The Falcons players should be well-rested after a much-deserved (and CBA-mandated) day off yesterday. Before I head to today's open practice, here's a rundown of observations, by position, from Monday and Tuesday.
Matt Ryan runs drills as efficiently as he runs a game offense. He's not flashy, but very workmanlike, and very effective.
Dominique Davis has improved his accuracy, has good arm strength, a quick release, and is very fluid. In 11 on 11 drills, he had happy feet, but that's the kind of thing that improves with experience. Should he lock up the #2 spot, I would love to see the Falcons maintain some significant leads in games to give Davis some actual game experience, and also for our collective cardiovascular health. At this point, Davis looks significantly better than Sean Renfree and Seth Doege, which is expected after a year in the system.
When Renfree was drafted, many people remarked that his college play was reminiscent of Matt Ryan's, and he does look like Ryan on the run, but is inaccurate throwing off of his back foot, which isn't exactly shocking. Both Renfree and Doege have had some nice completions. Neither Renfree nor Doege looks as comfortable or capable as Davis.
Steven Jackson has such good hands. He's very reliable in receiving drills. He has great burst out of the backfield, too. He has good instincts and works hard on every rep, which is great to see. He appears to be a "lead by example" kind of guy--he certainly seems like a prototypical Falcon in the Dimitroff era. In red zone drills, Jackson literally went right over the pile to push the ball over the plain just like it was a game situation. I cannot over-emphasize how reliable his hands are as a receiver.
Jacquizz Rodgers also looks solid. Quizz has looked good catching and running the ball, and he's still very quick and evasive. The versatility of Jackson and Rodgers will make them huge assets in this high-powered offense this season.
Jason Snelling isn't getting a lot of attention from anyone at camp, but he's looking as reliable as ever.
Bradie Ewing is hurt and will be out 5-10 days according to the team, and so is Antone Smith. The nature of both injuries is undisclosed. I did see Ewing in action this week and he looked good. He seems to understand his role in the scheme based on his performance in 11 on 11 drills, and he looked very comfortable moving through drills.
Roddy White makes difficult catches look easy, and gets annoyed when he drops or misses a pass, which isn't a bad thing at all. Roddy also spent some time throwing to the TEs on Monday. Roddy participating in passing elements of practice isn't a new thing--he went through some drills with the quarterbacks in minicamp, also. Is he the Falcons emergency quarterback, or does Dirk Koetter have some offensive trickery up his sleeve?
Julio Jones looks better than ever, which should strike terror into the hearts of every defense in the league. Jones' work ethic has always been above reproach--from the time he first set foot in Flowery Branch, during reps that he's not on the field, he's almost always discussing routes and technique with Roddy White, Harry Douglas, Matt Ryan and/or wide receivers/assistant head coach Terry Robiskie. Now Julio is taking that work ethic and "team-first" attitude to the next level to help younger players succeed. I watched Julio and Roddy working closely with young receiver Marcus Jackson to demonstrate some elements of technique that will help Jackson get separation in coverage. Julio's athletically gifted, he's a team player, he has a wonderful work ethic and leadership skills, and he's nothing short of masterful when talking to the media, as you can see in this clip from NFL Network, where Jones explains to Deion Sanders that nobody complains about not getting enough looks during a game.
We're all still upset about Harry Douglas falling prey to the turf monster against San Francisco, but he is having a solid training camp showing. He's made some beautiful catches and has been very reliable.
At this point, Martel Moore and Marcus Jackson have probably been the most impressive fringe guys with a shot of making the roster. Don't count out Kevin Cone and Drew Davis based solely on experience, but I have been more impressed with Moore and Jackson to this point, primarily because Davis and Cone look to be at about the same level they were prior to last season, and I don't necessarily see any progression there.
Tony Gonzalez looks amazing. Just kidding, he isn't there, but he will look amazing when he returns, don't worry.
Chase Coffman really has been amazing. In my opinion, he has been head and shoulders above every other tight end vying for a spot on the final 53-man roster. Well, not literally or physically head and shoulders above Levine Toilolo, who is freakishly tall, but Coffman has looked the most prepared. He's making some beautiful catches, looks solid against coverage, and looks very comfortable running routes or blocking.
Levine Toilolo is picking up the speed of the game. There's a big difference between his performance at minicamp in June, after missing OTAs to complete his degree at Stanford, and his performance in training camp, which is encouraging. He looks good receiving, and he's been very physical in line of scrimmage drills, particularly.
Mike Johnson has clearly emerged as the leader for the right tackle battle.
I'm seeing a marked improvement in the push up front in run blocking. It's clearly something they are working on, and that's good, because that's a real need for this team in 2013. They're apparently not working much on avoiding holding because they're holding on almost every rep. That's something I'd like to see diminish.
As NFL Network's Ian Rapoport noted during his visit to Flowery Branch on Tuesday, Osi Umenyiora is trying out a hybrid DE/LB role, although he is not nearly as comfortable in a standing position as he is with his hand on the ground. Cut the guy some slack, because this is all new to him. I love his willingness to give it a shot. He looks very scary coming off the edge.
The Falcons' young defensive linemen are getting a lot of reps, and according to Knox Bardeen, he thinks Jonathan Massaquoi looks good, Malliciah Goodman looks fair, and Stansly Maponga, recently returned from injury, is a work in progress.
You ranked them perfectly. Good. Fair. Work in Progress, respectively >> RT @mikemcintosh7: Knox, how are Mass, Goodman, Maponga looking??— Knox Bardeen (@knoxbardeen) July 30, 2013
Biermann is getting reps at defensive end as well as outside linebacker. Jonathan Babineaux has been on the edge opposite Osi at times. Nolan is throwing out some really interesting looks. The Falcons keep the pace of practice so quick that it's difficult for me to even write down formations. Today I am taking my good camera so I don't have to rely on trying to write them down, so I should have more details about some of the defensive looks tomorrow.
In the middle, Corey Peters stands out as appearing to be back to his 2011 form.
Akeem Dent looks significantly better. Dent did steadily improve over the course of last season, and looked much more comfortable in his role by the end of the 2012 season. He looks very comfortable in the middle right now.
Brian Banks settling in, and looks much more comfortable than he did in minicamp. During minicamp, you could kind of see the wheels turning in his head about his positioning on the field, especially on passing downs. Now he looks much more natural, and is adjusting to plays in real time without having to think about it as much.
Joplo Bartu has an awesome name and has been impressive in coverage.
I specifically wrote down that Robert James looked great in coverage against the tight ends on Tuesday.
William Moore was pulled aside and warned by Mike Smith, because Willy Mo is always ready for full contact even when it's not appropriate, and Smitty wants to keep this team healthy. Moore and Thomas DeCoud both look solid so far.
Shann Schillinger is back from injury, and considering that he used to get yelled at by Brian Van Gorder constantly during training camp, under Mike Nolan he reacts without hesitation and adjusts in real time. He looks much improved.
Seventh round draft choice Kemal Ishmael has displayed some excellent instincts during training camp.
Desmond Trufant is getting coached up after almost every rep. It's clear that the team is really trying to help him adjust to the speed of the game. He looks a little better every day, but he does have a way to go. You can see Trufant thinking through things in coverage, which keeps him a step slow. When covering Marcus Jackson in the red zone, Trufant stayed on Jackson, but didn't get turned around in time, and had the ball not been uncatchable (it was) it would have been a clear pass interference call in a game situation.
Rookie Robert Alford is very physical and looks solid in coverage. Like Trufant, he is reaping the benefit of a lot of coach input.
Asante Samuel looks physically prepared, and is having all kinds of fun out there. He is setting the tone, along with Weatherspoon, for an aggressive, confident defense.
Dominique Franks has had some nice plays on the ball, and along with Schillinger, seems to be a guy who is particularly benefiting from Mike Nolan's defense.
What do you want to hear about from today's practice? What are you excited about so far from this Falcons team, and what are your concerns at this point?