With all the talk about some of the bigger names on the defensive line, there's one player that is getting overlooked a little right now in camp.
Defensive end Lawrence Sidbury is entering his third season and the continuity and familiarity on defense, he believes, will only help him take some positive strides.
"I feel like right now I'm a lot more comfortable and I'm practicing with a lot more confidence," the 2009 fourth-round pick said Tuesday. "I'm getting a lot of positive feedback, but you've just got to keep going and keep hammering at it every day and keep getting better. Right now I feel like things are going good, but I just have to keep working hard and make sure things get better."
The feedback from the coaches is consistent with the kind of strides expected out a young player, especially a young pass rusher. The coaching points include playing with more instinct and avoiding the mental errors.
Although there's a lot of buzz around some of the other members of the defensive line, Sidbury isn't trying to create a chip on his shoulder. He also doesn't view himself as under the radar or unsung, or any other adjective used to describe a player not getting the publicity others are.
"You can't worry about that," he said. "I just come out here every day and practice and keep getting better. I have some opportunities to show what I can do and we'll see what happens after that."
One of the biggest opportunities Sidbury has comes on special teams. He was inactive for 10 games last season, but during his rookie year he was active for every game. As a backup at a rotation-heavy position, he knows his play on special teams is critical. After being involved some his first two seasons, he doesn't expect his special teams expectations to decrease.
Defense Coming Together:The last few days of practice have featured the defense making plays, sometimes at a pace that is hard to keep up with. It doesn't mean the offense is performing poorly. It means, according to many of the players, that their playbook is coming together in terms of plays on the field a little quicker than the offense's.
"The last two days have been good days," safety Shann Schillinger said on Monday. "We're finally putting things together. All of our install is in right now. We're finally starting to get used to what we're running and we've done well. We've got to continue to execute and come out and continue to get better."
Head coach Mike Smith cautions everyone to be patient with what is seen at practice. Just because it appears one side is outplaying the other, there's a lot that is often not seen. At other times it may be a function of something specific one side of the ball is focused on. Regardless, Smith said it's not uncommon for the defense to get ahead of the offense at this point in training camp.
"In terms of the installation, traditionally you get the defense ahead early on in the installation and usually the offense catches up," Smith said Tuesday. "I think there's certain days you'll come out here and get a feel that the offense got the better of the practice, sometimes the defense. As I said yesterday, it's really difficult to judge who wins a practice. There's so many things that are going on in a practice. We're not trying to win practices, we're trying to prepare our team for September and the opener."
The defense only features one new projected starter, defensive end Ray Edwards, and many of the key players are returning after multiple years in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's scheme. That veteran experience can also assist with molding some of the newer players like rookie linebacker Akeem Dent.
"The guys on the roster, the guys we have out there, the majority of them have been in the system for two years, three years," linebacker Mike Peterson said. "Naturually it should be a little easier for those guys. Hopefully by Week One everyone will have it."
Smith agreed, sharing that all that cohesion helps a veteran like Edwards come in and adjust to a scheme change. It can also help those rookies can be comfortable as they learn the playbook and execute bite-size pieces of what they're here to do.
"In terms of continuity, the guys that have been in our system for a number of years, it helps us," Smith said. "We do have some new pieces that we're adding in and they're going to have to catch up. We've got some young guys that we drafted that we're hoping will pick it up very quickly that will be able to contribute because their fast and sudden guys as well."
Speaking of Snelling:Running back Jason Snelling continues to work his way back into the running back rotation. Tuesday was just his third day back with the Falcons, but he was already appearing to get his playing legs under him.
The tailback spent some time running with the first team on Tuesday with Michael Turner being excused until Wednesday. A few of those first team guys were really happy to have the fifth-year running back with the team again.
"Jason's a huge pickup for us," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "I was probably as excited as anybody when we brought him back."
The trademark versatility of so many of Smith's players is present in Snelling, making him one of the more valuable players on the team in the last few years because of his work in the blocking game, the running game, the passing game and on special teams. His return means nothing major has to change about who is completing certain aspects of Atlanta's offense.
"He's been so good for us," Ryan said. "He's worn so many different hats for us the last couple of years. I think bringing him back allows us to do a lot of things that we've done in the past because he can play so many different positions."
Tight end Tony Gonzalez also called the Snelling return "huge", sharing the sentiment of his quarterback. Snelling's work as a blocker is an underrated aspect of his game and Ryan believes his role in that aspect of the offense is pivotal.
"Him coming in kind of allows us to do some of the more complicated protections schemes that we've done too because he's so good with that," he said.