Sean Weatherspoon's laugh echos throughout the Falcons' training facility in Flowery Branch as much as the scent of chewing gum wafts over the practice fields from the next door Wrigley's plant.
It's infectious, it's playful and it comes this season with an air of comfortability it perhaps was lacking last year.
A rookie season in the NFL can be a harrowing experience. If it was for Spoon, it certainly didn't show in his personality. On the field, Weatherspoon worked hard to gain as much ground as he could, but a couple of injuries slowed his progress.
A season later and no longer a rookie, Weatherspoon's ease with the defensive system, the responsibilities on him and his teammates blatantly shows. In two preseason games, it's been even more evident.
"Being in my second year, feeling a little more comfortable out there with Curtis (Lofton), with Steve (Nicholas), talking with the safeties a little bit more, I'm just being a student of the game," Weatherspoon said after Monday's practice. "I'm trying to learn my role and just take it to that next step. I feel comfortable, and that's what's been helping me so far."
With three tackles, a half a sack, a pass deflection and a fumble recovery in about 40 plays during the preseason, Weatherspoon is showing that he is the linebacker that can make a huge impact on gameday.
In fact, against Jacksonville, he was a whisker away from some even bigger plays that would have added to what the Falcons secondary has already done in two preseason games with four takeaways.
Then again, as he tells it with a big laugh and a big smile, he's already gone the extra mile to make one big play during the preseason.
"You talked about that fumble. That's pretty funny because the fullback actually had the ball and he stood up with it and the referee was in the pile and I just kind of took it from him," Weatherspoon said. "They gave me credit for it, so I'll take that one."
Battles Continue: Head coach Mike Smith said Sunday that he hasn't made a decision on who will start at the right guard position this year — Garrett Reynolds or Mike Johnson.
Johnson returned to practice last week after spending some time on the sidelines due to a concussion suffered during practice. During that time, Reynolds got the majority of the first-team snaps and earned quite a bit of playing time vs. Miami.
Johnson came back and played against Jacksonville, working in and out with Reynolds at the position. Despite being in direct competition with him, Reynolds said it's good to have Johnson back.
"Last week, we started rotating reps some and we did that (against Jacksonville)," Reynolds said. "We both help each other work on stuff. If we see something on film, we coach each other up sometimes, especially when we're out here. He'll tell me, 'Get your second step a little more vertical on blocks,' or something like that. We coach each other up. We're good friends and we're working to get better as a team."
Scouting a Bit: NFL teams generally don't game plan during the preseason. What that means is that teams will approach games with a set list of things they need to work on; not necessarily what they need to do against their particular opponent to win a game.
That will change this week as the Falcons will do a little bit of game planning on Pittsburgh.
"We did zero game planning in the first two weeks," Smith said. "We're not going to be doing a full-blown game plan, but we are going to actually spend some time and watch some of our opponent's game film as we go through the week just to get our guys in tune to how we do that during the regular season."
Smith said he doesn't have a number yet on how long the starters will play Saturday but did say that he wants to keep them in the game as long as possible to get them exposed to as many scenarios and situations as possible.
Ray Edwards Update: Smith continues to bring defensive end Ray Edwards along slowly, but each day brings him closer to getting back to 100 percent.
Edwards spoke briefly to the media, but deferred all questions about playing this week against Pittsburgh to Smith.
"We've been ramping up Ray's work each and every day," Smith said. "I thought today he got probably half the snaps, which is more than he's had, so we're continuing to expose him to more reps."
Sid Sits: Smith revealed during his huddle with the media that defensive end Lawrence Sidbury missed practice Monday because he tweaked his ankle during Friday's preseason game. There's no timetable on when he'll return.