With already three XFINITY® Atlanta Falcons Training Camp practices in the books, head coach Mike Smith sounds like the rest of us, excited to see what his players look like and how they perform in pads.
"Well, I thought it went very well," Smith said of his team's recent practices. "I think that we have had the rookies for a couple days and now we've got to work with the veterans in terms of trying to get the first three days in shorts and helmets done, so we can get into some padded work, which we haven't done for a long time."
The last time the Falcons were in pads was Week 17 last season, when they closed out the season at home against the Carolina Panthers. Fast forward through OTAs and minicamp practices and fans may wonder what coach Smith and his staff can learn about a player who isn't in pads.
"I think the one thing you can evaluate is their football knowledge, if they can pick up the scheme," Smith said this weekend. "We have gone through two complete installations of our offense, through our OTAs and our minicamps; you get a good idea of how they can process what we are doing schematically, but that does not always mean they are always the best players. It's a whole lot different when you are in non-contact practices, OTAs, and minicamp, then going out and actually playing the game of football with a helmet, shoulder pads, and thigh pads."
When the pads do come on, Falcons RB Steven Jackson may be the happiest player on the squad, knowing the team's toughest players are about to be defined.
"I'm looking forward to seeing guys in pads," Jackson said. "Everyone is pretty athletic in the National Football League, but when you put those pads on, you can see who has the heart and determination and that's what pads do. The game is still a physical game and we need to be able to find those guys that can be physical."
Jackson's words should be music to the ears of his coach and the entire Falcons fan base, which is hoping for a tough, relentless playoff-bound team in 2014.
The team's first practice in pads this season begins at 3:30 p.m. on Monday.