayed during those five carries last season is evident through three days of camp and the veteran has been getting his share of looks on the offensive side of things.
2. Julio Has Still Got It: Fans who have come to Flowery Branch so far in camp have been treated to a display by Julio Jones. But take it from someone who has the best seat in the house for his comeback as to whether the foot injury is still bother the star wide receiver. "He's looked real good coming off a foot injury," said second-year cornerback Robert Alford, who has had his share of faceoffs with Jones so far in camp. "He's helping me and (Desmond Trufant) get ready, him and Roddy (White)."
3. Eyes on the Trenches: When the pads come on for the first time Monday, head coach Mike Smith will be locked in on the offensive and defensive lines. It'll be the first time he'll be able to get a realistic view of the toughness and strength of the current crop, including the new and bigger additions to the units. Said Smith: "The calibration of our roster from last year to this year definitely indicates that that's an area that we wanted to address. As I said (Saturday), we've gotten bigger, we're stronger on both sides. We've added new players through the draft and through free agency, and the guys that are returning are bigger and stronger. It's gonna be scrutinized every single day and I think you'll see the depth chart will change, maybe not on a daily basis but every couple of days. We want to look at as many combinations as we possibly can."
4. Worrilow, Bartu Showing Confidence: A year ago, Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow were wide-eyed undrafted rookies, just looking to make an impression on the Falcons coaching staff. This time around, the difference is highly noticeable. The two are playing with a high level of confidence. Every move looks deliberate. There's no hesitation at all, and they look to be able to read and react quicker than last season. That bodes well for the pair, who look to be relied on a lot in 2014: "They're light years ahead of where they were last year," said Smith.
5. Shembo Soaking It All In: Fifth-round linebacker Prince Shembo has had his name thrown around since he was selected by the Falcons in May as someone to watch in 2014. He's certainly been a sight so far as the veratile rookie continues to show that he could find himself in a defensive role at some point during the season. Working at inside linebacker for the first time since he was in ninth grade, Shembo is picking up what the Falcons are teaching him quickly. In coverage Sunday, he made a nice play to tip a pass and almost came down with the interception. He's made some strides, but he's perhaps modest about the progression he's made so far: "I just keep on learning every day, just keep on giving maximum effort," Shembo said. "I'm still learning. I'll just keep on learning every day until I'm old."