I had the opportunity to enjoy all three days of minicamp practices that were open to the public this week in Flowery Branch, and I’d like to help you feel as if you were there as well. So, before you read any further, I’d like you to find the nearest sauna. Crank that sucker up as hot as it will possibly go to emulate the fiery heat of Georgia in the summertime, and then throw a bunch of water on the stones to duplicate the oppressive humidity. When you are dripping sweat from pores you didn’t know existed, you are officially prepared to read about minicamp.
Seriously, it was fiercely hot and humid, but it was awesome. Hit the jump for details related to actual player performance by position, how the team appears to be adjusting to the new schemes, and so forth.
The offense in general looks a little more energetic, and a little faster-paced.
Much has been made of Matt Ryan’s efforts to bulk up this offseason. I did not notice a visible difference in his size, but it does look like he is responding well to leadership from new quarterbacks coach Glenn Thomas and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Keep in mind that no contact is permitted in minicamp practices, which makes it difficult to assess how well the offensive line is performing. But, compared to what I saw in training camp last year, it appears that Ryan has progressed. He appears to be making decisions and releasing the ball more quickly.
Rojohombre looked like a veteran backup QB. I did not see anything flashy or extraordinary from him, but he looked reliable.
I continue to have concerns about John Parker Wilson’s accuracy and arm strength. The Falcons have an undrafted free agent rookie quarterback on the roster currently named Dominique Davis, from Eastern Carolina University. I did not see him take many reps, but the ones I did see him take looked pretty good.
There is always a lot going on at minicamp or training camp, and it’s impossible to see everything that unfolds, so please take what I am about to say with a grain of salt. I did not see Roddy White drop a single pass in three days. It is reasonable to believe that he did at some point, and I was just watching something else. But I saw Roddy take a lot of reps in receiving and full-team drills, and I never saw him drop the ball once.
Julio Jones was impressive, making catches in coverage consistently. Jones and Ryan seem to have very good chemistry.
Harry Douglas has bulked up a little, but his speed is fully intact. He blew my mind with a truly phenomenal catch on Tuesday afternoon. If Koetter uses him to his full potential, Douglas could really be an impact player for this offense.
Kerry Meier and Kevin Cone were both on the active roster last season, and I fully expect both to be there this season. Meier has great special teams value as well as receiving talent. Cone consistently impressed throughout minicamp.
The Falcons are working with a pretty talented group of young receivers. James Rodgers, brother to Jacquizz, is short like Quizz, but is a really talented athlete., also like Quizz He is extremely quick, and has decent hands. Cody Pearcy, Marcus Jackson and Drew Davis all had solid performances over the course of minicamp.
It appears that Michael Turner has slimmed down, and he seems faster and more agile to me. He also looks much steadier than he did last offseason, which makes me think the groin issues that plagued him then are fully resolved.
The other RBs in camp that I believe have the best chance at a spot on the final 53 man roster are Antone Smith, a special teams contributor for the past two seasons, and Dimitri Nance. You may remember Nance from the 2010 preseason, where he was relatively impressive. He was signed by the Packers from our practice squad in 2010. He had a pretty strong showing over the course of minicamp.
Tony Gonzalez was not at minicamp (probably because, at this point in his career, Tony Gonzalez does not need minicamp), and I do not have a lot to report on the tight ends, except for LaMark Brown. I was consistently impressed with his speed, athleticism and receiving. He has a lot of potential.
There really isn’t much to discern about the offensive line’s performance in a no-contact situation. It is really difficult to tell how they will perform at full speed based on what I saw at minicamp. I will tell you that Sam Baker looks healthy, and was taking first team reps. Also, second round draft pick Peter Konz was taking second and third team reps, and looked good.
On defense, there is also a definite shift in energy level. They are lining up in unusual formations, using players in unexpected ways, and being really creative with the pass rush. There is a lot of moving around prior to the snap, which I understand to be somewhat of a hallmark of Mike Nolan’s defensive strategy. I can see why it would be effective. It should throw opposing offenses off balance.
Again, it is difficult to assess the defensive line performance with no contact permitted, but I will say that the pass rush looks pretty effective, and not necessarily limited to defensive ends and tackles.
One thing that stood out to me was that Peria Jerry responded favorably to the higher energy level across the board on defense. That could be a really positive thing for the Falcons this season.
Ray Edwards does look healthy. His pursuit of the quarterback was solid, and there was no hesitation. Again, the offensive line wasn’t really allowed to try to stop him, but it appears that there are no lingering issues with his knees.
Bold prediction: we are all going to love watching Sean Weatherspoon play this season.
Okay, that is actually more of an obvious prediction. Spoon is really setting the tone for this new, high-energy defense. It was fun to watch him out there this week.
Matt Hansen flying around the field like he’s determined to get a roster spot. He was impressive. Akeem Dent also looked good. We will likely see a heated battle for that middle linebacker spot between Dent and Lofa Tatupu during training camp.
There were some very different defensive formations on the field, and Mike Nolan has some creative ideas about how to best utilize safeties. Both William Moore and Thomas DeCoud looked effective in the schemes. The team needs some depth at safety, so keep an eye on Chad Faulcon and Suaesi Tuemaunei in training camp. Tuemaunei was in training camp last season as well.
It was fun to get a firsthand look at Asante Samuel. What talent! What I enjoyed most about watching Samuel, though, was his swagger. Between Samuel and Spoon, I can see the defense developing the kind of attitude we all want to see on the field.
Dunta Robinson is being used in versatile ways in Nolan’s defensive scheme, and he looks pretty comfortable in all of them. He looked particularly effective out of the slot.
I saw Brent Grimes leap entirely over a huge piece of equipment. It shouldn’t even be humanly possible.
Despite the heat, each day of minicamp had an excellent fan turnout, and the fans who were there were vocal and supportive, by and large. I saw fans with spoons of various sizes as an homage to Weatherspoon. I even saw a guy dressed as a Conehead (think Dan Akroyd) in honor of Kevin Cone.
At this point, I would say the frontrunner for the best name on the roster is safety Chad Faulcon. Matt Hansen leads the charge for best hair on the roster.
I had the opportunity to speak to some of the players while my daughter was getting autographs. Todd McClure says he is very glad to be back. LaMark Brown seemed surprised that readers of this fine blog knew who he was. I asked second year guard Andrew Jackson if the full offseason program was beneficial to the second year players, and he said the difference is tremendous.
Kudos to the Falcons' staff, who did an excellent job of making minicamp a fan-friendly experience. From $1 concessions--whether you’re purchasing an Angus cheeseburger or a bottle of water--to security staff who understand the balance of keeping children in the designated fan area in a patient and friendly way, the Falcons really go above and beyond to make minicamp enjoyable.
And it isn't just the staff--the players were great with the fans, particularly the kids. Matt Bryant came to the sideline each day before practice to talk with little kids and sign autographs. Long snapper Joe Zelenka played catch with kids along the sideline. During the post-practice autograph sessions, players are polite, gracious and friendly.
Now I am counting down the days until training camp.