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Notebook: August 11


Thursday is a quiet day around The Branch. It's the day before game day and there's no media availability, which means there's no one to talk to.

Instead of making things up, I'm flipping through the notebook and clearing out the recorder, looking for anything I haven't mentioned already. There's not much left, but let's see what we find.

Ready to Go:The Falcons anticipate a little bit of everything in Friday's first preseason game. There'll be some mistakes, some big plays and a lot of nerves.

For the rookies, especially, overcoming the nerves of the big stage will be key. Head coach Mike Smith said Tuesday he expects his young players to try to play within the game plan and not try to do too much.

"It's a natural process that you go through every year," he said. "You talk about the intensity level is going to change from practice to that first preseason game. Then it's going to change from the preseason to the regular season. There's just an evolution of the intensity level. It goes up and up. I think those guys are getting excited. But we've got to keep the task at hand, and that is that we have to make sure that we go out there and execute, and don't go crazy. We got to go out and execute our scheme, and not try to make plays. The plays will come. That's what the young guys are going to try to do this week."

One of the most excited guys day-to-day is linebacker Mike Peterson and he welcomes the chance to tackle any Dolphin he can Friday.

"Being a linebacker, that's what we love to do, run and hit," Peterson said. "It's not here yet but it's getting close. I think me and along with the rest of the guys are getting excited."

Even though this year's preseason has been a well-documented oddity, some things will be the same as they always have. There will be some rusty players getting back into the swing of football things. Quarterback Matt Ryan feels they're on a good schedule and things won't be too different despite the lack of an offseason program.

"There's always some mistakes in that first preseason game every year," Ryan said. "This week will be no different. I think we've had a great week and a half of preparation, a really good start to our training camp. I think we'll probably be right around the same spot that we're always at."

For the veterans, like Peterson, the excitement over hitting is tempered a little as is the concern over the speed of the game. Guys like him will use the first preseason game to get their timing back and just get used to playing football again.

"Being in this game for 13 years, I probably can roll out of the bed and hit somebody," he said. "To me, it don't matter. Some of the younger guys may need to honed up on the tackling and the speed of the game. For me, it's like riding a bike; I've done this forever."

Pop Quizz:Rookie tailback Jacquizz Rodgers has received more than his share of talk during camp.

One of the biggest curiosities would be the plan for his use once veteran Jason Snelling returned to the team. Snellling has served the team in a number of capacities over the years, including catching the ball out of the backfield, a specialty of Rodgers'.

Earlier this week, Smith shared some insight into how Atlanta's suddenly crowded backfield may shake out.

"We envisioned Jacquizz as being a change of pace back when we drafted him," Smith said. "At the time, we were not sure what our roster was going to look like, because of the uncertainty. Now that we have Jason back, we feel that Jacquizz is going to take that role that we drafted him for, and that was to be a change of pace back."

Rodgers has shown in camp he can run between the tackles. Even though there's no hitting in Falcons camp, there is still contact from time to time. The former Oregon State star has taken the poundings and continued to move on. Thus far, it doesn't appear that he's missed an intended snap.

Feedback from players on the defensive side give further glimpses of what Rodgers can do. The overall opinion is that the 5-foot-6 back is so small in stature that he's hard to see. He can be on a player in an instant with his quickness and gone in another instant with his speed. There's a flash aspect to him.

"Jacquizz is very talented," Smith said. "When he gets the ball he's got great vision. Running through the hole he gets his shoulders north and south. He also creates some mismatches out on the perimeter.  That's the reason why we drafted him, and we're going to give him every opportunity in these next three to four weeks to show us what he can do. To this point he's done a very nice job."

Together Again:One thing a lot of people were wondering was how the relationship of the players and the team would be once the lockout was ended.

When you're spending hours and hours each day focusing on one team it's hard to know what's happening around the league. I can't speak for any other players, but the Falcons haven't missed a beat.

The lack of an offseason hurt their ability to work with some of the younger players without sacrificing starters reps, but otherwise the veteran leadership of the Falcons made sure everything stayed on course.

Once they returned, I was curious what the mood was on that first day. Smith is notorious for providing a rousing speech and decree to begin each season and training camp. This year, Smith was a little more subdued and wanted the players to embrace a back-to-work mentality.

I still had to ask, so I went to one of the most well-spoken veterans on the team, linebacker Coy Wire. The linebacker said there were no were no negative feelings among the players toward the coaches or anyone else in the building regarding the lockout. That allowed them to get back to work quickly.

He said Smith's message was hardly a message. The head coach addressed his team on the first day and calmed concerns that there were hard feelings regarding the lockout. He also told them how they would move forward.

"He just reminded us that it's business as usual and reminding us that we're not going to change much," Smith said. "We'll do what we do because it's effective. That gave us a sense of comfort that all of that is behind us, water under the bridge. Now we're just going to do what we do."

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