This week's combined practice with the Jaguars in Jacksonville marks the second time in as many seasons that Mike Smith and his team has worked with an opposing team during the preseason. Last season the Jaguars and the New England Patriots both visited the Falcons' Flowery Branch facility.
This year, the Falcons are traveling down south and will spend Wednesday night working with the Jaguars before Friday's preseason matchup.
The head coach believes facing another team in a setting other than a game environment helps break up the monotony of training camp and the preseason. Smith's familiarity with Jacksonville (he was once the team's defensive coordinator) gives him a comfort level in knowing the practices will be run in a similar fashion and thus productive.
"Well, to work against some other guys I think it's important," Smith said on Monday. "We've been going at it for 17 days, and we've been working against ourselves. We had one opportunity to work against someone else. When you line up against the same guy every day you get to know their tendencies, you get to know their steps, you get to know a lot more about them, and this is a chance for us to go out there and compete. We've got a really good schedule down there. Coach Jack Del Rio and his staff, and our staff worked over the summer to put together this practice plan. I think we're going to get a lot accomplished."
The opportunity to face a different color jersey is enticing to to the players and they know the lack of familiarity with an opponent is helpful to the training camp development process.
"That's going to be exciting," linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "We know all our offense's plays and they know our plays. Going against someone that doesn't know what we'll be doing is going to be pretty fun. We'll be able to switch a few things up."
Of course for a hard-hitting linebacker like Lofton, there's a little extra incentive as well. It's nice to hit someone other than a guy you share a locker room with.
"I'm getting tired of hitting the same old people," he added. "All these red jerseys, I'm ready to hit something in green."
But on the other hand, Smith has been careful to remind his players that this is a practice setting and there's a right and wrong to practice. There may be a few dust ups, but both teams have every intention of being respectful.
"I think everybody's professionals at this level," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "You have to understand there's a way to practice and a professional way to practice. I think one of the good things about it is we know Jacksonville knows that and they know that we know how to do that. I think it'll be productive."
But Smith is still expecting an enthusiastic team of players as they step onto the field against Jacksonville as they inch closer to the second preseason game. The competition will be heated and that's healthy. Training camp is winding to a close, but the preseason is in full swing and guys are starting to gain edges in competition battles. There's still a long way to go and to go against a different team, even in a practice environment, is a good way for a player to catch the eye of a coach.
"It ramps up," Smith said. "I was really impressed with the intensity we had in the game on Friday night, and I'm sure it will be the same thing. We got to take care of one another, even though we're going against another team. The tempo will be the same; we're not going to be tackling and taking guys down. It's two days prior to us playing them in the preseason game, so we're going to have to be smart. We know them, they know us; they were up here last year. We got a lot of real good work. I think we'll get the same down there, we just have to be careful."
After the Falcons play their Friday night game, the players will have Saturday off. Practice will resume on Sunday with the morning session being open to the public for the final time. Sunday's afternoon walkthrough will mark the official end of training camp. Smith said once camp breaks they will begin to hone their in-season game week routine.
"Camp will officially end on Sunday, and we'll come back next week with our preparation for Pittsburgh and actually go through a game week," he said. "All the sequencing of when the guys arrive here in the building; they'll all be out of the dorms, except for our rookies. That'll be the first real game week that we've gone through."