Goober Pyle

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Goober Pyle last won the day on August 14 2016

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  1. He’s also the Saints reporter for The Athletic, so he’s got vast experience dealing with #2.
  2. Sorry guys. Can’t get the videos to post for some reason. I’ll keep trying.
  3. New Orleans will travel to Atlanta this Sunday for the 99th meeting (including playoffs) of this perennially underrated rivalry. While the Saints won their most recent contest with the Falcons on Christmas Eve of last year, they’ve dropped three of the last four. Week 1’s bout against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers provided the Saints’ secondary more than it could handle and the Falcons aerial attack is just as well armed with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Austin Hooper, rookie Calvin Ridley and Tevin Coleman out of the backfield. While Matt Ryan hasn’t gotten off to the start he’d like so far this season (two TDs/two INTs/82.1 RTG) he has the weapons to succeed. Falcons will be looking to attack Dennis Allen’s scheme head on Last week, the Carolina Panthers used multiple coverages that Saints’ fans will be familiar with, such as the below look from Cover 3. Falcons’ offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian places Jones in the slot where he is uncovered. This quick pass on third down is in and out of Ryan’s hands in 2.05 seconds. Similar types of quick trigger routes plagued the Saints secondary in Week 1. In his pre-snap read, Ryan is able to deduce he’s facing zone coverage, letting him know Jones’ route from the slot will be open. One of the tells is the defense leaving Julio uncovered. At the snap, Jones is going to run a simple quick out, but instead of driving off of his plant foot toward the sideline he shows great awareness of the coverage he’s facing and sits between the zones. For the Saints, this means that players like Patrick Robinson working the slot must put an emphasis on communication. By their nature, quick passing attacks negate the pass rush and without strong coverage in the short to immediate zones (or with a strong press man attack), then offenses will be able to wear down defenders and move the chains. Jones isn’t the only receiver New Orleans should worry about. Ridley, the young rookie wide out from Alabama, was pivotal in the Falcons’ win in Week 2. Coming out of college, he already possessed many of the traits you’d expect of a starting receiver in the NFL. Here is a short snippet from my 2018 NFL Draft guide on Ridley: “Excellent length with a skinny/lean frame. Runs a complete route tree using good foot quickness, use of hands and counters at the line of scrimmage to create separation at his release.” Here, Ridley is running a slant route that has a lot of moving parts going on around it. Ryan’s read is on the defensive back dropped down over the tight end. If that defender trails the running back out of the backfield into the flat, he vacates the spot where the slant by Ridley is going. At the same time, tight end Austin Hooper is essentially running a clear route. What I mean by that is his job is to clear out the linebacker. Finally, Sanu’s route from the slot is going to hold the safety in the middle of the field. With all of these pieces working together, it creates a wide open throwing lane for Ryan. That said, Ridley does an absolutely phenomenal job with his release and timing. He starts by coming into a gather step that provides just enough delay for the running back to come underneath him. This move also does just enough to get the cornerback’s hips turned to the outside before he drives from his plant foot toward the hash marks leaving the corner out of phase. Key to Saints’ success: Pressure Ryan and jam his receivers While the Falcons have the offensive talent to be successful, and to likely be one of the most potent offenses in the NFL again this season, a tried and true method to disrupting them has typically been to get pressure on Ryan. Against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1, Ryan was sacked four times while being pressured on several other occasions, finishing that game with a 57.4 rating. Atlanta was able to keep him clean and protected in Week 2 (zero sacks allowed) and he finished with a 116.1 rating. Carolina defends this Yankee Concept pretty well in Cover 3 but had there not been pressure applied, it wouldn’t be a bad bet to make that Jones is able to come down with this in a jump ball situation. The Yankee Concept attacks the defense by running a deep post combined with a deep dig from the opposite side. With the safety coming down from his spot in the middle of the field to cover the dig, the Panthers do a great job of passing off the coverage responsibilities. However, pressure in the face of Ryan ultimately causes this pass to flutter and be underthrown leading to an interception. Pressure was rare in this game with very few poor throws like this. On these deep pass attempts, especially the ones using play action, it will be up to Cameron Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, Marcus Davenport and company to help out their secondary by providing these types of opportunities. Alex Okafor noted the importance of pressuring Ryan when talking to Luke Johnson of the Times-Picayune, “The key to this game is we’ve got to pressure (Matty Ryan). If you look at the score at the end of the game, it’s going to be telling on whether we pressured him or not. We’re taking that on us up front.” Our last clip is of something that New Orleans was really good at last season, but we haven’t seen a lot of it so far in 2018. Press coverage with physicality as a focus on the line of scrimmage can lead to a receiver getting burned if he’s not able to jam, but the benefit can be the play above. For a jam at the line of scrimmage to be legal, it has to meet certain criteria. First, it must happen within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Second, the contain must be continuous and unbroken within the five-yard zone. Finally, the receiver can not have moved past the depth of the defender. An example of illegal contact in this space would be making contact with the back of the receiver. Marshon Lattimore did a great job in the play above to jam Jones and prevent the slant route from fully developing which put him in the perfect spot to intercept Ryan’s pass. Even though they’ve had success with this technique with their boundary corners, we have yet to see the Saints utilize it successfully in 2018. This divisional contest, as it does every year, has the potential to be a close game that isn’t decided until the final quarter (and possibly the final drive). Continued improvement for the defense will be critical if New Orleans is to take the first win in this key divisional matchup.
  4. It is easily one of the NFL’s most underrated rivalries. Since the teams began playing each other twice a year in 1970 as division rivals, there has been plenty of hate between the two fan bases. But perhaps this game didn’t get as much attention since neither franchise consistently fielded strong teams year after year until the 2000s. Now, both of these teams are seemingly in NFC South title contention most years. The Falcons won the division in 2016, and the New Orleans Saints were division champions in 2017. The teams renew their rivalry at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Heading into the game, here are five things to watch: Containing Kamara While they do have their share of differences, the Falcons are going from defending Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey to Saints running back Alvin Kamara in a span of one week. Both teams love to get the ball to these backs in the passing game. Kamara has 15 catches for 165 yards and a touchdown. The difference with Kamara is that the Saints will line him up almost anywhere. He’ll line up in the backfield, in the slot or out wide. His speed allows for him to run deep routes like a traditional receiver if New Orleans thinks it can create a favorable matchup. A week ago, McCaffrey caught 14 passes against Atlanta. A lot of those plays were checkdowns, but some occurred when McCaffrey pretended to pass block or chipped a pass rusher and then became an uncovered receiver. Kamara potentially could copycat those moves and do more in his role. While the Saints have a plethora of weapons in the passing game, Kamara will be the focal point. Depending on the defensive personnel and formation of the Saints’ offense, a number of defenders could wind up drawing him on any given play. “When a running back can play the game like a receiver, that’s a big difference than when a running back who moves outside into space but still catches low in quick developing routes,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. “You’ll see him going against a corner, and if they like their matchup, they’ll give him the gas to go. So I think the running backs that have the ability to catch it way down the field, it’s way harder to track 30 or 40 yards down the field, that’s a different skill set than catching it out of the backfield. So he has both.” Pressuring Brees Atlanta’s edge rushers might not be as valuable as the interior linemen when trying to force Saints quarterback Drew Brees into mistakes. Brees is extremely quick when it comes to decision-making. He doesn’t take long at all getting rid of the ball. He’s comfortable moving up in the pocket and has the wherewithal to avoid rushes coming from the outside, which tend to take longer to develop. That’s where Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett will look to make his mark. Jarrett has yet to record a sack this season, but will look to at least apply plenty of pressure up the middle. It wouldn’t be a surprise for Atlanta to try to employ some blitzes from the inside, as well. Last week, Cleveland was able to pressure Brees up the middle, which likely will be something the Falcons try to do, as well. Regardless, forcing Brees into uncomfortable situations will be imperative if Atlanta is going to be able to slow down the Saints’ offense. “He’s a difficult guy to sack due to his quickness where to deliver the ball, based on the routes and based on the coverages,” Quinn said. “But for sure, you’re on the right topic. Every good quarterback that you play — especially ones to his caliber where they know where to go with it — that’s why his completions are often so high. You have to find ways to affect him for sure.” Reconfigured lineup The Falcons sure have taken a beating on the injury front early this season. Safety Keanu Neal (torn ACL) and left guard Andy Levitre (triceps) are out for the season. Inside linebacker Deion Jones is on injured reserve due to a foot injury, but is expected back later this season. The Falcons also will be without running back Devonta Freeman (knee), defensive end Takk McKinley (groin) and defensive end Derrick Shelby (groin). On offense, Tevin Coleman will draw another start at running back with Ito Smith spelling him. Coleman had a huge day against the Panthers with 16 carries for 107 yards. Smith had a nice day, as well, with nine carries for 46 yards. With Levitre on injured reserve, Wes Schweitzer will start at left guard. Schweitzer started 16 regular-season games and two playoff games last year, but lost his starting job to offseason signee Brandon Fusco. Schweitzer was considered one of the team’s most improved players, according to Quinn, and will now get a chance to prove his worth as a starter again. On the defensive line, things could be quite interesting without McKinley and Shelby. The Falcons likely will start Vic Beasley and Brooks Reed at defensive end, with Steven Means seeing some rotational time at the position. And it wouldn’t be out of the question to see defensive tackle Jack Crawford get some defensive end snaps. Once again, Duke Riley will start at inside linebacker with Foye Oluokun getting the start at Will linebacker. Damontae Kazee, who was fined $10,026 for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Cam Newton last week, will be back on the field against the Saints. Kazee was ejected in Atlanta’s win over Carolina, but avoided a suspension from the league. Entering the third game of the season, Atlanta will be without five starters it entered the year with. “Sometimes it just happens that way where you’ve got to respond and adjust accordingly,” Quinn said. “And we’ll do that.” Establishing the run Against Carolina, Atlanta got out to a great start with its rushing attack. On the team’s first offensive possession, Coleman was able to rumble for a 27-yard gain. At the end of the first half, Coleman had six carries for 73 rushing yards. It might be too much to ask for that kind of output on a weekly basis. But if Atlanta is able to establish a strong rushing attack against another NFC South team, it should, at minimum, have a chance to win this game in the fourth quarter. The Falcons were able to run the ball 32 times and throw it 28 against Carolina. That kind of balance was achieved thanks to the tone-setting rushing attack. “There was great balance in the run game, in the pass game,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “The ball was kind of distributed all over the place in the pass game, as well. That just comes from how they’re playing and how they’re going to play against us. I feel like as a quarterback you’re just trying to make the right decision, go to the right spot with the football and trust whoever is in that spot to make those plays. That’s just how it shook out in that game.” The Saints haven’t gone against great rushing teams through two weeks, having faced Tampa Bay and the Browns. Even so, the Saints rank 17th in rush defense at 102.5 yards per game. There very well could be some openings for the Falcons to take advantage of when it comes to running the football. The Falcons’ offensive line, a week after struggling to open many holes against Philadelphia, was thrilled with the progress it made against Carolina. “To be able to open that up and get them frustrated and wear them down, that feels good going into (the Saints game),” right tackle Ryan Schraeder said. Finishing in the red zone Until the Falcons put together numerous games of consistent red-zone play, this will be a focal point. The good news is that after a disastrous showing against the Eagles, the Falcons were able to punch four scores in the end zone in four red-zone trips against Carolina. Atlanta obviously will look to continue this trend against the Saints. The Falcons had their fair share of red-zone woes in 2017, which probably magnified the failures against Philadelphia a little more than they should have been. At the same time, the Falcons won’t be perfect in the red zone too often the rest of the way. A good number to hit by NFL standards is 60 percent, which should be the Falcons’ goal on weekly trips inside the 20-yard line. Receiver Julio Jones said the Falcons were successful in the red zone against Carolina by not making too much of the situation, considering all of the outside media attention that area has received. “We didn’t have to go out there and try to prove anything or have extra pressure on us in the red zone because the media was saying, ‘Hey, you guys have to score points,’ or ‘You guys are in the red zone, and you have to score points,’” Jones said. “We just knew it was in our control. Just having everybody, all 11 guys on one particular play, just executing our job to be successful.”
  5. Don't shoot the messenger. Just posting it up.... FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons linebacker Duke Riley laughed sarcastically while reflecting on the "hate" that followed a subpar individual showing in Week 2 against the Carolina Panthers. Critics flexed their Twitter muscles at Riley, who was thrust into the spotlight at middle linebacker after foot surgery landed Pro Bowler Deion Jones on injured reserve. They jabbed at Riley about his performance, particularly after he failed to wrap up and tackle Panthers wide receiver DJ Moore down the middle on a play resulting in Moore's 51-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. Riley clapped back. "Honestly, I like it," Riley said of being the target of criticism. "It motivates me. I go on Twitter now and people are just dogging me. But it's like, 'Y'all don't know me. If y'all knew me, you wouldn't say nothing, because y'all would [know] what I put in, what I've been through.' "You know what they were saying. You can type my name and look for whatever. Yeah, I missed the tackle at the end. Everybody misses tackles. But at the end of the day, I should have made the play. Of course I should have made it." Riley has grown accustomed to being doubted. The Louisiana native always was the kid viewed as too slow to ever really excel in football, baseball or whatever other sport he chose. "Where I'm from, even some of your family members dog you," Riley said. "Cousins dog you like, 'You ain't never going to be good enough.' Like, I was told [by family] I would never make it to the NFL and I'd never go to college -- by cousins and everybody." As Riley attempts to rebound with Sunday's NFC South clash (1 p.m. ET, Fox) against his home-state New Orleans Saints, he's always mindful of how his rugged, humbling, yet enjoyable past -- which included a brief bout with a potentially deadly illness and being displaced by Hurricane Katrina -- set him up for success today. Riley, a 2017 third-round draft pick from LSU, defied the odds. But he's far from content with just making it to the NFL. Growing pains Riley was too young to remember every detail, but he recalled sprawling across a hospital bed and being able only to wave to his parents through a glass window. At age 7, Riley said doctors told him he developed spinal meningitis, an infection of the fluid and membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. According to Mayo Clinic studies, the majority of spinal meningitis cases evolve from a viral infection, although bacterial, parasitic and fungal infections are other causes. "You know when somebody is in the hospital really sick and they have kids sending them letters? I was the one getting 'Get well' letters from kids I didn't even know," Riley said. "That's how bad it was. I really don't even know how I got over it. They were surprised I didn't die or even go blind." After a short hospital stay and treatment, Riley proceeded with living what to him was a normal life. He spent his early years in Buras, Louisiana, described by one tourism site as a "small town on a ribbon of road traversing the water-pocked islands and peninsulas of southernmost Louisiana." His father, Duke, worked in the oil fields while his mother, Kesha, was for the most part a stay-at-home mom who also owned a catering business and sometimes moonlighted as a chef. While other kids his age attempted swinging a bat or throwing a football, Riley fired his first BB gun at age 5 and was shooting a 12-gauge before the age of 10. He hunted squirrels, rabbits, ducks and hogs. And the days spent trolling down at the bayou created everlasting memories. "You know how you see people catching those shrimp in the big nets? Oh yeah, I loved it, man," Riley said. "Especially as a kid, sometimes you'd pick up a **** ... we picked up alligators in the trolley net before. We picked up stingrays." Riley said he lived in a three-bedroom trailer with at least 10 other family members, including his mother and grandmother, in 2005. "We used to sleep on a pad, but it was like blankets in the living room," Riley said. "The trailer was so messed up. They used to have holes in the floor. If you were outside, and someone who was walking in the house fell through the floor, you could see their legs. That's how bad it was. "But we were young. We didn't care. We were outside. I was happy. I think life was better back then." Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, and Riley and his family evacuated to Baton Rouge to escape harm. The only item remaining in the trailer in Buras after the storm passed was a Bible, which Riley said miraculously managed to stay dry while sitting atop a mattress. Riley and his family moved to the town of Kaplan for the rest of '05, then eventually settled in Belle Chasse, 10 miles south of New Orleans. He still considers Buras home, which is why he plans to own a place there one day. "I just want my 2-year-old son [Elijah] to live the life I had as a kid, you know what I mean?" Riley said. "I want him to know what it's like to really use your hands. I don't want to live there because there's nothing there -- before Katrina, there was no Walmarts, and there's not a red light -- but I want a place there so I can get away and hunt and fish and spend the weekends down there with my son." The next phase Riley doesn't take for granted having a starting position in the NFL. He was somewhat of an afterthought coming out of John Curtis Christian School in River Ridge, Louisiana, when LSU didn't offer him a scholarship until a week before signing day. Even with the Tigers, he didn't become a regular starter until his final season in 2016. As a rookie starter at weakside linebacker for the Falcons last season, Riley encountered another obstacle when a meniscus tear set him back. "I don't worry about looking ahead anymore," Riley said. "I looked ahead last year, and I got hurt. I'm not doing that anymore. I'm taking everything day by day, moment by moment, and just enjoying it." The next step is proving the doubters wrong and showing he's a quality starter in the middle (until Jones returns, possibly Nov. 18) or at weakside linebacker. He is sure to be tested Sunday against one of the best quarterbacks of all time in Drew Brees and a dual-threat running back in Alvin Kamara, whom Riley might have match up with out of the backfield in coverage. Kamara had a team-high seven catches for 58 yards on nine targets when the Saints defeated the Falcons, 23-13, last December. Last week, the Falcons had trouble covering Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield as McCaffrey caught 14 passes for 102 yards on 15 targets. Riley tied teammate De'Vondre Campbell with a team-high nine combined tackles in the game, but he missed tackling McCaffrey across the middle right before surrendering the long touchdown to Moore. Falcons coach Dan Quinn wasn't too down on Riley's performance despite the noticeable hiccups. "I definitely thought he had emptied the bucket, in fact so much so at the end we put Foye [Oluokun] in at the end of the game where Duke had really played himself -- OK, he needs a blow and the next guy goes through, too," Quinn said. "So on the first game for him taking all the calls, we were encouraged. Is there going to be some on-the-job learning for him? You bet. But he was definitely ready for the challenge." The injured Jones offered Riley strong words of encouragement, telling Riley he did "a lot of great things" in the game. It would be hard for any player to give the Falcons the same time of production as Jones, who has developed into arguably the best coverage linebacker in the league with his 4.38 40-yard dash speed. Riley, a 4.58-guy, needs to be sound with his tackling and more disciplined with his angles and technique. "The next step for me is to take this next practice and go all out and do what I can," Riley said. "I'm not even worried about the game yet. I'm worried about improving today. "The more reps I get, the better I'll be. The story is always going to flip around. It always has done that throughout my life, so I know it will. I just keep digging. I keep doing what I do."
  6. In the moment, Ito Smith didn’t know a seasoned veteran who rarely misses tackles was trying to knock him to the turf. In a split instance, Smith just knew he had to think quick to avoid a hit so he could pick up some extra yardage. On a first-down run in the fourth quarter of Atlanta’s win over Carolina on Sunday, Smith hit an open hole and had All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly in front of him. Not often does Kuechly miss. Yet Smith planted his foot, spun to his left and bounced off Kuechly’s backside. Smith picked up 8 yards on a play that Kuechly hoped to have stopped for little to no gain. “I just reacted,” Smith said. “I saw the hole and made a football play.” An impressive play from the rookie out of Southern Miss, Smith said he had think quickly before making the move. It was similar to those he made at the college level, where he ran for 4,538 yards and 42 touchdowns in four seasons. Smith didn’t see too many big-play opportunities during the preseason, when he was running behind the second- and third-string offensive lines. Running behind the first-team offensive line against Carolina, he was able to showcase his vision, agility and speed en route to nine carries for 46 yards. It was the first chance the public got to see why the Falcons decided to take Smith with a fourth-round pick. “That’s part of the what Ito has, that kind of quickness and body control to make you miss in a short area,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. “That’s what we expect from all of our backs. Certainly he’s had more than good mentors.” Smith said he has received a lot of good feedback thus far from running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Smith got involved in the offensive game plan with Freeman sidelined due to a knee injury. Coleman said he was impressed with what Smith was able to bring to the table as a spell back. “He did an amazing job,” Coleman said. “He did what he was supposed to do. He ran through blocks. He ran hard.” Smith said the two veterans have done a good job teaching him the mental approach to the game at this level. Early on, Smith admitted to having a difficult time trusting which lanes to hit in Atlanta’s outside zone running scheme. As training camp and exhibition games continued, the advice from Freeman and Coleman helped Smith get a better feel for how to attack his lanes as a rusher. “In the preseason, I had trouble trusting my tracks and staying on track,” Smith said. “When I would mess up on that, it would mess up the whole play. I had to learn to trust my tracking and stay on my reads.” Two offensive stars miss practice Receiver Julio Jones was able to finish the game Sunday against the Panthers. He spoke to reporters afterward and was spotted at his locker during the team’s open locker room period Wednesday. He didn’t appear, at least on the surface, to be dealing with anything serious. But when it came to practice, Jones was absent with a calf injury. This marks the first practice of the 2018 season that Jones has missed. Before anyone panics, Jones is still scheduled to speak with reporters Thursday. Jones also has a history of resting during the week when dealing with an injury. It was not uncommon for Jones to miss practice time a year ago. The Falcons historically have taken a cautious approach with Jones. There isn’t reason to sound the alarm about his availability for the game Sunday against New Orleans. But obviously, this will be something to monitor throughout the week with the Saints up next. In addition, Freeman (knee) was a no-show at practice. An ESPN report stated Freeman is scheduled to miss two-to-four weeks, with this week being the second week of that timetable. Quinn disputed that report Monday and described Freeman as “day-to-day.” With Freeman missing the game against Carolina, Coleman ran for 107 yards on 16 carries as the lead back. Defensive ends Takk McKinley (groin) and Derrick Shelby (groin) were also non-participants in practice, which could make things quite interesting if they are unable to play Sunday. The only other linemen listed as defensive ends on the roster are Steven Means and Brooks Reed. Defensive tackle Jack Crawford also could receive some snaps at defensive end if McKinley and Shelby are unavailable. Wide receiver Russell Gage (knee) and offensive lineman Ben Garland (calf) returned to practice in a limited capacity after missing the game against the Panthers. Linebacker Corey Nelson left practice early due to a calf injury and was listed as a limited participant. Cornerback Isaiah Oliver, who has been inactive the first two weeks, returned to practice as a full participant. He previously has been battling an ankle injury. Kazee apologizes Safety Damontae Kazee said he has learned from the mistake that led to his ejection against the Panthers. In the second quarter of Atlanta’s win, Kazee dove at a sliding Cam Newton, who was giving himself up on the play. Kazee’s head collided with Newton’s, which resulted in a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty and an ejection. Kazee said he didn’t mean anything malicious with the hit. “I’ve got to learn when to take my shots and when not to take my shots,” Kazee said.”I was playing too fast in the game, tried to make a play and overplayed it. I apologize for hitting him like that. I didn’t do it on purpose. I was just trying to make a play. That’s all.” Since the preseason, this is the third unnecessary roughness penalty Kazee has drawn. The first came against the New York Jets in the preseason opener. The second came in the third preseason game when he hit Jacksonville receiver Marqise Lee low, which also resulted in a season-ending knee injury for Lee. Replay, however, showed that Kazee contorted his body horizontally when tackling Lee, and he was not fined for that particular hit. Kazee was asked if the NFL has reached out to him about the hit on Newton. “Next question,” he said.
  7. In his first offseason as an NFL player, Alex Mack and a friend hopped aboard a plane bound for Thailand. The trip was enlightening enough to where Mack decided he wanted to make international vacations a yearly event. Therefore, this trip to Thailand wouldn’t be a one-off. During the part of the year away from his team’s training facility, he decided he would visit other parts of the world.​> Mack estimates he has been to 45 countries. You name it and there’s a good chance he has been there — from England to Estonia to Djibouti. From Belize to Denmark to Kyrgyzstan. Consider it a knowledge quest for Mack. Much like his focus in the film room, Mack is all about learning more about others when he is overseas. “If you can do it, you should definitely try it,” Mack said. “I enjoy seeing how other people live, different food, different museums and their history. It’s a good way to see the world. It’s something I feel is really good to do when you’re young because when you’re older it’s going to be harder to convince yourself you want to stomp around a city on foot.” Mack, 32, has shown his adventurous side in other countries through food. In Peru, he ate guinea pig — one of the strangest dishes he tried and doesn’t recommend. In Thailand, Mack ate a lot of really good curry at a cheap price, thanks to a favorable exchange rate. Mack also has been able to travel to foreign lands as a volunteer coach for the American Football Without Borders Foundation. In 2017, Mack went to Finland and helped teach fundamentals at a football camp. There, Mack learned the Finnish players and fans have a strong affinity for the sport. “Who knew Finland had a football league and people really cared and knew who everyone was and knew all the rules?” Mack said. “And they were pretty technically sound. It’s a fun way to interact with another culture.” The most recent international trip Mack took was to central Europe, where he visited Vienna, Austria, Budapest, Hungary and Bratislava, Slovakia. “It was winter, so it wasn’t exactly the best weather,” Mack said. “But there was still a lot of history, a lot of places to see.” For all of the history and culture Mack seeks in his downtime, he is very regimented as a player. In his 10th season, the 32-year-old takes detailed notes during meetings. He watches a “couple of hours” of film each day during a game week to ensure he knows what to expect from the upcoming opponent. Mack said that kind of work ethic was instilled in him early after he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns as the 21st overall pick in 2009. Working behind Hank Fraley initially, Mack saw what it took to be successful in the NFL. For quarterback Matt Ryan, Mack has been nothing short of a blessing. After beginning Ryan’s career with a dependable center in Todd McClure, the Falcons were unsteady at the position from 2013 to 2015. Once Mack signed with the Falcons in 2016, Ryan’s job has become much easier. Mack’s deep understanding of the game allows him to make certain run calls for the offensive line, which frees up Ryan’s responsibilities at the line of scrimmage. “His preparation is as good as anybody’s that I’ve been around throughout my career,” Ryan said. “Day in and day out he works extremely hard. His effort in practice is impressive to see. His effort in games is very much the same way. He’s talented, he’s tough, he’s gritty, and he’s fun to play with.” It is often said that the two most important positions on offense are quarterback and center, since those two — absent direct snaps and wildcat plays to position players — touch the ball each time the offense lines up. It didn’t take long for right guard Brandon Fusco to see first-hand just how important Mack is to the Falcons’ offense. Fusco called Mack one of the smartest players he has ever lined up next to. “He seems like he knows what’s going to happen before it happens,” Fusco said. “It makes my job a lot easier. As long as we’re on the same page, we’ll be pretty good.” It’s one thing to be as smart and prepared at a position like center. Adding to that is Mack’s size at 6-foot-4 and 311 pounds, which certainly helps. “Oftentimes you see centers who are quick, but they’re usually smaller, so he’s got the size of a guard but the quickness of a center,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. “That’s a pretty rare combination for a guy to be that quick. Like he could be a starting guard in the NFL for sure based on his size, bulk and strength.” Defensive end Derrick Shelby, whose locker happens to be next to Mack’s, recalled how tough Mack was the first time he went against him in an NFL game. It was back in the 2013 season opener, when Mack was with the Browns and Shelby was with the Miami Dolphins. Shelby said Mack tried to “dump” him during that game, adding that he’s definitely a “finisher.” Now that they’ve been on the same team since 2016, Shelby understands why Mack was such a tough foe that night. “He has the knowledge of what’s coming to him,” Shelby said. “He has really strong hands. And he’s a technician. To beat guys, you have to break down their technique. His technique is on point for the most part. You really have to work to get him off his game.” New Orleans head coach Sean Payton now has the task of game-planning against an Atlanta offensive line that proved stout in both the run and the pass Sunday against Carolina. Payton noted that a lot of the Falcons’ success up front stems from Mack’s ability to ensure his teammates up front are working cohesively. Throughout the year, Payton said the Saints’ coaching staff will look a little bit at each of Atlanta’s games, with Mack’s communication abilities sticking out on tape. “He’s clearly one of the better centers in the league,” Payton said. “He can target certain blocks maybe some guys normally can’t. He’s very smart.” Julio comments on calf injury Receiver Julio Jones missed his second consecutive day of practice with a calf injury suffered against Carolina. Jones noted that he felt “tightness” during the game against the Panthers but was able to finish that game. While there is a chance for Jones to not practice Friday, this may not affect his availability for the game Sunday against the Saints. “I’m good. Just did some treatment, things like that,” Jones said. “Done this numerous times in the past for me. But it’s just precaution and day-to-day to see how I feel.” Through two games, Jones has 15 catches for 233 yards. Against Carolina, Jones caught five balls for 64 yards. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said he is confident Jones will be fine against the Saints if he is forced to miss the full week of practice. A lot of that has to do with Jones participating through the entire training camp this year, which gave Jones and Ryan a lot of “banked reps” compared to this time last year. If it was someone other than Jones missing practice, Sarkisian’s concern level might be different. “I’ve been down this road with him before. Julio is a pro’s pro,” Sarkisian said. “Even though he’s not on the field with us at practice (Thursday), the guy works at it. He’s in meetings, he’s attentive, he’s asking questions. If he’s physically ready to play, which obviously remains to be seen, I have no doubt in my mind he’ll be mentally prepared to play.” Rest of injury report Sitting out of practice alongside Jones were Shelby (groin), running back Devonta Freeman (knee), defensive end Takk McKinley (groin) and linebacker Corey Nelson (calf). Receiver Russell Gage (knee) and offensive lineman Ben Garland (calf) were limited. Cornerback Isaiah Oliver (ankle) participated fully for the second consecutive day.