Reporters’ notebook: Mr. Potato Head - ‘That’s my dude’

Falcons running back Bijan Robinson celebrates after he scored a touchdown during the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.  Miguel Martinz/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Falcons running back Bijan Robinson celebrates after he scored a touchdown during the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.  Miguel Martinz/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

The following, a weekly feature of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, allows our reporters to open their notebooks and provide even more information from our local teams that we cover daily. We think you’ll find in informative, insightful and fun.

Mr. Potato Head – ‘That’s my dude’

The Falcons game against the Jaguars will also be broadcast as a “Toy Story Funday” theme game on Disney-plus, ESPN-plus and on mobile with NFL-plus on Sunday.

The game will be shown in animation from Andy’s room, the main character of the popular animated movie.

The original Toy Story was an animated comedy that was produced by Pixar and released in 1995 by Disney. It was set in a world where the toys come alive.

“My favorite Toy Story character probably Mr. Potato Head,” Falcons running back Bijan Robinson said. “That’s my favorite one. I used to have a pillow. And yeah, he stuck with me through my whole childhood. So yeah, Mr. Potato Head, that’s my dude.”

The Falcons and the Jaguars made promos of ancillary programming aimed at younger demographic.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

The Falcons game against the Jaguars will also be broadcast as a “Toy Story Funday” theme game on Disney-plus, ESPN-plus and on mobile with NFL-plus on Sunday.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith was asked if he considered himself more of Woody or a Buzz. Andy regarded Woody and Buzz as his two favorite toys.

“Here’s my problem answering that,” Smith said. “I can answer you, but I’m afraid in today’s outrage mob, I don’t know who I’m going to offend. I think it was a good movie when they made it. Our kids like it. I did a little promo for it. It will be fascinating to see what it looks like. I think it’s cool, but no comment.”

Cross training for Hawks and United

Atlanta United stopped by the Hawks practice facility in Brookhaven on Wednesday afternoon, running a training session with players on hand. In a speech posted to United’s Instagram stories, Hawks assistant general manager Kyle Korver mentioned that he thought it would be cool for the team to integrate soccer into some of the drills that it does as they continue to work on their spacing.

“Kyle has impacted the game with spacing, as much as anyone and I think there’s a lot of parallels,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said. “I think when you watch (United) play, you see a selfless group. And the spacing allows you to move the ball, and so without spacing, there’s no passing without passing there’s no spacing. So, for us to kind of feel that, that’s more Kyle than me. But I think intuitively, players understand that and then it’s good to have some fun.”

United sent Giorgos Giakoumakis and Saba Lobzhanidze, as well as several coaches to work with Hawks players on developing their soccer skills.

Several players on the Hawks have plenty of experience play, like center Clint Capela and forward Mouhamed Gueye, who grew up playing soccer before they transitioned from the pitch to the court. Fans can also find plenty of clips of Hawks sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanovic showing off his soccer skills.

In the Instagram stories, fans can see Hawks star guard, Trae Young, working on touches with Bogdanovic. They can also see in consecutive clips, Young, who is known for his ability to shake guys off his dribble, juggle the soccer ball with some ease.

“Man, having the Atlanta united team out here was fun, we really enjoyed it,” Gueye said. “Everybody played soccer, even the players who never played (like) DJ (Dejounte), Trae showed their skills. AJ (Griffin) was asking me how to do it because obviously I’m the best one out here. But it was really fun. They enjoyed it and it was a great experience.”

Instagram stories disappear after 24 hours but the Hawks will have videos of United’s venture on their social pages to commemorate the visit.

“It was good playing some soccer with the guys,” Capela said. “I was happy to just show off my skills a little bit and I hope next time I just show some of my scoring skills.”

Talkin’ 3s

Damon Stoudamire understands the importance of the 3-point shot. He admitted that he himself as a player was prone to launching deep balls more often than not.

That doesn’t necessarily mean his first Georgia Tech team will be chucking it up left and right this season.

“I believe in the 3-ball, but I also believe in making shots that you can make,” he laughed. “I do love shooting 3s and if you didn’t know this I think for a while there I held (the record) for most misses for 3s in an NBA game. So, I’m just telling you, I can live and die with the 3, but more than anything I want good 3s. I don’t want 3s just to shoot 3s. You want the right people shooting them.”

Stoudamire is absolutely correct in regard to his infamous mark in the NBA record books. On April 15, 2005, Stoudamire missed 16 out of the 21 3-pointers he attempted for Portland in a game at Golden State. James Harden of the Houston Rockets has since tied that record on six different occasions.

Tech, meanwhile, ranked 208th nationally and 11th in the ACC by making just 33.5 percent of its 3s in 2022-23.

Stegeman finally opens

Stegeman Coliseum will finally open to the public – and to the basketball teams that play in it – this week after a eight-month shutdown for ceiling repairs. The men’s and women’s basketball teams will unveil their 2023-24 squads in the annual “Stegmania” exhibition Friday night inside the arena, which will celebrate its 60th birthday this season.

The building was closed by engineers last March after chunks of concrete that had fallen from the ceiling were discovered in spectator areas of the 10,000-seat facility. Since then, UGA has spent millions of dollars inspecting and repairing the roof, sealing the ceiling in protective fabric and painting it all black.

The teams have yet to step on the court on which they will compete this season, but insist all the construction did nothing impede their preparation. Both the men and women have practice courts inside the Stegeman Training Center, which is attached to the eastern end of the Coliseum.

“I stuck my head in there the other day,” second-year men’s coach Mike White said. “It looks great; the ceiling looks great. I’m sure at some point, they’ll say, ‘Hey, this is when we can get back in the building,’ and we’ll take advantage of it.”

The Bulldogs actually have been taking advantage of the other improvements that were made outside arena. During construction, UGA built a basketball-dedicated weight room on the lower concourse outside the arena. According to the Athletic Director Josh Brooks, it’s the largest such weight room in the SEC and features basketball-training-specific machines.

Both teams also got new locker rooms.

“We’re extremely appreciative of all the new stuff we got,” senior Jabri Abdur-Rahim told the Georgia athletic board at its last meeting. “We’ve spent a lot of time in there.”

Stegmania is advertised as a student-only event, but Brooks said anybody who wants to attend is welcome.

Falcons must contend with Jaguars tight end Evan Engram

Tight end Evan Engram, who played at Hillgrove High and Mississippi, has found a home with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Engram was selected in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2017 draft by the New York Giants. He played five seasons with the Giants.

He had a career-high in receptions (73) and receiving yards (766) last season and signed a three-year $41.25 million deal with the Jaguars. A total of $24 million was guaranteed.

“He catches the ball and he runs like a receiver,” Falcons linebacker Kaden Elliss said. “He’s big like a tight end. He’s one of those hybrids that has obviously done really well these last couple years.”

The Falcons must keep better track of Engram than they did with Detroit rookie Sam LaPorta, who had eight catches for 84 yards and a 45-yard touchdown.

“We have to always have a man on him and know where he’s at,” Ellis said. “We have to have a little more formation recognition and where’s he at and how they like to get him the ball in this situation and in this formation…. They’re going to get him the ball…He’s a threat.”

Falcons safety Jessie Bates III will spend some time on Engram.

“They almost treat him like a receiver,” Bates said. “They are getting him the ball in space and letting him get some catch-and-run opportunities. He’s a dynamic tight end who can stretch the field out.”

Video game broadcasters share Truist Park press box

The Cubs-Braves series opener featured a fun broadcast combination for fans of video games.

The game was on TBS, but the two regional sports networks – Bally Sports and Marquee Sports Network – also broadcast it.

Brian Anderson (TBS) is the “NBA 2K” commentator. Brandon Gaudin (Bally) does the “Madden NFL” commentary. Jon “Boog” Sciambi is the play-by-play man for “MLB: The Show.”

As well-known as they are for their real-life broadcasting gigs, fans of video games also know them all too well for their work on those sports franchises.

New first baseman?

While Marcell Ozuna has been seen taking grounders at first base, manager Brian Snitker wouldn’t even let a reporter finish his question before saying “no” to the idea that Ozuna could handle the position if needed. “I might put him over there March 2nd or 3rd (in spring training),” Snitker said. It’s not like Matt Olson takes days off anyway.

Need for calm

It’s not often Georgia Tech coach Brent Key has to discuss penalties given he coaches one of the most disciplined teams in college football. But the Yellow Jackets committed 14 penalties for 142 yards in their victory over Wake Forest last weekend. When the AJC asked Key how he’ll address the penalties, he paused before saying “very calmly.” He followed with a chuckle and said, “I’ll leave that between the walls.”

They said it

“I’m really, really excited and happy,” Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies said of outfielder Ronald Acuña getting to be part of the upcoming postseason run. Acuña missed the Braves’ World Series championship in 2021 after tearing his ACL that July.

-Staff writers Chad Bishop, D. Orlando Ledbetter, Justin Toscano, Gabriel Burns and Lauren Williams contributed to this report.