FLOWERY BRANCH, GA —It didn't take too long Monday morning before the first crack of the pads echoed throughout the Falcons training camp facility.
The first big pop came from rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who was obviously ready to get the pads on. The rest of his teammates showed the same type of enthusiasm as the tempo of a practice with pads was much higher than practices without.
"When you have your first padded practice, the energy level is higher and ramped up because it's really the first time (this season) these guys have played football, albeit we weren't tackling today," head coach Mike Smith said. "It's the first time they've really played football with their uniforms on. It was a fun, spirited practice this morning."
That fun spirit was felt right away as the offensive linemen spent some time before the stretching period hooting and hollering while doing a bit of a modified leapfrog drill.
It was very apparent that suiting up in full gear was a welcome change on the field.
"You can't play a game like that," defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson said of not wearing pads after Monday morning's session, "so when we're out of pads, we try to work on little things as far as pad level and technique. But once you get the pads on, you get to play with a lot more violence, a lot more aggression and that really shows truly who you are in the trenches."
Two days ago, running back Devonta Freeman noted that practicing without pads takes away a crucial part of his game. The star back got a chance to test out that part of his game, but perhaps no group has had more taken away from its game without pads than the offensive and defensive linemen.
Without pads, the O-line and D-line are relegated to practicing footwork and technique without having to worry about making contact. While having the ability to do that is crucial during the first days of camp, the linemen were eager to step into the next phase of progression.
"In the trenches of the O-line and D-line, there's contact every day, so there's a lot of things we really can't simulate without pads," defensive end Lawrence Sidbury said. "You can work on your hands, your footwork, your technique without equipment on, but you really put it together 100 percent when you put the pads on."
With putting the pads on, however, comes the higher possibility of injuries occurring. Smith wants to make sure the Falcons remain relatively injury-free during the first weeks of camp as they head into preseason games.
That goal conflicts with the style of practice now being conducted with pads, which is why he is taking every precaution he can to make sure players aren't put in position to get hurt.
"It is very conflicting because you have to go out and you have to work and have contact against one another, but the thing that we talk about all the time with our guys and we preach it to them is we've got to make sure that we take care of one another," Smith said. "If anybody's in a compromising position, we need to make sure that we lay off. There were a couple of times today that I thought we had some guys in some positions that I thought we shouldn't have hit them, but we will address that with them. We did after practice and we'll do it in our film study, as well. We've got to make sure that we don't hit someone when we're in a defenseless position.
"The other thing we're doing is that we're trying to stay high. There will be no cut blocks until Friday night when we have our scrimmage."