FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Having the bye week early not only played to the Falcons' advantage from an injury standpoint, it also gave the players and coaching staff an opportunity to do a self-scout on the first quarter of the season.
It could also be especially beneficial for Atlanta's young players who are still grasping the speed and level of play in the NFL. One rookie in particular, linebacker Duke Riley, is someone head coach Dan Quinn is expecting to seeing take another step forward following the bye week.
"He's been through it now four weeks, in terms of the regular season, [with] good match-ups and good stuff," Quinn said. "I intend on seeing real improvement on him over the next cycle of games."
As Atlanta's starting weakside linebacker, Riley has already played 147 snaps. And with any rookie seeing that much playing time, growing pains are to be expected – look no further than fellow linebacker Deion Jones during his first season to show that.
Ahead of the bye week, Quinn gave an assessment of his rookie class, including Riley. Quinn is impressed with the speed Riley plays with while the area Quinn is hoping to see improvement in Riley's game is missed tackles.
This is to be expected in a sense, though given the fact that NFL teams don't tackle in practice. Each week, Riley is going through "on-the-job" training as Quinn says, gaining another week of experience.
Riley's athleticism and leadership skills give Quinn confidence in Riley's ability to correct this aspect of his game.
"In his case because of his athleticism, we really feel like the missed tackles are going to be correctable," Quinn said. "You don't fully get to do those until you're in the game, so you need that experience and the on-the-job training. The fact that we don't tackle in practice, we try to put ourselves all the way to that spot to get there, so we're very encouraged about what he can be here. I think his leadership ability even as a young player, he's definitely going to be somebody that has that with him, too."
With Riley, Jones and De'Vondre Campbell all starting at linebacker for the Falcons, the unit is not only one of the youngest in the league, but also one of the fastest.