FLOWERY BRANCH, GA —The Falcons' second preseason game Thursday night against the New England Patriots marks the end of training camp and the two-a-day practices that accompany it.
Following Thursday's game, Saturday will be the final day the team conducts two practices before introducing the players to their regular season schedule next week.
Entering the matchup with the Patriots, head coach Mike Smith said the team will follow a similar pattern as they did in last week's victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. The primary objective is to get the younger players playing time for evaluation and expects the starters to play between 18-20 snaps in the game, depending on where drives start and end.
The Falcons have game-planned very little for the Patriots and the second preseason game will be more read and react for the Atlanta defense within the parameters of the installed defensive schemes. Smith said he doesn't know what the Patriots will show the Falcons, although he has seen some tidbits of their season plan during Tuesday's combined practice.
"I don't know what to expect," Smith said after Wednesday's practice. "I don't believe they're doing anything in the preseason game planning for us. We haven't spent any time game-planning for them. We had an opportunity to see their first team personnel the last two practices. I know that they did draft two tight ends and I'm sure they're going to want to work those guys and get a good look at them."
If the Patriots feature their two young tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, it will provide a good opportunity for rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to show off his coverage ability.
Injury update:Defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson left Tuesday's afternoon practice with a knee injury. Smith said Wednesday Jamaal was feeling sore and will be added to a list of players that will be game-time decisions.
"We'll see where he is with that and we'll make a decision with 36 hours away from game time," Smith said. "There's a number of guys that we'll make a decision on a couple of hours before the game on whether they'll play or not."
Cornerback Brent Grimes, who missed Tuesday and Wednesday with a groin injury, is also among the game-time decisions. Smith stressed one of the team's focuses in preseason is keeping players healthy and the coaching staff will hold out a player if there's any concern regarding an injury.
Smith also stated that there's a strong chance Atlanta will have the same number of players sitting out Thursday night as they did last week.
Safety William Moore, cornerbacks Brian Williams and Dunta Robinson, and defensive tackle Peria Jerry are not expected to participate in this week's game.
Wide receiver Harry Douglas, who spent all last season rehabbing from an ACL injury, will be in the lineup Thursday.
"Harry has been practicing at full speed, once a day," Smith said on Monday. "Unless there are some issues that arise in the next 48 hours, we plan on having Harry participate on Thursday."
Focus is on fewer whistles:In last week's contest the Falcons were penalized eight times for 61 yards. Smith said he's looking for his team to respond to that performance and play more disciplined against the Patriots.
Smith shared that he's spoken with the team about following procedures within plays, reducing false starts and working toward eliminating all penalties. He anticipates improvement in this area.
Beyond the reduction in flags, Smith wants to see a progression from last week to Thursday in football IQ, especially from his young players.
"We want to see our guys progressing in terms of understanding the scheme, especially the young players," Smith said. "It's an evaluation for the young players and we don't want to see them make the same mistakes they made in Week 1 to Week 2."
With the third preseason game as the target for the majority of starters and veterans' playing time, the rookies and younger players will have plenty of time to work on those focuses in the game.
Rookies Weatherspoon, Corey Peters (defensive tackle), Dominique Franks (cornerback), Kerry Meier (wide receiver), and Shann Schillinger (safety) all played extensively — and well at times — last week and will be expected to continue their preseason progression. All five figure prominently into the Falcons' plans for depth at key positions this season and the rookies will need to meet the coaches' expectations.