1. How do you think Hard Knocks affected training camp for the Atlanta Falcons this year? Do you think the average fan outside of Atlanta has a good idea of who this team is?
In all honesty, no, probably not. Watching Hard Knocks, you get the impression that this is a lovable group of people with a coach who swears awkwardly. In reality, they're only semi-lovable.
I think it's had very little impact on camp besides players being a little more willing to ham it up for the cameras, which hasn't seemed to touch the on-the-field product. The average fan outside of Atlanta likely thinks this is a fairly boring team trying too hard to be tough, but aside from Julio Jones, Roddy White and breakout story-teller and coach Bryan Cox, there aren't a ton of familiar, outsized personalities on this team. Given the relative dearth of actual football on the show, I don't think anybody's learning much.
Bryan Cox is amazing, though.
2. Looking at the Jacksonville Jaguars roster, are there any backups or players with a chance of being cut who might be a good fit for the Falcons?
The best fits would be at linebacker, safety or perhaps along the offensive line. No one really jumps out as a potential cut along the line, but it's fair to suggest that an Allen Bradford or a Nate Stupar might give the Falcons a youngish inside linebacker with a little bit of upside, which they could use on the tail end of the roster.
I have no idea if Sherrod Martin could be on the block, but the Falcons have struggled with injuries and aren't sitting on a ton of safety depth, so he could provide a reasonable veteran option for the team. If the Falcons of years past are any indication, they'll snap up a Jaguar at a position I don't expect.
3. Former FSU running back Devonta Freeman is the team's leading rusher through three weeks of the preseason. With Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rogers in the mix, what's Freeman's expected role in 2014?
This is a tough one, because so much depends on Steven Jackson's health. If he is truly ready for the first week of the season, as the coaching staff has suggested he would be, Jackson will be the lead back. Jacquizz Rodgers has fantastic hands and blocks exceptionally well, making him an ideal third-down back for this offense. That leaves Freeman as a change-of-pace back for the most part, at least in his rookie season.
If Jackson goes down, though, there's no question Freeman should be the main beneficiary. He looks like the most explosive runner on the roster and he's got fantastic vision, so it's fairly likely that the early down work would go to him. The only question is pass protection, and Freeman's not a finished product there yet.
4. How does Atlanta's secondary compare to our first three opponents -- Tampa Bay, Chicago, and Detroit? How do you think Blake Bortles will perform in the preseason finale?
Tampa Bay has an excellent secondary on paper, Chicago's somewhere in the middle and Detroit might be one of the league's worst, so you couldn't have chosen a better range. The Falcons are likely somewhere between the Bucs and Bears on this one.
Desmond Trufant is a terrific young cornerback, Robert Alford has loads of promise, William Moore remains one of the league's better strong safeties and they have a few options when they go to nickel. The big question comes at the other safety spot, where oft-injured former Jaguar Dwight Lowery, 2013 seventh-rounder Kemal Ishmael and 2014 third-rounder Dezmen Southward are the options right now. Lowery should win, but he's a hard hit away from missing significant time, and that's enough to make Falcons fans nervous. But it should be a nice test for young Bortles, and I anticipate he'll have a decent game regardless.
5. Who should Jaguars fans be watching on the Falcons? Any training camp battles that will be of interest in the preseason finale?
The most interesting battles are down the depth chart, as is often the case. Speedy rookie receiver Bernard Reedy is trying to stick on the roster, his primary competition being two older special teams aces (Courtney Roby and Eric Weems), and rookie and noted Dutchman Geraldo Boldewijn. Jacques Smith is a rookie UDFA who keeps getting into fights, which makes him easy to root for, and he's up against seventh-rounder and pale ghost-man Tyler Starr. Finally, watch Devonta Freeman try to put on a show and gain more reps in the regular season. He's fun to watch.
Here's to a good game!