Atlanta Falcons: Introduction to training camp

ATLANTA, GA- Sweat, blood, and maybe tears, will be shed when the Atlanta Falcon’s 2014 training camp begins on July 25, at their Flowery Branch headquarters.

What to expect

Training camp is important for several different reasons. For all the newly drafted rookies and wily veterans fresh off the free agency market, this is an important time to familiarize themselves with their new home, teammates, coaches, and team mantras. This is also a heavy evaluation period, especially for the younger players, even if their contracts are already inked. For all players that are returning to the same team, this is the time to get back into serious game playing shape.

Zeke Motta gets instruction from Mike Smith during training camp in 2013.

Zeke Motta gets instruction from Mike Smith during training camp in 2013. (Photo credit: Dale Zanine USA Today)

Some players may use organized team activities, or OTA’s, as extra time to improve their skills or learn the playbook. OTA’s are the only practices between the end of the previous season and before training camp begins. They usually take place in either late April or early May.

During these camps you can expect to see two-a-days, combined practices, weight training, and even scrimmages between other NFL teams. About once a week players get a day off to rest after the grueling process. Sometimes the team is able to host special events during the span of training camp. For example, on Friday, August 1, the Falcons will present Kia Motors “Friday Night Lights”, which will be held at Archer High School in Lawrenceville, GA.

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From June through July the NFL utilizes its players old and new before the season. New players usually attend seminars or the NFL Rookie Symposium, which helps young rookies with the transition from college to professional stardom.

The drama of training camp

Due to heat conditions and an increasing attention to player safety, every team must have a doctor and trainers on the field for every practice. Even during non-contact practices players can get seriously injured. Take Sean Lee and Sean Weatherspoon for example, both already lost for the entirety of the 2014 season even before an official training camp.During this year an extra wrinkle will be added to Falcon’s training camp. HBO’s Hard Knocks and NFL Films will be integrating themselves into the Falcon’s Flowery Branch training facilities to capture all the tense and dramatic moments of all the aforementioned events.

In an interview on June 19, Owner Arthur Blank stated, “We are doing this for our fans,” he started, “this is an organization in a league that believes to a greater extent ever in access and in transparency. We know how important it is for fans to understand what’s going on with our team the building process and the development process we go through.”

The Falcons have had the opportunity to participate in Hard Knocks in the past, almost every year since the 2009 season, but declined the offers. Most speculated that Head Coach Mike Smith and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff have had a part to play in the matter. Last year when the Cincinnati Bengals came into town, with Hard Knocks in tow, Smith tried to keep things as normal as possible.

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Since the terrible season of 2013, Smith and Dimitroff may have lost a certain amount of clout over Blank in swaying him away from the decision. Since this is for the fans, it might be the perfect time to start advertising the team to the national market. The new stadium is projected to be open by March 2017 and Blank is committed to supporting a thriving community surrounding the new stadium. This was most likely an executive decision to accrue more eyes and bolster fan support for the team in the coming years ahead. It is no secret that Blank wants to host a Super Bowl in Atlanta.

Will the increased cameras and attention ultimately be a distraction? The Supervising Producer of NFL Films, Ken Rodgers, doesn’t seem to think so as he states, “We’ve been shooting training camps since 1967,” he started before he told one of his favorite stories about NFL Films.

The story goes that NFL Films founder Steve Sabol convinced the legendary Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi to allow him to film his training camp for a day. After the day was over, Sabol was packing up his gear and film before Lombardi approached him and said, “I want you to come back tomorrow.” Sabol then apologizes to the famous coach by saying that he only brought enough film for one day of shooting. To which Lombardi replies, “the players won’t know that, they practiced harder today than they have all training camp; I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Matt Ryan meets stringent autograph demands of eagerly awaiting fans. (Photo credit: Curtis Compton Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Matt Ryan meets stringent autograph demands of eagerly awaiting fans. (Photo credit: Curtis Compton Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Rodgers might have a point with his story. The NFL Network continues to expand and push the boundaries with its training camp coverage. They already have their own established training camp series called Inside Training Camp. The network is even considering using remote controlled drones to obtain aerial footage of practice at training camps. The statement, “for the fans,” seems to be ringing more true than Blank thought.

Training camp schedule

Most of the training camp practices are open to the public; however, there are a few private training camps that are not available for viewing. A complete list of all training camp dates and times are as listed below.

Friday, July 25: 3:30-5:50 p.m. (open to the public)
Saturday, July 26: 3:30-5:50 p.m. (open to the public)
Sunday, July 27: 3:30-6:05 p.m. (open to the public)
Monday, July 28: 3:30-6:05 p.m. (open to the public)
Tuesday, July 29: 3:30-6:05 p.m. (open to the public)
Wednesday, July 30: Players' day off, no practice
Thursday, July 31: 3:30-6:05 p.m. (open to the public)
Friday, August 1: KIA Motors "Friday Night Lights" at Archer High School in Lawrenceville, GA, 6:45-9:10 p.m.
Saturday, August 2: 3:30-5:30 p.m. (open to the public)
Sunday, August 3: 3:30-6:05 p.m. (open to the public)
Monday, August 4: 3-5:30 p.m. (Combined practice with Tennessee Titans, open to the public)
Tuesday, August 5: Players' day off, no practice
Wednesday, August 6: 3:30-6:05 p.m. (open to the public)
Thursday, August 7: Practice closed to the public
Friday, August 8: Falcons vs. Dolphins, 7 p.m., Georgia Dome
Saturday, August 9: 4:30-5:45 p.m. (open to the public)
Sunday, August 10: Players' day off, no practice
Monday, August 11: 3:30-5:50 p.m. (open to the public)
Tuesday, August 12: 10 a.m.-12:35 p.m. (open to the public)