Head coach Mike Smith didn't need the new CBA rules to guide him into taking better care of his players. His regime has been following a practice plan not unlike what's been laid out this year for the entire league.
He's always been generous about giving his players a day off too and on Wednesday that first day will come for the Falcons.
After five days of grinding in camp, the last two with pads in the morning's full-length session, the players will duck into the dorms after meetings wrap up at 10 p.m. today and hopefully little will be heard of them Wednesday.
Smith had one message for his guys to take into their day off: Get some rest.
Players appreciate a day off any time it comes, but after the blistering heat of the past two days in pads at Flowery Branch, staying indoors all day will be a nice reward.
Tuesday's morning session featured situational work.
"Today our emphases was really on situations," Smith said. "We started our practice with two minute situations. We went in and did some red zone. We had some third down. We finished our practice with blitz. I thought our guys handled it extremely well. It was very hot for our second day in pads."
Smith shared on Tuesday that he felt following a conversation he and tight end Tony Gonzalez had during the Pro Bowl in Hawaii that his future Hall-of-Fame tight end would return for his 15th season.
The last few years Gonzalez has contemplated whether the next year would be his last and this offseason was no different. All it amounts to for him is an embrace-the-good-times approach.
"Every year I've figured this might be my last one so I've tried to really, really enjoy it," he said. "But the longer I last in the league, I'm like 'Okay, this might be it.' You enjoy yourself. I enjoy myself with the guys. This is my third year with the team so I'm really getting into a good groove with everybody, I know everybody pretty well by now. I'm having a blast. It's fun."
Gonzalez is not going to decide just yet whether this year will be the one when he calls it quits. The player known for his impeccable good health habits says he feels great physically and felt he could play three more years if he so chooses, especially with some of the changes by the league to the practice schedule. For him, like many players his age, it's a decision of whether or not he wants to fight through the routine of the season.
"Even though we're on one-a-days, I've been on those for the last eight years, it's still a grind," Gonzalez said. "We're still up at 6:30 and in bed by 10:30. After a long six-month season, we hope it's six months, that wears on you, too. I've just got to take it one year at a time, but I feel great physically."
The name of Rafael Bush may not be on the tips of many tongues, but the coaching staff of the Falcons know the second-year safety well.
After joining the Falcons as an undrafted free agent last April on the heels of an illustrious career at South Carolina State University, Bush made the practice squad and was promoted to the active roster for the final game of the season. With the backup positions wide open behind established starters at safety, William Moore and Thomas DeCoud, Bush is doing everything he can to impress the coaches. From observations with him and his coaches during the early days of camp, the staff likes what he's doing.
Bush credits the ability to learn while on the practice squad last season as a factor for his positive start in camp this year.
"Last year the practice squad helped me," Bush said. "That year I got a chance to watch the game. It slowed down for me and I was able to gain confidence and learn a lot about the NFL and things that I didn't know. I think this year coming in I'm a lot more confident knowing my job and responsibilities. I think that's got the coaches eyes and they felt like they believed in me. I'm just out here just continuing to work hard. Whatever they ask me to do I'm going to do. It's exciting."
There is no lack of confidence in the physical part of his game. What Bush felt he needed to maintain was how he approaches every day and every assignment mentally. One of the curveballs the coaching staff has thrown to him is asking him to get in some work at the nickel cornerback position, in addition to his natural safety position.
"I just came into the season with it in my mind mentally, if they wanted me to play safety, nickel or corner, I wanted to be able to do it mentally," Bush said. "I put that on my back. Whatever they ask me to do, I want to go out there and mentally try to get it down and watch everything and see how it pans out."
He believes the versatility he's developing at corner and safety, in addition to playing special teams, only makes him a stronger player and more valuable to the team. It can also help him stay around in the league a little longer than the average.
It's still early, but so far in camp, the mental preparation paired with Bush's natural athletic ability are making it hard for the coaches to ignore the fact that he may be the role-playing, backup safety they're looking for.