Training camp has reached a point where things are starting to get tough. The two days off last week were nice, but ask almost any player what day it is and you'll probably hear all you need to know about the wear and tear that is an NFL training camp.
Monday morning, head coach Mike Smith described today's practices and the ones to come Tuesday the toughest days in camp. Everything is reaching a pinnacle as they prepare for the preseason's first game on Friday night against the Miami Dolphins.
Smith and his staff added a wrinkle into Monday's morning practice. Around the time of the normal end of practice he huddled his team at midfield. They broke and went into a scrimmage to help some of the backups make up some of the reps they missed when Friday Night Lights ended early due to weather.
"We tried to change practice up a little bit," Smith said. "We had a little impromptu, full-speed scrimmage there at the end. We had a little bit of competition. I thought everybody enjoyed it: players, coaches and fans. I'm looking forward to watching the tape to who did some nice things. I had too many guys yelling in my ear about whether that was a win or a loss on the play."
Smith uses a scoring system that he designed for scrimmages to allow the defense to earn points as well. The outcome was a 6-5 win by the defense and the offfense had to do "up-downs", an old-school conditioning drill that resembles a push-up. It was done mostly in fun and no one was paying attention to the form.
"They weren't very good up-downs," guard Garrett Reynolds said.
Wide receiver Brandon Harvey was the standout performer of the 11-play sequence, with two nice catches, including one particularly impressive leaping sideline grab. Backup quarterback Adam Froman completed four passes.
Special Weems:After his 2010 Pro Bowl bid, Eric Weems' nickname of "Special Weems" is used often.
Weems hopes to pick up 2011 where he left off last season, but he has one major disadvantage: a significant rule change to kickoffs.
This season the kickoff line has been moved to the 35-yard line, creating what many believe will be kicks deeper into opponents' territory. Weems sees one result from this.
"I feel like there's going to be more touchbacks," he said. "Or guys will try to make longer returns. Either one."
He admits his opinion of the change doesn't matter. He said on Monday morning it's just something he'll have to deal with, but if anyone cares to listen, he's not crazy about the rule.
Weems will have to think twice about making a risky return now that he may be deep in the end zone as he fields a kick. A return is a risky proposition, but Weems showed last season if he can get a block or two, he can be gone. The player who uses smarts and quickness more than sheer speed believes he'll still have his opportunities, he just will have to be smart about choosing when to decide to return a deep kick.
"If the opportunity permits it, then probably so," he said.
Running Back Update:Monday marked the return of re-signed running back . After testing the free agency market, the veteran running back and career Falcon, returned to Atlanta on Sunday. Smith said his return completes their wish list of moves for this season.
"To get Jason back was really a big step for us," Smith said. "Going into it we had a wish list of how we wanted to put this team together. It's really fallen into place. Thomas (Dimitroff) and his guys have really done a great job. Jason has not only been a contributor on offense, but he's also been a big contributor on special teams. That is an important signing for us."
The return of Snelling raises the level of competition at the running back position. Already in camp were 2011 draft pick Jacquizz Rodgers, undrafted free agent Phillip Sylvester and Gartrell Johnson and Antone Smith, two players with the team last year. Michael Turner is the established starter.
Smith shared on Monday morning that Turner, who was not present, was excused from the team for a personal matter. The coach said Turner would not return until Wednesday.