What: Atlanta Falcons preseason scrimmage, along with a fan fest, interactive inflatable games, autograph session, fireworks
When: 6:45 p.m. Friday, with gates opening at 6 p.m.
Where: Bobby Gruhn Field at City Park Stadium, Gainesville
How much: Free
FLOWERY BRANCH – The Atlanta Falcons are very much aware of the amount of season ending injuries that have struck players from around the NFL just days into training camp.
Thus, the Falcons are taking the proper precautionary measures to ensure the team’s health through camp by implementing certain hitting restrictions during various drills. That will change Friday night, though, when the Falcons hold their annual Friday Night Lights team scrimmage at City Park Stadium in Gainesville.
“We will (have limitations) in certain periods of Friday night’s practice,” head coach Mike Smith said. “It will look a little bit similar to what you are seeing out here. But then there will be some times when we allow the guys to go.”
Once the coaches let “the guys go,” it will mark the first time all training camp that the Falcons will hold full contact drills, which includes tackling to the ground.
With the increase in intensity, Smith said it will give the coaching staff ample opportunities to measure the progress of the players, especially rookies looking to make a name.
“It is a very big evaluation point Friday night,” Smith said. “It is the first time that these guys, as NFL players, will have the opportunity to tackle.”
Friday night’s scrimmage will give many fans their first opportunity to see the new-look Falcons, which includes the addition of veteran running back Steven Jackson, the active career rushing leader.
Jackson signed with the Falcons in the offseason, taking less money in order to compete on a Super Bowl caliber team like the Falcons, who lost in the NFC Championship game last season.
“I’ve heard good things about Friday Night Lights,” Jackson said. “The amount of people that have shown up over the weekends has been impressive as well. I am very excited about Atlanta and football and what we are doing as an organization. It will be fun.”
Fans will also get the opportunity to see some of the team’s top rookies Friday night, including first round draft pick Desmond Trufant and second round pick Robert Alford, both of whom are fighting to become the team’s second starting cornerback.
One thing banned during Friday night’s scrimmage will be blocking below the waist, a rule implemented to prevent knee injuries, says Smith.
“We don’t want anyone cut blocking, so you will hear our guys yelling, ‘Cut, cut, cut,’ when they are supposed to be cut blocking somebody,” Smith said.
“Hopefully the guy that their supposed to be blocking stops. Those are things that we do to make our guys understand that they aren’t getting blocked and they are going to get cut in the game with that specific scheme.”
Continuing to prepare for Friday night, the Falcons worked in their two-minute offense for the first time this training camp on Monday afternoon. By the end of today’s practice, they will have put in all aspects of their offensive scheme, an important step moving forward.
While the offense will have the entire offensive scheme implemented by Tuesday afternoon, Jackson said that doesn’t mean it will look perfect and fans shouldn’t expect to see what players in top form, much like they will be during the regular season.
“The month of August for me is to make sure that I have the correct timing with the offensive line, that I’m reading things the same way Matt (Ryan) is reading things in check downs and route running,” Jackson said.
“So progressively, the fans will see more of the explosiveness and more of the things that you guys have seen over the years from me. Come New Orleans, that is when you will get the full package.”
Friday Night Lights is free admission and is scheduled to begin at 6:45 p.m. Friday night at City Park Stadium. Gates open to the public at 6 p.m. Along with a full-team scrimmage, a fan fest and autograph session will also be held. For more information, visit atlantafalcons.com.