Dave Choate of The Falcoholic was nice enough to answer 5 questions about his Atlanta Falcons leading up to this week's game.
1. Julio Jones is one of my favorite players in the history of the world. How is his progress from the injury coming? Is he ready to return to all-world form?
You're alright in my book, Jimmy. The good news for Julio is that he has made great progress, he's making cuts and he was on the field briefly during the Texans game last Saturday. Barring a setback, he should be close to 100% for the season opener against the Saints, and I fully anticipate he'll pick up where he left off early last year, when he was torching secondaries across the NFL.
You probably won't see him this week, however.
2. How has Jake Matthews been so far? Will he be the opening day starter at right tackle?
Jake Matthews has had a few hiccups, mostly penalty-related, but has looked very good thus far. Thanks to the season-ending injury to left tackle Sam Baker, Matthews is going to be the team's starting left tackle in his rookie season. We'll hope he continues to show poise and ability as he takes on a tough assignment, because guarding Matt Ryan's left side has never proven to be easy.
3. Give us one or two guys to watch out for that we haven't heard of.
The first one to watch is Prince Shembo. The fourth-round rookie linebacker has been terrific thus far and appears to be hungry to learn the scheme. The team already has him calling out plays with the second unit defense, and it's possible he winds up with a starting job at inside linebacker before the season begins.
4. Is Mike Smith in trouble if they don't have a winning season?
He could be. The Falcons' owner seems to believe in Smith and wants to give him another shot, but I can't imagine another 4-12 will lead to the coach being retained. It's not clear if there's a specific cut off point in terms of wins Smith must get to, but it's a fair bet the team has to show improvement for him to hang on. We just don't know how much.
5. Do you think the Falcons are ready to bounce back and contend in a tough NFC South?
I think they'll contend this season, but ultimately I think they'll do no better than 9-7 or 10-6, and that may not be enough to get back into the playoffs. It would be tangible progress, at least, but I think we're all hoping I'm wrong about that one.