We've got a formidable opponent in the Atlanta Falcons. When you look at them offensively they have one of the premier young signal-callers in football in Matt Ryan. He does a lot of things – just about everything – well. He plays smart, he's tough, he has a strong arm, he's mobile, he makes good decisions, spreads the ball around to a variety of people. Some of those are the likes of Tony Gonzalez, the legendary tight end; Roddy White, a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver with three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Running the ball for them is Michael Turner. He's a tough guy to wrap up. He's got a low center of gravity, very powerful, surprisingly fast. He's just a guy we've got to be prepared to deal with. It's got to be a hit-and-wrap week for us. We've got to get multiple hats to the football to corral this man. He's supplemented by some other guys who are very versatile and do a lot of things well like (Jason) Snelling, who's a versatile third-down multi-purpose back for them. Up front they're anchored by Sam Baker and company. They do a nice job of protecting Matt Ryan. He doesn't get taken down quite often.
Defensively, they play a lot of people up front, particularly at the defensive end position. John Abraham is a disruptive force and has been in this league for a long time. First-round draft pick Jamaal Anderson is at the other end. These guys are supplemented by Chauncey Davis, a very stout run defender; (Kroy) Biermann, who is a relentless pursuer of the football and a highly productive man in his own right. On the second level, (Curtis) Lofton, the man in the middle, is an emerging young player who runs and hits extremely well. The rookie (Sean) Weatherspoon didn't take any time getting into the lineup, and if you watch August football you see why he's going to be starting for those guys. On the back end they have some solid young corners in (Christoper) Owens and (Brent) Grimes but I'm sure they await the return of Dunta Robinson, a quality veteran player picked up from the Texans.
Q: With the situation at quarterback, how will Rashard Mendenhall's role be increased?
A: It doesn't. Rashard's our feature runner and he's good in just about all circumstances you put him in. He's had a good training camp and preseason. He's good with the ball in his hands, he's good in blitz pick-up, he's good out of the backfield. We like how his game is shaping up. He's an emerging player. He's becoming a veteran player. We're going to call on him. I think that's just the natural maturation process of any player regardless of circumstance with the quarterback situation.
Q: As a former record-breaking wideout yourself, what does the quarterback situation mean to receivers in general?
A: Nothing if they're getting the ball. If they're not getting the ball they're capable of making a deal out of it. That's just the nature of wide receivers and wide-receiver play, so we'll try to feed them the ball so it's not an issue.
A: No. Really it was kind of in the bigger scheme of things in how we established a pecking order in terms of distributing the reps and really giving guys an opportunity to compete going into training camp. We established a pecking order based on the information we had coming out of the off-season – OTAs and minicamps and so forth. No question Charlie's experience was part of the equation. You knew he was a guy who could play above-the-line football on a limited number of reps. But also part of the equation has been Charlie's durability, or lack of durability. Those issues were a concern and one of the reasons why he was third in the pecking order, because of the limited amount of football he's played in the last couple of years and he's been injured while playing that amount of football.
Q: What would help the pass protection as the QBs come back to health?
A: Our focus isn't keeping our quarterbacks upright in the short term; it's winning football games. We're not taking a glass-half-empty approach to that, we're simply looking forward to trying to move the football and ring up the scoreboard. Hopefully that produces wins for us.
Q: How much input will Dennis have with Bruce Arians when the game plan is made?
A: Similar to Ben (Roethlisberger). It's a practical protocol we have with the quarterback who is starting the game. It wouldn't be sharp coaching to implement a plan without input from the man that's going to orchestrate that plan.
Q: Is Dennis holding the position until Byron Leftwich comes back?
A: It depends on how he plays. That's just the nature of the National Football League. Anyone who'd suggest anything different is misinformed or misleading you. Injuries are part of the game. They're unfortunate but they also provide opportunities for others. What others do with those opportunities oftentimes determines what happens going forward. I acknowledge that.
Q: In what ways is Dixon better now than he was a year ago, or even at the start of training camp?
A: Just in general, overall mastery of our offense, the spewing of the verbiage, the fluid understanding of where to distribute the football, the understanding of protections and so forth. I just think it's the natural maturation process that a young player goes through. He's in the process of becoming a veteran-like player. Playing is a big part of that, and that's why this opportunity he's getting is so big for him personally.
Q: Will Mendenhall stay in on third downs? And will you keep an eye on how many touches he gets?
A: We are going to monitor his touches. It's the appropriate thing to do this early in the season. He is going to stay in and he's capable of staying in on third downs, but we're also capable of inserting a Mewelde Moore or even an Isaac Redman. We'll be thoughtfully non-rhythmic here as we get started, for different reasons: one, to preserve Rashard, but also to be inclusive in terms of the contributions of those men.
Q: Will you try to keep Dennis's running reigned in?
A: You just want him to do what comes natural. If he's playing on instinct and knowledge, it's like running water. If you give him too much instruction in terms of the things you're talking about, then it's not going to be natural, it's not going to be fluid, it's not going to be comfortable, and those are things I want his performance to be.
Q: Do you have a short-yardage back?
A: Isaac Redman's going to get a chance to be featured in that area. He's been very good in that area over the two-plus years he's been here. We're going to give him an opportunity to see if he can continue to excel.
Q: Is Bryant McFadden healthy and will he start at cornerback?
A: Yes to both questions.
Q: Why did you release Stefan Logan?
A: Not every year you're going to have the luxury of having a return specialist. There's no need to have a return-specialist if you can't get him hatted.
A: I'm going to hold my cards there. We've got some really young players on our football team. In order for us to be a good team, these guys got to be better players in the latter part of the year than they are now. Competition's the truest motivator. I'm going to pit one against the other, whether it's Sanders vs. Brown, or (Jason) Worilds vs. (Thaddeus) Gibson or Sly (Stevenson Sylvester) for hats. You keep those guys working and edgy. We're going to need those guys to be on the come and be better players over the long haul if we're going to have a chance to be good. So I'm going to hold my cards in that regard till the latter part of the week and keep those guys guessing a little bit.
Q: Are two QBs enough to handle all the snaps? Will Antwaan Randle El get any?
A: Randle El will get some in practice. He'll be an emergency candidate for us. That's one of the reasons we brought him back, man. This guy is extremely versatile. He provides big-time flexibility for us in the punt-return game. He worked some at holding yesterday. He's going to play some quarterback here over the course of the week in preparation for the game. Of course you know what he does at wide receiver. He's a high-energy guy; he's an energy-bringer as opposed to an energy-drainer. He's a great guy to be around.
Q: Who will kickoff?
A: Jeff Reed.
Q: How has your opinion about Ike Taylor covering guys like Roddy White changed through the years?
A: It hasn't. He's always eager for those kinds of matchups, and it's good because that's the nature of his job description. Those guys are tough to slow down, in terms of one-on-one. Usually people that say they do are misinforming you. Usually it takes a combination of people and coverages to slow down receivers of that capability, but Ike Taylor is always game for the task.
Q: Is the entire playbook open for Dennis?
A: In no specific week is the entire playbook open, so I don't want to mislead you in that regard, but we haven't pared down our game plan for him in any form or fashion because of youth or inexperience. We're going to do the things that highlight his skills and we're going to have a normal-sized package or plan that we would have at this time of the year. … If it's limited in any way, it's limited because it's the first time out and not because Dennis is our quarterback.
Q: Have you found any killers on coverage teams?
A: I'm anxiously awaiting some of those guys showing that trait or attribute. We've got some candidates. It largely depends on who we choose to suit, whether you see Gibson or Worilds or Sly or young guys such as that. I know they've displayed it some in the preseason. We look forward to them maybe doing some of it for us in the regular season.
Q: Are you worried about the rookie center and young QB making pre-snap adjustments at the line?
A: No, not at all. That's the reason Maurkice (Pouncey) is in the lineup. He doesn't play like a rookie, quite frankly. I haven't played a bunch of rookies; my record in that regard speaks for itself. The fact he's in the lineup would lead you to believe that he doesn't perform in a rookie-like fashion in regards to those things.