Whenever defensive line coach Bryan Cox, OLB coach Mark Collins and secondary coach Tim Lewis speak to the media, there's bound to be some nuggets. As they met with microphones Friday, they didn't disappoint.
Here's what we learned from our conversations with them:
- Cox said that Travian Robertson has benefitted from having Paul Soliai in front of him. Robertson has been a standout in the media's eyes and Cox has noticed the progression in his play so far during XFINITY® Atlanta Falcons Training Camp: "He's growing. He's learning. Having Paul here has certainly helped him out. Having Corey (Peters) in the background, not being able to practice has been helping him out. Guys are in the same room competing with each other, but helping each other because, ultimately, when we make the cut downs and whomever is on this team, we all need to be able to, one: play together and be on the same accord, be unselfish toward each other, and the brotherhood, you just keep hearing me talk about the brotherhood — to me, when somebody else can talk about all the peripheral things, but at the end of the day, you have to make sure you've got each other's back."
- The versatility of Cox's group is what's been standing out most to him. There are a handful of players who he's been able to shift around into different positions without any slack being given up: "The thing that you're seeing is you're seeing guys able to play left, right, inside, outside, sub, big sub — whatever roles we've asked them to fill, they're filling it."
After having a break from practice on Wednesday, players returned ready for day six of 2014 XFINITY Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Thursday afternoon.
- Cox on Hageman: "Ra'Shede is a bit like myself and I've got to get him to be more positive with himself. He's quick to get, not down on himself, but if he makes a mistake, he wants to do so well sometimes, he's trying to be too perfect. We've just got to get him into not asking what he wants, but demanding. As being a big man, don't ask for it; just take it."
- The retirement of Peria Jerry on Thursday has shaken up the defensive line crew and potentially has opened things up for younger, undrafted players to step up, 6-foot-3, 320-pound Kentucky product Donte Rumph among them. Here's what Cox had to say about how Jerry's departure has changed things: "We don't know how this thing is going to shake out. Are we going to keep six? Are we going to keep seven? Are we going to keep eight? To me, it's my job to coach them up to the best of my ability and when we get to that juncture where they say, 'Here's what we're gonna do,' we'll make that decision at that time."
- In the meeting room, Cox accepts and welcomes back-talk from his players. He'd rather have open confrontation than have something stew behind the scenes and end up causing a bigger problem down the line. The players have responded well to it: "At the end of the day, they're men, I'm a man. Again, I just call on my playing days when I always heard from Bill Parcells, don't listen to the tone; hear the message. Sometimes when I'm screaming or cussing or whatever, at the end of the day, they know I've got their backs."
- You've heard buzzwords all offseason and now into camp — "tough, gritty, physical" — but how do the coaches define the difference between those things? Cox expounds: "Toughness can be a mental trait. It doesn't necessarily have to be a physical trait. You can be mentally tough and just overcome something. When you're physically tough, it's taking somebody and telling them what you're gonna do to them and doing it and they can't do anything about it. We're trying to create a little bit of both of those. It's almost a bully's mentality. When you come in the door, I'm the baddest son of a b---- out here and ain't nobody better than me. That's the mindset you have to have to be good, in my opinion."
- Mark Collins has worked closely with Kroy Biermann since Biermann began his comeback from an Achilles injury in 2013. If anyone can attest to the progress Biermann has made in that effort, it's Collins, and he had some positive things to say Friday: "We know he's a smart, tough football player, but the thing I've really seen here in the last couple of days is he's got a little bit of burst back. To me, it's kind of like the old Kroy is back. He looks comfortable, pushing well off that foot, so that's been encouraging the last couple of days. He's been a little bit more explosive off the football."
- Asked if there have been any surprises in camp so far, Collins pointed to second-year DE Stansly Maponga, who he said has had a good few days recently.
- Identity can be a big thing for a unit and it's something that can either develop over time or be forged by a coach from the start. Asked what Collins wants his unit's identity to be, he summed it up in one, clear word: Reckless. "We want to play physical, we want to play fast, we want to play on the edge, not over the edge. ... We want a nasty mentality. Safe doesn't win."
- Seventh-round pick Tyler Starr has garnered attention for his high-motor style of play. Collins gave his impressions of where the South Dakota product is so far: "He's a young guy. He has some athleticism, he has some range in space. He's doing a good job. He's a little bit behind, I think, from a pass rush standpoint, because as you guys know, it's a hell of a transition from college into the pros, so that's been a little bit of a transition. But he's got a good spirit. He busts his ass every day and I'd be surprised if he didn't continually improve here over the next three or four weeks."
- The pass rush is the big concern among many Falcons fans heading into 2014. Collins understands the need and desire to create more of a pressure situation for opposing quarterbacks and he thinks the Falcons will be able to achieve their goals in this area: "We understand that we've got to amp up our pass rush and, to me, that's a full unit, so we've gotta be better inside, we've gotta be better outside. We've got to improve for us to get to where we want to go this year. There's no concerns, though. I think we're working the right things and the boat's pointed in the right direction."
- Undrafted rookie outside linebacker Jacques Smith has had a few mix-ups with veterans so far in camp and it's because of the way he approaches the game. Collins hasn't asked the rookie to know his role or to tone things back at all. He likes what he's seeing out of the young OLB: "No, we never want to tone anything down. The thing we want to make sure is that we're being smart and we're getting in work. I don't want every drill to turn into a fight, saying 'Hey, I'm a tough guy,' but I certainly don't want to take (crap) from anybody out here and I don't want my players to do that either. I like it. He's a tough, physical kid and I really like where his arrow's going right now. I really like him."
- Lewis has paid close attention to one of the hot spots in the secondary this camp — the nickel position. He likes what he's seeing out of all three of the active participants in that competition — Robert McClain, Javier Arenas and Josh Wilson. Being a bit of an unknown to Falcons fans, Wilson has been taking most of the snaps at nickel so far in camp and Lewis' history with Wilson and the knowledge of his skills might be one of the biggest factors in that: "Josh brings experience. I coached Josh up in Seattle for a year, so what he's done thus far has not been a surprise to me. He brings experience. He's got very good athletic ability, very good intelligence. He understands the pro game. He's been a starter in the NFL. He's played a lot of football."
- What's the identity of the Falcons' secondary right now? Lewis' response: "Coach (Alex) Karras said this a long time ago and I believe it. Every team he's ever coached has taken on a new identity and training camp is where you forge that. Whatever it is, we'll know come the New Orleans game. We'll know what that identity is. Right now, I don't know. I know we're going to be relentless. I know we're going to run to the football and chase it, and I know we're going to play physical, have fun doing it. But the identity of the defense, of the team, it'll take shape here in a couple of weeks."
- With NFL officials being more conscious of defensive holding in 2014, Lewis isn't taking any chances with his secondary. He wants them all to know the rules and embrace them. When the crew gets together to go over the day's practice film, there's an NFL rule book sitting right next to the projector and Lewis goes over it at least once a day. He even will make players stand up and read each article of the rule aloud to the rest of the group. "The videotape is a great teacher. The big eye in the sky doesn't lie, so although some guys don't recognize their hold or fouling another guy, those cameras might tell a different story. We keep going over and over it, emphasizing it and letting them know that this is how they're going to officiate it."