What are you looking forward to the most on Friday?
Andrew Hirsh (AtlantaFalcons.com Reporter):I'm looking forward to seeing how cohesive the team is during its first preseason game. The emphasis throughout camp has been on fundamentals. Errors have been tolerated so long as mechanics, technique and playbook comprehension improve gradually. And they have. But, if this progression doesn't translate to the Georgia Dome turf, there'll be valid reasons for concern. How will the offensive line perform in the outside zone-blocking scheme? Can the defense fly around and boast its natural talent without second-guessing? Will the rookies look like they belong? It's early in the year, and learning a new system takes plenty of time, but it's still important to play smart, organized football at this juncture.
Jay Adams (Manager of Digital and Social Content): Getting back to some competitive football. I know a lot of people can be down on the preseason, especially as it wears on into the third and fourth weeks, but after an offseason that's seen so much change and so much happen, having a chance to watch the Falcons play football again is going to be a real treat. I can't wait to see how Dan Quinn's Falcons transfer the energy from the practice field to the Georgia Dome, and while we'll see a bland version of football so as not to tip the competitive hand to future opponents, it'll be great to see how everything from the offseason comes together on gameday.
Kelsey Conway (Digital Media Content Producer): I am looking forward to a couple of different things. First, I am looking forward to seeing how fast and physical Dan Quinn's team really is. Even though it's apparent that this team is playing with a new sense of energy that requires them to play fast and physical, it's hard to gauge the level of physicality when you can only seem them matched up against one another. Another thing I am looking forward to seeing is how the team tackles. A big issue from last year was tackling, and I think Quinn's style of defense requires attention to fundamentals, and that starts with tackling. One of the best ways to guage how tough someone is in football is to see how they tackle and finish. Toughness comes from being discipline, and I am excited to see how this team executes. Lastly, the thing that I am looking forward to most is to see atmosphere under the Dan Quinn regime. This will be Quinn's first time as a head coach and I am excited to see how fired up the crowd will be with this fresh, exciting start he has brought to Atlanta.
Who will you be playing close attention to?
AH:I'm going with James Stone and Philip Adams. To me, Stone is one of the most interesting players on the team. Here's a kid who went undrafted, had a strong camp last summer and stepped into a starting NFL job as a rookie. Not easy or particularly common. Now with a year of pro football of experience under his belt, Stone has an opportunity to become an important asset to the Falcons' O-line. Whether that happens will depend on a number of factors—not the least of which his work in the preseason. Having leapfrogged Jon Asamoah on Quinn's first unofficial depth chart, Stone can potentially lock up the left guard position with a strong exhibition schedule. Even if that doesn't happen, success now would relieve some anxiety if someone else along the interior gets hurt.
Philip Adams is a guy who doesn't get much attention, but he's had a strong camp nonetheless. The 27-year-old, a 2010 seventh-round pick, has seen a lot of time with the first-team defense at nickeback/slot corner, and he's looked real solid in that role. With rookie Jalen Collins experiencing growing pains, Adams can solidify a roster spot by excelling in man coverage and keeping third-down offenses in check. JA: For me, it's Antone Smith. There's been another spotlight shed on him as top backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman sit with hamstring injuries. Smith now takes on the preseason role of starters and could see a bunch of carries in the first exhibition effort. I want to see how he does with more than just a carry here or there. He's likely going to get the ball more against the Titans than he did in a lot of games last year, despite recording a career-high 23 carries on the 2014 season. While Freeman and Coleman have been targeted as the main contenders for the starting spot, I think Smith could earn himself more and more carries with a solid preseason effort.
KC: I will be paying attention to Antone Smith on the offensive side of the ball, and on the defensive side I will be locked in on Ricardo Allen. Smith has looked impressive during camp and has a real opportunity in front of him. After talking with him this week, he seems to have a good grasp of the current situation with the running backs and has remained level-headed and team oriented, but knows that he very well can carry this offense, and I see him doing just that. I will be watching Allen in particular because I want to see how he has adjusted to the new position and how he responds when a play doesn't end in his favor. Marcus Mariota is such a dynamic quarterback and makes it hard for a defense to predict his next move, so I am excited to see Allen's in-game adjustments and how he does in his first game as free safety.
Who do you think has the most to gain from the preseason opener?
AH: My pick is RB Terron Ward. The injuries to Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman have given the UDFA signing a unique opportunity, and if he can take advantage, it'll go a long way towards earning a job here in Atlanta. Ward has made noise with his powerful north/south running, pass-catching skills and ability to grasp Kyle Shanahan's offense; additionally, he's got the right mindset for a player in his situation. Don't be surprised if the rookie gashes Tennessee's defense on Friday.
JA: The bubble players. To me, it's not any one player in particular. Any player that's on the roster bubble, as a veteran or an undrafted rookie, has to look at the first game of the preseason as a situation where they have everything to gain. It's one thing to have tape of players during practices. It's a completely different ball of wax when we're talking about competitive game film. All those players want to give the Falcons coaches something to look at in a positive way when Friday comes along. Some will succeed; other's won't. That's the nature of the game. But when you talk about who could really gain something from hitting the field for the first time in a game situation, the players who will be sweating and working into the third and fourth quarters are the ones I point to.
KC: In my opinion, it's not one particular person that has the most to gain from the preseason opener, it's the entire offensive line. The Kyle Shanahan offensive system requires that the offensive line constantly be in sync. The Falcons have shuffled around the offensive line during XFINITY Training Camp thus far, and I am excited to see which of those groupings seems to have the most continuity.