Fans joined the Falcons at Archer High School in Lawrenceville, Ga., Friday night for the Falcons' annual Kia Motors Friday Night Lights practice.
One of the many hot topics around 2014 XFINITY® Atlanta Falcons Training Camp has been the improvement of the team's offensive line, coached by Mike Tice. Headlining the group up-front is top-pick Jake Matthews, who continues to be better than advertised. Coach Tice addressed the media Monday morning, offering updates on a wide variety of topics, including Matthews, the battle for the center position and thoughts on today's combined scrimmage against the Tennessee Titans.
What has stood out to you about Jake Matthews?
Coach Tice: "We knew when we drafted him that he was further along than other tackles in the draft. We felt like we were going to get a guy that was ready to step in early. From the second week he's been with us, he's taken all the reps with the ones. His footwork is extraordinary. He's outstanding and confident. He has some things to continue to improve on with his hands, but it comes very natural and very smooth, with his technique. He's an outstanding run blocker; I think that's something that might have been overlooked. He brings his feet with him on contact and he has very minimal mental errors for a rookie. I think he's stoned his guy more than seven-consecutive times, from the tape I've seen. There have been very few times he's been edgy; I think to this point, he's had an outstanding camp."
Do you hope that type of intensity will continue?
Tice: "It's going to continue. I don't even worry about him. Sometimes, I don't even watch him on film; I look at the other stuff and try to clean that up."
Thoughts on the play of tackle Sam Baker:
Tice: "Sam's worked really hard on changing up some of his technique. We've been trying to dabble in a few minor footwork changes and a few changes with his body lean and some steps on the back side. In the run game, he's bought in; he's doing an excellent job of trying to execute these techniques and I think he's had a very solid camp."
What have you seen in the battle at the center position, between Joe Hawley and Peter Konz?
Tice: "I think both guys have had a really good camp. I think Hawley's had a very good camp to this point, with a long way to go. They both have done a nice job with their calls; Joe is getting calls out of his mouth, especially in pass protection, very quickly, allowing us to have sime time in there to settle in. His ryhthym and tempo is very good; he's utilizing his quickness and he can pull with the best of them. He's very good in the screens and both centers have been outstanding in the screen game to this point. I'm very pleased with both centers. I thought the other night, during the Friday Night Lights practice, I thought Peter had his best practice."
Thoughts on your line's ability to get out in space and block?
Tice: "Some of the schemes we've put in are new for them, some of the schemes were already in the offense and maybe our ratio is a little higher in calling them, it is something I've done for years, pulling the center, way back when we had Jeff Christy in Minnesota. I like getting the levearge on the defesne. In certain defensive fits, if you can get the center out, you can out-leverage them, so we're going to continue to work on that and I think the guys like it."
What is your assement of the guys, since they've been in pads?
Tice: "The guys pad levels are down. They've done a nice job in the run game; they've done a nice job in the double teams in the running game. They've done a nice job on the inside part of the pocket. I think they're right on track, but we're always looking to get better. You're either getting better in each practice or you're getting worse; so, we keep focusing on getting better."
What are your thoughts on today's combined practice with the Titans?
Tice: "We're excited about it. You get tired of beating on your brother after a while. These guys are all brothers and we're a football team and we need to work hard to get each other better and at times, we're not smart and we don't do that. (DL coach Bryan Cox) BC and I are really trying to push these guys and help each other, but today, we don't play our brothers, so that's pretty good; we'll see where we're at. I'm excited for it."