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Coach Munchak's Thursday Practice Report



(on who won the skills challenges the team held instead of a traditional practice Thursday)

I think we all won in the end.  Great tug of war.  We figured that would be something that they'd all get into.  These guys love competing at everything they do.  They do a lot of things like this, similar, on Fridays usually during the offseason program.  So we were thinking, we were going to wait and see how practice went over the last nine weeks.  That last practice is always a tough one anyway to get the quality work you want usually, and so we were thinking about making something more team-oriented, having a little fun with it, where these guys can bond a little bit and compete.  They all think they can throw a football, so we did a little quarterback thing.  The tug-of-war always grows.  You saw that at the end, offense versus defense.  That was probably the best one we had, the pull at the end.  It was a great way to finish things.  We had good meetings this morning, a good workout this morning with them.  I had a good team meeting with them, and I thought this was a great way to finish as we head off into vacation for the next five weeks.

(on what he tells rookies for the next five weeks)

I give them all the same message.  It's five weeks.  This is just another stage in the offseason.  Even though they're on their own to do their thing and get away from this building and the coaches and each other for a while, it's still time to be focused, know what we're coming back to, make sure they're working out, doing all the things that are important, making good decisions when they're out with their friends.  I think you give them all the same message.  They all got a good taste of what it's going to be like when they come back.  We talked about that: what our goals are, what we're trying to accomplish.  You can't take a step back.  We feel we took a step forward these last nine weeks in what we were allowed to do, and now you have to look at it the same way.  This isn't like a dead period.  This is five more weeks with an opportunity to take another step.  So when we come back, we pick up where we left off.  I think you encourage them that way.  If they stay focused—and what we're doing this for—we want this year to be a special year, and the only way to do that is by working.  You have to earn the right to beat good football teams, and we've taken the right steps to do that.  We can continue that.  That's the kind of message, as I talked to them, that they need to be aware of.  You want to give them something to focus on when they're not here.  I think they're focused on the fact that we have training camp coming up.  We've got a great opening schedule the first month of the season, and so we have to be ready to play when the season starts. 

(on if having a good offseason allows the team to do things differently at training camp)

It does.  It allows us to kind of speed things up a little bit, as far as how we install things and packages and the fact that we've really been through things twice just about, as far as installation and repping things out here.  When you get to camp now, it's something where you can just…Like last year, we had to start with individual periods and have a lot of teaching periods and really keep things at a slow pace throughout camp.  This year you could see us doing two-minute drills in the first couple days and blitz periods and things that we weren't ready for last year.  You're trying to build confidence as you're building your team during training camp.  Because of these nine weeks, it allowed us to do all of those things.  I think guys are leaving here feeling better.  Some realize how much work they have left to do, but we got as much out of this as probably you can under the circumstances.  Now it's just come on back, keep bringing the same enthusiasm and positive attitude that you saw here, and get that camp mindset ready when they come back here in July. 

(on the plan for injured players like Kenny Britt)

The trainers speak with them as far as the plan.  We had physicals on Monday, and so you get a good feel for where everybody is.  We're fortunate that we don't have a long list.  There are guys that have, besides Kenny, injuries that they haven't been able to be on the field.  You're talking about where they're going and making sure they can get the treatment where they're at.  This building is not closing.  We can no longer have supervised activities as far as coaches, but the trainers are obviously here and can keep in touch with whoever may be getting treatment.  A lot of these guys can take care of some hamstrings or some more minor things wherever they're at, just so they have a plan and they keep in touch with us.  Then there are guys like Kenny.  Kenny will be here.  He'll have a plan.  We sat down with him.  You have a calendar of what we expect over the next three or four weeks until he gets back—until we get back, I should say—because you want to have a plan so he can see what our thinking is and hoping it all goes well so that when we get back for camp he's ready to start helping us out. 

(on clarifying where Britt will be until training camp)

He'll do most…That's his choice, but yes, he's comfortable with what he's doing.  He's seeing himself improving.  We sat down with him and talked about how we'll do that, so yeah, he should be in town most of the time.  He's not going to be here every single day of the week, but enough to where we have a schedule and understanding of what's probably the best path for him.  And with his opinion too, what he thinks he needs to do.  At this point, the player should be involved too in the feedback on the knee and how it's doing.  We've been doing that for the last couple weeks, talking to him about what we think it's going to take to give him the best opportunity to be ready to help us win football games this year.  We all want the same thing.  It's just a matter of what's the best way to do that.  With his knee the way it is now and the stage it's at now, as we push him each day, you see how much work he needs, when he can start doing more, or taking a day off here and there.  It's more or less, we're at that stage, which is a good stage to be at.  I think we have a good plan of attack.  He's excited about that, and I think he sees light at the end of the tunnel.  There's nothing more he wants than to be working with the players when they come back at the end of July, beginning of August.  We feel good about what our thinking is there, and we just hope it works out well. 

(on the expectation for Kenny Britt when training camp starts)

It's a lot of wait and see because you can't predict if he'll have a situation where he'll get sore from doing something.  In a perfect world, you hope that when the guys get back that he's participating.  I've mentioned before, like he has last year with the hamstring, where he's doing drills, he's doing seven-on-seven, he's not necessarily doing the whole practice, but we're inserting him in spots where he starts building his confidence.  That would be the ideal thing, if he comes back and can start doing pieces of practice and see how it goes from there, not put too much on some timetable, or 'Oh, he did this today; he did that.'  It's going to be different.  He's going to be different from other guys with an ACL (injury).  Everyone's different with the way they rehab and the recovery.  It's more just having a plan and being willing to adjust the plan.  Ultimately, we want him to step on the field when we play the Patriots, that he can contribute in some way that day. 

(on where he feels best about the team's depth and what area could improve)

We have been bragging on them the whole year and the offseason, but the D-line is probably loaded.  We have quite a few guys there, I mean 16 guys.  That is a lot of defensive linemen, eight tackles and eight defensive ends with a lot of youth there where we feel there are a lot of guys that are really getting better at the same time at that end spot.  That is going to be interesting to watch.  For me that is a position that stands out.  The linebackers are another interesting spot.  We have guys that are more special teams minded guys, but we have a good group there that I think will be good competition.  The corner position you have a bunch of young guys, six or seven guys that will be interesting to see how that works out.  There are a lot of one-on-one situations and stuff on the offensive line with different guys pushing each other and the quarterback thing.  There are a lot of spots where I think we are much better.  When we say team speed, you hear us say that, that is obvious when you are out here.  You can see those kinds of things, which means that is a great help for special teams going forward.  We are going to have a lot of options and choices of who you want to use and who you want to return the kicks.  (Marc) Mariani has looked great out here as a receiver and as a return guy.  He looks quicker and not having the ankle bother him this year.  There is just a lot of good things to go off of for what you can evaluate this time of year.  You don't get too excited obviously.  We are not concerned about having any big holes.  We need guys to step up and develop no doubt and that is what you have to hope for.  That makes the difference in this league when guys you have drafted and guys you have been training step up and take over those spots where we had maybe some older guys that played in those spots.  We feel good about it.  We are going to keep looking and tweak the 90-man roster, but I think overall we feel we have a roster we can win with if we develop right.

(on how hard it is for a good passing catching tight end to develop into a good blocker)

For Taylor Thompson, he is just different just because he has played D-line.  He has been in the trenches.  He is not some basketball guy that never understands what it is like to play in the O-line and D-line.  He understands that world so that is a huge plus I think with his blocking.  For John Zernhelt he has no bad habits, so you see him just getting better at what he has been asked to do.  He is a different kind of guy that you feel just won't fail at whatever he tries to do.  He has had his ups and downs during camp learning so much stuff, especially that tight end spot with routes and reading coverage and then blocking like we have been saying.  I think maybe it is harder for someone else than it is for him because he has that toughness to him and I think he has that mindset that he can pretty much do anything.  I think that is a good mindset to have.  He is not limiting himself.  We will see how he develops and when it is preseason games and even how he responds in games.  We are excited for him.  He has a long way to go obviously, but you have to like what you see.

(on what has impressed him with Marc Mariani)

He just makes plays.  You sit here and talk about guys making plays and in practice and even this type of atmosphere, he is one of those guys when the ball went up, it seems like he came down with it or he found a way to get open or his routes were sharper.  He was fun to watch.  I think the quarterbacks have a lot of confidence in him.  Last year was tough for him because like we said he was not getting a lot of receiver work in camp and had the injury a little bit and it just kind of affected him a little bit.  I think it is encouraging to see he has taken to the competition.  He is a guy that has risen to the occasion after drafting Kendall Wright in the first round.  Most people are sitting there with their pen and pencil figuring out who is gone.  He is not.  He is figuring out how he is going to help us win football games.  Again that is the attitude you love to have on your team and that is what you have seen with a lot of guys on this football team that we have now.

(on practicing with the Falcons during training camp)

We practiced with them years ago when we first came here.  We met them one year and scrimmaged them and thought that was a good idea.  I think going against other teams in general is good for your team, especially when you have a young team like we do.  I talked to Mike Smith about it last year a little bit, but just because of the lockout it was too hard to plan something like this.  The way the schedule is now too it is not like we are missing a practice when you think about travel time to get somewhere, so you can really have a nice organized practice against someone else who is a good football team and really work your first and second groups quite a bit, without worrying about maybe injury like you do in a preseason game.  I think it is a great opportunity to get on the bus and it is another bonding experience of traveling together and going to a practice session together and getting a lot of reps against people that you are not as familiar with.  I think it is a good thing.  Both of us felt that way for our teams and we both have to travel about the same distance to get where we are going to get.  We are ironing out all of that, but we feel really good about that whole experience for your team.  It kind of breaks up camp for a day, but also in the long run I feel like it will be very helpful to everybody.

(on practicing on a field that is not their own)

That is where we have done our homework.  We looked for something.  You are not going to put the guys on the field that you feel is not a good one to play on.  Atlanta a lot of years has done things at high schools and they do a Friday Night Lights and they go out to a lot of high school stadiums and have practice.  I would love to at some point do something here as we get used to the training camp schedule.  I think you have to be smart and make sure the fields are in good shape.  We are not going to go on a field that we feel is a problem.  That is something you check on before you even get to that level of saying this is a good idea or bad idea.  That all made sense and everything kind of fell in place.  It is one of those things where we see how it goes and see if we like it, if not it is a nice change of pace.  Like I said, there are a lot of pluses you can get out of it.  There will be things that might not be quite as comfortable but I think that is a good thing.  That is what football is all about.  Things aren't always going to go your way.  There is a little travel, but I think it will be fun watching the guys compete.  I think when it is all said and done it is going to be better for our football team.

(on having fans from both sides attend the joint practice)

Yes.  However they figure out how they are going to work all that, I think it is another opportunity for people to come out and watch you play that normally don't have a chance.  I think that is what is nice about our camp is when you can come watch practice for people that normally don't have the opportunity to go to LP Field.  This is an opportunity for that part of the country with Falcons fans and Titans fans and there are people that like both teams.  I think it is a neat thing whenever you can create that atmosphere where people can come out and spend an evening watching and hopefully enjoying what they see.

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