1. New Looks on Defense: Although the Saints should have around three new starters on this year's defense, it feels dramatically different this year than last. Of course there's the return of head coach Sean Payton, but there's also a scheme change to a 3-4 and a new defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, in town to head that up. The changes in place present new challenges and looks from a Saints team the Falcons face twice a year. Quarterback Matt Ryan anticipates a tough matchup regardless of the new faces and the addition of the always-reliably-loud Superdome crowd is also a consideration: "Some different personnel from what we’ve seen and what we’ve been accustomed to having gone against them now. They’ve got some talented guys coming in behind them. We’re going to have our work cut out for us, there’s no doubt about that. We know every time we go down there, it’s a tough, hostile environment. We’re just going to have a great week of practice so we know our plan inside and out and be able to adjust to their scheme and their personnel during the game.”
PHOTOS: See Images From Wednesday's Practice
2. Holmes Impressing with Preparation: Directly in front of that 3-4 defense will be the Falcons' offensive line, which includes new players as well. Second-year center Peter Konz is moving into the starting spot and Lamar Holmes, also entering his second season, is set to man the right side tackle. Last year's right guard to start the season was Garrett Reynolds, but an injury cut his year short after six starts. Konz, who is emerging as a leader of the youthful offensive line, said Reynolds has looked great, like he did to start last year, and added Wednesday that he's not sure he could have beaten out Reynolds at all last year for the starting job should the injury have never happened. Holmes has had an up-and-down preseason as he learns to adjust to the NFL level, but Konz had high praise for the 24-year-old tackle: “In Lamar I’ve seen the most improvement of any guy on our line, which gives me a lot of confidence in him when we go into a loud stadium. He’s been the guy to go in and get extra film, ask for help, to go to the coaches before and after practice and get extra reps. I’m really proud of what he’s done and what he’s going to do.”
3. Rookies Ready for a Lot of Work: One of the worst-kept secrets in the Falcons-Saints matchup this weekend is the notion that the Saints and QB Drew Brees will test Atlanta's young corners, specifically first-round pick Desmond Trufant, who is slated to start opposite Asante Samuel. Trufant grabbed his first interception of the preseason against Jacksonville, but was relatively quiet otherwise. That's not necessarily a bad thing because it also means he wasn't making consistent mistakes or getting burned frequently. Still, Trufant said he expects Brees to look his way often and he'll just continue to do what he's done. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said he and the rest of the defense don't expect to feed Trufant and fellow rookie Robert Alford a lot of advice for the game, instead they'll just let them go out there, acclimate on their own and do what they can do. The linebacker didn't see a cause for concern with what Trufant has shown this preseason and they're going to be patient with the young guys: "This is a player’s league. New guys come in every year. Some guys come in and they’re Pro Bowlers in their first year. Some guys come in and they have to learn how to be a pro. I definitely see a lot of potential in the new guys in our secondary and I think these guys are going to be really excited to play. They’ll be up for it. They’re competitive guys.”
4. Season-Opening Rivalry: To say the Falcons and Saints don't love each other is probably an understatement. For decades these two teams have faced off and in the past 10 years or so, both teams have become perennial playoff contenders, making the twice-yearly matchup all the more interesting. This year's contest opens the season and as a divisional game, it holds even more importance. If both teams have strong seasons, end-of-season tiebreakers could come down to the first game of the season. The Saints will likely be fired up by the return of their head coach Sean Payton and the Falcons said Monday they expect a physical game from the Saints. Although they're losers of 11 of the last 14 against the Saints, a number of Falcons said they couldn't think of a better way to begin the season than against the Saints. Weatherspoon shared that he's already begun receiving Twitter messages from fans about beating the Saints. He understands it means a lot to the fans and he said it means a lot to the players as well. He added that this game always meets expectations because it's deeper than just a NFC rivalry matchup: “It’s personal because we know them and they know us. Anytime you go down there you know it’s going to be loud so you know you’ve got to be ready to go."
5. New Affiliations: Alford is a Louisiana native and attended Southeastern Louisiana before he was drafted by the Falcons. Wednesday he said the last time he was in the Superdome was 2011, when he faced off against Tulane in the season opener in the Saints home stadium. He added that while he grew up a Saints fan, once he was drafted by the Falcons, that all changed. Further, he said the family members that were Saints fans abandoned their fandom for the Falcons once he was drafted by the club.