Opening Comments:** ML: "There's a group of guys that we're leaving behind here, based on the fact that they can probably get better work here, with the different rehab things that we have – treadmills, the things in the water and so forth – that will help them speed their process.
"Otherwise, we're pretty decent shape. We've held some guys a little bit with some sore muscles over the last three or four days – Friday, Saturday and today. They'll get an opportunity to come back by tomorrow. Hopefully those four days will be good timing. Other than that, we're in pretty good shape. We've just got to keep going. We've had a lot of productive practice opportunities. We've gotten some things accomplished. Our young players are working into the process very well, being able to play with pads and being aggressive and physical, which we expected. That's been good. There are some guys that we've been pleased with – particularly the younger guys – who we expect to have an opportunity possibly to make contributions as backups. I feel they're right on course to do that."
This is the time of training camp where focus sometimes wanes for the players, so how much will this trip to Atlanta work as a change of pace in terms of the tempo and pace of practice?
ML: "We're going to control the tempo. That's going to be important, that we control them. Both coaching staffs, it's important that we get the work we want without risking any further injury to anybody. We'll get a chance to play live Thursday night. That's the biggest thing: there's a mental aspect, there's a speed, there's a tempo, there's the execution part, and then the live football will come on Thursday night. In (Falcons head coach Mike Smith) and my minds, both, this was going to be a real good opportunity for our starting groups to get work against good people."
So because the first team probably won't get much time on Thursday night, the three days of practice will be more important for them, right?
ML: "Yes. In general."
How much work will the two teams' first units get against each other?
ML: "They'll get almost half of each period. They'll get about half of the work, and the other guys will split the rest. They'll get about half of each period, like they do generally here. They'll rotate their guys and we'll rotate our guys, and we're not necessarily concerned that we're in harmony with that."
In your tenure, the two times that you have practiced against other teams – a few years ago against the Saints, and now against the Falcons – have been up-tempo, high-powered offenses. That must be pretty useful to practice against, right?
ML: "Yeah. It's good, because it's a different tempo, different speed. Some of the concepts and route combinations and things you get offensively for the defense, and vice versa – the pressures and the rotations and the way they look. You kind of get used to the common things that occur (in training camp), and now you're having to adjust to somebody different."
How much do you have to guard against guys pushing and shoving out there, since it is another team?
ML: "We want to practice as pros. You can't push and shove on an NFL game field, so we don't want it to happen while we're in practice. You see a few instances of it here, and we'll step in and get it broken up. If they can't fix it, we'll make them hold hands and skip off into the sunset or something (laughs). That's just wasting our time, though."
Will there be any "live" portions of practice at all? Goal line or short-yardage situations?
Will there be officials?
ML: "Yeah. They have a crew of officials. I think Jerome Boger will be the referee. They've got their crew. They're doing their officiating thing (presentation) today, so those guys are staying over. Then they'll have another group of guys that are in the (officiating) watch program for the NFL, just like we had the other day."
When the officials are on the field in practice, do you see an increased focus from your players? Are they a little better with hand placement and those sorts of things?
ML: "Our interaction with the officials over the three days that we had them was excellent. Hopefully we'll get the same thing down there. We get kind of two bites at the apple, to get an opportunity to make correction. You've got to get your hands inside, or things like that. It's being more corrective. We've had a productive three days, and this will be a couple more days of productive work."
With you guys not going "live" at all, how difficult is it at this point to evaluate the run game?
ML: "You're not going to evaluate that during practice. You're going to evaluate getting on the right guys and the execution of it. But you're exactly correct, you have to evaluate that as you go forward, particularly when you get into the same guys, the same back, the courses as you begin the regular season."
So when you look at film, you're looking at if they are getting their hat on the right guy, correct?
ML: "Right. The right people, the right placement, pad level. All of those things. That's what you're looking at offensively."
Hue Jackson talked about Orson Charles and his transition to fullback:
ML: "He's an H-back."
He said that Charles has everything you want at that position. What have you seen from him thus far?
ML: "He's done a great job. Just what we expected. Last year when we were at this point in training camp, we felt that Orson could do a good job at those things, and he did a lot of those things last year in our offense. That was his role. He's just continued to grow with it."
Atlanta's coaching staff includes some of your best friends in football, both on offense and defense. Does that add to your comfort level in going down there to practice, and knowing things will be handled properly?
ML: "It is, in my mind and Mike's mind. I don't know how many coaches they have, but if they have 20 of them, I've probably worked with 15. Everybody feels good about their relationships that way, and the quality of the coaches that they are. I haven't worked with (Falcons assistant head coach/wide receivers coach) Terry Robiskie, but I know the quality of coach he is. Same with (defensive line coach) Ray Hamilton and (linebackers coach) Glenn Pires. These are good guys and good coaches – real good coaches. So that's what we feel good about. We're going against a very, very well-coached football team, and you can handle the situations very well."
Is there any update on Andrew Hawkins's injury?
ML: "He's got an ankle sprain that they'll continue to evaluate. He's seen a doctor here and gone through that. He's looking at another opinion of just what's the best course of treatment as we go forward."
How much is it similar to Kyle Cook's injury last year? For a couple of days, he thought he was going to be fine but it ended up being much worse:
ML: "It's similar to that. Generally that's always the case with an ankle injury. It's really the symptoms of the patient into the next day, based on swelling and tenderness and where you go. Some guys walk in and they feel completely fine, just a little sore. Other guys are more sore and have more swelling than anticipated, and they do more work and studies. He's hopeful that the course of action will be plotted quickly but he's much better today than he was yesterday. Obviously for Andrew, the ankle is an important part of how he plays. He's got to get it right, and we have to make sure he gets it right."
He was playing this type of football at a high level, and he was moving pretty good obviously:
ML: "Yeah, he was in a big competition there with a bunch of guys. That's the thing that he's disappointed about. He's battling to stay here and carve out a niche in the offense, and now he's had a little bit of a setback. We've got to make the most of it and now the guys that he was competing with get a chance to step up a notch and move forward for a while until he's ready."
How has Dane Sanzenbacher looked so far?
ML: "Dane has really done a good job. When we claimed Dane last year, we didn't really need him at that point, but he's been impressive as a football player. He's a good guy and works really hard. It will be fun to watch him play live football because he didn't get a chance to play last year. Like a lot of our guys, he didn't get any opportunity. It's those kinds of guys, and he wasn't with us very long. Guys like Richard Quinn, that were on the 53 man roster that didn't get a chance to play last year. These games are important for them to go out and show that they deserve to stay around here. We kept them around here for a reason, and they'll prove me right or wrong real quick."
Wasn't Sanzenbacher one of your players in the Senior Bowl in 2011, when you coached?
ML: "He was. He was brought down there late, and I think he might have been our leading receiver in the game. Colin (Kaepernick) was our quarterback. You know all three of our quarterbacks are starting now with Christian (Ponder) and (Jake) Locker. All three of our guys are now starting quarterbacks in the National Football League, and we didn't do very good (Laughs)."
Are A.J. Green and some of the other injured guys making the trip down there?
ML: "A.J. is not going to go with us. He's going to stay here. He's been running in the pool now, and we want to keep that and start the on-field stuff this week to be able to do a combination of both things. We just don't have the facility to do it there."
Your secondary will be going up against guys like Julio Jones and Roddy White over the next few days. How beneficial will that be?
ML: "I think it's going to be good work. You've got big guys and a quarterback that really delivers balls on target and with some steam on them. In the slot, (Harry) Douglas is a good player. He's got good shifts, good misses and matchups. I told Mike (Smith) I'm a little disappointed Tony Gonzalez isn't going to be there, because he's going home today. Other than that, just going up against their guys is going to be good. They're physical and they're big players, and that's good."
Leon Hall was saying they got a good look at Drew Brees when they were up here in 2007 with the no-huddle and everything. Do you expect a lot of that with Matt Ryan?
ML: "We're going to have a period of no-huddle. We've got a lot of situational football planned."
Have you been talking all along to Mike Smith about how you want to do things with these practices?
ML: "Yeah. Mike and I planned it out back in May with what we were going to do. We've touched base a couple times since with some of the nuances and questions that coaches have. They sent us some video of practices yesterday so our coaches could see and make sure of some of the drill work. We're on their format which isn't much different than ours, but we're on their format. The first day, our defense will be on the main field, which is closest to the fans, with their offense. Then we'll rotate the second day, where our offense will be over there against their defense. Mike and his assistants are very organized, and they have this organized to the letter."
How has George Iloka improved from year one to year two?
ML: "A year ago, George did a lot of good physical things and showed that he was going to have an opportunity to show he was going to be a contributing player in the NFL. Being on the 53-man roster all year and not getting an opportunity to suit up a whole lot, I'll tell you that he worked very hard in practice every day. He constantly took the coaching and the critiquing and continued to get better. When he got an opportunity to show what he could do in practice, he was generally very good at it. This offseason he's kind of joined to the hip to Leon and Terence (Newman), and that's been good for him to see the way those guys work and prepare. He latched on to a couple of great pros in order to do that. He's really done a great job since we've been back in training camp, and really throughout the whole spring. He's really emerged as a guy we can count on. He knows what to do and how to do it. He's becoming more and more vocal about the decision making and the things that we're asking people to do at that position."
Dre Kirkpatrick mentioned that Hall and Newman are playing the same kind of role for him that you mentioned they were playing with Iloka. How important is it having veteran guys on the team that are willing to help the younger guys?
ML: "Veteran guys want to win. You only have so many players, so sooner or later those young guys are going to be called on to play. So you want to make sure they are ready to go when they step in that huddle with you. That's important. The mentoring of the young guys and creating mentoring depth on the football team is very, very important. How to prepare and the work ethic that those two demonstrate is really good for those young players to see."