Do you remember your first football game under the lights? The roar of the crowd that’s filled with diehard fans made up mostly of friends and family. The butterflies that no matter how many times you try and calm down keep twisting your stomach into knots.
For most, it is the reason they play the game. It is the reason they put up with practices in hellish temperatures twice a day wasting away their summer. It is the reason they add more weight to their bench press. They do all of this just for a chance to play under the lights.
Though what I just described is an extremely oversimplified version of what NFL players experience, the feelings they once experienced in high school are not overshadowed by wealthy contracts and higher expectations. On Friday August 2nd, the Atlanta Falcons had their first scrimmage of the preseason under the lights. Friday Night Lights sponsored by Kia Automotive allowed the Falcons defense to tackle for the first time, allowed rookies their first stimulated game experience, gave coaches a more accurate evaluation of their players, but more importantly, it brought every player back to their high school roots reminding them why they play the game.
For the exonerated Brian Banks, it meant his first opportunity to tackle since before he was falsely accused of kidnap and rape. When asked what the opportunity to play for a crowd meant to him, Banks responded, “Just to be a part of this, for people to call your name and have people that support you is incredible. For people wanting to be a part of the crowd of people that said ‘I believed in him.’ To me that’s so big. I’ve seen both sides of the human spirit when people downplay, degrade you, and humiliate you. To be here now when people want to be a part of your forward progressions, it’s a blessing and I thank God every day.”
Despite the blessing of just being able to play, Banks has continued to grow and impress coaches with his performance on the field. He continued to play middle linebacker for the Falcons, meaning he was calling plays and getting his defense lined up- an extremely important leadership role. According to Jeanna Thomas from the Falcoholic, Banks is settling in and looks much more comfortable than he did in minicamp. She noted that in minicamp you could see the wheels turning in Banks’ head about his positioning on the field, especially on passing downs. Now, he looks much more natural, and is adjusting to plays in real time without having to think as much.
Another standout from Friday Night Lights was rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant. The Falcons are placing all their bets on this rookie sensation but he has continued to impress despite such high expectations. Though Trufant is expected to start over other rookie Robert Alford, some believe that Alford might currently be better off than Trufant due to the fact that he was with the Falcons throughout OTAs and minicamp while Trufant returned to the University of Washington to finish his degree.
Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan stated, “(Trufant is) certainly not struggling. He’s doing a very good job. He’s working with the first group, but I think he’s doing a very good job for a rookie. He’s picking up things real well. He’s an intelligent player. We knew that when we drafted him. Physically, he’s gifted as well. I think his experiences from a family standpoint with his brothers playing in the NFL, the NFL is not too big for him. Some guys come in and there’s a little bit of an adjustment from that standpoint.”
Offensive leader Roddy White even spoke to the media about the competition looming between Alford and Trufant saying, “They talk every day. That’s the thing I love about those guys. They’re ultra-competitive. They come out there and they push and shove you and do things like that. They rally around each other. It’s good to see.”
Head Coach Mike Smith addressed the cornerback position as well as other position battles stating, “We have an open competition at a number of positions, linebacker being of them. Secondary and the offensive line are two more. Those are probably the three areas where we’re not set in terms of what our roster will look like.”
In terms of the rookie cornerbacks, Smith has been extremely reliant on veteran Asante Samuels to prepare these rookies for professional football. Smith spoke with the media saying, “He can help them a lot in terms of getting pre-snap keys and reads. I think that’s one of the strengths that Asante has, that’s why he’s been so productive in terms of creating turnovers and having the number of interceptions that he’s had in his career. He can give those guys some of that knowledge on what they need to look for pre-snap read and after the ball’s been snapped.”
Overall, Friday Night Lights did not reveal any secret weapons or major weaknesses of the Atlanta Falcons. Rather, it gave the players a chance to prove themselves in front of a crowd of over 14,000 that roared with excitement just to see their hometown team play. It reminded the players why they put up with all the training in the offseason and offered a glimmer of hope for the upcoming 2013 season. Falcons kick off the 2013 preseason with a scrimmage against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday August 8th at the Georgia Dome.