FLOWERY BRANCH, GA —If the Atlanta Falcons' secondary is playing with a little more enthusiasm in this year's training camp it may not just be because of the presence of free agent acquisition and premier cornerback Dunta Robinson.
There was another addition to the secondary in the offseason that may have something to do with it.
Secondary coach Tim Lewis brought his 15 years of coaching experience to Atlanta this season and the defensive backs have embraced his coaching style, techniques and approach to playing the position. He's given the players permission to play with the passion that has been noticeable throughout the early days of camp.
"Coach Lewis has brought a lot to us," cornerback Chevis Jackson said Friday. "He helps us with our coverages. He's brought a swagger to our secondary pretty much. He tells us to go for the ball if we want to get turnovers in the defensive backfield. We're just trying to do things like that and instead of knocking the ball down, trying to get our hands on it."
It's tough to replace a Hall of Famer, which the Falcons had in Emmitt Thomas, last season's secondary coach, but doing so with a former first-round draft pick fills the shoes a little fuller.
Lewis, a four-year veteran of the NFL whose career was cut short by a neck injury, was the 11th overall pick in 1983 by Green Bay and finished his career with 16 interceptions in 51 games.
Once in the NFL as a coach, Lewis has served as a defensive coordinator in addition to defensive backs coach. He came to Atlanta during the offseason from Seattle after the Falcons elected not to renew Thomas' contract.
While the secondary appears more aggressive on the field, Jackson says that's not exactly the case. Lewis has encouraged them play with a go-for-it mentality, but to be smart within that mindset.
"I wouldn't say aggressive, just pick your spots," Jackson said. "When you can, get your hands on the ball and play smart, but know how to get your hands on the ball."
Veteran safety Erik Coleman feels Lewis hasn't just improved the attitude, but brought a new scheme and game planning approach that benefits the players on the roster currently.
"He brought a lot of different coverages," Coleman said. "He brings a different knowledge of the game that most of us didn't have before. It's refreshing."
A night under the lights:Head coach Mike Smith and the entire team are excited about playing under the lights of local high school [North Gwinnett](http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&rlz=1G1GGLQENUS380&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=North Gwinnett High school&fb=1&gl=us&hq=North Gwinnett High school&hnear=North Druid Hills, GA&cid=0,0,2792182880118818684&ei=31VcTJFF4K8sQOh653dDQ&sa=X&oi=local_result&ct=image&resnum=2&ved=0CCQQnwIwAQ) on Friday evening.
Friday Night Lights, a yearly milestone of training camp, will feature live action with tackling for the players for the first time in the preseason.
"It's going to be the offense competing against the defense," Smith said. "We basically have some rules of engagement that we have in place in terms of offensive playcalling and defensive playcalling to let our guys go out there and compete."
The overwhelming majority of defensive players are looking forward to the event to finally get to tackle and every player loves the big crowds Friday Night Lights turns out.
A physical nature:One player involved in some of the mix-ups and face-offs late this week as camp hit its grind was linebacker Stephen Nicholas.
The fourth-year veteran is involved in a heated battle at the outside linebacker position with Mike Peterson and 2010 first-round pick Sean Weatherspoon. A starter last season, Nicholas believes the competition can only make the team and its players better, but he's focused strictly on what he can do each day.
"I look at it every year and there's been competition," Nicholas said. "Last year was competition, this year is competition. The thing is to go out and compete and work hard. My thing is to go out there and work on me and don't worry about the next guy. If I can do that, I can work on things that I need to get better on."
Smith believes Nicholas is one of the more physical players on the team, certainly at the linebacker position and can use that to help force traffic to the outside, away from the middle of the field. He also is still a valuable member of special teams for the Falcons. Smith has liked what he's seen from the 2007 fourth-round pick.
"I think Stephen is having a solid camp," Smith said. "Stephen is in a battle, I think right now, with three guys that are competing for two spots at our outside linebacker positions. I think Stephen continues to get better. The way that Stephen really has value for us is that he's a very physical football player that when you put him in the box, he can spill the bubble."
Nicholas believes playing physical is one of the biggest aspects of a linebacker's game, especially at the strongside position where he started last season. As opposed to the weakside, the strongside requires a more aggressive body, shedding blockers and filling holes. However, Nicholas is still always trying to fine tune other aspects of his game
"That's the biggest thing about a linebacker," Nicholas said. "You have to be physical. You have some finesse linebackers, but I just try to bring that physical and finesse to it. It's a physical game, for a linebacker you have to play physical."
Off the field this training camp, Nicholas has shown another side, a lighter side to Falcons fans.
"Nick Cam" is a feature on AtlantaFalcons.com that follows Nicholas around camp, providing fans an insider look at the hi-jinks and camaraderie of training camp.
Nicholas has fully embraced the role and says he loves doing it.
"For the Nick Cam, we try to bring it all out and let everybody see what's going on," he said.
He also had one final message to the fans:
"Stay tuned for the Nick cam!"