Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith seems to have taken a crash course in subterfuge during the offseason.
Following Monday’s practice, the assembled media wanted answers on a couple of the key position battles that had been played out during training camp and the preseason.
It’s still unknown who will start at right guard, which two of the three cornerbacks will be on the field when Atlanta’s in its base defensive package, who Matt Ryan’s backup will be and who will return punts for the Falcons Sunday when the team travels to Kansas City for their Week 1 game.
“Come to the game on Sunday and see,” Smith said in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article. “We are not going to discuss it simply because I don’t want to give a competitive advantage to our opponent.”
During the Thomas Dimitroff-Mike Smith era in Atlanta (2008 to the present) the Falcons as an organization have been tight-lipped about competitive advantage matters, particularly information about injuries and “X’s and O’s” matters like practice reps.
When it comes to position battles, Smith typically—well, at least he used to—gives some kind of an answer to the questions from the media. That standard practice has apparently changed.
Garrett Reynolds started every game at right guard during the Falcons' four preseason games. But rookie Peter Konz has been pushing. Chris Vivlamore of the AJC reported that Reynolds was with the first team Monday.
The Falcons have three Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks on the roster with the addition of Asante Samuel prior to the NFL draft. But only two can play when the Falcons are in their base 4-3 defensive package. Smith would not reveal which two would start, and Vivlamore reported multiple combinations were used in practice.
Both Luke McCown and Dominique Davis were kept on the 53-man roster to back up Ryan at quarterback. That’s an unusual situation for Atlanta, because the team typically only keeps two passers on the roster and stashes a third on the practice squad.
When the media asked who would step in on Sunday if something happened to Ryan, Smith pulled the competitive advantage card and sealed his lips.
“I think I’ve answered that I would not answer that question based on giving someone a competitive advantage,” Smith said. “I think that Luke has the experience to be a No. 2 in this league but in terms of right now who we will go to as the No. 2 quarterback I’m not going to say.”
Smith admitted in the AJC report that McCown was behind—McCown was added to the roster late in the preseason after he spent time with the Saints—in regard to picking up the playbook, but gave no further information.
When the Falcons cut cornerback Dominique Franks—the player most felt would return punts for the team—they opened up the door to questions on who would take over punt-return duties.
Smith said there were three capable players on the roster, two with experience. He was likely referring to Harry Douglas (who was in the punt return position battle all along), Brent Grimes (who took reps in camp but wasn’t considered a legitimate threat to perform return duties) and rookie Tim Toone.
Toone came on strong in the passing attack late in preseason action and told the AJC that he felt he did enough to win the job of returning punts, too.
“I think so,” Toone said when asked if he thought he had won the punt return job before practice. “I think that is one of the main reasons they kept me to be able to be back there and catch the punts for them.”
But no one is going to find out who’s opening holes for the running backs at right guard, or starting at cornerback, or backing up Ryan or even returning punts until the team takes the field Sunday.
Smith’s not talking until then.