The Atlanta Falcons held the tenth practice of 2014 XFINITY Atlanta Falcons Training camp in Flowery Branch on Wednesday, just two days before their first preseason against the Miami Dolphins.
1. Southward Returns: Rookie safety Dezmen Southward hit the field Wednesday for the first time in a week as he spent some time on the sideline with a knee injury. It couldn't come at a better time as the Falcons are currently in need of some looks next to William Moore with veteran Dwight Lowery still in the league's concussion protocol. Head coach Mike Smith hasn't determined if Southward will see the field on Friday as the Falcons play their first preseason game of the 2014 exhibition slate, but getting Southward back practicing is a step in the right direction. "It was good to see him back out here doing some play on the field and not being with the trainers," Smith said. "We're going to let 24 hours pass and see where he is, in terms of if there's any residual effects, but he did do a lot of work today."
2. Hard Knocks Buzz Continues: The buzz from HBO's premiere episode of Hard Knocks on Tuesday night was still going strong as the Falcons met with the media following Wednesday's session. Smith got a chance to view the episode at 6 a.m. Tuesday as he watched with a select group to make sure there wasn't anything being tipped as far as competitive advantage goes. When he finished watching, he had no changes to give the NFL Films crew. "I thought that NFL (Films) and their producers and the producers at HBO did a fantastic job because there wasn't anything there that I was concerned about," Smith said. "Really, that was my focus and will be my focus throughout the whole entire show."
3. Falcons Ready for Friday: The work the Falcons have put into XFINITY® Atlanta Falcons Training Camp through nearly two weeks is paying off in Smith's eyes. He thinks the Falcons are ready for their first game competition this week as the Dolphins head to the Georgia Dome for a 7 p.m. kickoff. But don't expect much razzle-dazzle. As with previous years, the preseason won't give away much of anything in terms of the size and variety of the Falcons playbook.
What Friday will show, however, is just where certain players are when Smith puts on the game tape. Practice is one thing, but getting a chance to see players in live situations will be invaluable for Smith to see the positive and negative sides of his players' progression.
"It's going to go a long ways, because you don't practice and really get a true evaluation," Smith said. "When you play a game, there's 22 guys between those 53¹⁄³ yards and they're out there competing against each other. Everyone else is standing on the sideline. There's nobody behind them to talk about, 'Move over to the right, move over to the left, gimme this, gimme that,' — they're out there playing the game. It's the only way you get a true evaluation."
4. Competition Behind Ryan Gets Going: How much Matt Ryan and the starters play Friday night has yet to be determined, but if you're an avid Falcons fan, you're going to want to pay attention to the snaps the quarterbacks behind him get. TJ Yates, Sean Renfree and Jeff Mathews have a chance to separate themselves from each other during Friday's game as they'll be splitting the majority. Yates, who was added in a trade near the end of veteran minicamp in June, has a strong command of the playbook already and Smith said that he's right on par with the other quarterbacks who have been through the Falcons' offseason program.
5. Jones Itching to Hit Field: Julio Jones says he's at 100 percent. That alone is reason to celebrate. He's ready to hit the field, too, but he's playing along with the "prescription," as Smith calls it, of on one day and off the next. He's not sure if he'll be participating in Friday's game just yet, but he said Wednesday that he feels like he's in great shape. "Everybody just wants to see me out there on the field, just for the fans and everybody else," he said. "I've still just got to be smart about it because it is preseason. You don't want to rush anything and go out there and play a preseason game when it really doesn't matter, if something happens. We've just got to be cautious right now."
Extra Notes: Lowery (head) and linebacker Pat Angerer (head) returned to the sideline during Wednesday's practice. The two have been absent during camp sessions, but watched practice — usually a good sign of progress. ... Linebacker Marquis Spruill left the field midway through practice with what appeared to be a leg injury. He was walking under his own power, but he did not return. No update was available after practice. ... Jones, Roddy White and Levine Toilolo took a couple of extra stabs at redzone routes with Ryan after Wednesday's session wrapped up. Former Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez used to do the same thing at least once a week, so that tradition is continuing with the Falcons' current stars.