FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- In the regular season, winning trumps all. During the preseason, player evaluations are a coach's primary concern.
Dan Quinn is in the midst of his own evaluation process, and it's one that will continue on Sunday, when the Falcons travel to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers at 4 p.m. ET for their second preseason game.
Speaking with reporters after a team walkthrough on Thursday, Quinn explains why he makes internal focus a priority over game planning for the upcoming opponent.
"The most important thing for us, right now, is to find out (about) the players," Quinn explained. "And to not inhibit them from – especially a young player – of things that could jam them up where we don't see them at their very best. For us to see the best version of themselves, we want them to be really clean-thinking, really straightforward. I'm not even concerned about a disguise on defense or particularly a motion or a concept offensively. It's how hard do they play?"
These evaluations are most important with the younger players the Falcons have in camp. There are several competitions this preseason involving some fresh faces, including those at running back and wide receiver.
Showing up at practice and making plays during drills are one thing. Coaches want to see how their young guys perform when the game speeds up and the moment is real. In these preseason games, players build trust among one another.
"As a young player coming up, you're trying to show, 'man, you can count on me,'" Quinn said. "That trust factor has to happen. Okay, you're in the game, you're handling it like you're supposed to. Until you go through those, you haven't earned that trust of some of your teammates yet. It's an important step for these rookie players, especially."
Of course, in order for those evaluations to occur, a player has to be available to play. Last week, the Falcons were without a few notable players, including first-round draft pick Takkarist McKinley.
Heading into Sunday's game, the two players who have already been ruled out are Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman, who is in the NFL's concussion protocol, and defensive end Martin Ifedi, who is dealing with an ankle injury.
Quinn said that some determinations on who will play against Pittsburgh have yet to be made.
"Not yet," Quinn said when asked if he's reached any decisions regarding McKinley's availability. "I should probably give you a good update tomorrow. I'll have a better sense for it then. But (McKinley) has had a good week. We'll definitely get some guys back who weren't able to participate in (the game) last week that are this week. "We're going to see where it goes with (Taylor) Gabriel, with Takk, with (Jack) Crawford. So we got some guys that I'd like to take it through the whole week, and we're always going to make great decisions for the players. It's a long way to go. If they're able to play like they're capable, without anything holding them back, then it's time to let them play. If they're not quite there yet, then we'll wait."