The Falcons were back in pads on Monday to practice with the Tennessee Titans for the ninth practice of 2014 XFINITY Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.
1. Work Against New Foes: Monday presented the first opportunity for the Falcons to see different colored jerseys across the line from them as the Tennessee Titans came to Flowery Branch for a combined practice. The spirited session offered plenty of action as the new faces across the ball presented even more competition in an XFINITY Atlanta Falcons Training Camp that so far has already been fiery.
There were a couple of scuffles in the session, and one that ended with Falcons center Joe Hawley being ejected from practice by head coach Mike Smith. Overall, Smith, who said he spent the day watching the Falcons' offense, thought good work was put in overall, but said that later in the session, things slowed down for the Falcons.
"I thought the energy was good," Smith said. "We felt the heat a little bit, as a team. This was really the first day that we've really worked super hard in pads, and I think we did feel the heat and we wilted a little bit."
The heat index reached the high 90s as Monday's session got underway and it marked the fifth straight practice for the Falcons. Four of those practices were in full pads. The team has a day off Tuesday.
2. Ishmael Ready to Play: When veteran safety Dwight Lowery suffered a concussion at Kia Motors Friday Night Lights, the next-man-up mentality the Falcons have preached under Smith went right into effect as second-year safety Kemal Ishmael was thrust into more action. With Lowery recovering in the NFL's concussion protocol, Ishmael is looking to make the most of the opportunity presented to him.
He has seen plenty of reps with the ones on defense next to William Moore and Monday offered him a chance to see where he was against other NFL competition. The limited field time Ishmael saw in 2013 was mostly on special teams, although he did record a defensive tackle against San Francisco in Week 16. That hasn't stopped him from showing confidence while on the field as the year of sitting back and watching has served him well as he understands much more about the defense in his second season.
Quoting special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, Ishmael says he hits the field with an "act-like-you-know" mentality, and he's hoping it will serve him well as the preseason looms.
"Like Coach (Smith) says, you're a shoelace away," Ishmael said. "William Moore may go down with a broken shoelace. Kemal, you're up. No questions. You're up. We always talk about, when a guy is down, you have to perform at the same level or higher than they did. I'm doing the job, doing what I have to do to help the team win."
3. Pass Blocking Looms Large for Small RBs: With Steven Jackson on the shelf for what seems like the preseason as he recovers from a hamstring injury, the pass blocking of three smaller backs will be under a microscope. Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith and Devonta Freeman will all have plenty of opportunities to carry the ball during preseason play, but what they do on passing downs is just as important, and running backs coach Gerald Brown will be watching closely.
"Jacquizz may be our best (pass blocker). Antone, Devonta still need to prove themselves in game-type situations," Brown said Monday. "We thought with Jacquizz, it would be size (that holds him back), but Jacquizz is tough now. He don't mind mixing it up with anybody, and I think in pass protection, or really in any time of blocking, you have to be willing. If you're willing to go in there and fight, that's a big part of it."
4. Robiskie Focused on Top WRs: The bottom of the wide receiver depth chart appears to be wide open at this point with veteran Drew Davis on the camp PUP list and the recent departure of Darius Johnson, who saw time on the 53-man roster last season. Wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie, however, has his mind other places (although he did glow about undrafted rookies Bernard Reedy and Geraldo Boldewijn, as well as veteran Courtney Roby).
"I think if you called Darius he would tell you," Robiskie said Monday, "if you called Drew Davis and said, 'Well, what do you think that's going to do to Coach Robiskie? he's gonna say, 'Coach Robiskie's gonna say, well, that ain't Roddy and that ain't Julio, so I ain't worried yet.' "
5. Extra Notes: Offensive lineman Gabe Carimi went down with an injury and was helped off the field by the Falcons' Athletic Performance staff. There was no update after practice on his condition. … Julio Jones and Kroy Biermann participated in practice Monday. … Standout players from Monday's practice: Jake Matthews and Robert McClain.