It was a beautiful, hot August afternoon for the last day of open training camp practices at the Falcons' training facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Sunday's practice was slightly less crowded than practices have been this year, but they still, to my eyes, exceeded the average from years past.
Yeah, that was the Game Changer sandwich. It really did smell magical there yesterday. I was starving by the time I got home.
You can tell that the coaching staff is anxious to get this team into game shape. Both Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan were vocal in coaching their guys up yesterday. For Nolan, his corrections were primarily directed toward the linebackers and the secondary who weren't adjusting quickly enough in coverage against tight ends. Does that sound familiar? Well, don't worry, because Mike Nolan is on it.
Bradie Ewing and Antone Smith were again with their unit on the field but did not participate in drills. Julio Jones appeared to be back at full strength.
Practice opened with special teams drills, which are particularly important for the guys who are on the roster bubble. Harry Douglas, Robert Alford and Dominique Franks returned punts. None of the drills were at full speed so it's difficult to tell who has the edge in this competition.
Matt Bryant is so clutch, even in practice.
Matt Bryant begins today's practice by knocking in a few 40-yard field goals. #aftc13— Daniel Cox (@FalconsDCox) August 11, 2013
Matt Ryan was exceptional yesterday. He was just extremely accurate and precise, and his timing was excellent. I saw him overthrow Kevin Cone once but it was because Cone stopped on his route for some reason.
Ryan with pinpoint accuracy, dropping in a 30-40 trader to Davis in between two defenders on the move. That was a beauty. #aftc13— Daniel Cox (@FalconsDCox) August 11, 2013
Seriously, the whole crowd said, "OOOOOHHHHH," after this completion because it was just so impressive.
Dominique Davis looked good yesterday. He's still pretty raw for a backup quarterback, and hopefully he'll look more settled over the next few preseason games. He has great arm strength but needs to be more accurate on the deep ball.
Sean Renfree looks better than Seth Doege, and I expect Renfree to land on the practice squad for the coming season.
During running back agility drills, Jacquizz Rodgers tried valiantly to dunk over the goalpost but it didn't work. In other Jacquizz Rodgers news, his calves are roughly the size of my head. He absolutely looks ready to run right over Earl Thomas again this season.
Steven Jackson doesn't shy away from contact even in a no-pads situation.
Patrick DiMarco has looked very capable, and if whatever is happening with Bradie Ewing persists, DiMarco looks like an effective enough fullback.
Vaughan, Wingo and Russell are not going to make this an easy RB decision this year. #aftc13— Daniel Cox (@FalconsDCox) August 11, 2013
Donald Russell has exceptionally good hands, and could be a real threat in the screen game. Wingo has also been reliable as a rusher and a receiver in camp. Josh Vaughn reminds me of pre-2012 Michael Turner. He churns a little bit behind the line of scrimmage, but once he gets going he's difficult to bring down.
Roddy White and Julio Jones both looked excellent, as did Harry Douglas. I've said it before, but this is truly the best I've seen Harry Douglas look in preseason and training camp since he was drafted.
Drew Davis had a solid showing in Thursday's game, and looked very impressive at yesterday's practice. I believe he has the fourth roster spot locked up, barring anything crazy.
Every time you see a receiver drop a pass at this point in the preseason, you know that particular pass could be the difference between a roster spot or heading home. It's a little depressing.
Chase Coffman continued to take first team reps and looked very comfortable; Levine Toilolo took second team reps. Toilolo has definitely adjusted to the speed of the game and uses his height to his advantage.
Tight ends working routes with Matt. Toilolo just had a nice grab, leaving the ground and stretching high. #aftc13— Daniel Cox (@FalconsDCox) August 11, 2013
Seriously, any player covering Toilolo would have needed a ladder to knock this ball down.
Since yesterday was a no-contact practice, I didn't see much from the offensive line aside from who was out there with the first team. Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Peter Konz and Garrett Reynolds seem to be entrenched at their respective positions, and both Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder took reps with the first team at right tackle.
Schraeder getting a long look at RT today with Matt and other "starters". #aftc13— Daniel Cox (@FalconsDCox) August 11, 2013
The Falcons spent some time in 11-on-11s letting the defense work on defending the read option. Osi Umenyiora and Kroy Biermann are showing their versatility in these efforts, and both are adjusting nicely.
Osi and Biermann look like they offer Nolan a ton of flexibility. Starting 11-11 now and they're up and down #aftc13— Daniel Cox (@FalconsDCox) August 11, 2013
Biermann seems to be Sean Weatherspoon's primary backup. He was taking a lot of OLB snaps during practice yesterday with the first team defense. The base 4-3 without Weatherspoon looks like this:
Osi Umenyiora, Peria Jerry, Corey Peters, Jonathan Babineaux
Kroy Biermann, Akeem Dent, Stephen Nicholas
Asante Samuel, William Moore, Thomas DeCoud, Desmond Trufant
When Biermann was playing defensive end, Joplo Bartu and Paul Warrilow got some first team reps. In my opinion, their performances in Thursday's preseason game warrant that.
Pat Schiller looked very good in coverage in the middle in second and third team reps.
I'm sad to report that Brian Banks just hasn't been doing much in practice. He's not getting a lot of reps, and he didn't get a lot of playing time last Thursday. I desperately want to see him make the final roster, or at least the practice squad, and I have to be honest--it isn't looking good for Banks. I sincerely hope I'm wrong.
William Moore was feisty yesterday. He basically clotheslined running back Donald Russell after a play. He also started some friendly mischief with Roddy White after a play in 11-on-11s.
Asante pulls a rare move. Read run and met Rodgers in the back field. Would've been a huge play and his teammates let him know it. #aftc13— Daniel Cox (@FalconsDCox) August 11, 2013
Asante Samuel had another really good day of practice. It's genuinely fun to see such a seasoned veteran continue to improve his game.
Desmond Trufant is getting better. There's a huge difference between his performance at the start of training camp-not to mention minicamp--and the way he looked yesterday. His technique is improved. He's able to stick with Julio now much more consistently, which had been a real challenge for him. His frustration each time he allows a receiver to complete a catch is palpable. He cares very much about how he performs. Surely the high standards he holds himself to will compel him to push himself to continue to improve. Trufant did pull off an interception, and he read the route perfectly. He's progressing nicely.
Robert McClain looks good, particularly out of the nickel, but for whatever reason he's been slow to adjust if a receiver cuts back on a route on the outside.
Robert Alford will be a great cornerback--he just needs more time to adjust to the pro game. In a game situation, Alford would probably be getting flags for illegal contact or pass interference about 70% of the time. I love his physicality, but it's a double-edged sword. Sometimes he's too physical and over-pursues, and it's easier for a receiver to get separation. Some fans are antsy about Trufant, and Trufant still has some maturing to do as a NFL starter, also--but to my eyes, he looks more prepared to start at this point than Alford. Alford will strike the balance between being physical and playing smart, effective coverage but he isn't quite there at this point.
It's sad to see open practice end, but the milestone means we're one step closer to actual football.
That's a wrap on open practices for camp. Only way to see the Falcons for the rest of the year is during games. #aftc13— Jay Adams (@FalconsJAdams) August 11, 2013
And this fan summed up the Russell Athletic Atlanta Falcons 2013 Training Camp perfectly.