FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons switched things up a bit for Friday's practice, their eighth of the preseason, and opted for a late-afternoon session instead of their usual morning one.
With plenty of fans gathered on the hill watching the team, the Falcons were split into two separate squads and scrimmaged against each other for much of the practice. This elongated 11-on-11 session provided a nice opportunity for players to separate themselves from the pack as they battled for a spot on the 53-man roster.
Let's dive on into this special edition of takeaways after dark.
1. Julio discusses his health, importance of preseason games
One of the few players who was on the sidelines for much of Friday's full-team practice session was All-Pro receiver Julio Jones. He's been slowly getting more reps in practice after having offseason foot surgery, however, so this development is really nothing to be concerned about.
After practice, Jones was asked how he felt about easing back into things rather than going all-out at this point.
"I feel great about it," Jones said of taking things slow. "We all know what I can do. There's no need to go out there and just be like: OK, we're going to go full practice, full speed every route, every rep. (I'm) just easing myself back into it. I know my teammates got me, and they know I've got them. I'm going to be ready when it's time to go."
Jones also made clear his feelings on seeing action during the Falcons' preseason games.
"Whenever I'm ready, I'm ready," Jones said. "You know, I can't really say when I'm going to go -- like in the preseason -- but whenever I'm ready, I'm going to go. Like I said, I'm a professional; I don't want to hurt myself nor the team. When I'm ready, I'll go."
While the preseason may not be an important time for a player as experienced as Jones, it will be a critical period for the Falcons' offense to get live reps with Steve Sarkisian as the coordinator. Running plays in practice is one thing, but executing against another team will reveal much more.
"Right now, it's kind of hard, because we haven't been in games," Jones said when asked how much can be learned about Sarkisian's offense. "We do in-game situations here and there, but it's different when you're in a game. So I'll definitely see Thursday, but, for now, he's been doing a phenomenal job for us calling the plays, the personnel, getting (the ball) to the playmakers. I mean, he's been doing a great job for us out here."
To watch all of Jones' post-practice press conference, click here.
2. Competition at wide receiver starting to heat up
Although Jones is widely considered one of the best players in the NFL, and he's surrounded by other talented Falcons receivers, there are several young players at the position who appear to be neck-and-neck at this point for a spot on the roster.
Two of the receivers who really stood out during Friday's practice were Marvin Hall and Josh Magee. Both players saw a good number of reps with the first team, and each of them came through with some nice catches. Their performances left a good impression on coach Dan Quinn.
"I'm glad that you brought up Hall and Magee," Quinn said when asked about the young receivers. "Today, and really in this block, they are two that stood out to me, as well. Hall with his speed -- not only at gunner, we're going to see if he can punt return -- but he's been somebody that's impressed. And Magee, he has the toughness, the competitiveness, the grit, the strain that we're looking for. I agree that those two are embracing how hard you have to go for and how hard you have to battle."
While they're certainly off to a good start, Quinn explained that their chances of landing a spot for the season will likely come down to something other than their abilities at receiver.
"Really their role on special teams," Quinn said, "and what other jobs, other than playing receiver can you do?"
3. A couple of notable names missed time on Friday
Many of the Falcons' best went up against each other Friday evening, but there were a few important players who were either absent or sidelined for portions of the practice. The most glaring absence was that of running back Tevin Coleman, who Quinn said was excused from practice due to personal reasons.
"Tevin I excused from practice today for a personal reason," Quinn explained. "So, he's excused and he'll be back for the next one."
The other players Quinn mentioned were second-year offensive linemen Kevin Graf, who was unable to finish the practice, and starting safety Keanu Neal.
"Keanu started off, and he had a strain," Quinn said. "I'm hopeful he'll be back. The ones that had a strain, we backed off on and (we'll) get them strong again and hopefully he'll be ready to start the next block."
Julio Jones and Taylor Gabriel were also limited in their participation during the scrimmage periods.
You can watch Quinn's entire press conference after Friday's practice, here.
4. McKinley and Matthews have a brief dust-up during one-on-ones
To this point, there have been very few extracurricular activities between Falcons players. There was one short, heated moment between rookie pass rusher Takkarist McKinley and starting left tackle Jake Matthews during a head-to-head pass-rush drill, however.
Chalk this up to nothing more than two competitive guys who play a very physical sport getting in a little more action after the whistle.
5. Highlights: Magee fully extends to make a nice contested catch
Magee made several impressive plays during Friday's practice, but his grab across the middle with cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson right on him was among the best. (You can watch it here.)
These are the type of plays that help a player stand out in practice, but as Quinn said, this is only one part of the equation for Magee.