Opening Comments:** ML: "As we enter into this next phase, after playing one game and beginning practice this week, it's good to have some snaps under our belt and some things to critique and monitor and get better with. This week, we'll go for three days here, then the players will have the day off and we'll make the transition for the guys, where they'll move into their permanent housing if they wish. Then they'll come back and have three good days of practice, prior to playing the Titans. With the way the week breaks out, I think it will be good for them to do this. But it's one of the quirky things that we have now with the scheduling, that the players get a day off in the middle of the week like this. But we'll use it and benefit from it."
With the way this week's schedule plays out, is it almost like the routine of preparing for a regular-season game?
ML: "Not really, because we want to continue moving ahead with the things that we're doing. Practice is not set up as a regular-season week. We're still set up with the volume of work we would do with the training camp when we're working with roughly 75 or 76 healthy guys at this point – maybe 80 by the end of the week. So you have to have enough repetition that we get some of the young guys an opportunity, as opposed to a regular week."
After watching the game film, does it confirm your immediate opinions from after the game, or has anything looked different to you?
ML: "We accomplished some of the things we felt good about, and what I felt were goals for us going into the game. But we've got a lot of work to do. We didn't do things as well as we needed to. We ran the ball for some production, but we weren't at all as good with our assignments as we need to be, particularly for the time that we've invested in it.
"Defensively, we had two negative plays where they made yardage. They are very fixable things, and we've got to understand it. There are good coaching points from it. Also, for the outside guys – the corners and so forth – we've got to continue to play the ball in the air. That will be more of a focus as we go forward, because we had some opportunities at interceptions and didn't come down with them. Those are things that we want to keep working hard on. If they throw that ball vertically down the field, let's go intercept it. We had a careless hand penalty – one on defense and one on offense. We've got to fix those. And we had the false starts on offense. And we lined up once in the kicking game offside, which gave them a first down and gave them ultimately, I believe, a field goal drive. So those are all things that are fixable that we have to get done."
Falcons coach Mike Smith runs some fronts that are a little bit different. Was it good to get practice against those things – different fronts, etc. – that you don't often see?
ML: "It's really what we see in our division. We see the SAM (linebacker) on the ball fronts more that way. So it was really common of what we see from Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and I would imagine Cleveland this year. So it was good that way. They are training the Biermann kid (Kroy Biermann) to be an outside linebacker. He played there for them some last year, but he's spending all of his time in training camp there."
How tough is it for the first team offense to get in a rhythm and perform well in such limited time?
ML: "Well, you can't have a penalty that puts you off track in your downs and distances. We still had opportunities to convert both third downs that we didn't convert. We fall down, literally, on both plays when we had a chance to convert them. We've got to do a better job of staying on our feet and converting those, even though they were third and longer situations. It was a good job of execution by the offense to at least give us an opportunity to convert those. We always say that. I come in here every Wednesday and tell you that. It's going to be important that we stay ahead in the sequence of downs. We don't want to get behind so that we can continue to be the aggressor and control our destiny that way."
Dane Sanzenbacher said it's just the first preseason game and you have to put it away and move on. Is that the message to the younger guys?
ML: "That's got to be the message to everybody. We haven't done anything. This doesn't matter. The important thing is we keep getting better for September 8. And not only we're getting better, but guys are competing for opportunity and spots and they keep carving out more opportunity."
Thoughts on your running game?
ML: "We have to do a better job of being on the right people all of the time. We had a lot of production, but I thought we could have had a lot more and should have a lot more. We've got an opportunity to clean some of those things up and make sure we're seeing them through the same eyes."
Do you think you're emphasizing the run game more?
ML: "I think it's important that we run the football. And I think we kind of righted ourselves last year when we began to run the ball more productively. Sometimes you throw it to run it, and we're going to have to do that. But we also have to be able to run it when we need to run it. That's going to be important, yes."
Thursday night you really pounded it for the last three quarters:
ML: "The sequencing of the calling and the way it came off the chart, we may have thrown the ball the first play of the drive. But I think we ran the ball pretty much, which is what I wanted to get done. I thought it was important for us to establish and work the line of scrimmage."
Did Andre Smith play as well as it looked?
ML: "Andre's done great and continues to work at getting better. He's had a great week and a half of practice."
You said a week or so ago if you had to you could get down to 56 easily. Did the performance of the second and third teams make that job tougher?
ML: "It's always a coach's job to be able to cut them. If I walk in the room and tell the DB coaches I need five guys, they've got to give me five guys. That's the way it is every day. And players realize that. If we walk in and say we've got to cut five guys today, I'd go around the room and I've got to get a guy from each position, we could do that, yes. We always can. We're prepared to do that every day. That doesn't say anything less about anybody, it's just the business we're in that at any point we have to be prepared to say these are the keepers right now, these are the guys who would make the football team right now, and unfortunately these are players we'd have to let go. That's not a bad thing. That's part of what my job is daily. But we get to play more games and guys get a chance to practice and play so they can show they belong as a part of that group to stay."
With all the depth you have and all the injuries happening around the league, do you think if there's some value in a guy and you don't want to just let him go you could move him for a pick or something?
ML: "The injuries have always been there. Now it's just out there like that. So that remains to be seen."
How are you health-wise?
ML: "We have the opportunity to get some guys back at the latter part of the week. I'll probably be very reserved in playing them, at least playing them very much. We do have the opportunity to get some guys back that have missed some time. At least some guys will get some practice time. Some will be back today, some we will ease back as we go."
How about A.J. Green and Andrew Whitworth?
ML: "Doing well."
Do you think they'll practice this week, or play?
Tanner Hawkinson was playing pretty well and he got nicked up a bit. Is it too early to tell what his status is?
ML: "His status has actually been improved. He will likely not play this week and practice but we hope to get him back as soon as possible."
Any updates on (Andrew) Hawkins?
ML: "Andrew was placed in a cast and he'll be in the cast for another 10 days and go from there. It allows the opportunity to make sure we don't inadvertently injure it more. It gives it a chance to settle down and begin to mend. He's very optimistic that he'll be ready to go at some point here, so we'll see. At least for the next 10 days or so he's going to be in this cast. Then we'll have a little better update after that."
Is this again one of the benefits of that IR designation and return? He'd probably a decent candidate for that:
ML: "Right now he has a chance to be a candidate for that at this point."
When do you have to declare for something like that?
ML: "You can declare any time after you cut the 53 so any time after that first Tuesday of the regular season. It's a person that is on your 53-man roster."
With Tennessee being the next opponent, any thoughts of what they present?
ML: "No I have no idea what Tennessee does. I'm worried about the Cincinnati Bengals. Just like last week, we worry about the Cincinnati Bengals and we went and played the game. We're worried about the Cincinnati Bengals and we'll take a look at Tennessee on Thursday."
Any concerns about your centers?
ML: "No. If you ever come in here and ask me a question if I have a concern and if I ever say yes, you just need to shoot me (Laughs)."
It looked like your linebackers played pretty well:
ML: "I think it's a lot like the running game, we had some production and some things that we want to do better. I thought of the young guys, Jayson DiManche was active and made some plays. J.K. (Schaffer) obviously made some plays and was active. That's good to see from J.K. because I kind of got my stamp on him, so he's got to play well."
That punt return, you couldn't have drawn it up any better:
ML: "A lot of times it's interesting when you see a ball turn over like that, and we're very fortunate here to have a couple of guys that can do that. Three or four guys maybe. When you see a ball turn over like that, I know when 24 (Adam Jones) is back there I'm thinking 'This is gone.' When we get those balls that turn over we have guys that have an opportunity to score and it's not only their ability but it's the ability of the other 10 players. They've done an excellent job.
"Obviously we invest a lot of time in special teams. Darrin (Simmons) does a good job in coaching and game planning, and the experience of our guys shows out. If you're going to be out there on that field, you have to know what to do and how to do it. It's amazing the transition that we have made on special teams and what an integral part of our football team that is, and how important that is. We know that we've won football games in the return game and in a number of different ways on special teams. Whether it be our kickers, whether it be our coverage teams, our return teams, we've been very productive and we have to continue to be that way. We're aggressive at all times and guys expect that. It's no surprise."
How did the guys perform in the safety battle? Is it still pretty heated?
ML: "I think they all did some good things. George (Iloka) did great. George knows what to do and how to do it. He gets people where they belong and he knows where he belongs and that's great. I feel really good about him. Shawn (Williams) came in and played well. (Jeromy) Miles did a good job. Taylor Mays was active in there in his snaps. We're right where we need to be there."